(Title artwork for this essay is“The Bolshevik,” 1920, by Boris Kustodiev. Oil on canvas. 101 x 140.5 cm. State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow)
Tag Archives: imperialism
Flirting with the Fires of Hell
“It is such a supreme folly to believe that nuclear weapons are deadly only if they’re used. The fact that they exist at all, their presence in our lives, will wreak more havoc than we can begin to fathom. Nuclear weapons pervade our thinking. Control our behavior. Administer our societies. Inform our dreams. They bury themselves like meat hooks deep in the base of our brains. They are purveyors of madness. They are the ultimate colonizer. Whiter than any white man that ever lived. The very heart of whiteness.” – Arundhati Roy
With tensions rising around the world thanks to Donald Trump’s escalation of militarism against Iran and Venezuela there are some who have raised the alarm over a coming nuclear confrontation. There is reason to be concerned given that a narcissistic megalomaniac with the moral intelligence of a tsetse fly is seated on the throne of the American Empire. With one unhinged tweet the world could be plunged into an instant and enduring misery.
Nuclear weapons are the most totally destructive weapon ever conceived. Even now, years after the Cold War ended, they continue to menace our world with irreversible and utter devastation. But on the anniversary of the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki it is worth remembering that there has been only one nation on the planet which used these weapons on civilian populations, incinerating thousands of civilians in a micro-second and killing nearly 150,000 innocent women, children and men. The heat of those bombs was so intense that it burned the image of some of its victims onto the pavement of the cities. The United States detonated these monstrous behemoths in spite of convincing evidence that Japan, already in ruins, was on the brink of surrender. Borrowing tactics from other imperial entities in history, it was most likely an effort to send a message of dominance to another rising power, Soviet Russia.
Of course at its heart the nature of empire is to see itself and its actions as nothing but noble. Edward Said observed: “Every empire, however, tells itself and the world that it is unlike all other empires that its mission is not to plunder and control but to educate and liberate.” Said understood that the role of these myths were to obscure its supremacist character. Its atrocities can always be justified via empty slogans like “freedom” and “democracy,” or the lie of “humanitarian military intervention.” The disease of nationalism convinces the public of its virtuous intentions. And “the nationalist”, as George Orwell noted: “not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”
In the years following the Second World War the United States launched an aggressive assault on the Korean peninsula completely leveling Pyongyang in a war that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, mostly civilians. The growing American super power also tested its nukes out on the once pristine Marshall Islands and its indigenous population in the Pacific, forever poisoning the land and causing untold misery for generations. It exposed its own soldiers and citizens to the detrimental effects of radiation from nuclear tests in the Nevada desert from 1951 and 1957. It dropped napalm and Agent Orange on Southeast Asia, and carpet bombed entire swaths of the earth. During the Gulf War in the 1990s the US exposed hundreds of thousands of soldiers to nerve gas which continues to cause suffering today. More recently the Pentagon has admitted that it used depleted uranium in Iraq and Syria, causing horrific birth defects and cancer outbreaks primarily in infants and children. It committed all of these crimes with the noblest of intentions, or so we have been told.
Of course the United States is not the only nation to have committed large scale, horrific atrocities. Imperial Japan was brutal and ruthless. Nazi Germany was a genocidal monster. Stalinist Russia had its own brand of cruel repression and mass murder, and the history of European colonialism is drenched in the blood of millions. Indeed, small nations too have committed barbarous acts of savagery often with the blessing of super powers like the US, Europe, China and Russia.
But in terms of global militarism, it is the American Empire which has been arguably the most aggressive on a global scale with nearly 800 military bases in over 70 countries. And it is today it is at the forefront of leading the world toward nuclear war. Indeed, under Obama and Trump it has excelled when it comes to nuclear proliferation in the first half of the 21st century. It justifies all of this with the same old canards about the need for an effective deterrence against the threat of “rogue states” or terrorism. But to accept this line of thinking is deny these documented crimes of Empire, and to deny that war itself is terrorism with nuclear bombs as its supreme expression.
It has been over seventy years since those bombings in Japan. Over seventy years of forgetting the horror. Over seventy years of normalizing the inhumanity. Over seventy years of nation states, big and small, creating newer, more fearsome, more cruel and more totally annihilating weapons of mass destruction, with the most powerful one of all leading the pack in this mad journey toward oblivion. But in those seventy plus years very little has been learned from those hateful skies about building a just and peaceful world, or from the shadows of human ghosts cast from them onto the unforgiving pavement. Their shadows are a haunting reminder to all of us of the fragility of all life. And as the Empire flirts with the fires of hell once again, may those ghosts bestow on us an undeserved mercy to spare us a similar fate.
Syria: Making Sense of the Senseless
Russia has had a bloody hand in this imperialistic game of chess from the start too. It sees the crumbling edifice of the American Empire. It knows that it is an arrogant beast drunk on its own hubris, yet despite its alarming madness it is armed to the teeth with nukes and has circled its borders and China with dozens of military bases. As any empire, even an ancient and faded one, Russia is asserting itself on the world stage and reinserting its influence on its own long held client states in the region. For the American Empire it is Israel and, to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia. For Russia it is Syria and, to a much lesser extent, Iran. To be sure, both Empires could not care one bit about the people in their client states. This is a chess game of psychopaths, authoritarians and tyrants, and they are in it to win even if everyone loses in the end. In essence, it is the powerful, big players and small, who have been responsible for the misery and carnage and I shall give not one of them a pass. It is the people I care about, not any one of their leaders.
How can we, as non-Syrians, make sense of all of this? I cannot speak for anyone but myself. And my principles remain unchanged. My solidarity is not with the powerful. It will never be. It will always be with those who suffer, the vulnerable, the oppressed, the persecuted. It is antiwar, ALL war. It is anti-imperialism, ALL imperialism. These are the principles I will continue to champion regardless of how murky things may become in the dire days ahead.
But I will confess that, personally, I am tired of the grandstanding, ad hominem slurs, demonizing, straw man fallacies, bullying and petty fight picking I see going between activists on all political fronts. When it comes to this issue I am choosing to listen only to ordinary Syrians on which ever side they may fall. Their voices, while they matter the most, have been the most muted in all of this and I cannot help to think that this is by design.
On Funerals and Postmortem Snubs
Castro was not a saint. No leader is. In fact he was, by many accounts, an authoritarian leader. And his failings are not above condemnation or critique, from the early persecution of the queer community and political dissidents to his marginalization of devout Catholics. But all of this cannot be understood in the vacuum created by the quislings of the corporate media. And Castro did offer apologies and amends for many of his early mistakes and outright cruelties. All of it however, like anything, is meaningless without context.
Before Castro the island nation was governed by Fulgencio Batista, a US backed, mafia associated dictator who came into power via a coup and whose regime tortured and murdered up to 20,000 people. In the years since the revolution to oust Batista, and his class of robber barons and fascists, the United States spent every waking hour imagining ways to subvert the Cuban government including an attempted invasion (the Bay of Pigs) and terrorist plots aimed at innocent civilians. One plot was successfully carried out against a Cuban airliner. All 73 passengers aboard Cubana de Aviación Flight 455 were killed when timebombs were detonated by CIA backed militants. Incidentally one of the CIA affiliated terrorists, Luis Posada Carriles, is living comfortably in Miami, Florida. Under Castro it is estimated that there were upwards of 5000 killed in the revolution (far fewer than the American revolution) and a little more than a two hundred via execution in the years that followed.
Castro’s successful defiance of ruthless US imperialism is unmatched and praiseworthy, surviving over 600 assassination attempts several of which were orchestrated or supported by the US. And the triumph of the Cuban people to build a society with an internationally renowned universal healthcare system (they send medical teams all over the world) and free education (literacy rates are at 99.7% compared to 86% in the United States) even under a brutal and inhumane US embargo is a testament to their resilience, spirit and will. Unlike the monstrous monarch from the medieval house of Saud whose regime is slaughtering thousands in neighboring Yemen, Castro’s Cuba did lend support to the struggles against racist apartheid in South Africa and Palestine, but never invaded or launched a war against any other nation.
The onslaught of negative coverage, outright lies and propaganda soundbites about Cuba since the death of Fidel Castro is not surprising to daily observers of the machinations of the US corporate press. They have served as a mouthpiece for American imperialism since their inception and cannot change who they are intrinsically. This is, of course, why they are so keen on exposing so-called “fake news.” Of course that “fake news” does not include the lies they told on behalf of the Pentagon and a murderous military establishment that spurred the criminal invasions and destruction of countries like Iraq or Libya and beyond.
Now that Castro has died the US corporate media has been feverishly painting the late President with every villainous color they can find. Interestingly enough they never did this when the murderous fiend of Saudi Arabia died even though his legacy was drenched in gallons of beheaded blood. But the “good King” was a dear friend to US business interests, so the press spent their time praising the medieval despot for “advancing women’s rights” even though his kingdom had scores of women and others executed for the so called crimes of witchcraft or apostasy. But grasping irony or seeing blatant hypocrisy is not a gift of the ruling elite.
Since Donald Trump began his ascendancy toward the throne of American Empire last week I have been increasingly puzzled by the level of astonishment I have noted from a wide spectrum of people. I mean really, is the rise of Trump that much of a shock to people? It makes me think that most of the confounded have not been across the American continent in recent times and still hold fast to some sentimental flotsam of Disneyfied Main Streets as being hard truths. I drove across the country, north, south and middle, with my sister in the process of helping her move this past year. Trump’s rise is not a surprise to me, and it is not an enigma. It is the logical end of economic neoliberalism, the final and most brutal form of capitalism, in living, albeit orange-tinted, color.
As we drove I saw the economic malaise, demoralization and ecological degradation in town after town in the heartland caused by neoliberal policies championed by Democrat administrations. Of course, the Republicans are the main political nest of capitalist robber barons, but the Democrats, once the party of working people (or so they claimed) promised something better. Instead, they abandoned the working class by throwing unions to the wolves and embracing Wall Street banksters and corporate hucksters wholeheartedly.
The result of this was obvious. Still holding a bucolic beauty, vast swaths of the nation have been sacrificed and hold an alienated landscape laden with misery where the core of each town is littered by payday loan shops, liquor stores, thrift stores and pawn brokers. The church in these communities is frequently maligned and ridiculed by the wealthy, coastal, urban elite. But, while it is often misguided and many times promotes a fevered bigotry, it is the primary refuge for many abandoned and downtrodden people, providing food, clothing and emotional support. If a town is “lucky” it is bisected by an interstate which automatically inserts a corporate colony of banal mediocrity. It is a familiar formula of disenfranchisement in ones own home, with a McDonalds, an Olive Garden and a Cracker Barrel flanked by a Chevron and a Quality Inn. I say “lucky” because these are usually the only places for viable employment in such townships.
Economic neoliberalism is a vague and elusive term for most people. But it can be summed up in three words: privitization, austerity and deregulation. These three words can also be vague, and that may be by design. But it isn’t too difficult to dissect:
-Privitization means taking the commons, that which belongs to all people, that which is public, that which is sacred, and dividing it among a handful of wealthy investors.
-Austerity means taking the common wealth, that which has been accumulated by the hard work of the people, and dividing it among a handful of wealthy investors.
-Deregulation means taking the laws and statutes designed to protect the commons and their precious resources like air and water or protect the health and safety of workers, and watering them down or dismantling them to make it easier to privatize and impose austerity so as to accumulate even more wealth for a handful of wealthy investors.
You see, it was the sold-out Democratic Party and Liberal Class elites who, in their slavish service to Wall Street neoliberalism, ignored the plight of non-urban, working class people. They were expendable. “Deplorable,” if you will. And in promoting an establishment oligarch, one with a long career of pandering to Wall Street and war mongering on behalf of corporate interests, through party chicanery and outright deception they only succeeded in enraging the base of their own party and alienating further these people whose livelihoods and institutions were gutted and sacrificed on the altar of Wall Street greed.
Now some may ask how does this explain the racism? Or the xenophobia? Or the misogyny?
Let me tell you a short story…
In its rush to dismantle the commons which were intended to benefit All of the people, a relatively small group of very wealthy people decided to gut or make redundant all of the institutions that did not serve the purpose of creating capital (wealth) for them. Colleges and universities became apprenticeships for industry and training schools for obtaining jobs only. Critical thinking and study for the betterment of all society was not seen as useful for wealth accumulation for this handful of wealthy investors. (Has anyone applied for university recently? Or graduated with a degree in the arts or humanities? Or didn’t graduate yet has a student loan to repay nonetheless? Debt is enormous and options for repaying them few. Neoliberalism does not countenance a thoughtful or enlightened electorate. It only seeks cogs for its machine, no others need apply). But I digress.
All this in turn enabled the unchecked growth of a militarized police/prison/surveillance state which incarcerates and persecutes scores of non-violent debtors or drug offenders, mostly young, mostly Black or Brown, but many white, rural and poor. And this system then marks them unfit for employment or for voting rights often for the duration of their entire lives. When so many people are feeling alienated and disenfranchised from the society in which they were supposed to belong is it any wonder why racism and misogyny persists and is growing?
Neoliberalism also fueled the US imperialistic war machine which lined the pockets of profiteers and fueled a rapacious, xenophobic aggression. This is the same machine which bamboozles young men and women with scant economic or educational opportunities into “defending US interests” – code words for being cannon fodder, a term buried by the ruling elite, or mercenaries for neo-imperialistic corporate power (see Vietnam, Laos, Iraq, the Balkans, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, and on and on and on). Of course militaristic jingoism is nothing new in the US. It has played well for decades at nearly every single sporting event getting slicker with more techno flash every time. With jets tearing the sky into shards over packed stadiums festooned with red, white and blue everything, crowds of young, disenfranchised white, straight males are encouraged to buy into the lie that bombing brown people elsewhere to smithereens will somehow defend their homeland. The organized murder game is often their only option for employment or educational advancement. But sadly most are forgotten when they return to the homeland damaged or in need.
With scant opportunities and permanent debt enslavement these “deplorables,” as the vanquished Hillary Clinton dismissively painted them, have become easy prey for the chicanery of slick snake oil salesmen like Trump, et al. If, and most likely when, these masses begin to realize they have been duped yet again, and this time by someone whom they thought was one of their own, their rage will be nothing less than terrifying. With climate change poised to wreak untold havoc and misery on the biosphere and the economy we should all find this beyond sobering.
I say all of this not to dismiss the fears of many people, especially people of color, immigrants, women and Muslims. These feelings of fear many have are justified, but all of this is not due to the rise of an unabashed racist to the throne of the American Empire. This is the very nature of American imperialism without the veneer of polite, Liberal class parlance to cloak it. The notion that the United States was ever a pluralistic, multicultural society is a myth not founded in reality. Indeed, it would be ludicrous to suggest that any nation formed via the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population and built from the forced and coerced labor of other ethnic and racial groups could somehow transform itself into a different animal. It is time to jettison these fallacious ideas while we still have time.
Indeed, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence and several viable reports that suggest that there has been an uptick in white nationalist aggression. But truthfully, the culture of hypermasculine, white supremacism has always simmered under the surface of American society. Keep in mind how the United States was founded. Who was enslaved? Who was dispossessed of their land? Keep in mind that lynchings via white mobs and the forced internment of Japanese Americans by the US government were not so long ago. In times of economic upset, social unrest, war and ecological crises this Lernaean Hydra, surreptitious in the best of times, emerges with gusto and especially so under a charismatic leader.
Is Trump that leader? Perhaps. I honestly don’t know. And I would not be so presumptuous to assume he and his minions are not capable of the most unimaginable horror, especially since he has not failed to surprise or even shock so many thus far. But his rise should not come as any surprise to anyone who dares to take an honest look at the American experiment. This not the first time that the tide of fascism has washed over American shores. It has been here all along, and many of us have been sleeping while it was nourished by the neoliberal economic policies that hollowed out what was left of the commons, relegated millions to the margins of Empire, decimated entire nations in never ending wars of plunder, and made way for a vengeful and terrifying barbarism. Trump’s rise is not an anomaly. It is, indeed, the fulfilment of a long, despicable legacy that persists. And until we begin to face that monstrous fact, and ditch the failing political structures which aided this legacy, he and his ilk will also persist until there is nothing left to save.
Kenn Orphan 2016
Where Were They?
I get the anger, the rage. I really do. Trump is vile and the aggressive racist and misogynistic culture he emboldens must be vehemently opposed. Pence may be even worse with his religious right nuttery. But I am forced to wonder if most of these Trump protestors would have stood with me when I protested with Occupy Wall Street? Or when people in passing cars hurled threats and middle fingers at me when I protested Israel’s murderous onslaught of Gaza supported by the US? Or when I marched for transgender equality amidst rising violence in America against that community?
I cannot help but wonder where many (if not most) of these people were when when the sitting President boasted about being “really good at killing people” or having a “Tuesday Kill List” or deporting more undocumented people or prosecuted more whistleblowers than any other US president? Or when his Secretary of State (the vanquished Hillary Clinton) pushed to decimate Libya and ghoulishly celebrated its leader being sodomized with a knife in the street by a mob? Or when Chelsea Manning was being mercilessly persecuted for exposing war crimes by the same administration? Where were most of them when the US backed the rightwing coup in Honduras or the CIA backed coup in Ukraine? Were these things simply not unjust enough because they happened under Democratic administrations?
Are these same angry people uniting with Standing Rock Sioux? or Black Lives Matter? Certainly some are. But do the vast majority of them really want a representative democracy and the end of corporatocracy? Or do most merely hope for maintaining a miserable status quo and a facsimile of democracy designed and manufactured by the ruling duopoly and mainstream media?
Don’t get me wrong. I am glad to see that people are awakening to activism. And I stand firmly against the brownshirt intimidation and violence emboldened by this frightful new day. But the weak as dishwater American Liberal class needs to take a good, hard look at themselves and their complacency at and complicity in the monstrous crimes of the ruling duopoly. And they need to do it quickly instead of pontificating on how stupid everyone else is for not standing behind their awful selection for leadership. The current protests only communicate a clear message to the reactionary right that the Liberal class only cares about electing a big “D” into office.
When this becomes a protest against militaristic aggression, capitalist plunder, apartheid, systemic racism, suppression of indigenous rights, ecological devastation and Empire itself, and not merely about the outrage of having a dimwitted narcissistic proto-fascist in the Oval Office instead of a war mongering corporatist I will join them with gusto.
Let me know when that happens.
Kenn Orphan 2016
The End of the Charade
This is going to be a sort of political rant, so for those of you who are sick of or hate that sort of thing I encourage you to scroll on.
It is a rant regarding the charade which is finally coming to an end. It is about the selected puppets of the ruling elite in the American Empire who will be paraded before the world a little more before its subjects are told that they have “chosen” one of them to lead.
Here is the deal. I should be happy for the absurd theatrics finally being over, right? But the thing is, I’m not. I shouldn’t give a damn either, right? I no longer live in the heart of the most ruthless and powerful Empire the world has ever known. But the thing is, I do. America IS, in fact, the most ruthless and powerful Empire the world has ever known. And its machinations have effects very far from its contested borders.
I guess I fear what I know is coming next. If Hillary Clinton is crowned those of us on the far Left who weep will be ridiculed, maligned or chided for not celebrating with gusto the first female President and the continuance of American aggression and dynastic rule. If in some bizarre anomaly the orange tinted creep sweeps to the throne those of us on the Left who denounced Clinton’s horrific war mongering and corporate loving record and refused to play the inane game of “lesser evilism” will be pilloried and blamed for enabling it all.
In all truth I will be thoroughly shocked if Clinton is not selected. Even George W. Bush, the vile war criminal of the previous administration, has given tacit endorsement of Hillary Clinton in a letter condemning Trump. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention, but it is remarkably simple to condemn that repugnant man with fire retardant flesh tone. And this letter speaks volumes because Bush knows full well that it will bolster Clinton in the neocon circles of the oligarchy. Scores of conservative newspapers have lined up endorsing Clinton also. So with Clinton nearly a shoe in, I know what else is coming.
With the Obama regime as historical precedent, it is safe to assume that white American liberals will shrug indifferent shoulders and fall asleep once more as their government drones children and grandmothers picking okra in their fields or subverts democratically elected governments in the Middle East or Africa or Latin America. They will become champions of reactionary nationalism as a Clinton administration leads the nation into open conflicts with nuclear armed Russia. They will once again turn their heads from the decades long Israeli apartheid regime as Clinton pledges even more support to the hard right despot Netanyahu. They will stay silent in criticism of Clinton’s promotion of fracking or dismantling of social security, something which can be done without much protest under a Democrat. But they can continue to post noncommittal memes on Facebook and Twitter expressing outrage or solidarity with black or brown or red people besieged by a racist system without demanding the dismantling of the very system of capitalist exploitation that is the source of their misery in the first place.
They will rest on the laurels in smug slumber since, in that case, a woman with a big “D” will be sitting in the Oval office. And we should all applaud that, right? First woman president of the American Empire and all? Never mind that a woman named Jill Stein who, while far from perfect, had much greater progressive credentials. Never mind that Margaret Thatcher was also a woman, and one who had a remarkably similar neoconservative resume to Clinton. Never mind that Ms. Clinton supported (and continues to support) a rightwing coup in Honduras that has taken the lives of scores of indigenous, environmental and LGBTQ people, including indigenous environmental activist Berta Cáceres. Or pushed Obama into decimating Libya, once the richest state in Africa, and ghoulishly celebrated the gruesome murder of its president. Or in Haiti where she aided in the creation of a sweatshop economy on behalf of American garment corporations upon an already historically oppressed and humiliated people.
But really, who seriously believes that the privileged white Liberal class in America gives a rat’s ass about those foreign black and brown people? How many white Liberals care about black, brown and red people here, the ones right at home labeled “super predators” by the Queen in waiting only a few years ago, or ignored by her at Standing Rock Sioux?
Forgive me if I fail to celebrate with the Liberal Class if Clinton is anointed Empress. It is beyond question that Trump is a racist vile creature of narcissism and arrogant stupidity. But if self described “progressives” think the Bloody Queen will promote a left friendly agenda that will stop military aggression, the collapse of the biosphere due to blatant rape of the earth by corporations, and cease support for Wall Street then they have been drinking a Kool-Aid far more lethal than any flag waving, Trump supporting, walking head wound.
In any case, we on the true Left must somehow stomach it all and struggle on against militaristic imperialism for the sake of building a more compassionate and just world while there is still time left. And I couldn’t be more serious about the “while there is time left” part. We are running out of that one precious resource rapidly thanks to climate change, the ever present nuclear menace, global pandemic and biosphere collapse. But after all, if we are still in possession of a conscience what else can we do?
End rant here.
Kenn Orphan 2016
The Oligarchs, the Liberal Class and a Basket of Deplorables
This past summer when I had a little time on my hands I decided to watch “The Hunger Games” again (yes, I watch and like certain movies out of pop culture and I am not ashamed to admit that). Suzanne Collins did an amazing job at creating a mirror image of the real world we live in today. But I think the most accurate is in her representation of the wealthy and vapid citizens of the Capitol of Panem. To me, it appears to be a reflection of how out of touch the elites of the Liberal class are with the everyday plight of ordinary people. Their place in a crumbling society does more to protect the excesses of the Oligarchy than champion the rights of the oppressed. And it is their smug lack of self awareness that may very well do them in. This is just an analysis, or an observation. But before I go on I should clarify terms.
I distinguish the Liberal class from leftists in that the latter cannot, in good conscience, ever support the current corporate plutocracy, or its wars for capitalistic imperialism and wanton plunder of the planet for obscene materialistic profit. And when I use the term Liberal class I am referring to that small group of pundits, celebrities, journalists, socialites, fashion and culture gurus and career politicians within the current order, not people who hold progressive values like women’s and LGBTQ rights or racial equality. The Liberal class believes in these things also, or at least they say that they do. But they are unwilling to do anything that would endanger the institutional structures of capitalism that are the primary engines of misogyny, homophobia and racism, because doing so would upend their privileged, elite status.
The Oligarchy is not too unlike that of any other era. They possess tremendous power and own most of the planet’s material wealth. They are an untouchable class of wealth, albeit usually inherited or ill-gotten, who dominate the entire industrial capitalist scheme. They are the .001% in a new Gilded Age and they tolerate and even mingle with the Liberal class only because they defend and promote the economic neoliberal order which fills their coffers. Most revel in an inbred feeling of pseudo-supremacy, and many have a loathsome sociopathic quality to them. Although they own most of the corporate media, silence is golden to them. As in all things there are shades and nuances. No one person is a clone of another. But there are some things worth generalizing.
The Liberal class has had the luxury to decry injustice in American society (and the world for that matter) from afar, in plush salons, high end clubs and trendy cafes thanks to their defense of a system that allows for an Oligarchy and aggressive neo-imperialism. Their answer to social injustice is generally rooted in tepid reforms that do little, or more often resembles a smug, dismissive ridicule common to satirists like Andy Borowitz (1) and narcissistic, billionaire celebrities like George Clooney.
To them protesting misogyny is pushing the agenda of a woman candidate who has shown a remarkable likeness to the late political dominatrix Margaret Thatcher, instead of expressing solidarity with women in Honduras, Haiti or Libya who are being murdered or prostituted as a result of this same powerful woman’s actions. Protesting homophobia is supporting Caitlyn Jenner, an over paid, over publicized transgendered Republican, rather than whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who has been publicly ridiculed for her sexuality and is languishing in prison for exposing the war crimes of the Empire. Protesting racism is celebrating the eight year term of the first Black President, even though he has drone bombed innocent civilians, mostly brown and black people afar, excused torturers and war criminals from the previous administration, increased the surveillance state, and prosecuted more whistleblowers (including the aforementioned Manning) than all US Presidents combined.
The third category I wanted to talk about was recently referred to by Hillary Clinton at a well heeled fundraising gala in New York when she labelled half of Trump supporters “a basket of deplorables.” (2) This, of course, only deepened the divide even more so in the minds of common people in regions of sacrificed America as sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild so eloquently explains.(3) They already feel alienated and humiliated with few prospects for a brighter future, but they used this description as a badge of honor. And although an ugly strain of racist fascism runs deep in a large section of Trump supporters, there are other factors at work that the Liberal class chooses to overlook.
When they are labeled like this, or see memes on social media insulting their intelligence they are more inclined to hate the Liberal class even more so, not alter their opinions and have a “come to Jesus” moment. They may not be able to explain the source of their misery, but they live with the realities of economic neoliberalism, the most barbaric stage of capitalism, which the Liberal class has allowed by capitulating to the Oligarchs over and over. And it isn’t only the white working class. When Black Lives Matter activists interrupted Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders speeches they were met with a barrage of vitriol and anger from a cadre of assorted Liberal elites chiding them for being rude (4). How they compare protesting the modern day lynching of people of color to being ill-mannered to the powerful is a feat of obtuse absurdity. But this is an illustration of just how disconnected they are to reality.
In his recent article “The Courtiers and the Tyrants” veteran journalist and antiwar activist Chris Hedges explained how clueless the liberal class is when it comes to how many ordinary Americans actually see them:
“The Democratic and the professional elites are an easy and often amusing target. One could see them, in another era, prancing at a masked ball at Versailles on the eve of the revolution. They are oblivious to how hated they have become. They do not understand that when they lambast Donald Trump as a disgrace or a bigot they swell his support because they, not Trump, are seen by many Americans as the enemy. But these courtiers did not create the system. They sold themselves to it. And if Americans do not understand how we got here we are never going to find our way out.” (5)
If Hillary Clinton is anointed Empress of the American Empire the Liberal class will sigh in relief. They can continue to shop at Barney’s, attend well heeled openings at the Guggenheim and complain in acceptable forums, financed by the Oligarchy, about injustice and civil rights. But they will be asked to do little more than this. The institutions that make society livable and promising will continue to be steadily gutted, privatized and de-valued. If Trump is somehow able to seize the throne they know their privilege will remain largely in tact, but they will not be so free to express their thoughts except in discretion at private cocktail parties. Every last institution will be debased in such a way that they offer nothing to the enrichment of humanity, but merely serve as a brutal bulwark for the wealthy against the masses. The Liberal class also knows how capricious authoritarians can be and that the silent Oligarchy will abandon them in a heartbeat at first sight of a brownshirt.
In Suzanne Collins “The Hunger Games” the citizens of the Capitol were completely out of touch with the suffering, brutality, poverty and repression of the other districts. They lived comfortable, self-obsessed lives snug to the halls of power. They dined and vomited their meals like the ancient Romans did, so that they could keep feasting even while the masses starved. They were easily swayed by sentimentality and distraction. President Snow, the fictional tyrant of Panem, was far more refined and intelligent than the bombastic narcissist Trump, but his rival, President Coin, was no less ruthless and revealed a comparable penchant for blood lust and authoritarianism.
To be sure, one would be foolish to reduce current events to a dystopic, scifi novel (or a Hollywood movie) primarily written for teenagers. And we would be doing a disservice if we ignored nuance and context. But we are at a deep moment in human history. The biosphere is teetering on the edge of collapse thanks to the excesses of the privileged few in the West. The nuclear menace has never left us. This is the kind of moment where factors may begin to converge and create the potential for a monumental shift in the dominant paradigm. But this can go either well or very, very badly. The wave of justified animus toward the ruling establishment is growing in many communities across the nation, black, white and Native American. But just as this rage could be channeled into progressive social and ecological transformation, it could also lead toward violent fascism. And the recipe of that includes economic downturn, ecological devastation and social unrest.
As in fictional Panem, the Liberal class of the American Empire is out of touch to the everyday miseries of ordinary working people and prefer to smugly dismiss them as stupid or backward or simply misinformed, while defending the very institutions that contributed to the destruction of civic life and the commons in the first place. It is unlikely they will wake up in time to avoid the coming fires of revolution. We can only hope that that “basket of deplorables” Hillary Clinton described will be more merciful than the Oligarchs the Liberals have defended all this time. Speaking of them, they will likely fair better. They will have slipped away silently into the night long before a single match is lit.
Ushering in the Closing Chapter of the Human Species
The epic assaults being carried out against the vulnerable around the world at this very moment will determine the fate of our species and the living earth itself. To the powerful this statement is hyperbole at its extreme, but to those of us on the other side there is no condemnation that is too exaggerated when it comes to the destruction of communities and of the biosphere itself. The attacks are taking place along ancient rivers in the American Dakotas, in the life drenched rain forests of Ecuador, in historic olive groves in Palestine, in the melting tundra of the Arctic circle, in the sun baked Niger Delta, and in the war torn or misery laden shanty’s of Aleppo, Kolkata, Jakarta, Nairobi and beyond. These may seem like separate instances to some, but they are a part of a global struggle and the outcome will in all likelihood determine our collective future and that of millions of other species that we share this planet with.
I believe that the intersectionality of these conflicts are indicative of a broader struggle over guiding principles and mythologies. Some may see this as an oversimplification, and while I would agree that we should be careful to consider and respect nuance, context and individual histories, there are some general themes which may unite us while there is still time. These conflicts have been with our species since we began to walk upright. But now they are global in scale and there are two sides that should be identified above all others.
One side values living beings over profit, and sees protection of the water and the soil and the air as the most fundamental responsibilities of any society. It values cooperation and generosity above individual ambition. It shuns all forms of violent coercion, land theft and repression. It is against aggression and wars of conquest. It is the way of Community. The other is based upon the dominance of the physically powerful and suppression of the weak. It sees the living planet merely as a means for amassing material profit. It commodifies everything, living and non. It values avarice and ruthless competition over cooperation. It believes the only viable way forward is through suppression of dissent, ridicule, marginalization of the poor and the downtrodden, jingoistic nationalism and organized State violence. It is the way of Empire.
The language of Empire is duplicitous. It employs the parlance of pale euphemisms like sustainability, austerity or free trade to obscure its true authoritarian and feudalistic intentions. It encourages nationalistic sentimentality and racial and ethnic division to obscure the reality of its imposed classism. It objectifies the living planet through clever marketing and branding with such subtle ease that it becomes ever more difficult to decipher and parse. But in the end the Empire cannot cloak the stench of a dying world forever with catchy jingles, cynical ploys, shiny new objects, paranoid bigotries or vapid distractions.
In their quest to maintain and grow their coffers, the powerful see the dissolving ice cap as a strategic business opportunity for geopolitical advancement. They see the growing difficulty in extracting high quality petroleum as an excuse to erase ancient mountaintops, pierce deep ocean trenches and scrape away primeval forests for less viable and more earth damaging fossil fuels. They see growing inequities between us and the handful of people who own half the world’s wealth as opportunities for enhanced security walls and surveillance. They see hunger and famine as a chance to litter the world with pesticides and chemically or genetically altered food or factory farms which are little more than massive concentration camps for sentient beings. They see flattened forests and fouled rivers as a way of moving indigenous peoples into overcrowded, cordoned off corporate colonies for easier exploitation, social control and abandonment. And if they continue on their path the world they are forging will rival every other civilization in history in atrocity, repression and misery.
The war the Empire is waging is not about isms or ideologies, it is about power, exploitation and wealth. And to those of us being assaulted the cause is as urgent as it is dire. It is literally about life and death. We see the rising tides of an ever imperiled, acidic sea. We walk in the fallow fields where there may be no crops harvested tomorrow. We breathe the acrid air choked out by smokestacks of insatiable, blind industry. We see the walls and borders and checkpoints and guard dogs and police tanks and surveillance cameras and detention camps burgeoning as if unstoppable. We hear the drums of imperialistic war being beaten every day of every year. And we stand in shock at the unquenchable lust for wealth that stain the halls of power even as they dig our dusty mass graves. When we sound the alarm or even raise concern about any of this we can expect to be ignored, chided or silenced by the powerful in the media, corporations, the military or political establishment or even clergy. We anticipate being co-opted by the ruling oligarchy or by cynical corporate interests. But we are weary of this kind of marginalization and we aren’t going down without a fight.
The powerful will not stop waging their war this year or next. It will undoubtedly play out and grow for the next few decades even as the planet’s ecosystem’s spiral and crash, because dollar signs and dominance are all they truly understand. This is not just another chapter in some unending saga of the human story. It is not something that any resident of planet earth can afford to sit out. If they are victorious this war may very well usher in the closing chapter of the human species and far sooner than anyone could ever imagine. We must join with each other if only to ease each others suffering, or bring one small amount of justice to the oppressed, or to protect one small river way or field or stretch of beach. This war they are waging is against the living planet and their own future whether they realize it or not. But even if they do not care about their children’s future, we must.
Earth Day and the Phantoms of a Pathological Culture
I must start with a confession. I have always been troubled by the concept of Earth Day. I understand its origin and why it came to be, but as an environmentalist I see it as window dressing an unfolding disaster of monumental proportions. It’s not that it is useless. Raising awareness is never useless. But over the years it has morphed from an almost spiritual movement for ecological consciousness and justice into an opportunity for corporations and politicians to tout their empty gestures at “saving the planet” all while they mercilessly plunder it. It also has the effect of neutralizing public outrage at the dire state our world is in. It spreads an all too pervasive “feel goodism” to a situation that is truly existential, not only for countless other species on the planet but for our own.
In our time, the powerful have crafted enormous facades of pomp and ceremony extolling their efforts. Their conferences and consortiums serve as a distraction from their business as usual pillage, and a placation of our collective angst against the backdrop of a gathering storm. But each year gives us a terrifying glimpse into a fast approaching future. One rife with super storms, floods, mega-droughts, crop failures and species collapse.
The economic model that dominates the world is incapable of grappling with our dire predicament. It simply does not possess any sense of ethical obligation, even when it comes to its own species. It has become imperative for us to shake free from this paradigm of self destructive failure and begin the process of true community building. We can talk about the benefits of permaculture and a gift economy, but in order to reach this we need to do something that the Western world routinely scoffs at and ridicules. We must take a long, hard and urgent look into the underpinnings of our entire way of life and the pathology that is industrialized civilization itself. We must look into our soul.
We can start with natural landscapes. They are the contours of the soul. And they have been, and continue to be, brutalized and decimated, or replaced by concrete, glass and steel. The effect this has had on our species is collective alienation and crushing despair. Modern mega-cities are emblematic of this tremendous disconnect from reality. They are scratched onto the land with feverish disregard for nature as well as for their inhabitants. They create an illusion that we are separate from nature, divorced from its power except when confronted by a storm, earthquake, volcano, flood or heatwave. Western science and religion, in whatever form it takes, reinforces the myth of separateness from the natural world, and otherizes the myriad of species we share this planet with.
When European explorers set out to “discover” the world most did not do so as observers. They unmoored their ships and set sail in search of gold and other “precious” metals. In the process they decimated indigenous societies and imposed their world view on where ever they landed. They justified all of this madness through a perverted form of patriarchal religion which augmented a hierarchical system of domination and class that persists to this day. This paradigm still informs the current global economic system, neoliberal capitalism, which commodifies every thing and everyone in the known universe, and transforms them into exploitable, consumable or disposable products.
The truth is that materialism corrupts the very nature of the human soul. It deadens the tendrils of empathy and compassion that have evolved to give meaning to our existence. And it creates an insatiable void needing to be filled by elusive and meaningless junk, which is eventually discarded once the novelty wears off. It is the reason landfills are bursting their confines. It is the reason the world’s oceans have become a toxic soup where plastic refuse is fast out weighing fish and other wildlife. It is behind the rising global temperatures and changing climate. It is the cause of stagnation, addiction and ennui within the general public. It is the reason for every war and conflict; and why our species, along with every other one on this planet, is facing extinction.
To be sure, we cannot expect the dominant culture to bring about any positive or substantive change. It cannot. Not now, not ever. It reflects the pathology that industrial civilization is at its heart. Its “solution” to the looming ecological collapse is to spruce up its image to the “consumer” by taking small, meaningless actions that momentarily sooth our conscience at the moment we are consuming their product. At its very core it is a cancer that must grow rapaciously regardless of the terminal malignancy it inflicts upon the living planet and the weakest of our species. And, as I have noted before, a cancer cannot be “reformed.” It must be extracted or eradicated, or the condition will lead to nothing other than death.
But we need not be plugged into this matrix of delusion and absurdity. We need not play the cruel game of mindless consumption of sentient beings housed in torturous concentration camps, or gadgets crafted in suicidal sweatshops that promise a better life, or entertainment that dehumanizes us or others, or trends that celebrate avarice, militarism and violence. That choice is still left to us. And our agency lies in us realizing this and beginning a transformation that connects us to each other and to the living, yet besieged and battered planet on which we all depend.
I have another confession. I am not a preacher. I loath those who connive or badger or guilt people into altering their lives. I am one of you. I was born into this theater of the absurd, bathed from conception in petroleum, the primordial life blood of industrial civilization. I have been dazzled by the spectacle and I have consumed far more than I have ever had a right to. So I am taking this journey with you because none of us, not one, can do it alone. We cannot face the phantoms of our pathological culture in isolation and think we will emerge on the other side unscathed, intact and whole. One thing I am certain of is that the future of humanity, perhaps nearer than anyone of us could fathom, is destined to be full of misery and strife. In truth it already is for the vast majority of us and countless species we are not even aware of. But if there is any solace to be found it begins in our refusal to be willing participants in the unfolding ecocide, and the recognition of ourselves in each other and every other life form we are surrounded by.
The only way I can honor Earth Day is to grieve all that has been lost, and to refuse to participate in the ongoing destruction. It only has meaning to me if it is not externalized as a commodity with a catchy jingle, and is the beginning of the end for the pathological mindset that has gotten us to where we are now and the collective death knell that lies before us. Maybe the best way to “celebrate” it is in realizing that we need a new community with a natural soul, unseparated from this world. Because in its absence it is nothing more than a mechanical set of empty routines. And a soul without a community has no meaning at all, and is adrift in a universe where love cannot penetrate.
Kenn Orphan 2016
#earthday #climatechange #capitalism #ecocide #consumerism