Recent news reports have revealed that the Bush Administration has bestowed upon itself the right to grant itself absolute power if "any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions" might come to pass.
Actually, the hypothetical catastrophes stated above sound very much like the veritable calamities inflicted upon the nation by the Bush presidency itself. Worse, at present, many of our Democratic representatives are showing their outrage regarding the disastrous policies of the administration — by agitating to bomb Iran.
Regarding such circumstances, Eric Fromme warned, "the destruction of the world is the last, almost desperate attempt to save myself from being crushed by it." Ergo, we witness these collective pathologies play out in the perpetual aggression of American foreign policy, the exploitation inherent in our corporate workplaces, marketplaces, and healthcare practices and the exponentially expanding destruction of the environment.
How, then, can we begin to alter these seemingly ineluctable circumstances?
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First off, don't give the elites credit for being more intelligent than they are. Ruthlessness, striving and cunning should not be mistaken for intelligence. The only real accomplishment of the present day ruling class has been to transform their self-justifying lies into a form of performance art.
In reality, they have left private institutions bloated and public ones bankrupt. And left us, as a people, directionless and bereft of hope.
But that is not the totality of the situation: We must muse upon our own complicity in creating this cultural catastrophe. We've all been employed as landscapers on this blood-sodden deathscape.
At present, in our alienation and attendant passivity, our plight is analogous to that of so-called "crib babies," those socially and emotionally arrested, orphaned children who were left to languish in indifferent institutions. Culturally, we seem devoid of the ability to respond to each other, to create a just society — or even envisage one.
Such is the extent of our alienation and it is reflected in the media clowns and confidence artists who comprise our (misnomer alert) leadership. We can produce slick, television-friendly self-promoters — i.e. Thompson and Obama — but we can't rebuilt New Orleans or devise an exit strategy from Iraq.
Creating mass media is not tantamount to creating society. When we live in an era wherein image trumps reality, it follows that an infantilized populace will be transfixed by the shiny objects of media culture — that the tiny dramas of shallow celebrities will work like crib mobiles to distract us from the deep anguish of being a species standing before the crumbling edifice of paradigm collapse.
If media culture seems so unreal, it is because it is a reflection of our chronic alienation — our systemic disengagement from communal involvement; so profound is our alienation — not only from our environment — but also from our inner lives that we pose a danger to ourselves and others — which is, of course, the clinical criteria describing those unfortunate souls whose sanity has deteriorated to the point in which they require institutionalization.
Conversely, a populace being in possession of an inner life would prove a dangerous development to the one percent who hold ninety percent of the nation's wealth — those who prosper from our alienation and its attendant apathy. It is a given these corrupt elitists will try to maintain our estrangement from our inner realities — because if we were to be roused to awareness insurrection would result.
Being internally colonized by consumerism, we have lost the ability to imagine meaningful change, because our inner lives are no longer our own. Benumbed by our complicity in corporate blanding, by means of ceaseless branding, our inner beings, rather than resembling a teeming, vital polis of meaningful engagement, now seem closer in resemblance to the cold florescent light-flooded shelves of off-the-interstate convenience stores. Impulse and shallow need — in other words — utter desperation — has usurped the deepening eros of communal engagement.
Hence, the thronging avenues of imagination, personal and collective, have been replaced by a soul-numbing proliferation of Starbucks and Banana Republic outlets that serve palliative remedies masking the pain of our powerlessness to alter the tragic trajectory of the times. All transpiring as the sky burns and Arctic glaciers melt into rising seas — and we're driven to distract ourselves from descending dread by means of another latte buzz, shopping excursion, the unreality of Reality TV, and the pathetic pandering of a political class of shallow hacks who are themselves powerless before their Thanatotic addiction to power.
Such are the colic nightmares of us cultural crib babies. What comes of this degree of alienation? Violence (from shooting sprees to perpetual war). Addiction (from mindless consumerism to prisons overcrowded with drug users). Magical thinking (from neo-con fantasies of global dominance to Christian End Time hallucinations). Paranoia (The abiding delusion that little brown people cross our borders in order to take our jobs, force us to speak their language, and blow up our malls ... after, of course, they've swept the floors and scrubbed the toilets). Depression (from wide-spread use of anti-depressants to the massive demoralization that reveals itself in pandemic levels of social apathy).
What if the media were to begin to chronicle this collective nervous breakdown? What if we became unable to avert our gaze from the tragedies of our time? What if we were induced to not only stare into the abyss — but were grabbed by the lapels by it?
Then, I suspect, our apathy would grow unpalatable. We'd choke on our fetid self-justifications; swallowing our rationalizations would prove about as appetizing as eating a foot-long hotdog inside a slaughterhouse.
At some point, try driving out into the American countryside (as I've spent the last six months doing). See for yourself the drought-desiccated Everglades and Okefanokee swamps ablaze, where clouds of smoke are enswathing the states of the Deep South like a death shroud. Walk through the splintered, toxic rubble of New Orleans. Although do not go to gawk, but to grieve — and rage — and then meditate on how we came, as a people, to abandon an entire American city. Then continue, as I did, down Interstate 10, onward through the concrete-encased, "heat dome" of the stripmall archipelago that is Houston; its ugly, ad hoc architecture glazed in the Greenhouse Gas-trapped infernos known as weather in Sun Belt cities. Then proceed out into the West Texas prairielands and approach the areas where enormous, industrial livestock holding pens and slaughterhouses are located. Places, where exploded-from-high-speed-impact carcasses of swarms of black flies stipple your windshield, where the reek of death cannot be masked, even if you possess a car-deodorizer the size of Arkansas.
In these places, you'll find the reek of empire; as well as, the reason the people of the world have turned their faces away from us in revulsion. This stench permeates the air of our nation and clings to the fabric of our lives. Moreover, although George Bush is a veritable idiot savant in the art of creating the stench of death, our Little Prince of Putrefaction is not taking the reek back to Texas with him when we're finally rid of him. No, it is our own essence now. Iconography-wise: Let's lose the imagery of noble and lofty bald eagles: rotting road kill should be proclaimed our national animal.
Yes, we're powerless before the enormity of the age — but we cross the line into complicity when we're oblivious to our own individual stake in it. At this point, we can no longer afford the luxury of retreating to our comfort zones. Tears must scald our eyes; horrific visions should haunt our nights. The hour has come when we must wrestle with the demon of our own indifference who gains his sustenance and strength from the bribes, large and small, we accept from this death-sustained system.
Worse yet, our pathologies are embodied in our infant/tyrant leadership who throw global-wide tantrums of mass destruction because as a people we have forgotten how to give ourselves over to the eros of engaging the world by social and political involvement.
How do we begin to restore ourselves and reclaim our nation? — First, by remembering we're alive — and that life is finite. The awareness of the urgency of the situation at hand will quicken one's pulse and the demon will lessen its grip as one's blood rises in mortification and outrage.
How will we know we are turning the tide? — When our listless sleepwalking gives way to participation mystique — to vivid, waking dreams of living flesh.
How will we know if we're losing? — Simple: We will remain as we are, at present: bloodless, wane spirits imprisoned within our own clammy skin.
This is the archetypal criteria at the root of the mythic imagery of raising the dead: The simple realization that one is alive within life; that the ennui engendered by the illusion of atomization has ended; and that one's individual dreams and longings — and even one's flesh — are not exclusively our own, but are part and parcel of the implicate order of a living planet.
Accordingly, there is neither an omnipresent, ever-watchful Sky Daddy divinity above nor a Risen Son savior proffering redemption, yet there is engagement (action and inspiration) within the vastness of the world — a redemption borne of risk that serves to re-animate a necrotic heart. In short, we so love the world we give ourselves to it.
To do so, it is imperative we begin unshackling ourselves from the noxious orthodoxies of church, state, political party, and corporation, as well as from our own narcissistic strivings within those hierarchies of vampires and wean ourselves from the petty perks we garner from group approval and institutional bribes.
Accordingly, the first step is an awareness of the problem and a willingness to reveal it in all its shabby-ass human glory — even if the implications of doing so are ugly — even if to do so will be to risk scorn in one's personal life and reversals in one's professional standing.
Years ago, I heard the tale of a fellow, a struggling artist, who had bought an old, dilapidated house. Upon moving in, he discovered the place was infested with cockroaches. Worse, the house sat close to railroad tracks and when trains trundled by, shaking the house, its floors, walls, and ceilings literally seethed with agitated cockroaches.
Since no amount of bug spray could lessen the massive infestation, the artist began zapping the bugs with glow-in-the-dark spray paint. Later, when friends dropped by in the evening and a train rumbled down the adjacent tracks, he would switch off the lights and all present were dazzled by the moving, organic mobile of scuttling, multi-colored lights he created.
At present, this is where we find ourselves as a people: powerless before the ugliness of the age. Therefore, we have little choice other than to light the ugliness up and turn the objects of our revulsion (personal and collective) into something resembling the truth of art.
What will we gain?
Only this: the enduring beauty of ugly truth — one of the few balms available within the agonies of a dark and ugly age.
Phil Rockstroh, a self-described, auto-didactic, gasbag monologist, is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted here.
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