One day while Alice is winding up a ball of wool that Kitty persists in undoing, she gets it into her head that there must be a world behind the looking glass (mirror) where everything is backward. Suddenly, she finds herself up on the mantelpiece staring into the looking glass. Then she walks through to the reality on the other side to find a world that is set up like a chessboard and chess pieces are animated human-like creatures. The reflected reality is the opposite of real reality. Time goes backwards.
Alice encounters a talking Tiger Lilly. She finds herself on a train with a Goat, a Beetle, and a man dressed in white paper. Alice is insulted and nagged at. She is criticized by the Red Queen for her poor etiquette. She is treated rudely by Humpty Dumpty, who boasts that he can change the meaning of words. She meets the White Queen who becomes a sheep in a shop who asks the confused Alice what she would like to buy. Next Alice is in a boat with the sheep rowing downstream. The boat crashes and Alice tumbles to the ground. She temporarily forgets the names of things, even her own name.
Two realities: One benign, one sinister
What are we to make of this metaphor for life? The most obvious and perhaps most important theme to consider is that there are two realities, not one. There is the reality that we see in front of us. And there is a reality that is hidden, but that we can choose to enter into. In Alice’s case, she discovers a world that is mean-spirited and competitive, chaotic, confusing and overwhelming, a world that is not quite as sweet, innocent and stable as the one she knew. She can return to this more benign world by simply waking up from her dream.
What about us? Are we going through life immersed in the reality before us, reality as given, as it appears unexamined? Or are we willing to penetrate to the other side to discover another reality, a reality that is sinister, frightening and beyond our control?
It is almost as if we have walked through the looking glass and don’t know it. Everything is the opposite of what it seems to be or is supposed to be, the opposite of what those authorities we trust say it is. What was once a hidden second reality has now merged with reality as given. Darkness is visible.
There is mindless violence at home. There is endless war abroad. We are told that war is for our own good, though it consumes vital resources that could be used to school our children, keep us healthy and develop our economy. There is never any discussion about whether or not war is a good thing for the soldier who is killed and maimed or the innocent victims in faraway lands whose lives we sacrifice in the service of alleged national interest.
We are told that we are constantly in danger from attack and must allow our government greater freedom in intruding into our lives as a means of protecting us and making us safe. Section 1021 of the National Defense Appropriations Act (NDAA) of 2012 allows for indefinite detention of American citizens as the government sees fit, all in the name of protecting us.
Our weather is becoming more and more severe, less and less predictable. We are in the middle of a period of global warming that offers a threat to every aspect of our natural existence. Glaciers are melting. Sea levels are rising. Species are disappearing at an alarming rate.
Middle class people who once lived in homes are now living in tents. Retirement money has vanished over night. We are worried about holding onto our jobs. Everything we thought was here forever is slipping away, the economy, the climate, our constitutional rights. What and whom can we count on? Don’t we live in a democratic society? Doesn’t the Constitution guarantee us our freedoms? Certainly the government itself can’t take away what it is there to guarantee and protect.
The American today is expected to bow to authority unquestioningly, even as he is told he has the freedom to do otherwise. He is told to trust those in power at the very moment they betray him. He is encouraged to participate in the affairs of public life while simultaneously being denied access to the necessary means and knowledge. He is living in a world that preaches openness and honesty while simultaneously insisting on the necessity of secrecy in matters of state.
He is living in a nation that preaches peace and democracy while sustaining an ever-increasing war budget, a nation that in the name of democracy supports the decimation of weaker countries for purposes of private gain. He is told that it is dangerous “out there,” where the enemy lurks, but safe “in here,” when in fact the enemy lies within.
He is living in a world based on power, fear, deception, exploitation, and hypocrisy. Like a traumatized and abused child his natural response to such a situation is the response he learned as a child—to believe in the good intentions of those who abuse him while retreating to a position of acquiescence, numbness, and indifference toward the outcome of events that dramatically impinge upon his well being and his very existence.
The political lie is ever present. It corrupts those who lie and those who believe the lie. We know we are being lied to, and yet we consistently pretend to believe and then are deflated when our belief, once again, proves unjustified. When we go to vote the next time, we believe all over again. We choose not to make the connection between the politician’s words at election time and his deeds the day after. We want to believe in the beneficence of those who govern. We become more and more disengaged, more and more disillusioned, more and more anxious about what is happening around us that we cannot direct in any way.
And yet we refuse to see. We shield our eyes the way we might when viewing a horror film, sometimes taking a brief glimpse through splayed fingers and then returning to the comfort of darkness. But the isolation and passivity lead to anxiety and feelings of powerlessness, a sense of foreboding from which we constantly seek escape via compulsive work, excessive drinking, mindless distraction.
This same vague foreboding leads Americans to acquiesce to just about any government action that makes them feel safer. Torture—which had been consigned to a time of primitive barbarism—is currently openly acknowledged, debated, and accepted by many. Americans are even willing to see their basic civil rights abrogated, all in the hope of squelching the ever-present anxiety. The PATRIOT Act, signed into law on October 26, 2001, allows for the indefinite detention of immigrants; searches of homes or businesses without warrant; and searches of telephone, e-mail, medical, financial, and library records.
Americans are fearful and they are angry. Deep down they are angry with government/parent for lying to them and betraying them. But the anger rarely, if ever, is outwardly directed at the government. Instead, it is taken out on immigrants, foreigners, racial minorities, and enemies real or imagined.
To see or not, that is the question
We believe so strongly in the ideals we associate with our form of government that we have trained ourselves to ignore the discrepancy that exists between our beliefs about our government and the reality of what that government actually is. We have become accustomed to confounding myth with reality. We fail to recognize that those in power have a vested interest in our not seeing the truth. “It can only be by blinding the understanding of man,” warns Paine, “and making him believe that government is some wonderful mysterious thing, that excessive revenues are obtained.”1
Americans, in particular, are victims of self-inflicted naiveté. We have nurtured the belief that everything is okay and that we can trust our leaders to work things out to our benefit. This persistent belief in a benign world, regardless of the accumulating evidence to the contrary, has been given a name. It is called “metanoia,” which James Duffy defines as the “naïve … faith in the innocence and benevolence of others who are actually a danger to oneself.”
Many of us suffer from metanoia. While a paranoid person will think he is in danger when he isn’t, a metanoid person will think he is safe when he isn’t. A metanoid is liable to call someone who sees hidden dangers “a paranoid conspiracy nut.” Metanoia insulates us from the disturbing reality around us and thus renders us powerless to do anything about it.
In this context, it is relevant to consider the term “American exceptionalism,” the belief that the United States occupies a special place among the nations of the world. By virtue of its national credo, historical evolution, and political and religious institutions, America is unique. It is not to be judged by the same standards that are applied to other peoples. In fact, it is not to be judged or critiqued in any way. It represents the incarnation of the highest ideal that any government can aspire to. In this light, the United States occupies a quasi-religious niche in the pantheon of gods who reign on earth. Any “true” American would no more criticize or scrutinize the United States than he would criticize God himself, or herself.
Americans believe unquestioningly in the benign intentions of their government. Such a belief is a fundamental element of their ethos. It prevents them from seeing accurately and acting responsibly. It is an anesthetic to their political sensibilities.
But if we are to evolve as a society, we must find the courage and self-discipline necessary to see clearly and think critically. We must train ourselves in healthy skepticism when it comes to our government. We must train ourselves to doubt official pronouncements and reports. By no means should we assume the good intentions of those who govern. Nor should we assume that they are like us. We do not all share the same emotional makeup. There are those who have compassion for human suffering. And there are those who don’t.
Although we have been made to feel powerless, in fact we are not. We discover our power once we begin to penetrate the fog of mystification that passes for truth. To get a fresh look at things as they are, we must first get past things as they appear to be. We must pass through the looking glass.
Through the looking glass
Writing in the 1970s, political scientist Kenneth Dolbeare reviewed the economic, social and political conditions of the times and made some predictions about where he thought the United States was headed. He speaks of an economic crisis of inflation and depression, a disturbing increase in wealth and income disparity, 30% underemployment and unemployment, poverty or the threat of poverty for about half the population, destruction of the earth’s eco-system. Confronted with such disturbing news the population responds by refusing to acknowledge the facts, by seeking scapegoats to blame and punish, by withdrawal, by trying to force the facts back into the mold prescribed by ideology, by taking refuge in escapist activities, or by undergoing conscious or unconscious change.2
Under such circumstances, people are “alone, passive, adrift.”3 There is a loss of social purpose and moral principle throughout the society. “Young people drop out, return to nature, or become plastic revolutionaries,”4 or as is currently the case, many join the world of finance capital, willingly submitting to the most abusive employment practices, which they are able to endure with the help of heavy doses of alcohol, substituting random sex for the possibility of a nurturing relationship, all in the hope of “making it big.”
As Dolbeare sees it, the economic, social and political conditions he describes, and the absence of a viable political response can only lead to “fascism and its way stations.”5 He makes reference to Mussolini’s “corporate state.” He has coined the term, “Amerifascism,” which is easily assimilated into American political culture “because it already has a broad popular base in the legitimacy of institutions and the patriotic and other fundamentalist values of the American people.”6 When “Amerifascism” arrives, it will be identified by the following three characteristics.
1) There is a formal alliance between the state and big capital.
2) There is a charismatic leader representing the state in its unity with corporate interests.
3) There is a totalitarian consolidation of power leading to mass surveillance and social repression by means of scapegoating and police state tactics.
Just how far down this road have we traveled?
1) Well, big capital and government are in bed together and having one heck of a time of it, enjoying a copulative embrace that seems destined to outlast any that has preceded it. First capital is on top, then government. It is hard to tell one from the other as they consume each other in a frenzy of orgiastic passion, eagerly outdoing each other in their attempts to discover what the other finds most gratifying.
2) About which more later.
3) Surveillance which was subtle and hidden has become massive and visible. E-mails and telephone calls are collected and studied for “terrorist activity,” citizen whereabouts are tracked by means of cellphone data, drones are hovering above and studying everything and anything. It is a wonder that there is a server powerful enough and time and personnel enough to actually review and make anything of all of this data, which perhaps is being passed along to the corporate sector for commercial purposes?
There are checkpoints for examining the contents of backpacks. There are police toting machine guns and wearing Nazi-like helmets on Maiden Lane, protecting something or other while they casually exchange baseball scores. Armored personnel carriers are deployed where unarmed civilians are engaged in protest activities not sanctioned by the state. At the time of the Boston Marathon bombing, private citizens were forced out of their homes by police in military regalia, toting machine guns, allegedly in search of wandering terrorists.
Much of the current police state has been made possible by the events of September 11, 2001, which closely parallel the events of February 27, 1933, when the Reichstag was set afire in Berlin, allegedly by a Dutch Communist. In both instances a fascist state was inaugurated in response to an attack on the state by alleged terrorist elements advocating an alien ideology.
Mind and body
Like a summer fog on cat’s paws, slowly, silently, subtly the fascist state rolls in. It hangs in the atmosphere like smog. With balletic grace it takes up residence in the halls of Congress, in the courts, in the corporate boardrooms, in our minds and hearts. No fuss. No muss. It will not arrive at some distant date. It is right here, right now. And we are smack, dab, right in the middle of it. And it is no accident.
Consider the work of Edward Bernays (1891-1995). Born in Vienna, nephew of Sigmund Freud, he is considered to be the founder of the field known as public relations, pioneering the use of psychology and sociology in the manipulation of public opinion. His best known book is Propaganda (originally published in 1928). In this book, he poses the rhetorical question, “If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it?”7 He answers it as follows:
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society…. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country…. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society…. In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons … who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.7
Mass control of the mass mind is the hidden hand that guarantees submission to the fascist state. Which is why things run so smoothly in the U.S. of A. Everyone thinks they are thinking their own thoughts when, in fact, they are reading from a script that the “invisible government” has prepared for them. There is no real freedom. There is only the scripted version.
The fascist state has your mind. Now it wants your body. This is where the “health care” system kicks in. “For your own good” we are served up a porridge of ineffective, often harmful, extremely expensive “cures.” There are 100,000 unnecessary hospital deaths each year due to poor medical practice. A simple change in diet will help you manage your cancer, instead you are treated to a $7,000 chemo treatment that takes out your hair, defeats your immune system and helps the cancer metastasize. Under the guise of providing us with universal health care, the state is compelling us to buy health insurance from private insurers, the very ones who wrote the bill in the first place. That is corporate fascism at its very best.
The term “habeas corpus” has a strict legal sense. If a judge issues a writ of habeas corpus that means that a person under arrest must be brought before a judge or into court and be charged or set free. It is a guarantee against arbitrary and indefinite imprisonment. It raises the broader issue of who has control of the body, your body, you or the state.
Do you possess your own body? Do you control what goes into it and what is done to it? Not in a fascist state.
For example, when you are stopped in the subway on your way to work and commanded to reveal the contents of your backpack, who is in charge of your body? How about when you are compelled to walk through a scanner at the airport? How about when you are forced to receive inoculations as was the case during the avian and swine flu scares?
The fascist state at its very best when creating a disease, and then compelling you, “for your own good,” to be inoculated, with untested substances and using your tax money to pay the drug companies, who reap the profits.
President George W. Bush sought to instill panic in the United States by telling us that a minimum of 200,000 people would die from the avian flu pandemic. But it could be as bad as 2 million deaths in this country alone, we were told.
This hoax was then used to justify the immediate purchase of 20 million doses of Tamiflu, at $100 per dose, for a total of $2 billion. Tamiflu is a drug of little known value in treating the disease and can actually contribute to the virus having more lethal mutations.8 Coincidentally or not, Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush’s Secretary of defense, was appointed Chairman of Gilead Sciences, Inc. in 1997, the company that developed the Tamiflu. He [Rumsfeld], the largest Gilead stockholder, was in a position to make a fortune on royalties, as the value of a share soared 700% in just a few weeks. In October 2005, the Pentagon ordered vaccination of all US military personnel worldwide against this same Avian Flu.
Then, in 2009, along came the swine flu pandemic scare, same cast of characters, same drug, same attempts at forced inoculation to the benefit of the drug companies. In this case, the disease itself seems to have been created in a laboratory, which makes sense. Create the disease, create the scare, force inoculation, “for your own good,” reap the profits.
In Massachusetts, public health doctors persuaded legislators to quickly pass pandemic influenza legislation that would have allowed state officials to enter the homes and businesses without the approval of occupants; to investigate and quarantine individuals without their consent; to require licensed health care providers to give citizens vaccines and to ban the free assembly of citizens in the state. Fascism at its best, all “for your own good.”
The craze for compulsory flu inoculation continues. Recent “Health Care” legislation known as “Obamacare” contains a provision for mandatory flu vaccination. In opposition, experienced nurses across the United States are choosing to lose their jobs rather than submit to forced flu vaccinations.
Children are potentially unwitting victims of various imposed preventive measures. When the vaccination schedule consisted of 11 shots in 1989, the autism rate was 1 in 10,000. Today we give around 36 shots (total vaccines to U.S. children under 5) and the autism rate is around 1 in 150. Children are receiving high concentrations of aluminum in their shots. This well-documented neurotoxin may be more dangerous than mercury.
Thus, the drug industry is the lynchpin in the fascist state. It generates enormous profits. It renders the citizenry passive, powerless, dependent and often impoverished. It is a perfect example of the merging of big government and big business. The drug industry writes the legislation it needs to maximize its profits. It controls the agencies that would regulate it.
In 2009, $250 billion was spent on drugs in the United States. Over the 10 years ending in 2012, the 11 largest drug companies took $711.4 billion in profits, $85 billion in 2012, alone. Medicare—the largest purchaser in the world’s largest drug market—is prohibited by law from seeking better prices. Hence, drug dealers charge Americans—elderly Americans—vastly more for the same drug than they do in other counties. Why? Because they can. It is not surprising that there was a 34% jump in profits the year Medicare Part D was put in place.
Per capita drug spending in the U.S. is about 40 percent higher than in Canada, 75 percent greater than in Japan and nearly triple the amount spent in Denmark. Nexium is a drug commonly prescribed to treat acid reflux. In Spain, a prescription for this drug will cost you $18, in the United States, $187.
Last year, 11 of the 12 new-to-market drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration were priced above $100,000 per-patient per-year. Drug dealers are even more heartless than bankers. They will find you in a life and death situation and then game you for all you are worth, charging hundreds of dollars for a single pill that will keep you alive.
Symptoms are packaged and marketed as a “disease” by psychiatry and then medicated by the drug industry. Millions of children who “act up” are diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and are prescribed Ritalin, an amphetamine whose side effects include insomnia, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, palpitations, headache, chest pain, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure and psychosis.
A Mayo Clinic study finds that nearly 70 percent of Americans are prescribed at least one medication, with antibiotics, antidepressants, and opioids (for pain relief) topping the list. More than 10% of Americans, or 30 million people, starting at the age of 12, are taking anti-depressants. Elder Americans top the list of those on anti-depressants frequently diagnosed as depressed without basis. The medical profession and the drug dealers work hand in glove.
Seeds, water, and air
Lest you have any doubt that you are living under a totalitarian state, consider the following. Agri-business giant Monsanto is force-feeding you wheat and corn that has been grown from seeds that have been genetically engineered. And further, Section 735 of the HR 933 continuing resolution, passed in March 2013, and signed by President Barack Obama, stripped federal courts of the authority to halt the sale and propagation of genetically modified seeds and crops even if safety tests reveal concerns about their harmful effects. The legislation was written by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., in collaboration with Monsanto Company, but subsequently removed from a Senate spending bill. One can only assume that at some point it will be re-instated. Fifty countries around the world require labeling of genetically modified foods and have restrictions on their introduction into the marketplace. The United States and Canada have no such requirements and restrictions.
If you are a small farmer downwind from a farm that is planted with Monsanto seeds, you are no longer allowed to collect your own seeds and replant them. You will be taken to court if you do. Unless you can prove that not a single one of your plants has been pollinated from seeds owned by Monsanto, you must purchase seeds on a yearly basis from Monsanto or shut down your farm. It is Monsanto’s intention to own and control seeds in this country and around the world. They have already made significant headway in India where small farmers have committed suicide by the thousands.
What is the potential harm to you and me and the eco-system from consuming genetically modified foods, foods genetically modified to withstand Monsanto’s own weed killer “Roundup,” which contains glyphosate, a chemical known to pose serious health hazards, including endocrine disruption, DNA damage, cancer, birth defects, and neurological disorders? What are the long term effects? We won’t know for sure until we, the guinea pigs, and Mother Nature live out the consequences. But we do know that there has been an uptick in celiac’s disease, type I diabetes and beehive collapse.
In some western states, experiencing severe drought, it is against the law to collect rainwater on your own property. It is not clear who will benefit from the uncollected water.
In the year 2000, in Bolivia, collection of rainwater was made illegal. The Bolivian government had sold its water rights to a consortium of private companies dominated by the United States-based Bechtel Corporation. A violent uprising of the peasantry ensued. Privatization of the water supply was terminated. One can only assume that the Bolivian model will be tried elsewhere. Why not in the United States?
The air you breath is next.
I can easily imagine the day when we will all be walking the streets with air tanks on our backs, like the ones used by scuba divers. Through breathing masks affixed to our heads, we will be breathing in air that we pay for at air stations. A monthly fee will be taken from our bank account to pay for renting the tank. For a premium we can get tanks made of titanium and handsomely decorated in designer colors. There will be air police. If the green light on your tank has turned to yellow that means you are either running out of air or deliberately breathing air that you haven’t paid for.
“Excuse me, Ms. Jones,” says the friendly officer, “but your air supply seems to be turned off. Here,” he says, “let me help you.” He turns on the valve and the air flows. He scans the bar code on your tank. He enters a note that this is just a warning. The next occurrence will result in a $500 fine. On the third violation you are shipped off to prison for six months. There you will be assembling cell phones under the kind of slave labor conditions that have driven the Chinese to suicide. However, there will be no charge for breathing the air.
Mass incarceration: Black is in
Well, you say, at least they aren’t carrying off Jews by the truckload. True, but if your skin were black, and you were expendable, you might be whistling another tune. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans’ predominantly black ninth ward. There were no federally directed rescue efforts until two days after the disaster. And yet the U.S.S. Bataan, a 844-foot ship designed to dispatch Marines in amphibious assaults, with helicopters, doctors, 600 hospital beds, food and the ability to make its own water, up to 100,000 gallons a day, sat offshore virtually unused.
Thousands were herded into the Superdome with little in the way of food or water. Dead bodies floated down the flooded streets, in an exercise of ethnic cleansing efficiency. Just let ‘em drown.
The Louisiana National Guard requested 700 buses. FEMA sent 100. As one official observed, “We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can’t bail out the city of New Orleans.”
Nearly three months after Katrina hit, the National Center for Missing Adults reported that over 6,500 people were unaccounted for in the hurricane’s wake and that more than 400 bodies remained unidentified.
In violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, in the City of New York, black youth were routinely subjected to stop and frisk, a practice that was ultimately defeated in court, though vigorously defended by the then mayor, Mike Bloomberg. Blacks are a targeted minority.
The prison at Guantanamo Bay is fascism unmasked in one of its crudest most vicious manifestations. The United States rounds up “terrorists” from around the world and detains them for years without charges or trials. They are hooded, kneeling, in chains, treated like sub-human creatures, tortured and broken, all in the name of making the world safe for democracy.
The United States likes to incarcerate its citizens at a rate that is higher than any other country in the world. There are 2,300,000 men and women in federal, state and country jails, feeding what has come to be known as the prison-industrial complex. There is money to be made in building prisons, serving them and using them as a source of cheap labor. In 2013, by age 23, 49% of black males, 44% of Hispanic males, and 38% of white males have been arrested.9
Blacks comprise something like 14% of the population but close to 40% of the prison population. If you are black you might find that you are target practice for police. Police officers, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes extrajudicially killed at least 313 African-Americans in 2012, at a rate of roughly one a day.
On March 3, 1991, Rodney King was caught by the Los Angeles police after a high-speed chase. He was dragged from his car and brutally beaten. A local witness videotaped much of it from his balcony. The footage was aired around the world. Four officers were charged and acquitted leading to riots in which fifty-eight blacks were killed.
Police can kill a black with impunity. On February 4, 1999, four white police officers fired 41 bullets, at point blank range, 19 of which struck Amadu Diallo, an unarmed black from Guinea. They were tried and acquitted.
Fred Hampton was an African-American activist and deputy chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. On December 4, 1969, he was killed in his sleep by the FBI and Chicago police. Bust down the door in the middle of the night and kill your victim in his sleep. Now that’s fascism for ya, the good old fashioned kind.
The Black Panther Party of Chicago was one of forty-five Black Panther chapters around the country. The Panthers were militant in their denunciation of racism, capitalism, and police brutality. They upstaged local government by offering free breakfast and free legal consultation as a service to the city’s disadvantaged populations, and thus posed a political threat to the then reigning mayor, Richard J. Daley.
Mumia Abu Jamal is also a member of the Black Panthers. He just celebrated his 60th birthday, in prison, where he has been for the last thirty years, most of it in solitary confinement, on death row, on trumped up murder charges. He is an internationally celebrated black writer and radio journalist. He is the author of six books and hundreds of columns and articles. The French have named a street in his honor. He is bright. He is articulate. He is black. He is outspoken, which is why he is prison.
Blacks see the fascist state for what it is, which is why they represent such a threat and which is why their leaders have to be cut down or imprisoned. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Malcolm X was assassinated. Singer, actor, athlete, activist Paul Robeson was drugged and taken off to London where he was neutralized with heavy doses of electro shock “therapy.” The Russians had named a mountain after him.
The fascist state chartered new territory when it imprisoned Lynne Stewart. Lynne is a white attorney, known for her courageous defense of the underdog. In her sixties, this grandmother, diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, was deemed an enemy of the state. She made the mistake of taking on the defense of Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, known as ”the blind Sheik,” an Egyptian cleric convicted of planning terror attacks.
In violation of the traditional client-attorney relationship, Stewart was denied regular access to her client, lest she pass along messages to the Sheik’s supporters. Her visits were governed by SAMs (Special Administrative Procedures), which the government alleged she violated. She was convicted on charges of conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists in 2005. Her felony conviction led to her being automatically disbarred. She spent four and one half years in prison. Unrelenting pressure in this country and from around the world resulted in her being granted compassionate release.
It can reasonably be argued that the United States is run for and by attorneys. One would expect an uproar of protest, a phalanx of supporters from within her profession, when one of their own, a dedicated attorney, was imprisoned on flimsy charges while in the service of her client. Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, alone, stood in his support of Lynne Stewart. Not a peep from the Bar Association, the ACLU or like organizations, or the many prominent attorneys with national visibility, thus acknowledging the state’s right to imprison those it disagrees with.
A headless horseman
So yes, Professor Dolbeare, the police have been militarized, the watchful eye of the state is omnipresent, our minds and bodies are the playthings of the corporate state, but no, we have no charismatic leader to whip us into shape. Why? Because we don’t need one. For more than two hundred years we have been trained in submission.
As Tocqueville points out, there are two kinds of tyranny. Under the Roman emperors, tyranny was odious and obvious. It “was extremely onerous to the few, but it did not reach the many.”10 Of a different nature is tyranny under a constitutional oligarchy, such as exists in the United States. This tyranny “would be more extensive and more mild; it would degrade men without tormenting them.” It would be something like living under the tutelage of a parent. However, this is not the parent who seeks to prepare her children for adulthood and then liberate them. This is the parent who seeks to keep the child perpetually passive and dependent.
Living in this setting—in which the government ostensibly ministers to the children’s needs, controls and oversees their actions—“what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living”? Such a tyranny “every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all uses of himself.”11
The persistent sense of a lurking presence, the need to conform and acquiesce so as not to trouble the parent who watches over and protects him, the possibility of action leading to independence and adulthood having been eliminated, man is reduced to a state of flabby self-indulgence, which he labels “freedom.” In the grips of such a presence, Tocqueville tells us:
The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till [the] nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.12
Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) put it this way: “The most dangerous revolutions are not those which tear everything down, and cause the streets to run with blood, but those which leave everything standing, while cunningly emptying it of any significance.” Said Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), “A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.”13
The power to bend an entire nation to such tutelage requires deception. Here is where the Big Lie comes in. The population submits so gently because it believes it is doing so in the name of some higher good. In the United States that higher good is known as “Democracy.”
Sheldon Wolin coined the term “inverted totalitarianism” to describe a form of government that in many ways achieves the goals of totalitarianism but by different, gentler means. Inverted totalitarianism is “driven by abstract totalizing powers, not by personal rule.”14 The leader is not the architect of the system. He is its product. He fulfills a pre-assigned role.
The system succeeds not by activating the masses but by doing just the opposite, “encouraging political disengagement.”14 “Democracy” is encouraged, touted, both domestically and overseas. To use Wolin’s terminology, it is “managed democracy,” “a political form in which governments are legitimated by elections that they have learned to control,”15 a form of government that attempts to keep alive the appearance of democracy while simultaneously defeating democracy’s primary purpose, self-government.
In managed democracy, “free politics” are encouraged. Believing that, in fact, they have the government they want, people are lulled into a state of passivity and acquiescence, leaving the controlling powers to operate as they see fit to advance their particular interests. Democratic myths persist in the absence of true democratic practice.
Therefore, rather than dismantling the preexisting political system, as the twentieth-century totalitarians did, their modern-day brothers actually defend and support the system. Their “genius lies in wielding total power without appearing to.”16 What was once a citizenry has become an “electorate,” the populace divided against itself in groups of competing interests whose opinions on circumscribed issues are constructed and manipulated to produce a desired outcome that is fed back into the hopper, resulting in the necessary pronouncements at election time.
Fear of violence is, for the most part (depending on race and ethnicity), absent in America’s inverted totalitarianism. Though we may be entering a new phase of trickle down fascism that is blind to color, creed and gender.
The federal government is passing along to local police, military equipment, military tactics and military mentality. And local police—faced with the slightest provocation—are responding as they might to sniper fire in the streets of Baghdad.
Last month wedding guests—white and middle class—at the San Luis Hotel in Galveston, Texas17 got a taste of what it is like to live in a police state. An off-duty “officer of the law” witnessed a guest walk outside with an alcoholic beverage, thus violating the city’s open container law. He called in for “back-up,” i.e., thirty-four cops on steroids. The guests, including the father of the bride and the bride’s brother were brutally beaten and Maced, as were many guests, thirteen of whom were arrested for asking, “what is going on?” The brother was so badly injured by the police that he had to be rushed to a hospital via helicopter.
So there is violence on the horizon. But that is not all we have to worry about. Our government tells us that there are terrorists everywhere who want to take away our form of government, our lifestyle, even our lives. Because they are hidden, lacking in scruples, and tricky, we can never feel safe. We must depend on our government to protect us. We must surrender all control, even rights guaranteed by the Constitution, in the hope that our leaders will keep us safe.
We have economic worries as well. Our economy is being depleted as a consequence of government policies. Trillions of dollars were handed over to Wall Street speculators. Jobs are being outsourced to china. unemployment is unchecked. budgets are being cut at the federal and local levels. What feels like a recession, perhaps even a depression, persists. Without warning, our livelihood and everything we own could be taken from us. And yet government is doing little if anything to remedy the situation, largely because the uncertainty it creates generates the compliance the government seeks.
No place like home
We are quite at home in our fascist state, snug as a bug in a rug. By the tens of millions, in lockstep, we march off to our local bars on “Super Bowl Sunday.” By the millions we clog the streets in celebration of our home team’s victory. In lockstep we march to our local Walmart to spend money we don’t have, to acquire things we don’t need. In lockstep we march to the polls on Election Day to vote in sham elections and then endlessly debate whether Tweedel Dee or Tweedel Dum was, in effect, the better liar. In lockstep, by the millions, we march to combat the disease du jour. As Dolbeare observes, “Fads sweep over millions into repeated mass conformity, steadily rubbing out self-directed capabilities … What all these trends reveal is a lively protofascist potential.”2
If a Fascist State is a Warrior State, then the United States of America is a Fascist State par excellence, making war anywhere, everywhere, all the time, on the flimsiest of pretexts, accompanied by the same lies, uttered with less and less conviction, with alacrity, decimating civilian populations with munitions that melt the flesh, shatter the bones and lace generations to come with deformed bodies.
We are quite proud of our military might and are quite content to see it used remorselessly in faraway lands, taking innocent life, demolishing infrastructure and decimating historic cultures. We are awash in a mass culture carefully crafted to numb the senses, blunt the powers of critical thought, and blind us to the reality that confronts us. We don’t see. We don’t want to see.
Propaganda everywhere: the American flag is on the sides of buses, subway cars, the New York Stock Exchange. At a tender age schoolchildren pledge allegiance to the corporate state. At sports events the national anthem is a must. Submit to the state. Honor the state. No questions asked, which all goes back to the 17th century Puritan theocracy. If you challenged official dogma you faced exile, flogging, hanging.
The purpose of the fascist state is to feed the Great God Mammon, which is why we need constant war. What is the easiest way to get lots of money real quick? By taking control of the engines of state and siphoning public monies to build new and ever more expensive fighter planes, air craft carriers, fancy new bombs and missiles, all for the purpose of efficient killing.
A careful reading of early American history reveals that, in fact, the totalitarian government we live under is consistent with the intentions of the founders and predicted by those who were opposed to the ratification of the Constitution, and that institutions were put in place as a means of inhibiting the growth of democracy, not fostering it.18
In a letter written to his friend Gideon Granger in 1821, almost two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson saw it coming.
When all government … in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the centre of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.
What to do
In answer to that question, I would like to digress and momentarily shift the focus. It is a sunny, brisk day in early spring. The magnolia trees are in blossom. I am walking up Broadway at a leisurely pace, every so often stopping to look in a store window. As I am about to cross 92nd Street, something terrible occurs. A car turning the corner strikes a cyclist. The cyclist is dragged a few feet by the car. He lies bloody and motionless in the street. I am filled with anguish to the point of nausea. I feel as if I saw it coming and could have warned the driver or the cyclist. There was something I could have done, but did nothing. The blood and imagined suffering of the young man lying in the street become mine. The image haunts me for the rest of the day. That night I dream about it.
Now let’s replay the scene, with one significant variation. Everything stays the same. Except now I am two blocks away as the accident occurs. The frame of reference is much broader. The car and cyclist have become smaller objects in a larger picture. Most of my vista is made up of the facades of tall buildings. I cannot actually see the cyclist lying in the street. From two blocks away it is not clear exactly what has happened. The emotional impact is mild by comparison. I am drawn to reflecting upon the prospect of independent forces brought together at a certain instant. A second more or less and the event would not have even occurred. I have become philosophical.
The larger the frame of reference the more solid we feel in our bodies, in our world. If all we have is the latest headline and a few sound bites, disconnected from any larger framework of meaning, we remain disoriented, scattered, confused and anxious. Things happen. Things get worse. We don’t understand why. We are trapped in the moment with disturbing thoughts.
As we enlarge our frame of reference, i.e., get beyond the headlines, look back in time from our present position to an earlier period, our foundation in reality becomes larger and more stable. We see connections. We see similarities. We see differences. We learn from both and are inspired to understand why things are the same and to discover alternatives we didn’t know we had.
Back to the question, “What are we to do?” I believe that the first thing we must do is to take a step back and reflect. This is why I offer the example of the bicycle accident witnessed at two different distances, proximate and distant. Seen from a distance, we see a larger picture. We can understand more clearly the dynamics that enter into the situation. From afar it is clear that the motorist was speeding.
The usual response when something goes wrong is “to do something.” But, says the American author Henry George, “Right reason precedes right action…”
Social reform is not to be secured by noise and shouting; by complaints and denunciation; by the formation of parties, or the making of revolutions; but by the awakening of thought and the progress of ideas. Until there be correct thought, there cannot be right action; and when there is correct thought, right action will follow.19
Thinking is doing
That thinking is a kind of doing seems an odd proposition, yet I believe it has merit. We want to do something, i.e., take action, because our gut is twisted with outrage, despair, anguish about what is happening that is detrimental to our world and simultaneously beyond our control. We feel impotent. In fact, we are impotent to stop forces beyond our control. Sometimes “doing something” is a means for concealing from awareness this very disturbing fact.
We need to take a step back from the global turbulence. We need to see it at a distance. When we do we become more thoughtful. Thoughtfulness will provide us with a new perspective and new ideas. In the process we might come to understand why things are the way they are and what can be done to remedy the conditions that trouble us.
Empty rhetoric has an alienating, deflating pacifying, weakening effect. We need solid words with real meaning, we need the real events that have shaped our political reality. It is only by knowing reality that we can change it. “People can only develop themselves … by finding within themselves the concepts and language to aptly and critically characterized their world—and then act to change it”20
When we read history we learn that not all government is the same and that different societies choose different solutions to the same problems. Ancient Athens and the Roman Republic were contemporary societies faced with similar problems: grain supply, land use, indebtedness. Yet they chose significantly different solutions. The Italian city-states developed as small-scale separate and independent societies with an experimental approach to governance while simultaneously, to the north, large-scale autocratic empires were in the making.
Although we have been made to feel powerless, in fact we are not. We discover our power once we begin to penetrate the fog of mystification that passes for truth. To get a fresh look at things as they are, we must first get past things as they appear to be.
We are living in a man-made world, yet we act as if we were subject to an alien force beyond our ken or control. We consciously hope for the best while subconsciously waiting for the worst. We fail to realize that our way of understanding and thinking about the world—our private lives, the organizations we work for, the public realm of civic responsibility—determine the degree to which we are helpless victims of circumstance or masters of our own destiny.
In our films and fiction and TV, we seem fascinated with transcending time and space, exploring new worlds in our imagination, conceiving of super-real forces that invade the world we know in ways that are mystifying and terrifying. We have a compelling interest in otherworldliness and the implicit belief that somewhere there is a thread tying us to fantastic forces. Eventually the unthinkable will occur.
The fanciful speculation we allow ourselves via our cultural experiences stands in sharp contrast to the perspective we apply to our government and political life. In that realm, we assume that things will go on forever, just as they are.
Here is another image we can learn from.
Imagine a pitcher filled with your favorite liquid, water, orange juice, sangria, beer. Now empty the pitcher and let it be filled with the totality of your political response. Political response is our reaction to civic events that occur around us, speeches, legislation, local, national and international violence that has a political basis. The pitcher filled with political response represents all of your political response, 100% of it.
Now let us imagine that the pitcher of political response is composed of two elements, reactivity and creativity. The two elements are inversely related. Increase one and you decrease the other. For most of us our political response is mostly if not exclusively reactive.
But if we want to change the world, make it a better place to live in for all of us, then we must get past the reactivity by creating the emotional distance I speak of above. As reactivity diminishes creativity will replace it and change will take place.
Conventional activism arises out of reactivity. Government advocates a policy or takes an action. As a consequence, I am angry, anxious, outraged, despondent, desperate. I feel driven to do something, on my own or in collaboration with others. I write a letter to my congressman. I join a protest in opposition. These emotions and these responses are both wholesome and appropriate. Yet they change nothing. They are simply reactive.
Reactivity is a form of denial. It enables us to deceive ourselves into thinking we are empowered when, in fact, we aren’t. When I react, I am playing by someone else’s rules. I am playing on his turf. Though I might, acting alone or with others, bring about some short-term beneficial result, government structures and power dynamics remain intact.
Our first critical step is to accept, rather than deny, our own individual powerlessness. At any moment, there is great and unnecessary suffering at home and abroad. There is nothing we can do to stop it now, as it is happening.
Paradoxical as it may seem, accepting our powerlessness frees us from reactivity and in fact leads to empowerment. We are aware of the reality that surrounds us, but we are no longer enchained by our emotional response to events. In our imagination, we have discovered a new world and a new playing field. This vision is our inspiration. It is the world we are working to create. It is a vision of government that embraces the common good.
Thus, we have three realities to contend with. There is reality one, false reality, a reality that feeds our denial. This is government as we wish it. Reality two lurks in the shadows. It is dark, sinister, frightening and behind our control. This, in fact, is the government we live under, deeply troubling to contemplate. There is a third reality, one that does not yet exist, except in our imaginations. This is government as we will it, the government we want to create by getting together with our fellow citizens and charting a new course.
Creating a new playing field
To have lasting impact, we need to create a new playing field, to attack the problem at its cause, to have a vision of something different that is creative and innovative. It is our playing field. We create the rules. We do not waste our energies reacting to the latest outrage. We harness our energies to the creation of a new form of government.
Our current form of government is so much an ingrained part of our lives that we often forget there are alternatives. “The government we have is the government we should have, obviously.” I think most people feel that way about their government, regardless of where they live. Yet it is instructive to look elsewhere and to see how similar problems are being solved under different forms of government. Maybe there are different answers, better answers.
In the “Declaration of Independence,” Thomas Jefferson argues that not only is it possible to create a new government, it is our duty to do so when conditions so warrant.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Thomas Paine was of a similar belief. According to Paine, “The defects of every government and constitution, both as to principle and form must … be as open to discussion as the defects of a law, and it is a duty which every man owes to society to point them out.”21 He also believed that “A nation though continually existing, is continually in a state of renewal and succession.”1
Thus, we have to free ourselves from the fixity of things as given and create in our imaginations the government we want to live under. Then we have to share our ideas with each other, in the process modifying our own thoughts and influencing the thoughts of others.
Discussion groups crop up around the country. These “Civic Gatherings” begin casually and eventually evolve into recurring meetings where people attend out of a need for connectedness in a meaningful political context. Eventually one “Civic Gathering” links to another. Soon there is a network. There is an exchange of ideas. Every so often one of these groups announces a proposal to the public. Eventually, perhaps, a consensus emerges around a particular idea. More and more there is public discussion around recurring themes. This is a shadow government in the making. Dolbeare speaks of “the construction of a significant infrastructure of multiplying small groups in which new values and new consciousness can be nurtured and spread.”22
Once we begin exercising our imaginations and sharing our ideas with others, we have begun the process of change. We find we are not as alone as we thought we were. We aren’t trapped. We aren’t powerless. There are viable alternatives. It is as simple as getting together and talking to each other about what is wrong and how to fix it. The process will carry us forward.
In Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained: The True Meaning of Democracy, I offer a comprehensive overview of how such a process unfolds. I give examples from history where an existing, ineffective government is peacefully replaced by one that is more responsive to the common good.
As we become involved in creating a new government, we come to understand that government exists not only as a means to providing services and setting policies. It exists also as an opportunity for citizen involvement, self-expression and self-development. Government settles matters of war and peace. It also helps to shape the character of those who fall under its rule.
By exploring the world around us and by looking into the past, we learn that there are alternative solutions to common social problems and that government is not fixed in one form, for all times, as men like James Madison hoped it would be. We learn that the only obstacle between a better world and the one we have is the truth.
- Thomas Paine, The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine, 375. [↩] [↩]
- Kenneth Dolbeare, Political Change In The United States: A Framework For Analysis, 54-55. [↩] [↩]
- Dolbeare, 54. [↩]
- Dolbeare, 55. [↩]
- Dolbeare, 59. [↩]
- Dolbeare, 221. [↩]
- Edward Bernays, Propaganda , 71. [↩] [↩]
- See F. William Engdahl, Tamiflu—a Worthless Drug. [↩]
- See Science News Line:, Study: Half of Black Males, 40% of White Males Arrested by Age 23. [↩]
- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. II, 335. [↩]
- de Tocqueville, 336-337. [↩]
- de Tocqueville, 337. [↩]
- Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, xii. [↩]
- Sheldon Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, 44. [↩] [↩]
- Wolin, 47. [↩]
- Wolin, 57. [↩]
- See Paul Craig Roberts, Call the Cops at Your Peril. [↩]
- See previous post by this author, “The Constitutional Hoax.” [↩]
- Henry George, Social Problems, 242. [↩]
- Dolbeare, 218. [↩]
- Paine, 351. [↩]
- Dolbeare, 219. [↩]