America is the only nation which miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilization. —Georges Clemenceau
In a national daze, we all appear equally clueless, at a loss to clarify what happened in Newtown, and despite the standard pathetic explanations—easy access to military style-weapons, the revenge of the nerd, undiagnosed mental illness, out of control testosterone based posturing, the seduction of video games—psychologists, historians, law enforcement officials, profilers, religious leaders, can’t come close to softening the horror of the act and our sense of impotence: we are left with a senseless massacre of innocents, sweet little Indians whose crime was existing. The official explainers would be better off to remain silent until the anger and horror recede, but they cannot shut up because their babbling prevents silence, a calm opening, that must be avoided at all costs. And yet the silencing of these sweet young voices haunts us.
This is the “last straw” for the squirming liberals like Obama who see their power and prestige eroded as Bush did when the blood of 2800 victims of the World Trade Center bombing indelibly stained his presidency. Action must be taken to protect our children, or civil society will be permanently undermined.
The task of every politician liberal and conservative is to soften the poverty of daily life so that it protects the identity and dynamic of the essential forces shaping social experience. Everything can be discussed except for what is true and real, thus everything is a lie, the lie underneath the lie when we say “all politicians are liars.” Obama, like Penn and Teller, is a magician who is successful to the extent that his diversions divert. Timeless human foibles--apathy, selfishness, fear of the unknown--are blamed for what is the inevitable result of advanced social decay. Taking control of our demons is a constantly receding goal, and we are continually surprised by the depravity of events that engulf us. Their instigators seem to crawl out of some unnamed and ultimately unlocatable black pit of the human soul where monsters live and multiply. We have not progressed beyond the Iliad in locating our demons. We are living a Greek tragedy but without the grandeur and the poetry that come from the experience of a concrete reality. Our lives are all about abstraction, distance, separation and emptiness. Decisive action seems impossible. As ineffective as they are, in this well rehearsed play politicians like Obama seem like our only hope.
America is above all the home, not of dreams, but of myth and lies. Myth number one: individual rights and freedoms were at the heart of the founding of America and define our unique identity in the global pantheon of nations. The first spin doctors, the founding fathers, who showed the way for all those who have followed, created the notion that our national identity was based on a rational system of laws, on reason. In fact, without it ever being put forth as policy though Alexander Hamilton in his writings came close, what was seen as reasonable was the market. Unlike countries such as France that had national identities—a core of historical experience, language, character—that predated the market, the U.S. has never had a central focus separate from commerce, from the growth of markets, from the supreme power of money. The market was always the system and the system was always the market. There was never any daylight between politics and commerce even and especially during the Civil War when the South’s antiquated feudal system was attacked an impediment to the creation of a national market and freeing the slaves was an afterthought. The immutable power of lobbyists like the NRA confirms the founders’ original intent. Freedom entirely consists of abdicating to the choices the market offers.
How do we know this? Because among hundreds of other tragic events going back to its origins, this country was founded on a two century long wave of massive institutionalized gun violence, the merciless annihilation of Native Americans who, because they resisted the imposition of the market and private property, were destroyed in a holocaust of unprecedented proportions. We question how the German people could accept the destruction of the Jewish people, but never ask the same question of 19th century Americans. Largely, Americans believed that they were doing God’s work. Manifest destiny is the destiny of money ordained by the spirit of Puritanism, and pity those who stood in the way. When it came to expansion, God led the Cavalry charge.
What is the most common word in today’s political lexicon. After 9/11 when our total vulnerability was exposed, it is security. In 2012 America security is completely lacking and the source of this danger is growing within our borders. The question we want to ask is how can such a well equipped army, police and civilian population with hundreds of thousands of security cameras and alarm systems, millions of rent-a-cops, helicopters and even drones, super computer networks, DNA technology, bomb sniffing dogs, vast prison systems, federal, state and local courts, and hundreds of billions of dollars at its disposal not be able to guarantee the safety of its citizenry. America is a community in name only. Just under the surface the essential values that make the market and money grow, create mutual contempt, fear and mistrust on a scale that exceeds any attempt to contain or reform it. This alienation is ever present and super abundant. To a greater or lesser degree it results from every relationship at every moment. As we know well, hell is other people, every other person. We are not in a traffic jam, we are the traffic jam. Nobody has your back and you are assaulted from every side. We don’t even protect ourselves from this inhuman onslaught. We acquiesce to it or go crazy. These responses may take individual forms, but the outcome is predictable.
We are not we protected from dangerous commodities because all commodities are equally valuable and equally powerful in the market. For our rulers there are truly no lethal commodities, only problematic popular reactions to their mayhem. Just as there is no protection from the lethality of weapons, there is no real regulation of pharmaceutical drugs nor of that extremely toxic and lethal commodity, the automobile. Should we be surprised that the most deadly products have the most effective lobbying groups. The American Cancer Society was originally founded to insure that cigarettes were seen as healthy until the evidence became overwhelming. The American Medical Association was formed to suppress competing holistic medicine such as homeopathy at a time when conventional doctors were still using mercury as a cure.
Although we want to resist the temptation to single out individual groups and ideologies because what gives the system its power is its seamless unity and coherence, the libertarian right’s claim to radical status begs a response. Why would the courts, the army and the police who exist to defend private property and money (private property is the right to exclude others from your misery) see as the enemy the well behaved and thoroughly zombified defenders of those institutions. Their persecution complex exists to provide a pathetic self-justification for their acquiescence to the forces they pretend to oppose. This is a shabby performance encouraged by the state because they prefer this tame non-opposition to a real one. Some day they will need the police and all their own guns to protect them from a real movement, so they might as well kiss and make up now. In fact they are already have. After Waco and Ruby Ridge, they decided to embrace the state. Is the Tea Party anything but that partnership institutionalized?
Six year olds in Newtown and across America become teenagers, and what do they have to look forward to? What has happened to adults and to childhood? The most immediate conclusion, yet the one we choose to suppress because it points to a profound abdication of social responsibility, is that children are not allowed to be children any more, only youth adults. Kids everywhere are not protected by anyone, not by their parents, their teachers, the court system, nor by their supposed heroes on the professional football field or in video games or comics. Everyone has turned over the responsibility of raising kids to the society as a whole. And the outcome is a nightmare.
In the last twenty years the innocence of childhood has been swept away by a torrent of recruitment propaganda. Every kid has been forcibly conscripted into the marketplace under the guise of recognizing the uniqueness of children. As a result we have kid’s television, kid’s movies, kid’s menus, kid’s music, kid’s fashion. Kids are better informed but about what?
Along with total immersion in specially crafted advertising and related messages has come the overwhelming burden of making choices about taste, style, and most of all about attitude. What kids learn today in school and the mall from an early age is not so much how to read, write or do math but how to appear youthful: that is fresh, cool savvy consumers who make it all look natural and easy, as if they were doing it for the from birth. And soon they will be.
Some of the most laughable proposals to come out of the Sandy Hook massacre have centered around mental health. Mental illness (anxiety, lack of joy, mood swings, substance abuse, personality disorders, etc.) however you define it is nearly as prevalent as happiness was in the 50s. It is a normal, human reaction to this abnormal world (ten percent of Americans get prescriptions for anti-depressants every year, sixty million sleeping pill prescriptions were filled in 2011). Individual violence is an extreme, tragically counter-productive, if totally understandable response in the absence of genuine social solidarity. Columbine, for instance, is portrayed as the result of everything except the one thing that nurtured the very human anger of the killers—the twenty four hour a day emptiness and inhumanity of a life in which commodities rule unopposed in a vast desert they have created, and where human beings, the commodity twenty mule team, exist to serve them. Our founding motto “Don’t Tread On Me” should be replaced with the first principle of commerce, “When We Corner You, We Will Fuck You.
We owe it to our children and our childrens’ children, and to the memory of the Native Americans who were also at the wrong place at the wrong time, to create compassionate strategies for living, and not to turn them over to the heartless bastards—the investment bankers, corporate CEOs, World Bank bureaucrats, cynical think tank ideologues, smug media imagineers, social network software programmers, and sleazy union officials--who have sinister plans for all of us. And we have to recognize how poorly we have done so far. We should acknowledge that up until now what is fundamental in our misery is that we have not been able to name our misery: We have nothing to say about our misery, it is hidden from us. Our misery is therefore not being able to say anything about it. The whole world makes us miserable, we suffer from everything. We are condemned to understand everything or nothing.
In a world where submission is universal and glorified, freedom is necessarily criminal. Guilty as charged.
Christmas Day, 2012
Sandy Hook Elementary School 2011