Monsterland: The Last Days of Democracy

 

People will believe anything as long as it coincides with the cultural script they’ve inherited through parental, institutional, or political propaganda and fear. The elite sponsor hate wars of all against all with one exception: the elite themselves – and by this I mean the power elite of the upper .01%, the Oligarchs and Corporate Monopolists. We live in a corporate welfare state, a world in which the last dregs of capitalism feeds off the very institutions it once invented to support its own initiatives.

The half dozen corporations that own most of the media have worked overtime to sell to a bewildered public the fiction that we are enjoying a recovery. Employment figures, through a variety of gimmicks, including erasing those who are unemployed for over a year from unemployment rolls, are a lie, as is nearly every other financial indicator pumped out for public consumption. Marx knew that once the market mechanism became the sole determining factor for the fate of the nation-state, as well as the natural world, both would be demolished.1

As deteriorating infrastructure and ongoing layoffs continue to beset the nation’s cities, more dramatic signs of neglect will appear. Garbage will pile up uncollected on curbsides. Power grids will blink on and off. There will not be enough police, firefighters, or teachers. Pensions will be slashed or paid sporadically. Decent medical care will be reserved for the rich. Those who die because they cannot afford health care—now 45,000 uninsured people a year—will perish in greater numbers. Fuel and food prices will climb. Processed food laden with preservatives, sugar, and fat will become the staple diet. At least a quarter of the population will lack adequate employment. Law and order will break down. Crime will become endemic, and in a nation where nearly anyone can get a gun, death rates from violence will rise. Riots, if the unraveling is not halted, will erupt across the country like wildfires. Random and mass shootings will grow more common. Hate groups will proliferate like lice. And widespread disgust with the political elites, as well as the uncertainty and chaos, will make some kind of militarized solution increasingly attractive to embittered, demoralized Americans. (Hedges, KL 235)

The most ominous danger we face does not come from the eradication of free speech through the obliteration of net neutrality or through Google algorithms that steer people away from dissident political sites. It does not come from the 2017 tax bill that abandons all pretense of fiscal responsibility to enrich corporations and oligarchs and prepares the way to dismantle programs such as Social Security. It does not come from the opening of public land to the mining and fossil fuel industry, the acceleration of ecocide by demolishing environmental regulations, or the destruction of public education. It does not come from the squandering of federal dollars on a bloated military as the country collapses or the use of the systems of domestic security to criminalize dissent. The most ominous danger we face comes from the marginalization and destruction of institutions, including the courts, academia, legislative bodies, cultural organizations, and the press, that once ensured that civil discourse was rooted in reality and fact, helping us distinguish lies from truth, and facilitate justice. (ibid.)

This is the so called post-truth world we’ve been led to believe in as if the world were part of a simulacrum of nihil, a world where meaning no longer exists and people are bound to a tissue of lies, deceit, and corruption. A world where the very institutions that once offered us a safety net, security, and truth have become nothing more than the purveyors of a postmodern horror show of absolute relativism in which “anything goes”. “The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world—and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end—is being destroyed,” Hannah Arendt wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism.

George Orwell in his dystopian novel 1984 presented such a post-truth society guided by Newspeak. Newspeak is a controlled language, of restricted grammar and limited vocabulary, meant to limit the freedom of thought—personal identity, self-expression, free will—that ideologically threatens the régime of Big Brother and the Party, who thus criminalized such concepts as thoughtcrime, contradictions of Ingsoc orthodoxy. For us this same notion is termed Political Correctness. On the Left the term has come to refer to avoiding language or behavior that can be seen as excluding, marginalizing, or insulting groups of people considered disadvantaged or discriminated against, especially groups defined by sex or race. In public discourse and the media, it is generally used as a pejorative, implying that these policies are excessive or unwarranted. On the Right the term “right-wing political correctness” is sometimes applied by commentators, especially when drawing parallels: in 1995, one author used the term “conservative correctness” arguing, in relation to higher education, that “critics of political correctness show a curious blindness when it comes to examples of conservative correctness. Most often, the case is entirely ignored or censorship of the Left is justified as a positive virtue.  A balanced perspective was lost, and everyone missed the fact that people on all sides were sometimes censored.

Yet, as we’ve seen the lines have been blurred and the very power of PC culture has permeated our culture as a new censorium in which we the people have begun doing the work of policing ourselves in a reverse McCarthyism. In the 1950’s the fear of communism which was driven by the power elite to empower the warrior culture and the thriving Industrial-Military Complex and their beneficiaries created a culture of absolute paranoia in which the citizens fear of the neighbor as an enemy became the center piece of a witch hunt society. In our own time the same kind of cultural praxis is used by the elite to turn citizens against each other and distract them from the real enemy: the elite and powerful Oligarchs and Corporate Monopolists. We turn on each other through identity politics and various socio-cultural mechanisms to enforce censorship and behavioral change upon our selves while the real culprits at the top are laughing all the way to the bank.

“The venal political figures need not even comprehend the social and political consequences of their behavior,” psychiatrist Joost A. M. Meerloo wrote in The Rape of the Mind: The Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing. “They are compelled not by ideological belief, no matter how much they may rationalize to convince themselves they are, but by the distortions of their own personalities. They are not motivated by their advertised urge to serve their country or mankind, but rather by an overwhelming need and compulsion to satisfy the cravings of their own pathological character structures. The ideologies they spout are not real goals; they are the cynical devices by which these sick men hope to achieve some personal sense of worth and power. Subtle inner lies seduce them into going from bad to worse. Defensive self-deception, arrested insight, evasion of emotional identification with others, degradation of empathy—the mind has many defense mechanisms with which to blind the conscience.”

Mass culture in the hands of corporate powers is a potent and dangerous force. It creates a herd mentality. It banishes independent and autonomous thought. It destroys our self-confidence. It marginalizes and discredits dissidents and nonconformists. It depoliticizes the citizenry. It instills a sense of collective futility and impotence by presenting the ruling ideology as a revealed, unassailable truth, an inevitable and inexorable force that alone makes human progress possible. It uses the cant of nationalism and patriotic symbols to mount a continuous celebration of American power and virtues. It disconnects the working class in one country from another—one of the primary objectives of the capitalist class.

Mass culture is an assault that, as the Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci wrote, results in a “confused and fragmentary” consciousness, or what Marx called “false consciousness.” It is designed to impart the belief to the proletariat that its “true” interests are aligned with those of the ruling class. It transforms legitimate economic and social grievances into psychological and emotional problems. It uses nationalism to discredit class interests.

The Great Divide in the United States between our anemic left politicos, academics, and cultural elites and the actual working class has allowed proto-fascist forms of authoritarianism to arise. The cultural divide between the real working people of the United States and its supposed elite Leftists has broken the bond between true revolt and rebellion. The ridiculing of Trump supporters, the failure to listen to and heed the legitimate suffering of the working poor, including the white working poor, ensures that any revolt will be stillborn. As Hedges states it: “Those of us who seek to overthrow the corporate state will have to begin locally. This means advocating issues such as raising the minimum wage, fighting for clean water, universal health care, and good public education, including free university education, that speak directly to the improvement of the lives of the working class. It does not mean lecturing the working class, and especially the white working class, about multiculturalism and identity politics.” (Hedges, KL 379))

Since the 1960’s the slow and methodical destruction of democratic institutions has led to the invasive authoritarianism we see in our midst. The State in collusion with the Monopoly Capitalism of Transglobal Capital slowly  destroyed our two-party system. It destroyed labor unions. It destroyed public education. It destroyed the judiciary. It destroyed the press. It destroyed academia. It destroyed consumer and environmental protection. It destroyed our industrial base. It destroyed communities and cities. And it destroyed the lives of tens of millions of Americans no longer able to find work that provides a living wage, cursed to live in chronic poverty or locked in cages in our monstrous system of mass incarceration.

As Hedges puts it political rhetoric has been replaced by the crude obscenities of reality television, the deformed and stunted communication on Twitter, professional wrestling, and the daytime shows in which couples discover if their husband or wife is having an affair. This is the language of our political elites, who view the world through the degraded lens of television and the sickness of celebrity culture. These electronic hallucinations have replaced reality with a pop-cultural simulacrum of mediatainment. (Hedges, KL 443)

Orwell would later reject his own notions of newspeak in an essay “Politics and the English Language” (1946), wherein he criticises the bad usage of English in his day: dying metaphors, pretentious diction, and high-flown rhetoric, which produce the meaningless words of doublespeak, the product of unclear reasoning. Orwell’s conclusion thematically reiterates linguistic decline: “I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this may argue that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development, by any direct tinkering with words or constructions.”

In world such as ours where irrationalism pervades every aspect of our lives, in which conspiracy theory and apocalyptic thought rule the masses, and the power of the elite who script the daily mediascapes with their twisted versions of reality we no longer have the discernment to discover the truth for ourselves. We become victims of a seditious and darkened world where lies and deceit rather than truth and justice rule the affairs of men and women. In a world where all authority has lost its connection to the value systems that once helped humans survive and flourish, we have substituted it for a completed nihilism of relativisms and endless stupidity. The very institutions of democracy that once promised freedom and justice for all have been swept away for this monstrosity. Welcome to monsterland…


  1. Chris Hedges. America: The Farewell Tour (Kindle Locations 231-235). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

The Great Menippean Tradition

I’ll admit my heritage is with the long line of pessimistic realists… the Great Menippeans!

The Encyclopedia Britannica will give us this rendition on Menippean satire: it is a seriocomic genre, chiefly in ancient Greek literature and Latin literature, in which contemporary institutions, conventions, and ideas were criticized in a mocking satiric style that mingled prose and verse. The form often employed a variety of striking and unusual settings, such as the descent into Hades. Developed by the Greek satirist Menippus of Gadara in the early 3rd century bce, Menippean satire was introduced to Rome in the 1st century bce by the scholar Varro in Saturae Menippeae. It was imitated by Seneca and the Greek satirist Lucian and influenced the development of Latin satire by Horace and Juvenal. The 1st-century-ce Satyricon of Petronius, a picaresque tale in verse and prose containing long digressions in which the author airs his views on topics having nothing to do with the plot, is in the Menippean tradition.

Oxford will tell us this Menippean satire is a form of intellectually humorous work characterized by miscellaneous contents, displays of curious erudition, and comical discussions on philosophical topics. The name comes from the Greek Cynic philosopher Menippus (3rd century bce), whose works are lost, but who was imitated by the Roman writer Varro (1st century bce) among others. The Canadian critic Northrop Frye revived the term in Anatomy of Criticism (1957) while also introducing the overlapping term anatomy after a famous example of Menippean satire, Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (1621). The best‐known example of the form is Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865); other examples include the novels of Thomas Love Peacock, and John Barth’s campus novel Giles Goat‐Boy (1966). The humour in these works is more cheerfully intellectual and less aggressive than in those works which we would usually call satires, although it holds up contemporary intellectual life to gentle ridicule.

Yet, during the modern and postmodern eras – so called, we saw the rise of what many term now the drift between maximalist and minimalist forms of Menippean satire, a fusion of socio-cultural critique that would take on the whole of ancient humanism as its target, undermining the very foundations of anthropocentric authority and exceptionalism. In the paradigmatic work of its age James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake would undermine the whole tradition stemming for Aquinas to the Great War flying past the world of race, religion, and nation, producing a work that would go even as far as smashing the world of language itself: abnihilization of the etym” (Wake). For Joyce Western Civilization was already dead and he would bury it in his book along with undermining any sense of resurrectionist ideology and pretense of reviving it. He would undermine the fascist stance of such authoritarian poetics of the Occult complicity of poets like W.B. Yeats and their ilk, along with a detailed undermining of the Catholic Church and its hold on politics and Ireland. He would also disallow any form of nationalist discourse, but would seek to explode the very roots of our rhetorical strategies by including a detailed comedy of politics as part of his drunken satyr play and Saturnalian festival.

Many of the young scholars today are much too lazy to actually delve into the great spread of ancient, modern, and postmodern thought, literature, and philosophy and discover or invent a path forward for our world.   The only lost potential failure in our time is the failure of imagination and reason: it is the failure to do nothing at all, to sit back and allow authoritarian power to diminish us, to strip us of our dignity, our rights, our ways of life. As I show below, there has always been times when authoritarianism ruled, and yet many artisans of that ancient light of reason, the great Menippeans pulled out the truth of their time and shined a light on the darkness with verve and energy of satire, wit, and critique that allowed people to learn the truth by other means: laughter. As Bataille would make this the cornerstone of critique, as would Nietzsche before him… people forget that the tools for battling authority are always ready to hand for those intelligent enough to use them. No matter the darkness of authoritarianism surrounding them. Only those who give up and allow the authorities to win are the true cowards.

There’s a whole world of past literature and culture that many seem ready to obliterate that could teach them a thing or two about the use of language as a weapon: the whole tradition of Menippean satire from Lucian to Pynchon brought to bare every aspect of this technique, which in times of authoritarian rule becomes the low-brow path of critique through sardonic laughter and sadness. The great pessimist realists were all Comic satirists of their age: Chaucer, François Rabelais, Robert Burton, Jonathan Swift, Voltaire, Nikolai Gogol, James Joyce, Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, John Barth, Zadie Smith, David Foster Wallace, Stanislaw Lem, Mikhail Bulgakov., DeLillo.. just to scratch the surface. So I’m in good company… I could as well bring in the great writers of the Third World nations, too. From the Middle-East, Africa, South and Middle America, China, and the Island nations, India, the whole world has a literature awaiting us… my only regret at sixty-five is that I had to plunder whole forests to discover the narrow world of my current list of great thinkers, poets, satirists, essayists, etc.

Most of us find our way in the dark forests of an overwhelming and overloaded world of thought. Some term our age the Infobomb implosion because we are stuffed with too much information, too many books, millions of bits of useless data with no rhyme or reason, organization or path into its maze. There was a time when the literary critics task was exemplary at weeding and filtering the wheat from the shaft in current literature, philosophy, historical writing, scientific literature, etc. Now we live with well paid ad men and women who work to promote not truth but the well-paid propaganda of their overlords. We lack the power of the critical gaze, we’ve even begun to shrink from the tradition of ‘critique’ as if it, too, were passé – a dead issue. People turn blankly at the online libraries, blogs, Face Books, Twitters, Linkins, etc. for something worthwhile and find only the echo chamber of their own miniscule minds thrown back at them. The sigh, or get angry, rage at the stupidity of the world. They are blind to the links from the great traditions of thought, literature, philosophy, etc. that would give them the necessary tools to actually think their own thoughts. Rather academics specialize in exceptional vocabularies that no longer speak to the common reader, the regular man and woman in the streets who could use their vast knowledge base. This is where the great books of the Mennipeans came in to fill in that gap in learning and provide in a humorous and equitable feast of mind and eye a festival of thought and learning palatable for all to enter into and bring away something no matter their education, race, gender, or class relations. These were the true democrats of thought …

In many ways the premier writer’s writer of the postmodern age was John Barth whose localized rendition of the whole metaficitonal sequence of writing was none other than a learned discourse on the rhetoric’s underpinning the ancient world of the Menippean satire from its maximalist to minimalist designs, styles, theories, critiques, parodies, pastiche… a school of wit, comedy, and gentle persuasion, a slow learner’s manual for understanding the inner workings of Western Enlightenment traditions, and its tools of critique and rhetorical strategies and forms, etc. Pynchon would do the obverse, he would run the gamut of categories: exposing the diseases of intellect underpinning our fall into fascism and authoritarian rule. Others like Twain and Vonnegut would strip the illusions that keep us bound to our stupid factor, bound to the chains of our own self-made delusions. Lem and Bulgakov would center on the great institutions of middle-managerial power that automates society in an endless bureaucracy. DeLillo and Wallace would show the bottom-feeder world between paranoia and hysterics where people have become the utter victims of a duplicitous crime world. Zadie Smith would bring to bare the voice of the downtrodden and gender and racial extremes of our cultural malaise, expose the stupidity of allowing our world to continue in this putrid state of imbecility. All would scope the tools necessary for us to rise above it and build another world worth living in.

I could go on and on… but why be a bore. Explore it yourself. Do something creative, today. Pick up a book, begin the long road of recovery. Begin!