Counting Presents, Pt. 1
I flew out of the blocks in 2003 with this blog, blending new material with edited versions of previous posts I'd done in Internet forums over the year prior to becoming a blogger. Here are what I think are some notable excerpts from the first few months:
Lacking a true smoking gun, there's no way a majority of Americans would think the Bush Administration let 9/11 happen. It simply Does Not Compute with a dominant meme, that Americans are generally the good guys. And as interesting and suspicious as the timeline & behavior of Bushco is, re: 9/11, I still don't think (trying to look at it as rigidly as a lawyer would) that the smoking gun is yet there. Perhaps one would appear, were Congress to get serious about investigating it all, but that's highly unlikely. For one thing, I don't think a lot of congressfolk, whether Repub or Dem, want to fuck with that powerful "we're the good guys" meme. Bad for business, donchaknow.
The liberal welfare state, post-New Deal, has been historically disempowered by a lack of pragmatism, and by promising more than it can deliver. As a result, conservatism too often seems the result of disappointment with liberal promises, and ignorance (via corporate propaganda) to the effects of an unpoliced free market.
Liberalism in general remains scarred by the effects of idealism set forth in the '60s and '70s, a kind of rhetorical flourish (think LBJ on poverty, RFK & MLK on the war, Carter on energy policy...and later, Clinton on health care) that underestimated the power of right-wing and corporate resistance.
As you go higher up the power chain, there has long been a concerted attack on marijuana use. And while companies have legitimate concerns about drug addiction threatening workplace production, the biggest reason pot gets tagged as "demon weed" is the enlightened detachment -- the awareness that a workplace really isn't as valuable or important as it thinks it is -- that pot use can cause among what one might still call the prolétariat.
The question of "Do you make your own luck?" is a fascinating one, and not open to easy answers. But I notice that many societal achievers tend to turn off critical thinking on the matter, settling for ego-driven belief in a hero narrative, with each of them as the hero. Some use the "God is my co-pilot" addendum to this narrative, which may have an even more corrosive societal effect.
I think there's a long tradition of propaganda that greatly emphasizes a Horatio Alger hero narrative vis-à-vis economic accomplishment, and that downgrades the factors of luck and providence. In such an environment, it's no wonder that a good number of those who've "made it" believe that by putting themselves on a pedestal as examples of having the right stuff, they've already done all they really need to do.
On one hand, you can write it off as a kind of terminal immaturity -- simple folk who fell hook, line and sinker for the Big Lie. (Been goin' on since at least the Roman Empire, I suppose.) But when there is a grossly disproprotionate valuing of the wealthy, the insular hero narrative becomes, I think, a luxury we can no longer afford to let rich people have.
The Naderite view of "It has to get worse before it gets better," no matter how much a heartless abandonment of those affected by differences between Dem or Repub, is still in a long-term sense perhaps the only real hope that progressives have.
Doesn't mean I'll ever vote Green again, but I fear we are on the brink of a truly New World Order here, where my country is fully transformed into an imperialist plutocracy that's immune to change via the ballot box.
US presidential elections now function in a kind of postmodern, small-d democracy, a voting process ironically similar to that used by the United Nations.
There remains a vote -- and the concept of American democratic government remains, if anything, a potent marketing tool -- but a shadowy coalition of corporate, religious and military interests have developed a de facto veto power over the democratic process, if the will of the voters do not serve those interests. And the Republican base, for whatever it may lack in voting numbers and demographic potential, makes up for it by being an effective servant of that "shadow coalition," more so than Democrats.
A majority of Americans buy the media line on Bush, primarily due to what I call Uncle Walter Syndrome. Too many Americans have a deep need, to the point of absurdity, to generally believe what they're being told by the mainstream talking heads.
Not only has there been a long-term residual effect from long-gone TV journalists like Cronkite and Howard K. Smith, who actually did possess some impressive credibility, but also the corporate media has for years forcefully advertised itself as upholding the Murrow/Cronkite/Smith tradition of fairness and balance.
This bloated self-promotion, for most thinking people, has clearly become a bald-faced lie. But for those who still need to believe their TVs -- be it from insularity, laziness or plain ol' stupidity -- the media hype is something they are all too willing to buy into.
How very much the dry drunk is Bush, getting his rocks off on bourgeois Christianity and Hollywood war mythology.
I suppose when the Orwellian clusterfuck is so pervasive, it even messes with the leaders' sense of reality, then there's hope the leaders will eventually break down and/or overreach, leaving a vacuum that more responsible leaders can fill. But of course the crucial question is, "At what cost?"
George W. Bush channels a hybrid of Andy Griffith & John Wayne as successfully as Clinton channeled a mix of Elvis and JFK, and finds himself tailor-made for playing a protector figure, despite his "dyslexicon" and shady past. Just as long as he never strays too far from the Rove script.
The images of Iraqi civilians killed or maimed by errant bombs and gunfire really got to me. And while I realize there's an upside to rooting out the evildoer Saddam's regime, I am distraught (though hardly surprised) that the mainstream focus is not on the grotesque price in innocent life that is being paid, nor on the failed diplomacy that preceded this war, but rather on maintaining a "pizza and fairy tales" narrative about the always righteous, always altruistic American liberators.
Television has long made a persuasive case for Andy Warhol's dictum "In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes." And even at age eight I could detect how TV propped the Everyday People up into the spotlight, side by side with the rich and glamorous. What I didn't know then, is that this was more about deceptive marketing than authentic egalitarianism. But for quite awhile afterwards, it seemed natural to believe that I could be a TV star too.
When the egg hatches, it's a great moment of release. Just as it seems that the mother will take back the egg after Horton does all the work, the unexpected creature that hatches is a cute flying elephant, one that is very fond of its longtime protector, Horton. Both Horton and his new "son" have bonded, and his mother remains a stranger to her child.
As a parent of two bright children, I have plenty of happy, even joyful, moments. But also, I have a decent number of Horton "loyalty test" moments, where the hope of ultimate payoff remains just that, a hope. Misunderstanding, personal weakness, feeling tied down...all must be worked through with a strong sense of loyalty and commitment to the children. One dreams that someday, when the eggs are fully hatched and the children fully grown, the satisfaction will come close to that which Horton felt at the end of the cartoon.
Many journalists, most through little fault of their own, are stymied by a world where "news" is processed as an economic and political tool. Data is manipulated to serve the interests of the media owners, and only secondly (if at all) is it used to adequately inform the public.
The majority of journalists take what they produce with a grain of salt, figuring that the partial truth exposed is better than none at all. Others who form an increasing minority not only are aware of the lies and half-truths, but also actively encourage them, in order to curry favor with their bosses. In a third category are those who fall for the "We are the sacred scribes" hype that surrounds the media, and thus overestimate both their information sources and their journalistic acumen.
...the seminar dream keeps recurring. In it, I'm visiting an est/Landmark seminar, intrigued by the goings on, drawn in by the enthusiasm and discipline that accompany the group's trademark brand of personalized philosophical inquiry. And, by the promise of a victorious "transformation," in which the outside world seems powerfully affected by one's commitments and languaging.
Thing is, in the dream I'm always there as an anonymous bystander. Seen and not seen. Taking it all in until...the "hard sell" begins. When the group gauntlet comes down, and one gets the message that transformation isn't primarily reflected in philosophical epiphanies or personal accomplishments outside the seminar. It is, rather, a matter of being able to successfully "enroll" others into the est/Landmark courses. All transformation, in essence, flows from supporting the established enrollment strategies, which typically are aggressive and even confrontational, not to mention very white collar-centric.
(In my recent dream, I happened upon a personal memo to the seminar leader from someone higher up in the organization. The first sentence read: "Work the room, hold stories.")
It's at the "hard sell" point of the seminar dream that I typically start to bail --which is something easier said than done in a real-life seminar, where they'll go the extra mile trying to coax or shame you into staying. Sometimes I'll fly or float away; other times I will sneak out the door. And just about always, there's a tinge of regret as I leave, that I've been wishy-washy and duplicitous.
Some hard-drivin' workers, through bad luck or bad timing, are bound to come up short. But hey, the bootstrappers have an answer for that, too: for those tough times, there's always Christianity.
What a wonderfully diverse life the social Darwinists offer us. All roads lead to Sunday School and the Men's Wearhouse.
For all its bombast, Greenwood's anthem has, in spots, enough skilled subtlety to be the envy of any GOP political spinmeister. Anti-PC notions are offered in somewhat ambiguous code; shades of problematic meaning turn almost imperceptibly on a single word or phrase. And as usual, the warm fuzzy blanket of Old Glory, sewn by a loving and just God, is a sturdy and transcendent mythology.
Love it or leave it, "God Bless The USA" is an awesome reflection of the perennial nationalistic impulse to whitewash and obfuscate. Not just in America, but anywhere. All done in the name of the homeland...or, in this case, "her."