The Week In Doom September 29, 2013

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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on September 29, 2013

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Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.

divide and conquer

 

“The enemy is not a market economy but a market society … The nation is simply breaking down; trapped in a vicious cycle of violence and madness too cruel and distressing to even contemplate. The brute fact is continual decay and insanity. As William Ophuls reminds us: “So the silent, stealthy erosion of the civilization’s moral core proceeds unchecked. Once the damage is done, however, it is too late. Nothing is left but to suffer the consequences.”

~Morris Berman

On the Diner we imagine what collapse will look like. The stories cited below are case studies that illustrate that collapse looks like a society in which nothing works, in which trust is broken, and in which the refs are paid to throw the game. Each of the items culled from recent headlines illustrate failed institutions representing a people who dare not wish for anything better. Each reflects a symptom of the building pressure cooker is that American society, where on one tier elites take care of their friends, and on another angry people misdirect their anger toward those different from themselves, precisely what the one per cent’s hustlers and fixers want them to do.
We sleepwalk through a world in which nothing works. We conceal ourselves, we hide part of our souls, with good reason. For all of our bravado, we are afraid of the present, of the future, of one another. Our President declaims a farrago of lies to the UN, with over 40 misstatements of fact in a single utterance, and corporate media remains obsequious. Officer Friendly morphs into an Imperial storm trooper. Our courts can no longer reliably convict a crook and insure he will remain convicted. And where our jobs and identities are so closely bound in a culture obsessed with winners, losers, and the myth of rewarding work, that work becomes increasingly more difficult to find as it continues to shed meaning.

Thus far the hustlers have been able to keep the wealth flowing upward while only dropping folks near the margins off the economic cliff. However, more and more of us grow closer to the margin with every passing day. Perhaps more and more people will start assuming their “ultimate form” (see below) as the emerging reality of the rigged casino sends them over the edge. As Berman noted above, quoting Ophuls, “Nothing is left but to suffer the consequences.”

Obama reaffirms the imperial project

 

What possible reasons could conservatives have to be unhappy with the current President?

This past week saw American president Barack Hussein Obama, of late Kenyan–socialist–anti-colonialist–usurper–illegitimate–still–awfully–dark fame squarely announced himself the neocons’ man in the Executive Office. Obama’s speech strikes the right tone in many areas. Pity they’re just words. Suffice it to say that if you read it for yourself, you’ll find the makes the case that the United States reserves the right to use force in Syria when it deems necessary, and by the way, couldn’t you, United Nations, do a little more than a whole then hold our coat for us?

In the speech, Obama ties elements of the Arab spring to Syria, and once again cites “overwhelming evidence” that the Assad regime used chemical weapons. The moment came framed in language worthy of the best lickspittle acolyte of the discredited Bush regime:

It is an insult to human reason – and to the legitimacy of this institution – to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.

This puts the number world governments, as well as a sizable portion of the American public in the category of offering an “insult to human reason.” Oh well, I’ve been called worse by MKing inside the Diner Forum.

And then there was the part that has gotten us peaceloving neurotics in a tizzy, the one referred to in the accompanying meme. The part where Obama says that the United States is “prepared to use its military to defend our core interests in the Middle East.” And to ensure the free flow of energy to the world, meaning the continued free flow of petroleum products to the SUVs of soccer moms across the US.

The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure these core interests in the region.

We will confront external aggression against our allies and partners, as we did in the Gulf War.

We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world. Although America is steadily reducing our own dependence on imported oil, the world still depends upon the region’s energy supply, and a severe disruption could destabilize the entire global economy.

We will dismantle terrorist networks that threaten our people. Wherever possible, we will build the capacity of our partners, respect the sovereignty of nations, and work to address the root causes of terror. But when its necessary to defend the United States against terrorist attacks, we will take direct action.

And finally, we will not tolerate the development or use of weapons of mass destruction.

lovebombs-anthonyfreda-072812As regards Syria, ironies abound: the single greatest actor for peace has been the former KGB guy, whereas the greatest threat to peace is the Nobel peace prize winner.

With this speech, Obama lays the foundation stone for whatever his legacy will be–likely the reassertion of the American imperial project. Beneath the honeyed words lie many lies, such as

“We consider chemical weapons in Syria to be a threat to American national security…”

“we have worked to end a decade of war”

“…new circumstances have also meant shifting away from a perpetual war-footing,”

and, my favorite as a former Occupier,

“we will not stop asserting principles that are consistent with our ideals, whether that means opposing the use of violence as a means of suppressing dissent…”

Obama’s address to the UN General Assembly was actually an astonishing string of brazen lies and falsehoods. David Swanson counts 45. (Check out his blog if you’re scoring at home.)

This naked declaration of imperialism solidifies the aspirations of the defunct Project for a New American Century as the guide star for American foreign-policy. The radical right-wingers who drove the Bush Dynasty into a program of eternal war have gotten their ticket punched this week. The speech might as well be the Full Relief Act for War Manufacturers of 2013, those same folks who are prepared to fight endless foreign energy wars down to your last daughter and son. We have already rejiggered our economy such that, if you want to have the sort of middle-class lifestyle available to our parents, you would do well to spend a career in the military, so that you can retire after 20, draw a pension, get your lifetime healthcare, PX shopping piveleges, etc., and double dip, as a civilian employee at the command you just left. (We see this all the time in Southeastern Virginia, one of the seats of Empire. Nice little revolving door.) And if you don’t want to wear one of those snappy white plastic suits as an Imperial storm trooper? Well then, you’ll just either have to cobble together rent and food working a couple of low-wage, no–benefit part-time jobs, or even better, a “bullshit job.”

Bullshit Jobs

Some time ago, on the occasion of a young friend’s birthday, we found ourselves at a party where we came face to face with the realities of life for the many young people in this country who have not entered a gate-kept profession. We saw the dilemmas faced by otherwise intelligent, hard-working young people without access to the sorts of factory jobs or construction jobs prevalent 40 or 50 years ago. I was moved to write an article about it then.

Many of us are old enough to remember when it was possible for working-class kids, particular those without a higher education, to go to work, get a job, and make a life for themselves. Own a house, own a car, to maybe own a vacation home or a boat—none of that was beyond the reach of a factory worker making a decent wage. For the young people in attendance at this party last night, the new normal looks like this: part-time work, topping out at 35 hours per week, so as to not incur the obligation of paying for benefits, no health insurance, living either at home, or in an apartment with several other people to share expenses, no car, and an uncertain future.

So we’ve created a society along the apparently desired lines of Central American oligarchies, with lines firmly dividing the leisure class from the class of eternal toil. Thus is policy made, and government duly responsive to the dictates of its owners. Add to this toxic shitbath the prevalence of bullshit jobs. We all know how difficult such jobs can be. As if wearing a polyester uniform and a paper hat were not enough, imagine being on the receiving end of this:

 

Now comes David Graeber examining the prediction in the early 20th century of an eventual 4 hour day, and how we got unproductive, meaningless work instead.

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

 

It is indeed a mystery. Why would capitalism create empty and meaningless jobs, especially since it is in the self-interest of each individual company to be as “efficient” as possible, which in most cases means feeding jobs into the wood chipper? You would expect this sort of thing in the Soviet Union, where everybody was expected to be employed, and where the old saw had it, “we pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.” Yet as Graeber observes,

While corporations may engage in ruthless downsizing, the layoffs and speed-ups invariably fall on that class of people who are actually making, moving, fixing and maintaining things; through some strange alchemy no one can quite explain, the number of salaried paper-pushers ultimately seems to expand, and more and more employees find themselves, not unlike Soviet workers actually, working 40 or even 50 hour weeks on paper, but effectively working 15 hours just as Keynes predicted, since the rest of their time is spent organizing or attending motivational seminars, updating their facebook profiles or downloading TV box-sets.

Which is precisely what happens, as anyone who works in a corporate environment will attest.

This Week in Police Overreach

Behavior for which American society tried, convicted and executed Axis soldiers seventy years ago has become the norm today. Obama campaigned on closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Gitmo has now been with us for so long it now elicits a shrug, as if to say, “Well, what can you do?” as if we were taking about sunspots… “Torture” has become “enhanced interrogation.” Those keeping score at home can credit Orwell for noting the importance of controlling the use of language in creating the narrative du jour.

This space has made frequent note and comment on the militarization of local police forces. And as these forces are armed with storm trooper outfits, tanks, drones, and all the abundant fruits of weapons manufacturers, a pervasive attitude of “us against them” has taken hold, such that even a routine traffic stop can become an opportunity to court death.

There is madness in the air we breathe. We could legitimately argue that everyone in America today is insane. You can feel it as you walk around grocery stores or as you drive down the streets. No more sympathy, no more reasoning, and no more communication to attempt to solve community problems. Everyone is stressed and it takes very little to push some people over the edge– like this cop.

Would it appear from this video that the officer in question, Ofc. Eric Hart, used an unreasonable and unnecessary level of force? Yet the Toledo Blade has his supervisor saying thus:

“He’s not in trouble, but to keep things aboveboard, we put him on administrative leave until an internal investigation is fully complete,” the chief said. “I’m not saying he did anything wrong, but we’re trying to show we’re not trying to sweep this under the rug or cover it up.”

In the four-minute, 50-second video, a woman shouts at Officer Hart that he is harassing people. The woman, who screams and shouts throughout the encounter, also claims Officer Hart smashed her cell phone when she tried to call 911.

A quote by Henry Giroux comes to mind:

“The increasing militarization of American society is matched by its increasing depoliticization and its increasing incapacity to make moral judgments and act with compassion against the most shocking injustices.”

(His brilliant op ed, “Beyond Savage Politics and Dystopian Nightmares” is well worth a read.)

 

Imagine the resultant hue and cry had the victims depicted in the video had been Blacks or Hispanics. The first expected response a cry of racism and white supremacy. But the truth is more subtle, and more compelling: abuse of institutional power and generalized wickedness in America today have affected everyone at every level society. We Americans made a bargain with the devil, the devil has returned to collect his own… speaking of whom…

 

DeLay conviction overturned

 

As part of the continual soap opera that is the American system of jurisprudence, we unearth this little nugget. As any reasonable person would tell you, clearly justice has prevailed.

(CNN) – Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s conviction on money laundering charges was overturned Thursday by a court in Texas.

DeLay, who was once one of the most powerful men on Capitol Hill, was convicted in 2010 for allegedly trying to influence Texas elections by trying to channel nearly $200,000 in corporate donations to Republicans running for the state legislature, which is prohibited by Lone Star state law. Delay, who served more than two decades in the House before resigning in 2006, was sentenced to three years in prison.

“Because we conclude that the evidence was legally insufficient to sustain DeLay’s convictions, we reverse the judgments of the trial court and render judgments of acquittal,” said an opinion from the District Court of Travis County, Texas.

DeLay was visiting Capitol Hill on Thursday. He was praying in the House chapel when his phone rang and his lawyer told him the news, a source close to DeLay told CNN.

DeLay then headed over to lunch with his former colleagues in the Texas delegation at their weekly lunch. “He said he felt vindicated,” Rep. Randy Neugebauer told CNN as he left the lunch.

Vindicated, indeed. Are we not all reasonable men?

***

“In the excitement over the unfolding of his scientific and technical powers, modern man has built a system of production that ravishes nature and a type of society that mutilates man. If only there were more and more wealth, everything else, it is thought, would fall into place. Money is considered to be all-powerful; if it could not actually buy non-material values, such as justice, harmony, beauty or even health, it could circumvent the need for them or compensate for their loss. The development of production and the acquisition of wealth have thus become the highest goals of the modern world in relation to which all other goals, no matter how much lip-service may still be paid to them, have come to take second place. The highest goals require no justification; all secondary goals have finally to justify themselves in terms of the service their attainment renders to the attainment of the highest. This is the philosophy of [ social ] materialism, and it is this philosophy – or metaphysic – which is now being challenged by events.”

~Craig Dilworth (2010-03-12). Too Smart for our Own Good (p. 400 – 405). Cambridge University Press.

Nothing works. Trust is broken. Institutions are failed. Government is captive to corporate interests. We hide ourselves because it is unsafe to show ourselves. That which does not contribute directly to corporate profit is openly mocked. The prevailing narrative–”work, shop, consume, die” –is reinforced by a daily drumbeat of messages in corporate media and by the many idols to Mammon that receive our daily embrace. All of these “secondary goals” as Dilworth has observed serve only to reinforce the highest goal. Yet we keep running, hamster like, on our materialist treadmill, in the hopes that someday, someway, somehow we will be able to buy a ticket off the ride.

The cop on the beat of 40 years ago has become Terry Taser, a walking object lesson in fear, likely to blow at any time, like the pervasive and eternal “threat of terror,” the financial system, or the Keystone XL pipeline. He simply reflects the building pressure cooker of American society. Ultimately the flow of cheap energy is the morphine drip that sustains the cadaver of late industrial society. It is cheap energy that enables the imperial project, and that ultimately pacifies an increasingly restive population whose tension mounts as our institutions, traditions, lifestyles and families fail, and fall, one by one like dominoes.

***

And a fitting epilogue to This Week in Doom:

2 Concealed Carry Holders Kill Each Other In Road Rage Incident

Two men are dead after pulling guns on each other during a road rage incident on Wednesday night.

Police said the dispute began when one car was tailgating another in the Michigan town of Ionia, population 11,400.

Both drivers pulled into the parking lot of a local car wash and stepped out of their vehicles, according to ABC affiliate WZZM-TV. Witnesses said the tailgating driver fired first, and the other driver returned fire.

When ambulances arrived, the men — Ionia residents James Pullam, 43, and Robert Taylor, 56 — were given medical care and transported to a local hospital, where they were pronounced dead, Detroit News reported.

 

Want to know what collapse looks like? It looks like this.

 

 

 

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