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It is Us

Photo by Giuseppe Milo | CC BY 2.0

“The war mentality represents an unfortunate confluence of ignorance, fear, prejudice, and profit. … The ignorance exists in its own right and is further perpetuated by government propaganda. The fear is that of ordinary people scared by misinformation but also that of leaders who may know better but are intimidated by the political costs of speaking out on such a heavily moralized and charged issue.”

— Gabor Mate

The manufacturing of Russia as the arch enemy of not just the U.S. but mankind in general has reached levels of absurdity and pathology. This is all sort of obvious, though, I think. The yellow journalism of the creepy Max Boot at the New York Times is emblematic of the current toxic demand for war. I do wonder what these people are thinking. I mean do they know something I don’t? And the list of propagandists, both in media and governments throughout the west, is quite long. In fact finding someone who objects to this war mongering is much harder. There are some, of course, but they are largely invisible in mainstream media.

What does the ruling class want? Almost every major government official who propagates the anti Russia rhetoric is wealthy. Or at least affluent. Why do they want to promote conflict? To make more money? If so, what can that extra money buy them? What does John Bolton not have that he wants? What does Rachel Maddow want that she can’t afford? This has always troubled me. When I ask such questions I usually get an answer like “they want power” or “they want control;”. But why? What does more power bring you? The ability to create institutions in your own image, in accordance with your ideological leanings? Is that it? If this is correct, for some, what does being able to shape institutional authority actually bring you? What benefits? Is it some moral demand for change? Is Mike Pompeo driven by moral or ethical issues? What do the Clinton’s want? Are they motivated by a moral calling? What does Chuck Shurmer want, or Nancy Pelosi? They lead extraordinarily comfortable privileged lives. What would an even limited conflict with Russia or China bring such people? Are the Koch brothers concerned with the happiness of the people of the world? Of course not. They are, in their minds, concerned with their own happiness. But does promoting their irrational ideology bring them a feeling of well being? But then I am not at all sure what happiness looks like to Charles Koch. Not what it looks like to you or me I’d venture to guess.

No, the answer is more complex. It is maybe even, in considerable measure, unconscious. It is resentment and fear, it is ambivalence and narcissism. For the reality is that nobody benefits from a nuclear war. NOBODY. But tens of millions die. And maybe everyone dies.

Is this not something the propagandists know? Do they want to die? All month I’ve been thinking of Wilhelm Reich’s small book Listen Little Man.

This is why I am afraid of you Little Man, deadly afraid. For on you depends the fate of humanity I am afraid of you because there is nothing you flee as much from as yourself. You are sick, very sick, Little Man. It is not your fault. But it is your responsibility to rid yourself of this sickness. You would have long since shaken off your oppressors had you not tolerated oppression and often actively supported it.

Anyone not angered is not well. But I think many are angry, but they feel unable to formulate ways to express this anger. Dissent is an unpopular position. It might cost you work. It might get you fired. And for many, they think of their families. Their children must eat. So they stay silent. They use pseudonyms when they do protest. But it is hard to blame them, really. And yet, and yet, the world is hurtling toward extinction. In the United States there are working families living under freeway bridges and in shelters and living off food stamps. The affluent liberal in America is OUTRAGED at gun laws. And yet they are indifferent to the massive violence visited upon countries like Yemen or Libya or Honduras or Iraq. They claim not to like war but they will salute soldiers and thank them for their service. Nothing is quite so ridiculous as that ‘thanks for your service’ meme. Service to what? To whom? I really do want to know. What is being served? What good does the military do for anyone? The answer, if you ask most people, is to protect them from foreign invasion. In today’s case that means Russia. They are OUTRAGED Putin tried (or succeeded, depending on who they believe) meddling in the US elections. Are they not aware their own government has meddled in dozens of foreign elections? Or worse, have orchestrated coups and propped up dictators. Do they not know Mobutu was a US invention? Do they know their own government trained SAVAK, the secret police of The Shah? They do remember it was the U.S. who labeled Mandela a terrorist ? Do they remember Vietnam? Do they care?

Do they believe Muslim terrorists are on the verge of attacking America? They remind you of 9/11 …three thousand died….but that body is count is about what Yemen suffers each day, and has suffered for the last year or two each day. How many Iraqis have died at the hands of the US military? Do they know what happened at Fallujah? Many are angry at Trump. Which is fine, but they are not angry at Obama or Hillary or Bernie. Do they believe Trump is some significant sea change in governance? Do they realize all his Pentagon advisors were advising Obama, too. And George Bush. Why do so many people regard US foreign policy are coherent? The answer is the overwhelming majority of americans don’t think about US foreign policy at all. They might know of Kim Jong Il, but they know nothing of the history of US/Korean relations. And they have no idea just how extensively the CIA has funded the very same muslim jihadists they fear are ready to break into their homes. They hear some mainstream media story, often with a celebrity front person, about stopping this or that genocide (invariably caused by the United States) and decide yes, *we stood by* in Rwanda. Or, *we HAD to go into Yugoslavia to stop the Serbs*, etc. The reality is always diametrically opposed to the one manufactured by the U.S. State Dept. The reality of Kagame or Milosevic, or Hezbollah, or China, or Venezuela is obscured and mystified. And the *white saviour* narrative remains the most popular. Posit that the third world NEEDS western help and you have a winner in the minds of most Americans.

And any opportunity to ridicule and demean other cultures, so it seems, is readily embraced. Americans are, by and large, an astoundingly mean spirited people. At least white america. Snarky, snide, suspicious, vainglorious and provincial; THAT is the great USA, as well as Puritanical, prudish, narcissistic, and generally xenophobic.

On twitter, certifiable retired general Barry McCaffrey tweeted the following :

Reluctantly I have concluded that President Trump is a serious threat to US national security. He is refusing to protect vital US interests from active Russian attacks. It is apparent that is he, for some unknown reason, under the sway of Mr. Putin.

Now this is not in and of itself unexpected but what is unexpected is the number of Democrats and liberals re tweeting it approvingly. The bourgeoisie is aligning itself openly with the most fascist elements in the authority structure of the US military. One conclusion that is reached from all this is that Trump is indeed a very useful tool of the ruling class. The sheer revulsion he elicits in most people is being harnessed, quite consciously, to the propaganda machine of the US state — it is as if the personal repugnance of Trump helps to pull focus from historical precedent and actual material policy implications to the subjective feelings of disgust Trump the man brings out in people. And I get it, I really do. Having to watch Trump and his damaged family and various hangers on and cronies on a daily basis is enough to cause a certain genuine palpable nausea. But this use of Trump is effective because of the basic fundamental narcissism of the bourgeoisie. What matters is how THEY feel. Not the death of children in Gaza, or slavery flourishing in Libya, or mass rape by the Cedras Junta in Haiti back under the Clinton regime — let alone cholera in Yemen and massive displacement of hundreds of thousands in Syria — no it is the personal *feelings* of liberal americans. They dont *like* Trump. And as i say, I get it. Nobody likes Donald Trump. Just as nobody likes Jeff Sessions. Nobody likes Mike Pompeo or John Kelley or John Bolton or H.R. McMaster, or Betsy DeVos or Jared Kushner. It is literally as distasteful an assemblage of humanity as its possible to imagine. But then who liked Rahm Emanuel, or Joe Biden? We know NOBODY likes Hillary Clinton. But the optics were managed. Its almost as if Trump wants people to recoil in disgust. Why would that be?

Look at the United States today. In Oklahoma the corrections department came up with a new way to execute people (cost saving benefits) — they force the oxygen out of them (by forcing in Nitrogen.). This innovative new experiment in death is the result of a shortage of the usual drugs used in lethal injection. This sort of logic is apparently perfectly acceptable in Oklahoma. Mike Christian (sic), the former highway patrolman who came up with idea, is quoted in The Intercept article on the topic, as saying…one way or another “we will put these beasts to death”. I think the average person in the US has lost touch with just how barbaric and compassionless the culture is today. How insensitive and sadistic. People take refuge psychologically in small circles of friends — many of whom might in other contexts be just as sadistic as society overall– and manage the engagements with these friends so as to not have to discuss unpleasant topics. The so called Chinese wall (sic) that has migrated from the legal and political professions to people’s personal lives. As a sort of psychic safety valve they simply ignore the rest of the country they live in. Remember that Trump’s moronic reality TV show was a big hit. It ran for six years I believe. So many of the same people who recoil in horror at Trump the President, were happy to watch, with feelings of superiority, the cartoon millionaire exercising meaningless edicts. It was kistch schadenfreude. I guess, anyway. The entire Trump political narrative is fraught with temptation to imagine just who is or was pulling the strings. Who wanted him as President? Whatever the story behind the story the fact is that the people running the United States, and these are people largely invisible to the public, operate from motivations I simply cannot fathom. Yes, to make MORE money, I get it, I get it. But this is a loaded sort of thought experiment, I understand this. Why does anyone want more than they can use or need? Let alone a thousand times more than they can use in a lifetime, or in their children or grandchildren’s lifetime. Why does anyone want to live in bizarre five hundred room mansions full of expensive furniture and with multiple swimming pools and tennis courts. What do people feel as they stroll around their estate? Do they feel deserving? Does it not occur to them that most of global humanity live in dire soul deadening poverty? I remember Barbara Bush during a photo op tour of post Katrina New Orleans commenting about not troubling her beautiful mind about such things. Does she really believe she has a beautiful mind? So one question has to do with the subjective mind of the ruling class. The second has to do with the people who vote FOR their own oppression. Who actively support inequality. There is a new TV reality show where celebrities take part in trying to run a 5 star hotel. They don’t take part in trying to run a homeless shelter, no, for that isnt very fun now is it. Why does anyone care about who the British royal family is going to marry? But people do care, and they spend money following this sort of news. Even people living week to week, working two jobs and hanging on by a thread — often even they are consuming the same cultural product as the more affluent populace. Why are people not angrier? Why is there is not far more social unrest and open revolt? Is it simply fear? I can understand that in a nation that incarcerates over 2 million people. The last growth industries are prison construction and private security. Both relate to a growing underclass that looms as a threat to the very wealthy. Remember that the policing apparatus of the US, on both federal, state, and local levels is draconian and operates with almost total impunity. City police departments trace their origin back to *Slave Patrols*. I think many sense that it is not far fetched to imagine being arrested and then subjected to years of both custody and legal expense. And behind all this is Hollywood and the endless stream of jingoistic and racist TV and film. In fact Russia is now a plot point in nearly all TV drama. If you think that is an exaggeration then you haven’t been watching. The extraordinary xenophobia of American televsion is mind numbing, honestly. From shows like Designated Survivor to Madame Secretary to stuff like The Shooter or Chicago PD or SEAL Team — the message is uniform. There are no TV dramas with socialists or politically radical protagonists. No shows questioning the virtue of the military (thank you for your service). An Oscar for the portrayal of Churchill, a war criminal racist colonialist. Who wins Oscars for portraying Lenin or Toussaint L’Ouverture? But then those films don’t get bankrolled by Hollywood. Do screenwriters simply instinctively know that back stories that feature ‘tours in Iraq’ or the like as the accepted character foundation for heroism? It is breathtaking how alike most Hollywood product really is and how nakedly reactionary.

Meanwhile the US lurches toward military conflict with nuclear powers. Conflicts that would wipe out humanity. At the least the US is manufacturing a new Cold War. Perhaps that provides a certain comfort. People are given an external enemy to hate, an enemy on which to focus their frustration, resentment, and aggression. The system encourages managed protest about issues that are themselves of little consequence. Gun control for one. Nobody talks about the MILLIONS of dead at the hands of the US military over the last twenty years. Nobody protests 900 military bases globally. What are those bases there for? Oh, to protect us….from *enemies*. The US needs its enemies. Identity issues are fine to argue about, just dont argue about class inequality. Argue about gender and racial identity. About multiculturalism but not about a hierarchical social structure where 1% of the populace own 90% of the wealth. Why is there such poverty if America is so special? A bridge collapses the other day in Dade County, Florida. The infrastructure is falling apart, literally, as I write this. It won’t be the last bridge to fall down. Infant mortality is the same as that of Peru, last I looked. And Peru is seen as an inferior nation in the eyes of most Americans. Don’t raise the issue of military pollution, military rape, military economic waste, or military sadism. Funny how those photos of Abu Ghraib have mostly disappeared from the collective memory of the U.S. The 50th anniversary of My Lai passed without much comment. Vietnam is being given a revisionist re-narration. “Mistakes” were made. etc. Ask about Israel and you get a lot of either hostility or discomfort. Did Russia attack one of our navel vessels? No, that was Israel. Greg Barrett has an article out now pointing out similar realities…

The Russians, therefore, are not responsible for the destruction of the Iraqi state, for the more than one million civilian casualties since the invasion, for the massive waves of terrorism and sectarian violence and refugees entering Turkey and Europe which have resulted, or for the birth of ISIS in the US-controlled Abu Ghraib prison — the same ISIS which was formed by former Saddam military officers imprisoned there. ( ) The Russians did not join together with the UK and France in 2011 to destroy the Libyan state in a major bombing campaign which killed an estimated 30,000 civilians, following US/UK support for Libyan rebels designed to set up the “revolution” in Africa’s most prosperous nation. The Russians then did not abandon the country to its fate, which soon turned out to be rival governments and militias, a growing ISIS presence, actual slave markets where helpless refugees are sold like cattle, and thousands of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean after paying human traffickers to take them to Europe in tiny, overloaded boats. The Russians did not respond to a question about the death of Libyan head of state Muammar Gaddafi — by sodomization with a long blade — by laughing maniacally and loudly on national US television and proclaiming, “We came, we saw, he DIED! Ha ha ha!”

And on and on. It was not Russia who bankrolled Osama Bid Ladin and it wasnt Russia who supported ISIS as they targeted Assad for removal. It wasnt Russia who just helped Saudi Arabia from day one in their genocidal assault on Yemen. Nor did Russia annex Crimea, for the record (as Greg points out “unless a vote of 98% of the population to return to Mother Russia, of which they had always been a historical part until the 1960s, is considered invalid. No responsible party has challenged those numbers.”). Nor does Russia engage in assassination by drone. That is the USA. In fact most of the Muslim world (save the puppet regimes in the KSA, Jordan, and the UAE) aligns with Russia and feels nothing but anger toward the US. And the people in the streets of Jordan and the UAE et al are also aligned against the US, not with it, despite what they corrupt leaders say. Wasn’t Russia who orchestrated the destruction of the former Yugoslavia either. But the public does not engage in such discourse. It is not allowed, for all intents and purposes. The public today, in the US, knows what to say and what to believe. And they rarely go off script.

Which brings me back to what these people want, the ones manufacturing this wave of anti Russian propaganda. Is it war? I don’t honestly know if they are that crazy or not. Some are, lunatics like John Bolton or Robert Kagen or his brutish wife Victoria Nuland. Does anyone ask during presidential debates about Ukraine and the US support for an open Nazi Party? One answer is that they want *global hegemony*. But what does that mean? Why do they want that? What does that provide for them personally? Millions dead and they get what? Power? And what does power give you? Does it provide peace of mind? Happiness? A rich sense of self worth? I honestly don’t know. Maybe I am just dense. But I have never understood the idea of seeking privilege unless everyone can have it. I dont want to fly first class if anyone is flying coach. It makes me uncomfortable. I dont feel special. Why do so many Americans fawn over the rich? Why are the wealthy so admired? I know some partial answers; I know Americans, or American white males, in particular, see the world through a lens that lumps everyone into two categories: winners and losers. On social media the other day there was a story about a man who has lived in the US for forty years but is being deported. The comments were astounding and yet utterly predictable. Men said he was a ‘dumb ass’ for not getting his citizenship. Compassion? That’s for sissies. For losers. And people wonder at the spate of school shootings? Oh, it must be guns, too many guns. No it is the psychology of Capitalism that creates such violence. Competition against your neighbour, not cooperation. Hoarding not sharing. It is a culture of violent scapegoating and stigmatizing and shaming. All reality TV is really the same show and that show is humiliation. Vicarious voyeuristic sadism.

“Your life will be good and secure when aliveness will mean more to you than security; low more than money; your freedom more than party line or public opinion; when the mood of Beethoven or Bach will be the mood of your total existence (you have it in you, Little Man, buried deeply in a corner of your existence); when your thinking will be in harmony, and no longer at variance, with your feelings; when you will be able to comprehend your gifts in time and to recognize your ageing in time; when you will live the thoughts of great men instead of the misdeeds of great warriors; when the teachers of your children will be better paid than the politicians…”

— Wilhelm Reich

“Being cut off from our own natural self-compassion is one of the greatest impairments we can suffer.”

— Gabor Mate

Perhaps Mate is right. It is a self hating nation that internalized the ethos of Puritanism and produced Manifest Destiny. It was a slave owning nation. It was, at its inception, a genocidal nation. A nation founded on those sorts of psychic wounds is a nation that is repressing and sublimating at extraordinary rates and degrees. It is this self loathing America, the only real failed state in the world, as far as I can see, that is now a dire threat to the survival of humanity. The one core truth for me today, at least politically, is one must resist western Imperialism. You don’t have to agree with the rest of the world that resists it, but you must stand with them. It is only white privilege, hubris, that allows for a westerner, an American, to criticise Maduro, or Assad, or the DPRK. Or Iran. Yes Iran was a conservative revolution, but they are part of a bulwark against the nightmare of Western capital today. Self determination. America has never wanted to save anyone. Ever. America has always had ulterior motives. The self loathing American. The Ugly American. We have met the enemy, and it is us.

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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 this year by Mimesis International.

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