Let’s stop pretending that the war on Syria just began. The US along with Canada, the EU, the UK, the Saudis, Israel, Russia, and Iran, have been arming factions and reducing the region to smithereens for years, carpet bombing cities and killing scores of civilians in the process.
Let’s stop pretending that the US and its allies have any problem with dictators, death squads or authoritarian regimes since they have propped them up, applauded them, and aided them from Egypt to Honduras to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And they have no problem with carnage if it happens to come from one of their client states, like the Saudi kingdom’s genocide in Yemen or Israel’s slaughter in Gaza.
Let’s stop pretending that any of this is about human rights or the rule of law, or that this will bring about an end to barbarism since the cold hard fact is that stocks are surging for Lockheed Martin, Grumman Northrup and Boeing. This is indeed a global, capitalist arrangement that ultimately benefits the coffers of the wealthy. Endless war, chaos, terrorism and state violence are, to put it bluntly, a boon.
The escalation this time may signify a new level of madness. Thanks to unhinged psychopaths like John Bolton who is back in a position of power, and the generals of the military industrial complex, we are being led down a path that could easily begin a world war with other nuclear armed powers. We’ve been down this road recently with North Korea, so we should not downplay that grim fact because it really could quite literally spell out the final chapter for civilization at any given moment.
So should we be angered? Yes. Surprised? No. While the powerful have never once tried to hide their crimes from us, they would prefer that we forget them. They would like us to pretend that their hypocrisy and selective outrage makes perfect sense. So the choice is really quite simple. We can either continue playing along in this bloody theatre of the absurd or stop being played for fools once and for all.
Time has proven the only tactic of the wealthy Liberal establishment is minimal protest and major capitulation to reactionary power in order to preserve their position in the current order. It is why most serious socialists, anarchists, radicals and leftists refuse to be allies with them. They have all too often felt the sting of betrayal. Nancy Pelosi infamously said “we’re capitalists” when she smugly admonished a young progressive disillusioned with capitalism at a “town hall meeting.” And she was not kidding. The Democratic Party establishment has benefited from and supported Wall Street over and over again and it has always voted in favour of a bloated and aggressive military industrial complex. They have done their part to sponge away the crimes of the capitalist class so long as their place, privilege and status in this sick societal paradigm had a remote chance of being secured.
It is a dangerous delusion, however, to believe George W. Bush or any of the powerful elite, are any different from one another in the end. GWB’s persona might have had a makeover, but his class hasn’t. And Trump is the most accurate emblem of that class. Bush and Trump alike sit atop an extraordinarily cruel and oppressive power structure in American society. The moneyed class only hates Trump because he reveals the true face of predatory capitalism to the public without the cloak of their “blue blooded” pomp, flourishes and sentimentality. Of course he must be opposed, but this alone is meaningless unless the entire oppressive, self-destructive, planet decimating system, of which he and Bush both belong, is brought down with him.
Given all of this, going back in time may seem desirable for some. This is especially true for those who were not adversely affected by the egregious or even murderous policies, plunder and wars of the past. But it is only the privileged who can entertain such flights of fancy. To cozy up to power or erase their crimes is to become allies with the very forces that threaten our collective doom. The current order is one which is poised to destroy not just civilization but the entire biosphere. Rapid, monumental action is required to halt a system which is leading us to certain ruin, and address and mitigate the chaos of an unfolding dystopic present and future. In politics, this is not the time to protect a murderous status quo or preserve one’s own privilege within it. This is an existential crisis which requires a global revolution in thought and practice. Nothing less will do.
I can only hope most liberals will learn this painful lesson soon, while there is still time left to do so.
The recent shake up in the media over President Trump’s condolence call to the bereaved widow of Sgt La David Johnson, whose body was found after an ambush in Niger near the border with Mali, has shined a light on an all too murky subject. Putting Trump’s appalling dearth of empathy aside, we should look closer and honestly at why this soldier and the others who were killed were in Niger in the first place. One of 800 US military personnel, we are told that Johnson was there to “support and train the local forces to improve counterterrorism efforts.” But in this age of deliberate obfuscation with the so-called “war on terror” used as a blanket excuse for American militarism such a statement belies the real reasons for their presence on the continent. Many Americans couldn’t locate Niger on a map to save their lives but the global capitalist class can. They have had their talons there and across Africa for decades. In Niger, for example, the US military has been working with the French who once held the impoverished country as a colony and now exploit it for its rich resources. Meanwhile at least 63% of Nigeriens live under the global poverty line. And like most African nations they are forced to pay “debt” to the nations that once enslaved them for the “benefits” they received from centuries of European subjugation.
Today the ruse continues thanks to the cover of “counterterrorism” which justifies the presence of US and European troops and special forces in order to protect the interests of multi-national corporations who pillage resource rich regions across Africa. Niger alone has one of the world’s largest uranium deposits along with coal, iron ore, tin, phosphates, and gold to name just a few.
While it is true that violent extremism is a major problem from groups like Boko Haram or Al-Shabab, it is equally true that the global elite have exacerbated tensions and even fomented some by creating situations which pit one group against another. The brutal attack in Mogadishu earlier this month which killed hundreds and maimed thousands more, for instance, might have been the result of Trump’s pledge to “ramp up” attacks against the violent extremists of Al-Shabab. Incidentally, Somalia like Niger is rich in uranium.
The best response to the threats of Boko Haram and Al-Shabab come in the absence of militaristic aggression. It is African women, for instance, who have mounted the most effective campaigns to fight the brutality of Boko Haram. And as history has shown militarism generally destabilizes societal infrastructure and increases the suffering of the vulnerable and the oppressed. A perfect example of this is the US war against Afghanistan. The Pentagon along with many feckless feminists promoted it in part to “liberate women” from the Taliban. Sixteen years later we can see how that lie turned out. We can also take a look at Afghanistan’s vast mineral resources and opium to understand why the American Empire keeps the longest war in its history going.
It’s time to be brutally honest. The US soldiers killed in Niger may not have fully understood their role but they were not there “protecting the homeland” or “fighting for freedom.” They were not “liberating locals” either. They were employed to protect the capital investments of the global .01%. And when the mask is ripped off it becomes apparent that colonialism in Africa and around the globe never really ended. Quite the contrary. It has only morphed into a more insidious and noxious form of plunder in this desperate era of late stage, predatory capitalism. And the military, whether wittingly or not, is ultimately protecting the elite, their interests and their vast, ill-gotten wealth.
The celebrated American actor Morgan Freeman’s recent “We Are At War With Russia” stint is one of the most bizarre examples of recent propaganda since Joe McCarthy tore through Hollywood. Funded in part by director Rob Reiner of TVland “meathead” notoriety and Max Boot, the neocon who advised war criminal John McCain and who currently advises the US military, this unintended burlesque exudes an all too familiar toxic strain of American exceptionalism along with a dangerously insular view of the world.
In the short video Freeman encourages the viewer to imagine a scenario where Russian president Vladimir Putin has some kind of decades long grudge against the United States because of the collapse of his “motherland.” I am no fan of Putin. I oppose his militarism, his abysmal treatment of opponents and dissidents, and his KGB-esque authoritarianism. And many Russians continue to challenge their government in protests across their country. But does Freeman really think Putin is carrying out some vendetta like the plot of some cheesy Hollywood movie? He goes on to say that he is “undermining democracies around the world” via social media and the internet. All of this is said without even the slightest hint of irony. Could he be that ignorant of his own nation’s history or the role the CIA and DoD has had (and still does) in subverting the democratic process in virtually every region on earth? Does he really not know about Iran? or Chile? or Indonesia? or Congo?
Freeman then announces that he has requested Congress and the intelligence community to “use every resource available to conduct a thorough investigation determine exactly how this happened.” Does he really think this “intelligence community,” the same one that went after Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and scores of antiwar, LGBT, Civil Rights and feminist activists or that lied to the public about “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq is trustworthy and capable of rising above their long legacy of mendacity and corruption? And is he really reducing the phenomenon of the rise of the idiot Trump solely to alleged Russian interference in American elections? By declaring a figurative war against them, it appears so.
The video ends with risible lies about the American Empire being “a shining example to the world” and predictable platitudes regarding the US military supposedly“defending” democracy and keeping the nation safe against foreign enemies. It is nationalism at its most foul.
What is perhaps the saddest part of this absurd spectacle is that it courts the most aggressive and reactionary forces within the US political, intelligence and military establishment in an effort to depose Trump, a pea-brained, narcissistic megalomaniac. It dances on the edge of all out global war without a bit of foreboding as to what that war might actually look like for billions of people. It eagerly seeks to depose a fascist goon by getting into bed with fascist goons.
Unsurprisingly, Freeman’s strange call to arms has been lauded by many Americans. But when it comes to their nation’s short history, or the enormous role their government has played in destroying democracy around the world, or the blatant flaws endemic to their own system riddled with corruption, too many of them are willfully obtuse. And this is how Hollywood dutifully plays its role in pumping out propaganda which obscures the truth about American Empire, magnifies a dangerous, parochial myth of supremacy, and manufactures external bogeymen for the public to project all of their fears, animus and failings at.
They dare not call out their true enemies. They dare not speak of the wealthy elite and their organized crime of corporate capitalism. Or millionaire politicians. Or the judiciary and police forces drenched in institutional and violent racism. Or a blind and bloated military industrial complex. Or industry executives profiting from the plunder of the earth’s biosphere and decimation of the climate, or any of the actual, existential threats they face. Heaven forbid. Because doing so might reveal what so many already know deep inside. As the American naval commander Oliver Hazard Perry once said “we have met the enemy, and they are ours.”
Since the fiasco of this last US Presidential election cycle the corporate press has been busy launching a crusade against “fake news” and scrambling to understand why it is that so many people despise and distrust them. Unsurprisingly, they have many fingers to point, but not one of them is toward themselves. In the last week we have endured self righteous, nauseating screeds by elitist blowhards like Dan Rather and Christiane Amanpour imploring the press to “step up” now that the fascist Trump has been swept to the throne of American Empire. Their egregious lack of introspection is baffling given that only six companies own nearly 90% of all media and has been the mouthpiece for and defender of Corporate State sponsored plunder, murder and mayhem for decades.
Without a doubt Trump is horrifying. And now this megalomaniac who wears his racist, misogynistic ignorance as a badge of honor, has sweeping powers granted to him from the Obama presidency. So the question to them is where were they when President Obama was expanding these Executive Branch powers? Where were they when he was drone bombing wedding parties and ambulances? Were they too busy boozing it up at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner and laughing at the President’s joke about using these drones to take out the Jonas brothers? Where were they when he said he was “really good at killing people,” or when he codified the indefinite detention of American citizens by military tribunal, or when his regime was assassinating American citizens all without due process?
Where were they when his administration excused the torturing criminals from the previous Bush regime? Or prosecuted more whistleblowers than all US presidents combined, like the mercilessly persecuted Chelsea Manning who exposed US war crimes? Or deported more undocumented people than any other US President? Or when the news of his “Kill List” surfaced? Or when his Secretary of State pushed for decimating Libya and ghoulishly celebrated the gruesome murder of its president on one of their news segments exclaiming in true imperialistic form: “We came, we saw, he died?” Their coverage of all of this was either weak as dishwater or buried in back pages, but they had no trouble reporting “news” related to celebrities or sports, or inflating crises and stoking paranoia as in the instance of the human tragedy of Ebola in West Africa.
The same corporate news imploring the public to shun “fake news” had no problem peddling propaganda that led to the war on Vietnam and Iraq and Libya. It downplayed the cruelty of the medieval kingdoms of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and the decades long system of apartheid in Israel. It has spent its lifetime being the mouthpiece for Empire, Inc. and made a career of manufacturing outrage, vapid celebrity obsession and paranoia, spinning the planet killing lies of the fossil fuel and war industries, and spreading Pentagon lies which have cost millions of lives and contributed to one of the biggest mass migrations in human history. It has suppressed existential news related to Fukushima and climate change, virtually ignored systemic racism and the prison/surveillance machine, and is turning a blind eye to the unfolding atrocities at Standing Rock Sioux. And yet somehow with all of this it has the gall to expect people of conscience to feel sorry for it, forget about these lies and omissions, and believe them now when they cry foul after that cloak of deception has been lifted.
The hubris of the powerful dances with willful ignorance in the most stunning of ways indeed.
Ancient empires all had one thing in common. They developed myths that served to obscure the pathology inherent to their very existence. They created barriers of irrational tribalism and superstition that cloaked cogent warnings of descent and collapse. They became drunk with pious self importance and bread and circuses filled their days and nights while they ignored the anger in the streets and the famine in the fields. In short, none of them saw the end coming. But, alas, it did come.
I, like every other American, was raised hearing similar myths. I was instructed that we were the “good guys,” that “God was on our side” and anyone our nation went to war with was evil. I grew up believing that Ronald Reagan brought down the Berlin Wall and Soviet Russia, and the United States military was the most noble in all the world, battling the evil Saddam Hussein in defense of incubator babies in Kuwait. Each successive military intervention was to help the oppressed in some godforsaken part of the world, or as a necessary exercise to defend freedom and the homeland. In truth, I grew up in a sea of lies immersed in a culture conditioned to ignore the impact of its genocidal, slavery ridden, colonial roots. When I was older these stories began to unravel in the daylight of a brutal and unforgiving truth. And I began to realize that I was a citizen of the most powerful and ruthless empire the world has ever known.
The American Empire now spans the entire world with military bases in almost every nation. But to most of its citizens it is not an empire at all. In fact, many see the United States as some kind of benevolent giant, eager to bestow good fortune on any people on earth as long as they respect our “democratic values.” The true intention of US interventions and their horrific aftermaths are obscured by design. The mainstream press, which is owned by a few powerful corporations, acts as a mouthpiece for government propaganda, and does not show the public the body parts of young lovers at a wedding obliterated by US drone strikes, or the bodies of doctors burned alive in a hospital by a hell fire missile, or a little girl sliced to shreds by a cluster bomb, or a grandmother blown up in front of her grand children as she picks okra in her field.
The general public essentially has no grasp of the long, dark history of US backed coups, death squads or mercenary militias financed and trained by the Department of Defense or the CIA. This history is carefully edited by the elite. And what is perhaps even more alarming is that most are not aware of, or alarmed by, the pernicious growth of the militarized police and surveillance state at home. The same hypermasculine, nationalistic culture that infects almost every sports event or educational ceremony, and wraps a flag around the eyes of an ever distracted, demoralized and disenfranchised public, encourages obedience to a brutal form of internalized authoritarianism. It is fascism writ large. And this is also useful to a treacherous military industrial sector which swindles young men and women, with scant economic or educational choices left to them, to join their ranks. Beholden to high ideals of service and duty, most are swept into a malicious machine that pits them against other poor, disenfranchised youth in far flung places around the world.
The ugly truth is that the Unites States, with the aid of efficiently trained storm troopers and well paid private mercenaries, is the main arbiter of terrorism and war in the Middle-east, drug trafficking in Central America and political turmoil in Africa. And all of the spoils of each new war or military exercise invariably go in the coffers of the wealthy and powerful. Ordinary soldiers are expendable after their usefulness to plunder is depleted. And if they survive, but return home damaged, they are hurriedly escorted into the shadowy corners of the homeland, neglected, abandoned and forgotten. This is why one rarely, if ever, sees the son of a politician or daughter of a corporate executive embedded in real combat missions. They know how the myths work very well, and they believe their aristocratic blood is too precious to be spilled for the loot they enjoy from each one of these exploits.
In the end, however, militaristic societies invariably turn their animus inward toward the weakest and most vulnerable. Gun violence and mass shootings, police brutality with impunity, entrenched, institutionalized racism, misogyny and anti-immigrant sentiments are signatures of this path to self-destruction. It becomes impossible for the powerful to export guns and aggression abroad and keep the homeland unsullied by the same mechanisms of violence for too long. And growing income disparity, where half of the world’s wealth is held by a mere handful of people, only serves to inflame this corrosive antipathy further among a humiliated populace. It will however, without a doubt, end.
How, then , shall we live at the end of empire? The ruling class would like nothing less than for us to forget ourselves and each other, and to wallow in our fears and prejudices, or indulge in vacuous narcissism, mindless shopping or obsess over the insipid escapades of celebrities. It must keep up the facade of democracy to maintain its continued plunder of the living earth and all who inhabit it. After all, we cannot expect the merchants of death, distraction and consumption to be anything other than duplicitous. And no leader that emerges from their ranks, no matter how forthright they may appear to be, will be permitted to buck or disrupt the liturgy of rapacious greed and authoritarian aggression that underpins imperialism itself.
Today’s empire is only different from ones long ago in its scope and its technological prowess. It covers the entire planet, the only home humanity has ever known. It fuels itself by ravenously piercing the flesh of the earth like an insatiable mosquito, sucking one last drop of its primordial blood before it exhales its noxious breath into the atmosphere, all while checkering the landscape with apocalyptic weapons to protect its habit. If there is an antidote to the poison of empire it is in realizing it is a poison to begin with, as deadly to the exploiter as it is to the exploited. The toxic indoctrination that informs every part of life within its reach must be rejected and replaced with a new story of who we are and what kind of world we wish to live in and create for our children. And to start building its foundation, brick by brick. But unless we take that antidote very soon imperialism’s penchant for avarice, plunder and belligerence is poised to decimate it all in the blink of an eye.
The statistics are staggering. From Columbine to Virginia Tech to Sandy Hook, the United States, according to a recent study, leads the world in mass shootings. This year alone there have been 294 such incidents. It should be noted that it does not take into account gang related gun violence or family slayings through the use of firearms. But the response is equally mind numbing. After each incident there is feigned outrage from the mainstream media and meaningless platitudes from politicians. Nothing is done to stem this epidemic in any meaningful way, shape or form. Some make claims that a dearth of morality and the removal of religious references in the public arena are the root causes, and that more guns are the answer. While others focus on a lack of mental health services and lax gun regulations. But in truth, the United States was founded on gun violence and it continues to underpin every one of its institutions.
Early on, illegal settlers of mostly European origin cleared the land of its indigenous population, and maintained centuries of slavery largely through the use of guns. And while the Empire expanded on this continent, it entered into wars for over 200 of its 239 years of existence. Indeed, violence has always been exalted in the culture of this country, from a military that is impervious to reproach or criticism, to a popular obsession with punitive and draconian law and order. It is a culture that can take a mass murderer like the late Chris Kyle and re-cast him as a national and cinematic hero.
In this atmosphere dissenting from the modern, reactionary interpretation of the sacrosanct Second Amendment might find you getting death threats which, in the current climate, can never be dismissed as merely rhetorical. As in any fundamentalist ideology, questioning the foundational belief system is viewed as a threat to be dealt with harshly or eliminated completely. But unless this historic reality is faced, the current situation will only continue and grow more brutal and terrifying.
The American way of life, by its very nature, is incapable of responding coherently to mass shootings since practically all of its communication and transactions are based upon the currency of violence. This permits the powerful to exist within a bubble of hypocrisy, where a sitting President can chide the nation on its gun obsession while not grappling with the irony of his ‘kill list,’ or his justifications for using the ultimate, modern firearm, the combat drone, to bomb wedding parties, hospitals and grandmothers picking ocra in their fields abroad.
At home, the powerful have steadily armed a corrupt police force with military grade weaponry. These forces serve as occupying armies in cities across the country, protecting the property of the ownership class, and preserving the status quo. And as the empire crumbles and ecosystems begin to crash they are not about to dismantle the very institutions that will provide them cover in the impending social unrest.
The arms industry, too, will stop at nothing to maintain a certain level of rage and paranoia for the sake of their bottom line. It drives the American economy; and, with the help of Hollywood, has deftly stoked racist and misogynistic hatred to convince countless young, white men that their way of life is threatened by lawless minorities, powerful women or foreign terrorists with Arabic sounding names. Fear is the industry’s profit maker, and in a nation where income disparities are growing and opportunities for meaningful advancement are shrinking, their business is booming.
All of this has contributed to turning the United States into a wasteland of alienation and emptiness for millions of people. And for many young, white, straight males, whose agency to control their lives is fast slipping away, this desolate landscape unhinges them. They are disenfranchised from their own lives, raised on the liturgy of cut throat capitalism and the oxymoronic “free market,” and fed a steady diet of jingoism and military conformity. They are conditioned to respond to all things with the language of aggression, and view competition as the only legitimate way of life. If you are poor, damaged or incapable of participating in this theater of cruelty you are mocked and ridiculed or, worse, rendered invisible.
Tragically, there are bound to be more mass shootings. Within the hypermasculine climate of modern American culture, cooperation and empathy are viewed as character flaws and fatal weaknesses. This, combined with the losing game of neoliberal capitalism, has become a recipe for rage among huge swaths of young people who, no matter how hard they may try, can never hope to succeed within a rigged system.
The United States is a nation that is awash in guns and filled with angry, mostly white, young men. It has been this way since its inception. It is its character and how it defines itself. But now gun technology is far more accurate and lethal. And the US, along with the rest of industrial civilization, is teetering on the verge of economic and ecological collapse. Hoping that the powers that be will take reasonable and responsible actions to address this will only guarantee disappointment. If there is any solution it would be in the American people’s courage to reflect and recognize the true face of aggression and its endemic nature. But time is fast running out for that. And the mirror is beginning to crack.
This week well over 100 civilians were slaughtered in Yemen by a Saudi drone strike while they were attending a wedding. The massacre is yet one more atrocity piled upon a wretched heap of hypocrisy and hubris. But it, like the other US supported or orchestrated drone strikes, will undoubtedly disappear from the headlines in a matter of weeks, if not days.
Saudi Arabia, like Israel, is a client state of the American Empire and is vital to its unending, colonial quest for dominance in the Middle-east. Its atrocities, like Israel, are explained away or not even covered at all by the Western mainstream press. The medieval kingdom of Saud has beheaded nearly 90 people this year alone for “offenses” like witchcraft or blasphemy. It mercilessly persecutes its Shia minority, oppresses women, executes LGBTQ people and tolerates the enslavement of domestic workers from the Philippines. But the US media barely utters a peep (except, perhaps, to occasionally criticize the kingdom’s no driving policy for privileged Saudi women). The atrocities of ISIS, on the other hand, are rarely ever out of Western press coverage.
Right now, Saudi Arabia is doing to Yemen what Israel did to Gaza last summer. And, as in that case, the barbarity has the unflinching support of the Nobel Peace Prize winner in the White House, and both criminal political parties in the US Senate. As in Gaza, the poor continue to be pulverized by the powerful. And this same elite class will, most assuredly, give themselves awards for this savagery with the uncritical support from a sycophantic, apathetic corporate owned media.
Yemen, like Cambodia or Chile or Honduras or Somalia or Libya or Ukraine will be easily forgotten by the ruling elite. And the West will wash the entire narrative of its culpability. It must, after all, if it intends to continue its rampage. All battlefields have become testing grounds for their latest products. And the most lucrative industry of the American Empire is arms dealing. It is Chaos and Misery, Inc. and you can be sure they will not give that up without a fight.
But as we look at Yemen or Gaza dispassionately, we would be foolish to not take a closer look at ourselves. The Empire is beginning to crack as our living earth groans under its insipid and insatiable corpulence. And as it does we can expect the power class to treat the vast majority of us much like those in these ever besieged nations: as valuable when we can furnish them with wealth, and easily disposable if we refuse.
In the disintegrating days of any society, nationalism, political charade and vapid farce often become the dominant narrative of the elite. These serve as distractions from their malfeasance, and the malaise and dread that most people, whether conscious of it or not, are feeling at the deepest level of their psyche. They also reflect the mania that often grips the mind when disaster is looming. And unless we insulate ourselves within this rubric of duplicity, or are so busy with the tasks imposed on us by the act of living in a society with increasingly less agency, it is near impossible to ignore the ominous signs on the horizon. Reports about mass extinction, climate chaos and a rising militarized, totalitarian state are ubiquitous.
The other night I went out to the movies. This is not a big deal for many, but for me it is. I stopped going to see most Hollywood productions a while ago when I found myself increasingly alienated from the violent messages I saw being aggressively communicated. Much of it is nothing new.
Hollywood has always glamorized and championed patriarchy, gratuitous vulgarity, mindless consumerism and a detachment from the natural world. And it, ironically, has patted itself on the back for being at the forefront of social change, when historically it has dutifully supported and promoted the most entrenched, dehumanizing and churlish forms of racism, homophobia, misogyny, Islamophobia, and antisemitism. In truth it is the best mouthpiece for the status quo power class and a bulwark for the reactionary establishment. While conveniently recasting itself as a civil rights pioneer when all the hard work has been done, Hollywood takes credit for something it had once vehemently opposed.
Sitting there in the darkened theater, waiting for the film I chose to begin, I was barraged by a cacophony of violent jingoism in each preview of movies to come. The military was cast as the savior of the world, women were objectified in persistent, degrading stereotypes, and the “other” of foreign nations were dehumanized and vilified. Of course one can trace much of this back to WWII when the Japanese were portrayed as bloodthirsty, dim witted beasts.
This insidious racism soothed the American psyche into justifying the nuclear decimation of tens of thousands of civilians and assisted the acceptance of the forced internment of Japanese Americans into concentration camps. One can go back even further to 1915 to the infamous film “Birth of a Nation” which depicted Black men as rapists and a danger to the entire republic. What better way to vindicate the horrors of Jim Crow and decades of state sanctioned terror via lynching parties? But over the last decade there has been a surge of hyper-masculine, chauvinistic nationalism depicted in film and media with technical flare.
Sadly, in the midst of all of this, many in America, and to a lesser extent other Western nations, appear to be retreating into a form of infantilism, clinging to religious mythologies about “end times” and supernatural tampering with humanity, or nefarious government conspiracies around every corner. This is a common response to a sense of powerlessness. Ironically, these fantasies coincide with the very real prospect of collapse and even near term human extinction. But those who are confounded by reason, overwhelmed by a merciless onslaught of disinformation, and battered by class oppression, will often attribute calamity to the divine’s wrath at innocuous human rights and social issues like marriage equality or women’s reproductive freedom.
Hollywood nourishes this confusion by inducing a national amnesia regarding what their country has done and what crimes it is capable of committing, both at home and abroad. It achieves this by producing a never ending stream of series or movies that retell and re-frame Biblical stories, or are about natural disasters (most of which are implausible), supernatural beings like zombies or vampires that compete for gloulish and macabre attention, or imagined threats from foreign “others” who represent everything we despise. In truth, the wealthy power class has always thrived on violence and the incitement of division. It has been and remains the currency that they use to hold on to power and maintain the barrier that insulates them from its consequences. It is the drug of choice for brutes and psychopaths; and when it is unbridled it deftly manages to hollow out the very core of human dignity. How else could the US military, which has a long, documented history of heinous human rights violations, convince young, disaffected youth to join their ranks to fight people abroad far more impoverished than they are? How else can they cajole them to defend an empty concept of liberty that has been systematically hacked away from them at home?
Ultimately, violence masks the alienation from society and estrangement from the natural world that so many of them feel. It is the doom of virtue and the supreme manifestation of despair. The plutocracy has become unbeatable through its use of it abroad; and it has deftly worked at militarizing the police at home. They have become masters at harnessing its seductive lure; and there is no armed resistance that can counter their forces. They eagerly manufacture new, re-branded enemies to divide and conquer the beset masses; and distract them from their powerlessness. But now we are teetering on the edge of global collapse and the charades are becoming a nightmarish, technologically advanced, spectacle. From desensitizing video games to movies extolling the glory of war; the machine of propaganda is at fever pitch.
As the US empire continues to expand its reach through its spread of military bases, and its constant antagonism of other world powers, like China in the South China Sea or Russia in the Ukraine, we can expect reactionary nationalism at home to be stoked further. It has even expanded the war on nature, as the US Navy prepares to conduct military exercises, the largest of their kind in history, in the pristine waters off Alaska and in the Arctic. And with the curtain falling on Western civilization through its own hubris, Hollywood will become even more manic and detached from reality than it is today. It is, after all, the global voice of corporate capitalism and it faithfully follows the dictates of Wall Street and the Pentagon. Sadly, it cannot do anything but limn the lies of empire, even as ecosystems fall around them and war and totalitarianism become permanent features of the 21st century. How long it will be able to cast its shadows on the wall of this cave, before it all comes down around them, is unclear. But we do have a choice on whether to continue watching the spectacle, or turn away in time to salvage some of what is left of our humanity and this world.
In the past few years scientific models have been sending humanity a rather ominous message: evidence indicates that the earth’s climate has taken a dangerous and irreversible turn. As the once frozen Arctic Ocean rapidly liquefies into ice free summers, releasing tons of the potent greenhouse gas methane, and desertification stretches out across new regions, weather patterns around the globe appear to be spiraling out of control in a nonlinear manner. Each passing month we have seen record after record be demolished. The spring of 2015 has been catastrophic with scores dying from heat waves in India, forest fires in Siberia, monstrous floods in Texas, southern China and Eastern Europe and an intractable drought in the American west, the Middle-east and Brazil. And with an El Nino looming, summer and autumn are shaping up to be even more ferocious. Yet despite the recent, historic People’s Climate March in New York City, the machine of capitalist driven consumption grinds on unabated, undeterred and unconcerned about the impending collapse.
Amidst the unfolding chaos some of us still look to the environmental movement for answers, solace, or even hope. After all, it sprang out of sickness and grief at what this machine was doing to the natural world. It grew from the heart of empathy for all life, human and non. But the failure of the movement was in its acquiescence to capitalism. In so doing it imploded the consciousness of substantive transformation.
Capitalism, in its very essence, is about endless growth and exploitation of the environment for material gain. It is kept alive by a monetary system derived from how much energy is produced and consumed. And in the global “free market” system environmentalist causes may be soothed at home; but in far flung nations the earth and the poor are continually battered and raped by corporations and the corrupt governments that house them. Sweat shops abound, virgin forests continue to be razed for palm oil, poaching keeps animal populations constantly on the cusp of extinction, rainforests and wetlands continue to be polluted by mining companies and Big Oil, and the oceans remain the most abused natural resource on the planet. And militarism, which is of course married to capitalism, ensures that all of this exploitation can continue and expand while hiding it under a cloak of nationalistic jingoism, ironically extolling the fight for freedom and liberty while defending the greatest slaver of all time.
Under neoliberal capitalism, which Wikipedia defines as “privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy,” the environmental movement morphed into what it is today, a meaningless exercise aimed at maintaining the implausibility of endless, mindless consumption with the veneer of concern for ecosystems. It has become all about “sustainability” despite the contradiction of it sustaining a system that is ultimately self-destructive. And it has branded itself with euphemisms like “green” or “earth friendly,” as if our species were somehow alien visitors to this planet and being friendly to it was a diplomatic concern. Of course many have been cajoled by the flashy promises of mega corporations that co-opted the environmental movement for profit. And certainly, a handful of corporations did in fact change some of their practices under public pressure and for the sake of image; but the primary engine of capitalism that has led us to the brink of devastation was never halted. It merely greenwashed its planet killing practices through slick marketing campaigns. Even oil companies, the wealthiest and dirtiest of businesses, has attempted to greenify its public persona.
It cannot be over stated that it was fossil fuels that propelled neoliberal economics and defined Western society. Beginning with the sterile environment of the delivery room to the cold slab of the coroner, from birth to death we are bathed in it. Our food is grown and protected by it. Our communication and transportation is dependent on it. It is the foundation of modern medicine. In short, petrochemicals, whether in solid, gaseous or liquid form, have ensured us, the privileged few, a relatively predictable and easy ride through life. But this ease came with a hefty price. The burning of these fuels has caused an unstoppable surge in temperature that imperils it all. And the rapacious appetite of corporations for the earth’s blood has ruined entire nations with war and corruption, and led to the demise of countless species, with our own likely to be on the list in the near future.
It is a fair conclusion that Western civilization has been provided with flocks of squealing canaries warning us of the looming catastrophe that our political, media and business leaders deftly ignored in their quest for votes, ratings and profits. When a science denying cretin like Oklahoma Senator, Jim Inhofe, chairs the committee on the Environment and Public Works, or President Obama lampoons climate change deniers only to approve of Shell’s oil drilling ventures in the Arctic, one can easily see a complete dead end in elected officials. And the disinformation campaign of news outlets like Fox or the purposeful omissions of CNN present little hope in the mainstream media.
In truth, there are no answers to be found in the halls of Washington, the hills of Hollywood or the board rooms of Wall Street. They are all faithful servants of neoliberal capitalism, and have been laboring for years to dismember the commons, grow their inordinate wealth through plunder and maintain their dominance. The sacredness of the public space has been defiled by their liturgy of self absorbed narcissism. And they have manufactured a culture of cruelty, devoid of character and predicated on the commodification and exploitation of everything that exists. In this way, neoliberalism has become the most elaborate and successful form of brainwashing and social control the world has ever known, convincing hundreds of millions of people of the necessity of its economic tyranny.
But there is a longing for connection and solidarity with one another that transcends the mindless consumerism we have been spoon fed since birth. Therefore the most coherent response to what we are witnessing should come from ordinary people in community. And it should be organized before the fall is in full swing. The Occupy movement was a glimpse into how this can be accomplished. But if it, like any other social movement, is co-opted by a politician or party it will be crushed under its heel once in power. It is also worth remembering that all social movements, like Occupy, the Arab Uprising or Black Lives Matter, are a threat to the capitalist order and will always be met with state violence and distortion by the mainstream media.
Perhaps with these concepts in mind, despite the threat of a misanthropic power class, war, famine, and a very angry climate, our species will beat the odds this time too. Indeed, homo sapiens have beaten a lot of odds. Born of the stuff that spawned all life on the planet, in ponds rich with amino acids, we eventually evolved out of several incarnations and through some very close calls into what we are today. Arguably, our altruism and communal bonds provided just as much for our survival as our cleverness and cunning. But the value of living in community and honoring the other transcends mere survival, and technology will not save civilization. This is because it was, in part, technology which instilled in humanity the myth of separateness from the natural world, and the myriad of species we share this planet with. And thanks to the insatiable consuming technology of industrialism, the delicate and essential life giving systems of our world are on the brink of breaking down, that is if they have not already begun to do so.
Industrial civilization now encompasses the entire planet with less and less arable land, acidified oceans, less potable drinking water and billions more of us on the way. When one mixes in the threat of nuclear war or meltdowns, raging storms, sea level rise and pandemics the probability of collapse becomes more prescient. And it is worth repeating that our species hasn’t figured out how to live anywhere else than this earth. One would think that would be enough to spur us to action; because it would take nothing short of a miracle to beat those odds, and we are in desperate need of one. We are standing, however, at the precipice of a Great Fall; and it would be foolish not to recognize that civilizations, both past and present, have a remarkable way of doing themselves in without much outside help at all.