Sunday, January 3, 2010

Chickens with Their Heads Cut Off Coming Home to Roost

Stop me if you've heard this one before: Under capitalism, man exploits man; under socialism, it's the other way around. (Hah - too late!)

Anyway, this comment by Jonathan Versen on a good post by Jonathan Schwarz at A Tiny Revolution. (Sorry -- as usual, no links to individual comments there.) It ties in with what I wrote the other day about Obama's "increasingly urgent political plight."

But if the democrats lose a lot of seats in November it will be interpreted by the corporate mediabots as proof that the phoney-baloney healthcare reform legislation was a big liberal boondoggle. And if they don't it will be spun as proof that the phoney-baloney healthcare reform legislation was successfully repackaged as being far more fiscally sound than it was in its original form.

Or to put it another way, when the democrats stumble, the people on the teevee will say it's because they're too liberal, and when they are successful (i.e., successful in the polls and elections) it will be because they successfully persuaded voters into believing they're not so wacky and liberal after all. So they can't win for losing, or they can't lose for winning-- I forget which.

These seem to me like hermetic scripts, already written and essentially impervious to adjustments due to unforseen events, like story-boards for the play's action.

I'm sorry, I can't quite make any sense of this. Am I supposed to weep great salt tears because the Democrats can't win for losing? Am I supposed to worry about the Democrats stumbling? Am I supposed to worry that the corporate media will interpret political events in conformance with their predictable line?

The "health care reform" bill is a boondoggle, but it's a boondoggle designed to shovel massive amounts of money into the accounts of Obama's corporate donors. Oh, I know there are a few crumbs in there which will help a relatively few of the people who really need help, but that doesn't mean that the bill isn't overwhelmingly and deliberately a boondoggle. Maybe they were put in to provide cover for the primary mission of subsidizing the insurance industry, but we'll probably never know and it doesn't matter. How the corporate media will spin the outcome of this November's elections is of no importance; anyone who's been paying attention will know that it is meant to obscure reality, not cast light on it.

I'd say that Jonathan Versen's response is itself a "hermetic script, already written and essentially impervious to adjustments due to unforseen events". (And I'd say that with all due respect for Mr. Versen, who's one of the saner commenters at ATR, certainly saner than your Promiscuous Reader.) If the Democrats lose seats in Congress in November, and that's quite possible but it's too early to say, liberals and progressives will raise up their hands before their weeping eyes, cast dust in their hair, and make loud lament in roughly the same terms: O waily waily waily, the only hope of the American people has been cast down! O waily waily waily! Huruu huruu huruu!

But if there's one thing that ought to be obvious by now, it's that it makes no difference whether the Republicans or the Democrats control Congress and the Oval Office: man will still exploit man, and vice versa. And our great two-party system ensures that nothing can be done about it electorally. Vote the rascals out! chortle the advocates of the system. But who do you put in the rascals' place? Why, more rascals, what did you think? This isn't solely an American problem, of course: South Koreans soundly rejected the bumbling and corruption of the Roh administration, voting for the opposition party -- and they got the plutocratic corruption of the Lee administration in its place.

Last year I wrote about "the eternal unofficial (and gleeful) campaign slogan of the Dems: What are you going to do, vote for a Republican?" It just occurred to me that many (most?) Democrats would rather lose to a Republican than vote against the corporate agenda. Why should I deny them their druthers?

Versen's comment was followed by this one, from another ATR regular:
I think that's accurate. I sometimes get discouraged about this play, because the MICFiC ... works so damn well. For me, there was some appeal to Naomi Klein's thesis in The Shock Doctrine that all disasters are exploited by elites to make everything worse, but lately I've been drawing some hope from Rebecca Solnit's remarkable book A Paradise Built in Hell. I may write Solnit a "thank you" note for that book, because hope needs all the sustenance it can get, and she has been feeding it while I have been wasting time brooding.

The systems of control that seem to keep us running on a wheel like hamsters while the world goes steadily to hell to are are not infallible. They have evolved over time, until at present they operate all too well, but that has been true of other systems of control across the ages, and this too will pass. Solnit's gift to her readers is renewed hope, and not the phony type sold to the desperate and feeble-minded. She makes a very compelling argument that we have more human potential than we have come to believe, and that disasters don't destroy us. I only wish that we could come together without them.

Excuse me -- "the systems of control that seem to keep us running on a wheel"? What do you mean "us", paleface? One notable thing about the whole health-reform debacle was that it showed that "the systems of control" don't operate that well. Yes, the propaganda system is effective, but only for things that seem far away from most people's lives. For example, most Americans buy the corporate propaganda line that America's public schools are terrible -- except for their own schools, which most think are doing all right. Most Americans seem to have opposed the Bush-Obama bailout of the financial system, despite the media / government blitz that pushed it. Most Americans think they'd be better off with a government-run health care system, despite a corporate / government propaganda campaign that has gone on for decades to convince them that government health care equals Sweden equals suicide. Most Americans seem to have opposed NAFTA despite a similar propaganda campaign in its favor, and even though most liberals didn't care because their jobs weren't affected by it. That came back to bite Clinton in the ass in the 1994 elections. And so on.

But most Americans also know that the people in charge aren't listening to them. They know that people who protest in the streets get gassed and beaten and arrested; if they're scornful of the dirty hippies and radicals who get their heads broken, it's partly as a way of warding off the danger a la Room 101 -- let those dirty hippies get beaten up, not me! They know from their grandparents about America's very violent labor history. You could say, I suppose that they're stuck on a treadmill by the system of control, but they aren't fooled by it, and they're restive. Only nice middle-class, college-educated liberals are fooled by it. If you look at the rest of that comment thread at ATR, you'll see that such people are still fretting that John Kennedy was assassinated by the CIA because he was trying to bring world peace and domestic justice, and resist our shadowy overlords in the pay of the Rockefellers. Maybe so, maybe not; it really doesn't seem to matter much to me.

And ah, "hope" -- I've heard that one before, and quite recently. Hope was the last evil to emerge from Pandora's box, as the philosopher Walter Kauffman liked to say. I haven't yet read Solnit's A Paradise Built in Hell, partly because so far what I've read by her on her own hasn't impressed me much. But I did like the book she and her brother David just published, The Battle of the Story of the Battle of Seattle, which I wrote about last month. And though I learned a lot from Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine and found it depressing, Klein also has written a lot about what can be done about the situation, notably in the pieces collected in Fences and Windows. Listening to my fellow Americans whine about brooding always annoys me to the point that I start channeling my mother, or a version of her: You think you've got problems? Think of the starving Hondurans who got beaten and killed in the streets for protesting against the coup! Think of Palestinians being tortured in Israeli dungeons for throwing rocks at Israeli tanks!

I know, we Americans are supposed to be able to fix things by the sheer power of the vote. But as I've said before, the best thing about Obama may turn out to be that he's laid that canard finally to rest. It takes a very well-trained memory to believe it now, but my fellow libs and progs are nothing if not well-trained. It's better to put hope aside along with other childish things, think about what has to be done, and then, if possible, start doing it. To quote Dorothy Dinnerstein again:
And in either case, to fight what seems about to destroy everything earthly that you love – to fight it not passively and autistically, with denial; and not unrealistically, with blind force; but intelligently, armed with your central resource, which is passionate curiosity – is for me the human way to live until you die.
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