Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Groaning Board of Assorted Thoughts

O A recent quote from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, regarding our continuing military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan: “... a sudden and precipitous withdrawal of the United States from both places... I don't know anybody who thinks that's a good idea.” Well, the secretary clearly doesn't get out very much. He needs to have a talk with Congressman Ron Paul... or any member of the Libertarian Party... or of the Constitution Party... or just about anyone fitting the definition of “paleocon”. These are all bonafide American citizens who really and truly, by gosh, think that it would be a perfectly splendid idea to get our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan not in ten years, or one year, or one month, or one week, but today... now! When you believe, as I do, that the “War on Terror” is a hoax and a gigantic money maker for corrupt defense industries, there is no reason to perpetuate it one minute longer. Any vote that keeps the troops over there, in any capacity, is aiding and abetting the hoax; only a vote to “support the troops – bring them home” has any moral validity.

O A colleague of mine in my old agency once gave a poster to his boss – the head of the agency – that read, “Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.” The boss, as I recall, put the poster under the glass top of his desk – whether to confirm the notion or make fun of it I don't know. In any case, the idea is always that the people who are running things are the sanest ones of all, and those who fear them, or who fear the consequences of their actions, are a bit unbalanced. But who is more mad – the people who rule the world... or who want to... or who _think_ they're ruling the world, or the rest of us, who they see as nothing more than cannon fodder through which to realize their ambitions? Granted, the mad king still has his ermines and featherbeds and boar's head, and the serf has his burlap and dirt floor and porridge. The king would certainly not trade places with the serf – except maybe in “King Lear” -- but the serf would jump at the chance to become king, as many have – and that's where we get tales like the story of Huey Long (or LBJ, for that matter). But when it's said “it's lonely at the top”, doesn't this refer, among other things, to the idea that the people who are at the top look out every morning, from their castle turrets, on the ignorant peasantry and basically despise them for their ignorance, while at the same time, maybe, feeling a bit of fear that if the lowly only had a clue, they would rise up in revolt and, with pitchforks and torches, storm the castle gates and make off with the head of the ruler, to mount it on a pike in the town square? This fear has actually risen to the surface as a result of the economic collapse. Crowds are demonstrating at the gates of the plush homes of AIG executives, and the government is sending out feelers, on the sly, as to the advisability of taking pre-emptive steps against insurrection. It seems natural that the holding of unwarranted and undeserved power creates a chronic air of paranoia and necessitates a kind of rigid mask of pseudo-normalcy – the mask we see on the faces of all the high rollers who appear, with fatiguing regularity, before government commissions and committees these days. Not that there's any real chance of anyone rebelling – because, as I've said before, the lower classes have been neutralized with drugs while the middle class has been neutralized with “good citizenship” as taught in the public schools, and with “not rocking the boat” as the highest value to which a mortal can aspire. But these facts are not quite enough to completely soothe the fears of the controllers, as they lay awake in their beds on dark nights. On some level, they know exactly what they deserve, and imagine that someday, somehow, someone is going to manage to deliver it to them.

O A Buddhist would argue (if “argue” is even the word) that the mere lust for power is, in itself, a symptom of non-enlightenment, of dis-integration of the self and alienation of that self from the bulk of humanity – i.e. of a severe lack of compassion. I look at these bland CEO faces, with nothing behind them but greed, on the news and wonder at all they have lost in the way of their own humanity even as they gain untold riches through extortion, corruption, bribery, and deceit. They will have plenty to answer for, ultimately – but even in the here and now I wonder if their lot is really all that enviable. To gain membership in the ruling elite much has to be given up. Do they sell their soul at the crossroads, like the legendary bluesmen of old were alleged to do? (But at least _they_ played good music!) The armies of the night will pass by – it is hoped – and leave most of us to eke out our living as best we can. But we at least have a chance at a clear conscience, as opposed to those bent on pillage and rapine, whose consciences are clouded at best, and perhaps extinguished entirely.

O It is frequently asked, "What if (some historical personage) were still around and could see what is happening now? What would they say?" Well, of course, they _aren't_ still around, so we won't be able to benefit from their opinion. But this does bring up a point I discuss in the following post, namely that of gradualism or "revolution within the form". The American system is -- or so it seems -- programmed in such a way that, within any one person's lifetime, very few things change enough to cause serious scandal, to say nothing of rebellion. My grandfather, for example, grew up before the income tax but did get to see the New Deal. My father grew up with the income tax and before the New Deal but also got to see the Vietnam debacle. I grew up post-New Deal, witnessed Vietnam in my youth, and have now made it all the way to the New New Deal, AKA Obamaland, or Obamarama, or whatever you want to call it. So each generation gets its share of shocks, but nothing comparable to, say, the experience of Russians who lived through the Bolshevik Revolution, or Chinese who lived through the Japanese invasion, the communist takeover, _and_ the Cultural Revolution -- wow, no wonder their kids are taking over our economy, they're absolutely fearless! But what I'm getting at is that, in this country, events usually progress at a slow enough pace to allow people to adapt, accommodate, and change their thinking. This may be a plus when it comes to overall economic and social stability, but it's definitely a minus when it comes to mental health, and keeping the idea of liberty alive. If you witness war and revolution first-hand, on a daily basis, you're unlikely to be lulled into any sort of semi-stupor of acceptance of the status quo. You might, in fact, actually be able to keep some idea alive of the way things really ought to be. But our system takes advantage of the natural tendency of people to adapt, and even to adopt a sort of Candide-esque point of view about things. It's "the best of all possible worlds" because... well, it's the only one I've ever known, and the idea that it could be a whole lot better is both scary and depressing, and the idea of trying to change anything is scary, and... just leave me alone, will ya? Thus, the American mindset on nearly any issue. And lest this seem to contradict all of our supposed political and social strife, all I can do is point out that those issues are being fought exclusively at the margins, rather than at the core. When it comes to anything significant, _no one_ wants "change".

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