We can blame “them” all we want but as my first teacher in politics Walt Kelly had his main character Pogo say “Yep, son, we have met the enemy and he is us.”
Leaders and media personalities all have their own motivations and little cabals and interests and careers but in the end they reflect who we are. It isn’t just because we are, a democracy (more or less) but that the cultural ambience always has an effect at least for those who interact on various levels with the world. The more rarified and wealthy a person, of course, the more likely they will be out of touch with everyday interactions. But even then there are influences of the media, the music, the arts (both good an bad) and even the language itself. In fact, as an aside, language itself carries inherent values not only in the meanings but in the rhythms and sounds as well. We are, also, influenced by each other in other ways, body language, facial expressions, clothing, hair styles even moods and “vibes.” We are far more connected than we think. Yet, part of that connection involves a culture that is focused on what I describe as narcissistic isolation. To be more precise, the culture encourages people live separate lives focused on fulfilling fantasies. Work life and “personal” life are largely segregated—a person has to put on a work mask and take it off and be “real” when they home. Work is, usually, a place where arbitrary and often inexplicable goals and values are pursued where mysterious and all-powerful hierarchies largely frame your work life. When we get home we play, like children, at life—play fantasy sports, watch porn, shop for clothes so that we can be our very own dolls, and “unwind” (does anybody wonder why we have to be wound up in the first place).
The center of our concerns involves “our” family and small coterie of friends—a minority are interested in the larger community and in society as a whole but usually in a rather abstract way or in the way the MSM encourages us to look at politics which is to see it all as a sporting event. We have our private connections which could include anything from church to Civil War Re-enactor clubs. But these all go in different directions, ironically, at a time when, if we think about it, we are more and more connected and society has become more dependent on the smooth functioning of people acting together. Technology has made an enormous difference, for a while, in making it easier for the complex systems that underlie our lives to function but, at this point, we are reaching the law of diminishing returns and technological change in now unlikely to provide us with the fundamental solutions that lie only in our arms.
I have seen in my life the great dimunition of human capital a kind of de-evolution. I first thought about it in the 1970’s when the group Devo claimed we were entering an era of devolution—but that seemed a joke at the time. In fact, they were right. All social indicators started to go down in the late 70s.
- We work more hours.
- Our standard of living has gone down (see Elizabeth Warren’s talk on the on the collapse of the middle class she made three years ago--skip first five minutes of intros)
- Wages stagnated as productivity continued to rise and the surplus created the great financial boom of the 80s and the expansion of credit to fuel the rising expectations of workers.
- The Democratic Party moved away from working-class interests and made a bid for the money that was available by the increasing wealth of the finance oligarchs--this, in turn, dramatically moved tax burdens from the rich to the middle-class and, at the same time, set off three decades of de-regulation of almost all industries and began the systematic dismemberment of New Deal social legislation.
All this happened with barely a peep out of the public at large. Why is this? I almost want to say one word: "cable." Yes, cable TV with its seemingly endless variety of amusements along with video games, expansion of the availability of movies first on tape, then DVD and now streaming. As rapidly as the country has moved to the right politically it has moved culturally to create a culture of entertainment and shopping the latter has come from the rapid expansion of credit and the advantages of globalization which offers dramatically cheaper trinkets, toys and clothing all manufactured under rather Dickensian conditions in poor countries.
This orgy of amusing oneself coupled with 24/7 cable and later the internet has made us almost completely consumers of various forms of passtimes whose ultimate meaning and focus is to amuse us, show others our status, thrill us all in our "private" life. We look at fantasies of being all-powerful superheroes or impossibly sexy women and at work we toe the line that the all powerful hierarchy describe for us.
I believe there are some missing elements to social critiques in our society: as follows:
- Powerful institutions understand that the way to keep people dependent is to turn them into children very much like the Eloi in H.G. Wells' story The Time Machine.
- There is such a thing as the a subconscious and unconscious part of the mind and these parts, mainly the latter, can be addressed through suggestions and trance-inducements of various kinds.
- Social-science and neuroscience offers clear methods of mind-control techniques to those that want to use them to add with the classical PR/Propaganda techniques pioneered by people like Edward Bernays.
The entertainment/"news"/PR/advertising industry that largely influences our common culture is focused on power and influence. They are in the hire of those that have the most money and thus provide information that is favorable to those interests. This is not corruption but just the truth. We live in a market/consumer-based political-economy. If you are rich you have much more power in every sense than someone that is poor or in the middle. There is no comparison. The courts, businesses, treat you differently depending on your income and wealth. It's just the way it goes. That people imagine a U.S.A. that Jefferson envisioned even remotely exists in this country proves the point that major sectors of the population are deluded. Even on the most basic issues most people have no idea what is going on. It is well known that those citizens that opposed the HCR bill had very little idea of what was actually in the bill--in fact, most people who opposed the bill supported most of the provisions. While much of this is due to the MSM mainly hostile attitude towards reform in general and the fact Democrats seemed utterly unable or unwilling to frame the issues in a coherent way it didn't take a Master's Degree to find out what was in the bill. People, unless they are utterly stupid, and people are not that stupid, understand that they are being lied to all the time--so why do they believe what the powerful tell them?
Unless the body-politic decides, collectively to tune out of its fascination with entertainment and the tendency to not want to be disturbed and avoid all change, all innovation so they can watch the next episode of Dancing with the Stars of Americal Idol or some toney HBO production there is no way any kind of meaningful reform can occur on any level in this country.
The political system is tied up by a combination of things as follows:
- MSM that works directly for the oligarchs and will not present facts as they are or even close to them--that people believe anything at all that is on the news always fascinates me--sure, trust, but people, verify--believe me they have a tendency to lie when all the rewards go to those that go along to get along and those that choose to honor the truth are usually on the street within a few years scrabbling for a few dollars here or there--that's simply the fact today in the media world.
- The problem of the "empty" states in the midwest: in 1789 the ratio ratio between least populous state in terms of population was 20-1, today it is 70-1. This has been a building problem for a long time but coupled with the fact that the margin for passing major bills has increased from 51 Senate votes to 61 votes in just a few decades (few people know that fillibusters were very, very rare). For example Johnson knew Medicare would pass 55-45 and didn't break a sweat though the Republicans were as vehemently opposed to it as they were opposed to the HCR act when the safe votes were exactly 55-45.
- The domination of money in the political system--more money=more power simple as that and there is no theoretical limit to the influence of money any more.
- As mentioned, the seeming inability of a very large portion of the American electorate, I blame here, particularly the middle-classes that is seeing its position eroded in almost spectacular fashion because they (we) seem unable to confront the gravity of our difficulties.
Whatever the changes are that must come it seems obvious to me that neither the public institutions nor population as a whole are prepared or willing to address them. The oligarchs want to keep up the pressure and get every statutory advantage they can get to create a subservient and discouraged populace in a state of fear and anxiety such that they are willing to do anything demanded of them by the bosses. The people seem to be fairly passive in complying with this demand as long as they are given the steady stream of new movies, shows and toys to play with during recess. Actually I'm confident that if the proles decide to act like grownups that the oligarchs will ultimately welcome it--again we are all connected.