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The crisis of representation and the liberation of the self

Publication Date: 2013-10-11

This is from Roar Magazine, Oct. 11, 2013. pointing out that To overcome the crisis of democracy and reaffirm our autonomy, we first of all need to liberate our empty self from mindless consumerism and conformity.

Think about how the observations of Chris Hedges and Noam Chomsky and Ted Rall about Obama's 'larger' policies closely align with his education policy--Race to the Top and the Common Core. Chris Hedges called the election of Obama a "triumph of illusion over substance", and "a skillful manipulation and betrayal of the public by a corporate power elite."

When you have read this essay, go reread Martin Luther King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Read it, and ask yourself if you are one of the "good" silent people.

Half a year into Obama's second term, it has become clear what has been done under his watch. He brought to the world massive banking fraud, drone attacks, indefinite detention, assassination of US citizens and an unprecedented war on whistleblowers. The rhetoric of hope and change has finally and undeniably revealed its true colors. Prominent dissident intellectual Noam Chomsky has remarked how Obama's assault on civil liberties has progressed beyond anything he could have imagined. All of these tell-tale signs mark the slippery slide toward totalitarianism that seems to now be escalating.

Edward Snowden's NSA files unveiled to the world mass global surveillance and the fact that the USA has become the United Stasi of America. The decay of democracy in the United States is now undeniable, as all branches of the federal government have begun to betray the very ideals this country was founded on. The exposed NSA stories have had a serious global impact, challenging the credibility of the US on all levels. Under a relentless secrecy regime, the criminalization of journalism and any true dissent has become the new norm.

In recent months, a pattern of attacks on journalism has unfolded. Examples include the APA scandal of the Department of Justice's seizure of telephone records, the tapping of Fox News reporter James Rosen's private emails and the British government̢۪s detention of David Miranda, partner of the Glenn Greenwald, the primary journalist breaking the NSA story. On top of these recent developments, a media shield law has moved forward in Washington. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill that narrowly defines what a journalist can be, thus taking away First Amendment protections from new forms of media. All of this points not only towards deep threats to press freedom, but to a general trend toward excessive state control and a centralization of power.

The American corporate media takes all this in stride with a business-as-usual attitude that carries the meme of "Keep Calm and Carry On". After the NSA revelations, author Ted Rall posed the question on everyone's lips: "Why are Americans so passive"? [emphasis added] Obama̢۪s blatant violations of the Fourth Amendment have reached far beyond Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal in 1974 that led him to resign under threat of impeachment. In the midst of Obama's aggressive persecution of those who shine light on government crimes, where are all the courageous Americans? How have the people allowed such egregious acts by the government against the Constitution?

As scandals of the NSA continue to shed light on a further subversion of basic privacy within the internet, the drumbeat of war -- as Obama prepared for an attack on Syria -- seemed to be no coincidence. Although Snowden's revelations began to stir up debate and efforts for reform across the country, compared with mass protests breaking out in countries like Turkey and Brazil, the scale of the response has been relatively small and hasn't reached the full swing needed for meaningful change. One can ask: do Americans even care or are they so defeated and disempowered by a corporatized war machine they feel there is nothing they can do at all?

The Slowly Boiling Frog and the 'Good American'

One of the reasons for public passivity is the normalization over time of radical politics. The metaphor of the slowly boiling frog comes to mind. A frog would not jump out of a hot pot if the temperature slowly rises over time. The frog's instinctual reaction to boiling water can be compared to an innate sense within us that detects dangerous, radical or controlling agendas and blatant unconstitutional and illegal actions of governments or corporations. Our sense to feel the changes of temperature in the habitat of this supposedly democratic society has been rendered dull and has eventually been incapacitated altogether by subversion and perception management.

This control of perception is seen most blatantly in US politics, with the manufactured pendulum between a faux right and left. For instance, the handling of the issue of raising the federal debt ceiling in 2011 illustrates this machination of perception control. Michael Hudson, President of the Institute for the Study of Long-Term Economic Trends, spoke of how the rhetoric of crisis is used to rush through profoundly unpopular and otherwise impossible agendas:

Just like after 9/11, the Pentagon pulled out a plan for Iraq's oil fields, Wall Street has a plan to really clean up now, to really put the class war back in business . . . They're pushing for a crisis to let Mr. Obama rush through the Republican plan. Now, in order for him to do it, the Republicans have to play good cop, bad cop. They have to have the Tea Party move so far to the right, take so crazy a position, that Mr. Obama seems reasonable by comparison. And, of course, he is not reasonable. He's a Wall Street Democrat, which we used to call Republicans.

The definition of liberal can move as opponents shift views. There is a false partisanship that slowly makes the public feel comfortable with what are actually quite radical and inhumane ideas and actions. This subversive form of perception management appears to have reached its height with the current presidency. This administration, with its crafted image of the 'progressive Obama', has successfully co-opted the left and marched it into supporting neoconservative policies that they once claimed to reject.

Glenn Greenwald, for instance, has described Obama as much more effective in institutionalizing abusive and exploitative policies than any Republican president could ever dream of being. He points out, for instance, how "Mitt Romney never would have been able to cut Social Security or target Medicare, because there would have been an enormous eruption of anger and intense, sustained opposition by Democrats and progressives accusing him of all sorts of things." On the contrary, Greenwald continues, Obama would "bring Democrats and progressives along with him and to lead them to support and get on board with things that they have sworn they would never, ever be able to support."

In his Death of the Liberal Class, Chris Hedges called the election of Obama a "triumph of illusion over substance", and "a skillful manipulation and betrayal of the public by a corporate power elite." Hedges points out how Obama was chosen as the Advertising Age's marketer of the year in 2008 and that "the goal of a branded Obama, as with all brands, was to make passive consumers mistake a brand for an experience."

This subversive form of control seems to have evolved beyond the political tactics of the past. During the Bush era, manipulation was much more blunt. Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, outlined the state's use of public disorientation during crises and catastrophes for purposes of manipulation. Klein shows how, from natural disasters to terrorists attacks, the state exploits crises by taking advantage of the public's psychologically vulnerable state to push through its own radical pro-market agenda.

A prime example of this Shock Doctrine was the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. After the 9/11 implosions of the Twin Towers, a climate of fear was manufactured using the rhetoric of a "war on terror", accompanied by the repeated images of those towers collapsing. This, in turn, was followed by Secretary of State Colin Powell's shameful performance of deceit at the UN Security Council about Iraq̢۪s supposed weapons of mass destruction. Before the public recovered from the horrendous tragedy, the nation was rail-roaded into an illegal war.

Obama's manufactured brand has until now been quite effective in hiding its real intentions and those of its corporate overlords. The late comedian George Carlin pointed to the emergence of creeping total government control, saying that "when fascism comes to America, it will not be in brown and black shirts. It will not be with Jack-boots. It will be with Nike sneakers and smiley shirts." Under this guise of a liberal president, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and constitutional scholar, Obama seems able to get away with policies unheard of since the last attempt at building up an imperial totalitarian state. The pretense of liberalism normalizes the most extreme policies with glib rhetoric of national security, thus neutralizing any oppositional force. In responding to recent NSA leaks, Obama justified the state's espionage campaign as a vital part of the government's counter-terrorism efforts, remarking that privacy is a necessary sacrifice for assuring security.

What has unfolded in the US political and social landscape is a kind of numbing of the senses. The machinations of public relations, tawdry distractions and manufactured desires create an artificial social fabric. It is as if a layer of skin has been added around the body that prevents us from having direct contact with the real fabric of our immediate environment. Entertainment and corporate ads desensitize us. They create a lukewarm feel-good political bath replacing authentic human experience with pseudo-reality. This artificially installed skin intermediates our experience of actual events. It misinforms those inside the boiling pan, and prevents them from getting to know the world through direct experience.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that "history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of good people." History has shown how many people remain silent while witnessing the most egregious crimes against humanity. During the rise of Hitler in Germany, it was the 'Good Germans' who became bystanders, supporting by default the horrendous acts of one man and allowing him to dictate life and death within an entire nation. . . .

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