Monday, March 22, 2010

A Busload of Faith

A highly interesting piece by Chris Hedges is appearing on progressive blogs all over the Web. Here's where I read it. Fair warning. It will take you about five minutes to read, and it's not what you want to hear. Like most of us, I would just as soon entertain the comforting fiction that the future is going to be pretty much like the past, which, I have to confess, has been more than tolerable for me personally. Because its led to my comfortable present. I have a wife I love more than life itself, and miraculously she's stuck with me for 43 years. Three kids, whom I adore, who are all healthy, gainfully employed, and (for the one who is) happily married . Healthy, wonderful grandchildren. Good health. An active intellectual and social existence. A nice, right-sized retirement house with my library in its own room (my own little cocoon, I like to call it). Enough income and savings to feel secure. And on and on I could go with the blessings that are mine. I'm "happy" and my love Susan is "happy." Retirement has dealt us a nice, playable hand . . . which is why it is not at all pleasant to contemplate what Hedges has to say . . . which is basically the future we're heading into is not going to be like the past, and it is going to destroy the present.

He argues that the country, which a large segment of the population is in the habit of calling "the greatest country on Earth," is definitely not. In fact, it has already slipped--I don't know if "slipped" is the right word, more likely "marched" works better for true accuracy--into a state of what he calls "inverted totalitarianism." He didn't invent the phrase himself. He's quoting a political thinker named Sheldon Wolin, who coined the phrase in an article in The Nation way back in 2003. It's safe to say that matters have deteriorated since then.

Here's just part of what he has to say. I suggest that you read the whole piece, but only if you're willing to confront the ramifications of what's actually happened to our country and what it means for you personally. Resistance is possible, and may be ultimately successful--but no time soon--but what it is right now is ennobling and the right thing to do.
Democracy, a system ideally designed to challenge the status quo, has been corrupted and tamed to slavishly serve the status quo. We have undergone, as John Ralston Saul writes, a coup d’├ętat in slow motion. And the coup is over. They won. We lost. The abject failure of activists to push corporate, industrialized states toward serious environmental reform, to thwart imperial adventurism or to build a humane policy toward the masses of the world’s poor stems from an inability to recognize the new realities of power. The paradigm of power has irrevocably altered and so must the paradigm of resistance alter.
Our democratic system has been transformed into what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin labels inverted totalitarianism. Inverted totalitarianism, unlike classical totalitarianism, does not revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader. It finds expression in the anonymity of the corporate state. It purports to cherish democracy, patriotism, a free press, parliamentary systems and constitutions while manipulating and corrupting internal levers to subvert and thwart democratic institutions. Political candidates are elected in popular votes by citizens but are ruled by armies of corporate lobbyists in Washington, Ottawa or other state capitals who author the legislation and get the legislators to pass it. A corporate media controls nearly everything we read, watch or hear and imposes a bland uniformity of opinion. Mass culture, owned and disseminated by corporations, diverts us with trivia, spectacles and celebrity gossip. In classical totalitarian regimes, such as Nazi fascism or Soviet communism, economics was subordinate to politics. “Under inverted totalitarianism the reverse is true,” Wolin writes. “Economics dominates politics – and with that domination comes different forms of ruthlessness.”  
Inverted totalitarianism wields total power without resorting to cruder forms of control such as gulags, concentration camps or mass terror. It harnesses science and technology for its dark ends. It enforces ideological uniformity by using mass communication systems to instill profligate consumption as an inner compulsion and to substitute our illusions of ourselves for reality. It does not forcibly suppress dissidents, as long as those dissidents remain ineffectual. And as it diverts us it dismantles manufacturing bases, devastates communities, unleashes waves of human misery and ships jobs to countries where fascists and communists know how to keep workers in line. It does all this while waving the flag and mouthing patriotic slogans. “The United States has become the showcase of how democracy can be managed without appearing to be suppressed,” Wolin writes.
Lou Reed has a great song off his great album New York called "A Busload of Faith." The chorus goes "You need a busload of faith to get by." Honestly, I think it's only prescription.
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