I often find myself in very exclusive neighborhoods here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some of the homes may be valued at $2 million-plus, the streets are immaculate, with leafy trees, birds chirping, beautiful blue skies; you see very expensive cars parked in the street, or inside 4-car garages. The shopping? Well, cute boutique-style shops. Oh and the eatery! Great food, and lots of beautiful people enjoying it.
When I'm in those environments, sometimes I look around and watch people having a good time with family and friends; they seem very polite, soft-spoken (most of them); happy. And I often wonder, "Are they aware about how far we've fallen as a country when it comes to democracy, the rule of law, inequality, injustices, the depravity and greed of the ruling class?" And I answer my own question when I play a mental game... I imagine walking up to a local to ask those questions, and I conclude that probably 99.9 percent of the people I talk to will not have any idea what I'm talking about.
Why would they? They're mostly well-off or rich, have great jobs, savings, really nice homes, great doctors, great schools for their children...
But here's the thing: I also know for a fact that if I stop typing right now, step out the door in my not-that-well-off neighborhood and go talk to a random neighbor, and ask those same questions, more than likely I will get a similar reaction. Yes, in my working class neighborhood it is more likely that someone may be dealing with some or other difficulty, maybe a bout of unemployment, or maybe some financial difficulties, but if I start using words like "brutal," "fascistic," "exploitative," "plutocracy," or "corporate state," I'm going to lose them fast.
And when I think about these things, when I engage in these mental exercises, I'm reminded of how Chris Hedges always admonishes us in his writings about the importance of being able to articulate what we are experiencing as a country.
We live in a nation where doctors destroy health; lawyers destroy justice; universities destroy knowledge; governments destroy freedom; the press destroys information; religion destroys morals; and our banks destroy the economy.And as I watch all this going on, and notice (what I believe to be) reality vs. the common perception of it by the public, I can't help but think about how is it that a country can transition into fascism, while the process remains seemingly undetected by most.
-- Chris Hedges
The reason I think about this is because sometimes it's hard to understand how fascism engulfed entire societies throughout history.
Of course, by now I've realized that the reason fascism creeps in mostly undetected by most of the population is because its first victims tend to be those who have been demonized and marginalized by the system. Everybody else continues doing their thing, pretty much unmolested, and thus are unable to fully understand the nature of the system.
Here's a historical perspective about this process:
To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.All this brings me back to the recurring admonition by Chris Hedges about the importance of being able to accurately articulate the true nature of the system.
How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.
-- They Thought They Were Free / The Germans, 1933-45 / Milton Mayer
[The emphasis is mine]
As things continue to deteriorate at a faster and faster pace (as we rapidly move towards a fascistic totalitarian surveillance police state), I often find myself using words like "brutal," "fascistic," "exploitative," "rapacious greed of the ruling class," but I'm aware that some people cringe when I use them to describe the true nature of the system.
I read it three times; I found it to be very insightful, very powerful, a perfect example of what it means to be able to articulate reality on the ground--accurately. And I noticed the descriptors, the ones that some folks sometimes find too harsh. And I thought about how this is basically the same understanding of Chris Hedges, of Bill Moyers, of Amy Goodman, and others. And I think about the irony... If these folks are right, does that mean that the folks in those affluent communities I mentioned in the opening are wrong about their perception of reality (if they in fact don't see things in the same way)?
Does that explain why we think we are free?
America has not only lost its moral compass, but any vestige of credibility in its alleged support for equality, freedom, justice and democracy itself. The United States is not a banana republic, as some critics claim, but much worse. It has become the enemy of democracy and a symbol of the new authoritarianism.  As Joseph Stiglitz, Michael Yates and many other theorists of inequality have demonstrated, power and wealth are now firmly concentrated in the hands of the 1% and translate into forms of material and symbolic violence evident in a range of policies designed to dismantle all vestiges of the welfare state from school lunch and food stamp programs to benefits for the unemployed. The social contract is not under attack by the plutocrats, it is being shredded.Are those words too strong to describe reality? Or are they accurately articulating it?
[The emphasis is mine]
This form of concentrated power is a machinery of social and civil death intent on waging wars, destroying public schools, public transportation, unions, the environment and all vestiges of the commons, social contract, and public good. Accumulating capital is the new common sense of the land, making exchange value the only value that matters, regardless of the social pathologies it promotes throughout the entire society. Unsurprisingly, faith in the defining institutions of democracy are at an all-time low as politics becomes simply another swindle created by a casino capitalism in which the house always wins. Instead of moral and political outrage manifested in massive demonstrations and new-found political struggles, there is a eerie quietude and sense of desperation enveloping the fast-moving darkness of authoritarianism that is engulfing the country.A society that thrives on a denial of reality! I think that perhaps if there is one single culprit that could be identified as the reason societies fail, the reason fascism rises, the reason democracy can't be sustained, is our underdeveloped sense of empathy.
America has become a society that thrives on a denial of reality - mistaking democracy for capitalism, massive inequality for meritocracy, ignorance for reason, war for peace, charity for justice, freedom for an unchecked individualism, and entertainment for cruelty. Casino capitalism's Clinton-Bush "greed is good" image, made famous by Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, has been replaced by the more realistic and sinister values represented by Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. As power becomes global, unrestrained by the politics of nation states, it has become more arrogant, less controllable and more vicious in its pursuit of resources, profits and wealth. This predatory ruling financial class are the new zombies - parasites sucking the blood out of everything they come in contact with while spreading misery, suffering, and death all over the globe. One consequence is that more and more individuals and groups are becoming imaginary others, defined by a free floating, largely unaccountable capitalist class that inscribes them as disposable, redundant and irrelevant. This is particularly true for a growing number of people, especially young people, who increasingly inhabit zones of terminal exclusion - lacking jobs, burned by overwhelming debt and written out of the discourse of democracy.
[The emphasis is mine]
As long as the folks sitting inside those nice restaurants I spoke about, or shopping in those nice boutique stores, or driving in their nice cars, are unable to understand the pain, the outrage, the oppression the targeted classes of people experience at the hand of this brutal system, as a society we will remain ignorant of the true nature of the system. We may even believe we are free--until they come for us.
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