“The dictatorship’s mistake was to torture but not kill.”
– Jair Bolsonaro (Radio interview, 2016)
“I don’t get voted out of office”.
– Bill Gates
“I hate the indifferent. I believe that living means taking sides. Those who really live cannot help being a citizen and a partisan. Indifference and apathy are parasitism, perversion, not life.”
– Antonio Gramsci (Prison Notebooks)
“The sadist needs the person over whom he rules, he needs him very badly, since his own feeling of strength is rooted in the fact that he is the master over someone.”
– Erich Fromm (Escape from Freedom)
Years ago Robert Bly talked about Ronald Reagan’s capacity for lying. He said Reagan grew up lying about his father, an alcoholic, and his dysfunctional childhood which he routinely described as happy. How the enormity of that lie, and all the attendant pressures of such intimate dishonesty made lying about the Iran/Contra deal much easier. And I recently heard Gabor Mate say the same sort of thing about Donald Trump. How Trump grew up with an abusive authoritarian father, one who humiliated and belittled the boy Trump, and the world of that boy was one of cruelty and abuse. And if that is the only world you know growing up, that is the world you will see everywhere around you later. And the only way to navigate a world of abasement and lying was to be better at it than those who had abused you. The grandiose aggressiveness and paranoia of Trump is the product, in part, and probably in large part, of a family that operated on strict hierarchies of power, a punitive and sadistic family dynamic. Trump’s brother, of course, drank himself to death.
Countless Presidents came out of dysfunctional families, ones often with authoritarian and alcoholic fathers: Gerald Ford, or Bill Clinton with his stepfather. The list is quite long. British Prime Ministers are also disproportionately the product of similar childhoods. But the point is really about a system that rewards men and women who have developed pathological coping mechanisms that include an ability to lie, an inability to feel empathy or remorse, and who are adept at cheating and taking credit for the accomplishments of others. The deformed character that comes out of such dynamics seems perfectly suited for the public spectacle of political life. Probably for carny barkers, too.
All hierarchical systems are to some degree systems that encourage winning and punish losing.
Before the last Presidential election I wrote this about the two leading candidates…
For that is it, a rich white anti intellectual with openly self embraced bad taste, Trump valorizes half the white men in America for their seeming failures. He is saying, ok, you are not rich like me, but the rest, yeah we are one. But Trump has no role without his co-star, Hillary Clinton. Hillary is the cliche woman who is overbearing, petty, resentful and spiteful, but also functions as a female destroyer. And that role is complex, here. Hillary is not the purifying force of Kali, she is not the forest fire that brings regeneration. No she is simply the electric chair with a short, a sadistic contraption of flawed construction that terrorizes and disseminates suffering and cruelty. And while I have thought it impossible that Hillary doesn’t win this dog and pony show, it is now becoming apparent that Trump is the candidate of masculine revenge. Every misogynist looks to Mr Orange Hair to get even. And that misogyny is interlaced with race and colonial memory. And this is where the importance of Heidegger and Schmitt looms. And it is where the rising tide of left liberal antisemitism appears alongside peak Islamaphobia. It is all of a piece, in a sense. (Cunning of Unreason, May 8, 2016 John-Steppling.com )
Hillary, too, came from a dysfunctional family environment.
The message here is, I think, most of America is made up of dysfunctional families. Perhaps all families under capitalism are dysfunctional. Most learn to lie about their families. Only today, one form of lying to confess about it and advertise one’s own self improvement program as a response. The therapeutic often, it seems in my experience anyway, to simply be another form of lying. Or self delusion. Americans love to “work on themselves”. Its a bit like working on your car, or those DIY projects to convert the garage into a ‘rec room’. Of course fewer and fewer people own their own homes anymore. Maybe they need a show for those living out of their cars. DIY for building portable sidewalk showers without risking police persecution.
Dysfunction is the cost of capitalism. ‘Wrong life cannot be lived rightly’, as Adorno put it. So one part of the fall out from this prolonged exposure to the irrationality of life in neo liberal america has been to normalize lying. When Alexandria Ocasio Cortez praises Nancy Pelosi…I have found many people, maybe the majority, expressing something along the lines of, well ‘she has to say that sort of thing’. Or she is only kissing the ring so she can later create possibilities for real change. The fact she was lying is excused. It is excused because America itself lies. And deep down those saying this stuff know full well Ocasio Cortez will become Nancy Pelosi, not fight against her.
In Brazil, the new fascist in power praised his father for the beatings his dad gave him. Young Jair Boslonaro said it helped make him a man. Jair is now out to destroy the rain forest of the Amazon basin. Which might well kill off the planet. We can all partly thank dad for that.
Capitalism is an emotional plague on the planet. Wilhelm Reich said that. Bertell Ollman wrote of Reich’s ideas…
“If the desire to accumulate property lies at the origins of sexual repression, its chief function today is to produce submissive beings of both sexes. In our treatment of character structure, the diminution of critical faculties, general passivity, resignation, and other negative effects of repression were identified. ( )The work of sexual suppression is carried on primarily by the family. In his Marxist period Reich believed the suppression that was most decisive in determining character occurred between the ages of four to six in the ways parents respond to sexual play and questions. So important is the role of the family in these early years that Reich refers to it as the “factory of submissive beings.” To him, it is no coincidence that “the lack of victorious spirit, the outlawry of protest, the absence of personal opinions characterizes the relations of faithful children to their parents just as they do the relations of devoted bureaucrats to the state authorities and that of non-class conscious workers to the owner of the factory.”
– Bertell Ollman, Social and Sexual Revolution, 1979
For the first time (last census) more Americans are living alone than in families. The loss of jobs, the onerous economic burden of child rearing, and gender inequality were all tied into an impossible model for any but the most affluent classes.
Millions of men who have been denied their family wages find refuge for male domination in right-wing anti-woman politics and fundamentalist and Catholic religions with their emphasis on denying women’s independence through anti-abortion and anti-birth control movements, opposing equal wages for women and denying support for raped and battered women.
Other men seek to take back their male power through guns. (None of the explosion of mass killings have been committed by women.) Millions more seek power in heterosexual pornography in which women are portrayed as inviting sexual degradation.
– Harriet Fraad, Truthout, 2012
“Families propagate violence. Sons of violent parents are 1,000 times more likely to batter their adult partners, and daughters of violent parents are 600 times more likely to batter their partners. Children who are bullied at home are more likely to bully and to be bullied at school. Child abuse is rampant in the capitalist family system. We cannot know how rampant, because it goes on behind closed doors, most is never reported, and adults tend to normalise what they experienced as children. When neglected, they conclude that they did not deserve better. When physically terrorised, they will rationalise: “Sure, I was hit. But I deserved it.” According to the Adverse Childhood Experiences study, more than one in four American adults lived with alcohol or drug addiction in their childhood homes, 28 percent were physically abused as children and 21 percent suffered sexual abuse. ( ) Capitalism promotes sympathy for child victims and prosecutes adult perpetrators. But today’s perpetrators are yesterday’s victims. While only a small minority of child victims become adult perpetrators, studies of those who do perpetrate reveal that almost all were traumatised as children. Capitalism cannot acknowledge that most perpetrators are former victims, because it cannot admit that families transmit trauma from one generation to the next.”
Susan Rosenthal “Capitalism, alienation and the family,” Socialist Review, 2015
Rosenthal notes something else, and that is that capitalism in the transition from agricultural production to industrial removed labor from the family. It created this amorphous social sphere of leisure time or free time. But as Adorno noted sixty years ago, there is nothing free about it and leisure had already begun to resemble alienated work.
Rosenthal also adds:
“Impossible gender expectations create crushing disappointment. The woman is raised to see the man as a champion and a prince who will make her dreams come true. When she discovers that he cannot do this, she expresses her disapproval or withdraws in despair. The man gets the message that he is not measuring up. How could he? The man is raised to expect a warm attentive partner who is always ready for sex. What he gets is an overworked, exhausted and frequently irritated partner. Both of them blame themselves, and both of them blame each other.”
The American political drama, or electoral theatre, is reinforced so aggressively because it is the most basic and effective distraction people have for their social malaise and misery. Voting is a reflection of binary models, it is really just exchange value. And voting makes everyone equal. And Americans have even taken to wearing little stickers that proclaim they voted. So electoral theatre as a shaming device. But voting becomes even more than just a threadbare symbol of equality, it takes on almost occult significance for many. It is one of the few rituals in bourgeois society that seems to encompass something almost magical. Voting is an affirmation of one’s existence, of one’s autonomy and even freedom. I can vote for whoever I choose. Well, off a menu of two.
But I have seen leftist writers proclaim lesser evilism is not to be debated. This is, apparently, because Trump is some sort of special category of evil. This is a hugely regressive and politically immature position. Firstly, voting is not going to solve shit. Full stop. No, the entire apparatus of elections and voting machines and voter suppression or corrupt counts is part of this grand theatre. And this emphasis also promotes a popular idea with the ruling class, that of individualism.
I wrote this several years back:
Voting is the constant reinforcement of the idea of equality. Everyone has a vote, therefore everyone is equal. This is of course not true, however. But the expanding of campaign season ( a bit like the expanding of Christmas shopping season) is serving to keep this illusion foremost in the minds of citizens. The act of voting is then a sort of magic elixir for conveying a sense of equality, and it is coupled with the idea of ‘responsibility.”
– “Dentistry as Art,” John-Steppling.com, Sept 2015
It is no doubt true that America is a full blown open fascist society today. But it was already. Its hard to decide what was the starting point, but it certainly could be Bill Clinton’s second term. Or after 9/11. By Obama it was most certainly fascistic in operation. Gabor Mate noted that the ruling class was not fooled by Obama and all that hope and change stuff. Wall Street backed and funded his candidacy. They knew he was one of them. He rewarded them the second he was elected. No, only the mass public believes ANYTHING of what the political class tells them.
The Democratic Party has taken positions actually to the right of Trump on many issues (here is an issue Democrats fell in line with) And does anyone believe real action would take place if Dems controlled the government? I mean they have, and not that long ago, and what happened? But none of these things are as significant as the wholesale swath of destruction that US and NATO military action has caused in Africa and west Asia. And nobody asks this during election season. Unless I missed something, no candidate or news talking head brought up why NATO even exists anymore. Nobody asked why the US needed to upgrade its nuclear arsenal, or why it occupies a third of Syria. Or why there are military bases in almost every country in Africa. Why there are 900 worldwide.
But more hidden, in a sense, and therefore more insidious is the role of giant foundations and non-military uses of coercion and control. Jacob Levich writes:
For the ruling classes do not rule by guns and laws alone. Rather, they need to be able to do so without the constant resort to force. So, [Joan Roelofs] argues, they manufacture the consent of the ruled through the activities of a broad range of institutions, activities and persons (not necessarily themselves members of the ruling class) who disseminate the ideology of the ruling class as if it were merely common sense. While dissent from ruling class ideas is labeled ‘extremism’ and is isolated, individual dissenters may be welcomed and transformed. Indeed, ruling class hegemony is more durable if it is not rigid and narrow, but is able dynamically to incorporate emergent trends.
– Jacob Levich, “The Real Goal of the Gates Foundation,” Aspects of India’s Economy, May 2014
The role of foundations is, to most Americans, opaque and almost inexplicable. Nobody in political/Electoral theatre mentions this ‘third sector’. Neither business nor government, these foundations operate with budgets in the multi billions of dollars. This is the stuff discussed at Bilderberg Meetings, and other summits of the worlds richest people.
The fall of the Soviet Union ushered in the present phase of public health philanthropy, characterized by the Western demand for “global health governance” – purportedly as a response to the spread of communicable diseases accelerated by globalization. Health has been redefined as a security concern; the developing world is portrayed as a teeming petri dish of SARS, AIDS, and tropical infections, spreading “disease and death” across the globe and requiring Western powers to establish centralized health systems designed to “overcome the constraints of state sovereignty.” Imperial interventions in the health field are justified in the same terms as recent “humanitarian” military interventions: “[N]ational interests now mandate that countries engage internationally as a responsibility to protect against imported health threats or to help stabilize conflicts abroad so that they do not disrupt global security or commerce.
– Jacob Levich, “The Real Goal of the Gates Foundation,” Aspects of India’s Economy, May 2014.
I mention this only as a sort of corrective to these naive notions about voting. Voting is not the issue. Not in an absolutely controlled system of perception management. Back in 2014 Gates warned about overpopulation in places “we don’t want it” (sic) and he mentioned Pakistan and Yemen. Huh. Yemen you say? Yeah, well, I guess that’s not an issue anymore. The U.S. Imperialist agenda is about control. It is adaptive and flexible.
Malthus’s heirs continue to wish us to believe that people are responsible for their own misery; that there is simply not enough to go around; and to ameliorate that state of wretchedness we must not attempt to alter the ownership of social wealth and redistribute the social product, but instead focus on reducing the number of people.
– Manali Chakrabarti, “Are There Just Too Many of Us?,” Aspects of India’s Economy no. 55, March, 2014.
I digress a moment to add on here that the overpopulation mythology has taken on a green cover of late. Suddenly the same old Malthusian eugenics is sprinkled with Gaia jargon and sensitivity to global ecologies. But the thrust and engine driving the idea remains the same.
Most non-profits do the dirty work of what a society is looking more and more to not provide for – mental health care for a bigger and bigger share of the USA population; disability services for a larger and larger swath of Americans mentally, psychologically, intellectually, socially, physically, and spiritually broken or disabled; financial, employment, education, housing assistance for an ever-growing population of humans who are not able to work and live and transport and find health care for themselves in this New Gilded Age.
The non-profits I have worked for are top-heavy, have very little money put aside or earmarked or grant-provided for the workers; many of the non-profits hire development associates, upper management shills, PR folk, marketing and events coordinators; many are in shining and remodeled digs while casting shadows on the street people they supposedly care about.
– Paul Haeder, Dissident Voice, Jan 15th, 2018
In the 1950s came the development of the first psychiatric drug, the antipsychotic drug Chlorpromazine. This marked the beginning of what has come to be a mammoth and powerful industry in chemical warehousing of an unwanted population.
This industry was founded on a single ideology—the “mental illness” theory, or “medical model” (which I’ll refer to simply as the medical model)—an ideology that gave this industry tremendous power and influence. The medical model essentially states that distressing states of mind can, for the most part, be categorized into discrete “mental illnesses,” and that although these mental illnesses continue to the present day to be rampant and even growing within our society, we must rest assured that the great medical advances of this industry have already developed powerful drugs that can generally contain them, and that it is just a matter of time before our medical technology will eliminate these illnesses altogether.
– Paris Williams, Madness and the Family: Exploring the Links between Family Dynamics and Psychosis.
As Williams has pointed out, the very term mental illness is something of a self fulfilling prophecy. The profits from all psychotropic drugs is almost incalculable — Xanax (alprazolam), Zoloft (sertraline), Celexa (citalopram), Prozac (fluoxetine), Ativan (lorazepam), Desyrel (trazodone HCL), Lexapro (escitalopram). Exact numbers are hard to know but the best guess by the government itself is that over 35 million people took psychotropics between 2013 and 2014.
A common side effect of psychotropic medication is difficulty feeling certain emotions once the drug accumulates in a person’s system. For example, many people complain of losing the feelings they used to have, report a reduction in their ability to laugh or cry, or experience a decrease in libido. Side effects of SSRIs that might affect one’s sexuality and love relationships, such as diminished sexual interest, are discussed in a chapter from Evolutionary Cognitive Neuroscience.
Psychiatrists claim their drugs save lives, but according to their own studies, psychotropic drugs can double the risk of suicide. And long-term use has been proven to create a lifetime of physical and mental damage, a fact ignored by psychiatrists. Common and well-documented side effects of psychiatric drugs include mania, psychosis, hallucinations, depersonalization, suicidal ideation, heart attack, stroke and sudden death. Not only that, but The US Food and Drug Administration admits that probably one to ten percent of all the adverse drug effects are actually reported by patients or physicians.
– The Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights
It is no different in the U.K. The Council for Evidence Based Psychiatry states…
The latest prescription figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre show that the UK is in the midst of a psychiatric drug epidemic. Over 57m prescriptions for antidepressants were issued in England in 2014, enough for one for every man, woman and child. This represents a 7.5% increase since 2013, and over 500% since 1992.
Now there is a kind of psychological blindness affecting Americans, today. A perhaps banal example, but still useful, is the popularity of American football. Since the incontrovertible proof that collisions on the field cause brain damage, acute irreversible damage, the sports popularity has actually increased. Never mind the jingoism attached this sports-tainment empire, the fact that players are literally risking their lives and mental health to play is one thing, and there is an economic coercion involved, but how is it people want to watch this? Hollywood even made a film about the man who researched the phenomenon of Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). A very popular film starring Will Smith. But more and more people tune in each week. Nobody talks about it. Sitting on the couch, a slice in one hand, Bud light in the other, the question is, I’m guessing, never broached…’Hey bro, so, these guys, you think they’re aware their brains are turning to mush?’ But then the league is 70% black, so, for many its a kind of unconscious de-facto solution. Racism in America is indelible and deep. Even animal shelters acknowledge black dogs are harder to place than white. (this is a fact, not the Onion).
This blindness is the product of decades, now, of electronic media indoctrination. People even admit this, accept that its true. But they still remain habituated to their various screens. They still wear buttons saying ‘I voted’. They still become shrill and near hysterical at the idea YOU voted for a third party candidate, or worse, didn’t vote at all. How does that work? The presidency of Obama is revealing, both as it happened, and now as an object of near history. If you tell people Obama was the president who signed off on (and presumably helped design) the joint US/Saudi assault on Yemen, you will get denial or blank stares. If you say, well, ICE deported people under Obama, and at a record clip. You get denial. Or that Obama was notorious for persecuting whistle blowers and for narrowing press freedoms as much as possible. Denial. Blankness. Obama was the fulcrum for a very late onset of amnesia. Collectively speaking. He has taken the role of mental black hole. History began and stopped with Obama. (I actually think Michelle might run for President in 2020).
Americans collectively cannot grasp their own family relations. They are not sure, most of them I would wager, on even how to define *family*. But, the idea is past its sell by date I suspect. People are living alone, they have no choice. Often alone and on the street. A recent typhus outbreak on the mean streets of skid row Los Angeles suggests the U.S. is inching or hurtling toward 3rd world status.
This social morality, anchored in all individuals and reproducing itself permanently, has in this manner a reciprocal effect on the economic base in a conservative direction. The exploited person affirms the economic order which guarantees his exploitation; the sexually repressed person affirms even the sexual order which restricts his gratification and makes him ill, and he wards off any system that might correspond to his need. In this manner morality carries out its socio-economic assignment.
– Wilhelm Reich, Mass Psychology of Fascism.
The drastic increase in economic inequality has also generated the need for official explanations and justifications. I am reminded of Otto Fenichel, that most neglected of early psychoanalysts who complained in his 1938 book The Drive to Amass Wealth (and quoted by the worthy Russell Jacoby, whose own work Social Amnesia should be required reading today) of what he saw as Ferenczi’s psychologism….
The instincts represent the general tendency, while matters of money and the desire to become wealthy represent a specific form which the general tendency can assume only in the presence of certain definite social conditions. ( ) The existence of the erogenous pleasure in collection causes Ferenczi to overlook the fact that when the capitalist strives to increase his capital he does this on very rational grounds: he is forced to it by competitors who produce on a larger scale …. A social system of this kind makes use of and strengthens erogenous drives that serve the necessity for accumulating. Of this there can be no doubt. There is considerable doubt, however, as to whether the existing economic conditions of production were created by the biological instinct.
At the end Fenichel suggested sometime in the future such conditions would no longer exist. And perhaps somewhere in the distant past they also did not. Capitalism is not inevitable nor is it some kind of natural law. Its a fact that Google and Facebook censor socialist sites. Why would they do that if they were not afraid? The authority structure, the proprietor class, they want you asleep. That’s the idea.
We are at the tail end of a kind of Ayn Randian period of simplistic one dimensional and crude capitalist cheerleading — and it began in its current form under Reagan. He of the happy childhood. The president who no doubt suffered from Alzheimers even BEFORE he became the commander in chief. And this has led to the marketing industry to double down on certain tropes of american happiness. We are still within a Norman Rockwell cocoon in terms of propaganda. Each holiday season Hollywood churns out one after another fairy tale of the American family — Thanksgiving fables or Christmas. Oh heck, families can be complex, but gull darn it, we always overcome and celebrate together. But a fairy tale is all it is. And a pernicious one. Most families I know struggle through the Holidays, buffeted by guilt and resentment. And depression. It is the cruelest season.
Anti depressants, and all those millions and millions of prescriptions written in the U.S. and U.K. may (!) alleviate symptoms in some or even many patients, but even at their most effective (and I reserve acceptance they actually do any real good for anyone) they do nothing to change the conditions that created this depression. When mass shooters appear, especially white ones, they are *mentally ill*. If non-white they are likely terrorists. The system is not indicted either way. Only the victims of that system. The U.S. is a remarkably unwell place and it has created a political system that rewards the most pathological people in this unwell place. Donald Trump is the perfect man to be President of this asylum. He is ignorant, and proud of it, a narcissist and pathological liar. A racist and misogynist. He often seems he to be made up of the worst qualities of his predecessors. Bush, Clinton and Obama were all in various ways pathological. But who is President really is not the point. The point is class hierarchies. Until Americans learn to talk politics in terms of class, nothing will change.
The U.S. is reaching an economic/social singularity; there are no jobs, there is no health care, and no education. There is a throughly debased culture and much of the country is in the hands of Evangelical Christians. And Evangelicals, especially Dominionists like Pence and Pompeo and Kudlow and DeVos would have, in an earlier time, been shipped off by their family to some discreet asylum or hospital. We are sort of living a Marat/Sade nightmare. The American fairy tale isn’t working anymore. People may cling to its remnants but at their most lucid I suspect most people know its all bullshit. The cultural landscape is so depressing most can only intermittently engage with it. The ruling elite are further distanced from the rest of the populace. The educated liberal bourgeoisie is in crises. All the myriad identity based systems of belief are less and less convincing. The violence of the military complex finds expression domestically in a militarized sadistic and racist police apparatus. A nation where mass shootings are now routine is a kind of movable hell. Mass incarceration is growing still. It is my experience that people can no longer easily read facial expressions or hear the pitch or intonation of speech — they mimic autistic symptoms in fact. And sociopathy is everywhere. From the wholesale killing of wildlife, to bald faced lies about food ingredients, contaminants in factory farmed meats. But drinking water might be the worst. Across the rust belt and through the southwest, mostly from abandoned mining sites. In Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and on across to Georgia. Detergents, solvents, pesticides, and things such as vinyl chloride and PCEs, paint sludge and boron. A recent report detailed by the Center for Public Integrity noted….
Across the country, in Albany, Georgia, three separate areas of groundwater are polluted with cyanide and chloroform from various industries. One of the contaminated areas came from a landfill on the Marine Corps’ Logistics Base. The U.S. Navy has taken responsibility for the base and is providing residents in the majority African-American town with an alternative water supply due to the health risks associated with the pollution. Politicians and researchers say industrial sites are more likely to be located near low-income and minority communities.’ More heavily polluting industries were located near communities of color or minority communities or poor communities because they didn’t have the political clout to fight back.
The EPA estimates, now, that since 1987, various industries have dumped about 600 million pounds of toxic substances, including ammonia and nitrates into the Ohio river. Six hundred MILLION pounds of poisonous crap into the once pristine Ohio River. Cue Doc Watson singing “On the Banks of the Ohio.”
In 2015, the top 1% of Americans made almost thirty times as much income as the bottom 99 percent — an increase from 2013, when they earned twenty five times as much. This from the Economic Policy Institute in DC. There is a racial divide, too. The billionaires who make up the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans now have as much wealth as ALL African-American households, plus one-third of America’s Latino population, combined. In other words, just 400 extremely wealthy individuals have as much wealth as 16 million African-American households and 5 million Latino households. (from Forbes own statistics)
That is America today. And everyone knows it. But they can’t say it. They can’t look at it soberly and honestly. It is too much to bear.
And America is exporting its misery at an accelerated clip. The far right fascist sensibility is growing across Europe. There are few NATO countries without a powerful fascist party participating in government, and in several places — Hungary, Italy, Poland, they ARE the government. And now Brazil. One might think the recent summer of apocalyptic fires in the U.S. would be a wake up call, but its not. The horror cannot be faced by most. Lying, family or household dysfunction, and chemical numbing are the ground floor reality today. When the ruling class own everything, people must find ways to cope. Once you have mastered lying to yourself, lying to others is easy.
“I almost do not exist now and I know it; God knows what lives in me in place of me.”
– Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot.