“We have met the enemy and he is us.”

We blame society, but we are society.

That is such a simple truth and for that reason it is easy to ignore or not fully grasp. It slips past us, as if it were just a nice saying. Yet it is the literal and most basic truth of our entire existence. We are social creatures, at the very core of our being.

Living in a dysfunctional society, this gives us plenty of opportunities to think about what this means. I realize most people would rather not think about it because then they’d feel a sense of moral responsibility to do something about it. That is all the more reason for the rest of us, unable to ignore it, to force this issue into public attention. Again and again and again.

People say we have no choice but to choose what society offers us. This is regularly seen during the campaign season. Just hold your nose, eat the plate of shit given you, and try to keep it down.

It’s the saddest thing in the world to see the abused voter returning to the two-party system that abuses them, as if they deserve the abuse. You try to argue with them, but the victim predictably defends the abuser: he’s not so bad, he really loves me, I couldn’t live without him, etc. Even though the victim is physically free to leave, they can’t imagine a life that is different or rather can’t imagine that they deserve anything else.

All of society is about relationships. These relationships don’t exist outside of us. We are our relationships in a fundamental sense. It is what defines us. As such, we should choose our relationships carefully and when necessary choose new relationships.

We don’t live in an overtly violent and oppressive militarized police state. If we speak our minds or act independently, we aren’t likely to be arbitrarily imprisoned or executed. Despite our society being a banana republic, we still do have basic freedoms, even with the elections being rigged. Besides, democracy isn’t an election. Nor is it the government. No, to find democracy look in a mirror or, better yet, look into the face of your neighbor. We are democracy.

If we don’t like the choices within our democracy, we need to act differently. No one is going to give us democracy. No one can give us permission to be free and to act freely. Voting for the right candidate is not the issue, much less the solution.

We will have a functioning democracy if and only when we act as functioning democratic citizens. We’ve allowed ourselves to be fooled. Yet all that it would take for us to see clearly is to remove the blindfold and open our eyes. And all that it would take for us to act freely is to loosen the shackles, once we realized they were never locked.

Some on the political left would like to entirely blame the rich for our failed democracy. Others on the political right would blame the poor. But both sides are wrong. The rich are too small in number to stop what the public demanded, if the public ever were to demand actual democracy. And the poor vote at too low of a rate, for various reasons.

We have a welfare state because that maintains the social order, not because anyone wants a welfare state. It’s just the other side of the corporatocracy. The welfare state just keeps the masses comfortable enough that they will neither vote for reform nor start a revolution. As I’ve said many times before, it is the bread part of the bread and circus.

No one, rich or poor, is necessarily happy with our society. Yet we lack the collective ability to envision anything better. We’re trapped by our own demoralized apathy and crippled imagination. We are dominated by fear, but we forget that we are what we fear. The dysfunction we see is the expression of our own behavior, the results of our own choices. It is fear that holds our society together.

So, the only way to reclaim our society and our democracy is by claiming that fear. That is the source of the power we’ve given away.

8 thoughts on ““We have met the enemy and he is us.”

  1. Benjamin, although i agree with many of the individual comments here, I find the essay as a whole quite incoherent and confusing. You say, “we are society.” Okay, and so? What exactly does it mean ” to function as democratic citizens”? How are we functioning now? Or this: “We are dominated by fear, but we forget that we are what we fear. The dysfunction we see is the expression of our own behavior, the results of our own choices. It is fear that holds our society together. So, the only way to reclaim our society and our democracy is by claiming that fear. That is the source of the power we’ve given away.” Where does that sudden thought come from, and what does it mean or entail in terms of your larger thesis — which itself is not clear to me.

    • I thought it fairly obvious and self-explanatory. But I realize that in our society few people understand what society is and what makes our society the way it is. We are such a hyper-individualist society that we are near incapable of seeing the world from any other perspective. I find that sad.

      I also consider it obvious that we are either already a banana republic or close to becoming one. I’ve pointed this out many times before in other of my writings here on this blog. I’ve made my case, often with supporting evidence and data. This post had a simpler purpose. Knowing what we know, where do we go from here?

      I state what, to my mind, seems like an obvious truth that is denied by so many. And that denial, as I suggest, has led to massive dysfunction. Your response is to ask, “and so?” Really?

      We can only know what it means to act as democratic citizens if we know what democracy is. We throw words around so much that we forget that we don’t even know what they mean. Instead of just asking me, ask yourself: What is democracy? What does it mean to be free and to act freely? Freedom from what and toward what? Whose freedom, what kind of freedom, and for what purpose?

      Similarly, what is fear? What does it mean to live in a society trapped in a mentality of fear, where social distrust and division has become so pervasive? My argument points to the connection between the choices we make and our having chosen a worldview of fear while denying that it is we who do the choosing, not just as individuals but as a society. Why does that seem sudden to you, as if it were unexpected and surprising? It’s not sudden for my blog, as I’ve been exploring these issues for years.

      These are questions people have written books about. My post is a mere opening to what might be possible, not a dissertation. I can’t say I have a larger thesis, beyond the notion that doing the same thing will lead to the same results. Therefore, let’s trying something different and see what happens. It’s an attitude of experimentation, not just speculation. What if we fully entered into a democratic mindset? What then? Who would we be? And how would we act?

      By the way, why does your response sound so defensive? I get the sense that you took this post as a personal attack of sorts, as if I had people like you in mind while writing it. If so, why did you respond that way? Your questions don’t seem motivated by mere curiosity. I get an aggressive and confrontational vibe. My post seems to bother you. And, in response, you seem to be demanding something of me, maybe something I can’t give you.

      Then again, I could be reading too much into what you said. Correct me, if I’m wrong. I can’t know how to respond back when I don’t know where you are coming from and what is motivating your comment. The intention behind your questions isn’t absolutely clear. What are you looking for? What is it that you really want to understand, assuming you are seeking understanding?

      I just don’t know. If it doesn’t make sense to you, there is probably nothing I could do to make you understand. That is the whole problem. I’m speaking of an entire paradigm shift, a way of looking at and being in the world that our present society doesn’t support. Instead, as I argue, our society is held together by fear and hyper-individualism—this is our mythos. I’m presenting the possibility of something entirely different. That is always challenging. And I won’t claim to have it all figured out.

      I wish I could do better than that. But it isn’t just about me or about making a rational argument. Take this interaction we are having. What would a democratic dialogue mean right now in this situation? That is a hell of a question. We aren’t used to thinking this way. It’s alien to us. Democracy, as we have been taught, is outside of us. What if that is wrong? What if our society is based on false notions of not just democracy but of human nature itself?

      Most importantly, what if fear is a major reason we have such a hard time thinking and talking about all of this? I’m not making an exception of myself when saying this. I’m a part of this same culture, this same dysfunction. I sense the problem, even if my ability to see isn’t necessarily more clear than that of you or anyone else.

    • If you’re looking for a more logically coherent and intellectually satisfying argument, you’d probably want to read my posts about symbolic conflation. I explore in great detail and carefully explain what such emotions as fear mean, including in terms of politics and social control. Fear is one of the most difficult things to discuss. It’s difficult to even to come to terms with it on a personal level. That is why I came up with my theory of symbolic conflation. I wanted to understand what cripples our minds and paralyzes our imaginations. We tend to see the objects of our fear and the objects of our choices as being outside of us. That is why symbolic conflations have so much power over us and hence are disempowering, even though ultimately the power we give to them comes from within ourselves. It’s such a strange thing, extremely difficult to wrap one’s mind around.

    • I still don’t know what you expect of me. You “find the essay as a whole quite incoherent and confusing.” Well, I’m trying to make sense of a social and political system that is quite incoherent and confusing. If you think you can make better sense of it all, then I invite you to do so. As always, I’m open to other perspectives.

  2. I’d argue that apathy deserves a lot of blame for our current situation and yes, our worst enemy is ourselves.

    There seems to be a lot of political disengagement right now in the US, despite the dire situation.

    • We are not lacking in apathy. There is a surfeit of apathy, enough to go around. Maybe we could make it into a product and export it to other countries. China might like to have some of high quality American apathy to help keep their population in line.

      Political disengagement is a strange thing. People are feeling so powerless and hopeless. No matter who they vote for, it’s the same old thing. The parties have become more similar than different at this point.

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