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Broken Lives

Photo by davitydave | CC BY 2.0

He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.

When righteous men do rejoice, there is great glory: but when the wicked rise, a man is hidden.

— Proverbs

I interpret the words “he hath no rule over his own spirit” in a perhaps un-Biblical way as referring to a kind of unbridled mania breaking out beyond any rule or order whether it be a social y or personally constructed order.

There is no need to wait for an historian of American culture some fifty or seventy five years from now to write that at the very beginning of the year 2018, some fabric of a whole culture is torn and in those spaces of absence and emptiness, “the wicked rise.”

We can give accounts now of three: Dr. Larry Nassar,  pelvic floor therapist and convicted serial child molester, Nikolas Cruz, 19,  “I am going to be a professional school shooter,” President Donald J. Trump, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

Nikolas Cruz, 19, arrived at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in an Uber at 2:19 p.m. on Wednesday and pulled out a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle. He then shot to death 17 people, 14 of whom were students. He arrived in an Uber, coming from some place and going to some place. He was in this world; he did not come from an inferno pit. He is an American. He is ours.

He is a 19 year old from an American city. When suddenly faced with the horror of other lives, we would like to say he is a perfect anomaly, to say that he doesn’t come from here, this country, but comes from a hellish place where there is no light. We defend ourselves by saying he alone “hath no rule over his own spirit.” We cannot.

Almost 400 people have been shot in over 200 school shootings since 2012 (Sandy Hook) in the U.S. From 1764 to Columbine in 1999, there were a total of 12 multiple death school shootings in the U.S.  And in one, the Kent State shootings in 1970, the shooters were the Ohio National Guard. This epidemic of school massacres in the U.S. cannot be viewed as something we were not formerly aware of or something whose descriptive identifiers have changed. This is not autism we are dealing with.

“Conditions on the ground,” in the country, have shifted toward the production, like an industry in wartime, of school massacres by perpetrators whose motives are opaque.

Could it be that every city has broken down, that the country has broken down? Broken down in such ways that whatever rules or order or restraints, internal and external, previously in existence have weakened and moved us closer to a dark abyss that Europe and Asia have seen in their so much longer histories but we have not?

What is the arrangement of power and memes of winning behind this latest school shooting? There is none in the sense of direct correlation. But these shootings are the manifest signs of a sickening corruption of power arrangements in society. “Society” seems  no longer an apt definition for the broken, fractured state of entitled, meritorious, discarded, and ignored that is revealed to us online and offline. We fool ourselves into believing that ego updates and posts on social media have anything to do with any notion of society other than Margaret Thatcher’s “There is no such thing as society.”

I see a dark, broken life in Nikolas Cruz, 19, a sickened, dead spirit, walking, shooting, so much like the zombies that draw us in The Walking Dead, a TV incarnation of a post-apocalyptic horror. Corrupting conditions erupt easily among the most fragile and the most vulnerable in this broken house of ours, like the weakest constitutions in a plague stricken house, the most unhealthy plants in a garden, and so subject to predations, disease and rot. In a celebrity driven hyperreal culture such as ours, those without any sustainable self-image seek the furor and spin of the hyperreal through murderous acts. The insanity of their actions is not disconnected from the broken state of our fast moving dissembling culture.

One effect that I see all around me here in East Lansing, Michigan, home of Michigan State University, is that Cruz’s Parkland shootings and the re-emergence yet again of the NRA vs. gun control debate has interrupted the rising drama of Larry Nassar, former gymnastics doctor, who thus far has been accused of abuse by 265 people. Scores of new accusers are expected.

A profile of a man whose wickedness was hidden began to develop when Nassar was accused of receiving and possessing child pornography. Why would his sexual deviance vanish when he was doing his pelvic floor therapy on his unsuspecting patients?

There is less mystery here than with Cruz. Nassar is a closeted pedophile immersed in child pornography who is able, by virtue of his occupation, to become a hands-on child molester. From photos to real bodies. Cruz’s psyche does not show up on the DSM-5. We have to look outside, to the surround, for the trigger here.

Every authority on campus and in the state is looking for heads to roll, which they will after first placed on the chopping block. We are looking at the surround to see what people and conditions, what administrative structure in place, enabled his long predation on the young. Those in power positions will go first. Everyone in a position of authority should have known what Nassar was up to in his pelvic floor therapy, which went on for some 20 years. Whether the structural arrangement of that power, the hierarchy in place will come under serious investigation is another matter.

The people part here is easy and it plays out as expected.

The Board of Trustees confirms its support of the university’s president, even after she acknowledged knowing of a Title IX investigation against a doctor but took no action. She did not bother to find out who the doctor was.

She resigns, the Board is treated to a no confidence vote by the Faculty Senate and the interim president, a former governor of the State, tries to discredit an ESPN report linking the Larry Nassar scandal with the university’s football and men’s basketball programs. Containment and concealment of the sexual “free play” of the players is an ongoing college and university sports’ program strategy, which differs widely from any university’s goal, regardless of how corporate its structure has become.

At this moment, the interim university president is using a tactic out of President Trump’s book: he is discrediting those who make allegations of abuse and cover-up.

Students and faculty re-enter a “Let’s take back our university” mode that rocked academe in the `60s and `70s, although back then it was academe’s too cozy relationship with the government’s pursuit of the Vietnam conflict and not its too cozy relationship with corporate models of governance. That cozy relationship went red hot in the 80’s and onward and is not the target presently in focus as the afterglow of the Nassar trial plays out.

Outrageous costs have compelled students to fall in line with a hierarchical corporate structure in order to hopefully get a job in a corporate world. Bernie Sanders’s call for free tuition universities would sever that indenture of young minds to a sole directive of profit. However, as it stands, no alternative to obliging a plutocratic order is clearly in focus or can be taken seriously because the university offers no alternatives.

It’s not in focus because that relationship between organizations axiomatically pursing only profit and a university’s interest in enlightening minds in a Jeffersonian goal of shaping thoughtful citizens hasn’t been jarring for students since Reagan applauded plutocratic priorities everywhere. After all, the goal of “the Nation’s Pioneer Land Grant College,” which became Michigan State University, was to not only educate based on merit and not social class and make public service essential but to “find practical applications for scientific research and technological innovations.”

By 2017, this had become a mission: For Michigan State University Spartans, entrepreneurship is more than a skill or discipline—it is a mindset. It is a way of thinking and working that opens doors, creates connections and accelerates innovation across disciplines. Spartan innovators imagine a better world, then work to make it a reality. MSU supports them by connecting them to experienced business leaders and start-up funding opportunities and by cultivating university-wide entrepreneurship programs and community collaborations.

We are experiencing the aftermath of entrepreneurship becoming synonymous with enlightenment. According to the website Investopia “The final purpose of an entrepreneurial venture is to successfully establish a new business and generate windfall profits from it.”

What threatens windfall profits cannot be transparently revealed. Some outside investigative body, such as Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel Investigation of a Trump-Russia collusion, must make transparent what is concealed. The order of things in place is self-mandated to conceal what may impede the flow of profit.

Admittedly, large universities are not Wall Street financial enterprises or transnational corporations but institutions that provide a modestly comfortable lifestyle and personal honorariums out of the limelight.

And yet they are now structured corporately, administrators like executives mutually supporting their worth of each other’s salaries, salaries that far exceed those of teaching faculty. The module or blueprint of hierarchical power exercised, inequities established, destructive consequences, and strategies of containment and concealment may itself be covered up by “A Mission Statement” but what we clearly see is that arrangements of power are followed on campus as steadfastly as in corporate America.

The university is now on the witness stand, compelled to transparently reveal what it knew about charges of sexual assault by Nassar and when they knew about them.

Transparency is enlightening, or a prerequisite of enlightenment.

It is also exposure.

If university authorities had been transparent from the beginning, Nassar would have been exposed. 256 young people would have been spared a degrading sexual assault. But the point is that a corporately modeled university is not structured to be transparent, regardless of how much hermeneutics it teaches in the classroom and how many bullet point, Power Point programs are presented.

The arrangement of power here is to preserve and protect its regime of order and therefore we must suspect that concealment is an ongoing policy.

What we know is that the transparency in regard to Nassar emerges from the testimonies of the many victims and they themselves emerge from a #MeToo movement throughout the country in which all manner of sexual exploitation that had remained hidden is now being exposed.

Without the added attention of the #MeToo movement, the whole country might not be now so focused on Nassar and Michigan State. But Nassar is a licensed pedophile, so authorized and credentialed that he did not have to go the Harvey Weinstein route of promising future Hollywood success. Weinstein, like Nassar, was a long time abuser of women, although you could say Weinstein’s tie to “Get the money, Get the power, Get the women” is something of an executive, corner/oval office mantra.

Although we now cringe when we think that the idea of winning and being a Winner has always meant money and women, that powerfully positioned men feel free to feast openly among the women who work for them, this has never been marked in the American cultural imaginary as rape and pillage, a suit and tie version of the Rape of the Sabine Women. None of this has reached the outrageous and outraged point in the American cultural imaginary. Whether it succeeds to do so now with the #MeToo movement depends on whether transparency overruns concealment.

Nassar does not enter that staging of a primitive norm still operative in the “lizard brain.” He is not the powerful Player entitled  to women’s bodies. He is a clandestine child pornographer, a totally private pervert. He is not demanding that young women oblige him because he has power over their lives. His power comes from his credentialed, secure, respected academic position. It is not an expectation that he has and that women recognize. Rather, he is the closeted pervert who thinks no one is looking. His mind is in a sickened state in regard to sex; a medical practitioner of such a mind.

He’s a deviant within an order of a different kind of corruption and victimization which is what a plutocratic order presents. Here we have a deviancy of a different kind but not degree.

Weinstein is a practitioner within that plutocratic order, a practitioner of an established norm of winning and the sense of power to which a Winner is entitled.  His sickness has been an established norm in American culture, more aggressively and triumphantly boasted — “I grab her by the pussy” — and more admiringly recognized since “The Player” of the `80s, Oliver Stone’s portrait of Gordon Gekko in his film Wall Street, than in the an earlier America, whose heroes, from GI Joe and Mr. Smith Who Goes to Washington to “working class heroes,” hadn’t yet realized that they were nothing unless they had ten million, in the words of Gekko.

We are now cruder and more careless about “getting the women” as part of Winning because such has quite naturally become a perk in a plutocratic order, rather like “Droit du seigneur” in medieval Europe.

We are in a broken house where everyone is broken and winning is all there is.

Hordes of people with power over others have feasted at will on the bodies of others, of those with limited or no power. We are in a much needed rush to make that feasting transparent in courts of law and in the court of public opinion.

Transparency, at least in regard to any form of sexual harassment, abuse, assault or exploitation, is itself a nationally transparent cultural topos.

Wickedness is always hidden Proverbs tells us but what is the power that enables it to be hidden?

What is the structure or the organization of power, the inequities of power that can arrange a concealment of abuse, violation, exploitation and victimization to escape exposure?

The Parkland school shootings are now detoured into a questioning of the FBI who was told weeks before the shootings occurred that a Nikolas Cruz made a comment on YouTube prophesying, “I am going to be a professional school shooter.”

Only a week or so before, the House Intelligence Chairman, Devon Nunes had released a memo alleging that the FBI had abused its surveillance power in regard to Carter Page, a campaign adviser to Trump.

The clouds over the FBI grow darker but that weather change began when President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey for reasons that remained opaque. Because the President, however, is wired in such a way that, in his own words, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” which I take to be a revelation of a kind of fearless, egoistic arrogance the Greeks attributed only to gods and demi-gods, he mixes his deceit and subterfuge with bold transparency.

Our President is no more than an embodiment of what has been on the horizon of American culture since Neoliberals cast aside working class heroes and replaced them with those who “have the most toys at the end of the game.” He represents to us a mind and spirit in which everything has been vacated, everything is absent but a self-love and self-esteem that is of monsterish and dangerous proportions.

It is ironic that President Trump refers to Representative Adam B. Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, as a “monster.” It’s as if this President has turned the whole world upside down and, as a kind of powerful, screwball Red Queen, is placing the whole country in that screwball, upside down world.

Our President, therefore, is both a defect of power and a one man factory producing defects across every aspect of society, government, business and education. A broken spirit who never deviates into sense in a country already sufficiently broken to accommodate him.

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I,” he tells White House visitors. “He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

This is a sad game of dark cloud transference: a dark cloud placed over Trump’s head by the FBI is maneuvered over the FBI’s head and now to the latest school shooting where it seems the fault of it all lies with the FBI. Presidential tactics of cover-up infect widely like viruses across all our enterprises and institutions, rooted, as they are in Trump’s own career, in the defense of not Truth, or the Country, or the Good, or the People but ego and profit alone.

“To protect his boss [Donald Trump] at critical junctures in his improbable political rise, the lawyer [Michael D. Cohen] relies on intimidation tactics, hush money and the nations’ leading tabloid news business.” (The New York Times; Feb. 19, 2018) The more power you have it seems the more attention to concealing, to muddying the waters of transparency, to detour and divert attention away from power’s abuses.

It seems too simple to say that power is rooted in money and that a Grand Canyon wealth divide leads to plutocracy and not democracy but the connection of such to breakouts of mania and mayhem is not recognized and remains drastically underestimated.

Brookings reports that there “is little evidence that Americans are particularly bothered by inequality.” Nevertheless, one matter that is transparent is that a grossly uneven wealth/income divide in the U.S. is the very cleft and fissure by which all is breaking: the transparency of truth, the indebtedness we have to each other as a real not virtual society, and, most sadly, the lives of the young, whose spirit and whose bodies are corrupted by the abuses of power.

My attention is diverted from the rising flood of accusations of Trump’s abuse of women, the Parkland shootings and the trial of Larry Nassar to news of an opioid overdose death of a friend’s son, not national news but deeply, personally tragic.

And yet the opioid epidemic is national news, an ongoing assault and destruction of so many lives. “In 2016 alone, 42,249 US drug fatalities — 66% of the total — involved opioids . . . over a thousand more than the 41,070 Americans who die from breast cancer every year.” (CNN)

What is the structure of power here that allows this assault to go on, or is it a personal fault of those who chose not to “Say No,” as a fool offered as a solution in the not too distant past. Personal choice seems such a fitting anodyne, held on to unreasonably by a culture drilled by marketers to presume their choices rule the world. This culture refuses to examine economic conditions that have eroded social bonds and have allowed plutocratic power to infect all branches of government.

Among all the darkness I see before me, school murderous mayhem, the President of the United States as Abuser in Chief, and a pervert licensed to abuse for decades, protected within the womb of an academe that has forgotten its mission to enlighten and make transparent what is concealed,  this power of Big Pharma to make a profit on drugs that kill, drugs that addict, that promise relief but take the soul is a transparent wickedness of the same order.

Perhaps we will take opioid Big Pharma to court as we have taken Larry Nassar and will take Nikolas Cruz and may one day take Donald Trump but I don’t know if the charges brought will make transparent the broken state of a culture that will talk about everything but  its corrupted and wicked arrangement of power.

No matter how many lives break.

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Joseph Natoli has published books and articles, on and off line, on literature and literary theory, philosophy, postmodernity, politics, education, psychology, cultural studies, popular culture, including film, TV, music, sports, and food and farming. His most recent book is Travels of a New Gulliver.

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