Tales of Angst, Alienation and Martial law: Roasting Marshmallows on the American Reichstag Fire to ComeBy Phil Rockstroh
Jul. 29, 2007
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In this summer of angst and grim foreboding about what further assaults against common sense and common decency the Bush administration might inflict upon the people of the world, how many times during the day do those of us -- still possessed of mind, heart and conscience -- take pause, hoping we've seen the worst of it, then, fearing we haven't yet, attempt to push down the dread rising within us, so that we might simply make it through the day and be able to rest at night?
Accordingly, those who have been paying attention are aware that the outward mechanisms of martial law are in place. We shudder knowing that Bush has issued an executive decree that grants him dictatorial power in the event of some nebulously defined national emergency. In addition, the knowledge nettles us that a vast network of internment camps bristle across the length of the U.S., standing at wait for those who might raise objections to the fascistic fury unloosed by the American empire's version of the Reichstag fire.
Moreover, a closer look would reveal that the inner processes by which an individual begins the act of acceptance of authoritarian excess -- the mixture of chronic passivity, boredom, low grade anxiety and unfocused rage inherent in the citizens/consumers of the corporate state that primes an individual for fascism -- have been in place for quite some time within the psyches of the American populace, both elites and hoi polloi alike. Although, don't look for torch-lit processions thronging the nation's streets and boulevards; rather, look for a Nuremberg Rally of couch-bound brownshirts. Instead of ogling the serried ranks of jut-jawed, SS soldiers, a contemporary Leni Riefenstahl would be forced to film chubby clusters of double-chinned consumers, saluting the new order with their TV remotes. In the contemporary United States, the elation induced by the immersion of one's individual will to the mindless intoxication of the mob might only be possible, if Bush seized dictatorial control of the state while simultaneously sending out to all citizens gift certificates to Ikea.
After the catastrophes spawned by the rise of European fascism in the 1930s, a number of brilliant, original thinkers (including Hannah Arendt, Roberto Freire, Wilhelm Reich, and R. D. Laing) set out to study the phenomenon in order to learn how future calamities might be prevented. Although the methodologies and conclusions of these thinkers varied, each noted that alienation and dehumanization festered at the core of the death urge of fascism.
Nowadays, in contrast, the elites of the corporate media have proven themselves useless in this regard, believing, as they do, they constitute the thin line between the rabble at large (me and you) and the chaos begot by freedom. At present, mega-churches attract alienated suburbanites. Right-wing talk show hosts misdirect their listeners alienation towards so-called illegal "aliens" and exploit their audience's sense of powerlessness (created by the rigged system of corporate capitalism) against elitist liberals (who themselves, ironically, benefit from the present system and who only want to change it to the degree that their own privilege will not be affected -- in other words, not at all).
Combine the above with the American character trait of being hostile towards introspection and it becomes evident that the present disaster has been building for quite a while now. And it can (and most likely will) get worse -- far worse.
Most Americans alive today have been trained since birth to adapt to and serve the corrupt corporate structure by means of the shunning of critical thinking and have been conditioned to be in constant (empty) motion or in the thrall of mass media distraction. We have been taught that passivity is for losers, yet we find ourselves nearly powerless before the corporate/consumer/military/police/entertainment state. In this way, we serve our corporate masters; it serves the corpocracy that the lower orders refuse meaningful self-awareness. If one were to glimpse one's own illusions, then it follows one might begin to question collective delusions, and this would upset the social order.
Those who have studied the dangers of authoritarian rule have advised us to be wary of people who carry an inner emptiness. Of course, these unfortunates yearn for the void to be filled. But with their hearts and minds mortared closed, what makes it through the self-constructed prison is loud, stupid, and fascistic. At present, what penetrates is: Fundamentalist Sermons on Armageddon, violent video games, the empty spectacle of steroid-induced professional sports hype, the lethal fantasies of American exceptionalism, the exercise in Rock and Roll imperialism that U.S. foreign policy has become. In short, all the banal Sturm and Drang necessary to pierce those protective walls and penetrate the pervasive inner emptiness.
When the people of a culture have been conditioned to worship power -- but feel powerless -- there's trouble ahead. The elites must displace the public's rage by a demagogic sleight-of-hand such as the demonization of marginalized groups. In the US, we've been inundated by years of state and commercial propaganda that has degraded and demonized the country's permanent underclass by the labeling of them as welfare parasites and career criminals.
It has been noted that the mindset, methods, and procedures of America's punitive, profit-driven prison-industrial complex was a prototype for the systemic cruelty of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib; furthermore, it is a given that those institutional affronts to human decency will have served as prototypes for the methods and procedures that will be practiced upon those who are swept-up in the purges and detainment mania following the declaration of martial law in the United States.
We push this knowledge away from us, fearing we will be paralyzed by its crushing implications. Worse, what is nearly impossible to admit is, most likely, the system crushed us long ago. Apropos, R. D. Laing averred that being able to adapt and function within an insane, authoritarian system renders one for all practical purposes insane -- only insane in a manner acceptable to a power mad ruling elite.
This is the knowledge we push down, every hour of everyday. Otherwise, we would be driven to admit outright that the system has crushed our individual hopes, aspirations and yearnings. We must, at all costs, keep these feelings concealed; otherwise, we might be compelled to contemplate what we have forsaken, what passions and truths we have traded away for the false sense of security that the corporate order offered us when we tacitly agreed to surrender what was most sacred, vital and alive within us. One psychological manifestation of this phenomenon is the incessant chanting of that mantra of the American corporate workforce: "I'm not my job. I'm not what I do all day long."
For a moment, meditate on the calamity implicit in such a sentiment. Because If we cannot locate and engage our true selves during our waking hours, then who the hell are we anyway? This is a profoundly troubling circumstance. Moreover, if we've condemned our daylight selves to a void of non-being, what then remains of us?
We experience this dislocation of the life force as a sense of nebulous dread. Everything, these days, the architecture and accouterment of our lives seems so fragile and unreal; it feels as if everything could just fly apart at any given moment. The world and our place in it seems so flimsy: an empire built of eggshells; it could all shatter in an instant.
Living on credit, the house of cards of the real estate market, jobs evaporating, most of us languishing only a couple of paychecks away from ruin: The empire is coming undone. As it is, it seems the nation is only being held together with hydrogenated fat, wheat gluten, over-extended credit and particleboard. Ergo, there is one law the lawless Bush administration and their keepers from the plundering class cannot flout: the second law of thermodynamics. They won't be able to claim executive privilege to avoid the consequences of negative entropy.
In a similar vein, we, the underlings of empire, stand helpless before the prevailing madness. Individual reason rarely acts as a countervailing force to stem a drowning tide of cultural cognitive dissonance. Because the more epic and all-compassing the mistake, the more epic and all-encompassing come the rationalizations, the scapegoating and the compulsion for do-overs. If the surge isn't working as fantasized, then we'll double-dog surge you and then bomb Iran. If police state tactics fail to alleviate a sense of anxiety, then we must construct more detainment camps, more maximum security prisons, enact more federal death penalty statutes. "Bring back the electric chair; being put to sleep, like stray pets, is too good for the traitors," the mob will rage. That's the solution, but (cognitive dissonance being what it is) we need to go bigger -- we need an electric sofa -- yet, bigger still -- an electric dining room set! "Aahh . . . the smell of deep-fried dissidents in the morning."
And over the smoking corpses, let us pray. We need to pray for . . . what? . . . more prayer. These prayers would work, the homicidally faithful will insist, if every single doubter was induced to drop to their knees and pray. Hence, we need prayer in the public schools. We need prayer on public transportation. We need prayer in public restrooms!
Animus, ignorance, and magical thinking are a tragic mix and, I'm afraid, that vintage of mind is the hideous wine of our times. The social criteria that gives rise to fascism is in place in the U.S. and those in positions of power have a strong interest in seeing things remain that way. All we can do is what folks (a minority) have always done . . . exile or resistance.
In my opinion, both are honorable. The other options are varying degrees of "little Eichmann[ism]" -- Ward Churchill's much scorned, career purge-inducing -- but nevertheless accurate phrase. If one does the "soul work," to appropriate archetypal psychologist James Hillman's term, it is still possible to resist complicity. Training yourself to avoid lying for provisional gain is a time honored means of preventing alliances with exploitive assholes. They will avoid you, fire you, curse your name from the darkness of their inner abyss, but this will solve the problem of dependance on them and you'll be forced to live by other means. Generally, one is more adaptable than one believes.
Keep yourself as healthy and as sane as possible: we're going to need you around after the inevitable collapse of the present system. Also, beware of those reductionist demons of the mind who diminish the soul-making possibilities of "mere" words. The acts of writing and reading are seen as passive; to crackpot realists, these activities seem useless, unproductive -- the feckless indulgences of a class of the thin-wristed effete.
Accordingly, Americans have all but ceased reading. Worse, they displace their feelings of self-loathing borne of their own corporately induced passivity upon writers and thinkers. If the tenets of democratic discourse are to survive, it is imperative that writers and thinkers begin to engage in a passionate defense of themselves against the kvetching armies of crackpot realists that have encircled and laid siege to our collective hearts and minds.
But don't expect to be lauded with praise for the effort. It's doubtful our adversaries will be moved by our entreaties: There cannot be a rapprochement with reality for those who have never had a relationship with it in the first place. Yet verbal imagery and depth-inducing insights are the DNA of compassionate engagement. It is not a coincidence that George W. Bush is an inarticulate oaf. Conversely, there are many things in this world that require being touched by words, for there are occasions when words alone can suffice to take us deep and lift us up and serve to ameliorate our alienation.
It is in this spirit that I offer the above words to you. I'm traveling light; they're all I'm carrying with me, at this late hour, in these dark and dangerous times.
Phil Rockstroh, a self-described auto-didactic, gasbag monologist, is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at [email protected].