Good opinion piece for a beginners’ understanding of this: “almost uniquely American crisis driven in good part by particular American issues from the influence of drug companies over medical policy to a “pill for every ill” culture.” There’s a lot there to unpack.
When Arthur Dent landed on Hawalius, “the planet of oracles and seers and soothsayers” in Douglas Adams’ Mostly Harmless, he found an old fortune teller living in a smelly cave swatting giant flies from dead goat-creatures, who gave him a photocopy of the story of her life with all the major decisions she ever made underlined, and told him to do the exact opposite.
This is my feeling of what it’s like being an American today. We may not think that the way we live, the things we like, and the opinions we hold are bad, each thing taken by itself, from seemingly innocuous indulgences like celebrity YouTubers and pizza delivery to graver issues like education and foreign policy, you may even believe these things are pretty great, but the increasingly unavoidable fact is that everything we do, have done, and continue to do, has brought us to where we are today.
Who can say which thing or things are responsible for what went wrong? No amount of reflection will be able to unravel the tangle of causation. The only thing we can take from it all is that if we are unhappy with how things are, and if we are serious about wanting to change things, we may not need to change everything, but we have to at least be prepared to change everything.
And who can do that? Who can change how they are? Who even wants to? We have a fantasy that civilisations can turn themselves around when they are on the wrong path, when really they move in one direction, and crash, and begin again. People don’t change, they double down.
And so we remain the old lady in the smelly cave swatting giant flies from dead goat-creatures. Because in the end, even a fortune teller cannot prevent herself from becoming what she has become.
Devastating opinion piece. One to file away and return to in 100 years time. Show your grand children. Analyse in history class.
“Republicans, blinded by fear and rage, thirsty for power, desperate for a reclamation and reassertion of racial power, have cast their lot with the great deceiver and all their previous deal-breakers are now negotiable.”
Read the full article here.
Insights from over 50 years ago cut even deeper today for the fact that we have learnt absolutely nothing.
On anti-intellectualism and the myth of America:
[W]e [as Americans] have a very deep-seated distrust of real intellectual effort (probably because we suspect that it will destroy, as I hope it does, that myth of America to which we cling so desperately).
On racism and poverty:
Now I am perfectly aware that there are other slums in which white men are fighting for their lives, and mainly losing. I know that blood is also flowing through those streets and that the human damage there is incalculable. People are continually pointing out to me the wretchedness of white people in order to console me for the wretchedness of blacks. But an itemized account of the American failure does not console me and it should not console anyone else.
On the American dream:
The people, however, who believe that this democratic anguish has some consoling value are always pointing out that So-and-So, white, and So-and-So, black rose from the slums into the big time. The existence–the public existence–of, say, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. proves to them that America is still the land of opportunity and that inequalities vanish before the determined will. It proves nothing of the sort … and the inequalities suffered by the many are in no way justified by the rise of a few. … Furthermore, the American equation of success with the big time reveals an awful disrespect for human life and human achievement. This equation has placed our cities among the most dangerous in the world and has placed our youth among the most empty and most bewildered. The situation of our youth is not mysterious. Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. They must, they have no other models. That is exactly what our children are doing. They are imitating our immorality, our disrespect for the pain of others.
On justifying our crimes:
The world has never lacked for horrifying examples [even if Birmingham is worse, no doubt Johannesburg, South Africa, beats it by several miles, and Buchenwald was one of the worst things that ever happened in the entire history of the world]; but I do not believe that these examples are meant to be used as justification for our own crimes. This perpetual justification empties the heart of all human feeling. The emptier our hearts become, the greater will be our crimes.
More on the myth of America:
This illusion owes everything to the great American illusion that our state is a state to be envied by other people: we are powerful, and we are rich. But our power makes us uncomfortable and we handle it very ineptly. … If we ourselves were not so fond of this illusion, we might understand ourselves and other peoples better than we do, and be enabled to help them understand us. I am very often tempted to believe that this illusion is all that is left of the great dream that was to have become America; whether this is so or not, this illusion certainly prevents us from making America what we say we want it to be.
It is hard enough, God knows, under the best of circumstances, to get an education in this country. White children are graduated yearly who can neither read, write, nor think, and who are in a state of the most abysmal ignorance concerning the world around them. But at least they are white. They are under the illusion–which, since they are so badly educated, sometimes has a fatal tenacity–that they can do whatever they want to do. Perhaps that is exactly what they are doing, in which case we had best all go down in prayer.
On false nostalgia:
I am afraid that most of the white people I have ever known impressed me as being in the grip of a weird nostalgia, dreaming of a vanished state of security and order, against which dream, unfailingly and unconsciously, they tested and very often lost their lives.
Quotes from Nobody Knows My Name by James Baldwin, collected on irepeatinmysleep.wordpress.com.
Alabama Senate vote 24-4 allows Briarwood Presbyterian church to have own private police force ‘invested with all of the powers of law enforcement officers.’ Apparently some universities in the US already have their own police forces. Yet another moment when I realise how far America has gone off the rails. America is not the country I thought it was.
The greatest trick of the modern Republican Party is creating the broken America of the underprivileged and convincing those underprivileged that the Republican Party are the only ones who can fix it. It’s true; they can stop breaking it. It’s an old trick known (read: unknown) to most Republicans in another form. It’s no surprise that most Republicans are devout Christians because it’s just like with Christianity, where you are burdened with guilt that can only be overcome through the church, when the church was the one who created the guilt in the first place. Never realising this, working-class Republicans continue to praise and defend their party while suffering in the poverty, ignorance, fear and anger created by the policies they themselves vote for. Like a kicked dog returning to its master. Like a hostage falling in love with her kidnapper. Like a battered wife begging her husband for another chance.
When I first started making notes for this piece a month or so ago, it was to be called: Is this the dystopia you were waiting for? The future is here.
It went something like this:
The only thing separating the world today from a true dystopian nightmare is one catastrophe: one famine, one epidemic, one war. Admittedly we have been one war away from annihilation since the 1950s; from annihilation but not dystopia.
Technological advancements continue to outpace social justice, jolting the world ever closer to the cyberpunk vision. Access to firearms has weaponised social discontent. In response, law enforcement has been militarised. Security cameras, drones and satellites can track anyone, anywhere. State-sponsored mass surveillance has infiltrated our private lives: they can watch us, listen in on us, and record us through our own webcams and smartphones. The rest, we freely disseminate via social media.
The super-rich of today drive around in limousines as impenetrable as tanks, circle the world in aircrafts that never need to land, are protected by private armies of security personnel, and live in walled and gated fortresses with military-grade, automated and drone defences and fully-operational fallout shelters.
It’s almost as if those in power know something is coming, or at least fear it enough to have prepared for it: the final, ultimate depletion of fossil fuels, a massive climate catastrophe, the inexorable, irreversible slide into cataclysmic global (nuclear) military conflict, civil unrest leading to violent revolution. At the same time, they play down the dangers, playing for as much time as they can get away with.
All we need is a comic book villain.
That was a month ago. In view of recent events, I decided to revise the title. How quickly fears can crystallise.
Now we have a dangerous cabal of billionaires running the most powerful country on this planet. We have our comic book villains. We’re dealing with Class A psychopaths here, and this is their game plan: The Guardian: First on the White House Agenda – the collapse of the global order. Next, war? This may be the most important article you’ll read this year.
This is a man willing to destroy the world in order to be the king of the radioactive slag heap that is left afterwards. In an interview 12 months ago, he said that there is ‘no doubt’ that America is ‘going to war in the South China Sea in five to 10 years’; now he is in a position to make that happen.(1) A month ago, I wrote that it was like those in power had realised that the world was ending. I just didn’t realise that they would actually be the ones who orchestrated the end.
(1) As well as having the president’s ‘ear’, Bannon has a prominent and powerful seat in the NSC, the body that advises the president on, among other things, matters of war.
It is Groundhog Day 2017. I asked some friends today who I know engage with social and political issues and whose opinions I respect whether we (meaning, I) are overreacting, if it’s only because of the so-called liberal ‘bubble’ we live in, of how much we read and think on such issues (and what we read and think), or if the situation really is that serious?
B. (36, Australia) thinks we’re probably overreacting;
N. (27, Canada, Ukraine) is also leaning towards overreaction;
J. (23, Australia) has faith the Constitution and the checks and balances will ‘hold strong’;
S. (37, Australia, USA) thinks it’s serious, ‘mostly because the worst is yet to come and typically people wait too long to react to bad news’;
N. (30, Lebanon) thinks it’s ‘really bad and people should be taking it very very seriously’ and that ‘it has been seriously bad for a while’;
P. (39, USA) does not think we are overreacting. ‘The system was starting to show a lot of cracks, and I don’t know if it can hold against this;
J. (26, USA, Germany) is ‘actively looking for ways to get [his] family out, and it could easily escalate to something very bad’.
Personally, I think it’s very serious. I said I was at DEFCON 2 though I admit that might be overstating it (but only a little). I think there are deliberate efforts to undermine civil rights, to sow discord, to obfuscate and, ultimately, to distill power into the hands of a cabal of billionaires. Those in power have only a short time to consolidate that power and you can be sure they will use it, through propaganda, through undermining the electoral process, through manipulating international politics. I fear persecution of minorities, foreigners, activists, journalists and academics will become policy hidden behind the mask of national security with widespread popular support. It will happen quickly but not rashly. Most people will not notice. We will be like the audience on the magician’s platform, turning too slowly and smoothly for those on it to notice, until suddenly we are living in a system we no longer recognise.
Then I started thinking about an isolationist USA willing (if not secretly gleeful) to turn a blind eye to an expansionist Russia in Eastern Europe, specifically in the Ukraine and the Baltics, about UK distancing itself from the European Union, and about a potential far-right and anti-EU France under Le Pen. I thought about the madmen with nuclear weapons and the evaporation of the guarantee of mutual annihilation, because they are on the same side or on no side. And I decided it was time to plan to start planning an exit strategy should further conflicts erupt in Europe. The problem is always recognising the moment after which it is too late to leave. Okay, I’m not really at DEFCON 2, but think about this: If this timeline of history that we are currently on did lead to a large scale war in the near future, we at this point in time would be saying exactly the things we are saying now.
Irving Wallace: “If fascism ever comes to the United States, it’ll be because the people voted it in.”
Philip Roth: “To have enslaved America with this hocus-pocus! To have captured the mind of the world’s greatest nation without uttering a single word of truth! Oh, the pleasure we must be affording the most malevolent man on earth!”
Henry Wallace: “A fascist is one whose lust for money or power is combined with such an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends.” American fascism would only become “really dangerous” if a “purposeful coalition” arose between crony capitalists, “poisoners of public information” and “the KKK type of demagoguery”.
NYT 1938: “When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labelled ‘made in Germany’; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, ‘Americanism’.”
Sinclair Lewis: “[G]overnment of the profits, by the profits, for the profits”.
Keeper of the Flame: “Of course they didn’t call it fascism. They painted it red, white, and blue, and called it Americanism.”
Read the whole article here!
I think especially Americans (but everyone else too) should keep a weekly diary on the situation in the United States, specifically how they feel about developments in the country, their fears or optimism. It doesn’t matter if you’re conservative or progressive. One day, these personal records will be a massively useful documentation of these significant times. Maybe you’ll look back and laugh at how you overreacted, maybe you’ll look back at how you managed to ignore the signs. And maybe, just maybe, you won’t get the chance to look back at all.
PS. If you do do this, send me a link. I would love to read your thoughts.