FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Kafka in America

by WILLIAM MANSON

In his novel The Trial, Franz Kafka conjured up the nightmarish, surreal yet strangely familiar world of an ordinary person trapped in a web of bewildering government interventions. Inexplicably, the eponymous protagonist “Joseph K” suddenly finds himself under relentless observation—and is then arrested on charges which remain undisclosed. (“Is it political?” gasps Jeanne Moreau, in Orson Welles’ film version; or, as Orwell’s Winston Smith would say, “is it a thought-crime?”) Seeking to uncover why (and for what) he has become ensnared, Joseph K will take a labyrinthine journey through the intricate legalisms and self-perpetuating contradictions of courts and bureaucracies–only to find himself, once again, back at the beginning of his quest.

Trapped in endless litigation–or in the clutches of creditors or foreclosing banks—how many millions of U.S. citizens feel today like Joseph K? At one time or another, highly complicated legal quandaries and arcane bureaucratic tangles plague most of us. (Thus, any major city “yellow pages” includes 100 pages-plus of “Attorneys” listings.)

But lately, we’re inclined to worry more about our Internet communications: are they being surreptitiously intercepted and stored permanently (PRISM)? In order to be periodically retrieved, scrutinized and “analyzed”? If so, why? The NSA Director, appearing on TV’s “Sixty Minutes,” hastened to reassure all (mere) citizens that–despite its mega-billion-dollar budget and ongoing expansion (the giant Utah data-storage complex)–the NSA is currently only actively focusing on less than “60 U.S. persons.” Was Gen. Keith Alexander telling “the whole truth” (to use a quaint phrase)? Or was he giving us, as did his illustrious colleague James Clapper (DNI), the “least untruthful” answers he felt obliged to offer?

Therefore, our average Joseph K today is still just a tiny bit worried that most (if not all) of his communications are being permanently stored, and subject at any future time to sophisticated “analysis”—under whatever rationale meddlesome technocrats may come up with. If not by the neighborly people of the NSA, then what about the 13-odd other “intelligence” agencies? What mischief are they up to? Joseph, who finds everyday life complicated enough, still finds himself even wondering about all those marketing “research” firms, think-tank contractors, credit bureaus, and so on. How are they “mining” and storing his personal data? He doesn’t know.

But enough of that—Joseph K has enough troubles without succumbing to an obsessive paranoia! He’s even tempted to get rid of the Internet all together: his “service” stinks and he’s always hated computers. But wait! Our Joseph K has just been told—by some faceless bureaucrat—that he must quickly go the website “Healthcare.gov” and register to shop for (mandatory) private health insurance. Again, Joseph finds himself perplexed: frankly, he dislikes hospitals and drug companies—and has managed quite well without them. Moreover—or so Joseph insists–if he finds himself suffering from terminal cancer, he’ll choose to die—rather than subject himself to excruciating, degrading (and often-dubious) “procedures.” (And Joseph K is also aware that preventable medical errors are, by some estimates, the “third leading cause of death” in the U.S. today.) Joseph, you see, is one of those old-fashioned curmudgeons, the type that once fancied itself radical-populists and hated Big Business and Big Government with equal fervor. He even thinks (can you believe it?) that the entire insurance industry is some kind of racket—and wants no part of it!

And admittedly, our Joseph K is not very “computer-literate” and finds it more than a little exasperating to try to comprehend all the provisions of a jerry-built “Affordable” Care Act. Couldn’t the government, he asks, simply have mailed (simplified) application forms to each and every citizen (listed in the 2010 U.S. Census)? He’s always found legalistic small-print, provisos and disclaimers more than a little confusing (and annoying). Given such typically over-complicated ordeals, Joseph understandably has become a fanatic for simplification. Why can’t “the government,” he again recently demanded, simply establish “Medicare for All”? After all, he pointed out, “we” spend trillions for “defense”—and against whom, exactly? He doesn’t know (but was under the impression that the U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms race ended some time ago).

In closing, I heard some sad news the other day. Turns out our Joseph K, feeling trapped between corrupt insurance giants and coercive big government, has begged his creator Kafka to return him back to the world of fiction–wherein he may at least continue his Sisyphean struggles for autonomy with some measure of defiance and tragic dignity.

William Manson, a psychoanalytic anthropologist,  formerly taught social science at Rutgers and Columbia universities. He is the author of The Psychodynamics of Culture (Greenwood Press).

 

William Manson, a psychoanalytic anthropologist,  formerly taught social science at Rutgers and Columbia universities. He is the author of The Psychodynamics of Culture (Greenwood Press).

February 10, 2016
Fred Nagel
The Role of Legitimacy in Social Change
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Aleppo Gamble Pays Off
Ramzy Baroud
Next Onslaught in Gaza: Why the Status Quo Is a Precursor for War
Mark Boothroyd
Syria: Peace Talks Collapse, Aleppo Encircled, Disaster Looms
Sheldon Richman
End, Don’t Extend, Draft Registration
Benjamin Willis
Obama in Havana
Jack Smith
Obama Intensifies Wars and Threats of War
Rob Hager
How Hillary Clinton Co-opted the Term “Progressive”
Lawrence Ware
If You Hate Cam Newton, It’s Probably Because He’s Black
Jesse Jackson
Starving Government Creates Disasters Like Flint
Bill Laurance
A Last Chance for the World’s Forests?
Gary Corseri
ABC’s of the US Empire
Chris Martenson
The Return of Crisis: Everywhere Banks are in Deep Trouble
Frances Madeson
The Pain of the Earth: an Interview With Duane “Chili” Yazzie
Binoy Kampmark
The New Hampshire Distortion: The Primaries Begin
Andrew Raposa
Portugal: Europe’s Weak Link?
Binoy Kampmark
The New Hampshire Distortion: the Primaries Begin
Wahid Azal
Dugin’s Occult Fascism and the hijacking of Left Anti-Imperialism and Muslim Anti-Salafism
February 09, 2016
Andrew Levine
Hillary Says the Darndest Things
Paul Street
Kill King Capital
Ben Burgis
Lesser Evil Voting and Hillary Clinton’s War on the Poor
Paul Craig Roberts
Are the Payroll Jobs Reports Merely Propaganda Statements?
Fran Quigley
How Corporations Killed Medicine
Ted Rall
How Bernie Can Pay for His Agenda: Slash the Military
Neve Gordon
Israeli Labor Party Adopts the Apartheid Mantra
Kristin Kolb
The “Great” Bear Rainforest Agreement? A Love Affair, Deferred
Joseph Natoli
Politics and Techno-Consciousness
Hrishikesh Joshi
Selective Attention to Diversity: the Case of Cruz and Rubio
Stavros Mavroudeas
Why Syriza is Sinking in Greece
David Macaray
Attention Peyton Manning: Leave Football and Concentrate on Pizza
Arvin Paranjpe
Opening Your Heart
Kathleen Wallace
Boys, Hell, and the Politics of Vagina Voting
Brian Foley
Interview With a Bernie Broad: We Need to Start Focusing on Positions and Stop Relying on Sexism
February 08, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Privatization: the Atlanticist Tactic to Attack Russia
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Water War Against the Poor: Flint and the Crimes of Capital
John V. Walsh
Did Hillary’s Machine Rig Iowa? The Highly Improbable Iowa Coin Tosses
Vincent Emanuele
The Curse and Failure of Identity Politics
Eliza A. Webb
Hillary Clinton’s Populist Charade
Uri Avnery
Optimism of the Will
Roy Eidelson Trudy Bond, Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Jean Maria Arrigo, Brad Olson, and Bryant Welch
Preserve Do-No-Harm for Military Psychologists: Coalition Responds to Department of Defense Letter to the APA
Patrick Cockburn
Oil Prices and ISIS Ruin Kurdish Dreams of Riches
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, the UN and Meanings of Arbitrary Detention
Shamus Cooke
The Labor Movement’s Pearl Harbor Moment
W. T. Whitney
Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes
Jim Goodman
Congress Must Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail