Monday, July 28, 2008

What's the Matter with Tennessee?

According to a news story from the American News Project, the top one-tenth of one-percent, 14,000 families, of the population of the U.S. own 22 percent of the wealth in America. The bottom 90 percent, 133,000,000 families, hold 4 percent of the wealth.

Tax rates for the wealthy are lower than for low-income citizens. A janitor in the Chevron building in San Francisco most likely pays a higher proportion of his/her income in taxes than does the CEO.

The U.S. is cheated out of an estimated 100 billion dollars each year in tax funds through illegal off-shore holdings of the super rich..

According to this same story, the U.S. is the most stratified, economically lop-sided, developed nation in the world.

When politicians wave their arms in Sacramento or D.C. claiming the budget cannot accommodate maintenance of state parks or photocopy machines for colleges, or funds to assist the disabled, think again. There's never a problem finding money to invade the countries of brown people in the Middle East, and never a tax cut for the super rich that looks bad. What astonishes me is that such egregiously unjust tax policies are promoted with directness: Trickle-down economics means just that. The economic policies of the U.S. during the past 30 years has been based on making the rich, richer, permitting them to hire more maids and more computer consultants like me. Increased concentration of wealth in a tiny minority of U.S. citizens has been the open policy of Congress.

The model corporate economy is for 100 people to have 300 million maids, gardeners, and tutors for their kids. Some of us can work at Wal-Mart. All other jobs are out-sourced to India.

I attended a book-signing event for the latest from Barbara Ehrenreich. This Land is Their Land. In her inimitable low-key style, she discussed the unreported divide between the haves and the have-nots. After her presentation, the couple of hundred people in the audience expressed two principle thoughts. 1) Will Obama be our hero? and 2) What should we do?

The audience was silent, except for one wheel-chair bound person who, in apparent angry desperation, shouted out a plea to take to the streets. A pregnant pause ensued, as if a common understanding washed over the group. Are we left with any choices of action between the two extremes of doing nothing and tearing down the system? Are we so politically bereft of effective popular action?

A room filled with several hundred citizens sat in silence as Barbara Ehrenriech was asked what we should do. She, in all her wisdom, deferred refusing to provide "The Answer."

I left the event uneasy. The event lacked "closure" as they say. The crowd left with serious matters of social and economic injustice unresolved, and more poignantly, with a sense of profound powerlessness.

We are told by the corporate media, from national TV networks to the local newspaper, that people do not want to hear in-depth reporting on "bad news." Whether about broke schools or the absence of universal health care, it's non-news. The reason why people don't pay attention to such topics isn't discussed. We live in a fake democracy where we punch a chad once every four years, but few things the people want are ever realized. Disenfranchised by fake elections between fake candidates offering fake "leadership."

What the country needs is more Barbara Ehrenreichs who refuse to tell the people what to do, and more "leaders" who don't lead, but follow the will of the people. The epiphany rolls out of Ehrenreich's book event: We're a nation of corporate servants. "We, the people" are here to be told what to do, whether in the workplace or in the "politicalplace." Our lives are as drones. We are so disconnected from power that a room of several hundred people sat mostly in silence, waiting to be told what to do, because the U.S. is run by and for corporations. The people are marginal bits to be defined as consumers.

We are a nation of consumers. A consumer is a passive element of the economy, not a person, or even a citizen of the state. We consume. That is our defined role in the economy as shoppers at Wal-Mart, and as shoppers on election day. As in all capitalist markets, the goal is to sell us all a bill of goods. We are told what to do in the workplace, and that worldview is extended to the political sphere as well.

If we lived in a functional democracy, at the end of Barbara Ehrenreich's book talk, the crowd would have told her what they wanted, and exactly how they were going to get it. This is scary. We're living in a fake democracy. Is it no surprise that Hollywood has gone to rule Sacramento and D. C.? The land of entertainment and illusions feels right at home with the land of power and politics.

Voting alone does not a democracy make. We are living an illusion of democracy. Fake.

Waiting for instructions. The medium is the message. The vast, passive, American TV wasteland--the drug of choice--anesthetizes and betrays the human spirit. TV is the opiate of the people. We are waiting for instructions from 'Our Leaders." The Power Elite externally suppresses the popular will, which is then internalized through mass media. They don't need to use the military to suppress the will of the people in the U.S.. We have internalized helplessness. We have no power. To reconcile this with our own will, we rationalize impotence as respectability.We are a respectably castrated culture of shoppers, and we know it.

Waiting for instructions: Instructions from without today, but the repressed always returns to challenge illegitimate power. The great challenge for the progressive movement is to bring insight first, then the action becomes functional and accurately vectorized. When the betrayal of the cultural daddy and mommy (Our Leaders) remains repressed, we remain dysfunctional, fearful, and focus much energy on displacement.

Thoughts of persecution do not constitute paranoia when persecution is real. The challenge is to understand that the persecutors are not only here at home--not in Iraq or Afghanistan--but shooting the messenger provides no relief. Until we find the path to removing the repressed truths of our cultural abuse at the hands of our own cultural parents, then consequence is diffuse anger, alternating with compulsive behavior such as shopping. Tragically, the dysfunctional democracy is punctuated by the occasional inappropriately displaced outbursts of repressed anger such as the recent shooting spree in Tennessee.

"It appears that what brought him to this horrible event was his lack of being able to obtain a job, his frustration over that and his stated hatred of the liberal movement,"

What's the matter with Tennessee? What's the Matter with Kansas? What's the matter with America?

Thus, we witness a tragedy of misdirected anger coupled with the impotence of the common people. What happened was not an anomaly, but rather was a symptom of the disease of a fake democracy, of disenfranchisement of the millions.

Waiting for instructions? Or taking matters into our own hands? We cannot accomplish this without coming to terms with the reality that cultural Daddy and Mommy are screwing us over. This is such a deeply painful and shocking reality that blaming the poor people of Iraq or Afghanistan, or even the American Left, is less painful. Sadly, one unemployed man deemed it psychologically less painful to shoot the messengers, than to face the screwing-over he was getting from Washington. Inappropriately displaced anger is part and parcel of the economically abused citizen.

When cultural Daddy and Mommy are screwing us, something has to give. Admitting such painful truths to consciousness requires courage and supportive trust. Isn't it far less painful to blame the Iraqis? Blame the liberals? Blame the communists? Yet, such displacement, such deflection from the truth yields rigid mental compartmentalization and distortion of reality: fascism not freedom.

The power elite, the big corporations and the wealthiest who run them, don't want us to be able to connect the dots. They pour vast sums into distractions such as football and fashion, while delivering a hefty dose of fear. Fear of the dangerous "Other" deflects examination of betrayal in the home. If Homeland Security had any reality-based function it would investigate the corruption of Congress. this is as true of abusive nuclear families, as it is true of abusive nuclear nations. While daddy is screwing daughter, the family is lectured about loyalty. Loyalty is to the abusive nuclear family as is patriotism is to the abusive nuclear nation.

Don't count on any resolutions from Washington, Obama or not. Political and economic abuses are never resolved by the power elite themselves. Political repression is always leaky. The return of the culturally repressed is a certainty.

Without democratic institutions which function to express and actuate the will of the people, we are left in silence, waiting for instructions, as were the people attending Barbara Ehrenreich's book talk. Otherwise, we go off half-cocked, knowing only that we are being abused, knowing we are infused with anger, but tragically misdirect our rage.

Another path can be forged. The government promotes two political resolutions: 1) shopping more and 2) killing more (Iraqis). Discovering a more just and effective path toward conflict resolution requires the clarity of insight: understanding. It's not enough to be angry, and silence while "waiting for instructions" does not satisfy the repressed.

So, what is the way out? Barbara Ehrenreich was exemplary as she cultivates a culture less on lecturing leaders, more on mutual ministrations of the people.

In individual psychotherapy, a time comes when the therapist suddenly falls silent. To empower the abused, the verbal articulation of the repressed abuses must come from the abused. Consequently, the abused rescue themselves from the abuser. What we need as a nation of abused citizens is the likes of Ehrenreich. Truth-tellers on the cultural road.

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