A True Story

We Americans are trapped in a cage with a sleeping grizzly bear and a pack of rabid wolves. The DNC careerists hold the keys to the lock.

They keep telling everyone to speak softly and don’t make any sudden moves, for fear of being torn to shreds. When someone suggests they simply unlock the cage door so that we could all safely step outside, they calmly explain that the danger is real but that we need to consider other options first before we go to such extremes.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump punches the bear in the nose and flings his own poop at the wolves, while declaring there is no bear or wolves and even if there were he’d use his business superpowers to make a deal with them. The GOP sycophants defend his bravery in standing up to the libtards telling everyone what to do. Make the Cage Great Again, cheers some in the crowd.

The corporatist news media hacks, a mass of people between them and the now growling animals, with great self-importance fairly report both sides of the disagreement. Meanwhile, the morning talk show hosts halfheartedly debate whether bears and wolves are fake news. Then they cut to an advertisement for a new antidepressant: “Do you feel anxious? Ask your doctor about Xibuprex. Symptoms may include prostate reflux, toenail dysplasia, herniated itching…”

The American people huddle together in separate groups. With passive expectation, their eyes are glued to their smartphones. They watch videos of what is going on around them and scroll through their social media feeds trying to determine which side they agree with by liking the Facebook posts and retweeting the Tweets that align with their preferred ideology or identity politics.

The bear awakens from its slumber. The rabid wolves approach. The cage door remains locked. The crowd nervously shifts this way and then that.

Neoliberal Catastrophism

“It seems like there are an increasing number of areas where the discourse among centrists and liberals follows a fairly similar script. The opening statement is one of unbridled catastrophe: Trump is fascism on the ascendant march! Global warming will destroy us in the next x years! (I’m not making any judgments here about the truth of these claims, though for the record, I believe the second but not the first). The comes the followup statement, always curiously anodyne and small: Let’s nominate Klobuchar. How are you going to pay for a Green New Deal? Don’t alienate the moderates.

“All of these specific moves can be rationalized or explained by reference to local factors and considerations, but they seem like part of a pattern, representing something bigger. Perhaps I’ve been reading too much Eric Hobsbawm for a piece I’m working on, but the pattern seems to reflect the reality of life after the Cold War, the end of any viable socialist alternative. For the last quarter-century, we’ve lived in a world, on the left, where the vision of catastrophe is strong, while the answering vision remains inevitably small: baby steps, cap and trade, pay as you go, and so on. Each of these moves might have its own practical justifications, but it’s hard to see how anyone could credibly conjure from those minuscule proposals a blueprint that could in any way be commensurate with the scale of the problem that’s just been mooted, whether it be Trump or climate change.

“I wonder if there is any precedent for this in history. You’ve had ages of catastrophe before, where politicians and intellectuals imagined the deluge and either felt helpless before it or responded with the most cataclysmic and outlandish utopias or dystopias of their own. What seems different today is how the imagination of catastrophe is coupled with this bizarre confidence in moderation and perverse belief in the margin.

“Neoliberal catastrophism?”

17 thoughts on “A True Story

    • I’d put it this way. We Americans don’t have the keys to the lock, unless we take them. But there is nothing stopping us from taking them. And it will require greater action than voting, the very fear of the ruling elite. Some combination of public perception management and apathetic cynicism is the only thing that has kept us from doing so.

        • Taken from those who hold the power along with those who support them, fund them, and are in alliance with them: politicians, generals, police, plutocrats, etc. I’m not merely speaking metaphorically. The ‘keys’ in question are about literal power, backed not only by propagandistic social control but also violent control of guns. For anyone who steps out of line, the police or military will take care of them.

          Ask any number of protesters who have ended up in jail and before judges for doing nothing more than protesting what they considered abuse of power. Or think about the tanks that rolled through American streets during earlier eras of revolt in decades past, consider COINTELPRO, look further back to when the federal government sent troops to put down labor strikes and disperse the Bonus Army. Lesser examples are the voter purges, closing down of polling stations in poor neighborhoods, gerrymandering, and denial of voting rights to ex-cons.

          It’s the same basic scenario as faced by the American colonists, to claim/reclaim self-governance or not. Power of governance is simply what enough people are willing to do, by force if necessary, or else what enough people are willing to accept and allow. It’s a choice because the people have lost or given away their own right and responsibility to collective determination. That lack of power is viscerally real and systematically enforced. But in theory, it’s not hard to change. The ruling elite, by definition, are a minority.

          “…what we meant in going for those redcoats was this: we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.”


        • See above. It’s a rather simple situation. You’ll know who they are when a police officer points a gun at you, when a politician takes action once again that disfranchises you, and on and on. It happens all the time to hundreds of millions of Americans in thousands of ways.

          • I assume you’ve never had a police officer point a gun at you, had the federal government send troops to attack a strike/protest you were participating in, been a poor person caught up for years in the legal system, been a minority who had your name put on a voter purge list, etc.

            The “they” in question are simply people, some of them holding direct positions of power, others acting on their behalf. It’s a literal and always potentially physical conflict of power, those who presently wield it and those who potentially could.

            During the American Revolution, who were the “they”? Well, anyone who pointed a gun at you or who had the authority to send those with guns in your direction.

            The British government was acting in ways that wasn’t representative of the colonists. The same is true now of the American population, as studies have shown. No matter who we vote for, politicians almost always do what the richest want them to do.

            That is who “they” are. It’s not complicated. I’m not talking about mythical creatures. I suppose you’re just playing Devil’s advocate. That is fine, as far as it goes.

            If that isn’t what you’re doing, the miscommunication apparently is far beyond my ability to ameliorate. In that case, we could go back and forth like this for hours or days or even weeks. But that would be boring and unsatisfying, as you’d probably agree.

            Unless you know a way of making your inquiry comprehensible to me, I won’t be able to offer an answer comprehensible to you. Then we are in a state of mutual incomprehension. It wouldn’t be the first time and won’t be the last.

          • Why would you assume that? I’ve been a poor person caught up for years in the “legal” system…as have most all of us.

            The “they” in question are merely egos, in my estimation. Nothing more.

          • In that case, you know who “they” are. Sure, “they” have egos. But “they” also have jails and prisons, guns and tanks, police officers and soldiers.

            From a Jaynesian perspective, egoic consciousness and authoritarian power co-arose. There is no such thing as “merely egos”, in my estimation. Egos are part of a total system of power, a comprehensive social order, a self-enclosed reality tunnel.

          • No. They aren’t egos. That is just one of many possible mindsets and ways of being in the world. They are simply humans.

            An ego is the post-bicameral equivalent to the bicameral voice of a god/spirit/ancestor. It’s a particular social construct that holds power over our mind, but is not identical to our mind.

            Now we are in philosophical territory when even words like “have” are in quotation marks. If our disagreement hinges on so many words in quotation marks, we obviously disagree about fundamental premises or lack the ability to discern one another’s fundamental premises.

            There is no reason we need to agree here. There is something bothering you here. And I haven’t a clue what it is. I’m willing to accept responsibility for the failure of understanding.

            I simply don’t grasp your point, but neither do I feel a need to deny that your point is important and relevant. I just don’t know and that is fine.

            Still, feel free to try to get me to understand. The word “ego” apparently means something different to you than it does to me. Or something like that. Or I could have that much wrong as well. I can’t even claim to have figured out the precise point of disagreement.

            I don’t feel like arguing. And at a certain point, frustration ends up feeling like argument. I’ve lately found myself less interested in conflict, even with well-meaning disagreement or misunderstanding or whatever. I’m trying to learn how to just let things go.

          • Maybe growing up in New Agey religion, I’ve been too influenced by Eastern thought. According to the Buddhist bundle theory of self/mind, we aren’t egos.

            But I don’t know if such a position can be meaningfully debated in the sense of proving anything. It’s just what makes sense to me. If it doesn’t make sense to you, that is just the way it is. I’m not making claims on objective reality. With questions of “power”, we are dealing with social truths and personal understandings.

            If I had to resolve everything that made sense to me and didn’t make sense to others, I’d spend my every waking moment doing nothing else. I fully realize my sense of self and reality is in contradiction to that of most others and, on this issue, maybe in contradiction with your own views.

            My response at the moment is amusement with a tinge of resignation.

          • According to the Buddhist bundle theory of self/mind, we aren’t egos.

            Depends on what we identify with, as I understand it: our “false” or “true” selves. But, maybe that’s just my take on it. Interesting post, anyway.


          • The Eastern views are more in the background for me. I’m more influenced by Julian Jaynes.

            According to his theory, egoic consciousness is as much a social construct as it is a psychological construct. Furthermore, a social construct is inseparable from the social order and its enforcement through social control. Authoritarianism is one of the distinguishing features of the post-bicameral mind.

            When we speak of “ego”, we maybe should always capitalize it as “Ego” because it inherited and possesses the power of authorization of the bicameral gods. The “Ego” is a god, is the ultimate monotheistic God brought to its ultimate conclusion as self-authorization.

            That leads to question of what kind of “self” is this or even whose “self” is this. It’s a social narrative being told by a voice that we hear and that voice tells us that it is us, convinces us to identify with it and to that extent possesses us.

            I’m genuinely confused by framing any of it as “false” and “true” selves. I just sense there are many possible selves, none of them being “true” in some final and absolute sense.

            So it seems to me. Push me far enough and I’ll start spouting philosophical pessimism. And then our dialogue will really go down the drain.

            Whenever I’ve looked for something in my “consciousness”, I’ve never found anything. There was a period of my deepest depression when I spent too much time meditating and too much time alone. It led to moment of utter depersonalization, as if all of reality was empty of essence and substance, an emptiness that could swallow everything up.

            That is my personal context. It’s not really theological or philosophical. Neither is it objective provable or practically applicable. It’s nothing at all. Just “experience”, I guess… or, at this point, just the faint memory of “experience”, a shadow that still hangs over my small petty mind.

            The “Ego” still rules me, though. I don’t know what “self-governance” would mean of my own mind, much less of society as a whole. But the notion that “power” has some kind of significant meaning remains persuasive to me. I’d like to think there is a different kind of power, besides that of physical violence and social manipulation, of guns and propaganda.

            Maybe that is wishful thinking. Admittedly, scratch my cynicism and you’ll find an idealist. I wouldn’t write a post like this if that weren’t the case. In my mind, “they” ultimately are demiurges and those ruled by them, “they” are mind viruses and those infected by them.

            More than a Buddhist, I’m a gnostic as influenced by Philip K. Dick and William S. Burroughs. But maybe more powerfully as influenced by A Course In Miracles, a book I read in high school, with its heretical Valentinian theology.

            None of this is prone to rational debate. That is because it wasn’t through rational debate that it was imprinted upon my psyche. It’s my sense of reality, no matter how rational I try to be in intellectually claiming agnosticism. We never fully shake the beliefs we were raised in.

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