Future Crimes

Photo by Marc Nozell | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Marc Nozell | CC BY 2.0

“Precrime Analytical Wing: Contains the precognitives and the machinery needed to hear and analyze their predictions of future crimes.”

Philip K. Dick, Minority Report

“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…”

Martin Luther King

“The intellectuals are the dominant group’s ‘deputies,’ exercising the subaltern functions of social hegemony and political government”.


There was a jaw dropping but not unexpected article at The Guardian this week. It was actually part of a series of pieces at that paper that have sought to manufacture a legacy for Obama, the outgoing president, since his actual legacy is one of imperialist foreign policy, CIA support of jihadists, right wing coups, and most acutely, perhaps, a massive subverting of free speech and civil liberties. What Robert Parry has called a ‘war on dissent’. The Guardian piece took the form of asking novelists, public intellectuals {sic} and TV hacks what they perceived to be Obama’s legacy — and even the use of that word, *legacy* is a loaded indicator of the direction this piece was headed. What struck me most was not the predictable support for Obama policy (more on that later) but the utter banality of the writing. There were writers in this group who I have admired (Richard Ford for one, Marilynne Robinson, as well) but the sentiments were so stupefyingly superficial, so fatuous and fawning that it was hard not to see this as a kind of mini referendum on the state of Western culture.

Joyce Carol Oates (for whom ten words is usually better than the right word) described Obama as…“Brilliant and understated, urbane, witty, compassionate, composed..”. Siri Hutsvedt (who honestly I had to look up…finding her most notable achievement was being married to Paul Auster) wrote…“For eight years, we have been represented by an elegant, well-spoken, funny, highly educated, moderate, morally upright, preternaturally calm black man”. Richard Ford wrote…“This cold morning, when I think about Obama, immersed in what must be a decidedly mixed brew of emotions – mixed about his deeds, mixed about his effects on the US, decidedly mixed about our future – I’m confident he is thinking, right to his last minute in the office, as the president, and not much about, or for, himself. That’s what I expected when I voted for him – that he’d be a responsible public servant who’d try to look out for the entire country.” I know, I know, but that’s what he wrote. Look it up if you don’t believe me. Perhaps this is what a career of University teaching does to one. Edmund White called him one of our great presidents (love the use of *our*).

Jane Smiley, who at the least mentioned TPP and drones, but ended with…“As a national leader, he has engendered more chaos, but it is necessary chaos – a loud and meaningful return to the question of what constitutes the real America.” A necessary chaos? The fuck does that mean? I ask that sincerely, sort of. By the time I reached the end of this saccharine mind numbing bathos I thought back to the 1968 Democratic Convention and to Esquire Magazine, in its golden era, who sent William Burroughs, Jean Genet, Terry Southern and John Sack to cover the convention. I thought back to Robert Bly and his organizing of Writers against the Vietnam war. The readings he gave with Galway Kinnell and Ginsburg, and a dozen others. And to the way Bly spoke of art and the role of art in a society. In an interview with Michael Ventura, around the time of the Iraq invasion…

Bly:I don’t think we believe that a Great Mother is lying to us. It’s a father who’s lying to us. Thee whole system, in a way, is a father system.Ventura: It’s a patriarchy, so it’s a father who’s lying.Bly: Exactly. And we eventually get the sense that our ownfather is lying to us. { } Whenever you have a culture completely run by grosscapitalism, all of the gods are driven away. Well, then what?What does that mean when those gods are not present?

Later Bly says…

“When I talk about the world being mad, I tell people,“You won’t believe how bad television is going to be in ten years.You’re going to literally have to protect your children from it.”And we’re not going to be able to change that. The only thingwe can do is recognize that it’s mad, and reach inside ourselvesand bring out our own genuine madness in the form of art,and then teach our children to do the same.”

In 68, a corporate owned magazine, and hardly a socialist magazine, thought it reasonable to ask Genet or Burroughs to discuss a political convention. I mean even Norman Mailer wrote intelligently on Kennedy for Esquire, and Mailer isn’t exactly Gramsci. My point is, or I hope my first point, is that it is not always crucial to demand ideological analysis. For art’s radical nature is outside ideology. Just speaking from a radical perspective, an anti bourgeois perspective, can be enough. But in 1968 the U.S. still had artists. What artist could you invite today? What public intellectual? The Guardian picked Sarah Churchwell (who again, I’d never heard of) who wrote…

“The Obamas changed the rules for what it means to inhabit the White House, and not only because they were the first black family to do so. They were also the first modern family to do so, to be informal yet classy, upright yet kind, and, most important, themselves.”

That’s it then, just be yourself. But the lesson here, if there is one, is that the radical tradition in American life has been rendered invisible. Just as the history of labor and unions and strikes has been erased. There are plenty of great artists out there, actually. Tons of intellectuals, but they aren’t invited by corporate media. Was anyone from Black Agenda Report asked to comment? Or from, well, CounterPunch? Was Harry Belefonte asked? The manufacturing of an image of a culture, rather than an actual culture, is what organs of disinformation such as The Guardian are in the business of doing. And this is also what Hollywood does, of course. Look at the stuff that gets on in the flagship theatres of the U.S. What is the season at Lincoln Center? Does it matter? No, it really doesn’t. And running across all of this discussion is the question of class. In fact, that may be the most important aspect in all of this. The working class voice is erased. In total. And this is hugely significant. Even fifty years ago the stages of American theatres were filled by work from playwrights who did not have MFAs. Novels were written by criminals and outsiders. This is no less true, really, in the U.K. From Brendan Behan to Martin Amis is the road travelled. Now of course one can site exceptions to this, I think anyway. There are always celebrity outsiders, branded renegades. Usually this takes the form of a confessional. My time on oxycodone while writing Sit Coms. I was a teenage prostitute and was addicted to anti depressants, but then I found a higher power. But god forbid you express condemnation of the bourgeoisie. For that is the greatest of all crimes.

When I worked in Hollywood, I felt the class estrangement acutely. But I did get work and had some modest success. And I remember when a major cable producer of the era asked me, during a pitch meeting, for the names of writers I thought would be good to employ for an anthology series they wanted to put together. I said, well, Iceberg Slim (Robert Beck) and John Rechy. A silence fell on the room. I was very very naive. Hollywood today seems infested with lawyers, former political interns, and business school graduates. Most from Ivy league schools. And the world that is manufactured is one that reflects their class. And the effect this has had is to alienate the younger artists who do not come from affluent backgrounds. It has also normalized the a vision of the world that belongs to perhaps ten per cent of the population. The rest are strangers in their own land. Strangers to the official sanctioned culture. And in that sense, Hollywood has sort of merged with Madison Avenue.

The class divide is being starkly revealed this last few months. And it has also served to put in stark relief the real impetus of U.S. foreign policy (and to domestic policy, too, only not as drastically). After WW2 and the formation of the CIA, the shaping of a political intention was being finalized. This came from George Kennan and the Dulles Brothers. And Henry Kissinger was the premier exemplar of this thinking. Kissinger, who supported the Shah and his death squads in Iran, and chaired the Presidential Commission on Central America in the 1980s,(employing Ollie North) and which unleashed an unimaginable terror on that region, and who orchestrated the Pinochet coup in Chile to protect ITT and, as a side bar, to teach a lesson to any government not readily obedient. This has been the seamless and never changing foreign policy of the U.S. for seventy some years. Punish the disobedient (meaning anything smacking of socialism or any nation even the tiniest bit resistant to Western business) and to continue toward global hegemony, and at the same time perpetuating conflicts which make both defense contractors and giant service providers such as Halliburton a lot of money.

The U.S. has cultivated compliant nations (Australia, the U.K. most notably) to enforce its policy (think East Timor, Iraq and Libya et al) and now owns a complient organization with international standing: NATO. And NATO serves as a legitimizing international (sic) institution of pacification.

John Pilger writes…

“The other day, an Indonesian friend took me to his primary school where, in October 1965, his teacher was beaten to death, suspected of being a communist.
The murder was typical of the slaughter of more than a million people: teachers, students, civil servants, peasants. Described by the CIA as “one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century”, it brought to power the dictator Suharto, the west’s man. Within a year of the bloodbath, Indonesia’s economy was redesigned in America, giving western capital access to vast mineral wealth, markets and cheap labour. “

Stephan Gowans writes…

“The United States had waged a long war against Syria from the very moment the country’s fiercely independent Arab nationalist movement came to power in 1963. Assad and his father Hafez al-Assad were committed to that movement. Washington sought to purge Arab nationalist influence from the Syrian state and the Arab world more broadly. It was a threat to Washington’s agenda of establishing global primacy and promoting business-friendly investment climates for US banks, investors and corporations throughout the world.”

The rise of the neo cons, which rather officially began with Project for a New American Century (just prior to Bush Jr’s presidency) was really just an extension of that original plan for global domination. At that time this was articulated by a seething nearly hysterical hatred of the Soviet Union. And the structural aspect of this remains in place with today’s rabid and massive propaganda campaign directed at Putin. And indeed even on the left one hears the echoes of a Russophobic sensibility. It is as if these faux leftists can not allow a critique of U.S. imperialism (in Syria for example) without off handedly smearing Russia, too. One need only look at who is surrounding whom with military bases. And the same holds true, with slightly less hysteria, for China.

In 2012 Ed Herman, speaking in a radio interview, said

“…humanitarian intervention {has} been used strictly for the interests of the United States and other Western powers and Israel. Strictly. So there’s no intervention in Saudi Arabia or Israel or Yemen or Bahrain. There was none in Egypt…And there was Egypt, here you had a miserable dictator for decades, and then you had an uprising where a lot of people were being beaten and killed in the streets, and you never had Mrs. Clinton ever asking for any application of humanitarian intervention. Not once. Never. They’re getting away with the most unbelievable double standard imaginable.”

This is, none of it, new. And yet, despite the obvious record of Obama in furthering exactly this world vision, the liberal organs of *real* news continue to paint their revisionist narratives of American heroism and goodness. And it is breathtaking in a way to read this new class of quisling artist, the court eunuchs for the Democratic Party establishment. And Obama’s apparent anger and petulance belies, certainly, descriptions such as ‘preternaturally calm’, and ‘dignified’. But there is a thread of liberal guilt running through this as well. Obama’s race (and his perfect wife and kids — and one longs for Ron Reagan Jr or to go back to James Madison’s son John, and shit, even the Bush girls might be a relief from these Stepford children.) is the psychological glue for a visibly excessive adoration. And this is a white liberal class that is haunted, I suspect, in their heart of hearts, by the knowledge of their own privilege and that that privilege has resulted in oceans of blood, and the knowledge, if they were ever to question themselves, that they would sell out anyone to retain that privilege. They love Obama and Obama is black, therefore…etc.

As Ajamu Baraka noted

“In the face of the Neo-McCarthyism represented by this legislation and the many other repressive moves of the Obama administration to curtail speech and control information — from the increased surveillance of the public to the use of the espionage act to prosecute journalists and whistleblowers — one would reasonably assume that forces on the left would vigorously oppose the normalization of authoritarianism, especially in this period of heightened concerns about neo-fascism.
Unfortunately, the petit-bourgeois “latte left” along with their liberal allies have been in full collaboration with the state for the past eight years, with the predictable result that no such alarm was issued, nor has any critique or even debate been forthcoming.”

The openly Imperialist U.S. state has tortured, illegally kidnapped, and simply murdered both leaders of sovereign states as well as countless innocent victims. That Samantha Power’s motorcade in rushing through a village in Cameroon happened to run over a ten year old boy, and didn’t stop — this barely made the evening news at all (but hey, they did send the family fifteen hundred dollars by way of an apology). They have acted covertly to destabilize governments and have manufactured enemies at a rate that is staggering to contemplate. Obama’s tight relationship with the most odious autocratic and murderous country on earth, Saudi Arabia, speaks to the cynicism of the political elite.

And yet, the artistic communities by and large continue to focus on identity issues (once they have attended to their career moves and spoken with their agents), most of which affect their own class. The dire suffering of the poor makes good voyeuristic source material, but the segregation of classes is enforced zealously. Token exceptions are simply that.

How is it possible to become so alarmed by Trump, while supporting Democrats? Those millions on the street protesting the looming invasion of Iraq must have noticed that every single Democrat in government voted FOR the invasion (save for the honorable Barbara Lee). And yet here they all are wringing their hands in dismay that Hillary lost. Here they are constantly repeating the litanies of Trump evil and never noticing the crimes of earlier democratic presidents and administrations. So, yes Trump’s appointments are awful. But I refuse to even dig into that until a discussion of Obama’s appointments are dissected. First came Rahm Emanuel, former memeber of the IDF, all around thug and bully and lover of never ending war to help expand Israeli power. Penny Pritzker, heiress and elitist and friend to the 1%, or Robert Rubin or Tim Geithner (!!!) or Tom Daschle, the senator from Citibank. I’m just scratching the surface. Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. The point is that I am coming to feel that almost any focus on Trump feels misplaced. Certainly now it does since he isn’t even president yet. The deconstruction of liberal Obama is far from complete and the propaganda apparatus is working overtime to rewrite not just recent history, but the present. And the anti Russian propaganda is so absurd, so transparent, that this feels far more important than the predictable stupidity of Trump. I mean Obama is massing troops near the Russian border. Obama is ramping up the building of purpose built navel bases near China. Obama is still looking to prosecute Chelsea Manning and every other whistleblower. And he is still signing draconian legislation to curb free speech and institutionalize legitimacy for the new McCarthyism. Talking about Trump is a form of forgetting. I can’t do it. And if there is an easier target for parody or even non parodic narrative than Donald Trump, I havent met them. And easy is never an act of rigorous self examination.

Thomas Bates writes, discussing Gramsci…

“Gramsci retained a skepticism towards these alienated fils de bourgeois, a
skepticism which was not, however, mere prejudice, but was an historical
judgment informed by the experience of the Italian labor movement. How was
one to explain the passing of entire groups of left-wing intellectuals into the
enemy camp? More precisely, how was one to explain the phenomena of socialists
entering into bourgeois governments and of revolutionary syndicalists
entering into the nationalist and then the Fascist movement? Gramsci viewed
these puzzling events as the continuation on a mass scale of the ‘trasformismo’
of the nineteenth century. The “generation gap” within the ruling class had resulted
in a large influx of bourgeois youth into the popular movements, especially
during the turbulent decade of the 1890’s. But in the war-induced crisis
of the Italian State in the early twentieth century, these prodigal children
returned to the fold…”

And Gramsci adds..

“The bourgeoisie fails to educate its youth (struggle of generations). The youth
allow themselves to be culturally attracted by the workers, and right away
they … try to take control of them (in their “unconscious” desire to impose
the hegemony of their own class on the people), but during historical crises
they return to the fold.”

White affluent self identifying liberals believe they are the decision makers. That is their destiny. They believe that. One must build a new culture. Not endlessly ratify a decrepit and atrophying one. One must stop perceiving *liberals* as being on the side of change. For they are not. Guy Debord began his situationist masterpiece (1967) by quoting Feuerbach, Preface to the second edition of The Essence of Christianity:

“But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence… illusion only is sacred, truth profane. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness. “

John Steppling is an original founding member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, a two-time NEA recipient, Rockefeller Fellow in theatre, and PEN-West winner for playwriting. Plays produced in LA, NYC, SF, Louisville, and at universities across the US, as well in Warsaw, Lodz, Paris, London and Krakow. Taught screenwriting and curated the cinematheque for five years at the Polish National Film School in Lodz, Poland. A collection of plays, Sea of Cortez & Other Plays was published in 1999, and his book on aesthetics, Aesthetic Resistance and Dis-Interest was published by Mimesis International in 2016.