Tuesday, January 15, 2013

State of the Disunion


Having taken a break for the holidays, some very pleasant family business, and a pesky head cold (which hasn't gone away yet, but hey, at least it ain't the flu), I decided it would be a disservice to leave 2012 behind without making a few comments. After all, it was an Election Year, which means about as much these days as etiquette among middle-schoolers. Yes, I still grow somewhat nostalgic when I recall that, as a youth, I witnessed the good citizens of my town walking to the polls wearing their Sunday best. Voting was then considered not only a privilege, but an obligation, and a pillar of the democratic system – after all, if democracy is “rule by the people”, how are they supposed to rule, if not by voting (and petitioning, impeaching, recalling, etc.)? Now it has been clearly revealed – with no hint of shame attached! -- that our allegedly democratic system is actually an oligarchy, and that voting is an empty ritual, since no matter how our elections turn out, the same people will be, and remain, in control. And yet this realization doesn't keep people from voting, as if to hang onto this last vestige of democracy – even as a symptom of denial – is preferable to staying home, which would be to capitulate to despair.

But then the question naturally arises, at what point did the power migrate – through force or negligence – from the people to the ruling elite? At what point did the average citizen become the exploited, the victim, the done-to? At what point did being a “good citizen” mean to swallow all the pap we're fed by the public schools and the media, and to shut up and not ask questions? And, at what point was our self-image of individualism (rugged or not) and self-sufficiency turned into a cruel lie? The usual suspect is the New Deal, but – as I've postulated previously – I think the disease goes back much further... at least as far as the Progressive Era. And let's not forget our own Industrial Revolution, which represented the first wave of migration from the farms to the cities, and thus to a more artificial, stress-prone, dehumanizing, and toxic lifestyle. And let's not forget the role of the military-industrial complex, which – pace Eisenhower – was not born in World War II but was in the bloom of youth during the Civil War, which it did so much to aid and abet. And then you have the banks – ah yes, the banks! The “money power”. You create a “medium of exchange” which comes to define every economic interaction, no matter how trivial, among the citizenry... which is the entire basis for the tax code... and yet which is completely controlled by the oligarchy, and you have a ready-made formula for tyranny through economic domination and centralized government verging on totalitarianism. Try living without “money” for a while. Try using some other form of exchange – barter, for example. The money power will be down on you like a cloud of enraged harpies.

The slavery of old was a physical affair as well as an economic one – but the slavery of our time is almost entirely economic, and is sustained through fear, and through the lack of imagination of the slaves. I think the problem is that, as a society, we have come to regard freedom as a kind of natural baseline of existence, and things like tyranny and slavery as exceptions. But the most cursory look at history, as well as current events, indicates that freedom is something that not only has to be fought for, but defended at all times and in all places, because there will always be forces seeking to take it away. There is a difference between believing in freedom as a principle, and wanting it for oneself with everyone else having to take their chances. I daresay that the vast bulk of Americans fall into the latter category, despite the constant barrage of propaganda to the contrary. After all, how is it that “a free country” has more laws, and more people in prison, than any other? It's because we've decided that “freedom” for the privileged few must entail severe restrictions on the activities – and even the thoughts! -- of everyone else. This is, of course, a very negative concept of freedom – not only “zero-sum” but “negative-sum”. A handful of rulers and a vast army of slaves, the majority of whom are deluded into thinking they're “free” -- this is a grim picture, but it's one that has come, more and more, to describe our society. And how truly free are the rulers, for that matter? Did not the slave masters of old have to keep a constant watch, lest the slaves break free, or wander, or even revolt? Did not paranoia become the order of the day, out of sheer necessity? As it was then, so it is now – and the paranoia of the ruling class is another thing that grows more obvious day by day. This is why they utilize every available bit of technology to spy on, and keep tabs on, the rest of us. (In fact, they're probably perusing this post right now.) (Nah.) 

I have also discussed, more than once, the notion that our present troubles all have roots in our very founding. This “more perfect union” may have been “more perfect” than much of what went before, but it had built into it fatal flaws, some of which are only now showing themselves. In this category I include things like foreign policy, church-state relations, the two-party system, entitlements, the national debt... even the race issue, which goes back to the fact that the race question was not dealt with in the founding documents, for the simple reason that there was no race question – unless one was an exceptionally humanistic and activist New England clergyman. Truly, with this many fatal flaws, it's amazing the system has lasted as long as it has – albeit, there have been countless “revolutions within the form” since the founding. I guess it could be said that if the Constitution had been strictly applied all along, we might have had a revolution early on – but our leaders wisely (?) started the tradition of “interpretation” of the Constitution, and over time and countless “interpretations” it turned into, first rubber, then Silly Putty, and then a pile of spineless mush (or maybe I'm thinking about Congress). And yet – tradition! -- habit! -- everyday morality, and the like. These are what have saved us so far – those vestiges of the sort of thinking that gave rise to the founding in the first place. I mean, the colonies could have just rebelled, thrown the British army out, and set up a kingdom, tyranny, dictatorship, whatever... what was stopping them? But we had “ideas”, you see – and those ideas were, in fact, sustaining as long as the people were capable of understanding them and implementing them. Once that understanding was gone (thanks, in no small part, to academia, the public schools, and the “media” -- not to mention benign (?) neglect by the churches) then this invisible support structure vanished, and suddenly it was “Anything Can Happen Day” like on the old Mickey Mouse Club. Well... here we are in 2013, and we've had so many “Anything Can Happen Days” that we have forgotten that there is any other way to operate. We are living in a Bizarro World of our own making – one that would be considered sheer insanity by the Founding Fathers, and by any number of leaders and ordinary people up until recently. A foreign policy based on perpetual war... perennial trade imbalances... a national debt that can never be paid off... the intractable “race question”... cruel and exploitative drug “policy”... corruption at all levels... massive failure of public education... dominance of a brain-dead media... environmental toxins giving rise to new and incurable diseases... meaningless elections... and over it all, national leadership and the economy in the hands of global financial powers who care not a whit for the welfare of the American people, except to the extent it maintains them as happy (or heavily sedated) slaves.

I'm not saying that all of this was inevitable, fatal flaws or not. Adjustments could have been made along the way if there had been the political will to do so. When things began to depart radically from our original “vision” -- flawed as it may have been – things could have been done. The problem is that in any political system vested interests have a tendency to take over. They are organized... they are good at playing the game... they are first to the trough. And as government becomes larger, their influence is amplified (as are the rewards when they succeed). So what starts out as “democracy” soon becomes a matter of survival of the fittest. The first to fall by the wayside are, of course, ordinary citizens, who are not organized, not “savvy”, and who are captives of ideas that the ruling elite has long since forsworn (even if they believed in them at one time, which is doubtful). The result is that, from that point on, the citizens are fighting an uphill battle – and it matters little where their political persuasions lie. Both the “Occupy” crowd and the “Tea Partiers” were given short shrift by those in charge during the last election cycle. All the real battles involve rival gangs, in effect – all organized, all self-seeking, all without principle. The interests of “the people”, however and by whomever defined, are of little consequence, even as everyone continues to mouth words to the contrary. Delusion and habits of thought (or non-thought) fill in as the gaps in our reality grow wider – to the point where we wind up thanking our persecutors and tormentors, and setting them on high. The evolution of a society toward totalitarianism is also an evolution toward sado-masochism – and we are already showing some mighty convincing signs that it has come to this, at least in some areas. What follows is – well, there aren't all that many historical examples, frankly. You can get ossification, as in the case of Cuba and North Korea... evolution, as in the case of China... conquest by others, as in the case of the Third Reich... dissolution, as in the case of the Soviet Union... there is quite a variety, and I suspect it has to do with cultural tendencies as much as anything. How will it be for us? Well, one thing's for certain, and it's that we're not the ones who will get to decide. Our fate is already in other hands – our creditors, the international financial cartel, China, Israel... and many more besides, I'm sure. I guess in a weird kind of way this lets our leaders off the hook; all they have to do now is obey orders (and all we have to do now is follow their orders). But someone, somewhere along the line, made a conscious decision to turn our collective fate over to other entities, other powers... and they should be held fully responsible.

When it comes to this issue, our leaders are collaborators – like the Jews who worked for the Nazis, or the blacks who worked for “the man” when slavery was in force. They have sold not only their birthright, but all of ours as well, for the mess of pottage called fame, fortune, esteem, power (of the illusory sort). It's not so much that they are anti-American as they are pro-themselves, but they have certainly betrayed their constituents – and yet they press on, feeling unaccountable and invulnerable... and nothing can convince them otherwise. They will wind up – if the future history of these times is at all accurate – on a list of the most infamous... but if the thought of that bothers them at this point, they don't show it. One can say that greed and short-sightedness are the enemies of ideas... but also that bad ideas are the enemies of truth, and put us at perennial odds with reality. We have suffered enough from both extremes, and are now suffering from their convergence. 

Could we turn back at this point, and say “stop the madness”? Some are saying that, but they are understandably baffled as to how this is to be done. Can our fall even be “managed” so as to minimize the amount of injury, pain, and disruption? Possibly – but again there is the question of political will, and mainly: How are you going to manage a process that our leaders, almost to a man, deny is even happening? How do you refer a person, or an economic/political system, for therapy if they don't want to admit they're sick? And in the case of our economic/political system, who is our therapist? China? The E.U.? Please. We're the ones who have played doctor, or policeman, or both, for generations now – so when we get sick, who is going to cure us? Who is going to bail us out of our terminal economic situation? More likely, everyone is going to be looking to take advantage of the situation – to cut as much blubber as possible off the great beached whale before it starts to rot. They can't stop the process, and they don't want to; they have their own interests to attend to. I think everyone out there recognizes that the American Experiment is over with – even if we don't. We have had our hour upon the world stage, and in fact are still on it, but we're starting to look a bit pathetic, and more than a bit crazy – the King Lear of the world at this point. They are afraid of our power (more frightening since it's in the hands of total incompetents) but see it as something that too will pass – and with it our influence, our dominance, our power to intimidate (to make the rest of the world “offers they can't refuse”)... and, yes, our ideas, which may have seemed noble at one time but are now seen as quaint, old-fashioned, and na├»ve – and dangerous as well. When others see how much hot water our “ideas” have gotten us into over the years, it's no wonder if they decide to swear off ideas as the basis for action – especially when it comes to foreign affairs. It can be argued that we would have survived all the worst ideas we've ever had when it comes to domestic policy (Progressivism, Prohibition, the New Deal, the Great Society, etc.) if we had not also had so many bad ideas when it comes to foreign policy – in pursuit of empire. But the two combined – the apple rotting both from within and from without – was too much.

So if anything can be said about 2012, in the generic political sense, it's that we have a clearer view of where we stand as a nation, and in relation to each other – and the view is not encouraging. We have fragmented (not for the first time by any means) and then formed back into gangs (for mutual support and protection) – neoconservatives, paleoconservatives, libertarians, Tea Partiers, Occupiers, liberals (the anti-war Left being extinct at this point, thanks to Obama)... all of which crosses, like some plaid on acid, religious divisions, racial divisions, sexual (gender and preference) divisions, unions vs. right to work, rural vs. urban, health, environment... not to mention social/economic class, which is a study in its own right, especially since such things were not supposed to exist in the people's Utopia. And this is all besides our foreign/military policy, where the wrongheadedness is only ameliorated by its utter incompetence. The good news, at least to date, is that we haven't invaded Iran or sent troops into Syria – at least not openly. But please notice that there is now a subtle shifting of focus toward West Africa, where the French are already gleefully seeking their next Dien Ben Phu. Do we follow them into that hot, dusty quagmire? Time will tell. Of one thing you may be certain – our true “strategic interests” won't have anything to do with it.

I'll say again that the Republicans are dead meat in terms of national politics... and while some will say “well deserved!” it's also true that they have simply become victims of demographics – that and economic realities. The problem for the Republicans is that they haven't been able to break out of their status as the party of Regular Guys (you know – white, Christian, heterosexual, etc.), and the proportion of Regular Guys in the population is declining, while the proportions of all other definable groups are increasing or at least staying level. Let me put it another way – when most of the remaining Regular Guys in the country are Mormons like Mitt Romney, you know we're in trouble. And the Mormons, regardless of their zeal for families, are never going to outnumber the 47-percenters, or Obama's base, or any other aggregate group that provides the political fuel in our time. Ironically for the Mormons, they acquired nation-wide political respectability at the same time their demographic fell into the minority.

And then there's the middle class – and, like the weather, everyone talks about the middle class but no one does anything about it. But the middle class, you see, are believers – sandwiched between fatalists beneath and cynics above. They are the ones who cling to the ideas the ruling elite have long since given up, and they are – economically, socially, morally, and spiritually – the heart and soul of this country. (You don't have to like it, but it's true.) And right now they're being treated like fatted calves fit for the slaughter – which is why politicians talk about them so much. They are the Republican base, and yet that party's days are over as a national force. The Democrats – traditionally the party of “the working man”, and of those who cannot (or will not) work, seem to have found new respect for the middle class, which must offend their core no end. But the Democrat base is secure without the middle class – or, at least, without the portion of it that I've called Regular Guys. So why talk about it? Again, sheep to the slaughter – keep reassuring everybody until the instant the axe falls. Otherwise you might get some resistance, some push-back... like the Tea Party, that is the bane of all liberals' existence. Obama claims to be for the middle class, but he hates the Tea Party – well? Which is it? The Tea Partiers are as middle class as you can get; the only difference is they have the time and energy to hit the streets, and the others don't. They know something is terribly wrong, whereas their peers are still slumbering in bourgeois dreamland. Again, Obama doesn't need a single middle-class vote – or, at least, a single Regular Guy vote. But things go more smoothly when the slaves are placated and conned than when they are openly threatened.

Another thing we've learned, and not just in the past year, is that those in charge – the power elite – are so secure, so confident in their position and power, that they see no further reason to try and conceal their machinations. They will boldly march into the halls of Congress and demand billions in taxpayer money, and get it – as long as someone can represent it as being “in the best interests of the nation” or “of the American people”, and paint pictures of much worse disasters that would surely follow if the demands, er, “requests”, weren't met. This is, truly, something new under the sun, at least for this country, and it's almost the defining characteristic of fascism. And yet there it is, in plain sight... and not inconsistent with the Constitution to boot! (In foreign policy, we get treated to a similar spectacle every time the Israelis come to town – again, something unprecedented, as far as I know... unless one is talking about an occupied country or a colony.) 

What else can we say about 2012? Well, it was the year that Obama and his gang openly declared war on the Catholic Church – which undoubtedly put more than a few “liberal Catholics” in a bind, since they'd been playing nice with him up to that point. The more conservative types knew better, of course – but they were in the minority. All they can do now is say “I told you so” before the Gestapo shows up at the door.

Another battle which was joined – and just in time for the holidays! -- is “gun control”, and it's good in a way to see public figures being forced to define terms, and get right down to specifics like the number of bullets in a magazine. Any time people are forced to quit talking in general terms about very tangible issues, it's a good thing. Ironically, it usually requires some sort of catastrophe and the resulting hysteria to force people to actually think. But think they must, since there is no longer any neutral ground. In fact, the dialogue has already yielded up one generally-accepted notion, that would have been unthinkable until recently – namely that one of the main reasons for the right to bear arms is the ability to defend oneself against the government. This may be illusory, of course, but the fact that the point is being made and widely accepted ought to tell you something. And it's not just about moonshiners down in the hills fighting off “revenooers”; that was a single issue. Now it's being talked about across the board. 

Then, of course, we had that much-ballyhooed “fiscal cliff”, a textbook case of a self-inflicted wound – basically a case of Congress putting on a Halloween mask and standing in front of a mirror yelling “Boo!” For pure farce, it could hardly be matched – and, by the way, did you notice that the defense budget, which was supposed to have been held hostage as part of the fiscal cliff stand-off, sailed right on through without a scratch weeks earlier? So much for that strategy (the “gold watch” again). And, OK, the military is supposedly looking at a few cuts down the road – well, hey, is anyone ever happy when their program is cut, or even level-funded, or even when the rate of increase is made level? The answer is no. The military loves its toys, and since they won't grow up and start thinking in broader terms than making noise, breaking things, and killing people, they have to be stuck in a corner now and then. That's life. But rest assured, the military will not suffer much as long as they are engaged in the pursuit of empire, and said pursuit is still very much a driving force. And as I've said, the military will be the last to go – long after our domestic programs have collapsed of their own weight. This is always the way it is with empires. The last man to know anything has changed is the guy manning the farthest outpost.

So yeah – 2012 has not been entirely boring. We've witnessed the coup de grace laid upon the Republican Party, and the official dethronement of Regular Guys as a force among the electorate. Iraq has been converted from a stupid and dangerous country into a stupid and neutered one, but at incalculable cost... Israel continues to get its own way, and if anyone even ventures to suggest otherwise it holds its breath and turns purple until they relent... American popular culture continues to turn out fetid green slime... and all of our intractable problems remain intractable. No deus ex machina... no aliens descending from massive space ships to save us from ourselves... no wisdom, no insight – just a “hardening of positions”. And plenty of fear, disorientation, paranoia, and panic – just the thing for a great “unifier” like Barack Obama. Ron Paul, one of the bravest and wisest men in American history, took his leave, and his words should have heaped burning coals on the heads of those who remain, but they are too far gone to know it. And the liberal/collectivist base, AKA tax receivers, formerly known as “the rainbow coalition”, consolidated and reaffirmed its power. But that is all an illusion, since the real power belongs to our masters, very few of whom we can name or visualize, but who hold our future in their hands, and of their ways we know not.