“As the Little Men disappear, more and more economic power comes to be wielded by fewer and fewer peopleWe are far indeed from Jefferson’s ideal of a genuinely free society composed of a hierarchy of self-governing units–‘the elementary republics of the wards, the county republics, the State republics and the Republic of the Union, forming a gradation of authorities.’ Never have so many been manipulated so much by so few.”
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited
The Republicrats have now met, the unwashed in Boston manipulated by the managers of the Kerry command that allowed no dissent from the predetermined platform, a platform that supported the war (although an estimated 90% of the delegates attending decried the war according to Joe Scarborough’s unquestioned authority on “Hardball” 8/31) and supported Bush’s total acquiescence to Sharon’s shattering of the “Road Map” (an acceptance that guarantees the continuation of terrorist acts against America), and the pin-stripers in New York controlled by a well-oiled machine driven by Karl Rove who allowed “moderates”(an oxymoron in any language) like Giuliani, McCain, and Cheney to speak about the inclusiveness of the Republican Party even as it forced all to rally around a preset platform that denied access to thousands upon thousands of Americans. “Never have so many been manipulated so much by so few,” as Huxley notes, and he spoke in 1958!
These are not the first days when the few manipulated the many in America. Those in charge before our Revolution and those in charge after it manipulated the majority by using fear of economic chaos and congressional gerrymandering to allow the continuation of slavery until the people took control and ended it with a bloody civil war. John Greenleaf Whittier, a mild and gentle American poet, understood that America could not be free until it accepted its guilt and consciously confessed:
That all his fathers taught is vain–
That Freedom’s emblem is the chain.
For his efforts he was beaten, chased, derided; his books and papers burned. Today we remember Whittier for this aphorism:
of all the words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: it might have been.
How appropriate! It might have been that George W. Bush admitted his guilt and consciously confessed his lying to the American people!
But that wasn’t the end of the manipulation of the slave population; another 100 years had to pass before a semblance of equality penetrated our society, and that only after a second “civil war” uprooted the status quo and forced our representatives to acknowledge what our Bill of Rights claimed was due all the people. Three massive issues drove the people to the streets during this period, issues they literally forced their representatives to not only acknowledge but to correct: civil rights (more properly called human rights), feminine rights (more properly called human rights), and the Vietnam protests (more properly called “taking back America from the oligarches”). Then the people forced their representatives to admit their guilt and consciously confess their obstruction of citizen rights. Would that George W. Bush admit his guilt and consciously confess his lying to the American people.
During those years I served the people of a small Massachusetts town as Moderator. I wrote these words in 1967 in a talk to the Whittier Society; they seem an apt analogy to our present state where we are manipulated by corporate media and bought politicians:
“Today there exists another band (the Abolitionists were the first) who publish and demonstrate and march in yet a second massive attempt to rouse the conscience of this nation, not against an institution, but against the insidious fact of actual slavery–economic, political, and social. Both groups have had their share of righteous indignationIn ‘Stanzas for the Times’ Whittier proposed the ironic possibility that this nation founded on freedom for all should harbor and protect those who wielded the slaves’ whips. He asked ironically if each American should not bend his pliant knee ‘and speak but as our masters please.’ Whittier states in effect that America’s claim to freedom, equality, and justice is a sham. We worship God, we invoke his name, we ask his blessing, we sing his praises, and we enslave his children. We turn to the Pilgrims’ spirit, to Plymouth Rock, to Bunker Hill to affirm our claim to freedom, yet we justify and protect the Master that fetters his slave. We say there is freedom of speech, but any thoughts that disrupt the status quo will not be tolerated: to say there is enslavement will cause hatred and resentment and to do something about it will cause disruption and chaos. Therefore, it is best to do nothing.” Shades of Ashcroft! Don’t disrupt the status quo. Whittier responded: “Shall tongue be mute, when deeds are wrought/which well might shame extremist Hell?/ Shall freemen lock the indignant thought?/Shall pen, and press, and soul be dumb?” And the people disobeyed and both groups prevailed momentarily against the manipulators.
“Yet Whittier’s idealism and his dream of an awakened America was but an illusion. Melvin B. Tolson wrote “Dark” in 1944:
They tell us to forget
Democracy is spurned,
They tell us to forget
The Bill of Rights is burned.
Three hundred years we slaved,
We slave and suffer yet:
Though flesh and bone rebel,
They tell us to forget!
“These are the statistics for a hundred years of freedom: in Los Angeles proper, there are 7.5 people per acre, in Watts, there are 27.9; if a black man loses his life in Vietnam, his widow gets $10,000.00 but she can’t live in any neighborhood she wants to; Dick Gregory said, ‘If my daddy had been killed in WW II, the German that killed him could move to this country today and buy a house in a neighborhood where my Daddy’s son would be excluded.’; the Federal Trade Commission has reported that prices in ghetto area stores are 265% higher than in suburban areas. Blacks today are– American:– of all Blacks live in sub-standard housing; Blacks have– the income of whites; twice as many Blacks are unemployed as whites; twice as many Black infants die as whites; twice as many Black soldiers die in Vietnam in proportion to their numbers in the population. Black elementary schools are three years behind the white and receive less federal support. One-twentieth as many Blacks as whites attend college; 75% of employed Blacks hold menial jobs. These are the statistics of 100 years of freedom.”
It took the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders to admit that the cause of these conditions resulted from “white racism.” That caused the laws that allowed these conditions to exist. How abominable that the American people had to endure the atrocities inflicted on the civil rights movement to correct these abuses. How horrendous that our representatives, driven by special interests, created the legislation that allowed these abuses to exist and continue for a hundred years. How ironic that it took us a hundred years to grapple with the reality that Whittier understood when he wrote:
Let him go where the cold blood that creeps in his veins
Shall stiffen the slaves whip, and rust on his chains:
Where the black slave shall laugh in his bonds, to behold
The white slave beside him, self-fettered and sold!
“James Baldwin, a Black writer of great perception, interprets at this time an American conscience that is tragic and pitiful. He writes that ‘the Negro has been formed by this nation, for better or for worse, and does not belong to any other…’ He places the responsibility for the Negro problem where it belongs, on each of us as Americans. We can toss the problem back to our forefathers, we can shift the blame to the South, we can attempt to escape responsibility by half-baked allegiance to some time-worn principle, we can refuse to admit of equality, we can blame the extremists–but no matter what means we take to avoid the fact, the problem exists because we Americans have made it a problem. It exists in our minds because we will not expunge it from our minds. It exists in our hearts because we fear, perhaps subliminally, either the potential overthrow of our dominance or the inevitability of it. The problem in turn exists in the Negro, but only because it first existed in the white. We have not only made the problem, we have fostered its existence and its acceptance on the object of that problem. The roots of the problem lie deep in the puritanical background of this nation. While being raised in the charity of a personal God, while being imbued with the equality of all men, we have existed in the past with an institution diametrically opposed to these principles and we perpetuate today the inequalities of that institution while claiming that we have obliterated it.
“Those puritanical roots have not rotted over time. They exist today as this administration pursues its racist superior agenda against the peoples of the Arab world, and that pursuit will result in exactly the same enslavement for the American people that the institution of slavery created for over three hundred years.
“But as Baldwin states, ‘the sloppy and fatuous nature of American good will can never be relied upon to deal with hard problems … freedom is hard to bear.’ We can talk of freedom, we can mouth the word, but the Negro is the key ‘figure in this country and the American future is precisely as bright or dark as his.’ Freedom is more than cutting chains, the conscience too must be unshackled.”
The Civil Rights movement forced America to confront its conscience by taking to the streets and forcing each representative to confront his conscience. Americans went to the streets, suffered the punishment of police club, beatings, mockery, even jail because they knew that principle trumps power, that America had been hijacked by special interests, and that America’s future depended on returning its control to its rightful source, the people themselves, or it would cease to exist except as a hideous sham dressed in hypocritical platitudes and fatuous phrases.
As I watched the Democratic Convention, meeting in Boston where I taught years ago, in the state of Massachusetts where I lived for many years, I saw Democracy mangled before my very eyes. Here in a state that retains, as John Kerry knows all too well, the only remaining vestige of true Democracy, the Town Meeting, where ordinary citizens can congregate, create laws, propose and argue them before their peers, and vote on them, here he and his henchmen muffled free speech in favor of the special interests that find war profiteering and imperial ambitions the diet to feed America.
As if that were not enough, the Republican Convention of obsequious and pious sycophants, arms raised in holy supplication to their resident saviors, made Democracy a joke. Pastor George W. Bush, like Pastor John Hagee of the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio Texas, encircled by his worshiping penitents, proclaimed God’s word as he is mandated to fulfill them, and like Pastor Hagee he found no sister religion in the Islamic world but only the completion of God’s wrath as He threatened the ultimate annihilation of his chosen enemies.
But I tell you this, those who know how I should be governed without asking my opinion are not virtuous, though they may be well bought. I will not throw away for lack of corporate support my responsibility as a citizen to give voice to those who will serve me in my government though they control what voting machines I can use and what vote electors will make in my name. If Democracy does not exist in the convention hall then let it exist in the streets!
In 1973, a different time with a different cast of manipulators, I wrote this as Town Moderator in protest to the prevailing powers: “No time in our history dramatizes the virtues of the town meeting form of government as well as this. Our current administration, though elected by a vast mandate, rules the nation without consent of the governed, without, indeed, even lip service to the representatives of the governed. Silence and political coercion compel the few in Congress and the Senate to acquiesce to the dictates of a President who has no concern for the uninvolved citizen and a callous disregard for their opinion.
“The town meeting forces those governed to confront the governed. Here they are held accountable. Here they must provide reasons for their acts. Would that were so at the federal level. I do not elect another man’s conscience when I vote on election day. I will not be subjected to the inhuman, insensitive, and barbaric behavior of that man simply because he holds office. If the elected official cannot face the people he governs, if the people have no recourse to alter the actions of their elected officials, then why go through the farce of an election?”
“People deserve that form of government which they allow to exist. America has been the haven of the poor and afflicted, but only because the people of America have cared for those in want and offered succor to those in pain, not because the government was a haven and a shelter. It is the people of the country that constitute its virtues, not the government that acts in their name. But note what happens when the institution becomes more sacred than the people that compose it. An aura of infallibility surrounds the office, a quality of royalty cloaks the incumbent, a sense of righteousness shrouds the acts of the civil servant. The opinion of the individual citizen, so necessary before the election, is no longer sought, his concerns no longer heeded, his expectations no longer fulfilled, his citizenship, indeed, is buried beneath a monument of scented semantics, platitudes, and patriotic cliches.”
“A government that does not face the people does not have to account to the people. Under this sinister reality lies interred individual rights. We have become victims of our own propaganda. We apply to our individual lives and our rights as individuals theories that are advantageous to our economic base, Capitalism. Streamlined efficiency, hard-headed decisions, practical reality, these are the virtues that guide our day to day behavior. To thrust their effectiveness on our governmental structure is to erase the principles upon which it was built. For the individual to have a say in how he will be governed is a most time consuming , controversial, and inexpedient process. To respond to the needs of the governed, as diverse as that population must be, is most impractical, most cumbersome, yet very Christian and very Democratic.”
“A government that operates on the basis of business principles is not and cannot be a government of the people or a government for the people. It is and must be a government of the few, accepting as a matter of course profit and loss, both in matters of money and in lives. A humanitarian government cannot be operated efficiently nor can it confront practical reality only.”
“We cannot have it both ways. Either our government serves us or we become the servants of the government. Every election day should be a day of revolution. No office holder should be secure in his seat. He only will respond who must beg for our vote again. We insure our rights by keeping the office holder tottering on a wall of uncertainty. The town meeting is followed by the election of town officials; woe to him who would mock my voice or disregard my opinion. Democracy dies when we elevate our leaders to seats made precious by divine right. I will know the reasons for my acts even when they are perpetrated by my elected representatives.”
“We have in the complexity of our lives and in the numbers of our people foregone the simple rights we first professed two hundred years ago. We have surrendered our money, our principles, our consciences to our legislators. We assume erroneously that having stated our beliefs at the outset of the nation, they are secured forever. It is not so.”
“Our government no longer walks the streets; it comes to us in the form of papers, cards, questionnaires, legal documents, and tax forms; it speaks through a ghostly ‘White House’ voice, an anonymous person close to the President, a mumbling spokesman for the War Department, an innocuous press secretary–voices with no blood, no emotion, no love or hate, no compassion or sympathy, no human vital signs at all.”
“Our government is no longer people; it is a functioning thing; it operates within the construct of its own system. We keep it alive with our memory of what it used to be; we breathe life into it by asserting its morality; we pump the blood of principles into it believing in our hearts that it is good. But we live a dream. The principles carved above the portals of our government buildings no longer penetrate within. The voice of the people is silenced by the strident bombast of the military; the cry of the poor is drowned in the cant of the Capitalist; the lame, the afflicted, the aged , the child in Appalachia, the migrant in the field, the stranded in the ghetto, that whole chorus of need is not heard. Priority goes to military honor, to political face-saving. Our leaders will have honor even if it is mutilated; it will stand like a statue in some park, medals pinned to its chest, though it reeks of maggots that rummage within its soul.”
“Democracy is a feeble form of government. It is afflicted by apathy; it becomes ill with ignorance; it succumbs to silence. Constant vigilance, tempered with conscience, keeps Democracy alive. Comfort, leisure, dependencies, procurement, acquisitions, affiliations, programmed learning, acceptance of platitudes, allegiance to institutions, chauvinistic loyalty, blind trust in leaders, unquestioned acquiescence to authority, these are the symptoms of a decaying Democracy.”
“Where are our representatives? Where have they been for the past eight years (substitute four now)? Special interests, obligations, party loyalty take their toll of the free man’s conscience. When the legislator’s security depends on his vote, he is no longer a free man. When the people have no means of confronting their elected officials, they are no longer free… Any attempt to remove the people from their government is an act of betrayal. We have had almost two hundred years of erosion now; let us stem its steady way. If we find it difficult to spend time at governing ourselves, then we deserve to be governed by those who will. Our voice, which speaks for our rights, is our only weapon against oppression. Let us keep that last vestige of our Democracy…”
“I firmly believe there is a silent majority in this country, but it is neither pro-Nixon Administration or pro-withdrawal from Vietnam. It is pro-nothing and it is con-nothing. It is a silent majority, an apathetic, uninformed, non-committed ‘Mass of men who live lives of quiet desperation.’ It is unhealthy to have in a Democracy a mass of citizens who know nothing and care nothing about the government of their lives. Those citizens who affirm the government and those who challenge it, those who commit themselves to work for the government, and those who test it and debate it and dissent against it with reason and feeling, these are the citizens of a Democracy.”
What need to draw parallels between Nixon’s secretive administration, the one Arnie found a “breath of fresh air,” and the Neo-Con administration that believes the people must be lead like sheep, and so use the Christian symbol of the protective Shepherd watching over his flock keeping them safe from terrorists. Why mention at this convention or the Democratic one that our leaders lied to the people, asked them to sacrifice their children in battle for an unjust cause, nay, more than an unjust cause, a fabricated cause shrouded in the sacred garments of God’s word fulfilling not the words of God but those of Aldous Huxley, “…behavior is determined, not by knowledge and reason, but by feelings and unconscious drives… The driving force which has brought about the most tremendous revolutions on this earth has never been a body of scientific teaching which has gained power over the masses, but always a devotion which has inspired them, and often a kind of hysteria which has urged them into action.” Does that quote not describe the Republican Convention?
Zell Miller, the yet to be cleansed racist crossdresser from the former land of Dixiecrats, Dick Cheney whose very words curl like venom out of his snarling mouth, and the compassionate conservative with the Texas walk who mouths the words given to him by his alter ego, Karl Rove, did Hitler proud as they systematically exploited the “secret fears and hopes, the cravings, anxieties and frustrations of the German (Republican) masses… It is by manipulating ‘hidden forces’… that Hitler induced the German masses to buy themselves a Fuehrer, an insane philosophy and the Second World War.” (Huxley).
Watching this triumvirate manipulate the mass of delegates so that they wept in adulation before their king, buying in their turn yet another war, another insane philosophy of pre-emptive killing to ensure world dominance, and another Fuehrer, I could only weep at the demise of Democracy. Huxley quotes Hitler: “All effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare necessities and then must be expressed in a few stereotyped formulas…only constant repetition will finally succeed in imprinting an idea upon the memory of the crowd.” How effective has been the Bush machine that has lied and continues to lie regardless of the truth using fear to motivate its forces and to maintain control.
What drives these people to deliver their conscience to the manipulator? Why would purported religious people forego the promise of knowledge and salvation, achievable only in the individual mind, to cast their lot with demigods and charlatans? Dostoevsky in a passage from The Brothers Karamozov, “The Grand Inquisitor,” suggests that the freedom offered by Jesus required each person to think for herself, to judge for herself, and to act in concert with that judgment. That responsibility Dostoevesky concluded was too hard for the masses to bear. Those in power, the Power Elite, understand this reality and capitalize on it. It is, in Huxley’s words, “the subhuman mindlessness to which the demagogue makes his appeal, the moral imbecility on which he relies when he goads his victims into action…(these) are characteristic not of men and women as individuals, but of men and women in masses.” These masses, like the lemmings, move irresistibly, irrationally, ineluctably to the cliff, driven by devotional distraction perpetrated by politicians and prophets to their intellectual death, destroying in the process their right to a Democracy. “Never have so many been manipulated so much by so few.”
William Cook is a professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California. His new book, Psalms for the 21st Century, was just published by Mellen Press. He can be reached at: cookb@ULV.EDU