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.
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.
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 IraqÃ¢€™s 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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