Thursday, November 6, 2014

Why Absurd Irony Dooms Us

Dear People Of the Future,

I’ve taken to addressing you more than I do those in my time.  Anyone presently interested will read anyway.  More important, my fellow liberals understand my frustration as I watch the US Empire continue its slant toward catastrophe.  There are a good number of us, many tens of millions, who see the nested mass of problems.

But we are not enough.  We live in a time when tens of millions of anguished voices, all seeing disaster, are not enough.  We speak to a towering psychological wall, and we do not have a trumpet loud enough to crash it down.  

 You in the future no doubt scratch your heads, and toss out basic puzzlements like, “Global warming was obvious, and they had the means to deal with it.” “The wealthy had hoarded the wealth, yet society kept feeding the wealthy.”  In conjunction with this:  “They were the richest, most powerful country, but millions of their citizens could not afford a doctor.”  

 There are many more absurd ironies, of course.  Perhaps the following stands out for you.  I wouldn't be surprised:  “They kept hawking war and weapons, while a dozen volatile countries had nuclear missiles poised and ready to strike.”

If nuclear holocaust doesn’t claim us, rising sea waters will.  We live in a time when humanity had a chance to come together and save itself from an unprecedented planet-altering fall.  If this had happened, a victory of cooperation and insight, it would have validated the dominant ideals of the West:  democracy, reason, and freedom. 

However, instead of being heroes, we are providing the Great Lesson of failure, the most incredible ever generated.  We exemplify the gross failure of the Western way, and we serve as sad testimony for the need for something different.  Indeed, our citizens right now sow the death of freedom, even as they claim to champion freedom.  This sort of delusion, so well-known in the discipline of psychology, remains strong in the general populace, impervious to their incarcerated perceptions.

Here’s how it happened.  The wealthy folk, many of them anyway, began to seek their own benefit without concern for the rest of the people, or even America itself.  The grease for this wheel was Milton Friedman’s neoliberal economic theory:  that capitalist markets could regulate themselves through the sheer pursuit of profit.   In other words, greed becomes god.  It becomes our beacon.  Everyone competes to get more stuff, and business feeds off of that.  The result, in theory, is a harmonious interplay of material desires, one that leads to an optimal, efficient reaction to whatever problem arises, even on the grandest scale.

As you can see, this is basically a form of wish-fulfillment fantasy.  Of faith-based worship.  The chosen god was called, in fine Orwellian fashion, “the free market.”  It was the great deception:  greed as the ultimate standard of individual behavior, while claiming it would also maximize freedom.  Indeed, not only maximize freedom:  greed was freedom.  Since the dawn of civilization, greed has been considered immoral in all ethical systems.  There's a reason for this.  Greed is an obsession, a mental trap, a psychological pit that obviates the conscience and chains the afflicted, like Midas, to a foolish pursuit.

The US empire tossed all that ancient wisdom aside and proceeded to make the wealthy wealthier while everyone else sank.  The mechanism of this plutocracy:  the successful people rose to the top of the monetary pyramid, where they gained the ability to influence officials, thus subverting democracy.  The shift proceeded over decades, as laws were altered to transfer the tax burden onto the middle class, while loopholes, stock sleights, and campaign-donation tricks were created for a privileged few.  (A good book on this is, “Winner Take All Politics” by a couple of professors).

Of course, none of this works unless you can fool the majority of the people.  “The great masses of the people will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one” said Adolf Hitler.  He was right in our case.  The wealthy (via marketing/propaganda) used the following strategy:  harness the unconscious (and conscious) fears of the citizens to channel their outrage at the wrong target.  Keep in mind, America started as a violent prejudiced genocidal nation, one that slaughtered the aboriginal societies; one that only ended slavery of Africans through a long bloody civil war.  On top of that is our fanatic claim of “Manifest Destiny,” used to justify colonization of the hemisphere for Machiavellian and plutocratic purposes (“War Is a Racket” says Smedley Butler in his classic indictment). 

There has always been a good deal of rabid patriotism and ignorant racism (plus sexism, homophobia, etc.) to harness in our country, which has always been cruel and expansionist.  We are responsible for turning the beautiful wilderness of North America, which existed since... whenever...  the time of the dinosaurs, into a lattice of tracks, roads, acres, industries, and cramped homes, all wreathed in smog, dearth, and ground pollution.

But I digress.  The strategy of Greed:  blame the poor.  The poor, in the minds of the many, are seen as nonwhites (especially black, the most despised minority), single women (also vilified) and their children (doomed to be miscreants via association).

One of the scariest aspects of this strategy is its self-vitalizing nature:  as citizens suffer more, they look more for someone to blame.  Their hatred intensifies, and the unfortunate scapegoat becomes even more effective as a diversion.  Meanwhile the rich take more of the pie, which increases suffering, which increases the hate and ignorance.  Round and round.  Stronger and stronger.  More hate.  More ignorance.  That’s the appalling iteration.

Once you have solid scapegoats, and the citizens focused on them, manipulation becomes easy.  If the poor are bad, the rich must be good.  If the ‘free market’ is freedom, denying corporations what they want is evil.  If government is supposed to be minimal and non-regulatory, then expanding it into a tool to help the suffering is wrong.  The suffering are to blame for their own plight.

 The ‘free market’, then, proclaims it is fine for the elites to fly around in helicopters while tens of millions of poor languish, unable to pay for medical treatment, or find a fair-paying job.

And since people are starved for decent jobs, “job creation” becomes all important.  If that means giving the oil companies, lords of global warming, more power to drill and produce, so be it.  Indeed, according to the strategy of Greed, global warming is a myth perpetuated by the hated liberals, who are lumped into the dark polar category of “socialists.” 

That’s a sketch.  The rich get richer, the people blame the poor, and also the hated ‘socialists', who try to spread the truth.  Indeed, if you try to spread the truth you can create cognitive dissonance, which can backfire on you.

As things get worse, this strategy only works better.  That is why I despair:  no matter how bad it gets, the truth will not be recognized, and hate for the scapegoat will only increase.  It takes catastrophe to wake people up.  But we cannot afford catastrophe.

One help is education.  But education is being cut back, even as the price of a single Hellfire missile could pay the salary of several adjunct professors for a year.  Even if you do educate some people, it is not enough, not unless you reach enough of them to influence elections.  The world community of scientists is currently screaming out about the dangers of global warming--but they are being ignored here in North America. 

“The truth will set you free.”  Maybe.  But no one can hear the truth.  That's the problem.  For the truth to set you free, you must be capable, psychologically, of hearing it.

Right now, "truth" is defined in terms of "free" economics, a falsity within a falsity.  Not science, not critical thinking, but rather the pursuit of accumulation reigns.  If you lose, too bad, and if you win, you become one of the elite gods of greed.

November, 2014, the United States of North America.



1 comment:

  1. I've solved one dilemma for the world. It is the riddle of that holy or unholy place that is always in the news for the wrong reasons: Christians can use it Sundays, Jews can use it Saturdays, and Muslims on Fridays; the rest of us Mondays to Wednesdays. On Thursday we give God a rest.