Okay, so no one said writing for DV would be a bed of roses … Or that the writing would always connect the dots like an inverted (traditional) news triangle … Or that stream of consciousness was forbidden … Or that magic realism wasn’t allowed … Or that asymmetrical creative thinking was outlawed!
Or that the titles would always dovetail into the sanctity of my words … or even present a manageable lead into a thesis introduction. I’m an English teacher AFTER I already have looked into the surly mirror at 5:30 a.m. and see a sun-drenched, working class former wrestler, landscaper, diving bum, border running, small-town beat reporter, Neruda-Borges-Garcia Marquez loving photographer. I teach what needs to be taught in a dumb-downed world of devolving intellects. But write like that all the time?
So, yeah, Naomi Wolf will molt slowly into this third installment of “Adjunctivitus Blues and the Permanent Perma-Temp World of Gates-Obama-Walton-You/name/it Parasitic/Vulture Corporation-Romney-Kinda-Palin-McCain-guy”.
Ghost of Joe Bageant?
First, though, just a little of honesty — I’ve had some good comments on the pieces I’ve done here, at DV, since going back to 2003, but some really interesting ones so far have been tied to the faculty dialogue I am creating now — Part One and Part Two — by conflating adjunct faculty with a brave new world of part-time work. Much of what I say and do with words is oddly tied to my own Joe Bageant ghost (a contingent faculty labeled my pieces that – a new Bageant rising) – see Mr. Bageant’s stuff here — and one on education.
Would that be my own “left-neck” as Joe called himself? Nope. Working man’s answer to Gore Vidal? Maybe. May they both rest in peace inside all of their fans’ heads! In any case, five comments is better than none, and all five have been more or less – “you go, brother … you keep on going.”
Going is what I am doing. Here goes:
This Isn’t a Themed Essay Waiting for a Geezer to Grade
Some of the other faculty members I speak with expect those dots and dashes and words and thoughts all lined up to fit some uber-rubric of composition, all lined up, set up like an expository assignment . . . 101 History essay on “…who was Cesar Chavez …?” The thesis statement after the title that makes sense in the first sentence; then a proposition or abstract; then, the II, III, IV etc. supporting paragraphs; next, a part V or X for opposing views; and a VI or XI for decent conclusion restating the claim, thesis and proposition; finally, all those buggered bibliographic sources.
Sure. But, sorry. You get Naomi Wolf and Naomi Klein and Winona LaDuke and any number of literary celebrities I’ve broken bread with or harangued on a radio show or in a print interview. No telegraphing. No warning. Just, bam, Lee Marvin.
Lee Marvin, Tucson, One Last Good Kiss Good-bye
How is it I bring up Lee Marvin in a piece on adjunctivitus, AKA part-time and contingent faculty issues? Well, it was a long time ago when I was a part-time teacher in El Paso (well, get this – three classes a semester at UT-El Paso, two at El Paso Community College, one at Park College, and two gigs teaching Mexican engineers in Juarez how to speak English – I’d say that’s time and a half), part-time journalist, too, and part-time graduate student, AND, full-time freelance screen writer, with a New York literary agent thrown in (Jack’s wife got me published in a Chicken Soup for the Soul kind of book called The Gift of Children).
Lo and behold this cool teleplay, or made-for-TV movie script, Just a Coupla Chancers, I was hawking along with a novel and short story collection. I kid you not. My own little story about a series of news stories I wrote a few years earlier, fictionalized and Hollywoodized. I was covering two big stories in Southern Arizona, on 13 Salvadorans who perished in the hot desert, near Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Bloated, parched, left in the hot 120 degree two percent winds of Southern Arizona. I was 22 and hungry to be a journalist.
That was several years before I headed to Baja, then side roads in Mexico, then onto West Texas and other newspaper gigs and finally, grad school.
Thanks to Border Patrol harassment and the coyotes who fucked up and got lost and ran off with the last gallons of H2O, thirteen asylum seekers ended up with all their hope prostrated by heat, grit and endless seas of cactus and mirage-stoked hills. I was a reporter working for the Bisbee Review and a few other dailies and weeklies in this family’s chain of small newspapers when I got the call.
Okay, that’s a whole other lifetime or two away. Working as a beat reporter in Wilcox, Douglas, Naco, Bisbee, Sierra Vista, Miracle Valley, Nogales, Fort Huachuca, Benson, et al.
But really it was my fourth or fifth apprenticeship in overwork (80 and 90 hour weeks; 350 miles clocked) and underpay for the glory of a by-line on the front page of sometimes six small town newspapers simultaneously. My tutelage in working against the system as I ended up moonlighting for two advocacy refugee rights organizations in Tucson.
Even helped some undocumented asylum seekers cross the border. Took a few in my Toyota Corolla while still on the newspapers’ dime.
Back to the Lee Marvin scene. See, this screenplay was/is about an old redneck rancher who ends up harboring a lone survivor, a 14-year-old boy from Guate – Guatemala City. Out of the hate and racism of his cowboy roots, with Arizona Militia – Minutemen running around his spread, the old guy finds god or a conscience. It was a good story, made up based on real stuff. Not the survivor, though he was someone I knew in Tucson separate from the 13 Salvadorans dead in the Sonora.
I was thinking Eddie Albert, the Green Acres guy who also was quite the progressive. His production company was interested in the screenplay, but wanted to option it – meaning, hold the rights to it for a few thousand a year to me. Not a bad deal for a struggling artist-adjunct.
Mafioso Bonanno and Cat Ballou
Ahh, but my mind went elsewhere. My Canadian mom – Mona from Arizona — who had once worked for the Vancouver Sun, read the script, and the first person that came to her mind was Paint Your Wagon-Dirty Dozen Marvin. See, she was a precinct election judge in Pima County, and she had all these names of artists, writers, everyone on the voter roll, including Lee and his new wife, old high school sweetheart (he was in one of Hollywood’s first big palimony suits and ended up going back old school to a high school sweetheart).
Well, Mona from Arizona had Joe Bonanno’s address, the address of Ted DeGrazia, others, and she passed along Lee and his wife Pamela’s address in the Catalina Foothills. I ended up drinking a few times with Lee Marvin in some shit-kicker bars in Tucson years before, when I was a college kid at the U of Arizona. Here I was, driving my Datsun pick-up to the Marvins’ big ranch house outfitted with tennis court and pool.
He listened to me synopsize the screenplay, gave me a beer, and asked me to step on the court and volley back a few balls. Here I was, wearing jeans, Tony Lamas, and a Che cap playing tennis with Lee Marvin in 95 degree Tucson slithering shadow-less fun, my screenplay hot on the mesquite wood bench.
He was quiet, smaller than I had imagined him or seen him in the earlier days, and he gave his wife my bundle, and she said, “Don’t worry, if Lee … hmm, if I like it as much as it sounds like a real project for him, well, you’ll be hearing from Lee … his agent.”
There, so Just a Coupla of Chancers made it to the wounded combat vet’s hands. I didn’t piss him off, the old Colonel in The Dirty Dozen.
That was late 1986. In 1987, Lee died, of pneumonia (he was on some crazy macrobiotic diet when he was drinking beers at that shit kicker place on First Avenue). Dead, and, I got a note from Pamela to meet her at the house.
I ended up heading from El Paso to Tucson, in between huge stacks of grading essays and research projects, to meet the Lee Marvin widow.
Lemon-Lime drink with mint, like a virgin mojito, and – “Lee really liked the story. Really liked Charlie. Really thought about developing it. You are a good writer.”
Okay, like I said – expect derailments here in the narrative. An essay that started off looking at the death of community colleges, looking at Keith Kroll’s essay here that might be discussed at some offshoot of this year’s Modern Language Association conference.
I was hawking screenplays, novels, and short story collections, wallpapering my El Paso apartment – used to be a TB sanatorium, then bordello, then an artists’ hangout – with these handwritten letters from Random House, McMillan, Vintage, Knopf. Rejection city. Adjunctivitus familians. Even back then, in the ’80s, we struck up our contingent status as a type of “foot-in-the-door” disease.
Advice from Gabriel Garcia Marquez: We Don’t Need Any more Melancholy Adjuncts
It’s the affliction I have even today, at 55, applying for tenure track jobs at community colleges in the Pacific Northwest. They’ll get literally several hundred applicants for one tenure-track job, and, those of us who have the real licks, the real time in, the fucking Lee Marvin and Robert Bly stories because we have the chutzpah to meet them and talk with them – you know, real kick-ass teachers who teach everything, eleventh hour appointments, even two weeks into a semester. Hell, I taught two different English classes simultaneously subbing five weeks for a buddy who broke his neck freeway flying from one campus to the next.
The problem that Kroll alludes to, but I will point out, is that many faculty, whether it’s at Harvey Mudd, Georgetown, U of Arizona, Pima Community College, or Gonzaga U, they really are the problem. Community college hiring committees looking down their noses at the truly experienced, long-in-the-trenches part-timer/adjunct/contingent.
Oh, they will feel sorry for us, or say this or that about our CVs, our depth. But in the end, the question these conformists and ethical contortion artists have to say about applicants who have part-timed here and there is, “What is wrong with him?” “Why didn’t she ever move on and get a real job?” “Five, ten, twenty years doing this? Insane. Pass that one over, please. Next.”
Right. New faculty majority – part-time. Yet, these rare jobs open up, and while they sound great — $50,000 to $67,000 a year, on tenure track, say, in Seattle, Washington – the hiring committees with their deans and department heads and a full-timer or two look at themselves in the mirror and only see their own reflections as the true reflection of the academic professional.
Foot-in-the-door disease comes about two years of adjuncting, and then, like leprosy, the disease is all about these insinuated faults, cracks, less than worthy status comments. Again, “If you were an adjunct that long, then, something must be a deficit in you … something besmirching your soul … why aren’t you normal like us?”
Foot-in-the-door disease … Intern Nation … Do It For Free and with Gusto!
I knew the scam in 1983 as a graduate student, and then in 1986 when I was a full-fledged adjunct. Many of the same faculty that mentored me as a shining graduate assistant looked upon me as spoiled meat – why isn’t he in a PhD program? Why’s he still in El Paso? Hell, even the pay was higher when I was TA-ing and getting health benefits and free tuition. As soon as I got that sheepskin, well, I was a leper.
Sure, guys like James Crumley (Dancing Bear; The Last Good Kiss) told me to keep smuggling booze and Valium across the border and forget teaching composition, forget the adjunct route. He was my buddy and thesis adviser. He also lost his head of creative writing position because he drank before class and drank during class, among other things the admin types and deans accused him of. Kurt Vonnegut told me in Juarez to just keep heading south until I found a town to settle into and then just bang out anything on my Olivetti, “even if it’s in Uruguay, just get out of here.” You don’t want to know what Denise Levertov told me – “… graduate (MFA) writing programs are a scam, I believe.”
I kid you not. Who else gave me advice? Rick Demarinis. Leslie Silko. Jimmy Santiago Baca. A whole chorus of folk I ended up hosting or driving around the various colleges where I taught.
But the one thing they had in common – Octavio Paz in particular – was encouraging me to live, breathe, and reclaim my stories. All the struggle. The butt-hard things I face with students and holier-than-thou administrators and even fellow full-time faculty who piss on everything valuable about teaching, writing. To always remember that whatever it is, poetry, and novels, or journalism, it’s all a “continuous lamentation.”
It’s just one of the “things” I’ve been busting chops about for decades around education-resistance-revolt-community action-tyranny of consumption while working as a college English teacher AND beat reporter and freelance features writer is that we – faculty, adjuncts, revolutionaries, organizers — just have not gotten that “personal narrative thing” down.
In a country where that’s all WE get is the narrative bunk-pabulum-vomitus of Oprah, Patreaus, Lincoln, Steve Jobs, Trump, American Idol, Top Cops, Suicidal Celebrity of the Week, and that yawing constant ringing of the liberty bell while we munch on high fructose swirled Chinese apple PIE while downing Genetically Raised Factory Meat-Rendered Parts Hot Dogs as we perpetrate the Pornographication-Walmartization Misogyny of Good Old Archetypal Mom.
Mom, apple pie, and hot dogs, gee-golly, all wrapped up in that Bangladeshi-made swath of red, white and blue sweatshop toxic thing called “old Glory.”
Whew, with all of that tutelage, all those fictions in history, the daily news shows, all the reality-based Entertainment and Discovery Channel Shark Week “truths,” how is it that we as a community really have no clue about how, without narratives, without the strong sense of community tied to our collective and fluid narrative underpinning that we will never move ourselves forward or advance our movement(s)?
Know Your Story and Keep Wrapping Their Heads with It – Intellectual Knuckle Sandwiches
Okay, now here’s Winona, BEFORE I even get to the quasi-famous woman mentioned in my title! Shame on me. For Shame! I’ve been with Winona LaDuke several times in Spokane, one time driving her to Tum Tum, Washington, where her father, Sun Bear, convened with his indigenous roots and followers from around the globe and then ended up buried there. Her framing of story and narrative speaks to what I hope can transpose into the hearts of adjunct faculty and the entire perma-temp society we of the Baby Boomer and Gen-X and Millennial generations face together.
She got a kick out of one-hour on my radio show, and kept repeating – “Man, Paul, you have some crazy ass shit going on in your biography.” Oh well, she was brought to Spokane twice by yours truly, part of my passion as an adjunct, extra-duty, so my students and the public at large and all students and tribal members could hobnob with her before and after the kick-ass readings and talks. We talked a lot about healing, divorce, relationships and the shit that mainstream thinking does to off-the-wall folk like me:
How can people recover or heal themselves without reconciliation, without apology, and without addressing the crime? Native American communities are creating momentum for change and providing some critical leadership in the face of global climate change and the energy crisis…as the fossil fuel century has been incredibly destructive to the ecological structures that keep planet earth habitable for humans.
For more, hit “Memory as Resistance and the Power of Memory.”
We eat up those biographies, those lies and propagandas. Was Obama born in Africa? Obama is a myth, as is America. It’s a large hill to climb as mere adjuncts lashing out at windmills as English Departments get standardized and geology programs are forced to peel open the lies of intelligent design manufacturers.
Please, no matter how long you have believed the Si se puede lies of Obama Merchandizing Inc., it’s absolutely telling how Obama, like Lincoln, will be part of that warped and upside down America history lost to the Memory of Fire. It’s all pseudo-science, pseudo-history, pseudo-thinking.
Worth 32 minutes of viewing, really.
Sleep Walking to Oblivion and Noah Had 50 Dinosaurs Aboard
Again, award winning but socialist journalist, John Pilger, not the cup of tea or swig of Southern Comfort most faculty and their bosses want the kids to hear. What a crazy world, criticizing Obama before he becomes the first black president. What a crazy teacher working for Nader and LaDuke during that Gore thing, for Cynthia McKinney during that first Obama thing and Jill Stein for the second coming of Obama.
So, yeah, it’s all surreal, where upside-down is sky, left is center, freedom is packaged like a gradated book of capitalism’s rule, and Jesus rode a pterodactyl – yep: The Creationism (Confusion) Museum –
We are kept in a state of perpetual childishness, unable to unchain ourselves from Magical Thinking and infantilism, as another friend and person I have brought to five colleges and my radio show over the years, James Howard Kunstler, author of the Geography of Nowhere and the Long Emergency. I’m not sure what college is doing, and certainly the faculty holding the gates and the administration class who secretly and openly hate faculty and all those others who actually see students as prols and customers give a shit about the majorities in those colleges – part-time faculty and real-time students.
Again, Kunstler is someone I brought to Spokane twice, and he worked his ass off at six appearances at five colleges. He told two students to shut up during his funny talk, and he understands why youth would go Goth and pierce every appendage on their anorexic bods.
The public realm in America has two roles: it is the dwelling place of our civilization and our civic life, and it is the physical manifestation of the common good. When you degrade the public realm, you will automatically degrade the quality of your civic life and the character of all the enactments of your public life and communal life that take place there.
Or from his last post in 2012 on Clusterfuck Nation:
On a personal note, I published a book in 2012 titled Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation. By an interesting coincidence, folks in the USA were engaged that year in manifold strenuous exercises in wishful thinking, ranging from fantasies of “energy independence,” to belief that central bank interventions could take the place of productive economic activity, to the idea that winks, suggestions, and guidelines were an adequate substitute for the rule of law, to the omnipresent mantra invoking “technology” as the sovereign remedy for every problem of existence (including the problems caused by technology), to the dominions of utter stupidity where climate change deniers hold hands with the funders of “creation” museums. Since wishful thinkers, by definition, are allergic to arguments against wishfulness, my book failed to make an impression. Anyway, gales of propaganda were blowing across the land, especially from the oil and gas fraternity, with the added cognitive dissonance hoopla of a presidential election — so the public was left wishfully bamboozled as it whirled around the drain of its hopes and dreams. December 31, 2012, Clusterfuck Nation, JHK
Shoot All Moving Men Over the Age of Thirteen
Sure, we gulp up the lies of Colin Powell’s biography – recall that in Vietnam as a major he helped promulgate that lovely policy to shot all MAMs. You know, from a Huey or gunship, any amount of .50 caliber full-auto craziness was encouraged if the respective US “soldier” could ascertain whether the said moving Vietnamese object in the elephant grass or rice paddy was, oh, 13 years old.
MAM – military aged male.1
Pretty tame stuff compared to “kill list” Impresario Obama and his weekly wedding party massacre. Or Time magazine lofting the lies and cocaine- and Botox-induced crap of Hollywood in its latest Rambo bunk, Zero Dark Thirty. Look at this shit from Newsweek – cover story no less! Talk about warped narrative of the collective unconscious.
So, given this, I’d say that we are in a world of hurt – the perma-temp societies of Greece, Gaul, Georgia, and Glendale. The Keith Kroll essay sort of needs a little more space and concentration. The reality is that part-time status and the belief that some magic rewinding of some Oz clock might be happening soon and all those kids will be embraced, all those classes will be made smaller, all those majors and minors will be baptized in a new zeal to create systems thinkers and holistic actors who might shape the world – delusions. You know, the reality is that Dali melting clock with the upside down lama shitting on the clouds. Maybe Kroll can imagine that world.
Homeless with PhD – Will Work for Bandages, Thyroid Pills and a Cot in the Basement
The reality is that there are other narratives and other planets that adjuncts work from and on. We are really seeing now as a group the collective wheeze of age and of a dead future for anyone young wanting to teach in higher ed (K12 is already in that same crisis). We always were poor, and we always grumbled and did any number of legal-groveling and illegal things to make ends meet and feed our addiction to books, travel, food, booze and the arts.
But I will start 2013 and end this rant (before alas bringing up Naomi Wolf) with some heaviness. Reality therapy. The homelessness of adjuncts. Here’s a film project. From the co-producer. A note that came to us January 3. Written to a list-serve that’s been around a few years talking about ad-con issues:
For the last several months, my partner, Chris LaBree and I have traveled the country conducting interviews for our documentary, ‘Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed. in America. I’ve also been conducting interviews of adjuncts too afraid to be on screen, for fear of job loss. Their interviews are being compiled for the companion book.
The dire financial situation of adjuncts across America is even worse than I imagined — even though I myself am an adjunct who has spent the last decade or so in dire financial straits myself. The stories of homelessness and near-homelessness abound. This week, having heard three stories in a row, I felt upset enough to search for help. One of the adjuncts will be homeless in only a few weeks — by August 15. Not only that, but he is currently several months overdue in payments to a storage facility, where 30 years of his paintings are stored. They will not let him take the paintings until he pays, and unless he pays, they also have the right to discard the contents of his locker — thereby destroying the man’s lifetime of creative work.
Learning that there are no emergency funds anywhere for adjuncts, I decided to start one. Junct Rebellion now has a page called “Emergency Action,” where you can donate through PayPal — no amount is too small — to try and help this artist protect his art and find another home. You can donate so that a PhD in African Studies, living in a homeless shelter in Philadelphia might be able to get out and have a real home. You might be able to help the adjunct who is currently living in a sister’s basement. Or the one currently living in a van. I’m sure that for every story I’ve heard, there are hundreds of others; and this fund may never be able to meet the needs of the nearly one million adjuncts out there in financial need. But it’s a start.
You can read my most recent blog at The Homeless Adjunct for more information, and you can donate, either through the PayPal button on our website, or by check, to P.O. Box 421, Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004, with the title “Adjunct Emergency Fund”.
Please, for the love of all that is good about humanity, let’s try to help each other. It should be clear to everyone by now: The cavalry ain’t coming.
Best, Debra Leigh Scott
Anyone get it yet? Any chancellor or provost you met ever give a real shit about the people on their campuses working 50 percent of the courses taught, or more? Really? You think those Lexus-loving guys and gals who make a cool $160 K a year, with added expense accounts, and in some cases who teach or moonlight on top of the 9 to 5 job with $20,000 a year expense account and a few hundred thousand in presidential funds, really care? Ya think?
Pushing, Shoving, and Bouncing Your Way to the Book Signing, Naomi Wolf style
Okay, okay. It’s this thing called Get Lit!2
… a literary week (extended to a month of other activities) in Spokane. Sponsored by Eastern Washington University and the University Press and dozens of businesses and donors in Spokane. Real cool literary fun with readings and workshops all over Podunk Spokane. Youth slams. Big ass names like Kurt Vonnegut. Activists like David Suzuki. Celebrities like Garrison Keillor. Poets like Rita Dove. I was a writer in the schools and on the board of Get Lit and a presenter at one of the festivals.
I worked with Naomi Wolf in Spokane on that literary week event (other deaths to intellectual ways being ended literary events, KIA-ed small presses and gutted and neutered university publishing houses). Her thesis in 2008 was fascism based on 9/11, Bush, Kissinger, Nixon, and the neo-con experiment of control and fear. Imagine these words coming out 5 years ago — The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot: I will end this with the 10 factors or conditions pointing toward a coming fascist society (remember mom, apple pie, hot dogs and the red-white-and-blue mentioned above?).
We were at the Fox Theater, where Naomi was reading. She did well, and even called my ass up on stage to point out that (a) I had interviewed her on my radio show, and (b), I had been an adjunct in El Paso at the UT fighting against the free-speech zones and Draconian measures of those Admin Types and Provosts who wanted to quash student activism by limiting where democracy happened on campus and the size of protests. No spontaneity allowed. Goddamned permits and permission granted or denied by cardiac-arrested campus police chiefs. Postage stamp-sized pile of rocks to set up a demonstration, info table, what-have-you.
It was my role as adjunct that really stuck out, since I was adjunct in El Paso in the 80s and 90s, and the same sort of cretin (in the minds of some tenured and most admin types) in Spokane from 2001 to 2011.
“Way too far off the reservation” (ugly military terminology applied to me by some asshole once). Because (a), I had other jobs, and (b), I was in the press, and (c), I wrote and published in the press, and (d), I actually worked with students outside of the classroom, and (e), I questioned the admin. types on almost every lie they put down in ink and digital glow.
So, here we are, at the white-cloth covered author’s table, and a small line. I have Naomi’s book. Some acquaintances show up. And we are in line waiting to get a word in and a signature on the books.
Old guy pushes his way forward. Pushes an elderly lady to the side. Says he has to get a bus and needs to be in the front of the line. He steps on my boot. He doesn’t apologize. Three people say, “How rude … just let him go ahead.”
Well, my adjunct ass – also known as a big mouth – asks him to step aside and go to the back of the line. He laughs, and says, “Give it up, guy.”
Well, one hand over another hand leads to another hand, and he pushes at me, and, well, at the table, with Naomi looking up and ladies gasping and others saying, “How rude can that old man get?” I proceed to lift his arms into the old Gorgeous George head lock, and bounce his butt outside the lobby, through the receiving lines, past the fancy dresses and a few funky suits, into the wet, cold night of Spokane.
“I’ve just never, well, Paul, had that kind of a book signing before. Is it always this violent in Spokane?”
Naomi Wolf, third wave feminist, author of The Beauty Myth and the newest, Vagina: A Biography, delivered the goods that April night in Spokane, alluding directly to those factors eating away the fabric of a country that, well, never had the mythical fabric even progressives like Wolf proclaims.
Here’s why academics have failed in many regards – because the schools, admin types, faculty, tenured superstars, boards, regents, chancellors, all the VPs and deans, the entire gravy train hanger-on, all of them have effectively slithered away from the truths. Each and every new part-timer, held down by law, by slave wages, by the misanthropic “it’s the market, man, that determines what you get and don’t get paid, dude” yammering, that’s the direct result of bad education. Junk teaching. Scam after scam. Until, yep, the BA in history or MS biology is worthless, and endless debtor’s cage, with recipient praying to mom, apple pie and hotdog red-white-blue god for some jubilee, some little forgiveness for the loan. Anything. Cuz that part-time gig ain’t gonna pay it off any quicker.
Wolf on the New Wolves of Capital
1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
After we were hit on September 11 2001, we were in a state of national shock. Less than six weeks later, on October 26, 2001, the USA Patriot Act was passed by a Congress that had little chance to debate it; many said that they scarcely had time to read it. We were told we were now on a “war footing”; we were in a “global war” against a “global caliphate” intending to “wipe out civilization”. There have been other times of crisis in which the US accepted limits on civil liberties, such as during the civil war, when Lincoln declared martial law, and the second world war, when thousands of Japanese-American citizens were interned. But this situation, as Bruce Fein of the American Freedom Agenda notes, is unprecedented: all our other wars had an endpoint, so the pendulum was able to swing back toward freedom; this war is defined as open-ended in time and without national boundaries in space – the globe itself is the battlefield. “This time,” Fein says, “there will be no defined end.”
2. Create a gulag
Once you have got everyone scared, the next step is to create a prison system outside the rule of law (as Bush put it, he wanted the American detention centre at Guantánamo Bay to be situated in legal “outer space”) — where torture takes place.
3. Develop a thug caste
When leaders who seek what I call a “fascist shift” want to close down an open society, they send paramilitary groups of scary young men out to terrorize citizens. The Blackshirts roamed the Italian countryside beating up communists; the Brownshirts staged violent rallies throughout Germany. This paramilitary force is especially important in a democracy: you need citizens to fear thug violence and so you need thugs who are free from prosecution.
The years following 9/11 have proved a bonanza for America’s security contractors, with the Bush administration outsourcing areas of work that traditionally fell to the US military. In the process, contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been issued for security work by mercenaries at home and abroad. In Iraq, some of these contract operatives have been accused of involvement in torturing prisoners, harassing journalists and firing on Iraqi civilians. Under Order 17, issued to regulate contractors in Iraq by the one-time US administrator in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, these contractors are immune from prosecution
4. Set up an internal surveillance system
In Mussolini’s Italy, in Nazi Germany, in communist East Germany, in communist China — in every closed society — secret police spy on ordinary people and encourage neighbors to spy on neighbors. The Stasi needed to keep only a minority of East Germans under surveillance to convince a majority that they themselves were being watched.
In 2005 and 2006, when James Risen and Eric Lichtblau wrote in the New York Times about a secret state program to wiretap citizens’ phones, read their emails and follow international financial transactions, it became clear to ordinary Americans that they, too, could be under state scrutiny.
In closed societies, this surveillance is cast as being about “national security”; the true function is to keep citizens docile and inhibit their activism and dissent.
5. Harass citizens’ groups
The fifth thing you do is related to step four – you infiltrate and harass citizens’ groups. It can be trivial: a church in Pasadena, whose minister preached that Jesus was in favor of peace, found itself being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, while churches that got Republicans out to vote, which is equally illegal under US tax law, have been left alone.
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release
This scares people. It is a kind of cat-and-mouse game. Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the investigative reporters who wrote China Wakes: the Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power, describe pro-democracy activists in China, such as Wei Jingsheng, being arrested and released many times. In a closing or closed society there is a “list” of dissidents and opposition leaders: you are targeted in this way once you are on the list, and it is hard to get off the list.
7. Target key individuals
Threaten civil servants, artists and academics with job loss if they don’t toe the line. Mussolini went after the rectors of state universities who did not conform to the fascist line; so did Joseph Goebbels, who purged academics who were not pro-Nazi; so did Chile’s Augusto Pinochet; so does the Chinese communist Politburo in punishing pro-democracy students and professors.
Academe is a tinderbox of activism, so those seeking a fascist shift punish academics and students with professional loss if they do not “coordinate”, in Goebbels’ term, ideologically. Since civil servants are the sector of society most vulnerable to being fired by a given regime, they are also a group that fascists typically “coordinate” early on: the Reich Law for the Re-establishment of a Professional Civil Service was passed on April 7 1933.
8. Control the press
Italy in the 1920s, Germany in the 30s, East Germany in the 50s, Czechoslovakia in the 60s, the Latin American dictatorships in the 70s, China in the 80s and 90s — all dictatorships and would-be dictators target newspapers and journalists. They threaten and harass them in more open societies that they are seeking to close, and they arrest them and worse in societies that have been closed already.
The Committee to Protect Journalists says arrests of US journalists are at an all-time high: Josh Wolf (no relation), a blogger in San Francisco, has been put in jail for a year for refusing to turn over video of an anti-war demonstration; Homeland Security brought a criminal complaint against reporter Greg Palast, claiming he threatened “critical infrastructure” when he and a TV producer were filming victims of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. Palast had written a bestseller critical of the Bush administration.
9. Dissent equals treason
Cast dissent as “treason” and criticism as “espionage’. Every closing society does this, just as it elaborates laws that increasingly criminalize certain kinds of speech and expand the definition of “spy” and “traitor”. When Bill Keller, the publisher of the New York Times, ran the Lichtblau/Risen stories, Bush called the Times‘ leaking of classified information “disgraceful”, while Republicans in Congress called for Keller to be charged with treason, and right wing commentators and news outlets kept up the “treason” drumbeat. Some commentators, as Conason noted, reminded readers smugly that one penalty for violating the Espionage Act is execution.
10. Suspend the rule of law
The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 gave the president new powers over the National Guard. This means that in a national emergency — which the president now has enhanced powers to declare — he can send Michigan’s militia to enforce a state of emergency that he has declared in Oregon, over the objections of the state’s governor and its citizens.
Even as Americans were focused on Britney Spears’s meltdown and the question of who fathered Anna Nicole’s baby, the New York Times editorialized about this shift: “A disturbing recent phenomenon in Washington is that laws that strike to the heart of American democracy have been passed in the dead of night … Beyond actual insurrection, the president may now use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack or any ‘other condition’.
- Check it out: “Behind Colin Powell’s Legend” or “Colin Powell: Failed Oppportunist.” [↩]
- See here and here. [↩]