Public Like a Frog

Once again, partisan Democrats are reeling in shock and humiliation, boggled by a familiar scenario — the sheer velocity of their reversal of fortune and the Republican right’s perennial ascendency. Democrats implore, why is it voters occupying less than privileged positions in the economic order evince such ardor embracing the principles of a political creed dedicated to their exploitation for the benefit of a ruthless few?

There is truth in the one-liner that Democrats bandy: Anyone from the working or middle class who votes Republican is suffering from Battered Wife Syndrome. Although one is tempted to retort, anyone who votes for either one of the corporate/National Security State parties is closer to a half-senile spinster who still believes her prince will come.

For decades, middle and laboring class conservatives have been hoarding their resentments against phantom enemies, foreign and domestic, as the time-yellowed, eroded social contract, once, offering a better life for themselves and for their children, has crumbled to dust in their hands. By the financial machinations of elitist kleptocrats and the Pentagon’s multi-billion dollar money pit, they have been endowed with little else but this stash of toxic baubles they store against reality.

“The truth is that the State is a conspiracy designed not only to exploit, but above all to corrupt its citizens.” — Leo Tolstoy

Amid the casual brutalities and nettling banalities of the US’s perpetual militarism and its entrenched culture of corporate oligarchy, two pernicious modes of being, seemingly unrelated, arise, converge and cross-pollinate: the collective compulsion to displace fear and rage intertwined with an aura of personal dislocation and collective anomie.

This has been the legacy wrought by the nation’s collective will to beat its civic plowshares into the Pentagon’s war machine (as well as those much needed accouterments of the commonweal such as the fleets of the tax-exempt, Gulf-Stream jets appropriated by corporate oligarchs).

As the people of a fading empire, our self-absorbed victim-swoon is only exceeded by our paranoia: We cower from phantoms and rage at realms of invisibles: Within this empire of Paxil, Palin and paranoia, collective fear of all the wrong things has made the US and her people analogous to a car alarm that issues a shrill, electronic warning to an empty parking lot. In reality, no intruder has attempted to invade its envelope of steel, aluminum, and glass. A sudden gust of wind was the culprit. Yet it disturbs all within earshot, announcing the presence of imaginary marauders.

Attempting to cope with the degradations of a violence-prone, exploitive system and its attendant degraded social milieu, an individual can become susceptible to demagogic narratives that serve to displace overwhelming feelings of rage, shame, and mortification. Thus, around the clock, right-wing media haters — human, hair-trigger car alarms — admonish empty air.

Overextended empires, and the distracted and harried individuals within, will stand, bristling in a paranoid posture, with feet planted in stubborn defiance of changing circumstances, snarling at invisible threats and imagined affronts, as life moves on with indifferent grace.

A nebulous sense of anger, co-existing with free-floating ennui, has become normalized, leveling a sense of desolation and inflicting a hyper-attenuation of the will to freedom upon the psyches of U.S. conservatives of modest economic means. What remains: brittle pride, paranoia, belligerence, and empty braggadocio — each serving to occlude from their conscious awareness the reality of the nation’s plummeting quality of life.

By any metric, other than military spending and armament production, the US is nowhere close to occupying the top dog position it once held among nations … maybe global junkyard dog. In the US, it is astonishing to hear middle and laboring class conservatives defend their degradation by the present corporate order i.e., how they refer to the leash, held by their corporate masters around their necks, as their wings of freedom.

Thus corporatism, by its diffuse nature, avoids direct critique, as, all the while, it atomizes community. The money generated doesn’t remain in neighborhoods; instead, profits flow back to corporate headquarters. These practices of the corporate state (that go nearly unquestioned) have rendered US culture bland and inflicted alienation in their wake.

The culture has been reduced to a center-devoid archipelago disconnected to community commerce and communal engagement. This is revealed, in microcosm, in the nature of the bland, uniform food proffered at corporate chain restaurants which is produced for quick profits in order to provisionally assuage the disproportionally large appetites of the denizens of the consumer state.

Hopes and dreams have been crowded out and marginalized by oversized, empty cravings … My heart is bereft — but I can fill my belly with giant burgers and endless varieties of donuts … Buddhists term this state of being: existing as a hungry ghost.

As corporate chains conquer every block, waistlines expand and civic engagement shrinks … Shuffling, bereft, through the consumer state’s soul-denuded architecture of anonymity, we, in turn, have internalized the illusory image-scape of the mass media hologram. The human being as consumer is not only clad in corporate chain clothes but wears its labels within.

Due to the banality, blandness and flat out ugliness of the strip mall/big box store/fast food outlet, prefab nothingvilles of the US landscape, life under corporatism is as seductive as the glare of florescent tube lighting in a convenience store. Our suburban architecture looks as though Socialist Realist architects of the old Soviet Union grew bored of the worker’s paradise of Hell, rose to earth, and went into the prefab structure design business.

The difference between the Soviet Union during its last few decades and the US Empire in its death swoon is the people of the Soviet Union knew it was all a fraud. In contrast, our corporate masters are too wily to display their corrupt carcasses on the reviewing stand on May Day as the fraudulent parade trundles past.

At present, the only reason voting is still permitted is to provide a wall of camouflage for corporate oligarchs. Their power remains hidden … provided the public believes, by voting, they are afforded any significant degree of mastery regarding the condition of their lives and the trajectory of their fates.

Extreme totalitarian policies such as Stalin’s engineered famines aren’t required under the hidden (loose knit) authoritarianism of the present system: Our corporate commissars have more cunning, albeit less dramatic, methods of keeping people in their place: keep the workforce off balance with downsizing, arbitrary staff reductions, and outsourcing; inflict a famine of the mind by means of a class-stratified system of education, in combination with a constant and enveloping bombardment of inane mass media content; and provide food, plentiful amounts of it, but manufacture food products as high caloric, high fat, high sugar, growth hormone-injected, antibiotic-sodden, empty calorie delivery systems e.g., corporate chain death burgers and donuts of doom.

Although, in a traditional sense, the swag the privileged class mountebanks have made off with isn’t actually money; in reality, they are in possession of a cache of weightless pixels funneling through a matrix of computer systems. There is simply the illusion of money in the vaults of the nation’s colossal banking entities. The only thing the financial elite didn’t steal for themselves was any sense of self-awareness, because if there was ever an honest audit of their ill-gotten assets the illusion would be exposed and the house of electronic cards would fly asunder.

And that time is approaching. Soon enough, the next black swan will glide into the picture. And this presents peril: Prolonged hopelessness breeds rage. When that rage is unloosed, the fabric of civilization unravels and is soon cobbled together as a death shroud.

Accordingly, right-wing hatred is a many-headed hydra that feeds on fear and desperation. It cannot be fought by attacking its spindling heads, each of its hissing mouths dripping black poison. Instead, one must thrust at the noxious heart of the raging beast. But one cannot know where the heart of an external monster beats without gazing upon one’s own ugliness. One’s ugliness, with apologies to Emily Dickinson, must be public like a frog.

Apropos: How can it be, on a level of collective awareness, the populace of the US can persist in avoiding blundering in to this steaming pile of the obvious: How can we have a modicum of empathy for the people of Iraq when we refuse to even glimpse our own degraded condition and our complicity therein? What does it speak of a people who can be indifferent, inured, or ignorant regarding the following?

‎”The Battalion commander walked into the weight room where 3rd platoon was at, yelled out ‘Listen up, new battalion SOP (standard operating procedure) from now on: Anytime your convoy gets hit by an IED, I want 360 degree rotational fire. You kill every motherfucker in the street'” — former US soldier, who served in Iraq, Ethan McCord.

The Military Industrial Complex/National Security State serves no one but the God of Death, munitions manufacturers and those politicians they bribe. War is a money train for the rich and connected and a death wagon for everyone else.

Regardless, the people of the United States owe the Iraqi people an amends. If we demure, we will remain caged by our ignorance. That will be our punishment: our fates, analogous to a mistreated dog that licks the hand of his cruel master and exists, restless and vicious, behind a fence, snarling at the passing world.

There are many worlds, many heavens and many hells — and they are all in this one. Without a public accounting of, as well as, restitution made for our crimes, we, in the US, will remain in our own tiny, fenced-in hell, straining against the tether of our tiny view of the world … barking and snapping at empty air in futile rage.

Because our sense of entitlement here in the US engenders so much death and suffering overseas, at times, I feel like shouting in frustration: “I don’t give the hind quarters of a small rodent about the beliefs, feelings, consumer preferences nor fates of the somnambulant herds of big box store waddling, overgrown adult infants of this empire of the arrogant and the empty. Millions have been murdered worldwide so that these entitlement-maddened monsters can keep their SUVs topped-off with gas, and their fat brats’ greedy gobs stuffed with Hot Pockets & Juicy Juice.”

Yet as Hannah Arendt observed: “Where all are guilty, no one is; confessions of collective guilt are the best possible safeguard against the discovery of culprits, and the very magnitude of the crime the best excuse for doing nothing.”

Years ago, I had a friend, a struggling artist, who purchased an old, dilapidated, Victorian era house. Upon moving in, he discovered the place was infested with cockroaches. Worse, the house sat close to railroad tracks and when trains trundled by, shaking the structure, its floors, walls, and ceilings would seethe with agitated cockroaches.

Since no amount of bug spray could lessen the infestation, he began zapping individual insects with glow-in-the-dark spray paint. After many months of this endeavor, when friends dropped by after dark, and, subsequently, a train rumbled down the tracks adjacent to the house, he would switch off the lights and all present were dazzled by his creation — a moving, organic mobile of scuttling, multi-colored, living art.

At present, this is where we find ourselves as a people: powerless before the ugliness of the age. Therefore, we have little choice other than to light up the ugliness and turn the objects of our revulsion (personal and collective) into something resembling the truth of art.

Darkness must and will descend upon us. The absence of light must grow so unbearable that we’re willing to ask how is it we arrived in this place and begin to illuminate the darkness by revealing the scuttling, creepy crawlers of empire.

PHIL ROCKSTROH is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: Visit Phil’s website