More memes and anti-memes that have crept out of my MSPaint in the past few weeks…
Or, “Why I won’t vote for Republicans or Democrats for anything, ever.”
Call me tinfoil, but I don’t think the majority of either party gives a damn about social issues or the environment. Republicans talk a big game about god, guns and gays, and Democrats talk a big game about… well, often those same three things, but politicians tend to be liars and there’s no reason to believe the bloodsuckers on either side of the aisle mean the shit they’re trying to sell us. Social issues are the football partisan politicians kick back and forth to distract citizens from the real game going on behind the bleachers. Not that I’m saying issues like marriage rights and the environment aren’t important… but frankly, I think the Dems purposefully get in the way of real progress on those issues just as much as the Reps (mostly by dragging their feet and letting the Reps have their way whenever it seems the Dems might get ahead).
And sure both parties seem to have their true believers (Tea Party candidates, for example, though not the people funding them). But my guess is for the most part it’s all a farce. The longer it takes for a real political revolution in this country, the more both wings of our one-party system benefit from the constant escalation of partisanship. It’s classic divide and conquer; these people read their Sun Tzu. The voters spend their time divided on issues like weed and which genitals can go where and what language you have to hear someone else speaking ahead of you in the line at the DMV, and meanwhile the D’s and R’s both make money hand over fist killing people of the wrong religion overseas, taking bribes to approve medications that wind up on class-action lawsuit commercials a few years down the road, and letting Wall Street make record profits pretending money on paper is the real thing while the national infrastructure collapses. You know, situation normal: all fucked up.
I feel like the Republicans tend to be closer to the “real” government in their public doings, which is to say they’re obviously a front for the military-industrial complex and the intelligence community. Likewise, the Dems seem to be mostly controlled opposition; they talk a big game when they’re the minority party but as soon as they have power they pull the same shit as the Reps, but with better PR. But both parties half-ass it when it comes to social issues, be it banning gays or guns, because the goal seems to be ensuring nothing definitive ever gets done. We are Schrodinger’s electorate, kept in a constant state of flux and unable to ever totally resolve any issue of actual import, a passive audience to a parade of hot button issues that bleed into one another and never go anywhere. Everything is arguing, forever, probably by design.
So frankly, it doesn’t matter who you elect because the people in charge will do what they want on the international scene while the citizens endlessly circle the same local airstrips without ever touching down. If you doubt that, consider that liberal savior and purveyor of hope Barack Obama is well into his second term and Gitmo’s still open, drone strikes have significantly increased since Bush was in office, the PATRIOT Act is still alive and well… Anything the suits in charge behind the scenes actually care about, the machinery of eroding the Bill of Rights and ensuring endless war as a business plan, is the same or worse than it was 8 years ago under Bush. But boy have marriage equality and legal weed been excellent distractions.
Continued from the introduction here.
So much has happened in the past couple weeks that this article has evolved a bit from what it was originally intended to be, and as such it’s taken a bit longer to get out. Here’s the next chunk, which serves as the first half of my discussion on the patterns that have shaped our cultural narrative the past decade.
Before we can get down to what the Occupy movement is about and how it may serve to transform American society, it would be useful to clarify just where we are today and how we’ve gotten here. Reading comments on Occupy-related news stories across the web has made it clear to me that’s a conversation we still need to have as a nation. (By the way, I don’t suggest reading those comment threads if you value spelling, grammar and critical thinking skills. You might just as well wander into Craigslist’s rants and raves for that high level of political commentary.)
It would be easy to get lost in the details at this point in the conversation. We all seem to agree that things have gone rather southward in this country, but of course the hard specifics of what and why are exactly the sort of thing that the Occupy movement is here to help us hammer out. Instead of belaboring hard specifics, I’d like to address the patterns that seem to have emerged over the past century of American history, the themes and memes that have come to dominate our collective awareness and which have shaped our cultural conversations. Again, having this conversation on a more detailed level and hashing out solutions seems to be one of the major long-term purposes of the Occupy movement—but let’s open that conversation with some broad generalities and see where it goes from there. We have to start somewhere, right?
That there are recognizable patterns of human behavior (both on the individual and collective levels) arising over the course of the last hundred years should come as no surprise. Humans love patterns. Our brains seem wired to make sense of what the existentialists would tell us is a senseless Universe. It’s the ability to arrange seemingly disparate events into patterns that allows us to learn languages, discern new scientific principles and realize alcohol and hangovers are probably related; this ability is also the root of superstition, racism and a whole host of other problems when it backfires.
When the human brain recognizes a pattern—and, it seems, whether the brain in question is conscious of having done so or not—there’s a chance it may internalize that pattern; the new pattern may be integrated it into one’s worldview so it shapes one’s future perceptions (becoming a “bias”); it may also act as a force to shape one’s actions, causing one to fall into a certain pattern of behavior (which we call a “habit”). For example, if I internalize the pattern “the Republicans are always right,” I am likely to exercise a bias toward believing in a Republican worldview and a habit of voting for them in the elections. (And so there’s no confusion on my biases, the same goes for “the Democrats are always right,” which is just as distasteful.)
Why is the human brain so quick to recognize patterns and integrate them into our thinking? One possible answer from an evolutionary anthropologist’s point of view is that it’s easy to imagine an evolutionary advantage to that behavior. When the patterns that coalesce in our brains like so much neurological Jell-O lead to constructive outcomes, they can be damn useful to an individual’s survival and chances of mating. I suspect this ability is what has spurred homo sapiens to become the dominant form of sentient life on this planet; I’m fond of saying that creativity is the only true genius, and the better part of creativity is recognizing patterns and figuring out new applications for them (and by this I don’t mean “creativity” in the liberal arts sense alone; higher level mathematics, engineering, theoretical physics and programming, for example, are all creative endeavors). The problem we humans run into is that these patterns, which we’re too often not aware of having integrated into our thinking and habits, can just as often lead to destructive outcomes.
We could debate over why these patterns have established themselves in our collective psyche if they’re so destructive. That these patterns have been comfortable in the short run seems a likely culprit; though the admission stings, we modern Americans are not, by and large, a society given to patience, thrift or stewardship of resources (though this in itself may be a recent pattern; ask your grandparents). We want what we want (though what that may be changes as frequently as we notice the next shiny bauble dangled in front of us), and we want it now (and if we can put it on credit so we don’t have to pay for it right now, all the better).
Moreover, we’ve been internalizing these patterns for so long that it’s difficult to imagine our civilization functioning differently without falling apart, thus the nihilistic “nothing will ever change, so to hell with it” attitude that has taken told of so many Americans. These patterns seem to combine in an overarching narrative of what America “is,” a stream of memes fed to us when we’re young through the brain-numbing conformity factories we call the American public education system; that narrative is reinforced by the mainstream media, which is owned by the 1%, who have political and financial stakes in that narrative remaining unchanged; these patterns influence our interactions within our peer groups, determining not only whom one associates with but also which ideas about what “is” one is exposed to on a regular basis, even absent the influence of schools or media.
So just what are the patterns that have brought us here? I’d like to address three for the time being. There are certainly others, but again, we have to start somewhere, and for the sake of generating conversation, I’d like to be brief.
First we have the economic pattern of recent American history—which really comes down to a matter of using “bubbles” to keep the economy afloat from one crisis to the next; the impression I get is that the people at the top have always known our economic system has no long-term sustainable future, but they’ve done a hell of a job over the past century keeping that fact quiet. The Great Depression, beginning in 1929, exposed how precarious the financial health of this nation really was, and I might argue that we never truly recovered from its effects; never since has the economy been allowed to stand on its own feet. Instead, corporations have become America’s fattest welfare queens, with the government and Wall Street ever colluding to find newer and more direct means of pumping taxpayer money into the economy as the situation’s become more desperate and the American dollar has consistently lost its value over the decades.
The earliest examples of this propping up of our otherwise dysfunctional economy via bubbles was the New Deal and World War II, the latter of which gave rise to the military-industrial complex, just as President Eisenhower warned in his unfortunately unheeded farewell address to the American people. The military budget excesses of the Cold War kept industry going fairly strong in the United States for a few decades, though the ability of this financial band-aid to stop our economy’s inevitable hemorrhaging didn’t last, and now a great deal of our annual national budget (read: tax revenue) goes toward preventing the military-industrial complex from collapsing (anywhere from 20%, using numbers the federal government admits are manipulated, to over 50%, under claims by anti-war activists who are including war-related expenses such as interest still being paid on past wars, DHS funding and veteran’s benefits); in short, one of the earliest short-term solutions to preventing economic meltdown has essentially become the primary long-term purpose of our federal economy. It should come as no surprise then that, though the United States last officially declared war in World War II, the nation has been in a constant state of warfare at one place or another in the world since that time, with no sign of ever stopping until the cash stream it takes to keep this insatiable Ares drunk runs dry. So long as a substantial portion of the United States’ economy relies on the creation and sales of weapons—so long as this most violent form of corporate welfare remains the backbone of our national body—it would seem there will always be another enemy to use those weapons against.
Of course, the military-industrial complex is just one example of the way bubbles have been created to keep our otherwise dysfunctional economy afloat. Another, related example would be the prison-industrial complex, through which many of the victims of our nonsensical system are locked in cages and pressed into slave labor for the profit of private corporations (the same corporations that spend millions on lobbying for ever-stricter laws and longer sentences each year—for some odd reason I doubt that’s a coincidence). The war on (some) drugs is a particularly grisly example of this bubble’s effect on society as a whole. Whatever one’s stance on personal drug use, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that drug prohibition increases crime and violence in society instead of decreasing it—as if there was any doubt of that after the disaster that was Prohibition—so why does the federal government continue to pursue a strategy of criminalization, punishment and incarceration instead of treating addiction as the health issue Obama’s own drug czar admits that it is? One begins to suspect that logic and compassion go out when the window when it’s necessary to keep a bubble such as the prison-industrial complex from popping.
Still, the real trick has been the creation of a succession of small bubbles over the decades through the manipulation of consumer trends. After all, as a resident of the United States of America, that’s what you are—the people running this country don’t see you as a person, nor as a citizen, but as a consumer, a human life with no purpose save to buy, to use, to throw away and to do it all over again until you hit the grave. Every year (or less) there’s a new product you need to replace another you already had, some new way for the money you traded your labor for to make it back to the same corporations that gave that money to you, except at reduced value; as the years wane, one feels like one is caught in a complex form of the quick change scam. In short, you are trading away the minutes of your life for the same cheap plastic crap you spend your life producing and/or selling for the 1%, and doing so is regarded today as the highest form of patriotism.
And why not? As Victor Lebow pointed out in 1955, consumerism—the constant scrambling from one bubble to the next in the form of the media-manufactured craze for the hot new Christmas toy; the rush to upgrade to the latest phone, which makes the one from last year obsolete; the need to replace perfectly good clothes that the magazines and TV shows tell one have suddenly gone out of fashion—is the glue that holds our post-Great Depression economy together. Unless people continue to consume without thought for the future, and do so at an exponential rate, the economy will crash faster than you can say “Dale Earnhardt.” There are a number of obvious problems with consumerism—the way it devalues human life and relationships in favor of “stuff” and its impact on the environment, for example—but more to the point, from a purely pragmatic point of view, there comes a point when trying to keep a fundamentally broken economy going by selling cheap goods to “consumers” who, thanks to inflation and the stagnation of real wages, are able to consume less and less every year, becomes a bit like trying to hang paper-mache baskets full of bowling balls from the ceiling.
These are of course simply examples of the larger pattern that emerges the more one examines the economic history of the United States over the past century; I’m pointing out this pattern to encourage a wider dialogue about the fundamental brokenness of the American economy, and to suggest in my roundabout way that the Great Recession is yet another instance of this pattern rather than an isolated incident, the result of the people who run this country tossing money at yet another bubble that they knew damn well would pop some day. This sort of thing has happened before; on a smaller scale, this sort of thing is engineered to happen all the time through planned obsolescence; if left to their own devices, the 1% will see that it happens again, and you can bet that if they’re still in charge when it does, they’ll get off scot-free for it again, too.
There are two more patterns I want to talk about–our tendency to rush to “solutions” that feel good but don’t really deal with the problem at hand, and our tendency to complain about problems without ever doing anything about them–but they can wait until next time. This bit’s already long and overdue as it is!
According to Oakland mayor Jean Quan, yes, they did.
Man, I hate it when I’m right. Word is that Quan admitted in a radio interview that the assaults on the Occupations the past few days followed a conference between 18 different city governments; it wasn’t just a matter of local governments making independent decisions supposedly based on the situations at the Occupations as they’ve been trying to play it the past week. Again, it seems clear to me that the government isn’t shutting these individual protest sites down out of concern for health and safety; they’re shutting the sites down because they want to destroy the movement.
As I type, the NYPD is refusing to allow protesters back into Zuccotti Park despite the fact that a New York state judge has ordered the city to allow the Occupation to continue. Yet again, in what seems just the latest in a long string of similar cases over the past decade, law enforcement is ignoring the rule of law, relying on brute, unconstitutional force when the law of the land doesn’t immediately give them their way. When the police, whose job it is to enforce the law, are ignoring the courts, whose job it is to interpret the law, you know the whole system is fucked.
Will these police departments and city officials be open to law suits further down the line, possibly even eventual legal reprisals? Sure, though the process can take years and there’s no guarantee of justice. I have little doubt the people ordering these raids are willing to take that risk in order to make short-term gains against the Occupy movement in the hopes of killing it now–a form of what Robert Jordan called “sheathing the sword.”
It’s a little depressing when being a realist makes you sound like a cynic, isn’t it?
As I write this post, I am watching the Occupy Wall Street LiveStream, where police are apparently gearing up to use tear gas against the assembled crowds, who are responding by singing “This Land Is Your Land.” There have already been reports of flashbang grenades, though I can’t yet verify them, and there’s word that the police may be using LRAD (sound-based weapons). The mainstream media is mysteriously absent, which seems to be a recurring theme lately. Word is that several of the subways have been shut down to prevent reinforcements from heading down to the camp. Per usual, the raid is happening in the middle of the night, when cameras have a hard time picking up footage and there aren’t many witnesses around–god forbid people see what the police are doing in their names or be able to easily document those actions. The police have trapped the Occupiers behind a barricade and are refusing to allow cameras into the park itself, where, I’m hearing word in real-time here, the police may be assaulting Occupiers who are still in the kitchen.
I hate to sound like a conspiracy nut (especially given how much I poke fun at conspiracy theories in my other writings), but it’s looking extremely likely as of this evening that the supposedly locally-initiated police actions against satellite Occupy sites such as those in Portland and Oakland the past few days were federally organized, initial strikes in a concentrated effort to wipe out the protests. Tonight, without warning, the United States government is striking at what it perceives as the head of the American Occupy movement.
The Department of Homeland Security had been on site in Portland for over a week before Mayor Sam Adams declared that Occupy Portland would be shut down; I recorded license plate numbers off two DHS vehicles–G62 4547H and E 234998–that were present most days. The official reasons given for ending Occupy Portland were health and sanitation concerns; in the interest of “health and sanitation,” the city (and a number of state and federal officers) injured protesters (though the media will tell you otherwise) and eliminated a resource that had been selflessly feeding the city’s homeless and providing them with free medical care for over a month. It’s true that the Occupation in Portland did a number on the grass (current estimates are around $19,000 to repair the damage), but as someone who was on the ground there daily, I feel qualified to say that the sanitation concerns cited by the city were overblown. I’m told by kitchen staff that the kitchen was inspected multiple times by the health department; the site was using portable toilets donated by local labor groups instead of public utilities, and these were cleaned and emptied by a professional service on a regular basis; it could get cold and muddy, but that’s what happens when you live in a public park for a month during the winter. The city didn’t have a legitimate reason to shut Occupy Portland down–but as the larger pattern comes into view, it’s obvious that it probably wasn’t the city that came to the decision to do so.
And so tonight the past week of attacks against Occupy sites around the country are revealed as (most likely being) a lead-up to the assault on the main encampment at Zuccotti Park in New York. Police in riot gear entered the park after midnight local time and cleared out the Occupiers, claiming they were simply there for a surprise inspection (though why the police should have the authority to run a surprise inspection on a group occupying private property seems an excellent question), but of course as soon as the way was clear, they began throwing the Occupiers’ property into containers that look suspiciously like dumpsters; there were allegations coming over the LiveStream feed that the police appeared to be purposefully breaking items, though of course that’s a judgment call on the part of the witness in question. Regardless, the clear intention of the so-called authorities is to dismantle the two-month-old site and make it as difficult as possible for the Occupiers in Zuccotti Park to continue doing what they’ve been doing, which is to say, peacefully and powerfully exposing the deep-seated corruption and incompetence rampant throughout the American political and financial systems and working toward a means to counteract and eliminate those issues.
Can we stop pretending that the Constitution, the rule of law, the separation of powers or legal limitations on the power of the federal government actually mean anything in this country anymore? As I put it in “The Council of Overseers,” where I was attempting to be tongue-in-cheek:
Lucky for the members of the Council, they also control the courts, which ostensibly watch the watchmen, but are mostly packed with watchmen as well, meaning even with the right to vote, run for office and file suit against the government, the serfs are effectively (though unofficially, and therefore legally) disenfranchised.
…Man, I hate it when I’m right.
That said, this reaction is one of fear–have no doubt that the United States federal government is shitting itself in terror right now. If it doesn’t look like fear to you, that’s because the people running the federal government are authoritarians, and the only way they know to react to any emotion–fear, anger, sadness, surprise–is to exercise the use of force.They are ignorant of the Discordian warning that imposition of order = escalation of chaos, even though George Lucas rephrased it so clearly for them in Star Wars:
The last thing they want us doing is talking about the things we’ve been talking about; the last thing they want us to realize is that we are more powerful than they are. What they may not realize is that it’s already too late. This will not be the end of the Occupy movement. All they’re doing is pissing us off and giving us back our motivation. No, this isn’t the end of the play–this is just the end of Act I.
This is an article that has been a long time coming. I’ll be (hopefully) getting it all put up in the next few days.
Here’s a confession: I am one of those annoying people who discusses politics in mixed company, oftentimes with strangers I’ve just met. When I tell people I’m involved with Occupy Portland, the first response I often get is a string of questions—sometimes motivated by honest curiosity, sometimes issued in mocking challenge—that come down to “What’s this movement all about?” and “What are you hoping to accomplish?” Those are broad questions, but finding specific answers to them is part of what has kept me going to Chapman and Lownsdale Squares the past few weeks. Those questions also touch on broader themes that have become apparent in our social discourse of late—questions of where we are as a society, why we’re at that place and where we should be going instead. The Occupy movement is a reaction to, and direct result of, the shattered America my generation has inherited, and to ask what may seem even the simplest questions about it invites a Gordian Knot of side-issues; well, let me get out my pocket knife and saw at a few threads.
One question that I haven’t heard anyone ask so far is, “What made this movement necessary?” We all seem to understand, in a general sense, that the time of great social movements is again upon our society; if history is indeed a wheel, we seem to have rolled again to its revolutionary spoke. There has been a sense of inevitability hanging in the air for years now, a feeling that the American people were being pushed ever nearer to an undefined but well-recognized edge—have you felt it too? But let’s not get too caught up in considering the specific issues at the moment; rather, I’d like to focus on the fact that one of the major failings of our civilization, and perhaps the central reason we’ve all felt this pressure building for so long, is that there hasn’t been a suitable platform for discussion of these issues.