The Holiday Season has arrived, unfolding before us like a cheap vinyl wallet here in The United States of American Express. The days spill forth, their hours comprised of shopping and shooting sprees, of retail and retaliation. Jingle bells and the crackle of gunfire. This is the way an empire falls, with armies of confused killers abroad and legions of killer clowns at home.
A decade and half ago, we watched smugly as The Kremlin came undone. Yet, somehow we believe ourselves to be immune from the rot that causes empires to collapse from within.
The Social Realist poets of the former Soviet Union made themselves the objects of much (deserved) derision, when, in the service of the dogmatic dictates of state communism, they penned poetic odes to crop yields, tractors and other farm implements.
When a Russian attempts to convey his passions, his soul is prone to reach inward seeking poetic depths. In contrast, nowadays, in situations of crucial importance, such as the anxious waiting in long lines involved when attempting to procure PlayStation 3s among the throngs of their fellow Home Entertainment Unit-lusting Fred C. Dobbs types, Americans express their ardor -- by reaching for a gun. For we all know that The Baby Jesus would find the sound of Yuletide gunfire to be as soothing as a celestial lullaby.
Back down here on earth, while it was damn silly for Soviet aesthetes to go into a poetic swoon over farm equipment, somehow, the act of going collectively round-heeled over electronic appliances (including jealous rages that lead to homicidal outbursts) doesn't seem like the sort of communal practices that will allow an empire to endure for long.
The former Soviet Union had the risible excesses of her Social Realists -- but what is one to make of our culture of Wal-Mart Nihilists. Although, these acts are revelatory: These are the kinds of "crimes of passion" that contemporary Americans perpetrate. Such actions reveal what it is we truly care about, deep down. And, sadly, our concerns have little to do with being the keepers of Liberty's flame -- or even being good stewards of our children's future.
The frustrations of a life defined by the narrow confines of corporatism produces these lethal states of mind, whereby the homicidal urges that are encoded into the genetic makeup of all human beings become magnified into impulses both monstrous and preposterous: Resultantly, many Americans view life and death issues as having the weightless consequences of a thrill-kill video game.
Yet, most citizens of our moribund republic, because they've internalized the system, remain in denial regarding the authoritarian deathscape the nation has become. Moreover, they have nothing to contrast it with. What they feel is a sense of underlying unease, which the consumer state (palliatively) remedies with meds and media distractions. What else could drive people insane enough to shoot each other over consumer goods? Not to mention the emptiness and desperation involved with the compulsion to line up lusting after electronic junk in the first place. I just want to shout out to such folks -- I'm so sorry your life has come to this.
And don't bandy back at me inane platitudes such as, "these are the necessary risks and excesses inherent to ‘the free market’ system" -- and other such manifestations of willful ignorance and flat-out deceit. Your so-called free market has caused our nation to become imprisoned in debt, including our collectively becoming obeisant to China, who now owns our shabby asses and dwindling assets, like some global village pawn broker, by the purchase of our national debt.
(And we know those in positions of power in China lie awake at night ruminating on the well being of the citizens of The United States. Yes, probably about to the same degree Dick Cheney lies awake at night agonizing over the effect of a blast of buckshot delivered to the face of an elderly hunting companion.)
To escape the knowledge of our enslavement and its concomitant sense of powerlessness, emptiness and hopelessness, we have become obsessed with the pursuit of piffle. Yet we cannot consume away the pervasive sense of unease. Moreover -- following Eric Hoffer's dire dictum that "You can never get enough of what you really don't want" -- we're driven to "develop" more soulless subdivisions, open more lifeless Big Box stores and compulsively throw ourselves in to the thrall of even more mindless consumerism.
Ivan Illich averred: "In a consumer society there are inevitably two kinds of slaves: the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy." Hence, like all hopeless addicts, in reality, what we're seeking is the serenity of the grave.
Look at the evidence: We're engaged in an ongoing act of murder/suicide by our engagement in a state of perpetual war termed the War on Terror. In this way, our unconscious wishes are being granted in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and we're, most likely, not done yet. Accordingly, our need to relieve our sense of emptiness and powerlessness has grown so insatiable that we roam the world, relentlessly, in search of the means of mollification: But where we go, we leave a wasteland in our wake, including the manner we have fouled our own nest.
Furthermore, I'm willing to hazard a guess that neither industry, nor thrift, nor a PlayStation 3's razzle dazzle, nor another round of lowered interest rates, nor a surge of consumer spending, nor a miracle military victory in Iraq, nor a sleepless fleet of terrorist-spotting spy satellites in space, nor a billion surveillance cameras trained on every person, place and thing on the planet could keep the oceanic vicissitudes of earthly existence from rising, nor the gales of contretemps from blowing, nor the casuistry-sundering storms of uncertainty from making landfall -- and could, at this late date, keep the American Empire from collapsing from the rot festering within its spoiled rotten populace.
This is due to the sad fact that, thus far, all our attempts to defeat our feelings of powerlessness and sate our emptiness have been vain, shallow, self-serving and authoritarian; hence, our acts have only managed to defeat and suppress the life-vivifying forces of freedom and imagination within us. We may give lip service to Jesus, but we outright worship the spurious Eros of the corporatist advertising/entertainment/consumer paradigm -- and it has risen before us as manifest Thanatos.
In spirit-desiccating accommodation to this punitive and petty age, we have merely managed to submerge our fires of authentic human passion. This is a gambit fraught with hidden danger. I've heard stories of fires that burned unseen in sealed-off, abandoned mines, wherein years later, miles from the original location of the blaze, dead trees burst into flames . . . the fire having traveled underground the length of the mine and up the dry kindling of the tree's root system to explode in open air. We witness these sorts of sudden conflagrations constantly: road rage, workplace and school shooting sprees, spittle-spraying right-wing pundits, George Bush's oscillations between dead-eyed blankness and prickly anger (I don't know which state is more terrifying) and a culture that willingly accepts the outright murder of civilians, for no discernible reason. As if there exists a good one.
If the fires of passion burn, unseen and untended, in subterranean denial, how can an individual or a culture learn to temper those raging fires of passion into warmth and compassion? Hence, the coldness of the corporate culture and the lifelessness of existence in contemporary America, resulting in chronic dissatisfaction (the feeling something is missing) and the attempts to ameliorate the discomfort with the dark Eros of perpetual war and enslavement to the shallow distractions of the consumer state.
The fire, next time -- indeed.
The corporate media is never going to level with you on the subject. It would put them out of business. Such a development is about as likely as the arising of a mass social movement led by pimps, called "The Pimp's Crusade For The Promotion of Universal Abstinence."
Accordingly, in our shallow and self-defeating era, a million lies are told; a million promises are broken. The poor starve; the rest of us rot from within. As everything we hold precious is imperiled, as we engage in a planet-destroying struggle for the attainment of junk.
Yet, it need not play out this way: For our minds are honeycombed by multiple universes of possibilities, ideas, and imaginings. Accordingly, we sense that the "information" we receive from the commercial media, official Washington, and the business sector is far from complete -- that it is merely a few, meretricious fragments of a subjective account, splintered from a small shard of a hasty conclusion, broken from a vast mosaic of a larger prevarication.
But like the dimwit protagonists of a Country and Western song, too many of us plead to be plied with sweet lies. Pervasive corporatism creates the illusion we have little choice in the matter. Freedom is no more available to us than finding undying love in a Honky Tonk.
Moreover, the ideas contained in The Bill of Rights and the tenets of The Enlightenment are quaint notions to corporatists. Within our empire of mammon, cant and incommensurate privilege, concepts such as freedom and liberty lie forgotten, languishing like the statues of forsaken gods within the crumbling temples of some dead religion.
I often receive e-mails from readers who ask, in essence:
And what of those of us -- those who remember and grieve our republic's passing. Is there some place of sanctuary where we could rally our spirits; a place where we might gather our strength -- where we might have a rapprochement with our own hopeful hearts, where we might rise in the cool air of morning in some location no longer haunted by the malicious and manipulative spirits who have usurped our names and stolen our country. Is there any place on earth where we might dodge the mind-grinding, soul-killing, death-worshipping legacy of the militarist/corporatist/consumerist state?
Don't you see, Phil, these readers implore and admonish me: We're besieged and outnumbered by the mindless worshippers of Death around us -- and, by the way, fella, your incantatory prose will not move, nor even interest them.
I'll answer these entreaties by quoting from a documentary I viewed recently, Punk: Attitude, in which independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch posited that art movements (and political ones as well) don't need the masses, they just need a committed five percent . . . the masses will follow. There is no need to inform the mob; a mob, by its very nature, is uninformed -- and unteachable. The belief in the existence of an informed mob is like believing in the existence of that chimera called compassionate conservatism -- and we've seen where credulity to that sort of crazy talk leads.
As was the case with Punk, which Jarmusch termed "do it yourself art," one needs passion, commitment, conviction -- tempered by an ability to apprehend and uniquely interpret changing realities and circumstances -- plus an inner reservoir of courage and follow-through. These things can't be bought retail. And that is exactly the advantage we hold.
Hence, it might be instructive to look at the mode of being evinced by the pioneers of Punk Rock. Tired of endless guitar solos and of Arena Rock and Roll's egomaniacal inanities, they learned to play three chords -- real fast -- and would play for little or no money in shot-out downtown clubs, thereby reintroducing the danger and allure of the subversive intimacy of early Rock and Roll to a new generation, and forever establishing the enduring principle that being an imbecilic Rock and Roll egoist should be a democratic process -- not limited to only corporate, guitar technocrats (or even those individuals possessed of the tyranny of talent).
Point of clarification: I'm not speaking here of literally becoming a punk rocker. (Although, a convincing argument can be made that independent websites and blogs are the new Punk Rock.) I'm talking about the initial passion of the progenitors -- not the conformist banalities displayed by their mindless followers. I'm speaking of the mode of being of the folks who created the art form -- not the hollow mimicry of those who mummify it into dogma.
The do-it-your-self-art idea being the key that unlocks the barred door of the commodified prison of a corporatist state of mind and allows one's life to be created -- not by narrow careerist agendas -- but by the surrender to all it takes to be free.
To do this, sometimes, you must follow your inspiration so far off the path -- you have to blaze your own path to make your way back.
It's not the outcome of your endeavors, but the life lived. If you live with such ardor -- who knows who and what you'll effect. We must be like the monks of The Dark Ages, copying books for generations yet unborn, preserving what we can of our humanity and passing it on.
I believe hope arises in organic ways before it makes its way into political platforms, is implemented into policy and, finally, imprisons us in dogma -- thus allowing a new generation to engage in the soul making of sedition against its ossified order.
Let's get to it.
Or else, pack your firearm of choice and line up for a PlayStation 3. Although, it's all good: Because, someday, an era may arrive when sanity prevails and future generations will have a nice laugh at your expense -- a generation of clowns who would kill (even destroy the world) for an appliance.
Phil Rockstroh, a self-described auto-didactic, gasbag monologist, is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Articles by Phil Rockstroh
Left the Building: An Open Missive of Anger and Hope