Posts Tagged 'government'

Binary Pablum For The Masses

The smoke and mirrors tactics of the 2016 presidential campaign continue with the relentless repetition of empty mantras such as “Make America Great Again”, “Lock Them Up”, and “Fake News”. Venom is being spewed across the country, part and parcel of the same strategy of puerile name-calling, disruption, and confusion as we witnessed in the last election 

This is the fundamental strategy of the non-stop Trump campaign that continues to create and manipulate ressentiment and foment a collapse of civility and faith in government. It is all shuck and jive with some of the mainstream press unwittingly complicit in Trump’s strategy simply by repeating his vile utterances. The press cannot ignore even a bloviating President, of course. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The Joker in Chief deliberately deploys a maelstrom of contradiction with which the entire civilized world must struggle, and that, of course, is the intent. Keep all the rhetorical balls in the air. Keep everyone guessing. When did America stop being great? What isn’t great about America? There aren’t any answers forthcoming because there is no truth to appeal to and none is demanded by his True Believers. It’s true because their Dear Leader says it’s true.

How this came to pass and why it has been so effective are the $64 questions of our time. One answer to consider is a longing by so many people for a world where everything is rendered as simplistic binaries. No subtleties, everything is black and white. A very large proportion of the mainstream public does not want shades of grey, they want certainty. It’s a longing, if not a desperation, for an,“Us against Them”, “Right and Wrong” world. Good guys vs. bad guys. They want it to be like Tom Mix riding to the rescue, blasting the bad guys, and riding away on his white horse with the fair maiden holding on behind him. Destroy the Taliban. Destroy al Qaeda. No big deal! And, while you are at it, why not take down the United Nations? Take all those freeloaders off Social Security, welfare, Medicare, and food stamps. No DREAMERS, no foreigners. Up or down, left or right. With us or against us. Never mind consequences or complexities and nuance. Don’t stop to think that you will be hurting yourself. It’s only a matter of “bada bing”, drop a few small nukes here and there and everything will be back to the way we imagine it. We’ll be “Great Again!”

Trump gives his base a comforting, simplistic conception of the world, a peculiar form of indecipherable clarity. No questions need be asked, he has their backs. He says whatever comes to mind and it’s swallowed whole. “Lock her up!” None of it is realizable, of course, it’s just out there like a gigantic public Binkey. A warm bowl of Mom’s chicken soup, binary pablum for the masses.

    

The use of simplistic binary rhetoric has been the modus operandi of Populist leaders throughout history. Hitler and Mussolini were masters of the tactic to rally and control their true believers by pointing at designated illegitimate members of their society. Today’s undocumented Dreamers and refugees are yesterday’s Jews of the Third Reich. We have a President, a Silvio Berlusconi with bad hair, who will say whatever it takes to maintain the delusions. It’s the confusion and the illusions he creates that hold his polity. What kind of destructive mentality emboldens a person holding the highest office and the highest level of responsibility in our society to publicly denounce people like James Comey as an “untruthful slime ball”? What kind of gall does it take for a five-time draft dodger to insult and threaten Robert Mueller, a retired military officer who has served this country honorably?

What will emerge out of the chaos being spewed out across this country and across the world stage remains to be seen.  And I don’t doubt Putin is having a good laugh at our expense. 

The “transmission belts” Of Misinformation

I feel blessed that I am no longer responsible for launching an ICBM as I was during the Cuban Missile Crisis when John F. Kennedy was president and I do not envy those charged with that responsibility now. I trusted JFK to comprehend the enormity of launching even one nuclear weapon and basing any decision on clear reasoning and facts. I cannot even imagine trusting Donald Trump — he of the “alternative facts.” 

The world has heard alternative facts before, fed to receptive audiences by dictators on the rise. Hannah Arendt’s,  “The Origins of Totalitarianism”, is a primer for those wanting to understand how the democratic process unwinds from seemingly harmless origins and feeds on discontent. 

As techniques of government, the totalitarian devices appear simple and ingenious and effective. They assure not only an absolute power monopoly, but unparalleled certainty that all commands will always be carried out; the multiplicity of the transmission belts, the confusion of the hierarchy, secure the dictator’s complete independence from all his inferiors and make possible the swift and surprising changes in policy for which totalitarianism has become famous.

Trump’s alternative facts are the “transmission belts” of conflicting information that cause confusion and uncertainty.  We are directed to fear people we don’t know, have never met, and about whose culture and beliefs we know very little.  Throughout history there have always been necessary “others” to be pointed at, to be vilified and held responsible for popular discontent. We are told we are the victims of “others” and we marshal our resources against the onslaught of otherness, whoever those others may be.  The taxonomy of “otherness” is vast — color, ethnicity, language, social class, a foreign accent, whether a person is rural or urban, religion of course, national origin, occupation, age, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation.  The list is long and ever growing. You might even find yourself on the list — one never knows.

History has shown us this process before, the slow decline from democracy to oligarchy or some other form of dictatorial governance. This transformation has nearly always been accomplished with the acquiescence of a broad swath of the public wanting to be saved from whatever. Institutions such as courts of law and legislatures are dismissed, discredited, and disparaged as deliberately defying the will of the “real people”. The so-called “elites”, whoever they may be, are portrayed as some kind of amorphous clandestine cabal ready to defile the rights and wishes of “real” people, while the true elites remain out of sight.

The world has been down this path many times before — we should know it by heart. Alternative facts are disseminated, cronies rewarded, the insecure silent go along to get along. The weakest segments of the society, the most insecure, the least educated are the most susceptible to pandering and misrepresentation by politicians who, without ethical or moral commitment to the truth, prey with a simplistic vocabulary. The target of those whirlwinds of tortured syntax and elementary vocabulary has always been the destruction of a foundational social contract.

Our country has become a theater where politicians mouth carefully scripted, democracy-drenched syntax and promises all the while doing their best to deny voting rights and marginalize people by means of gerrymandering and other restrictions. In Congress efforts are being initiated to undo banking rules, Social Security, health care, and other social programs. Meanwhile, the president cries “fake news” at anything that contradicts the alternative version of reality he is spinning for his followers. We have a President who looks at photographs of his inauguration and claims there were more people in attendance than shown or reported by trusted news organizations. The messengers of the press are vilified and perforce people don’t know what or who to believe. The inevitable confusion ensuing from all of the above lays the groundwork for social discord — fertile ground for a dictator to offer delusionary comfort via social control.

 

Would you obey an ICBM launch order from such a commander in chief akin to the commando raid in Yemen? You say, “It couldn’t happen here.” Don’t be so sure.

  Gliding Into Dreamtime

  We are not living at the dawning of a new Age of Aquarius. We are more living in a necessary Dreamtime. In the Aboriginal “Dreamtime” people connect to their ancestral past and to truth. Today, civilized populations live in a Dreamtime in which there is no truth, and no personal responsibility for the world as it is. There are others to carry that burden. It’s a simplistic cosmology populated with good guys and bad guys. It’s a philosophy that relieves believers of responsibility for the world as they find it; someone else has caused it, someone else will take care of it. Beliefs, dualisms, and fantasies govern this dream world displacing blame and handing off problems to higher supernatural authority.

The world we live in is defined by constant tension and turmoil between believing and knowing. Beliefs simultaneously energize and constrain, they have been the foundation stones of all social contracts from the onset of human experience to this day. Many common belief systems are religious and imaginary projections of characteristics attributed to other belief systems, other individuals – “others” in general. What people believe about anything or anyone often counts for more than what may or can actually be known or proven. Speaking to and stoking belief is a favorite tactic of politicians, demagogues, and despots. Scare people sufficiently and enough of them will follow you anywhere, even to war. History is a continuum of wars waged over beliefs.

Politicians peddle belief as much as clergy. Politicians pay pollsters sacks of money to determine what people believe and what they would believe. Politicians peddle what they learn back to you often via some well known “personality”. A lot of money and effort are spent crafting a believable Dreamtime pitch just for you, just for what you believe, just for what you want to believe. For the most part, this works. Why? Because people generally want their beliefs affirmed and when they hear it from a famous speaker they are validated. Demagogues are especially good at this form of salesmanship holding a fat thumb on the scales of truth.   

The belief / knowledge dualism is built into the humane psyche with belief being, in all probability, the most foundational survival mechanism – one that cannot be extinguished. The dualisms of modern life mirror those of past times. Life and death, wealth and poverty, good and evil, peace and war, health and sickness, gain and loss, power and impotence, justice and injustice. Fear is also belief, particularly with regard to mortality. The sixty-four-dollar question being, what happens after death? Belief in an afterlife, whether a welcoming host of heavenly angels with golden harps or a thousand virgins for every jihadist, is the anodyne of mortality. Belief in Heaven and Hell resolves the dualism of good and evil providing the ultimate distribution of justice. Death is the only unequivocal answer to your questions.

We have to question, I believe, the life expectancy of belief systems foundational to any social contract, capitalist or otherwise, that would impoverish and leave jobless formerly middle-class people.  In many communities across the United States, for example, there is no living wage employment in a vacuum left in the wake of businesses exiting for low wage foreign countries – nothing left behind but mortgage  foreclosures, and food stamps. Ironically, many full-time workers are relying on food stamps, their wages being insufficient to feed their families. In a final irony, some state Legislatures and Governors restrict or outright deny food stamps to those in need often subjecting them to humiliating drug tests. The same is true with subsidized health care and unemployment benefits.

We must ask how much destructive inhumanity any social contract can withstand before erupting into rebellion. The long glide into a dystopian Dreamtime will not be anesthetized by watching Archie Bunker reruns. It’s going to be painful.


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