Category Archives: Elitism

A Nation of “Thespians”

In late 6th century Athens (BCE), it was all the rage. Introduced by Thespis, “play-acting” quickly attained widespread popularity among Athenians who, like most people, were looking for diverting forms of entertainment to fill the evening hours. On one such evening the aged patriarch Solon, celebrated lawmaker and civic founder, was persuaded to attend a performance. His reaction?: indignation and an angry rebuke to Thespis, who blithely responded that such “play” was harmless, merely a novel pastime. “No!” Solon retorted angrily (here paraphrasing Plutarch’s account), “It is dangerous. Such a tolerance for pretense and deception will end up infecting all our commerce and civic life.” But Thespis merely shrugged — and, some 2500 years later, we now find ourselves enmeshed in a media-sphere of garrulous, deceitful “actors,” all clamoring for our attention as they exhibit their base arts of “persuasion.” Aristotle, in his book on Rhetoric, had warned presciently that the “base” variety of rhetoric seeks to undermine our self-directed judgment in order to manipulate and control our decisions. Much later, in the mid-18th century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau followed Plutarch’s account of Solon by writing an angry polemic against the establishment of a theater in his beloved Geneva.

Consulting the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, I find that there are some 70,000 “professional actors” in the U.S. (compared to, for instance, 3000 sociologists). Quite obviously, the requisite job skills require playing different roles, displaying (false) emotions, and “sincerely” persuading us to buy sundry products, “lifestyles” — and candidates. With their omnipresence in all performing media, actors have by now become absurdly over-valued as role-models in everyday life. Writing back in the 1940s, psychoanalyst Erich Fromm had already critiqued the rise of a new American character-type: the “marketing personality” — whose looks, smiles and jokes would be “selling points,” not only in politics, but infiltrating all aspects of social engagement. In short, not the real person and his values (if any), but a simulacrum or image fashioned to display pleasing, if insincere, demeanor, attitudes and opinions.

Sociologist Erving Goffman extended this much further, theorizing that social interaction is inherently “dramaturgic” (read: deceptive), and that those engaged in skillful “impression-management” would “get the job” (no matter how incompetent), and “successfully” persuade others (“leadership”) — into, one can now recall, disastrous debt, blood-drenched wars, and “national security” profiteering. Forty years ago, journalist Lou Cannon wrote his aptly titled book President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime.  Hitler once boastingly called himself “the greatest actor in Europe.” As media critics from Marshall McLuhan to Jerry Mander have noted, the visual experience of the television-image has further blunted critical faculties, enabling even poorly skilled thespians such as Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and George W.Bush to nonetheless persuade most viewers of the veracity of their outrageous lies. (This, in part, can also be attributed to the relative credulity of most viewers, who are unlikely to conceive of the magnitude of brazen, cynical insolence exhibited.) Of course, the triumph of pleasing “image” over something called “truth” has long been normalized and accepted. Which candidate “performed” better in that debate (“fact-checks” notwithstanding)? A histrionic, rabble-rousing “performer” — now matter how ignorant, dishonest and uninformed — can provide sufficient entertainment to be elected president (read Trump). By now, movie and TV “celebrities” are often given equal-weight with scientific and scholarly experts, in the “court of world opinion.”

Social media? If mere persons increasingly perceive themselves as commodities to be marketed — whether in “dating” or “employment” — then Facebook ad nauseam were, of course, the logical outcomes of this insidious trend. An artfully contrived “presentation” — looks, “likes,” hyped-up “accomplishments” — may allow for successful competition in the all-encompassing marketplace which is mistaken for the reality of real individuals, struggling and sometimes despairing (behind the figurative mask). Yes, as Solon sadly foresaw, “acting” (aka, dissimulating) would come to infiltrate all social encounters, from hypocritical “concern” to simulated sexual response. Where then, can the individual find nurture and cherish his authentic values and qualities?  In the freedom of solitude: self-awareness and rational judgment — with carefully chosen boundaries against unwelcome “media” intrusions.

The post A Nation of “Thespians” first appeared on Dissident Voice.

How America Went From Mom-and-Pop Capitalism to Techno-Feudalism

The crisis of 2020 has created the greatest wealth gap in history. The middle class, capitalism and democracy are all under threat. What went wrong and what can be done?

In a matter of decades, the United States has gone from a largely benign form of capitalism to a neo-feudal form that has created an ever-widening gap in wealth and power. In his 2013 bestseller Capital in the 21st Century, French economist Thomas Piketty declared that “the level of inequality in the US is probably higher than in any other society at any time in the past anywhere in the world.” In a 2014 podcast about the book, Bill Moyers commented:

Here’s one of its extraordinary insights: We are now really all headed into a future dominated by inherited wealth, as capital is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, giving the very rich ever greater power over politics, government and society. Patrimonial capitalism is the name for it, and it has potentially terrifying consequences for democracy.

Paul Krugman maintained in the same podcast that the United States is becoming an oligarchy, a society of inherited wealth, “the very system our founders revolted against.” While things have only gotten worse since then thanks to the economic crisis of 2020, it’s worth retracing the history that brought us to this volatile moment.

Not the Vision of Our Founders

The sort of capitalism on which the United States was originally built has been called mom-and-pop capitalism. Families owned their own farms and small shops and competed with each other on a more or less level playing field. It was a form of capitalism that broke free of the feudalistic model and reflected the groundbreaking values set forth in the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights: that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, including the rights to free speech, a free press, to worship and assemble; and the right not to be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process.

It was good in theory, but there were glaring, inhumane exceptions to this idealized template, including the confiscation of the lands of indigenous populations and the slavery that then prevailed. The slaves were emancipated by the US Civil War; but while they were freed in their persons, they were not economically free. They remained entrapped in economic serfdom. Although Black and Indigenous communities have been disproportionately oppressed, poor people were all trapped in “indentured servitude” of sorts — the obligation to serve in order to pay off debts; e.g., the debts of Irish workers to pay for passage to the United States, and the debts of “sharecroppers” (two-thirds of whom were white), who had to borrow from landlords at interest for land and equipment. Today’s U.S. prison system has also been called a form of slavery, in which free or cheap labor is extracted from poor people of color.

To the creditors, economic captivity actually had certain advantages over “chattel” slavery (ownership of humans as a property right). According to an infamous document called The Hazard Circular, circulated by British banking interests among their American banking counterparts during the American Civil War:

Slavery is likely to be abolished by the war power and chattel slavery destroyed. This, I and my European friends are glad of, for slavery is but the owning of labor and carries with it the care of the laborers, while the European plan, led by England, is that capital shall control labor by controlling wages.

Slaves had to be housed, fed and cared for. “Free” men housed and fed themselves.  Free men could be kept enslaved by debt by paying them wages that were insufficient to meet their costs of living.

From ‘Industrial Capitalism’ to ‘Finance Capitalism

The economy crashed in the Great Depression, when Franklin D. Roosevelt’s government revived it and rebuilt the country through a public financial institution called the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. After World War II, the US middle class thrived. Small businesses competed on a relatively level playing field similar to the mom-and-pop capitalism of the early pioneers. Meanwhile, larger corporations engaged in “industrial capitalism,” in which the goal was to produce real goods and services.

But the middle class, considered the backbone of the economy, has been progressively eroded since the 1970s. The one-two punch of the Great Recession and what the IMF has called the “Great Lockdown” has again reduced much of the population to indentured servitude; while industrial capitalism has largely been displaced by “finance capitalism,” in which money makes money for those who have it, “in their sleep.” As economist Michael Hudson explains, unearned income, not productivity, is the goal. Corporations take out cheap 1% loans, not to invest in machinery and production, but to buy their own stock earning 8% or 9%; or to buy out smaller corporations, eliminating competition and creating monopolies. Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis explains that “capital” has been decoupled from productivity: businesses can make money without making profits on their products.  As Kevin Cahill described the plight of people today in a book titled Who Owns the World?:

These latter day pharaohs, the planet owners, the richest 5% – allow the rest of us to pay day after day for the right to live on their planet. And as we make them richer, they buy yet more of the planet for themselves, and use their wealth and power to fight amongst themselves over what each possesses – though of course it’s actually us who have to fight and die in their wars.

The 2020 Knockout Punch 

The final blow to the middle class came in 2020. Nick Hudson, co-founder of a data analytics firm called PANDA (Pandemics, Data and Analysis),  argued in an interview following his keynote address at a March 2021 investment conference:

Lockdowns are the most regressive strategy that has ever been invented. The wealthy have become much wealthier. Trillions of dollars of wealth have been transferred to wealthy people. … Not a single country did a cost/benefit analysis before imposing these measures.

Policymakers followed the recommendations of the World Health Organization, based on predictive modeling by the Imperial College London that subsequently proved to be wildly inaccurate. Later studies have now been done, at least some of which have concluded that lockdowns have no significant effects on case numbers and that the costs of lockdowns substantially outweigh the benefits, in terms not just of economic costs but of lives.

On the economic front,  global lockdowns eliminated competition from small and medium-sized businesses, allowing monopolies and oligopolies to grow. “The biggest loser from all this is the middle class,” wrote Logan Kane on Seeking Alpha. By May 2020, about one in four Americans had filed for unemployment, with over 40 million Americans filing jobless claims; and 200,000 more businesses closed in 2020 than the historical annual average. Meanwhile, US billionaires collectively increased their total net worth by $1.1 trillion during the last 10 months of 2020; and 46 people joined the billionaire class.

The number of “centi-billionaires”– individuals with a net worth of $100 billion or more – also grew. In the US they included:

  • Jeff Bezos, soon-to-be former CEO of Amazon, whose net worth increased from $113 billion in March 2020 to $182 billion in March 2021, up by $70 billion for the year;
  • Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, whose net worth increased from $25 billion in March 2020 to $164 billion in March 2021, up by $139 billion for the year; and
  • Bill Gates, formerly CEO of Microsoft and currently considered the “global vaccine czar,” whose net worth increased to $124 billion in March 2021, up by $26 billion for the year.

Two others are almost centi-billionaires:

  • The net worth of Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, grew from $55 billion in March 2020 to $95 billion in March 2021, up by $40 billion for the year; and
  • The net worth of Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway grew from $68 billion in March 2020 to $95 billion in March 2021, up by $27.6 billion for the year.

These five individuals collectively added $300 billion to their net worth just in 2020. For perspective, that’s enough to create 300,000 millionaires, or to give $100,000 to 3 million people.

Philanthrocapitalism

The need to shield the multibillionaire class from taxes and to change their predatory corporate image has given rise to another form of capitalism, called philanthrocapitalism. Wealth is transferred to foundations or limited liability corporations that are designated as having charitable purposes but remain under the ownership and control of the donors, who can invest the funds in ways that serve their corporate interests. As noted in The Reporter Magazine of the Rochester Institute of Technology:

Essentially, what we are witnessing is the transfer of responsibility for public goods and services from democratic institutions to the wealthy, to be administered by an executive class. In the CEO society, the exercise of social responsibilities is no longer debated in terms of whether corporations should or shouldn’t be responsible for more than their own business interests. Instead, it is about how philanthropy can be used to reinforce a politico-economic system that enables such a small number of people to accumulate obscene amounts of wealth.

With $100 billion, nearly anything can be bought – not just land and resources but media and journalists, political influence and legislation, regulators, university research departments and laboratories. Jeff Bezos now owns The Washington Post. Bill Gates is not only the largest funder of the World Health Organization and the Imperial College London but the largest owner of agricultural land in the US.

And Elon Musk’s aerospace manufacturer SpaceX has effectively privatized the sky. Astronomers and stargazers complain that the thousands of satellites it has already launched, with many more in the works, are blocking their ability to see the stars.

Astronomy professor Samantha Lawler writes in a piece for The Conversation:

SpaceX has already received approval for 12,000 Starlink satellites and is seeking approval for 30,000 more. Other companies are not far behind […]

The point of the Starlink mega-constellation is to provide global internet access. It is often stated by Starlink supporters that this will provide internet access to places on the globe not currently served by other communication technologies. But currently available information shows the cost of access will be too high in nearly every location that needs internet access. Thus, Starlink will likely only provide an alternate for residents of wealthy countries who already have other ways of accessing the internet

[…] With tens of thousands of new satellites approved for launch, and no laws about orbit crowding, right-of-way or space cleanup, the stage is set for the disastrous possibility of Kessler Syndrome, a runaway cascade of debris that could destroy most satellites in orbit and prevent launches for decades…. Large corporations like SpaceX and Amazon will only respond to legislation — which is slow, especially for international legislation — and consumer pressure […] Our species has been stargazing for thousands of years, do we really want to lose access now for the profit of a few large corporations?

Public advocacy groups, such as the Cellular Phone Task Force,  have also objected due to health concerns over increased electromagnetic radiation. But the people have little say over public policy these days. So concluded a study summarized in a January 2021 article in Foreign Affairs. Princeton professor and study co-author Martin Gilens wrote:

[O]rdinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States. … Government policy-making over the last few decades reflects the preferences … of economic elites and of organized interests.

Varoufakis calls our current economic scheme “postcapitalism” and “techno-feudalism.” As in the medieval feudal model, assets are owned by the few. He notes that the stock market and the businesses in it are essentially owned by three companies – the giant exchange-traded funds BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street. Under the highly controversial “Great Reset” envisioned by the World Economic Forum, “you will own nothing and be happy.” By implication, everything will be owned by the techno-feudal lords.

Getting Back on Track

The capitalist model has clearly gone off the rails. How to get it back on track? One obvious option is to tax the uber-rich. As Chuck Collins, author of The Wealth Hoarders: How Billionaires Pay Millions to Hide Trillions (2021), writes in a March 2021 article:

A wealth tax would reverse more than a half-​century of tax cuts for the wealthiest households. Billionaires have seen their taxes decline roughly 79 percent as a percentage of their wealth since 1980. The “effective rate” on the billionaire class—the actual percentage paid—was 23 percent in 2018, lower than for most middle-​income taxpayers.

He notes that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-​Mass.) and co-authors recently introduced legislation to levy a 2 percent annual tax on wealth starting at $50 million, rising to 3 percent on fortunes of more than $1 billion:

The tax, which would apply to fewer than 100,000 U.S. residents, would raise an estimated $3 trillion over the next decade. It would be paid entirely by multi-​millionaires and billionaires who have reaped the lion’s share of wealth gains over the last four decades, including during the pandemic.

Varoufakis contends, however, that taxing wealth won’t be enough. The corporate model itself needs an overhaul. To create a “humanist” capitalism, he says, democracy needs to be brought to the marketplace.

Politically, one adult gets one vote. But in corporate elections, votes are weighted according to financial investment: the largest investors hold the largest number of voting shares. Varoufakis argues that the proper principle for reconfiguring the ownership of corporations for a market-based society would be one employee, one share (not tradeable), one vote. On that basis, he says, we can imagine as an alternative to our post-capitalist model a market-based democratic society without capitalism.

Another proposed solution is a land value tax, restoring at least a portion of the land to the “commons.” As Michael Hudson has observed:

There is one Achilles heel in the globalists’ strategy, an option that remains open to governments. This option is a tax on the rental income – the “unearned income” – of land, natural resources and monopoly takings.

Reforming the banking system is another critical tool. Banks operated as a public utility could allocate credit for productive purposes serving the public interest. Other possibilities include enforcement of anti-monopoly legislation and patent law reform.Perhaps, however, the flaw is in the competitive capitalist model itself. The winners will inevitably capture and exploit the losers, creating an ever-growing gap in wealth and power. Studies of natural systems have shown that cooperative models are more efficient than competitive schemes. That does not mean the sort of “cooperation” coerced through iron-fisted totalitarian control at the top. We need a set of rules that actually levels the playing field, rewards productivity, and maximizes benefit to society as a whole, while preserving the individual rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

• This article was first posted on ScheerPost.

The post How America Went From Mom-and-Pop Capitalism to Techno-Feudalism first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Tim Cook, Apple, and Runaway Limitless Corporate Greed

David Gelles, the New York Times reporter, likes to report about corporate plutocrats raking it in while stifling or endangering their workers. We’ve all seen those large advertisements by big companies praising the sacrifices of their brave workers during this Covid-19 pandemic. When workers ask for living wages, most of these bosses say “No” but take plenty of dough for themselves.

Gelles reports that Boeing, after its criminal negligence brought down two 737 MAX planes and killed 346 people, went into a corporate tailspin. The company laid off 30,000 workers and its sales and stocks plummeted as it reported a $12 billion loss. No matter, the new Boeing boss, David Calhoun, managed to pay himself about $10,500 an hour, forty hours a week, plus benefits and perks.

“Executives are minting fortunes, while laid-off workers line up at food banks,” writes Gelles. Carefully chosen Boards of Directors rubberstamp lavish compensation packages, as they haul in big money themselves for attending a few Board meetings.

It gets worse. Hilton Hotel had many rooms empty due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But CEO Chris Nassetta made sure his pockets weren’t empty. He was paid $55.9 million in compensation in 2020 or more than a million dollars a week!

Gelles goes on to report that with “the cruise industry at a standstill…,” the Norwegian Cruise Line, “doubled the pay of Frank Del Rio, its chief executive, to $36.4 million.” That is more than $700,000 per week. He must have worked overtime counting empty ships and red ink.

T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint got government antitrust approval with the assurance that more jobs would be created with cost savings. Instead, they’re starting layoffs while awarding CEO Mike Sievert over a million dollars a week. Sometimes, CEOs make more dollars from their company than the entire company itself makes in profits. Companies that lay off workers pay their top executives huge amounts, and still have the avarice to demand and get federal stimulus grants.

On March 22, the New York Times reported a new analysis by IRS researchers and academics about tax evasion by the richest 1% of U.S. households. Taken as a whole, these super-rich don’t even report a fifth of their income, according to this study. The ultra-wealthy get away with this heist by offshoring to tax havens and pass-through businesses. Adding to this unlawful evasion is their upper-class power over Congress to rig the tax laws so they can avoid even more taxes.

The Republicans, by starving the IRS budget and audit staff over the past decade, have aided and abetted enormous tax evasions. Curiously, the cowardly Democrats have not made this an issue in their campaigns against the GOP. Hundreds of billions of dollars a year are at stake.

Trump, of course, made matters worse. ProPublica found the IRS audited the poor at around the same rate as the richest Americans.

Big Corporations make out like no mere individuals. Earlier this month, the New York Times told its readers that The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) study revealed: “55 of the nation’s largest corporations paid no federal income tax on more than $40 billion in profits last year.” These companies even received $3.5 billion in rebates from the Treasury Department, so zany are the fine-print tax bonanzas.

Twenty-six corporations paid no federal income taxes since 2017, according to the ITEP study. These included Nike and FedEx.

Corporations get lots of these tax breaks by arguing before Congress that they need them to invest and create jobs. Repeatedly, these promises turn out to be false. Some have called them lies, citing profits totaling over 7 trillion dollars in the past decade being shredded in buybacks of the companies’ own stock.

Apple, whose quasi-monopoly reaps huge quarterly profits, just announced another $90 billion in stock buybacks. Apple doesn’t know what to do with its cash from vastly overpriced computers and iPhones. Apple, not surprisingly, pays very little in federal income taxes to Uncle Sam – despite the U.S. being the land of its birth and source of ample R & D corporate welfare paid for by U.S. taxpayers.

CEO Tim Cook, arguably the most miserly CEO plutocrat in America, turns a deaf ear to health, labor, and environmental specialists pleading with him to address the solid waste of its junked electronic products and pay its serf-labor in China a living wage. These two expenditures would not consume 10 percent of Apple’s enormous profits. To which, Emperor Cook says no dice.

Testifying before the Senate Finance Committee, Kimberly A. Clausing, a U.S. Treasury official, said according to the Washington Post, that while other wealthy nations typically raise roughly 3 percent of GDP through corporate taxes, in the United States that share fell to just 1 percent following the 2017 Trump tax cut−all while corporate profits, as a share of U.S. GDP, were setting records.

The usual progressive members of Congress issue denunciations of this whole corporate, ultra-rich tax escape racket. Nearly 7 in 10 Americans believe corporations pay too little in taxes, according to Gallup polling. Unfortunately, nothing happens in Congress to address this injustice.

When are the American people going to move on to Congress and their Big Boy paymasters? When the plutocratic class evades taxes, either there are fewer public services, more public deficits, or higher taxes on the middle class. As Joe Biden says – they must pay “their fair share.” People, use your civic muscle to make your members of Congress act and do it, now!

The post Tim Cook, Apple, and Runaway Limitless Corporate Greed first appeared on Dissident Voice.

A Dalit and a Brahmin

“I hear the lower castes are finding this lack of monsoons rather difficult for their crops,” droned Aashka’s father at their lavish supper (as usual), in the midst of her father’s normal dull conversing with the other Brahmins.

The table was long and elegant and filled every night with rich Brahmins, such as Aashka’s family.  Most of them were reserved old men, who hardly spoke to Aashka save for reprimanding her that if she kept up her unladylike behavior she’d surely be reincarnated as a stick bug.  Some women were present, of course, their faces drawn and lifeless as if no thoughts swam behind their dark eyes and extravagant cosmetics.

“I have heard this as well,” said Priest Sadiva, a burly old man at the end of the table.

“It’s as if they have no idea where to find the food that does exist, for looking at this table, it obviously is present if you know where to look.”  He chuckled at his own joke.

“Dalits, Shudras and Vaishyas are being buried by the cartload.” said Priest Safal, a sour man who Aashka always avoided. “But they wouldn’t have achieved Moksha anyhow; they led lives of great disregard for Brahman, the force that brings us all together.”

Aashka felt a familiar itchy heat rising inside her, as if somewhere inside her, a caged starling was struggling to escape.  You didn’t achieve Moksha in your past life either, she thought to herself.

“That’s unfair, Priest Safal, that really is!” she finally blurted. “They are not trying to starve, and they are decent people, just like any of us.”

Aashka looked around the table, as everyone looked sharply up at her.  The women gasped.

If I’m referring to this lot, I’m not sure the phrase ‘Decent like you’ ‘is very effective, a little voice in the back of her brain piped up.

“Aashka,” said her father harshly. “We have not worked hard in our past lives, studying our faith, to achieve Karma like this, to become the religious leaders to our people and compliment those who are below us.”

Priest Safal’s wife spoke up. “Sahistha,” she said, speaking to Aashka’s father. “Children should  be seen and not heard. I am afraid your daughter has no hope of ever achieving Moksha, letting her soul be liberated with Brahman.  She has a complete disregard for Atman.”

That’s more words than she’s spoken all year, thought Aashka.  Then she noticed her stepmother staring at her with a look of cold resentment and embarrassment plastered to her face.  Aashka’s real mother had become ill and passed away just over two years previously, the day before Aashka’s eleventh birthday.  Her father had married again last spring, and Aashka hated him for it.  Her mother had been the nicest thing about her life.

“Servant, please escort Aashka from the table. Thank you. May Brahma bless you.” said Aashka’s father stiffly, with a note of restrained fury in his voice.

The following morning, Aashka woke to find all the other Brahmins gone, and her father praying.  Aashka found her step-mother at the dining room table, being served breakfast by an ungainly young man who kept stumbling, apparently over his own feet.  Without acknowledging the presence of Aashka, her step-mother nibbled away slowly at her meal.  The young man served Aashka Aloo Paratha (flatbread stuffed with potato) and shuffled back towards the kitchen, tripping on his way out.

“What’s wrong with him?” asked Aashka.

“Aashka!” scolded her step-mother, her eyes widening into her signature “you’re-on-thin-ice” look.

“Sorry,” said Aashka, “Only, why’d he keep falling over himself?”

Aashka’s stepmother looked over her shoulder to make sure they were alone.

“The stupid boy,” she drawled, “is new on the job and very nervous.”

“We should give him some food.”

Aashka’s stepmother did a double take. “Whatever for?”

“Priest Safal said people of lower castes are being buried by the cartload. And he looks very thin. I’m worried,” said Aashka.

“It’s not for us to mingle with Shudras.”

“I know, I know.  Anyway, may I go out?  I must…must pray at the temple for Brahma to forgive me for my er…rudeness last night.”

“Very well.” Aashka’s step-mother went back to her eating with a somber face.  “And you’ll go again later as well.  You have a lot of apologizing to do.”

Aashka set out to town with half her Aloo Paratha still in her pocket.  She ran briskly, but kept her face down, hoping nobody would recognize a Brahmin girl running in such a rushed and improper fashion.  Aashka was not going to pray near the cattle.

The streets were more crowded than usual, as Aashka neared the poorer side of town.  Shudras were holding bowls out, begging for just a bit of rice.  Dalits were lurking in the shadows, eyes full of what they knew to be unrealistic longing.  Aashka put her hand over the warm flatbread in her pocket, tempted to stop right there and give it to the first person who asked.

No, she told herself. You know someone who needs this badly.

She was beginning to stick out like a sore thumb, and she knew it.  Her clothes were too luxurious to be a member of the lower castes.  People turned to stare at her, shocked that she was still healthy and well-fed-looking.  For most people around here had been getting very thin lately, scarily thin. Dalit boys trudged past with their ribs sticking out like knives.  Girls brushed by with legs jutting out under dresses that were so thin it almost looked like they were floating.

You’re almost there, Aashka told herself,  please don’t get all wish-washy.

For Aashka was what her Mama had called a “mirror-girl.”  Anytime Aashka saw other people feeling sad, she would feel almost as bad as them.  Right now, there were a lot of starving, disconsolate people out, and Aashka felt it was almost too much for her as she plowed on.

She finally reached her destination, a tiny hut at the end of the street, and pushed inside.  A baby was crying in the corner, a woman rocked her back and forth in her thin arms.  A boy stood at the door, relieved at Aashka’s appearance.  The boy was Agavoli.

Agavoli was Aashka’s best friend.  “What was your excuse, this time?” asked Agavoli, with an amused light in his eyes.

“I told my stepmother I was praying at the temple, praying to Brahma to forgive me for my dreadful sins.  She ate it up like a kitten to cream,” Aashka smirked.

Again, Agavoli’s eyes lit up, as if a candle burned within them.  Agavoli never laughed.  You had to know him well to figure out that this was his method of doing so.

“What would you do if she found out?  Or your father, if he found out?”

“I don’t want to think about it.” said Aashka, shaking her head.

Agavoli’s mother, Mrs. Tanwar, bustled over, with Diya, the baby girl of the family, in her arms.  “Oh hello, Aashka dear, so good to see your face during this terrible famine,” she crooned.

Diya let out a gurgly laugh, sucking her thumb.

“Mama!”

“Yes, Diya, I’m Mama.  Good!” said Mrs. Tanwar with a weary smile.

Aashka thought back to the day she met Agavoli’s family.  Her mother had died that morning, forehead blazing, whispering to Aashka, “Continue what I started, dear.”  Aashka had begun to weep long and hard, her body convulsing, making more noise than she ever had.  Then she noticed her father, sitting stiffly, not even crying, just shaking his head back and forth, back and forth.

“You monster!” she had cried. “Don’t you even feel?  Well, don’t you!?!?”

And she had ran out, ran, ran, ran until she stumbled into Agavoli, at the time a complete stranger, who had been running in the opposite direction, crying.  Aashka could tell he was a Dalit from the way he was dressed, but against all she’d been taught, she did not back away.

“What’s happened to you?” she asked timidly.

“What’s happened to you?” Agavoli had countered.

Then Aashka had found out that Agavoli’s father had just died, the same as her mother.

“Aashka! Aashka?”

It was Agavoli.

“Oh, yes, sorry.” said Aashka, coming back to the present.  “I have brought you some food.”

“Ooh!” said Agavoli gleefully, “What is it?”

“Agavoli! Manners!” scolded his mother while Aashka simultaneously pulled out her offering and said, “Aloo Paratha.”

“Sorry mother,” said Agavoli, but in a sidetone to Aashka, “May I have it?”

Aashka handed him the flatbread, and with a look of someone who was rather tempted to disobey, handed it to his mother to be evenly divided.

“Eat up,” said his mother, “I’ve got to go now clean the farm stalls out down the street.”

An hour later found Aashka running up her mansion’s steps, breathing hard but trying to look pulled together, as if she’d just come back from praying, not giving food to her Dalit friends.

But when she got in, her father and step-mother were in an uproar.

“You-you…you!” screamed her step-mother in an unbound fashion miraculously out of character.  (Aashka might have even laughed at it if not for the confusion seeping through her, like a thick fog.)

“Never!” wheezed her father madly, “Never will I let you out of my sight again!  Terrible…my reputation…no daughter of mine…”  And with that, he collapsed into a chair.

“What’s going on?!” cried Aashka, alarmed.

“Oh I think you know what’s going on well enough!” shouted her step-mother hoarsely, “Priest Safal saw you conversing with a Dalit boy, that’s what’s going on!”

Oh noThey’d seen her with Agavoli.  Everything was ruined.  His family would starve without her help.  Oh no!

“W-why was Priest Safal over there?”

“Priest Safal was preaching to a group of dirty Shudras, that’s why!”

Suddenly, Aashka’s father stood up, and grabbed Aashka by the scruff of her neck.  Aashka saw his strong sturdy hand, flying through the air towards her face, saw her step-mother hastily disguising a look of surprise.

SLAP. SLAP. SLAP.

One Week Later

Priest Safal asked, “More deaths by starvation?”

“Oh yes, and the latest is a baby girl,” said Aashka’s father, as he rolled his eyes.  Lately, he had been getting preaching jobs with the lower castes, teaching them the paths to Moksha, which he thought to be a grand waste of time with “people like them.”  Aashka was always being dragged along lately, since she had lost her father’s trust.

“Knowledge – Having a true understanding of all Hindu concepts.  Work – Doing things that are good for your community.  Devotion – Spending your entire life loving Brahma,” she would hear her father say in his deep, leader voice again and again.

But at the mention of a dead baby girl, her ears pricked up with worry.

“What’s the baby’s name?” she piped up.

Her father looked at her warningly.

“Just some worthless Dalit girl named Diya Tanwar.”

“Diya Tanwar?  DIWA TANWAR?!!?” Aashka cried, filling with dread.

Aashka’s father began to turn purple. “I’m afraid you’ll have to excuse us Priest Safal.”

The man waddled away, and then Aashka’s father looked down at her, murderously.

“AND DOES SHE MEAN ANYTHING TO YOU!?”

Aashka hesitated.  Agavoli’s sister was dead.  Agavoli’ sister was dead.

“Actually,” she said, as a lump rose in her throat.  Don’t cry, she told herself.  Don’t you dare.  “Yes she does! She is-was…my best friend’s sister!”

Aashka’s father looked simply livid.  Aashka’s hand flew to the bruises on her face.

“HAVE I NOT TOLD YOU NOT TO MENTION THAT BOY?!” he roared.

“I-I wish I was a Dalit too!”

Aashka’s father went silent. She was reminded strongly of a bomb about to explode.

Aashka looked timidly at her father’s big hands, scared to show her true feelings.

Gogetoutdon’targuejustGETOUT, she told herself.

And she turned on her heels and dashed away to Agavoli.

Six months later

Aashka walked with Agavoli to an empty field.  No sign on it read “graveyard,” but the two of them knew very well that this was where all Dalits were buried.

Agavoli scattered some wildflowers over the meadow and the two of them were silent for a minute as they…remembered.

After Diya died, Aashka’s father had it.  He had sent Aashka out onto the streets with a big basket of food to fend for herself and make sure to not forget ‘Atman,’ the spiritual component of the universe.  Aashka had felt sad at first, which surprised her, but she had known what to do, of course.  She had gone to the Tanwar’s and mourned with them; then they had gotten busy. Traded tears for dried meat to preserve on the walls. Traded sadness for rice. Traded remembrances for cheese that would keep for months. Traded emotions for potatoes.

And nobody seemed to remember Aashka the Brahmin anymore. Upper castes eyes slid from Agavoli to her, disgusted expressions never changing.  Aashka was fine with that.

She prayed every day, whispering to Brahma, “Please believe that I am the good person I claim to be.”

And that was enough for her.

The post A Dalit and a Brahmin first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Lighting up the Elite’s Solutions will Still Smell of Sulphur

I also know that one must do what one can do. No matter how little it is, it is nonetheless a human testimony and human testimonies, as long as they are not based on greed or personal ambition for power, can have unexpected positive effects.…I believe in local action and in small dimensions. It is only in such environments that human creativity and meaningful identities can truly surface and flourish.

Manfred Max-Neef

There are many-many gross things in the news every nanosecond of anti-social media’s and mass mainlining media’s dead from the navel up “stories.”

Imagine, now, the Great White Hope, the Sir David and the Prince William doling out a few million bucks here and there for, drum roll, individuals, companies and agencies that come up with solutions to the world’s environmental problems.

Imagine that, the deeply steeped in eugenics Attenborough, and the DNA-mutated mentally inbred royalty, having people jump through hoops to help move forward the powers that be in capitalism.

Here’s a doozy from this insipidly wet milquetoast PR spin — “We can’t cut down rain-forests forever and anything that we can’t do forever is by definition unsustainable,” says Attenborough. Adding that “if we act now we can yet put it right,” how amazing would that be? We must all act now.

Oh, cry for me, Military Industrial Complex. Nary a word about the Prince’s jets and missiles. Nothing about the deeply embedded complex that holds up the war lords. Again, to repeat – that’s Silicon Valley, that’s fast food, that’s paint, hardware, clothing, IT, telecom, med, media, pharma, oil, gas, nuclear, wires, plastics, satellites,  technical writers, office supplies, water, air, soil suppliers, engineering outfits, lumber, milling, smelting, big earth movers, drone makers, all of those grand pieces and bits that put together this zombie squid of war war war.

You will not hear that in the Attenborough line – no more war machines, soldiers, flyovers, Kings Guards, air-naval-ground-moon bases. Imagine, he states how he was 11 years old with a world population of, drum roll, 2.3 billion (1937).

And, now it’s 7.8 billion, and huge parts of the globe are dead of wild lands and are invaded by, well, you guessed it (but not coming from the Prince’s or Knight’s mouths) – capitalists and empires running their criminal operations for the banks, the investors, the elites. Oh, mining, ag, metals, fossil fuel, minerals, fish, water, data, human lives for the operation that gets old Attenborough flying around the world in his jet-setting ways.

Let’s see, since 1937, hundreds of trillions spent on missiles, NASA/aerospace, satellites, war-war-war; and what else has occurred since wee David grew up to be 94? No mention of the amassing of chemicals, industrial farms, the huge consumer-capitalist bases of seizing power, products, resources and people from other countries, all for god, country, queen, and Goldman Sachs, BlackRock and, pick your bank poison here  ____________! He will not speak of the accumulation of wealth and land and power by his own Anglo-Saxon greedy men of war-debt-slavery.

He wants birth-control, forced sterilization for the dark people, and LEED and zero waste third and fourth homes-castles-island enclaves for the beautiful people. No limits on the beautiful people’s families and 5.6 earths for their lifestyle Earth Footprint.

This is more of the same bizarre stuff – five prizes, $1.2 million each, for 10 years. This is the infantilism of the globe and the great super hero rescuer narrative for the beautiful people who want nothing more than capitalism that pays, has returns on investments and smells-tastes-feels-looks-sounds like green porn.

“We rely entirely on this finely tuned life-support machine” says Sir David Attenborough when describing our little blue planet, in his recently released book and documentary “A Life on Our Planet.” The legendary naturalist and broadcaster, now 94, has spent his entire life traveling the world documenting wildlife, for us to enjoy from the comfort of our living rooms. He is thought to be one of the most well-traveled people on the planet, for The Life of Birds documentary alone, it is estimated he traveled a whopping 256,000 miles. That is the same as traveling around the world ten times. And this was only for one of the eight series he has made for the BBC over the course of almost 30 years. He now joins forces with Prince William with whom he shares a passion for the environment, to help launch the Earthshot Prize. Aiming to be the most prestigious global environment prize, it will be awarded to those who come up with extraordinary ways to help tackle some of the biggest environmental challenges of our planet. [source]

Prince William and Sir David Attenborough launch Earthshot Prize

Quaint. Bad writing. It is like a Jack and Jill nursery tale. Not journalism.

Here’s my email – contact me ASAP, Sir David and Prince Billy. No millions spent on techno fixes, on big giant scoops for ocean plastic, seed storage projects for the moon or mars. No 29 million studies and 29 white papers and a hundred million sad-sack pretzel logic to save the planet. I got the idea, man, and we can distribute that $60 million to sue the shit out of the main perpetrators of poisons. Outfits like British Petroleum? Uh?

Simple stuff, so again, my contact email, Davey and Willie,  is below. Here

Here, my idea — I can think of a massive one weekend event – how about a thousand or 10,000 thousand two-day charrettes. Globally. Giant brainstorming sessions. Giving young people the facilitation tools to come up with a 10-part or 100-part plan to save people, planets, plants, populations of animal species.

Easy, man – with all the shit-show tools of Zoom and satellite feeds and computers and, well, you think that maybe 10,000 teach-ins and brainstorming sessions simultaneously might produce a few common threads, in the countries on the African Continent, North, Middle and South America, Middle East, Far East, Island nations, and more.

Let’s see – I bet with the right engagement, those young students and their tag-along parents and uncles and aunts might be coming up with this:

  • immediate end to military spending
  • utilizing the equipment militaries have for restorative natural, agro-ecological, and community projects
  • no more billionaires
  • no more men and women ruling from the top down
  • no more corporations dictating the size, shape, limits, lifespans of individual humans, ecosystems, bio-regions, nations, and hemispheres
  • massive collective agro-ecological farming to feed the world
  • massive eminent domain for empty buildings, second, third, fourth homes
  • microhome villages served with intergenerational diverse people healing minds-bodies-earth-natural systems
  • a collective and massive global year of strikes
  • the new framework for producing food, producing goods, producing small-locally owned businesses
  • colleges for all, and all departments engaged in connected and holistic teaching . . .
  • no more economy over anything thinking
  • deep ethics taught in all those subjects
  • community schools led by students and people in the communities
  • native and indigenous led governance, land ethic, air ethic, and cultural engagement
  • arts, culture, intergenerational housing, and, alas, no more shit jobs (RIP David Graeber!)

And, more, and can you imagine all those 10,000 community-based charrettes, where people – the young and the very old and the most vulnerable – are not just at the table, but are the facilitators. Sure, the concepts of global heating will be tantamount as well as restorative cultural-economic-spiritual-racial justice.

I am convinced that these youth forums will produce manifestos so similar, so tied to the very idea of “an injury to one is an injury to all” that all the retrograde, violent, and colonized war lord and banking lovers would be pushed out of the realm. Join us, sure.

But imagine now this Earth-Shot prize being something completely different than the old model of “who has the best ideas to fit into the capitalist paradigm to play around with some of the major issues earth and people are facing.”

Solve microplastics? Well, first, now, stop the plastic’s industry and yank them all out of the hands of felons and profit gougers. The packaging industries? Done. The clear cutters, strip miners, mountaintop removers – gone, out of business.

The commodities trading? Gone. The stockholders, the monopolies, the BlackRocks, gone. I believe those 10,000 or 100,000 charrettes and youth-led think tanks and solutions cabals would produce the tools, the language and the spirit of structural global change. Email me, Dave and Billy.

Oh, I know it will be a lot of work, but the young and the very old and the vulnerable are up to the task. There is really nothing else on earth to do but working for the human/animal/plant family and natural world and working collectively so people in the next county don’t suffer while the other county doesn’t suffer.

Precautionary principle, life cycle analysis, and much more-more for an ecosocialist world. Whoops, did I use the term, Socialist?

The world is suffering from a fever due to climate change,
and the disease is the capitalist development model.
— Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, September 2007,

The Belem Ecosocialist Declaration

Youth who are not completely damaged by consumerism/anti-social media/drugs/epigenetics/Breaking Bad parents are naturally connected to other peoples, and given the space and chance, they are the solutions makers.

No more TED Talk white bread talkers, no more mass mainlining media info-tainment, no more celebrity culture dominating everything, no more-no more.

Again, utilize this shit-show Zoom Doom and media platforms to get these 10,000 or 100,000 teach-ins/charrettes up on all platforms. Imagine, even all those colonized millionaire media fakes, all those prune headed politicians, all those stem-cell sucking CEO’s like Bezos and Zuckerberg, well, they will have to watch, man.

Old Knights and Princes are not the future. The rich and the white race rampaging throughout history in their empires of greed, religion, conquistadors of rape-pillage-theft-murder; those manipulators, those penury-creators, those bamboozlers, the smoke and mirror charlatans, the debt holders, the criminal injustice purveyors, all those blood diamond types, I know for a fact that two day teach-in and charrette, they will be tossed out as anything more than thieves and destroyers.

Give peace a chance? Give the youth the platform, the facilitation, the attention, the manifestos to change this world.  Coming up with some bio-mimic paint that self cleans will not cut it. Global shit in who is at the table, who writes the rules, who brings forth the ideas. N O  M O R E  white guys setting the stage and making the rules.

Oh, what a world it would be, and what would it take to get those 100,000 global charrettes working? Technology. Computers? Some WIFI connections? Email me now, sirs and princes!

Let the youth, the young from lower economic communities, the people of the so-called developing or less developed world make their mark now. Forget about the compostable toilets and home-sited wind turbine.

And this is what the Earthshot Prize aims to do. Just as the moonshot that John F. Kennedy proposed in the 1960s was a catalyst for new technology such as the MRI scanner and satellite dishes that helped us go to the moon, this prize aims through Earthshot challenges to create a new wave of ambition and innovation around finding ways to help save the planet. The committee has announced it will spend the next 10 years $60 million, awarding annually five, $1.2 million prizes to individuals, organizations and those around the world who are working to provide solutions to the world’s biggest environmental problems.

It is no surprise that the dominant global system which is responsible for the ecological crisis also sets the terms of the debate about this crisis, for capital commands the means of production of knowledge, as much as that of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Accordingly, its politicians, bureaucrats, economists and professors send forth an endless stream of proposals, all variations on the theme that the world’s ecological damage can be repaired without disruption of market mechanisms and of the system of accumulation that commands the world economy.

But a person cannot serve two masters – the integrity of the earth and the profitability of capitalism. One must be abandoned, and history leaves little question about the allegiances of the vast majority of policy-makers. There is every reason, therefore, to radically doubt the capacity of established measures to check the slide to ecological catastrophe.

Belem Ecosocialist Declaration

The post Lighting up the Elite’s Solutions will Still Smell of Sulphur first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Another Capitalist Market Brand: Brain Death

America and the world are suffering a crisis of capitalism like no other in recent history. With an economy teetering on a mountain of incredible debt without which it could not continue, and a virus threatening the globe but with the highest death toll in America and even a president leading in gross ignorance about it testing positive, stresses and strains are created that, while showing positive awakening among some to systemic rather than personal problems, also creates negative descents into fantasy among others that make immaterial religious mythology seem like critical examinations of material reality.

Approaching a national election which will, as usual, have nothing to do with criticizing the system but only that it be run in more or less polite if continued murderous fashion, the American minority which will elect the captain of the Titanic long after it has hit the iceberg is torn apart over which side of the coin should win when we need an entirely new currency based on the value of humanity and not the market forces of private profit.

A historically honest president, if more blatantly arrogant, egotistical and pinheaded than usual occupants of the subsidized housing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, was found intolerable by ruling power and a sign of them losing some of their control was his election to run capital headquarters in the USA.  Constantly called a liar by mind managers whose employers are freaked by his obvious display of what this country is — obnoxious, menacing, rich and dumb — his open honesty is intolerable in a government atmosphere which not only demands insistence that this is a special, wonderful, faultless nation, but rhetorical behavior that is able to call mass murder democracy and the reduction of more of the population to near and real poverty the expression of magical market forces.

The new virus, a product of market-dominated nature, is still poorly understood among a medical scientific community in America devoted, as is every other aspect of the economy, to creating private profit before rather than after, if ever, public good. But critics of the severe reactions on the part of some authority sincerely working in the dark but trying to cope with something never encountered before, has led to accepting tales of the innocently bemused and confused, along with more serious and problematic claims from allegedly sophisticated but often bordering on psychotic types, about all manner of lies, plots, conspiracies and manipulations of public consciousness previously unknown to those who’ve been napping for more than this century and have missed the distortions, misinformation, mind management and consciousness control exercised by market controllers of news, and other aspects of what are called democracy at the universal mall.

Thus, the virus is a plot organized by the elders of Zion in league with Google, or an American disease created in a lab in China, while the Chinese were all out eating fried rice, taking naps or shopping for wind chimes, or, a pharmaceutical arrangement to make money – in stark and shocking contrast to any and every other capitalist endeavor in history! — or just regular madness. This, while Russia and China are allegedly interfering online with American’s messages about their lunch, dogs, gossip, elections and other stuff on anti-social Internet sites like bankbook, insta-brain-mash and flip-flop. They are sending subtle political ads that favor one or the other major party candidates in an attempt to subvert a cherished national democracy which has never existed for a microsecond let alone elected a majority president in the nation’s history.

And these mental, physical and even spiritual fantasies come from sources deemed left, right, neo-liberal, neo-conservative, intelligent, thoughtful, deranged, clinically insane, formally educated on the internet by YouTube, or informally educated at colleges and universities. Spreading the fears of capitalist fascism — while excluding the capitalist part — and socialist Marxism while understanding neither, has become the alienating job of a tiny minority whose only definition of either menace is that it is bad and they don’t like it because authority told them it was bad and they shouldn’t like it. This form of voter education has worked in the past to bring us the present crowning achievement of lesser evil politics providing a choice between cancer and polio which assures the disease continues, and that, as always, lots of people profit from it but even more will not. They will become critically ill, die or be driven to extreme actions for survival the longer ruling power of a wealth-beyond-belief minority is allowed to remain enthroned while we are reduced to arguing over whether transsexuals of color or disabled agnostics or Hispanic atheists of no color should be part of the crew of our sinking ship.

The spectacle of an alleged debate between the candidates of the capitalist party with two caucuses, which would have made Beavis and Butthead blush, may have convinced more people of the problems we face which cannot be dealt with by its creators. The fact that an overwhelming majority of Americans did not view the ugly farce is a credit to the consciousness of the truly silent majority, as a near deranged minority of fake left and phony right mobs follow the lead of their minority mind managers and shriek in horror about a fascist attack from white supremacists or a socialist Marxist subversion into mass murder which is likely to result if one or the other lesser evil is not led, carried or wheeled into the oval office. The serious language molestation has led to use and abuse of words like fascist, genocide and white supremacist but they join the criminal use of words like democracy, equality and humanity to cover the direct opposite of those when we rely on vicious combat among individuals in order to put food on the table, roofs over our heads and clothing on our backs. Nothing is free at the temple of the free market.

As this is written the incumbent has tested positive for what he, in his infinite ignorance, calls the China virus. He has his own radically mad interpretations of reality and has not heard the incredibly brilliant notion that the U.S. created the virus but did so in Chinese labs, un-noticed by any of the one billion four hundred million Chinese, especially their allegedly total authoritarian ruling power that controls everything they say or do. Or believe, if you’re an American who, under 24-7 brain molesting by major and minor anti-social media is worried about foreign intervention in our sacred electoral hypocrisy. According to polls, this is the belief of an overwhelming majority of innocents answering to the name “democrats”.

Creeping crackpotism is no longer confined to wacko legions of a pseudo right, which is mostly composed of abused citizens with no place else to go. Presently liberal legions are swept up in fanatic beliefs that make some right wing fantasies almost seem thoughtful. The hope for the future is that the overwhelming majority of Americans who are totally unrepresented by what passes for a supposed left and right will eventually, after not voting for either of the servants of Wall Street, the Pentagon or Israel, demand and take part in the creation of a new party to represent, for the first time, a majority of American people. We need to hurry that process before the tiny ruling minority bring on more friction and unbridled hatred among their larger minority of those most susceptible to derangement because of the deranged mental state inflicted by ruling mind managers and consciousness controllers.

A nation fairly obsessed with mental problems of a trivial nature, all dealt with by a psycho-neurotic marketplace in which some cannot decide what to eat for lunch until they’ve spoken to a therapist, needs to become far more concerned about physical breakdowns occurring with increasing frequency, but we also need to take much better care of our collective mental state, which, under increasing and more irrational by the minute conditions now comes close to reducing the nation to a mental health crisis center.

Whatever the outcome of the November national election, the best news will be that a majority of the electorate, as always, will be sound enough of mind to not vote for the winner or loser, and that soon after, because earth as well as the USA is running out of time, a transformation to a new order will take up more speed and bring about real democracy and a new nation as part of a new world that offers a future for all and not just some of humanity. Remembering, or learning for the first time, that we are all members of the one human race will help us move in the direction of acting as such. Not only our mental health will improve but more importantly the physical foundation on which it depends. That was obvious to our primitive communist ancestors and we need to learn to emulate their cooperative means of survival in modern democratic form. Fast!

The post Another Capitalist Market Brand: Brain Death first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Morning in Hell

It’s the proper morning to fly into Hell.
― Arthur Miller, The Crucible, 1953

One of the greatest delusions of the average man is to forget that life is death’s prisoner.
— Emil Cioran, On the Heights of Despair, 1934

Increasingly, I think, the American public operates in a mild dissociative state. I wrote about it here (my blog). It is almost as if people are afflicted with a kind of PTSD — only one where the trauma is generalized, relatively low grade, but ongoing.

Any of us who have questioned the Covid narrative have had to put up with an inordinate amount of hectoring, name calling, ridicule, and ostracism. I remember when I signed on the artist appeal as part of the Milosevic Defense Committee, and the abuse and anger I faced whenever this topic came up. People who had no history with the region, knew little of the political landscape, would nonetheless wax irate, furious and near tears that I would hold such outrageous positions. Now a over a decade later two members of that committee have won Nobel Prizes (Harold Pinter and Peter Handke). You would think that might cause people to take a moment, reflect, recalibrate their thinking on the topic. But alas, it rarely does.

The Covid narrative has generated the same near hysterical indignation. The narrative, as it has been constructed by the WHO, CDC, and more likely a dozen or so billionaires (including Bill Gates) is so rife with contradiction and illogic that one might think cracks would begin to show. That many who accept the word of authority in general might, at this point, start to question why none of this story makes sense. But no. Not in America anyway. (or rather, to be more precise, there is a pushback, but it keeps to a low profile lest the little Cotton Mathers of the haute bourgeoisie put one in the stocks). Leave it to America to make the flu into a morality play. However, there are clear signs of people waking up. In Europe certainly.  See here and here.

And not only Germany, doctors and health care professionals in Belgium, too. But the governments are sticking to the story they were handed. In Norway here I still cannot drive to Sweden. Why? Who knows, there is no reason provided. The PM uttered something about better safe than sorry, and staying the course. Everything is discussed this way, in infantile baby talk, gibberish and slogans. Anti-democratic edicts delivered as if by a kindergarten teacher.

Someone wrote to me on social media the other day and said “Not everyone gets to live in Norway. Here we are surrounded by death”. Now he lives in Los Angeles. In a nice west-side area. He is not surrounded by death. Or rather only in his hallucinatory inner theatre of the mind is death present, surrounding him. But this language has a quality I associate with Hollywood. It’s kitsch image making. Never mind it’s literally not remotely true. But this is a version of something that I think happens all the time now. This man is in his own private movie. It is a movie made of diverse parts; there is something from all the various post apocalyptic zombie films (and TV, think Walking Dead).  There is something of Norman Rockwell in there, or even Thomas Kincaid.  There is Dr. Phil and Oprah and the cheapening of emotion. The snarky pedestrian thoughts of a Bill Maher, too.

This is what has come to pass for public intellectuals and intellectual discourse. All are almost impossibly banal. There are parts from a dozen disaster movies, too. I mean literally all the way back to Towering Inferno. And there is, perhaps most significantly, a quality that is harder to define or outline, but which I associate with JJ Abrams and Joss Whedon. It is a quality of comforting superficiality, of controlled threat in worlds of generic cheeriness. Interestingly both were born in NY and are only a year apart in age (mid-fifties). Both have a background in animation and computer generated affects. Both came out of a comic book sensibility and have, more than anyone else in contemporary media, helped to shape the manufactured nostalgia for a fantasy of America. It is the creation of a longing for a past that never was. But both have established a universe of whiteness and equilibrium where the threat is from without. For it cannot be from within because there is no ‘within’. In that sense these are the anti-psychoanalytic purveyors of a youth culture for adults. A comic or cartoon world view in which the sentimental plays an enormous role. It is a world without tragedy or real suffering. And just beneath the surface but always implied, is a respect for authority. It is also a world where one is encouraged NOT to grow up.

The Covid story takes place in a universe of Whedon and Abrams, with parts of The Hunger GamesBreaking Bad, and the films of John Hughes. (Hughes was really the precursor for both Whedon and Abrams). Covid is taking place on the streets where Breakfast Club was filmed. In people’s heads anyway. Covid, the virus, is an overdetermined symbol — and one that only makes even a tiny bit of sense if it is located in these personal streaming sites in your brain. (and I recommend Jonathan Beller, The Cinematic Mode of Production). There is a tendency toward fetishization, too, and hence the ubiquitous appearance and opinion of celebrities. It’s bordering on surreal much of the time: Hip Hop moguls are asked about climate change, Silicon Valley billionaires voice opinion on overpopulation or vaccinations, soap opera stars offer thoughts on stem cell research. Nothing is investigated, really. It is all driven by whatever is most lurid or sensationalized. The ruling class has clearly encouraged, if not mandated, a certain line of thinking on the pandemic. The ruling class has profited enormously from the lockdown, and is quite happy with a semi permanent state of crisis. In fact, it is likely that this was at least partly all planned. I mean what does one think those billionaires at the Bilderberg meeting talk about? Or at DAVOS or the like? The ruling elite anticipated crises in Capitalism, and the lockdown certainly provides cover for massive plunder of pensions, real estate, and really, most everything.

But the system, to some extent, does the work for the ruling class without instruction at this point. For revenue is generated by blood and violence, and secondly by sex. The template has already been put in place. (If it bleeds, it leads). Although something has happened to the ‘sex sells’ dimension of the Spectacle. People seem less and less in the throws of passion or lust. The societies of the west are declining into some form of neurasthenic bloodless onanism. The consumption of porn is up, but I’m pretty sure sex acts are actually down. And the allegorical dimension of the Covid narrative serves as both substitute gratification and as a symbolic purification ritual.

This week Trump announced he had “tested positive”. He had been campaigning for the previous week and felt fine. Then he tested positive and is described as having flu-like symptoms. That this is part of a strategy I have no doubt, but I also could not begin to describe that strategy. But the magical appearance of symptoms the minute he tested positive echoes the overall magical thinking involved in this entire narrative. There is a veritable mania, now, concerning testing. And yet even the NYTimes admits the tests are virtually meaningless. But no matter. We must test more !!

(Just one aspect of the testing problem.)

Magical thinking permeates the climate discourse, as well. Never in history, or never since the Enlightenment, have so many people pretended to know so much. For the educated thirty percent (white and reasonably affluent) it is the era of the TED talk. Nothing dare last longer or be more demanding than a quick (and entertaining) ten minutes. The fires in California have come primarily from downed power lines (badly out of date and rarely serviced), but exacerbated by homeless encampments (rarely mentioned) and fireworks — and, of course, the drought that has extended backward a decade. California has always burnt. It was part of the ecosystem to rid the hills and forests of dead shrub and trees.

Climate is clearly a part — snow-pack is down, and summer heat has dried out shrubbery. But much of what is dried out is shrub not native to California (stuff like cheat-grass, a native of Asia and parts of Africa, and notoriously invasive) whose forests are overstocked anyway. Infrastructure in America is rotting, and per California, the wild areas have been neglected for almost a hundred years. But that is not a part of the narrative. The narrative must be about the rebellion of Earth itself and population. And population matters only in terms of who can afford to over-consume. The problem is that the most obvious pollution issues (militarism and the packaging industry) are never addressed. US imperialism is the cause of most of the suffering in the world. Most of the instability. But the infantile anthropomorphizing of much green discourse is just more baby talk. I often hear “we are waging war against ourselves”. This is a dangerous bit of mystification. (Note that this riff goes all the way back to the Pogo comic strip in the 1960s}. It’s more simplistic sloganeering and like most such chestnuts, class analysis is absent. I have written a good deal on the psychological appeal of certain hi-tech fantasies, the seductive aspect of AI, and yet the world is more proletarianized than ever.  See here and here.

The issue of the seducing aspects of tech…from my blog.  See here and here.

Yes, people, in a very general sense, can be seen as self-destructive. It’s one of the most troubling byproducts of the habituation to screens, the loss of literacy and numeracy and the loss, really, of an ability to think critically. But this cultic hysteria is driven by the increasing precarity and desperation in contemporary life. The loss of unions plays a part, the absence of a real left party, a radical Marxist party. For all the terrific work activist groups do (prison abolishment groups, criminal justice reform, and stuff like the Innocence Project) there remains a vacuum in terms of electoral politics. Perhaps that is just going to be the way this goes. Maybe the entire electoral apparatus is dead. And maybe that is a good thing.

There is a quality of suffocating sameness and emptiness that permeates daily life. People don’t look at each other on the street, they look at their phones. One is walking, all the time, among the pod people. America’s mental health is in a dire state. The U.S., and really this is increasingly true in Europe, too, but not nearly to the same extent, is an excruciatingly lonely country. People have lost the ability to make, and more, to sustain friendships. And how the role of social media plays into that is an open question. Or media in general.

So while, yes, the marketing of technology serves to manufacture an appeal, on one level there are troubling numbers of people who seem, all by themselves, to *want*, to desire, ravishment by our robot overlords. Android sex is a thing, and it’s growing. And it’s not just men who want “pleasure model” androids (okay, for now they have to settle for this), but many want to not just fuck androids– but to get fucked *by* androids.

The engine is capitalism.

A number of world leaders have contracted Covid. Much as many get the flu. There is something curiously similar in nearly every one of these cases. Boris Johnson, Bolsanaro, the fascist interim President of post coup Bolivia Jeanine Anez, Mikhail Mishustin of Russia, French finance minister Bruno Le Maire, and India’s Amit Shah, the #2 strongman behind Modi, and also in India, Pranab Mukherjee, former President, who subsequently died (age 84) from the virus (no, actually he died from a blood clot on his brain). I only mention this because I experience an unsettling vertigo when trying to parse all this and make it into something comprehensible. The way Covid tests work one might well think everyone on the planet has the virus.

Already there has been significant psychological harm done to children.  See here.  The clear lesson is to fear the other. That humans are contagious and potentially lethal. Intimacy is officially discouraged. I cannot imagine that message were I fourteen or sixteen. Growing up in the sixties the idea was to promote intimacy, feelings, and to exactly *not* fear emotional openness. The English speaking west has gone from Paul Goodman to Theresa Tam. The resurgent Puritanism is not restricted to odd ducks like Tam…. Even bourgeois pundits are noticing. This is Zoe Williams in The Guardian:

There remains, in public life, a rich seam of puritanism that you notice only when times are so bleak that you could really do without it. A sense that frivolity is immoral, even if it is 95% of your economy; a feeling that they had it coming, all those people dedicating their lives to the generation of fun. Puritans tend not to announce their disapproval except in the most roundabout ways, so you can rarely pin it on them. But standing on the precipice of a year that ends without dancing, bears, dancing bears, playhouses, ale houses, music or Christmas, all I can think of is how happy Oliver Cromwell would have been. It is like all his cancelled Christmases come at once. He would be dancing (not dancing) in his grave.

This is a lament from the privileged class, but perhaps that’s actually a good sign.

The ruling class don’t wear masks or have travel restrictions imposed on them.

There is no longer even a pretense. The rich are entitled to special treatment. The rich deserve a clean depopulated world where they can cavort on the green, frolic in elysian fields by murmuring brooks, and to not be troubled by darkies and riffraff. Remember it was a mere hundred years ago that Belgium brought Congolese from their African home, to be paraded in human zoos. Those they hadn’t already murdered.

Covid is the final act in the transference of wealth to the top 1%. And culture is being destroyed along with everything else. Cinemas are closing, permanently, theatres, too, permanently, and museums. Galleries and other art spaces are shuttered, likely to never reopen. Something like 30 million jobs have been lost. There is an acute desperation across America.

Who survives? Amazon, Netflix, Google, Comcast, Facebook, et al. Those who control the screens control the world. It is a new morning in hell.

The post Morning in Hell first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Political and Spiritual Cults: From Rapture to Complicity to Aftermath in the Shadow of 20th Century Yankeedom

“The party is always right, even when it’s wrong”

— Democratic Workers Party slogan

ORIENTATION

Everybody knows what cults are

People who join cults are mentally unstable before they join and less educated than the general population. True or false? Cult members also define themselves as lonely. True or false? Most people who join cults are from the poor and working class. True or false? People are physically intimidated into joining a cult against their will. True or false? No matter how much your vocabulary changes once inside a cult, you can still control what and how you think. True or false? Cults draw certain kinds of criminal elements, who in a sense get what they deserve. Good people would not be drawn into such extreme circumstances. True or false? This last statement is a version of the “just world hypothesis”. The implication being that you, a good person, could never fall into a cult.

If you answered “true” to any of these questions, you might have fallen for the social media propaganda against cults. In fact, the overwhelming number of members of cults come from middle and upper middle-class backgrounds, are well-educated and have no serious psychological problems previous to joining the cult. Furthermore, people join cults voluntarily and they are lured into them by various social and psychological techniques which offer immediate gratification. In her book Cults in Our Midst, Margaret Singer says people have an initial resistance to thinking they could be “taken in,” without force.

Lastly, many people mistakenly think that thoughts and language can be neatly separated. This is mistaken.  No one can think independently of language. If you force people to not use certain words, and insist on people substituting new words, you can control their thinking process. As Orwell pointed out, when the state controls the vocabulary and strikes words from its dictionary, it narrows the thinking range that is possible. If you use the word “freedom” to express autonomous thinking, but the word “freedom” has now been labelled by a leftist political movement as “bourgeois individualism” you have a problem in using it. You cannot coin new words by yourself. There has to be a movement of people who agree to create a new word and circulate it among themselves. Cult members are slowly socialized by their leaders and lieutenants to change their vocabulary as they coin and circulate new words through forums, meetings and media events. Slowly the members find their own vocabulary changes accordingly.

How many kinds of cult are there?

There are at least three kinds of cults: spiritual, psychological and political.

All three have left-wing and right-wing variants. Jim Jones’ People’s Temple; Marshall Applewhite’s Heaven’s Gate; Rajneesh’s Tantric yoga, as well Charles Manson’s “the Family” are all examples of left-wing spiritual cults.  Right-wing cults are Reverend Moon’s Unification Church, Kurt Saxon’s Christian Identity, James Wickstrom’s Posse Comitatus and James Butler’s Aryan Nation.

Examples of left-wing psychological cults Harvey Jackins’ Re-Evaluation Counseling along with Saul B. Newton’s Sullivan Institute. Right-wing psychology cults include L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology and Charles Dederich’s Synanon. Political cults on the left include Gerry Healy in Britain and the Democratic Workers Party in San Francisco. A great example of a right-wing political cult was Lyndon LaRouche’s National Caucus of Labor Committees.

For most of this article I will be speaking of cults in general. But when I get more specific about mechanisms of control, I will sometimes refer to the left-wing Democratic Workers Party. I refer to them not only because they are especially monstrous compared to other cults. I do so more because my readers are most likely to be interested in political cults rather than spiritual or psychological cults. Secondly, my readers are more likely to identify as left-wing rather than right-wing political people. I think this article will “hit home”, especially among Leninists. I am not suggesting or implying that all Leninist parties are cults.

What is a totalistic institution?

Defining a cult has more to do with how the organization is run, not the political, psychological or spiritual beliefs of the organization. Cults can be characterized as a type of “total institution” (Goffman). Others include mental hospitals, jails, army barracks, orphanages and religious institutions such as monasteries, convents or abbeys. In modern capitalist societies, people enter and leave many social institutions during the course of a day. Examples include a son or daughter of a family at home, a student at school, an employee at work, a member of the choir at church, a fan for a sports team and a member of the national guard on the weekends.  While all these groups have a broad similarity in economic ideology (being pro-capitalism), within each group the power dynamics between the authority and the members differ. Different institutions are organized tightly or loosely with high, medium or low expectations. Most importantly the individual in a pluralistic society, with membership in all these groups can compare and contrast social expectations of each group, develop their own ideas and synthesize the results using critical thinking.

In totalistic institutions, sleeping, eating, working and playing all happen within a single organization, enacted within the same place, at the same time in the same way.  In pluralistic societies members enter into and leave a group of their own volition. In totalistic institutions members do not come and go as they please. Boundaries are strictly controlled.  Unlike in pluralistic societies, in totalistic institutions the authorities are a single centralized body, with very little feedback coming from the periphery to the core. In pluralistic societies, surveillance may be in place in certain settings, like in the military or in church, but there is no central setting from which family life, school life or work life is all watched from afar at the same time. In total institutions, besides centralized surveillance systems, there is a network of spying that goes on between members, breeding insecurity and paranoia. In totalistic institutions, everyone is treated bureaucratically in the same way, where sensitivity to the uniqueness of a person and situation is lost.

What is a cult?

Cults usually grow in a climate of political, economic or ecological instabilities in which the existing social order has been compromised. A cult is a spiritual, psychological or political institution which is hyper-critical of the existing spiritual, psychological and political institutions and wishes to overthrow them while often aspiring to create “heaven on earth”. Because cults are usually new and have not had years to socialize people the way organized religions have, they have to work quickly and use extreme measures to draw and hold people. Because a religious leader of a particular denomination is part of a large bureaucracy, that leader can be relatively dull while maintaining the following of his parishioners. But a cult cannot afford that.

Cults usually have at their head a charismatic leader with a grand philosophy who gives dramatic right and wrong answers to complex but deteriorating social situations. The leaders usually have lieutenants, ideologically committed members who have very good social psychological skills to keep the membership in line. Cults lack a democratic structure and the membership is kept passive and happy during the initial stages while being slowly terrified as membership continues into the later stages of the cult.

Characteristics of cults include:

  • Emerging out of a political, economic or ecological crisis;
  • Recruitment of young adults between 17 and 24 of middle-class and upper middle-class origins who are likely to be undergoing some developmental crisis in their personal lives;
  • An authoritarian, charismatic leader;
  • A revolutionary, dualistic ideology;
  • Possessing a social-psychological array of tools for luring in new members and sustaining their commitment;
  • A lack of mechanisms for critical feedback from the membership;
  • A small group of lieutenants to isolate and keep atomized the membership through spying so that no coherent opposition can form;
  • The development of rituals, myths and celebrations that allow the group to mark time;
  • Demonization of outside groups that are competition with the cult;
  • Rigid, terrorized boundaries that make it extremely difficult to leave.

STAGES OF CULTS

In their book, The Guru Papers, Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad identify two stages of cults: the proselytizing stage and the apocalyptic paranoia stage.

In the proselytizing ascendant stage, the guru sees the possibility of realizing his ambitions. The group is touted as being at the cutting edge of new knowledge. Outsiders are welcomed although they are treated with a kind of benign superiority. In the ascendant phase, the guru rewards the enthusiasm of his followers and grants them positions which have opened up within the hierarchy. The tone of the community is celebratory. The guru is accessible to the public and is charming and playful. In terms of the recruitment this is the “honeymoon phase”. The focus is to expand the organization and the emphasis is on the present.

The apocalyptic, paranoiac, decadent phase is when the numbers of recruits have leveled off and explanations need to be found. The public is now seen as too stupid and blind to acknowledge the merits of the cult. In the declining stage the message becomes pessimistic, with a doomsday “I told you so” tone. Outsiders cease to be welcomed in a spirit of satisfying curiosity. Rather they are seen as enemies out to destroy the organization. Part of the descendent phase also involves the guru making more grandiose claims while promising to invoke occult power. The membership begins to have doubts.

Some find the courage to leave despite threats of violence, law suits, character destruction and loss of employment. Others hang on for fear of the costs of leaving. In the descendent phase recruits are expected to give far more than they receive in the way of time, energy and money. They are expected to work long hours recruiting, selling products and fundraising.  Because the organization is not growing, like most organizations this leads to squabbling for a diminishing set of resources. All too often the cult ends in scandal or tragedy.

PRE-CULT SOCIALIZATION

As we all know, when individuals are socialized within the first seventeen years of life, they are socialized by their families, their schools (including teachers and students), the various forms of media (tv, internet media), their religion, the state (propaganda to join the military) and their friends as well as by sports and music celebrities. All these forces are unified in presenting capitalism in a favorable light, but in other ways these socializing forces don’t agree. Broadly speaking, families, religion and the state appeal to the conservative forces of order and patriotism. Schools, mass media and entertainment celebrities are more liberal. As I said earlier, the diversity between these socializing influences allows the individual to develop thinking skills of comparing and contrasting which develops critical thinking.

But beginning in the teenage years, (and maybe even sooner) the individual begins to question these sources of influence. As early as ten or eleven, children are very aware that their parents are full of contradictions and are hardly infallible. By high school, some have developed Piaget’s formal operational thinking which helps them to critically evaluate religious claims about God and the afterlife. While in high school they may resent military recruiters in their schools. The problem with sports and music celebrities is that while they while they are held up as models, there is no feedback or dialogue which allows the individual to grow. By high school, one’s face-to-face friends may more likely to be the most solid socializing influence they have.

By the time the adolescent reaches seventeen, they have arrived at a developmental crisis. Do they continue on to college? Do they try to find full-time work? Do they join the military? Do they get married? It is here that cults might make their first appeal. Why now? Because developmentally, teenagers and young adults are in a fork in the roads of their lives. Additionally, the old forms of socialization have lost their stability and the teenager may be ripe for a new socialization process or a new group membership. If the individual decides to go to college, throughout the college years including graduation, they are suspectable to cult propaganda.

SOCIALIZATION INTO CULTS

The UC campus in Berkeley California stretches from south to north going from Bancroft Way at the south side to Hearst Ave. on the north side. There is a major walkway that begins at College and Bancroft and goes all the way to Hearst, cutting through the center of the campus. On both sides of the walkway there are tables with people stationed at them, inviting students to join clubs. Some of those clubs are front groups for cults. In addition, there are public bulletin boards advertising everything from movies, to offers for housing roommates, to free meditation classes.

The members of cults that are stationed at these tables are attractive, neatly dressed and extroverted. They are good social psychologists who can pick out a student that might be mildly depressed, lost or disorganized. These “hawkers” will call out to them, ask how they are doing and ask them if they’d like to hear a free talk and eat pizza afterwards. Once the person has come to the table, the hawkers will seize on anything the person says and respond in a very sympathetic way. They listen very carefully and keep the focus on the recruit. They are so engaging that they make an impression. Before the person leaves the table, they will be handed a flyer which appeals to nebulous conflicts like these:

  • Is it hard to make friends here at school?
  • Is college life harder than you thought it would be?
  • Is your romantic relationship lacking the things that you want?
  • If you have a job does it lack meaning?
  • Are you troubled about the state of the world, but feel powerless to do anything about it?

Then comes the pitch. “Come hear a talk by a celebrated expert in the field of psychology, religion or sociology on how to deal with all these problems in a meaningful way. Small group discussion afterward and free pizza. All are welcome.”

If the person attends the talk, there might be 50 people in the room, all of whom the recruit doesn’t know. What the recruit also doesn’t know is that 40 of those people are already in the cult. When any new people come into the room, the recruiters make sure they surround each new recruit and sit on either side of them and in back of them if possible. They engage the newbie, ask them questions about themselves before the talk even starts, and they make sure they compliment the newbie on their intelligence and insight. The leader giving the speech is usually an attractive, articulate, charming man with a sense of humor and a flair for the dramatic.

Once the leader makes their speech, the recruiters turn, and ask the newbie what they thought of the speech. They guide the newbie over to the table where there is pizza. The recruiters may hand them over to a new batch of recruiters who continue the discussion over pizza. Before the evening ends the recruits are told the time and place of the next meeting. Very causally they are asked for their email address “so we can keep you posted on up-and-coming events”.

At this point the recruit might feel like they just had an extraordinary date. They feel charged up and eroticized by some of the recruiters and might feel that they want to return to see one or more of the recruiters again. By comparison, these evenings are much more powerful than the times spent with family, friends and certainly religious services. After a couple of weeks the newbie returns again and the same thing happens. Now, the newbie is going to these talks three out of every four Sunday evenings. Their roommates, family and friends might inquire about where they have been. The newbie is not sure how to describe it. They might say this a “psychology group”. Both friends and family are not impressed and ask more probing questions. The newbie starts to feel defensive and stops talking about it, but continues to attend. This experience dovetails with a talk the leader gives the following Sunday on the nature of crisis.

The leader discusses how crisis involves the prospect of transformation and in that transformation, you meet new people while you have to let go of people that might be holding you back. This gently suggests that the newbie’s friends and family might not understand the nature of social change that the cult is part of and they are not among the enlightened ones (unlike the people in the cult). They also make a prediction that in the future they can expect their friends, families, church or state might not appreciate this cult and that is the price to pay for group enlightenment. But in the long-run, they may come to understand.

MECHANISMS OF CONTROL

Ascendant phase

The first, ascendant proselytizing phase of the cult is characterized by the following rewards. First – in terms of beliefs, a promise of the transformation of the world along with simplistic answers to complex questions. The cult then gives a sense of mission and purpose along with a sense of superiority over the ignorant and unenlightened masses. In terms of behavior, there is massive positive reinforcement which includes “love-bombing”: a great deal of attention to the recruit and their problems, along with an immediate, intense connection with many people. There is a promise (and deliverance in some cases) of erotic adventures. A regular dose of altered states of consciousness is achieved through chanting, hypnotic techniques of dissociation, group dancing, vertigo and hyperventilation. Along with this, a new identity is given which is often accomplished through changes in clothing or hair. At the climax in her recruitment just before she joined the DWP, author and sociologist Janja Lalich says: “Eleanor, leaned over, her face almost touching mine, she looked me in the eyes and said, ‘isn’t this what you’ve been waiting for?’ That’s all it took. I asked for the application”.

Descendent phase

Geographical isolation and physical deterioration

For the most part cults begin in cities, but in some cases, for various reasons (cheap land, control of members) they move to more rural areas as in the case of Jim Jones and Rajneesh. Especially if they are isolated in a rural area, they may be cut off from alternative forms of media. At this point with or without the move, in the descendent phase, the honeymoon is over for cult members. They are expected to work long hours in various phases of organization and as a result, become sleep deprived. In the DWP militants signed into a log book for keeping track of time, as if they were punching in their time cards in a factory. The organization does not provide for medical or dental insurance and their body begins to feel the wear-and-tear. Cult members who are older and have established incomes are pressured to contribute financially on a regular basis.

Atomizing the individual

Within the organization, the lieutenants work especially hard to keep people atomized so members cannot compare notes or consider their problems in any kind of collective way. In fact, the Democratic Workers party had a rule called “no gossiping”. But what they really meant was no comparing notes between members. Notice how comparing notes, a natural thing that is done in groups, was demonized by associating it with something bad.

Controlling vocabulary

The cult member’s vocabulary is controlled by the leadership and any kind of criticism is pathologized with certain labels. For example, in the DWP, “bourgeois individualism,” “careerism”, “grandstanding”, “factionalism” and “liberal” were used as “curse words” to shut down articulation of problems. In spiritual circles “unenlightened” or “materialism” might serve similar purposes.

Attacking the self:

True confessions

There are a number of ways one’s identity can be broken down. One of the ways the DWP used that was a requirement to write one’s personal history from a class point of view. Then they would write all the privileges they gained as a result of their class location. Finally, the recruit would have to present this in front of the whole group, exposing weaknesses to all.

Criticism and self-criticism

Once the true confessions are in place the cult member is treated to endless rounds of criticism and self-criticism. Once individual vocabulary is controlled and they have confessed their past privileges it is relatively easy for members to monitor each other by pointing out how current mistakes might be connected to their “middle-class” past.

Internalization of the party voice

When neither the leader or their fellow members were available the individual was controlled by their internalized “party voice”. When by themselves and in need of making a decision, they were to ask themselves “what would your older member say?”

At this point, they are in so deeply that they have burned their bridges with their families, friends, workers and no longer have a perspective of what’s happening to them. At the same time, it begins to dawn on them that maybe they should consider getting out.

WHY DO PEOPLE STAY AND REMAIN COMPLICIT IN THEIR OWN OPPRESSION?

At this point, the reader might say what is wrong with these cult members? These were once hypercritical people who questioned everything? Where is that spirit now? Why don’t they just run away? There are at least nine very good reasons why people stay.

Attachment to the new belief

Cult members have worked very hard to desocialize themselves from previous beliefs. They have worked hard to acquire and internalize new beliefs and the prospect of having to give them up with no belief system to call their own is extremely painful.

Cognitive dissonance

Research has shown that once people commit to something publicly, through actions, speaking or writing about it, they are much more likely to stay with their commitment. Without understanding this, to an outsider, cult members’ behavior seems crazy. What cult members are doing is unconsciously changing their beliefs to justify the increasingly irrational behavior of the leader during the cult’s descendent phase. They don’t see their beliefs as having changed because there is no one in the community to point that out, including many people who don’t want to see it because they are in the same boat.

Entrapment

Just as in personal romances, once you put time, effort and resources into a relationship, you acquire a stake in it and are reluctant to give it up. Buying furniture together, a house, pooling finances, having children all become obstacles to throwing in the towel even if you are unhappy. So too in cults, the members have put in long hours of work, they have seen some success, they probably contributed financially, and they just don’t want to come up empty-handed. In addition, cult members then face the start-up costs of investing in a whole other institution and life. The thinking goes – “maybe it is better to wait it out. After all, things may change for the better.”

Peer pressure

Contrary to what most people think, peer pressure is far more powerful than even the commands of authority figures. Soldiers have reported having endured horrible times, not because they were obedient to the authorities, but out of loyalty to their comrades. Members of cults have gone through ordeals that might not be as intense as the ordeals soldiers go through in eight weeks of boot-camp, but the ordeal lasts much longer. In both cases feelings of extreme loyalty are produced in soldiers and cult members. They don’t want to let their comrades down.

In addition, because cults count doctors, lawyers, social workers with advanced degrees among their numbers their presence makes it more difficult to leave for the less professional cult member to leave. In order to do that those on the lower rungs of the hierarchy would have to consider that these highly trained professionals have been duped themselves. How could they all be wrong?

Exhaustion from overwork allows little time for self-reflection or objectivity

In the descendent phase of cults, rank-and-file members are working fourteen-hour days, sometimes more. After several weeks and months of sleep deprivation, medical and dental negligence, internal group meetings and public displays of solidarity for public consumption, cult members are exhausted.  There no vacations, no hobbies, no musical concerts nor ball games.  Who has the time to reflect on where you have been and where you are going?

Burned bridges separate the member from their past

When you join the military, you come back to a civilian life that is intact when your four years are up. If you join a convent and then realize after a few years later it is not for you, your family and friends are still there. Because cults are extremist groups, it became necessary to cut off family, friends, workmates and church in order to become a member. For a departing cult member, there is anger, confusion, hurt, revenge and shunning waiting for them on the outside. The prospect of making amends is daunting. In addition, you cannot so easily recover who you once were. You may always be a stranger to your former groups. Even so basic a thing as changing your name back or growing your hair out takes a great deal of courage. The prospect of having no friends on the outside is enough to keep you in.

Being ridiculed and called names by cult members is very painful

If you consider wanting to leave and state your reasons to others, you may receive a vicious reaction because you might be bringing up the self-doubts of other members they would rather not face. You can expect to be called a spy, traitor, materialist, bourgeois or less evolved. These are the very words used to denounce those outside the cult. Now you are one of the enemies, an infiltrator. You’ve watched this happen to others who tried to leave and now it is happening to you.

Fear for your life

The wealthier cults such as scientology or the Moonies play hardball. They will threaten you with lawsuits, loss of employment, character assassination and death. Members of the DWP “goon squads” would break into the homes of former members, beat them up put them on a plane with a one-way ticket and no money. Margaret Sanger, in her book Cults in Our Midst depicts some of the things done to her. They stuffed her mailbox with a dead rat every week while she was testifying in court against a cult. Rats were put in the ducts of her house, so she was treated to a house full of screaming rats upon returning home.  She needed an armed guard to be taken to and from the courthouse. She was kept on the witness stand for 12 ½ days by cult lawyers cross-examining her. Her office was broken into and files stolen. Her school lectures were disrupted regularly.

Guilt and embarrassment over having participated in the group to begin with

A cult member begins to have inklings that some of the things their cult did were pretty horrible and that they were complicit in it. it takes time to understand and be compassionate with yourself as to how you could be so naïve as to have joined and why you stayed. If you stay in the cult your complicity in what was enacted can be put off or rationalized.

CHARACTERISTICS OF PSYCHOPATHOLOGICAL LEADERS

There is a reason why I have held off describing to you the pathological characteristics of the leaders of cults. The reason is because of what I alluded to in my article Revolutionary Group Dynamics. In evaluating negative experiences in groups, people have a tendency to a) blame the leaders, or b) pathologize the intelligence or mental health of the followers. What I wanted to do here is draw attention to why the majority of cult members put up with the abuse, stayed in the cult and were complicit in what the cults did without thinking their intelligence or sanity has been insulted. My point is that these members would have been complicit regardless of the psychological health of the leaders. Now that we have gone through the reason why most members were complicit, we can turn to the leaders.

In their book Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships, Janja Lalich and Madeline Tobias claim that most cult leaders can be diagnosed as sociopaths, narcissists or borderline personalities. Here are fifteen of their characteristics:

Glibness and superficial charm

Cult leaders are captivating storytellers and exude self-confidence.

Conning and maneuvering

Cult leaders are good at psychological maneuvering and do this almost as second nature, and maybe even unconsciously. The leader divides the world into suckers, sinners and himself. He is very perceptive and good at sizing people up. Cult leaders have an innate ability to attract followers who have the skills and contacts that the leaders lack.

Grandiose sense of self

He enjoys tremendous feelings of entitlement. He must always be the center of attention and cannot tolerate yielding the spotlight.

Pathological lying

Sociopaths lie coolly and easily. It is almost impossible for them to be consistently truthful. Leaders tend to create a complex belief system often about their own powers and abilities which they themselves get caught up in believing. They are rarely original thinkers and are more likely to be plagiarists and seldom credit the true originators of their ideas. They are talented at passing lie detector tests.

Lack of remorse, shame or guilt

They do not have friends. They have accomplices and victims and accomplices frequently end up as victims. For sociopaths, the ends always justify the means. In fact, they might not even separate ends and means in their own minds.

Shallow emotions

While sociopaths may display outbursts of emotions, these are more often than not responses calculated to obtain a certain advantage. They rarely reveal a range of emotions or a depth of emotions over time. The cult leader can witness or order acts of utter brutality without experiencing a shred of emotion. They are callous and lack empathy.

Incapacity for love

Love requires revealing strengths and weaknesses and it means trusting another person over time. The sociopath does not have the attention span, the depth or the capacity to self-reflect on any of this.

Sensation Seeking

Temperamentally, the sociopath is drawn to dangerous, thrill seeking behavior. He takes foolish risks and expects others to do the same. Robberies and shoot-outs with the authorities are par for the course (Jim Jones, David Koresh).

Impulsivity and lack of behavioral control

The cult leader has temper tantrums and fits of rage which the lieutenants are in charge of stage-managing. This behavior is a well-kept secret. If leaked, the behavior of the leader is collectively rationalized away by the followers as the work of his enemies.

Early behavior problems with juvenile delinquency

As teenagers, sociopaths frequently have a history of behavioral problems and run-ins with juvenile authorities. They often get by academically, taking advantage of other students or even teachers. They often have a history or theft, arson, and cruelty to others.

Scapegoating

They rarely accept blame for their failures or mistakes. Scapegoating is common. The blaming may follow a ritualized procedure such as a trial, gestalt “hot seat denunciations”, or in the case of leftist cults, criticism and self-criticism.

Promiscuous sexual behavior and infidelity.

Multiple relationships and marriages, rape and sexual acting out are common. At the same time, they are stringent about the sexual behavior of followers, insisting on celibacy.

Erratic work history of fits and starts

The sociopathic cult leader tends to move around a lot, making countless efforts at starting over as they seek out fertile new ground to exploit. One day they may be a rock musician, the next a messiah; one day a door-to-door salesman the next the founder of a self-rejuvenation program.

A materialistic lifestyle

The leaders of cults often present their movement as opposed to the decadence, shallowness and preoccupation with commodities of the dominant order. But in practice, these leaders often justify having these same luxuries for themselves. The leaders of cults often have many cars, houses, boats, planes, properties while they thunder against their followers who have the least in the way of material comforts.

Criminal or entrepreneurial versatility

Cult leaders change their image and that of the group as needed to avoid prosecution and litigation. They resurface later with a new name and a new front group, as Werner Erhard has done.

AFTERMATH FOR CULT MEMBERS

People who manage to make their way out of cults are a mess and are badly in need of social support. Deprograming, exit counseling and strategic interaction approach are three ways to help ex-cult members get on their feet.  According to Lalich and Tobias, there are five areas that are badly in need of attention.

  • Practical, everyday living
  • Emotional volatility
  • Cognitive inefficiencies
  • Lack of social networks and being socio-culturally out of touch
  • Theoretical instability

Practical, everyday living

Shell-shocked ex-cult members have lost their sense of how to manage everyday life. For example, people have to find work, while having to explain large gaps in their employment history which could span five to ten years or more. The work they did under the banner of the cult cannot be used as a reference. This would involve making up fake organizations to cover up their involvement, while claiming the skills they learned in the cult. Emotionally, the last thing ex-cult members need is more deception. If they are lucky enough to find a job, they have to learn to manage their money and set up a budget. If the ex-cult member is older this may mean relearning old skills. In the case of a young cult member this may involve learning new skills from scratch.

Something as simple as finding an apartment to live in can be overwhelming for someone who hasn’t done this in years. The rise in the cost of monthly rents over the last 15-20 years will come as a great shock. As mentioned earlier, cults typically do not provide medical and dental care. Since cult leaders rarely pay attention to such mundane things, the ex-cult member may badly need a physical check-up, blood tests and dental work at the same time they are trying to investigate a medical and dental plan while probably knowing nothing about how to proceed.  While cults often fetishize eating particular kinds of food (being vegetarian), the diet of cult members is often not well-balanced, especially during the later stages of cult work when the cult member is asked to work long hours. In addition, the times members eat is likely to be erratic because of the flurry of activity that is always going on. Lastly, matters of daily routines may be hard to set up as cults have their members constantly on the run and doing new things. DWP members were often asked to stop a project on a dime, and then throw themselves into a new one. Having a regular time and place to take walks, visit friends, and listen to music after dinner have to be established.

Emotional volatility

Ex-cult members may suffer from PTSD, insomnia, and frequent bouts of dissociation, including an inability to concentrate because of triggers or flashbacks. They are likely to feel depressed after a loss of group support and may feel a loss of self-confidence because their support systems are suddenly gone. There is real fear of cult retribution whether they have reason to be concerned or not. They also may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of taking legal action over child custody or conservatorship. It is no accident that members of cults lose their sense of humor. Humor tends to reveal the relativity of situations. It adds a comparative perspective that is dangerous in cults that want everyone to think in an absolute rather than a relative manor. Cults tend to be dead serious, and humor relieves that and gives members a break which is not to be encouraged.

Cognitive inefficiencies

While a great deal of critical thinking in relation to society is common among cult members when they first join, critical thinking is not rewarded or is tightly structured once inside the cult. Weighing the pros and cons of occupations, schools, choice of partner is not something that is practiced in cults. This results in ex-cult members being either indecisive when they get out or making rash decisions. Because they may have difficulty concentrating, they may not be able to think analytically about the causes or consequences of things. They may suffer from memory loss or they may have to overcome false memories they may have been propagandized to believe when inside the cult.

Often times, cults disrupt education and cult members are not likely to continue their education once inside the cult. Spiritual cults may tell the member they have a “natural way of knowing” which will not do much for them in searching for work or in being an active political person. A major challenge they must undertake is detoxifying their vocabulary from cult either-or thinking. As Orwell pointed out, if you control a person’s vocabulary you control their thinking. So, the ex-cult member needs to expand their vocabulary to re-introduce neutral language, use ambiguous terminology and to use metaphors. One of the major problems in cult thinking is taking everything literally.

Lack of social networks and being socio-culturally out of touch

One of the best things exit counseling or the strategic interaction approach can do is give ex-cult members an immediate support system, no questions asked. It is rare that an ex-cult member who has burned bridges with their families is going to have the welcome mat rolled out when they come knocking. It takes time to process hurt feelings, anger and confusion. These connections could take months to restore or even years, depending how long they have been away. The ex-cult member’s friends may have moved away, gotten married become sick and may be in no position to resume a relationship even if they wanted to.

Making new friends is extremely difficult. How do you account for being in a cult for eight years? Why would someone want to be friends with someone with such an intense background? Are ex-cult members dangerous people? In addition, ex-cult members have a mistrust of others as a result of being in a cult. They may be paranoid and afraid they are being watched by others, the “fishbowl effect”. Since cults usually blur boundaries between work and free time, friendship and sex, the ex-cult members are likely to have enmeshed boundaries when they try to make new friends.

Theoretical instability

Lastly, cults inspire people by claiming they are building a new world, and cult members have roles in that transformation. Compared to that, ex-cult members are likely to feel they have chosen an unenlightened, boring life. It is easy to understand why ex-cult members who have not had exit counseling might jump into a new cult.

Whether the ex-cult member has been involved in a spiritual, psychological or political cult, the ex-member needs to find a new grounding within that field. If a member has been in a spiritual cult of transcendental meditation does this mean they must give up Hindu or Buddhist religion completely? Can you practice these religions in a non-cult like way? If you have been in a psychological cult based on the work of social psychologist Harry Stack Sullivan, does that mean you no longer can study his work? Lastly if you have been in Leninist political cult, does that mean you have to renounce Lenin completely? Probably the answer to these questions depends on how badly you’ve been burned. The worse you’ve been burned the more extreme your reaction will be. If you haven’t been burned too badly, you might be able to be more dialectical and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

CONCLUSION

Cults arose in Yankeedom beginning in the 1970s and I’ve covered their continuance into the late 1990s under conditions of ecological, economic and political decline. Cults find their audience among educated, idealistic middle-class and upper-middle class people who are rightfully hypercritical of the existing order and who are attracted to a vision of a radical transformation based on greater equality, justice, peace and love. They do not know they are members of a cult until they are at least partially integrated into the organization and then they are caught between the world they once knew and the world they hope to create. They are initially lured into the organization through the implementation of sophisticated social-psychological techniques and they then become complicit in the cult’s reproduction of these techniques over time if they remain. If members leave, they face a great number of the psychological problems as I’ve described in the last section. Fortunately, there are now well-organized institutions that are specifically designed to help ex-cult members reintegrate back into the existing order.

  • First published in Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism.
  • The post Political and Spiritual Cults: From Rapture to Complicity to Aftermath in the Shadow of 20th Century Yankeedom first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    The Big Plantation

    European Left-wing political scientists find difficult to understand that the colonial contradiction is at the heart of our present, they think it’s a conceptual error, something anachronistic, that the joyful postmodernity – the one that delivers their Macs to them at home – has gone beyond all that, and that Trump or Bolsonaro are racist accidents of History, or of the “free world”. It’s just the opposite. Under the advertising varnish of capitalist globalization, the deep History of our world has never disappeared, it has even come back to the surface, even stronger. The revolt that is happening in the United States is the same one that founds the resistance of the Venezuelan people.
    — Thierry Deronne, Algeria Resistance Mohsen Abdelmoumen’s blog, 2020

    Everyone is a philosopher, though in his own way and unconsciously, since even in the slightest manifestation of any intellectual activity whatever, in ‘language’, there is contained a specific conception of the world, one then moves on to the second level, which is that of awareness and criticism.
    — Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks

    Three of the four police officers involved in the murder of George Floyd were previously employed as stock boys by TARGET and Home Depot, and two had worked at McDonalds. One stocked for a grocery store. One didn’t graduate high school. In other words these were economically part of that large temp minimum wage work force that is now increasingly unemployed. The fourth, officer Kueng, whose file was redacted, was apparently more middle class, from a nice family and who graduated with some distinction from his high school. It’s interesting, first off, why his file was redacted.

    But one of them had served in the military, Derek Chauvin, the man now charged with the murder. Chauvin also had 17 complaints filed against him for excessive force before he kneeled on George Floyd’s neck.

    There are a couple things to consider here. One is why these men are not on the side of the people they abuse (and murder)? The answer is multi-fold. One is a culture of machismo and violence that saturates American society. Another is that the United States was a slave owning nation where twelve presidents owned slaves. Racism and Calvinist and Puritan values have never left this society. And it was founded (and it’s in the constitution) as an unequal and anti-democratic republic. Owners of property were established as privileged. And so it has continued. But it also has the allure of the uniform. Now it’s understandable that being a cop and being handed a gun and impunity to harass and abuse the public is preferable to flipping burgers. One job is utter humiliation while the other is validated as heroic by popular culture.

    Domestic police departments tend to hire military veterans before those without military service.

    The Obama administration helped expand the preference: in 2012, the Department of Justice provided tens of millions of dollars to fund scores of vets-only positions in police departments nationwide. Official data on the impact of veteran-cops is scarce. Nearly all of the 33 police departments contacted by The Marshall Project declined to provide a list of officers who had served in the military, citing laws protecting personnel records, or saying the information was not stored in any central place. The Justice Department office that dispenses grants to hire cops and study policing said it has no interest in funding research into how military experience might influence police behavior.
    — Simone Weichselbaum and Beth Schwartzapfel, The Marshall Project, May 30, 2017

    Those with special forces training tend to go into Private Security. One in four soldiers in theatre in Afghanistan are private contractors. The wars of empire are increasingly being outsourced.

    During the Obama administration, the Pentagon has been equipping US police departments across the country with a staggering amount of military weapons, combat vehicles, and other equipment, according to Pentagon data.

    According to a New York Times article published last week, at minimum, 93,763 machine guns, 180,718 magazine cartridges, hundreds of silencers and an unknown number of grenade launchers have been provided to state and local police departments since 2006. This is in addition to at least 533 planes and helicopters, and 432 MRAPs — 9-foot high, 30-ton Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicles with gun turrets, and more than 44,900 pieces of night vision equipment, regularly used in nighttime raids in Afghanistan and Iraq. Much of the lethal provisions have gone to small city and county police forces. The recent militarization is part of a broader trend. According to Eastern Kentucky University professor Peter B. Kraska — who has studied this subject for two decades — as of the late 1990s, about 89 percent of police departments in the United States serving populations of 50,000 people or more had a PPU (Police Paramilitary Unit), almost double of what existed in the mid-1980s. Their growth in smaller jurisdictions (agencies serving between 25 and 50,000 people) was even more pronounced. Currently, about 80 percent of small town agencies have a PPU; in the mid-1980s only 20 percent had them. The domestic military ramp-up is far from being in proportion to any perceived threat to public safety. The Times notes that, “today, crime has fallen to its lowest levels in a generation… the number of domestic terrorist attacks has declined sharply from the 1960s and 1970s.” And yet, “police SWAT teams are now deployed tens of thousands of times each year, increasingly for routine jobs.
    — Zac Corrigan, WSWS, June 2014

    Couple this to the growing social inequality in the country, where 15% live below the poverty line (in 2015, and which no doubt is closing in on double that post Covid), and where on the heels of the pandemic hysteria and government fearmongering, which resulted in a nation wide (and global) house arrest, the problems with a militarily trained and equipped domestic police force, one drawing its officers from the low end of the educational spectrum, and one that provides at best rudimentary training, is obvious.

    A Buddhist friend of mine was mentioning that at her retreat one of the Tibetan teachers observed that Covid-19 and the authoritarian policies it has engendered will unleash cataclysmic dark forces. Spiritual forces, so I take it. Or anti-spiritual, actually. And this is how it feels. And this is beyond the clear fascist agenda in play, but extends into realms of psychic transformation for the bourgeoisie in particular. The anxiety and fear that has grown silently for this privileged class, grown steadily over the last twenty years, is now cracking open and the toxic emotional slag of the atrophied inner lives is spilling out on the rest of society at large. It feels or is felt most deeply, from my anecdotal experience, in the white bourgeoisie’s fear of the other.

    And I have not felt this sort of collective confusion, anxiety, and fear since the days of Vietnam. Things surface for people. The psychological effects of this lockdown are being wildly underestimated (especially in the long term for children). The difference from the Vietnam war is five decades of screen damage and an accelerated transference of wealth to the top 1%. The reality of such profound economic inequality is impossible to deny now, and the staggering numbers of homeless across the country eventually can’t be NOT seen.  It finally starts to serve as a psychic wound, a constant silent witness to the crimes of the system.

    The ruling class, or certainly at the least one corner of it, launched the ‘Covid-19 panic’ as a means to shut down western society. No matter if the virus is man made or accidental or just a naturally occurring zoonotic virus… it served as a prop for their agenda. The ultimate plan remains a bit opaque but it likely includes a wholesale eradication of what is left of civil liberties, intensification of an already draconian surveillance state, and a transformation and rebranding of the meager welfare state into something fit for 7th century serfs, only far worse actually. This is the world of Bill Gates’ moist nocturnal dreams, and those elite new green capitalists, royal families, and digital billionaires. It should be noted that global health bureaucracies like WHO and the CDC are political organizations first. Both have deep and long standing ties to big Pharma and various other corporate interests. The WHO is privately funded (Gates essentially owns it and directs policy) and the CDC is actually a part of the Health and Human Services department of government. And the current head of the CDC is a former pharmaceutical company executive and a guy who worked with John Bolton drawing up the National Biodefense Strategy for president Trump. Anthony Fauci is the creepy and slimy little front man for all the agencies involved in urging governments around the world to shut down (they like the term lockdown for its prison connotations). Without digressing too much here, what is relevant is that when one starts to wonder how it is allowed for known white nationalists and Klansmen to openly serve as police officers, the answer is not that the de-centralized nature of state and city police departments are hard to reform or clean up but rather that the very top office holders in criminal justice share sympathy with the racists.

    We are watching in real time the normalizing of martial law and the suspension of democracy. And these measures have given a bit of a boost to the beleaguered and increasingly brutish police departments across the country. When not even a high school diploma is necessary to be given a badge and gun, when the police recruit from the ranks of malcontent and angry TARGET stock boys and blank McDonald counter people, there must be a logic at work, and I suspect there is. First, flipping burgers is the only thing many young men and women have open to them. I’ve done that kind of work. And I hated it, too. But the domestic police, those city departments fresh with new military hardware, don’t want empathic or imaginative young men, they want the emotionally dead. As a side point here, I know martial arts masters who can train you to subdue the wildest suspect without any harm. Adroitly and calmly — but it would require a few months training, not a few hours. But that is not what the departments want. They want crude clumsy tactics, ones that instill fear and which cause pain and suffering and sometimes death. Those few percent of military trained special force guys, they don’t go the Minneapolis police department, or San Diego, or Toledo or Indianapolis. They go into high end private security.

    This is not even to touch on the wide spread use of steroids.

    When it came to incarceration, the US prison population had reached a staggering 2.4 million people by 2014. Out of this number — which accounted for a full quarter of the entire world’s prison population — 38 percent of inmates were black, even though as mentioned black people made up just 13.3 percent of the entire population. Compare this to whites, who made up 35 percent of the US prison population while constituting just under 78 percent of the country’s population. Mass incarceration was brought into being by Bill Clinton with the passage of his omnibus crime bill in 1994. Obama, over his two terms, did nothing to address what prison reform activists had long described as the new plantation.
    — John Wight, Medium, 2020

    The police today are increasingly used for purposes of optics, as much as any real police work. Most crimes go unsolved and for uniformed cops in their black and white (usually) Cruisers the job description is essentially to function as an occupying force in poor neighborhoods. They carry out parole checks, harass and detain the poor, often on a whim. Most acutely in black inner cities. `They are a new gestapo. They are there to brutalize and frighten what is seen as a surplus population. The essence of America’s slave legacy is found right there, in the grim counter insurgency tactics of domestic police departments on the streets of black inner cities. For important work, for the protection of important persons and prestige property the ruling class have turned to private security. That leaves the uniformed cops, badly paid, with minimum job security actually, as tools for enforcing racial oppression. And if any more proof were needed, one need only check the hyper incarceration rate in America’s prisons, and further, the results of the Innocence Project. The numbers of falsely convicted men and women is staggering, it is mind numbing and a spiritual stain on this society that can never be washed away. It is the overriding and ineradicable symbol of a savage culture of strict class separation, a separation enforced with lethality and pointless cruelty. For the hyper incarceration starts right there, on the same streets where Eric Garner was choked, or Tamir Rice was shot, where George Floyd was murdered, and Trayvon Martin and Philando Castile and hundreds of others have suffered and died. One topic not discussed enough is post arrest custodial deaths.

    In properly staffed households throughout the world, the bodyguard is the new nanny, fear of terrorism, a volatile political climate and a pervasive sense that the wealth creation of a few has come at the expense of the many have made paranoia the norm.
    Town and Country, December 2016

    We learned that the contractors in our sample are predominantly white man in their 40s who chose contracting as a second career. Most are veterans with significant military experience. Among those contractors who were previously deployed as service members, many are former officers and about half of them are Special Forces veterans. They are more likely to have a college degree than their active-duty counterparts, but less likely than their fellow veterans in the general population. They come from parts of the U.S. or United Kingdom with higher unemployment rates and fewer job opportunities—not the areas with the strongest traditions for military service.
    — Ori Swed and Thomas Crosbie, Pacific Standard, “The Demographics of America’s Private Military Contractors”. March 2019

    In 2009, after Obama was elected, the Department of Homeland Security and FBI jointly wrote an intelligence study on white extremism in domestic police departments.  Janet Napolitano, then DHS head, quickly and quietly swept the report under the proverbial rug. Back in 1991 Los Angeles U. S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr found that sheriffs at the Lynwood substation were engaged in what he called ‘racial hostility’ and ‘terrorist tactics’ against Latino and Black prisoners. And that the top brass for the Sheriffs’ department were well aware of this. In 2006 the FBI released a redacted memorandum warning of white nationalists in domestic police departments. Or look up the Joe Burge case in Chicago. In departments in Florida, Texas, and Ohio, there were active Klansmen in police departments. It is common knowledge that across the country police culture is profoundly racist and reactionary. The educated classes in the U.S. have internalized the Hollywood version of all this. Just think how many hours of cop shows (all them, literally) you have watched and how every single one signs off on a fantasy version of police heroism …the thin blue line metaphor, and how it is only these handsome and beautiful (if slightly flawed, you know, human) public servants are protecting you and your family from the vicious underclass, from drug dealing gangs, all minority, and where all them, literally, portray inner cities are lawless wastelands without culture, brutish and bestial. This has led to the new narrative archetype of ‘taking the wrong off-ramp’. These are openly racist stories but the public has come to digest such pseudo storytelling in a sort of pattern recognition manner. And nearly every single cop show features one or more military veterans. Usually special forces, but not always. Service in the military is a signifier for virtue and honour.

    Forward to 2019, and Los Angeles again, this time in the incorporated mostly black city of Compton in south LA. The details of the Ryan Twyman killing, by sheriffs again, is perhaps the most perfect example of American white supremacism and, when empowered, the violent consequences.

    Ryan Twyman was unarmed inside a parked car when two Los Angeles sheriff deputies approached and fired 34 rounds. Video of the entire incident, which happened in roughly 50 seconds, was as shocking as many police brutality cases that have gone viral in the US. But the killing of the 24-year-old father of three barely made the news. On that day, his death was far from unique: officers across LA shot five people in five separate incidents in just over 24 hours. Only one person survived. Families and activists said the bloodshed on 6 June provided a terrifying illustration of the culture of police violence and a system that trains officers to kill – while ensuring they won’t face consequences.
    — Sam Levine, Guardian, August 2019.

    This is not what you see on the new FOX cop show Deputy. Watch a few episodes and get back to me. But that is hardly a unique phenomenon. There is SWAT, Chicago PD, the various Law & Order franchises, or Criminal Minds. I could go on and on, obviously. The problem is not the violence depicted, for Shakespeare is violent. It is the naked propaganda and the racism. Anti-black racism at the very top but today Islamaphobic narratives abound as well, often with pro Israeli sub plots. Military shows follow the same blueprint.

    The point is that you cannot separate the Imperialist wars of aggression across the planet, which serve as recruitment pools for domestic police and private security and you cannot separate the counter insurgency tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan, or Syria, not to mention the covert activities against Venezuela and Bolivia both of which involved at least some uniformed military personnel, from the sadistic actions of America’s police. Nor can you separate these aggressions from the jingoistic entertainments (recruitment shows for the military and police) from Hollywood. These foreign policy actions remain largely accepted and popular. The country may hate Trump, with good reason, but his foreign policy is so far actually less lethal than Obama’s or Bush’s or Clinton’s. In any event every President gets a bump in approval ratings when he kills a dark skinned foreigner either by drone or by military actions. The public didn’t much care at all about Fallujah, and the architect of that butchery, Jim ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, former Secretary of State for Trump before being fired, is now a darling of the white educated liberals who are so incensed about the prez’ and his failure to lock down the country even more, harder, and certainly for longer. They are quite happy to cheer and identify with the FBI and war criminals like Mattis. That exaggerated hatred of Trump contains a number of contradictions. But for the purposes of this discussion the central one is that of soft or disguised racism vs. overt white sheets MAGA racism.

    White paternalism knows no bounds. And the inherent tokenism of the educated white American has sort of reached its own, from their perspective, cultural horizon event. Another way of saying it is truly the death of irony epoch.

    That Americans approve of military violence against the poor nations of the world suggests why the police in America are so steadfastly racist and white supremacist. They are hugely supported. Now, there is with the murder of Floyd a lot of discussion of defunding the police. The problem being, as many have pointed out, this would only increase privitization of security. The US spent 100 billion on domestic policing last year, give or take. And around 80 billion on prisons. The US defense budget is four or almost five times that amount. So it would seem critical to defund the military right along with the police. It is clearly a positive to reallocate cop money to mental health and community infrastructure and education. But this is the nefarious aspect of Covid-19 and the lockdown. In Philadelphia the proposed budget cuts, due to the massive effects of the lockdown, include cutting nearly all sanitation workers down to almost nothing, cutting stuff like soap in hospitals and upkeep of school and city buses. The Covid lockdown was a tool of the ruling class.

    There is much press now given to polls showing American support for the Floyd protests. Except those polls are misleading.

    Forty-five percent of respondents told Morning Consult that, on the whole, most of the protesters are peaceful and desire meaningful social reform, while 42 percent said most protesters are trying to incite violence or destroy property. In Monmouth’s poll, only 17 percent felt the actions of the protesters were fully justified, 37 percent said they were partially justified and 38 percent said they weren’t justified at all. And the Reuters/Ipsos survey found that most Americans (72 percent) didn’t think violent protests were an appropriate response to Floyd’s killing, and that property damage caused by protesters undermined their goals (79 percent). Morning Consult’s survey also found that Americans were less supportive of the protests when they were specifically asked about black people protesting.
    — Five Thirty Eight

    It’s that last sentence, you see. Whatever grass roots movements achieve is always going to run up against that last sentence. But I’m not cynical about defunding cops. It is a concrete material step in developing alliances in the working class. The movements for prison abolition and defunding are doing the ground work for alliance formation. It has to start somewhere. And they are the front edges of suggesting property and capitalism are the source of most all of their problems. Gramsci envisioned the ‘hegemonic’ struggle as two-pronged:  one to educate the working class from ideas that chain them to the existing order and their own exploitation, and two, to bring other ‘subaltern’ classes into what he called a ‘bloc’ with the working class.

    I only see the average American remains bizarrely ignorant of US foreign policy. How many people know of Hillary Clinton’s coup in Honduras? I suspect not many. The violence against the global south has not abated for sixty years (okay, for three hundred). From AT&T to United Fruit to Dole Pineapple, the business interests of corporate America have stood on the backs of the developing world (sic). What would actually happen if police were defunded? What would massive upticks in privatized security look like? Possibly something out of Robocop. And that is the danger today, that is the situation in which we find ourselves.

    Take a look at Alabama, which sits up top in the U.S. alphabetically and in the middle, population-wise: Since 1996, Alabama police departments have received $78,534,297.32 in planes, helicopters, rifles, and mine-resistant vehicles. How is there so much stuff to dole out? After 9/11, U.S. military funding increased 50 percent. In fact, the average American has paid $23,386 in taxes to support the military and its war efforts since 2001. All that spending has translated to a lot of extra mine-resistant vehicles, which local police now own.
    — AC Shilton, Fatherly, 2020

    Over the last thirty years funding for domestic police has grown over 400% according to the Justice Policy Institute. And there are millions of dollars shortfall for public education. The problem there is that public education sucks bad anyway. It is almost worse than no education, frankly (and, yes, I know there are exceptions). And this takes us back to the shelf stockers at Tesco and TARGET. The elite Universities and prep schools are available for the rich, and increasingly the very rich only. And which serves as yet another factor in the acute resentment that seems to fuel so much American discourse. And while private schools are better (how could they be worse?) the problem is the culture at large. It’s not only a reflexive and embedded and indelible racism, it is an anti intellectualism, and fast eroding literacy. And then there are the screens. The pernicious effects of social media (which really is a machine for creating resentment and/or guilt) and smart phones, aps, algorithms … the entire attention economy, has produced a populace of emotional deadness, of crippling anxiety and insecurity about self, and it has done nothing to even mitigate in the slightest of ways the Imperialist project and what is called American Exceptionalism. The cops that killed George Floyd, if prosecuted, will be exceptions that change nothing. Most cops serve with impunity. American soldiers shoot at Iraqi civilians as sport, amusement. The vicious IDF, fresh from killing teenagers, comes to the U.S. to teach domestic departments better how to instill terror and pain, nothing more. There is no secret magic Zionist martial art or mind control. It’s just brute terrorizing. As it has always been for fascists. And as it has always been for plantations and chain gangs.