Most likely, the two of you who read these pieces regularly will have noted that I have absented myself from the inter-webs of late. Think of it as a high colonic for the soul. Not only have I refrained from writing, but also from reading the several blogs and columns that I normally seek out to keep me abreast of the world’s inexorable march to whatever fate awaits it. Meanwhile, of course, the world did in fact march on, but it seems I didn’t miss much.
Apparently the country was shocked while I was gone, shocked I say, to discover that Paula Deen, that personification of everything southern (like fried ice cream), once used the n-word. Not only that, but she wanted to do a wedding just like all them old-timey weddings in the plantation south where the tables were waited on by dem darkies in livery! Two things: First, anyone from the south over the age of 30 who says they have never used the n-word is an outright liar, and, secondly, I thought historical re-enactments were all the rage. People dress up in Civil War costumes and pretend to be shot all the time. The problem with Paula’s idea is that it’s less like the battle of Gettysburg and more like getting together will all of your Jewish friends, knocking the gold fillings out of their teeth and leading them to a picnic shelter with a large sign that says “The Showers.” I don’t think she gets that. Neither do many other whites in this country.
But it kept the media busy and allowed them not to deal with anything important for another few weeks.
Then there was the whole Snowden fiasco. The country was shocked, shocked I say again, to discover that after allowing the passage of the Patriot Act and it’s extensions, the US government is actually collecting telephone data on its citizens in order to protect them from terrorists just like it said it would. Jesus H Mouse! What’s the world coming to? Our privacy has never been more threatened. I mean, somewhere out there in those zillions of bits of data the NSA has collected are all of the phone numbers of everyone I’ve called in the last several years! How dare they! I mean, well, yeah, the chances that some computer will kick my name out to look at more closely probably aren’t all that great given that about the only person I’ve called in the last several years is my mother, and she’s not really a terrorist type, but it’s the principle of the thing, right? I have a constitutional right to protect here! The Constitution specifically says that my phone calls are private, doesn’t it? Somewhere? I know that some federal judge said, in secret, that the numbers themselves weren’t, but what does he know?
And my internet meanderings as well. They are private! Snowden blew the whistle on the PRISM program too. The big brother government has been going to internet providers and getting information on their customers and we are all shocked, I say, yet one more time. We pour out our most intimate thoughts and both details and photos of our private lives on Facebook every day, but we are outraged that the government is culling through data looking for visitors to jihadist websites. I buy something from a company and the next day I am getting ads on my Facebook page from them. Face it, folks, nothing about the internet is private and never has been. Get over it and act accordingly.
But it kept the media busy. There are issues that bear scrutiny in what Snowden revealed, not so much in the area of privacy as in the area of secrecy. And if Snowden had stopped there he might be the hero some would like to make out that he is. Unfortunately, he also revealed top secret programs involving data collected on other countries, and there he crossed a line so far as legality is concerned. As he once said himself, that shit only works when the other countries don’t know about it. So the government has charged him with treason. Meanwhile, a group of ex-CIA officers just awarded him the Samuel Adams award for integrity in intelligence.
Meanwhile, back in congress… oh, yeah…nada. More of the same. The Senate passed a long-awaited immigration bill. The House declared it “dead-on-arrival.” Student loan interest rates doubled on July 1st and nothing has been done. It’s no wonder that some of the younger politically-minded residents of DC are getting more than a little discouraged. They are not alone.
While forcing myself back into the real world after my self-inflicted hiatus, I ran across an article in the Huffington Post titled Where the Hell is the Outrage? by RJ Eskow. It’s worth the time to read it. Eskow points out that things are bad and getting worse. Most people are losing ground daily, but they seem to be suffering silently. The anger, if there is anger, is silent anger.
My co-conspirator in 47/78 recently mentioned advice for making it in the DC arena: “stay angry, keep punching, and never let the bastards see you cry.” Sounds like good American activist advice, doesn’t it? But where is that in our population?
In Egypt the people took to the streets and demanded change. They got rid of a president; they got a new constitution and a democratic election. When the new guy turned out to be no better, they took to the streets again and had him removed. There are those who will tell you that the US was behind all of this, but the US was not in the streets of Egypt.
We read pages and pages of stuff written by supposedly discontent Americans. We see hour after hour of media coverage of all the ills in our society. But our streets are empty. Why is that? Eskow talks about learned helplessness. It has to do with the idea that the perceived absence of control leads to a type of clinical depression, mental illness of a type.
It wasn’t always like this. In the 60’s the streets were filled with young people who thought the war in Vietnam was wrong. They were idealistic and perhaps naïve, but they were in the streets. And then the National Guard opened fire on students at Kent State. People died. And then there were more people in the streets. They weren’t the only reason the war ended, but they were a reason it ended.
I thought maybe the “Occupy” movement was the beginning of something. But it faded quickly. The streets emptied again.
Far too many politicians in America see the country as a game board on which they are the game pieces. For them it’s just one big chess match – if I move here, he’ll have to move there. It’s about power and winning and losing. They have forgotten that in this game it’s the board that’s important, not the pieces on it.
It would be easy to think that our politicians are just stupid and that they can’t see what’s happening. I don’t believe that. These are not stupid people. You don’t get where they are by being stupid. I have another theory to add to what Eskow proposes in his article. Our politicians are afraid. They are afraid of a great many things, but they are most afraid that we have finally reached that point on the map of this country’s history where ancient cartographers would have penned “Beyond This Place, There Be Dragons.” That was their way of saying, “We don’t have a clue what’s ahead.”
They know there is anger out there, buried somewhere beneath the quiet of the still-empty streets. They know there is desperation. They know that sooner or later all the “learned helplessness” will erupt in full-blown mental breakdown. And the streets will no longer be empty. And because they are not stupid people they realize that this country is divided right down the middle and that a large segment of the population is armed to the teeth and have been preparing for that day for years now. And because they are not stupid people, some of them have been courting those they think will be on their side. But they can’t be sure. So they keep up the game, hoping that people will stay mesmerized, stay quiet, stay off the streets. They keep us occupied with gamesmanship and bluster. They create diversions for the American psyche addicted to the false drama of TV’s reality shows and the bloated rhetoric of the cable talking heads.
I’m not convinced that they even know that’s what they are doing.
And as Eskow points out, it is the 1% who are the most vocal about perceived wrongs. Of course they are. They have the most to lose. And they are very afraid that if it all goes wrong, they will lose it. And history supports that view.
The media plays the game as well, not so much because they are afraid for their industry– they will actually have something important to report if it all goes wrong – but because they are not stupid people either and they know what it means to them as citizens if it all goes wrong. So they dish up some more Paula Deen and some more Snowden and keep everyone as focused as they can on the fake reality show while the real issues like distribution of wealth, lack of upward mobility, and the growing desperation of our young people takes a back seat.
Large portions of the population are also afraid. They aren’t as stupid as some would like to think. One reason the anger stays hidden is that they know that to release it, to get it out where it can be seen, is letting the genie out of the bottle. So they live with it. They keep it bottled up because the alternative is an unknown future where there certainly will be dragons.
We read the papers. The streets of Egypt were full of people… and some of them died. We keep quiet. We don’t even bother to vote. Why bother? We can’t make a difference anyway. Half the country is armed and waiting. Half the country would like to take their guns away. Which half do you think would win if the anger exploded on the streets?
Sooner or later there will be a spark. I’m sure it will be the young people who will be at the fore, but they will not be alone. And it will not be pretty. Unfortunately, it may be necessary. Forget everything you’ve ever heard about “it can’t happen here.” This is America. We don’t do things like that. It can. It has. I can remember walking through “Little Italy” in Cleveland after the riots which followed Martin Luther King’s assassination and seeing people sitting on balconies with machine guns they ripped off the inept National Guard called in to quell the riots, waiting for any sign of trouble in their neighborhood. I remember clearly thinking at the time, this is Cleveland for God’s sake!
Unless our elected officials stop playing partisan chess games and start dealing with the deeply embedded problems we actually face, a spark is all it will take.
I have a feeling it will happen suddenly and without much warning. Breakdowns are like that. Everyone thinks the neighbor is a great guy and is just fine and then one day he walks into a school and opens fire. It will be like that, but it will be a national psyche that breaks down this time.
Stay angry, keep punching, and never let the bastards see you cry. It might work well enough in the gamesmanship of DC politics, but on the streets of America, that way there be dragons. I hope we find a St. George in time.
Your Humble Servant,
The Willowbrook Curmudgeon