Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Pornography of Political Fear

In most respects, despite the media hoopla, yesterday was an ordinary day. Amid brisk January weather, one of the world’s large nations marked the installation of a new chief executive with the usual round of ceremonies and celebrations. The transition was orderly to the point of dullness; the retiring president and his replacement had coffee together in the White House before the ceremony, and afterwards walked together with every evidence of cordiality to the helicopter that would ferry one of them back into private life.

I am not sure how many people noticed that the clatter of rotor blades as that helicopter took off put a period at the end of some of the most extravagant rhetoric of the Bush era. For the past eight years, a great many voices had insisted that the weary Texan who left the White House yesterday was about to declare martial law, suspend the Constitution, cancel all future elections, order dissidents to be rounded up and interned in concentration camps built by Halliburton, and a great deal more of the same kind. If, dear reader, you were one of the people who spent George W. Bush’s presidential terms insisting that these things were about to happen, grab a beer from the fridge and have a seat, because we need to talk.

The rumors I’ve just described were very nearly an article of faith across large sectors of the American left in the years just past. Hundreds of websites and a sizable number of talk radio programs presented them as matters of simple fact, and vied with one another to accuse the Bush administration of the most diabolical intentions. Those who pointed out that the purveyors of these ideas never quite got around to offering the least scrap of evidence to back them tended to be dismissed with scorn. Yet the fact remains that all those claims were quite simply wrong.

It’s a bit uncomfortable to be the one who points this out, because I am no fan of George W. Bush. I voted against him in two elections, and have never regretted either vote. He and the neoconservative movement that used him as its sock puppet did a great deal to damage the country I love. Yet it’s always seemed to me that a person should be criticized for the things he does, not the intentions that his worst enemies impute to him. Bush was certainly a bad president; he may even, as many of those enemies have claimed, be a bad person. Somehow, though, it seems to have been forgotten that these points do not justify telling lies about him.

The enthusiasm with which those rumors were minted and spread is all the more ironic, in that some of the people who participated most eagerly were among those who complained bitterly when right-wing pundits and websites meted out the same treatment to Bill Clinton during the latter’s two terms. I think most of us who were around at that time heard more than our fill about UN troop convoys rolling down American highways, black helicopters crisscrossing the skies, and Clinton’s personal plan to put America under the yoke of a tyrannical world government that would send gun owners and evangelical Christians to concentration camps. Those stories were just as unsupported by evidence and disproven by events as the equivalent claims about Bush, or the flurry of similar stories already beginning to circulate about President Obama.

The last two decades, in fact, have seen the rise of what might best be called a pornography of political fear in America’s collective discourse. Like other forms of pornography, it flattens the rich complexity of human interaction into a one-dimensional world in which abstract shapes and motions stimulate unthinking reactions from the brainstem levels of its viewers. It thus debases what it claims to describe, even as it pursues whatever raw sensation it evokes further and further away from any human reality. The payoff of the pornography of political fear is different from the one experienced by those who have their hands down inside some less metaphorical pair of shorts, but it is every bit as reflexive, and its results can be just as messy.

The nature of that payoff deserves some discussion here. Hate in contemporary America has much the same status given to some other words with four letters in earlier times: a great many people affect to despise it, and condemn those who practice it publicly, while thirsting for the chance to engage in it themselves. The pornography of political fear appeals precisely because it provides a culturally sanctioned opportunity to indulge in the forbidden pleasures of unrestrained hate. The intoxication of feeling justified, and even virtuous, while wallowing in hatred for an irredeemably evil Other is a potent force in today’s culture – and it may yet become an equally powerful factor in tomorrow’s politics, with disastrous results.

An earlier post on this blog explored the way that terms such as “fascist” have been stripped of their contexts and turned into all-purpose epithets with no other meaning beyond “I hate you.” This common pattern of rhetoric makes it difficult to draw any useful lesson from the bitter history of 20th century totalitarian governments, but the effort needs to be made, because certain features of contemporary culture display unwelcome similarities to the conditions that helped those earlier nightmares claw their way into waking life.

One of them is precisely this habit of allowing pornographic fantasies of political evil to pass unchallenged as reasonable discourse. In the decades leading up to the rise of European fascism in the 1920s and 1930s, rhetoric no more heated than today’s torrents of partisan vilification spread through all sides of the political controversies of the day. This did much to create an atmosphere of collective hatred in which it no longer seemed unreasonable, to far too many people, to single out one group within society as the source of all its problems – and set out to remove those problems by exterminating their supposed source.

More than two thousand years ago, much the same process was mapped out in precise detail by a long line of Greek philosophers, who explored the ways that the republics of the classical world gave way to tyranny. The key to the process, according to many of these ancient witnesses, was the rise of bitter factional struggles over wealth and power that spun so far out of hand that the machinery of civil government broke apart and the rule of a tyrant became the only alternative to chaos and civil war. In a nation where a noticeable number of members of either party don’t seem to be able to walk past a picture of the other party’s candidate without screaming obscenities at it, we are closer to that outcome than most people realize.

Such habits flourish these days because representative democracy has always been an easy target for its critics. Abuses of power and displays of rank incompetence happen in democracies and closed societies alike, but in democracies they are more likely to become public knowledge and can be denounced in comparative safety – those people who fling the word “fascist” at today’s democracies, for example, can do so without having to worry in the least about being dragged from their beds in the middle of the night by armed men in jackboots and hauled away to a prison camp. Since politics in a representative democracy requires a constant process of compromise among competing pressure groups and power centers, furthermore, it’s rare for any side to get everything it wants, and this breeds dissatisfaction with the system.

That in itself is no vice – reasoned dissent is the lifeblood of a republic – but when dissatisfaction festers into the insistence that one’s own side ought always to get everything it wants, and the habit of demonizing the other side for standing up for its own interests and hopes for the future, something has gone terribly wrong. It may be one of the bitterest ironies of the next few decades that those who label their political enemies as fascists, by that very act, are helping to build a climate of political hatred, and contempt for flawed but functioning democracies, that could make something like fascism inevitable in today’s America – and a future totalitarian state, it bears remembering, could as easily arise from today’s political left wing as from the right.

It may already be too late to avoid that experience. Still, the effort is worth making, and one place to start is a principled rejection of the pornography of political fear. So, dear reader, when somebody tells you that Barack Obama is personally plotting to enslave you – and you will hear that claim in the near future, if you have not heard it already – I suggest that at the very least, you ask for some evidence more convincing than the splutterings of a fringe media personality or a conspiracy theory website that made exactly the same claims about Clinton and Bush. If we are going to get through the unraveling of industrial civilization with anything like a functioning society, the bad habits of rejecting the claims of a common humanity, demonizing political disagreement, and projecting the shadows of our own frustrations and failures onto the faces of our political enemies, are luxuries we can no longer afford.


roving_looney said...

Between 2004 and 2007 i was an avid reader of conspiracy websites. the only thing that saved me from further addiction was discussion with strong skeptics. the ironic thing is that the same inside information that appealed to me from the conspiracy websites is the same hunger that i find for real truth in the skeptic community, only the latter has real satisfaction instead of a rush of fervor.

OneCrazyMama said...

There is so much separating out of US vs. THEM right now, that, I really worry for our society.

In the group I spent most of my time around for the last few years you couldn't say anything positive about the left without incurring the wrath of most "cultural" Christians.

When I jokingly suggested I would take a coin to flip on election night--because I didn't really like either candidate 100%--you would've thought I had blasphemed in the worst imaginable way.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you didn't dare say anything about Saint Obama.

I just wish we could all see ourselves as simply HUMAN rather than splitting into silly little factions.

Speaking as someone who has lived a lifetime without a "team"--I'm kind of tired. I just want to be human and be friends with people of many faiths and backgrounds. I find it more rewarding anyway.

God help us all when the wheels really come off. The worst enemy in a crisis has always been "US" (not "THEM"...because "THEM" never really existed).

Glenn said...

It happened to President Obama during the campaign. A few months ago on NPR I heard a woman in, IIRC, Ohio, express the fear that Obama would have all the white people in America enslaved in retribution for the era of black slavery in the U.S.
Regarding Bush, I still think he, Cheney and most of their Cabinet members need to be wearing orange jumpsuits and be tried at the International Court in the Hague for their crimes against humanity. The photo of Rumsfeld presenting a pair of golden spurs to Saddam Hussein in 1983 sticks in my memory...


bmerson said...

Well said.

Some of this comes, I think, from the very complexity of society. Our societal systems have become so complex that no one understands them all and many don't understand most. Humans have a tendency to fear the things they do not understand, and then require appropriate stories to validate and explain the fear. Naturally, to be even marginally believable, these stories must associate the cause of the fear with somebody or something (usually somebody that is in, or may come to be in, power).

Fear and lack of knowledge are incubators for hate. To many, acknowledging a lack of understanding about virtually anything seems to have become a sign of weakness, making it awkward for these people to actually search out the facts. So the ignorance and fear fester and the stories reflect it.

And, of course, a story once told must be defended. If a lack of knowledge is weakness, then being found to be publicly wrong must be a mortal sin.

Perhaps such stories have always been present to this degree, and the realities of modern communication have simply provided a visibility that was not previously possible. Even if that is the case, and I'm not convinced that it is, you are right that it is, at best, not helpful and, at worst, dangerous.


PanIdaho said...

It's funny - I was just thinking earlier today that we as a country seem to have developed a rather virulent case of black-and-white-thinking. When someone is elected who is not "our candidate," some people can't seem to find one good thing to say about them. Even worse, you hear things like "well, okay, he/she did this one good thing - but they only did it with EVIL INTENTIONS!" *insert eye rolling emoticon here.*

I wonder if this is a symptom of our addictive television watching habits. On television, things are fairly two dimensional, and the good guys and the bad guys usually are clearly delineated. The plots are generally simple but also extreme, the better to enhance the emotional responses of the person watching so they will be more susceptible to advertising messages. Nothing in the average television movie or serial episode is meant to portray the people in it as flawed human beings, with multidimensional personalities and the capacity for both good and bad behavior.

I wonder if we - who as a country tend to spend more time watching television every day than in direct interaction with real people and who've been accused of mistaking television for real life for years - have now begun to mistake real life for television?

Peter said...

Thank you JMG, and you could also have entitled this
"Pandora's Box' (pun intended), because you are opening up this age-old conundrum; how can such a rich, wondrous and mysterious planet give rise to such a beast as man?
And, the insights and solutions seem as ancient as this human tendency to project our shadow-Love, and in which the vacuum left by its absence so quickly fills with hate. But much so much of this "hate" is actually fear, and again the source or cause isn't new, and after 35 years of pondering and listening, it seems obvious that the invitation from Presence is always here, hidden in plain sight, in the harmonic richness of what is-thank you for sharing and reminding us, through all your posts, how noble we are.

Fed up completely said...

I wonder if it will ever become obvious that we create our leaders. And having once created them, we need also to direct and move them in the direction intended. The problem is, we tend to create leaders and then sit back and wait for them to solve all our problems.

Sorry, it doesn't work like that.

If Obama is to continue as a symbol of hope and change, it is necessary for all of us to continue to actively support him and encourage him.

This is such an opportunity, let's hope we don't screw it up. It won't be Obama's faul, it will be ours.

John Michael Greer said...

Looney, I know several people who have made their way out of the conspiracy jungle in recent years -- a hopeful sign. Thanks for being one of them.

Crazy Mama, exactly. Walt Kelly said it best decades ago: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

Glenn, I'll leave the question of Bush's guilt or innocence where it belongs -- in a court of law.

Bmerson, you can find fables fostering the intoxication of hate throughout human history, just as you can find people with the courage to rise above them. Ain't nothing new in the current round.

Teresa, I'm sure television doesn't help.

Peter, you could as well ask how this planet could create such a miracle as humanity. If I may stray into theological territory briefly, t's precisely from our potential for free choice, incomplete and unsteady as that is, that all the possibilities of good and evil in our lives unfold.

Fed Up, that's been one of the central messages of this blog all along: it all comes down to us. Obama isn't going to save us, any more than Bush is going to turn into a space lizard and eat us all for dinner (sorry 'bout that, David Icke fans); we each make the future.

hatethehype said...

Loved the 2nd paragraph! And yep I heard just about all of those threats from certain left wing groups. However silly and far fetched they might have seemed at the time (to me as well) one just needs to look at what was done shortly after September 11, 2001. Two wars were started with September 11 as the premise and his behavior didn't improve much after that for the next 7 years IMO. Sanctioned torture of prisoners, domestic wiretapping, environmental raping...the list goes on. This does not however justify any untrue statements made about Bush.

One of the biggest problems I can see that fed into these extreme statements was the extreme secrecy of Dubya's presidency. The 2nd Bush presidency wasn't about shouting their "wrong doings" from the rooftops, they were all about secrecy. More so than any president in history, with all of the documents he sealed, and with his staff and him unwilling to speak under oath a number of times.

So was he more extreme in his behavior than recent past presidents? One could say yes. So therefore the extremity of the rhetoric from certain sections of the left were ramped up.

"One of them is precisely this habit of allowing pornographic fantasies of political evil to pass unchallenged as reasonable discourse" In regards to this quote from your post, I have to disagree somewhat. I don't believe that any of those statements passed as reasonable discourse (except perhaps among birds of a feather.) They were instead statements used at the fringe of one side of the spectrum (turn to FOX news for the opposite end.) I don't think those sort of discussions were had on Network television or even NPR.

Other than that I think your warning about hate speech and political pornography is a good one that many would be wise to heed, especially concerning what our future may hold. That being our declining status as world nation #1 and what that may mean for our country and who they may elect into power.

In regards to the comment made by OneCrazyMoma "On the opposite end of the spectrum, you didn't dare say anything about Saint Obama." I have to disagree with this as well. Many progressives on the left (myself included) felt that he just would't be progressive enough and would play ball with the establishment. Only time will tell on this though.

hapibeli said...

As a past practitioner of political fear, thank you for an enlightened explanation of its dangers. My rejection of the seduction has taken a long time, and caused some amount of damage to me. Thankfully, I've become aware of the foolishness of my attitudes regarding "the other" and intend to continue drawing away from its power.

FARfetched said...

I've found that ridicule works better than just about anything else to pop those conspiracy bubbles.

*sputter* "You really believe that?" *belly laugh*

Being a practicing Christian, I get exposed to a lot of the silly stuff going around email. I respond (cc'ed to all the other recipients as well) with a debunking link, and a plea to stop making us all look like idiots. It may not put an end to the practice, but at least gets *me* removed from the forwarding lists.

OneCrazyMama, my wife's cousin is like that. He still has his McCain sign up next to his driveway. It's like I say, you can always tell my in-laws, but you can't tell 'em a thing.

David said...

Thanks, JMG.

I am starting to believe that many people fall into this conspiracy-mindedness because it fits their pre-existing agenda of wishing not to have to face the realities of our situation and find a place to be useful. It's so easy, so tantalizing, to allow yourself to be always on the verge of some great action, but held back only because the research project you're in the middle of (e.g., how the Rockefellers and Windsor family are diverting drug revenue to the creation of slave camps for when TSHTF) is taking up so darned much time.

It expends so much potential human greatness in a wasteland of self-belittlement.

A few weeks ago, I ran into someone in my community whom I have seen at numerous events, and who seems to be pretty intelligent and savvy. We got to talking, and he started in on mind-control devices and how "they" had the whole world sewn up behind the scenes and were merely biding their time before clanging down the prison gates... and I had to stop him and gently try to say that maybe there is no omnipotent "they" and where does all of this fear and paranoia get us? But it was clear that to him it was more important to spend his days at the public library traveling through the underworld of free-wheeling panic and doom than it would be to dig a garden or do something creative and positive.

The funny thing is that if there were a "they", they would want us all to be paralyzed by our fears of them, because it prevents us from finding our own strength and peace of mind. Crazy old world.

anagnosto said...

I was reading the post and thinking about the TV manipulations in Yugoslavia around 1990. And what came of it,,,

the Black Hunter said...

Ahem - the American "left"? I enjoyed some elements of this post, but wonder if such simplistic labeling has any place here. You must realize that in boiling things down to "left-right" you are guilty of precisely what you then accuse the political pornographers of: "flatten[ing] the rich complexity of human interaction into a one-dimensional world in which abstract shapes and motions stimulate unthinking reactions from the brainstem levels of its viewers."

Real life is far more complex than "left-right," regardless of what our politicians find convenient.

feonixrift said...

This is why I have so much sympathy for those who ignore all cries of "end of the industrial age!" as just so much more fear mongering. Maybe the last conclusive detail won't fall into place there either, at least not for the fate many seem to expect of it, despite the core problems themselves being quite rational.

MemeMonkey said...

While, I believe I understand and concur with the underlying theme of your post. I think that you your categorization of politcal conspiracist, is as badly 'pornagraphied' or 'flattend' as our crop of political descriptors, to wit fascist.

While I concur that this term has been so dilluted and missused to be essentially meaningless save as a catch all insult for the bulk of the body politc. It does in fact have an origin a definition, and meaning.

One can make a very stong argument that by definition, Bush was fascist. (among many other things) Perhaps the strongest counter argument was his apparent inablity to make the trains run on time.

And while it is true that Bush did not meet the strict defition of a totalitarian, I wouldn't want to argue the point with an innocent Iraqi captured in a security sweep and torturted in Abu Grahib.

That said the taint of evil was on him and his Kelptocratic ideolgicaly hidebound neocon administration.
From institutionalizing torture and rendetion, black sites,Initating illegal wars of aggression , legally eviscerating the constitution with a authoritarian sophistry of the 'Unitary' executive etc etc. ad nausem this was a Politican
that clearly represented the potential totaltianism of the classic 2oth cent Autocracies

The notion that because he receivd coffee and a hug from Obama on his way out instead of a kidney punch and a trip to the Hague, speaks more to the momentum and arguably fully metastized cancer of corporate corruption that our two party duoply has devolved to. that and the realpolitik skills of Obama.

And while were on the topic, a word about the concentration camps, There do exist these detention center as well as KBR contracts for additional structures, and while this initiative predates
bush, and has more to do in all probablity with a an immigration surge anticipated in the wake of the collapse of Mexico.

In light of that and the demonstrable actions of the bush administrations, I think the 'fringe left' or 'conspirasists, an equally porographic dimminuation of language.. as many of your respondents are categorizing them had a right to alarm and can be exused a bit of hyperbole in their responses and reaction to the Bush years.

I reccomend reading Naoimi Wolf's
Letter to a Young Patriot. for a sobering look at the actions of the bush adminstraition relative to the ascent of the totatitarin ascent of Fascist/Socialist regimes you reference. The paralless are striking and frightening.

Another good read is

We Thought We Were free, which chronicles memories of 'good Germans as their frog got boiled during Hitlers rise.

We were as a Nation on a slippery slope the bottom of which could have been as ugly as anything to date.

I'd say that we dodged a bullet but
I'm sceptical, as competent as Obama appears, that he will be able to save the patient.

BTW I really enjoyed and valued you book the Long Descent'

Best regards


GroveSentry said...

With real regret, I must accuse you of some stunningly soft thinking in this post. Were the photos from Abu Grhaib "extravagant rhetoric"? Was the video from the New Orleans Superdome "extravagant rhetoric"? Are the hunger strikers in Gitmo (which certainly isn't a concentration camp) engaging in "extravagant rhetoric"? Did not the Secretary of the Treasury threaten the Senate with Martial Law last month? Are you really suggesting that you did not observe any attempts by the Republican Party over the last eight years to gerrymander or disenfranchise American citizens, in effect "cancelling elections"? And finally, the Halliburton prisons are a matter of mundane public record- is that "extravagant rhetoric"? Something really weird is going on with the brightest lights in the collapseacratti. First Kunstler jumps the couch on Palestine, then Savinar reveals he's just the mouthpiece for a paranoid ex-LAPD wing-nut, and now you post this middling, querilous piece granting unrequested pardons to unacknowledged sins. If you have even the slightest amount of Grace, you will resign your position as ArchDruid immediately. You have neither the intelligence nor the courage the position requires.

Dwig said...

Well, if Obama is going to turn into a tyrant, or a "sock puppet" for "the shadow government that REALLY runs things", he's started out in a pretty strange way; hopeful signs:

- On several occasions, including the inaugural address, he emphasized shared responsibility, and that we should hold him accountable, and that "you didn't do it for me".

- I just saw an replay of an interview from during the campaign, in which he said "change starts from the bottom up", and emphasized the need for all citizens to become active in politics and community service. He explicitly criticized Bush's "go shopping" admonition after 9/11.

- One of his first acts was a presidential order yesterday reversing the Bush-era stonewalling of Freedom of Information Act suits, and directing the Office of Management and Budget to issue recommendations on making the federal government more transparent.

We'll see that transparency tested soon in relation to the credit crisis, where the true scale of the outstanding debt has yet to be revealed, but likely to be far larger than any possible bailout can cover. Do they dare come clean?

Megan said...

Paranoia, I think, comes from information overload.

To take in information is not the same thing as understanding it. You can hold a fact in your mind without having a context for it, but to /understand/ it means to comprehend its relationship to other things you know, how it fits into your 'big picture'. And it seems to me, the more I study, that humans have an upper limit to how quickly they can do that. You can feed them facts at a much faster rate, but they just end up in a sort of holding tank.

Paranoia, I think, is what you get when those undigested facts start fermenting in their tank - forming an integrated whole, but one without grounding in external reality. Of course, fermentation can produce some rather fine wines if you're lucky, but it can produce toxic muck far more easily. Overwhelmed with material, we feel oppressed by something huge we can't quite conceptualize; unable to synthesize usable knowledge from it, we feel helpless and frightened. Add that up, and it sounds like paranoia to me.

This article:

- explains what it's like to experience, and recover from, the extreme end of that continuum. The author also suggests a potential preventative, a social technology to stave off 'information poisoning' - games that teach people to make connections between concepts, but within limits and only if they can support it with reasoned argument. That won't do the whole job, but it's a good start.

John Michael Greer said...

Hype, Bush's actions were pretty much standard practice for 20th century US presidents -- you might want to review the history of the Nixon administration sometime if you want to glance at things that went far past anything Bush managed. As for the acceptability of conspiracy theories involving Bush, everything I saw suggested that they were extremely widespread and widely accepted across much of the leftward end of American culture.

Beli, thank you!

Farfetched, any refusal to take this stuff seriously is a good thing.

David, well put.

Anagnosto, an interesting and troubling parallel!

Hunter, of course the world is more complex than that. If I were writing a book on the subject, I could go into more sociological detail -- but I think my readers know what's being said here.

Feonix, understood. One of the problems we face in the peak oil community is that there's also a pornography of collapse, and it feeds passions as masturbatory as anything in the conspiracy scene. This is one of the reasons I've been stressing what can be done about the challenges we face in a postpetroleum future.

Monkey, you're missing my point. Did Bush abuse the power of his office? Absolutely. Did civil rights violations, some of them heinous, take place on his watch? Absolutely. The meaning of the word "fascist" goes far beyond that, however, and you might want to study those meanings before using it so loosely. Also, insisting that the alleged Halliburton camps exist is hardly the same thing as offering evidence for that claim.

Sentry, I figured I'd get at least one foaming rant in response to this post; thank you for not disappointing me. I note with some interest that you haven't actually responded to the points I made, but instead simply ratcheted up the shouting another notch -- and, like MemeMonkey, insisted on the reality of those alleged Halliburton camps without offering any evidence.

I can't speak for the other, er, "collapsacratti," but the ideas and opinions expressed in this post are no different from the ones I've put in plenty of others. If you've finally noticed that neither I nor the others you named happen to agree with you, I have a hard time seeing how that's our fault -- nor are you likely to change my mind, or anyone else's, by flinging insults and accusations at those who happen to disagree with you.

Dwig, Obama's a shrewd, pragmatic Chicago machine politician with center-left views; I don't expect vast changes from him, but a more competent and less ideological approach to government seems likely and would be nice.

Megan, thank you for the link! I think there's more feeding into the current popularity of paranoia than simple information overload, but that's certainly an element.

Knit2dye4 said...

"So, dear reader, when somebody tells you that Barack Obama is personally plotting to enslave you – and you will hear that claim in the near future, if you have not heard it already – I suggest that at the very least, you ask for some evidence"

I have not heard this yet. But, I have seen with my own eyes that since the election, the gun stores, at least here in Alaska, are depleted. One gun store owner reported that he had sold 80,000 rounds of ammunition the week after the election (he sold 2,000 rounds in an average week), and people were telling him that Obama was going to take away their guns and make buying ammunition illegal. It's like people think he can (and will) abolish the 2nd amendment with the wave of a pen. And I have tried to explain to people how difficult it is to make a constitutional amendment happen, and how he has so many other problems to fix right now that he won't waste political capital on outlawing guns, but no one listens. They are convinced, without a shred of evidence, beyond some poorly thought out comment he made a while back about people being bitter and scared, and clinging to their guns and religion. I have guns, and I have religion, and I find some comfort in both of them, but I don't think he was threatening my right to bear arms or exercise my freedom of religion.

And, yes, I heard all the noise about cancelling the elections and so on. I dismissed it, for the most part, although I confess I was secretly a tiny bit worried. Fearmongering, is what it is.

This was an excellent post this week. Thanks for the effort you put into these thoughtful essays, even when I don't happen to agree with you, LOL.

MemeMonkey said...

Thanks, for your response,
though we disagree, I value alternate perceptions, and I've learned alot from your writings.

wrt to the definition of fascism
I'm very familar with a wide variety of defintions starting with the bundle of sticks, the tight integration of business and government and the various flavors of autocratic, Nationalistic, repressive qualites that were associated with the word in the early twentieth century. I have no interest in arguing the semantics of the word and no doubt would be bested by your encyclopedic mastery of eytomology and Latin, other than to reiterate that in my opinion and many others bush's actions arguably fall well within this spectrum of description.

With regard to not citing refences for the existence of camps and contracts, I, like another poster assumed you were aware of these programs as common knowledge. Here is a link:

which is a good starting point for identifying the various aspects of the programs contracts etc. Please note, I did not attribute the origin of these camps to Bush, Theyh are in truth better described as a manifestation of our security state which tranccends indivual executives.In fact some of the refernces are to refurbishing of Roosevelt era internment camps. I merely point out the existnce of KBR contracts and various executive orders in light of the actions of Bush warrant legitimate cocncern which you apparently diminish by categorizing as conspiratorial paranoia. I'm not saying there are not paranoid folks out there drawing silly conclusions, Alex Jones leaps to mind. I just feel you are painting Bush with a soft brush relative to our other presidents. I do think I get your orignial post and actually agree in many ways with it's core argument. I'd be interested in your take on origins 9'11 but that is a whole nother can of worms.


Mark said...

Your points were well taken. I sat down and had a good beer and a good read. Your post hit the mark.
Thank you for putting it in a realistic light. GWB was not the best president we have had, and it was easy to go with the bashing. I admit now that I perpetuated some of that fear, with friends and family. Thank you for the tool of asking for the proof, I will do this more often of myself and of my detractors

Anne said...

This post is a breath of fresh air, as are the comments here. I get as much from the comments as the original post, there's a thoughtful conversation going on here.

I can't add much to the conversation though, I agree with your post and I find the whole pornography of fear thing hard to deal with. I am fighting a constant internal battle against that stuff and it's nice to know there's others out there doing the same thing.

John Michael Greer said...

Knit, you're welcome -- and thank you! I also know people who are convinced that Obama is about to show up on their doorstep in person to confiscate their hunting rifles. Me, I think he has other things on his mind.

Monkey, I have no objection to people asking searching questions about the actions of their government. Again, it's the manufacture of conspiracy theories founded on the assumption that the other side of the political spectrum is evil incarnate that I find objectionable. As for the 9/11 business, I actually posted about that quite some time ago -- and, not incidentally, made many of the same observations repeated in this post.

Mark, thank you. As I mentioned in the post, I certainly don't propose to defend Bush's record as president -- I think he did a very poor job, probably the worst in my lifetime; I just feel that a person should be judged on the basis of his actions and not on the fantasies of his enemies.

Anne, the bitter partisan passions that are tearing our country apart root deep into contemporary culture, and yes, it's a struggle to counter them; thank you for making the effort.

messianicdruid said...

"I just feel that a person should be judged on the basis of his actions and not on the fantasies of his enemies."

Or, of his friends.

bryant said...


I am no partisan of Obama's and I full expect his administration to be much like the ones which came before him, but I think you missed the mark with:

Obama's a shrewd, pragmatic Chicago machine politician with center-left views

I may be mistaken, but my research suggests that Obama made a mostly successful effort to keep the "Chicago machine" at bay. If you look at his actions in the Illinois Statehouse, and consider his actual state district, I think you can see his refusal to "play ball" on several occasions. Indeed, several "machine" politicians say less than flattering things about Obama in this regard.

I'll grant you the "shrewd and pragmatic" part. Just because he is not a "machine" politician does not insure that he is honest, but...I hate to tar someone with the wrong brush.

Twilight said...

I agree that the rise of vicious rumors is poisoning the ability of the society to function as - well, a society. Some of the stories that have been passed around have been transparently nonsense - I simply don't believe that those in power in power are smart enough or unified enough to have planned everything. Rather, I think they are very good at taking advantage of the "opportunities" that present themselves, in addition to creating a few when required.

Somehow, something bothered me about this particular piece, and I had a hard time putting my finger on it. But eventually I realized that I think it opens with a fallacy - namely the idea that in fact something significant actually happened, and that there was truly some transfer of power, and that we in fact live in a "flawed but functioning democracy". In fact, I believe that such "transitions" are peaceful because they merely represent the changing of front men. No doubt there is a fight for position by individuals in both parties, but the real money and power does not change much. It is an error to focus on the individual personalities, as they don't matter that much. Yes, I can still post such things without too much concern about reprisals, but perhaps you've noticed that such freedoms are not quite unlimited nor evenly distributed?

From my point of view, no transfer of power happened. American policy has been remarkably similar under either party for many years, and the names and families involved change only very slowly. However, there was a noticeable difference starting with the contested 2000 election. To my mind, it was due to a consolidation of power over both parties and the media, and the perception of those in power that there was no longer a need to pretend, but regardless some quite radical things have happened.

So we had the facade of a "peaceful transition of power" and no one was put in a concentration camps built by Halliburton, and martial law was not declared. Some of these things could be discounted just based on the logistical improbability anyway. Some of the things that Bush was accused of planning were horrible, but were the things that DID happen were significantly less radical? So if one looks at the swiftness of the pace of radicalization, and if one sees the new president as just a new spokesmodel for the same old power elite, then what?

I think the evidence of the last eight years shows that people's worst suspicions and mistrust of those in power are mostly justified, regardless of whether one particular rumor was true or false. It does not really concern me if people who have committed so many monstrous crimes are falsely accused of a few more. The reality was bad enough – and in fact neither you nor I know what was really going on, and we're not likely to find out. The bigger issues are the structural problems that allow such things to occur at all. That some things didn't happen (yet anyway) proves nothing about whether they (or others) will or not, and thus far there is no reason to think much of anything has changed.

Most of the specific things that people guess at, and that they project on the "other side", will probably not happen. Other things will, and they may well be worse given the trajectory we're on. Our whole society is taught to fear and to hate, as those emotions make us useful tools for those who would use us. Combine with a general ignorance, and some very good reasons to be suspicious and fearful of what is happening, and these are the results. Stopping these kinds of rumors is probably impossible, but beyond that they are just another symptom of the more significant structural problems in our failing empire.

So I guess I'm not sure where you were going with this. It would be very nice if we could have polite discourse based on facts, but can we reverse or stave off collapse by improving the tone? And isn't this pretty much what is to be expected?

John Michael Greer said...

Messianic, or of his enemies' fantasies about his friends.

Bryant, I didn't mean my comment as tar, much less feathers. Urban political machines are much more of a mixed bag than current opinion reflects.

Twilight, it's simply not true that the events of 2001 were out of the ordinary -- JFK was put into office by vote fraud in a crucial swing state, for instance, and a list of the times when an "attack by enemies" with questionable features has been used as an excuse to start a war would go on for many pages. Political systems -- all political systems -- suffer from such pathologies at times.

Nor is it true that the things Bush did, heinous as some of them were, are of the same scale as the things the rumormongers accused him of planning -- I'm willing to wager, for instance, that neither you nor anybody you know was dragged from your bed at 3 am by secret police. You're demeaning the sufferings of actual victims of totalitarianism by claiming to be among their number.

Still, the point of yours I'd like to challenge is the easy cynicism that dismisses representative government as a sham because it's imperfect. I see this as a copout, to be quite frank. It's true that the US political system is deeply troubled; the balance of powers established by the constitution is badly out of whack just now; but it's also true that participation in the political system takes a lot of work and a willingness to compromise, and it's a lot easier and more comfortable to sit on the sidelines and criticize.

Twilight said...

JMG - I certainly don't think 2000 was something entirely new in and of itself. You and I are about the same age, and I've been paying attention for a while too. I also know that our nation has been involved in many nasty things over the many years, both covert and overt. Yes, I have most certainly heard some bald-faced, obvious lies from my government before 2000 - many of those used to take us into wars. And of course JFK was taken out of office under a cloud of controversy and conspiracy. But I do see 2000 as a deflection point, and that the actions taken since then have been different, both in scale and in character. I perceive an in-your-face, what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it quality, combined with a strong coordination of media. Propaganda is also not new, but the non-stop marketing has progressed to new lows.

As for representative government being a sham because it's imperfect, and using it as justification for sitting aside and taking it easy - is that what I've been doing? I've certainly never missed an election, and I've run for local office before. I've put an enormous effort into staying informed and understanding the issues as best I can. I have at times been excited about various candidates, and more often held my nose and voted for the least of all evils. And has that worked? While there have been many cycles before, in the time that we've both been participating I have not noticed any significant cyclic character, nor any returning to center. Instead, I have seen a steady move to the "right", regardless of which party was in office. We've seen a greater consolidation of wealth, a steady reduction in per capita income, and a major increase in the influence of corporations. At this point I simply do not find that those in government represent me, or those around me, and I don't see any path whereby I could influence who gets on the ticket. I see a long progression from BushI through Clinton and BushII, moving ever more towards a society where money and power hold far more influence than the populace. And now Obama surrounds himself with the same old faces, and I do not expect change from that.

Has our form of government served us well? Maybe. I sure like the idea, if not the present execution. But maybe the fantastic advantages of tremendous land, resources, and energy to exploit are more to credit for our relative freedom and prosperity, and that as those decline so too will our comfortable lives and personal freedoms.

I find it ironic that my Father, a technologist and believer in a linear, ever advancing path for mankind, also believes that the American political system is cyclical, and that we're just at the extreme of one of those cycles now. He cannot imagine that one day one of those cycles might break out and not return to center. You see a more cyclic form to human history, and I agree. Yet your catabolic collapse concept would seem to require that the smaller cycles must periodically break. Is now the time? Who knows. I personally don't see this new administration pulling us back to center, rather I think there was an awful lot of people's hopes and dreams and fears projected onto the image of one man, and that this will inevitably result in a vicious disappointment once we find out the compromises involved in 2009 American representative government. I know what I'd like to see happen, but I have a hard time imagining how what I want will matter much. Cynical? Just like all the other ants on the floating log, I'd like to think I'm steering. What you see as cynicism I see as events having moved outside my ability to influence.

Many wild things were claimed, many did not happen. Some because they were not possible, some because they were not needed. But having watched the performance, I can only say that I do not believe there are ANY limits to what these people would do to achieve their ambitions, nor do I believe that our system of laws and checks on power is functioning well enough to prevent such abuses. I have no trust, and the simple fact that some of these things did not happen gives me little reassurance. Do you think a representative government can function without trust?

Lastly, I must take exception to your comments claiming that I've demeaned the real victims of totalitarianism. I've done no such thing, nor have I claimed to be a victim - the things that Bush and his crowd have done that most appall me were largely not done here at home. Are the things that were done in Iraq and Afghanistan and in various prisons around the world OK because most of us slept well through the night? Must I personally be a victim in order to be outraged? Neither of us was in Falluja, but I payed attention as best I could, and cannot look away and say it wasn't really that bad.

Regardless, it's not my habit to promote wild and nasty rumors, rather I prefer civil discourse based on knowledge. It takes a lot of time to gather the information, and to judge its voracity, but that is the only way to see through the lies and the wild stories - no matter who is telling them.

FARfetched said...

JFK was put into office by vote fraud in a crucial swing state, for instance

According to Wikipedia, Illinois's 27 electoral votes weren't enough to swing the election to Nixon. Give Illinois to Nixon, and Kennedy still wins 276-246. The idea that the 1960 election was close is one of those untruths that have become "facts" by constant repetition (and conveniently provides an excuse for 2000: "they did it too").

I had the same impression that you did until someone suggested looking it up recently, so it's one of those anti-facts that have been firmly implanted into our cultural memory. Makes you wonder how many more of them are out there.

Degringolade said...

John Michael:

I will be posting this on my website on monday and thought that I would let you have a sneak peek as a courtesy.

Keep up the good work.


A polemic to the Archdruid

(BTW…Would you guys please buy a set of cathedral doors!)

I put up what I still think is an excellent article by the Archdruid the other day. At first I thought that it was an epiphany, then after more thought, and some prodding from a reader (thank you very much Överlevare), I came to to the point that perhaps it was a bit more complicated that the Archdruid presented it. Since this should occur with nearly everything that you read, at first I didn’t think too much of it. But as I started to chew on it, I started to think that maybe the way that behavior at the political level is maybe nothing more than a reflection of the status of the culture.

From the article by the Archdruid, the implication was that Fascism and Naziism grew out of a loss of civil political discourse in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Överlevare countered that they were in fact bastards, why not call the kettle black?

So now to the title of the article. What came first? I have finally come to the conclusion that The Archdruid is tragically wrong in this issue. I am a fan of the Annales school, where history is presented as a long-term evolution of societies. To say that the level of politeness in political discourse during such a vanishingly short period had anything other than a cursory influence is just plain wrong.

It is my feeling that the level of vitriol in political discourse is a symptom, not a root cause. To mistake it as such could be dangerous to your ability to gauge the level of danger in the society you are living in.

What we are going to be living through in the next 20 years is the beginning of the deconstruction of Western Society. This deconstruction will not be done in the cafés of the fifth arrondissement, it will be done at the barricades in any number of places. Neither those who have most benefitted and have the most to lose, nor those who have been left behind and who will have to carve out their survival from those who currently control those resources will maintain any advantage by “playing nice”.

Playing nice and politeness in politics is a function of the wealth of a society and thus its stability. To posit that one can stave off bad things by only indulging in “polite political discourse” is a mirage.

The only thing I want to stress now is the absolute need for courtesy in your personal sphere. This is even more important when times are bad.

John Michael Greer said...

Twilight, since I don't know you from Hu Gadarn's off ox, I have no idea what you have or haven't done. My point is that the glib insistence that all politicians and parties are equally evil helps justify the rising tide of cynicism and hatred that bids fair to tear this country apart.

Farfetched, thanks for the correction.

Degringolade, I'd encourage you to reread my essay. I didn't say anything about politeness; what I said was that fanning the flames of partisan hatred by circulating unfounded rumors about the other side's intentions is bad for democracy. Now of course you may be right that it's too late for one blogger's protest to have any effect on that process; it's entirely conceivable that the same thing may continue, getting more and more extreme as it goes, until the last shreds of our republic break apart in civil strife and a tyrant emerges out of the chaos. Still, is it worth trying to prevent that outcome? I think so.

Gregory Wade said...

Mr. Greer,

I was equally as struck by the more wide-spread expression of the positive element of transference, submission, rather than simply the negative element, hate. It provides a more nuanced, and all-encompassing view of the "other." From this view, I must differ on the point that these matters are "culturally sanctioned." I defer to Ernest Becker, who outlines in "Denial of Death," that negative transference can be seen as a failure of culture--the absence of a secure, culturally defined heroism. In Becker's words, "If you can't be a hero within a communal ideology, then you must be a nagging, whining failure in your family." That the expression is wide-spread only highlights the degree of the failure, rather than open acceptance.

Mr. Becker sums up "the fatality of transference: when you set up your perception-action world to eliminate what is basic to it (anxiety), then your fundamentally falsify it." However, there is nothing fundamentally false about the fear, itself. Once again, I defer to Becker: "If anything is false about it, it is the fact that thousands of human forms feel inferior and beholden to an identical, single human form." From here, we might see the expression as a flawed attempt for "organismic rightness"--to secure one's place in the world--in the face of overwhelming terror, rather than merely "self-righteousness."

In the chapter "The Spell Cast by Persons--The Nexus of Unfreedom," Becker explores how transference, in it's totality, is the well-spring that feeds tyranny. In Ernest Becker's words, "men fashion unfreedom as a bribe for self-perpetuation." These are matters of immortality, and nothing less than one's existential head is at stake. Anyway, my purposes are not to sum up a work that speaks for itself, but merely suggest it for your consideration. IMO, Becker's treatment of "cultural man" stands right along side Catton's treatment of "prosthetic man."

macaghobhain said...

JMG, Right after I read this weeks column, (brilliant, by the way--had to forward it to my friends) I found the following editorial cartoon that said the same thing and had to share it.;_ylt=Ard3W5ju9rAACW9o07dRLa3X.sgF
Somhairle Mac a' Ghobhain

gnaawa said...

This was an interesting post, & one that has generated some very insightful discussions.

I occasionally dip into this blog whenever Ran prieur provides a link to it. And whilst I always find things of value, there have always been aspects of J.G.'s attitude that fundamentally disturbed me.

And I think Twilight has nailed one them. To-the-point, he asks "Are the things that were done in Iraq and Afghanistan and in various prisons around the world OK because most of us slept well through the night?"

J.G. the ease & complacency with which you dimiss the gravity of the current global conjuncture might be a bit more believable if you were Iraqi, Afghani, Lebanese or Palestinian.

Your claim that the Cheney/Bush gang represented business-as-usual simply doesn't bear out. No previous government gutted the US constitution, assembled global torture gulags, or terrorized and alienated as many people worldwide. Similarly, no previous government resorted to false-flag terrorism on the scale of this group. Neither has any previous government irradiated as many people with thousands upon thousands of tons of depleted uranium (bequeathing a vast cancer epidemic in Iraq alone)

Your musing that Bush may possibly be a "bad man" is interesting. After all, it concerns someone know to have tortured animals in his childhood, to have executed record-numbers of prisoners as Texas Governor (and making fun of some of them before doing so) and to have sacrificed his own citizens to justify neo-colonial occupation abroad (some may dispute this latter point, but the thermal pics & photographic record showing molten metal at WTC puts the issue to rest I'm afraid)

Like most of the people here, I believe dispassionate analysis is of much more use than hysterical denunciation. But I hold this belief because *I can*. Like you, I'm not subject to the military punishments doled out by the "democratic" government in Washington. But not all of us are Westerners. How calm and rational would any of us be if we'd spent the last three years trapped in Gaza?

The fact is that the paranoia that has become so prevalent in the past 8 years (and yes, i was a victim of it too) did not emerge from a vacuum.

Fear is a constant in human psychology. But whose fear is more dangerous? That of the-powers-that-be (who have the most to lose from societal collapse) or that of a few overly-pessimistic bloggers who have virtually no power or influence?

The spirit of you argument is correct. The target, however, is woefully misplaced.

Leon Basin said...

What a great article! Thank you for informing us. Please, continue the fight.

BoysMom said...

This--particularly the middle school part, where there's no opt-out--is what is concerning me.
If there were a draft, I'd think that wrong, but at least draftees historicly get some renumeration. This is worse than a draft. Forced labor, no renumeration, what exactly was the definition of slavery again?
Now if it's set up with an opt-out, so a kid or his parents can refuse, that's fine. But as it currently is stated, this is slavery.
The college provision doesn't bother me from the student's perspective (though it does from the tax-payer's/funding perspective). $40 an hour is a pretty darn good hourly wage. Especially if this works like the EIC where you get money back.

Enslave me? Nope--I'm past middle school. Enslave my kids? Read the link.

John Michael Greer said...

Gregory, thanks for the reference. I haven't read Becker yet -- only so many hours in a day -- but I'll certainly put him on the list.

Somhairle, thanks for the link.

Gnaawa, if you think I'm condoning the abuses committed by the Bush administration, you need to reread my post. Let me try one more time: the fact that Bush's violations of civil rights were no greater than those of many other presidents, and are eclipsed by some, does not justify them. You might try harder to grasp the idea that something can be wrong without being the worst thing that ever happened, and that someone can be a bad president without being Satan incarnate. That sort of rhetoric of hatred is exactly what I'm trying to challenge in this post.

Leon, thank you.

BoysMom, I understand that a lot of people don't like conscription. I think, though, that you're demeaning the sufferings of actual slaves by comparing their plight to that of middle school students who are being asked to contribute something to their country.

Los Doggies said...

Dear JMG,

Are you familiar with the work of Peak Oil 9/11 Activist Mike Ruppert and his site (now defunct) From the Wilderness? He wrote the definitive 9/11 truth book, "Crossing the Rubicon", and was also a brief resident of your town a couple years ago.

There is a great summary of his book here:

There is conspiracy theory and conspiracy fact. Even the official Keane Commission narrative is a 'conspiracy theory'. Mike Ruppert's work falls into the latter category, as is fully documented in "Crossing the Rubicon".

I have never hated Dick Cheney personally for the crimes he has committed against humanity, but all of the things you mentioned as being paranoid delusions of conspiracy theorists have occurred in some form or another. "Concentration camps" exist in the form of CIA black sites around the world, and several pieces of legislation were passed, that will allow for martial presence in this country, as well as undermining the Constitution. The US government has committed wars of aggression for hundreds of years, many of them due to false flag terrorism and outright lies:
Mexican American war, WWI, WWII, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq; pretty much everything.

Political fear is only pornographic, because American politics is pornographic. But there is a fine line between a crackpot conspiracy theorist who will believe everything from fake moon landings to space lizards, and a conspiracy factualist who can separate the truth from lies.

As Mussolini said, "Fascism should rightly be called Corporatism
as it is a merge of state and corporate power." By this definition, America is fascist and has been for a long time.

I just read your amazing book, "The Long Descent". I just wanted to thank you for writing it, and for keeping this blog. They are truly inspiring.

Thanks JMG.

rockpicker said...

To add to the discussion re: FEMA camps, you might want to read this.

In Hamilton, Montana, the Rocky Mountain Laboratories have been turned into a level 4 bio research lab, complete with armed guards and cameras,etc. At both ends of the long, narrow valley in which the lab is located, asphalt pullouts have been constructed at strategic 'bottlenecks', where a small contingent of troops could easily intercept and turn back a panicked citizenry attempting to flee any untoward "accident." None of this is rumor. Come look for yourself.

Is it fearmongering to inform ourselves of what is taking place around us? Is it okay to use deductive reasoning, when observing things like tall fences being erected around the local schools, (with barbed wire at the top, facing in,) and assume this might not be a healthy development? (Check out the campus of the Stevensville, Mont., high school.)

As re: representative government, we hired dems in 2004 to stop the war, and they funded it. They told us "impeachment" is off the table. Now, the greatest redistribution of wealth in the history of humankind is everywhere underway, with huge numbers turned out of their homes, their jobs terminated and their currencies devalued, while our elected 'leaders' vote themselves cost-of-living increases and plan to hand over regulatory powers to a gang of private bank interests? And your advice is "stay calm?" "Panic can only make things worse?"

If you are not in a rage over what has recently occurred, better check your pulse. An outpouring of anger might have delayed or deferred the bailout bullshit, (which we all knew was wrong-headed at the time and which, btw, was forced through at the point of a bayonet, figuratively speaking.)

So, no we don't have an effective, responsive representative government. We get the appearance of such. We are offered a list of loyal insiders acceptable to the PTB, (similar to the way presidents choose Fed chairmen,)and we can "have any color we want, as long as it's black."

Seriously, are you advocating people wake up, or urging them to go back to sleep?


Mezamashii said...

It would be nice if the media returned to reporting news rather than fear-mongering and controversy-stirring for ratings.

Danby said...

Many years ago, JMG explained to me that he had worked out a topology of political opinion, including not only left and right, but up and down, in and out, North, South, East, and West, and a couple of other directions. While fairly accurate as a means of describing one person's political opinion in relation to another's, it was cumbersome and required a very nuanced understanding of the subject's political positions to accurately locate them within the topology. Please don't accuse him of a simplistic view on this topic.

I am amused by all the rants on how Bush is quantitatively and qualitatively different somehow from his predecessors. Every single evil deed he has been accused of was practiced by his predecessors, sometimes to a much greater degree. Wiretapping goes back to FDR, although Nixon really learned to use it to his political advantage. John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Benjamin Harrison all were elected despite losing the popular vote. The Mexican, Civil, Spanish-American, and VietNam wars, as well as WWI and countless interventions in Latin America, were all wars of choice, not necessity. The Rape of Georgia (also called Sherman's March to the Sea) and Dresden were far worse, in terms of suffering inflicted (especially on the former slaves in Georgia)than even Fallujah. FDR set up concentration camps AND USED THEM. There may be tons of depleted uranium in Iraq, but Truman used nuclear bombs on Japan. Rendition for torture dates back at least to the Clinton Administration, and waterboarding to Teddy Roosevelt's colonial war in the Phillipines.

My point is that this stuff is all par for the course for empires, and whether you choose to believe it or not, the US has been an empire since at least 1889. And our government has been a toady to corporate interests since the Illinois Central Railroad elected it's own lawyer first to the US House and then to the presidency in 1860. In the age of the robber barons, the US government was basically a lickspittle to the banks and steel companies.

We change the face at the front periodically, but the variance between the candidates is quite small, and the policies considered essential by the ruling class are not open to challenge. Which policies? Unlimited support for the government of Israel, unlimited illegal immigration, the need for an ever-expanding economy, the inviolate nature of our largest banks, a constantly expanding view of the powers of the central government, the propriety and necessity of intervening militarily in other countries, the War on Drugs, the need to oppose evil Russia, and on and on. Sometimes the agenda changes, but somehow both parties wind up more or less on the same side, even though they pretend to be opposed.

We haven't lived in a representative republic in a long time. About time you got used to it.

p-roc's mom said...

I'm all for sitting back and having a beer as a rule. :) And I have to say, I did hear Naomi Wolf's warnings and they worried me a little.

But I'd like to think that my "paranoia" isn't completely unfounded, because while my friends and I weren't "dragged from (our) bed at 3 am by secret police", I did stop going to peace rallies around the time of the 2004 Republican convention here in NYC. I went to a few, in the first few days, but as permit after permit for our peaceful marches were revoked at the last minute, after spending several days penned into "manageable" groups by barricades and riot police, with snipers watching on from surrounding rooftops, I started to get uneasy.

Finally, one of our peaceful marches was told that we no longer had a permit but that we could walk with an escort of motorcyle police to a predetermined location (not the convention center, as originally planned). While we were marching, our crowd started a chant in support of the police (their union was engaged in some sort of dispute with the city over benefits at the time). Not that we're all saints, just to illustrate the nature/mood of the crowd.

When we got to the place, they informed us there would be no peaceful rally, as planned, and that we all had to go home. So I tried. My husband and friend and I tried to turn down a side street to get back to the subway, but they were all full of riot police with shields, standing in formation. The cops by the barricades forcefully separated the three of us, gave us conflicting orders about where to go, and shoved us around until, about half an hour later, we finally managed to get away from the cordoned-off area. It took us a while to find each other again (thank god for cellphones).

So I got scared and didn't go to any more protests. I scare easily, I guess. A friend of mine, a Columbia phD student, went to a rally the next day and was swept up in a mass arrest. They threw orange construction netting around a whole group of people on the sidewalk, getting both ralliers and passersby, and herded them off to outdoor holding pens on an old bus depot by the Hudson river. There were 20 or so of them to each chainlink pen. My friend was held for over 50 hours (until the convention was over) with no charges ever brought against her. She hasn't gone to any rallies since then either.

So yeah, I'm a little paraonoid. And you might say that previous US goverments have committed worse crimes against their own people, and I'm sure I'm too young to remember them.

But I certainly know that these things did NOT happen at the Democratic national convention. Now if Obama doesn't reverse a lot of the legal damage done by the Bush admin (Patriot Act, posse comitatus repeal, etc), I'm going to continue to be somewhat paranoid, because the potential for such abuses to be committed again (in case of, say, "emergency") will still be there.

But I do know that this admin, simply because it is not Republican (as currently defined) does not have the cultural justification to do these types of things. They don't have the "in your faceness", as someone said. That makes me feel a lot safer. Seeing Bush get on that helicopter made me feel safer.

Just my 2 cents...

John Michael Greer said...

Doggies, I'm familiar with Ruppert's work, but have very mixed feelings about it, for reasons covered in this and other posts.

Rockpicker, we've had very little but outpourings of anger in US politics for the last thirty years. Have they had any constructive result? Not that I can see. Throwing tantrums is not an effective way to shape our collective future.

Mezamashii, it would be nice if more people wanted to watch news instead of fearmongering and controversy stirring.

Dan, the one thing I'd point out is that the policies being pursued by the political mainstream are by and large those that most Americans overtly or tacitly support. One of the things I find curious about all these debates is that so many people with political views far from the center seem to think that everyone actually agrees with them, except for those evil politicians. One of the drawbacks with a representative government is that policies will by and large follow the lowest common denominator of collective thinking.

P-roc's Mom, of course the Bush administration committed civil rights violations. No doubt the Obama administration will do so as well; I can't think of a president who didn't. My point, once again, is that fanning the flames of partisan hatred by spreading rumors about what the other side intends is bad for democracy; it fascinates me that so many readers of this post have done their level best to avoid addressing that!

Bill Pulliam said...

John Michael --

I think what you are finding here is that old phenomenon that, just as each generation thinks they are the first ones to discover sex, they also think they are the first ones to experience such intensely tumultuous, uncertain, profound, dangerous, adventurous, corrupt, revolutionary, and history-making times. The lessons of history will never be as vivid as actual lived experience, and the temptation to therefore believe that the times in which you live are in fact singularly dramatic in comparison to all that came before is very strong; perhaps irresistible to most. Obviously, it's silly. Just skimming though the 20th Century in America, look at some of the horrors of even the recent past:: Jim Crow (created and enforced by democrats, by the way), the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese interment, McCarthyism, the Great Depression, two World Wars, the death of 500,000 Americans in the most lethal global pandemic in all of human history (swine flu), the expectation of nuclear annihilation that prevailed through the 1980s, etc. etc. Political corruption almost certainly dates back to the social structures of our ancient tree-dwelling ancestors. And, I imagine, so do fear mongering and narcissistic exaggeration of ones own tribulations.

Indeed we live in a singular moment in human history. So did our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on to the Savannas and before.

Danby said...

True, but where the interest of the ruling class diverges from the view of the American public, the ruling class wins. Cases in point? The bank bailout and unlimited immigration. Both were and are widely despised by the public at large, and yet the ruling class gets it's way.

p-roc's mom said...

Well, I think you can make the point that as long as people are outright lying, it's bad for democracy. Spreading rumors and outright lies about your opponent is bad for democracy, sure, insofar as it creates deeper divisions than necessary for a functioning, healthy democracy.

But I think you're running into such resistance on the part of some of your readers because if someone had come to me in early 2004 and told me "don't go to the Republican national convention, they think they're above the law and they'll imprison innocent protesters illegally", that person would have been right. They would not have been lying. They might have sounded crazy, but they wouldn't have been wrong.

So would THAT have been bad for democracy? I think there's a problem here with hindsight being 20/20. Sure, it's easy for you to say now that spreading rumors about the elections being cancelled was bad. But at the time, it wasn't an entirely unreasonable prospect. Not entirely substantiated, but then, would there have been any substantiated info about protesters getting illegally arrested that would have been available BEFORE the convention? No.

That's the problem with predictions. They're predictions. We take the available information, what we know about the person's previous behavior, what we know about the world, and we extrapolate, right?

And personally, I know that listening to certain fringe voices (Naomi Wolf being one of them, yourself being another) has enhanced my understanding of democracy. If the rabid left wing watchdogs weren't there, would the issue of Posse Comitatus being repealed even get any press time at all?

I think the problem with this post is not that it's wrong in its essential message. You're right, of course, inflammatory partisan rhetoric is bad for democracy. But you don't give enough provisos. It's bad for democracy IF it inflames hatred, IF it spreads actual disinformation and IF it loses sight of the very principles that its own side pretends to be standing for. There are many other cases in which it could conceivably be used for good, as part of the natural system of checks and balances.

Btw, let me add, this is pretty much the first time I've found anything to object to in your writings. I thoroughly enjoy your blog every week. Good to know you're not infallible, though. :)

logic11 said...

I admit that I entertained the possibility of Bush suspending elections, but not out of the blue. There were a number of bills passed in the last year which actually would have made it possible for Bush to do this. I was always (and still am) more worried about what those bills mean for the future. Sure, Bush didn't arbitrarily declare martial law, but he put in place a bill that allows the president to do that without congressional approval. That means that some future president can declare martial law arbitrarily... I don't think it will be Obama, but it could as easily be a democrat as a republican.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, well put.

Dan, Americans think they're against unlimited immigration. If they had to pay prices for produce and cheap consumer goods that reflect American wages, I suspect we'd see otherwise.

P-roc's Mom, do the words "Chicago 1968" ring any bell in your memory? Protesting at a political convention has always entailed risks.

Logic, one thing I've never understood about this sort of rhetoric: if elections are a sham and America is already a fascist state, why should Bush (or anyone else) suspend elections and impose a fascist state? There's a failure of logic here...

HanZiBoi said...

What an excellent essay! As I read I could see many of my own strong tendencies to demonize and seek conspiracies.

And yet...

...9/11 doesn't smell right to me - especially the fact that no fighters intercepted the second and third planes.

...The refusal of politicians to broach the end of material growth looks a lot to me like a "conspiracy of silence".

...US policy towards Israel and the Palestinians does not seem remotely connected to the will of the voters.

Thus I've decided the sane thing is to go back and forth: to weigh theories and explanations which presume machinations by powerful elites as well as those which presume more complex and diffused webs of causality.

Bill Pulliam said...


Simple answers to each of the three you mention:

9/11: Incompetence. We have SO many examples of organizational incompetence ESPECIALLY in emergencies under the Bush Administration. No surprise at all that they failed to see 9/11 coming and were utterly unprepared to act swiftly once the attacks began. No need for conspiracy or machinations when you just have incompetence run amok.

End of growth: Not a "conspiracy of silence," more a "mention the possibility that the party might be over and the good times are not coming back and you will be voted out on your a** faster than you can blink an eye." Plus a huge dose of the same refusal to face the music that nearly all Americans suffer from.

Palestine/Israel: Again hardly any secret conspiracy there. The Pro-Israel lobby is a powerful, well-connected, influential component of politics, business, and arts in America. Not so for the Muslim community. No secret conspiracy here, just the history and sociology of 20th Century America. Same reason we maintain the hardline against Cuba no matter what the realities and practicalities might be.

American foreign policy and domestic politics really are easily explainable by well-know above board interest groups and firmly entrenched aspects of the American psyche. I see no need to invoke shadow organizations at work; there's plenty of corruption, foolishness, and incompetence right out there in the bright light of day to account for it all.

messianicdruid said...

...and a lot of it is theatre. There are story boards for every contingency. You can opt for coincidence theory, a catch all for - idiocy, immorality, ineptitude - or accept the fact that small or large groups act in conjunction {conspire together} breath the same air long enough to come together and show the american people that a deal is made and an alliance is forthcoming to save us, thank you Obama... sub-plots and drama, for the WWF and bingo crowd.