As must be obvious from the title, this diary began as a comment in response to Suskind’s diary WE ARE NOT SCREWED .
Surely I know these views won’t be popular, but I’m accustomed to being the bad guy by now, and I simply cannot refrain from expressing my honest, heartfelt response to the ideas expressed there…so, fwiw, may the bitch-slapping begin.
As much as I hate to always be the “downer,” as much as I understand that people need periodic “pep talks” and signs of hope to continue the important work that we are all doing here…. as much as this post actually reaffirms what I have been repeating ad nauseum in just about everything I write (i.e., that the problem is with the people not the current regime)….my take on it simply cannot be as positive as Suskind’s. I appreciate and applaud the enthusiasm and optimism expressed there, but am not sure that this form of (naive?) optimism is the best recipe for success.
Suskind is right that it is “we, the people” who were originally vested with the “power”–but the problem, as I see it, is that this anonymous mass we call “we, the people” has completely relinquished that power–and this process has taken place over decades; reversing it will require as many or more.
Especially now, with the added factor of electronically rigged elections, we are screwed, at least until or unless we can mobilize many more than 59 million people–(and, in light of the rigging factor, simply getting them to vote will not be enough).
And that is the quandary we face: “we the people” have become a hopelessly complacent, hopelessly self-centered, egotistical bunch of lazy, ignorant, mostly fat-assed couch potatoes: sad, sad truth, but it is true. It’s a hard thing to do, to look in the mirror and conclude: yes, the stereotype of us in the rest of the world is pretty accurate. O shit.
Of course I’m not talking about those of us here in the pond and the other so-called “liberal” blogs: obviously, we are the ones who do not fit the stereotype and we are doing all we can to get this monster under control–however flawed or ineffectual our attempts may or may not be. At least we are doing something.
But unless and until this will to regain power spreads beyond the blogs and the “sphere”, we are screwed. We are. And I’m afraid the kind of optimism expressed in the notion that “we are not screwed” can do more harm than good because it can act to shield us from the brutal reality of the dire straits we are in by mitigating the urgency of the situation. The truth is that we are not only screwed, we are hopelessly screwed up. We are a sick people. Our “ways of life” are (and always have been) “ways of death,” and until we wrap our brains around that reality-based assessment of who “we” the people are, we will indeed remain eternally screwed.
The Camp Casey movement did a lot to mobilize and activate many “mainstream” middle Americans, and it’s a huge step in the right direction.
But what is it going to take to mobilize other groups en masse: I’m thinking first and foremost of left-wing intellectuals (professors, students, writers, editors, publishers) most of whom have fallen silent, but I’m also thinking of the working class, the various “minority” groups and many others who, despite the fact that they sense something profoundly wrong, still continue in the “don’t worry be happy” mode of mindless do-nothingism. The universe will take care of itself. Indeed, maybe she will: which means she’ll likely come along and wipe us from the face of the earth, because, by most accounts, we the people of the United States of America who currently consume a good 25% of her resources, we the people of the United States of America who continue to allow NASA to litter the universe with spatial debris, we who continue to allow our fellow citizens to pollute, plunder and un-plug the world’s resources for the sake of clinging desperately to the depraved indifference and denial of reality that has become our daily bread–WE are the problem. Either we change our ways, or I believe the universe will likely take care of itself and will find a way to eliminate us. It’s that simple.
Seriously, the fact that the FEMA disaster in the aftermath of Katrina did so little to elicit outrage and action is NOT a good sign; the fact that the Abramoff scandal is not prompting people to action is not a good sign. None of this bodes well for our chances of turning this ship around.
We must assume that most average Joes are simply ignorant of the situation, and that they have no interest in becoming informed or becoming active–seems even when you can make clear to them that their jobs, their well-being, their own personal “right” to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness are clearly jeopardized–they still assume the “whatever” stance and just keep going about their business.
It’s like you really need a cattle prod (in the case of Cindy Sheehan, the death of her son functioned in that way to move her to take action). “Hope” and “optimism” do not have the “cattle prod” effect: desperation and despair have always been the great motivators of movements.
Every time I read something like this, I am reminded of a quote by William Greider in “One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism” in which he very succinctly outlines the fundamental problem with the “American people.” Here he is discussing the difference between post WWII Germany and the US. He writes:
German social consciousness was anchored in the country’s tragic knowledge of guilt and defeat, a humbling encounter with self doubt that Americans have so far evaded in their national history. …American history did provide ample basis for humility and social introspection: slavery and the enduring wounds of race, “winning” the West by armed conquest, Hiroshima and the nuclear potential for mass destruction, the bloody failure of the neocolonialist war in Vietnam….The social meaning of these experiences was usually deflected, however, and repackaged by the optimistic American culture as stories of triumph…Thus, Americans generally managed to evade any national sense of guilt or defeat. Critical reflection on the national character was discouraged, ridiculed as “un-American.
Too much of what goes on out here in the blogosphere, imo, includes this “repackaging” of American culture into stories of triumph and optimism.
It may seem as though I am just hell-bent on berating the American people, that I’m just hell-bent on focusing on the negative….well, in a way, I am: because this false optimism is, imo, part of what got us into the mess we are in.
(And those of you who know my story also know that this assessment is also based on ten years’ first-hand experience with precisely that “German social consciousness” to which Greider refers in his quote. No, I don’t hate America: I love it, I left it, and in that leaving I happened to have watched the way the Germans again learned to love their country [and themselves] in the aftermath of genocide).
Part of what has us paralyzed and prevents us from acting is the continued evasion of any sense of guilt or defeat. Somehow, too many people in this country still believe that we are and have always been a shining beacon of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all.
Well, the fact is: we haven’t been. Look at the facts. Look at the history. Look at the situation in NOLA: that situation was not created overnight–that rampant, rampant poverty has been there all along, and we, the people, have chosen to look the other way (even now, we the people continue to deny any responsibility for that situation and continue in our refusal to respond accordingly). Maybe Mayor Nagin is on to something when he says Katrina was a sign of “God’s” wrath: maybe this is the universe taking care of itself, desperately trying to get through to us in a last-ditch wake-up call–call it a “nudge” if you will, a hefty one.
Onward we sleep. Two in the bed and the other one said: roll over.
The transformative power of “hope” is necessarily less than that of “despair” because hope is purely speculative: its power is limited by the fact that it rests on some not-yet-known future. But despair is rooted in the known: this is the situation, this is what has happened, this is where we are.
This country is founded on genocide and slavery. We need to face that and fess up to it before we can ever hope to change the course of the future. Back to Greider: guilt and defeat–guilt and defeat not as negative burdens imposed by the outside world, but as a tragically honest admission of utter failure. A will to wipe away the stain.
Our despicable history has brought us to this fork in the road. BushCo is in fact the logical consequence of our historical development as a nation. It had to come to this. This is what happens when a bunch of white privileged men get together and agree that they will establish a charter under the auspices of someone else’s God–that is, of their God.
We can do better.
I sincerely believe we can, but not if we do not take a serious honest look at ourselves and concede that “we the people” have allowed ourselves and our government to be and become everything we have purported to deplore throughout our history as a nation. If the Germans can do it, we can do it too! Perhaps we can ask for their aid in some kind of moral Marshall Plan! 😉
What is needed, imo, is that a critical mass of citizens finally come to the realization that America has never lived up to the hopes, dreams and aspirations that it set for itself. What is needed is that “humbling encounter with self doubt that Americans have so far evaded in their national history.” From this position of self-doubt, of humility and defeat, we might be able to rise from the proverbial ashes and re-construct a national identity that is de facto more in line with our own distorted, fairy-tale view of ourselves, but I don’t think it’s going to happen as long as we continue resorting to these tired old cliches of greatness.
America, they say, is the land of “second-chances”–hell, for Michelle Kwan, it’s the land of second and third chances!
But I think we would be better served to admit defeat–admit it: we fucked up, we are fucked up and unless we go back to the beginning and un-fuck the things we have done to fuck not only ourselves, but the rest of the fucking world, we (and they) will remain: forever fucked.
No, we aren’t screwed. We are fucked. And fucked up. Royally. The challenge now is to figure out how to un-fuck ourselves because Suskind is right, we the people are the ones with the power. But we have fucked up. Badly. And a lot of people have been fucked to and beyond the nines as a result.
I don’t see how the un-fucking can begin until we accept the tragedy of that defeat.
In its fairy godmother role, the US Olympic Committee has given little rabbit foofoo Michelle Kwan a third chance to prove she can go for the gold before they finally retire her to the annals of Olympic goons-gone-down, but neither the universe nor the international community is in possession of that kind of magic wand. I’m not sure we haven’t already squandered the only second chance we may or may not have had. What I do know is that there will not be a third, and as long as we continue to deny the degree and the nature of our utter defeat and our utter failure at this moment in time, we will not be any more successful on this second run than we were on the first.