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Late Capitalism and Its Discontents of the American Autumn

The global designs of the neo-liberal agenda have met the living architecture of a larger order — a portion of which has taken the form of a still coalescing, yet potent, countervailing consciousness, a global-wide Liberty Plaza of the mind — an order that is not informed by corporate era public relations legerdemain, hyper-adrenaline media sound bites, rightwing emotional displacements, or “sensible” centrist platitudes — but the type of order that begins to jell when the structures of an existing system lose touch with the realities of daily life.

A ground-level, global-wide movement is afoot and has announced to the economic, media and political elite that they are on to their schemes. Accordingly, the plundering class and their protectors will no longer be afforded the luxury of insulating themselves (almost absent confrontation) within bubbles of privilege, bubbles of denial, bubbles of insularity.

Late capitalism has proven to be wholly reliant upon, in fact, addicted to, the creation of bubbles: market and media bubbles, respectively, serving to create inflated wealth and the manufacturing of closed narratives that shield the privileged players within from being held accountable for the consequences of their schemes.

The system is analogous to a rigged game in a tawdry, traveling carnival. The carnival barker’s success hinges on whether or not his audience is seduced by his unctuous pitch, in this case being the dubious claim that, under late capitalism, illusionary economic success is attainable by pluck and perseverance. (“Step right up, folks, all can play”– but the house will win.) Of course, the game has been rigged from the get-go, has been designed to fleece credulous rubes who have never glimpsed the larger world, and, when any prize at all is won, it is a piece of cheap, disposable consumer junk.

As Autumn stands before us, it will be helpful to allow illusions to fall away like dying leaves. Summer is kind to fools, but winter insists on clarity. Let the old delusions blaze out in Autumnal splendor, and then be mindful of winter’s stark perfection…its demarcations…rendering bare branches against a bleak sky.

Know this: The illusions of the corporate empire can no longer provide shelter; the elite and operatives of economic imperium can no longer raid and plunder the easy pickings of summer…hoard and squander its bounty. Therefore, to quote the poet, at present, “One must have a mind of winter” to navigate the white-out winds of new realities.

One must have a mind of winter

To regard the frost and the boughs

Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time

To behold the junipers shagged with ice,

The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think

 Of any misery in the sound of the wind […]

— Wallace Stevens, excerpt from The Snow Man

Yet, with the rise of that wing of the privileged class known as the corporate media, we receive the opposite; instead, we are enveloped within a hothouse bloom of hype, surface-level, adrenaline-activating content bearing misleadingly narrowed context.

On January 17 1991, at the start of the U.S.’s formal military hostilities against Iraq in the first Gulf War, the “folk rapper”/performance poet Chris Chandler and I were in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House. Chris pounded and thrashed at his battered guitar and recited talking blues protest ditties that we composed on the spot.

We were among a crowd of well over a couple of thousand demonstrators, plus scores of homeless people shared the surroundings as well. Shortly after the bombing of Iraq began, many in the park joined in an impromptu march around the metro D.C. area where thousands more protesters joined our ranks.

As we wended our way back to Pennsylvania Avenue, we were met, a block from the White House, by a phalanx of police i.e., full riot gear-clad storm troopers and mounted sons-of-bitches on horseback who charged the crowd.

The following is a close approximation of the account of the events as reported in the next day’s Washington Post:

“A few dozen ragged protesters hobbled up Pennsylvania Ave. throwing rocks and taunting the police…”

Bearing that in mind, here is the opening graph of the account of the events on the Brooklyn Bridge, where on Sunday, Oct 2, 2011, demonstrators were herded, kettled and arrested by police:

“NEW YORK (AP) — More than 700 protesters demonstrating against corporate greed, global warming and social inequality, among other grievances, were arrested Saturday after they swarmed the Brooklyn Bridge and shut down a lane of traffic for several hours in a tense confrontation with police.”

Buyer beware: If the corporate press reports a breaking story with any degree of accuracy, the act is to be viewed as a fluke and certainly not as an act of honest intention by the reporters, producers and editors involved. On a personal basis, I have yet to be part of an unfolding news story in which the version of events created by these courtesans to power do not seem simply cut out of whole cloth, as they truckled to create an inoffensive narrative for the ruling elite.

“Now, from America, empty indifferent things are pouring across, sham things, dummy life…. A house, in the American sense, an American apple or a grapevine over there, has nothing in common with the house, the fruit, the grape into which went the hopes and reflections of our forefathers … Live things, things that are alive — that are conscious of us — are running out and can no longer be replaced. We are perhaps the last to have known such things.”

–Rainer Maria Rilke

Living in New York City, as I do, brings into stark relief the fact that the city operates as a defacto banana republic/police state. In the same manner that the mission of the police force is to protect the power and privilege of the moneyed classes, mainstream journalists work within the boundaries of its acceptable narratives for the purpose of job security and a bit of privilege.

The general population, buffeted by economic insecurity, at least, up to this point, has remained docile, and, to mitigate the anxiety and depression caused by feelings of powerlessness, many have become addicted to the small perks and bribes and endless distractions of the corporate/consumer state.

Furthermore, these bubble-enclosed states of being constitute addiction in a literal sense: Ergo, the compulsive mechanisms of addictive behavior are an attempt to ease an individual’s abiding sense of powerlessness and the attendant feelings of anxiety and despair experienced in the midst of uncontrollable circumstances and to quell troubling, obsessive thoughts and feelings of acute emotional discomfort by an habitual reliance on mood altering substances such as alcohol, food, gambling, work, hoarding, lust for power, wealth and privilege.

Addictive actions arise from the drive of libido, but its energy is usurped and exploited by the relentless will of a rigid, turned in on itself ego…”Self will run riot,” as the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous poetically puts it.

Addiction is a pathology of the mechanistic mind; an addict’s disregard for his own body and his exploitative attitude towards the world at large is a microcosmic version of the economic designs of the global economic elite. Apropos, the world is mine to abuse, not to engage…to exploit from within a protective bubble of privilege and entitlement, not to be enjoined with in common communion.

The demands of the addicted mind are analogous to that of a bratty child, a high chair tyrant, “his majesty the baby,” who is convinced that his wants are the end all be all of all things. Therefore, a childish addict must grow up and ask himself this question: How do I transform my obsessive wants into the rage of my dharma, my un-reflective compulsions into the steady work of my soul.

In our time, when nearly all the apparatus of the corporate/consumer state exist and are maintained by the demeaning, soul-defying dynamics of addiction, as an act of defiance, one should attempt to get drunk on clarity–which is a different matter than a priggish, “dry drunk’s” hyper-moralistic refusal of excess, for the primary option does not constitute a puritanical refusal of the world–but, instead, is an embrace of the sacred quality of life, a respect for the finite quality of our fleeting passage through this life.

The voice of addiction (both internal and extant in the consumer state) will say anything and will go to craven lengths to continue on. Withal, its narrative will insist its path is the only passage possible…that its doomed trajectory must be maintained. And when its flimsy, desperate arrangements do collapse, it will insist that it must be propped back up so it can topple once again (or as this destructive act of enabling was called, a few years back, “The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008”).

Let the stock market hit bottom and allow “consumer confidence” to plummet…allow the psyches’ of consumers, addicted to distraction, to spiral into the abyss. Because, in so doing, one may be compelled to find and grasp onto one’s essential self, as the persona of one’s false self, addicted to the present order, disappears into the void.

To truly embrace the possibility of change, it is essential to allow putrefied habits to compost into the rich loam that will nourish reborn understandings. Apropos:

I felt a Funeral in my Brain

And Mourners to and fro

Kept treading–treading-till it

seemed That Sense was breaking through”

–Emily Dickinson, opening stanza from, I Felt A Funeral In My Brain

Yes, this is a grievous event…a time of tears, confusion and lamination. Yet:

Let the young tears come

Let the calm hand of grief come

It is not as evil as you think.

–Rolf Jacobsen, excerpt from Sunflower

Within the present societal structure of the corporate state, “learned helplessness” is encouraged (as opposed to embracing reflective sorrow and deploying focused rage). Because it sustains itself by exploiting an individual’s instinctual drives and human longings, the present order of late capitalism is depended upon allowing an individual to possess just enough libido to vampirize–but not to retain enough élan vital to be roused to rebellion against the corporate state’s relentless practices of economic coercion.

“In a consumer society there are inevitably two kinds of slaves: the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy” –Ivan Illich

I have noticed that often what is (unconsciously) beneath paranoia is envy. Envy…that others are taking up one’s space in the world and are plotting to maintain the arrangement. Solution: Punch a hole in bubbles of denial and addiction and take a look for yourself. Insist on your portion of life — your portion of fate.

Many situations in this life are rigged e.g., the gamed system of the corporate state. But life itself is too vast, too intricate to be rigged; it is truly too big to fail. Now: To the streets, glistening with renewing rain…to the flaming barricades…its flames caress the future. Come out of self-exile; you are the change you can believe in.

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: phil@philrockstroh.com  Visit Phil’s website http://philrockstroh.com / And at FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100

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