With Our Hands Tied
“If there is going to be change, real change, it will have to work its way from the bottom up, from the people themselves. That’s how change happens.” — Howard Zinn
Our establishment liberalism has shown us once again that it is inept in being anything other than a covert mechanism for the structures of power. Chris Hedges was right when he pointed out that it was an insolvent Left — a Left that was inanimate and limp — that opened the doors for and was “the great enabler of fascism” in Yugoslavia and Weimar Republic.
And it is this same Left that has, perhaps inadvertently, assembled the strength of a “crazed right-wing” movement. But make no mistake in thinking Trump is all there is, or even the worst of it. Trump’s impending cabinet is littered with politicians bent on policies that will adamantly enforce the protection and empowerment of a select few, and meanwhile strip the disenfranchised of what diminishing freedom, opportunity, and liberty they have (See links for Mike Pence, John Bolton, Stephen Bannon, Michael Flynn, Jeff Sessions). Ralph Nader refers to Trump’s cabinet as a, “…bizarre selection of men and women marinated either in corporatism or militarism, with strains of racism, class cruelty and ideological rigidity.” One can’t help but wonder if, in some strange way, we’re to blame or if this outlandish reality was out of our control all along. But what is more interesting about this question than the answer given, is the reason it was asked. The inquirer necessarily begins to think both responsibly and what democracy would be.
As we look around us, we observe we live in a society that is very “depoliticized”, and as a result of this, there are only fragments of what the Left once was (here I mean Left in a classical, organic sense). Almost all efforts to mobilize have been met by an unassailable front — a seismic determination to obstruct popular uprisings and movements. We have our hands tied. But this didn’t occur instantly.
A mass-commodity society produces consumers who feverishly consume the goods produced, but these consumers decay in a squalor of impoverishment and dependency. The sole datum is consumption, and all cultural value is derived from it. And yet America, being the wealthiest nation in the world, has a grotesque etiquette towards the poor. “Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue.” Kurt Vonnegut once said. “Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves.” He then goes on to say, “They (the poor) do not love one another because they do not love themselves.” This malignancy is a spring of life for the powerful, for at its worst our capitalism desires for the “desperate to act desperately” and at its best is guilty of unfettered negligence. This is why America has become a nation of rancor and antipathy.
But another tragedy of our era is less about hatred and divisiveness and more about soft deception — that is, something that only exposes part of the truth or the parts that are convenient. The tragedy is this: we have either forgotten or have been cut off from meaningful participation. The frenzied news saturation is an interesting phenomena, but such monomania is only symptomatic of a malady whereby a participant is reduced to a debilitated spectator — our impulse to be in this world actively and meaningfully has not changed. This tragedy is compounded even more through observing the widespread authorization of disempowering the masses; and as a result, dictating untruth, if necessary, as a means to secure an exorbitant and immutable reality for the “masters of mankind”, but all the while conducting their reports and coverages with a cunning design, a soft deception. Chomsky writes, “It is much more difficult to see a propaganda system at work where the media are private and formal censorship is absent. This is especially true where the media actively compete, periodically attack and expose corporate and governmental malfeasance, and aggressively portray themselves as spokesmen for free speech and the general community interest.”
The will to participate, which seems to be in all of us, must never be trampled or disavowed. Over three decades ago, The Trilateral Commission constructed an analysis on “The Crisis of Democracy”, which was described as too many people organizing and participating in politics. It is a mistake to see this as a problem, but elites and those in power have always seen it as such, even back to the Wilsonian era and further.
In conjunction with this structural device of preventing legitimate democracy, at almost every point cultural meaning and value comes from consuming and veritable information is sold through the airwaves, glimmering on our screens of color and vivid imagery. We are within a society that precludes meaningful participation, makes the masses devour each other, and feeds the people half-truths for the price of absolutes and unquestionables. We have reached the shores of a dystopia — or have we been here for some time, only to now awaken?
What can we do of this formidable specter that has distorted the truth and seized all mobility in the right direction? What can we do when any highly critical, and therefore meaningful, departure from this legalized deception is annihilated by the iron claw that exonerates itself under the pretense of justice, order and freedom?
The knot that binds and constrains us is not irreversible, but is held together by, on the one hand, an illusion Hume detected long before when he said the rulers or structures of authority keep the masses in check this through controlling their attitudes and opinions; and on the other, the knot is held by our own hatred for one another and a heinous naïveté towards the broadcasting of information. If these things are reversed, this ostensibly irreversible “depolitical” characteristic of society can also be reversed.
What we do as a society is what humanity has always done in moments of crisis: organize, rebel, and resist. If there is any golden horizon to all of this, it will only be found in human triumphs and achievements in the face abysmal tyranny and injustice.