Addendum (More details and opinions if you are interested)
I started this little biography by mentioning my hometown of Marion, Ohio, and the Tecumseh factory where I worked and where my sister had been a union steward. While I was in college, the Tecumseh plant ended up moving to Mexico. Pollock Steel, Marion Power Shovel (made the crawlers for the Apollo rockets and the shovels that dug the Panama Canal), Dresler, Fischer Body, Eaton, the Erie Lackawanna turntables, et cetera… all closed. Several really nice downtown hotels that had operated since the 1920s, all closed. The last one, the 5-star Harding Hotel, was saved by community efforts. It was finally converted to elder housing. Honda opened a plant nearby in Lima, Ohio, and Marion got a Yutaka plant that makes the gas tanks for the Hondas. My sister ended up a security guard at that plant. She took me through it. All the managers were from Japan. It was completely automated. It was eerie, a factory filled with robots moving by themselves. Fewer than 30 workers operated the entire place. Here is an old news report about Marion: Marion Ohio 1984 Tecumseh announces closure after a violent strike.
There never was a recovery in Marion. The reporter in the video (linked above) falsely claimed a recovery was “beginning,” implying that labor at one plant was the culprit, the cause of hindering a “new beginning” when in fact, it was an effect of companies moving out. History bore this out as all the companies he mentioned had already made plans to close, but most people did not know it yet. But the UAW did know and was protesting the loss of jobs. Every company he mentioned soon pulled out of Marion. Causation often gets reversed. Unfair behavior leads labor to protest. Most workers are very appreciative to share profits, but this almost never happens. Instead, they get thrown under the bus if a cheaper source of labor is found, even if they built the business. Business is like this. I once saw a bumper sticker that said: “Religion keeps poor people from killing rich people.” Maybe. Also fear of prison. But it is more complex today than Marx’s opiate and fear of damnation for murder. Still, in the middle of a pandemic, what two places do rational healthcare authorities have the most trouble getting people to not congregate? Churches and bars/parties. Hmmm. Intoxication and escape from this mortal coil seem to be profoundly embedded. If you join the program you live forever. If not, you are damned forever. This is strict absolutism in the form of mutual exclusion. Any suggestion of a “grey” area is itself deemed to be one of the most egregious forms of heresy. As Grover Norquest put it, compromise is the worst sin of all… and this attitude is deeply embedded in our culture, originating in original sin.
Today, much (not all) religion teaches that wealth itself is proof of grace. Ironically, materialism, in the form of worldly riches, is understood to be a reward from god for faith in him, her, it. Total loyalty is demanded. Anything less is punishable. But there are perks to membership. Worldly wealth a divine bribe. Join our team against “them,” and blessing will pour forth. Otherwise… not so nice things will happen. So, unfair wealth distribution is not merely protected by religion. Now it is justified by religion in the form of prosperity theology, the dominant theology in capitalist countries today. Used to be, local priests and ministers would join workers on the picket lines ala the movie On the Water Front to fight for fair treatment of their flocks. But not today. Reagan supported the fascist death squads (“freedom fighters”) who slaughtered missionaries, priests, and nuns in Latin America for trying to protect their poor parishioners from brutality and exploitation… what came to be known as liberation theology. Read about Guatemala and the Salvadorian military coup and subsequent oppression of populations in the late 1970s and 1980s – or not… and remain ignorant. Markets must be developed and protected more than people. Consumption is the only moment when profits are realized. So, consume we must, for that is salvation.
Today, prosperity theologians tell us god condemns to eternal damnation those who dare strike or just deign to ask for a living wage. Well, if god helps those who help themselves, then under such conditions, I guess you have to revolt and push back. Hence, the absolute duality of civil war. But that is all wrong. That’s terrorism. The poor are taught that they are underpaid not because the owners of the means of production are greedy and unfair, but because god doesn’t favor them while he does favor the rich. It’s obvious. It’s material. It’s empirical. Look for yourself. And if that is not grace at least one can equate wealth with smarts. Thus, in current America, the most materialistic and secular of worldviews, capitalism, is equated with godliness, and wealth with intellect, while real intelligence is relegated to either something the rich hire as a tool for the means of production, or, if it is hard to exploit, intellect is then regarded as not part of praxis but part of nonsensical weakness (the useless nerd – the eccentric scholar – the starving artist). In any case, all is god’s will.
So, I thank god for my touchdown and victory and wealth and… Meanwhile, the losers and poor… what are they left to assume? Since all is god’s will, then god chose the other team and the other guy to be the winner for some reason. Whatever the divine reasoning for choosing sides, since god is infallible and without sin, the losing players and workers must be at fault. They are the cause of their own suffering. Systemic injustice? That’s a hoax, the whining of losers. Insofar as you internalize that ideology, then self-hate is the only logical result. God hates losers and the biggest loser of all is the devil.
If you are a religious person, you should hate the devil and other losers too. God punishes the devil, so if god punishes me, I’m the devil, and I should mutilate and kill myself. Indeed. Self-flagellation is common among the most devout. Frustrated workers abuse their families and themselves with alcohol and drugs. The Cathars (good Christians) of Albi, France, otherwise known as the Albigensians, even starved themselves to death (after castrating themselves) because they were so evil. Such is the logical conclusion of an exclusionary and absolutist philosophy. There is no such thing as being a little bit damned or saved. It is all or nothing and the divine judge is absolutely right every time. Given the depravity of time and carnal existence (secular humanism), the only true and good Christian is a dead one. The god of the Jews and Christians keeps persecuting his own followers casting them out into the desert and such because they are not worthy. It is megalomania. This vein of absolutism runs through the core of cultures and expresses itself in various ways as when Hitler cursed the Germans at the end for not achieving his vision for himself, and irony of ironies, themselves. So be it. Losers. Let them burn. The Catholic church had to do some fancy footwork to interpret their way out of it, and also, by mass-murdering the Cathars in the first Inquisition, they persuaded others to not be too logically consistent. Irrationality is a cornerstone of religious self-survival. The first imperative of every organization is survival. The church is an obvious example.
It also tends to negate expertise. There is a deep suspicion of effort-based merit and achievement especially based on academic and scientific efforts. Hatred of nerds… Embedded in the Western tradition and its three great religions is the notion that the greatest wisdom comes from illiterates such as a poor woodworker, an illiterate caravan boy, and a shepherd who talked to sheep and bushes on fire. This suspicion of intellectual achievement and glorification of illiteracy as reverent innocence is a constant thread running through Western and westernizing/modernizing cultures resulting in constant competition for what should constitute the bases of authority, knowledge, or charisma. God doesn’t talk to intellectuals. He graces illiterates with his most profound words. Nietzsche may be right. It may boil down to envy or jealousy by those who have not accomplished. What we do know is that policy-driven by honest science works better for all than awaiting second comings and miracles.
This competition between hard work versus personality cults manifests as competing narratives about everything from the cosmos to mundane behavior. In the modern era, mass media has played an important and very cynical part in this struggle for legitimate authority. The great scholar of mass media and journalism Ben H. Bagdikian wrote of one example of how this has worked:Who was McCarthy’s lawyer? See the picture below… A sleazy political operative named Roy Cohn. Who were Roy Cohn’s protégées, who have populated the upper echelons of the Republican Party machine for decades? Roger Stone (Trump’s fixer and who Trump just pardoned after being found guilty by a jury on several crimes), Lee Atwater, Reagan’s hatchet man, Roger Ailes (Reagan’s campaign manager and later sex offender at Fox News), Paul Manafort (Trump’s campaign manager and convicted felon), Karl Rove (who like all the rest got his big break in the Nixon gang)… All of these guys rode into town on the Nixon campaign and were tutored by Roy Cohn. Eisenhower hated Nixon but he could not stop him from being put on the ticket with him. See pictures including one of Nixon tattooed on Roger Stone’s back and another picture of Nixon with his Florida friend and mafioso from back in the old Cuba days, Bebe Rebozo. When he was about to be impeached Nixon went to shelter at Rebozo’s mansion in Florida (remember the bags of cash left in phone booths for Nixon’s campaign per Watergate findings). As illustrated, the same old retreads and culture in the Republican Party continue. No wonder we see Russian mafiosos and Rudy Giuliani buddies Lev Parnas and Igor Furman hanging out at Ronald Desantis’ campaign rallies in Florida, the same Desantis who was elected in 2019, under shady voting and who, in a spectacular display of incompetence has allowed Florida to die of the virus. A parade of goons:
What Bagdikian was talking about was how religion got coopted by powerful media moguls, not to spread Biblical truth but a conservative political/cultural agenda articulated through rhetorical bromides. In the end, they have become utterly conflated for many followers. Hence, the party that Roy Cohn and followers built is the party of conservative Christians. But it was a particular brand of Christian evangelism that claimed to be anti-communist… purposefully conflating Marxism with Maoism and Stalinism… all very distinct phenomena. Maoism and Stalinism were fascistic systems, not communist or socialist systems. Preaching became increasingly political until we arrive at the situation wherein this year, 2020 the Supreme Court says that, for the first time in US history, tax dollars can flow directly into churches and their schools. Increasingly the messaging from pulpits, especially when compared with sermons from earlier in the 19th and 20th centuries, has become anti-liberalism, not Christianity. But… let’s let that go. Suffice it to say, Norway and Sweden are not like Maoist (or even current) China or Stalinist Russia... at all.
What about media moguls today? As I write this Trump is sending mysterious unidentified troops into Democratic cities to instigate violence with Black Lives Matters protestors. It is working. Who are these guys? They are contractors from Academi. What is Academi? It is a division of the Constellis Group? What is that? The Constellis Group, along with Triple Canopy is what the private military company Blackwater, founded by Erik Prince (brother of Secretary of Education under Trump, Betsy Devos), became after it renamed itself several times (including as Xe Services, Greystone…). It promotes itself as a “force protection service” … so we have layers of force on top of force…
Blackwater was founded and took off based on massive contracts by the Bush II administration for the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001(immediately after Bill Clinton’s time as president ended). This would be put on steroids after 9/11 with the launch of the massive Home Land Security family of murky agencies – many of which see American protestors as “terrorists.” Remember the US PATRIOT Act, G. W. and Cheney’s years of warrantless wiretaps, and when Edward Snowden tried to tell us that the NSA was spying on us all (shades of the Pentagon Papers… we all forgot that too because no one reads)? The repeated rebranding of Blackwater occurred because of multiple “incidences,” including one in 2007 when Blackwater contractors killed 14 Iraqi civilians and wounded several more. Some employees of Blackwater were charged with manslaughter and convicted. So, re-branding seemed the way to go. The PR firm for Blackwater was BKSH & Associates Worldwide, a company headed by Charlie Black, a prominent Republican political strategist and former spokesman for the RNC.
And so today we find them under the guise of Constellis Ltd., operating in US cities to “protect state property.” This is state-sponsored violence to protect state property against… citizens… Sounds pretty Stalinist/Maoist to me. Those buildings that must be protected by very expensive Republican-connected contractors from graffiti are supposed to be public property. Anyway, who is on the board of directors of Constellis? As of this writing (July 2020), they are Red McCombs (chairman), John Ashcroft, Dean Bosacki, Jason DeYonker, Bobby Ray Inman, Jack Quinn, and Russ Robinson. Look them up. I will only tell you that they are all white men, many with very strong opinions about race and other things and that the chairman of the board Red McCombs (a self-proclaimed alcoholic benefactor to the business school at UT Austin).
Red McCombs… owner of the San Antonio Spurs, among many other things, became wealthy by taking on massive debt from financier Bain Capital (Boston finance founded by Mitt Romney’s father and Bill Bain) to buy up radio and TV stations in the wake of Reagan and Bush I’s massive deregulation of the broadcast industry, forming Clear Channel Communications (now rebranded as iHeartMedia, with over 1,200 (YES… OVER 1200) stations. They created a news/talk format, confusing the two completely… talk about gaslighting on a massive scale, syndicating such luminaries as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Dave Ramsey, Mark Levin, Michael Savage… Among other nice things, McCombs is a champion of selective political-based censorship. He tried to destroy the Dixie Chicks by banning their recordings from his massive network of country-western stations. This, along with Murdoch and others, amounts to one part of a systematic poisoning of the American mind by a relative handful of very wealthy, powerful people… this combined with the death of local journalism is exactly what Bagdikian observed happening and predicted would lead to an existential threat to our democracy. Here we are. The founder of a massive media empire is now renting out his private army to Trump.
This confluence of conservatism in messaging (from pulpits and broadcasting) has pitted other institutions that are science-based and regulatory-based such as education and the courts against each other. Putin, Xi, and other enemies using psychological warfare and propaganda through new media are leveraging this to divide us at the cultural level. Culture wars are civil wars. Immigrants are just one obvious point of torque in the leveraging.
Shifting back to how this all unfolded during the time of Luce and Hearst canonizing Graham and others to follow we see the context emerge. In this new righteous environment, joining a labor union became the same as joining the devil’s team. So, to those workers who are tempted to resist unfairness, they should just stop complaining for being thrown under the bus because god did it to them. After all, you are the devil, which means you did it to yourself. There is no one for the slave and exploited to blame but themselves. No hope of fixing the situation. “It is what it is.” Divine law operates far beyond our free will or our ability to make our own society. This is classic sublimation and repression. It is also classic fatalism. So to those who keep yelling for freedom of religion, I say, give me freedom from religion.
Despite the fact that measure after measure proved that American workers were more efficient than any others on the planet, including Japan, they could not continue to exist in the America that was a world leader. The high standard of living in the U.S. was synonymous with high labor costs. You can’t have one without the other. Investors and owners wanted to cut labor costs. If workers in Taiwan were less efficient but cost only one eighth an American worker, the math told the owner what to do. Move to Taiwan and hire three or four workers. Still cheaper in the end, even though it was less efficient. Owners began the new gold rush to mine huge deposits of cheap labor. So, the U.S. standard of living crashed. All the profits started going to the top 1 percent. And all the investment went overseas. That’s “progress.” Profits soared. Wall Street was bullish. Mainstreet deteriorated with empty storefronts and vast regions, and people were lost and neglected. Tax bases tanked, and so went the public sphere. Teachers became little more than temp workers making about the same as base laborers even though they were required to have college degrees and were in charge of raising our children. Literacy levels dropped, hometown newspapers, so crucial to informing voters, closed by the thousands. All was fertile ground for demagogues to continue to push the agenda of divide and conquer.
Entire cities have been gutted, and so are their inhabitants. The goal of investors was to bring the American standard of living down to third world levels. If they couldn’t do that then they took their money elsewhere. Investment in American communities dried up while other nations developed. And the strikes were because workers in all the factories, not just Tecumseh, were seeing management move jobs offshore. You can take pay cuts up to a point. The UAW made concession after concession. But houses in Marion cost about $40,000 dollars and up, while in the 1980s in Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Mexico either workers lived in dormitories or in houses that cost less than $8,000, and those workers also didn’t need to own a car, go to a U.S. doctor or U.S. grocery store. U.S. workers just could not keep taking pay cuts, and they could not stop industry from abandoning the U.S. even after it had forced standards of living to decline. Workers became disorganized while owners celebrated.
Workers discovered three things. 1) The owners of the means of production ultimately hold all the cards, especially when 2) politicians will not support workers’ rights. And finally, the economic elites were not patriots. They saw themselves as “global citizens.” Here’s the problem; the only way to convince owners to keep factories in the U.S. was to make the U.S. standard of living fall to the point of matching the maquiladoras on the Mexico/U.S. border. No OSHA, no healthcare, no environmental protections, five bucks a day… that was the dream of American industry… to destroy the great American Middle Class. They pretty much succeeded. The idea of the Reaganites was to destroy everything Roosevelt accomplished just as they now are obsessed with destroying everything Obama accomplished. The result, millions scrape along while a very few are fabulously wealthy. Prisons and rehabs fill up. Capital gains are taxed at 15% while salaries are taxed at 35% and up. Money makes money. The rich just sit back and count it. It’s an automated vacuum cleaner that sucks up all the money around. Warren Buffet noted that he pays less percentage of taxes than his secretary. But those super-rich have earned that money, especially for being “risk-takers,” right? We’ll get to that.
Actually, it was not a dream to destroy the Middle Class so much as the owners of the means of production just didn’t give a damn. Labor costs money. Slavery had been outlawed. So, the next “best thing” was to exempt entire industries such as restaurants and service industries from minimum wages. The poor could pay each other in tips. Grovel for the money. As close to slavery as you can get. Hey, the waitress is always free to quit. Sure. So, since labor costs money, cutting into profits, it had to be cut so profits could pile up faster and faster. Who cares about the community, the public good, your neighbor, the kids your kid grows up with, the nation? Globalization had made the concept of the old modern nation-state meaningless. Markets went global, especially the labor market, where people go to sell themselves. Then came the gig economy. The U.S. is sliding down the sewer pipe. Workers have no security. At the lower 85 percent (of wealth), stress and anxiety rule the nation. The upper crust is ruled by greed with some anxiety.
Well, Wall Street is booming during this pandemic with, as of May 8, 2020, over 30 million Americans unemployed. Why? Because labor costs are way down. And economists believe that companies are adapting to this pandemic so that they will be unlikely to replace everyone they previously hired after this is over. And of course, some companies will be gone. The press has story after story about how most of the stimulus help from the government is going to the bigger companies with accountants and lawyers on staff to make sure they get the money while small businesses, who need the help the most, are not getting it. Who could be surprised? Of course, Trump’s donor class is getting the goodies. Congress passed a $2 trillion stimulus package to be overseen by Inspector General Glen Fine. Then Trump demoted him so he couldn’t oversee the COVID-19 stimulus package and so Fine quit. Trump fired the State Department IG who was investigating a Saudi arms deal that Congress had not approved, and the Intel IG for investigating conduct relating to the Ukraine mess. All in two weeks. Then a few days later, in fact on the day that the U.S. officially passed 100,000 dead from the virus, Trump threatened to “shut down” all social media because Twitter responded to his public torturing of the family of a woman who died while working for Joe Scarborough back in 2001. Why would the President of the U.S. do such a horrible thing? To attack Scarborough. Why threaten to shut down all social media? Not for removing Trump's dishonest tweets but by just posting a warning about them. So as I write this the virus is running rampant, Trump is promoting irresponsible behavior, and the biggest most powerful companies are getting much of the economic stimulus aid while oversight of more than $2 trillion is handed to Jared Kushner and friends. Without law and regulations, the biggest and most powerful always take the most even and especially in welfare. They own politicians, and with the strategic distortion of the freedom of speech, Grover Norquest and others managed to get a conservative Supreme Court to lift all limits on campaign funding and to call corporations people. So now the money flows to politicians more than ever in U.S. history. More “progress?” Huge hit to democracy. It is not one person one vote. That’s a myth. But even because democracy is still a little bit iffy, powerful conservative forces have worked hard to brainwash the masses and to systematically suppress turnout. Trump and his followers are raging right now against voting by mail during the pandemic, even though he does it himself. One way to cripple such an effort is to downsize the venerated U.S. postal system. Trump is doing that. Entitlement on steroids.
Money and information flow constantly, engulfing the entire globe from satellites to submarine cables. Trump uses nationalism when it is convenient to woo voters, but actually, he runs around the world, making money and deals with those who are enemies of the U.S. Cheney did that too. Remember him, the guy who took five deferments from Vietnam, the guy who kept getting busted for driving drunk, the assistant to Donald Rumsfeld under Nixon (big Nixon lover), the guy who lied America into the Iraq war, the guy who hated gays and lesbians until his daughter came out (selfish hypocrite), the big boss at the oil company Halliburton? That last part is what matters here. While he was CEO of Halliburton, he was breaking the law by directing the company to do deals with Iran, while the Clinton administration had an embargo against them for terrorist activity. Oh, and by the way, Cheney was so scummy the shareholders of Halliburton launched a class-action lawsuit against the company while he was CEO for artificially inflating its stock price via some fancy accounting (shades of Enron).
Ironically, leaders like Cheney, et al., painted themselves as the most patriotic and, for extra measure, the godliest of citizens even as they were actively gutting America. Meanwhile, they vilified labor leaders and sociologists who the right claimed to be communists, and that means atheists. In the 1960s, burgeoning business schools popped up on university campuses like mushrooms, endowed by wealthy benefactors who, in turn, were given honorary Ph.D.’s and invited to impart their profound philosophy at graduation ceremonies. This is how the rich purchase legitimacy and status. The path has two means; donate to charities and churches, and to universities. Hire ghostwriters to produce vanity propaganda and donate vanity buildings on campuses. To fit in with the scientists, historians, and philosophers, the “political” was taken out of the old moniker “political economics.” French economists called the new American discipline autisme-économie, “autistic economics.” Political correctness mindguards attacked the moniker. In fact, it is insulting to those with autism. The “autistic” form of economics in the U.S. is a far more evil and debilitating -- self-muting. Economists can’t talk about politics. That is not proper for pure “scientists.” What does it mean to be “autistic?” To be disconnected, lacking in empathy, unresponsive to human interaction, an inability to control outbursts, underdeveloped verbal skills, preference for non-verbal expression, living in an imaginary world, exhibiting repetitive cyclical behaviors, exhibiting regressed emotional and moral development. Trump epitomizes the new autistic-like homo economicus. He is the fruit of years of the new attitude toward people. People are functions. They are replaceable. The system and its needs supersede people. Form takes precedence over substance. Salesmanship takes precedence over craftmanship. And the whole culture slides into vulgarity. Quality of life declines for millions.
Like dictatorial countries around the world that claim to have Constitutions and use the phrase “democratic republic” in their names, the elimination of the term “political” from political economics was to make the field of economics appear pure, objective, without motive or perspective. To be abstract and disconnected, disinterested and unresponsive, was a virtue, the only virtue; even though virtue and meaning were not supposed to exist anymore. The newly purified discipline merely reflected on whatever happened to pass its sensors. It had no interest, motive, goal, direction, or purpose. Such things were the realm of humanistic subjectivity. Its models were without any bias. For the sake of the system, austerity and relentless and ruthless competition must be endured by the people. So political economics was made to appear scientifical, even as the monied class was searching for ways to control the message in universities (and later the mass media). The same benefactors worked hard to find the right pitchmen to put into political offices to do their political, economic bidding. Control of law-making was the key. The last step was control of those who apply the law, the judiciary itself. The GOP is getting there. All saw how Obama was denied a Supreme Court Appointment because it was in an election year. And, at this writing, Ginsberg is on her last legs, and Senate chief Mitch McConnell has announced that if she goes, he will have the Senate replace her even though we are just five months from an election. In three years, Trump has two Supreme Court judges. He’ll probably get at least one more, which will complete the formation of the new America. His allies in the justice department are freeing his henchmen and blocking access to his taxes, which he promised to show the world “after the audit” that does not exist, is done.
During his campaign rallies, Trump repeatedly said to his almost all white supporters, “this is your last chance.” Last chance for what? Not much of a dog whistle there. Pretty obvious. The last chance before democracy allows the new majorities to have power -- to shape generations to come. It was the last chance to block the demographic facts of an evolving U.S. population and electorate.
While the name changed from political economics to just economics, did its little magic, what did become more systematic was their use of statistical analysis of mass media audiences. The new economic laws were pitched as a pseudo-scientific inevitability – the “logic” of economics as absolute and ineffable as the laws of quantum physics (even though the economy was a human invention with deep political motives). Indeed, the greatest con job perpetrated on the super-smart Wall Street elite (other and Bernie Madoff) was the application of quantum statistics to Wall Street with arcane calculations that even experts and practitioners admitted they did not understand. But such hucksters can never admit that they don’t know what they are doing. That’s “bad for business.” As we have seen, it’s really bad when they bring that attitude into science and epidemiology. The more mysterious the math, the more people chased the claims. And business, unlike science, hates transparency. In science, you have to publish your results and share how you arrived at them so others can validate your claims. But business is a big secrete. That’s how for decades, Madoff could steal like a madman and how unions got cheated to death.
Business is a liar’s game. It is the professionalization of lying. The best liars dominate. They infiltrate science when they buy academics to create fake science to support their horrible products like cigarettes. If they can’t totally brainwash people, then they aim to create doubt. The science is “inconclusive.” Global warming, maybe. Evolution… it’s just a theory… This systematic hyper-effort at creating BS on an industrial scale has spawned an industry that Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway have labeled the Merchants of Doubt. And they often infiltrate the political domain poisoning debate with lies, deflection, non sequiturs, prevarication, obfuscation, false (immoral) rhetoric in Plato’s terms, disrupting the democratic process. They twist probability into the claim that science doesn’t know anything “for sure.” This grand effort at sophistry has become systematic with the application of social scientific models and big data. Hannah Arendt warned about cases in which entire societies were consistently lied to with the consequence that no one believes anything anymore. We are in a “post-truth” society, something I warned about in my 1997 book Modern/Postmodern: Off the Beaten Path of Antimodernity (Preager). As Bush II said, facts don’t matter. Of course, a big oil man would say that, except of course, when he wants to know if there is oil in a well or not. Truth and facts don’t matter. The elite will make reality as it suits them. Marx said the dominant ideas are the ideas of the dominant class. Boy was he right about that. The majority just live in the matrix the rich create and their status and position is assigned to them. Those who make the matrix don’t have to live by its rules. So Trump doesn’t wear a mask. All the lowly around him should, to protect him, but he, being elite, doesn’t have to.
Entire countries such as Iceland got conned by the con artists wielding quantum statistics that no one (except a few real physicists and mathematicians) understood. This is how even the most objective and pure system of logic is prostituted. Con artists pick what will give them the veneer of legitimacy and use it as a tool. The more legit the stuff they steal and use, like science, the better and the greater the betrayal of the original purpose. If you can make it look like science, not just your uncle or neighbor, say something, the bigger the coup – the greater the act of fraud. Consequently, countries around the world got hoodwinked. In the years leading up to 2008, they put their national treasuries into hedge funds and such and practically went bankrupt. The folks in Iceland were furious. They got rid of all the idiot macho men who ran the place into the ground (like Bush II did for the U.S.) and now have the most female-gendered political class in the world and are doing very well. Meanwhile, Putin helped make sure the U.S. still has yet to elect a woman executive in D.C.
So, we have a super idiot with a massive inferiority complex in power (“toxic masculinity”). He’s the man. A real alpha. And his supporters chant in adoration because they are real omegas. An omega is obedient; a constant giver refuses staring contests, lies on its back submissively, and pees itself when nervous. They will listen to all the lies and follow their alpha no matter what he does. This is the GOP herd of today. Even when they protest their symbolism is cliché; gun-toting, rebel flag waving… Only independents and Democrats are standing up to him as an equal. The alpha never admits he’s wrong. This is a total failure of real leadership, not just dogs sniffing each other.
So, because the would-be alphas in the junk bond, subprime, hedging funded world could not admit when they didn’t know what they were doing, it didn’t matter. Truth does not matter because they were just using the fancy math to con others. Fancy math was the new code for the ignorant but also cunning Wall Street swashbucklers. The bubble grew then because it was empty, like the suits, it burst. Science as pure rhetoric – pseudo-science. Big words. Big equations. Obama fixed it, and then the U.S. turned around and put one of the biggest windbags in the White House. Racism and sexism killed us. A failed spoiled child was selected (barely, with Russia’s help on voting demographics in swing states) over a person with a great education and decades of experience and service.
This is what happened with a generation of unemployed, uneducated angry people. The unemployed and underemployed believed a guy with a gold toilet was their friend, their champion. Nietzsche, Plato, Tom Pain seem vindicated. We begin to doubt our own heritage and values. Maybe Putin, Xi, Lee Kuan Yu, GOP vote suppressors, are right. Autocracy should prevail. What? Wait. But we come to that conclusion because their idiot managed to eke out an electoral victory with a handful of votes in precincts especially targeted by Russian trolls. So… what are we saying? The fact that Trump won, proves that democracy does not work because morons who are easily manipulated by online BS voted for him? But… it is his supporters who don’t like free and open elections, yet that is how he got to power. Okay. So, this is how democracies commit suicide. It happened in Germany. They elected Hitler who then demolished all their democratic institutions from the press to the legislative bodies. So… democracy is bad because it is suicidal? And also, because morons can be manipulated into killing their own freedom? Yes. History shows that that can happen. There is a risk letting people govern themselves but there is also a systematic means to safeguard the rationality of this process… philosophical/scientific education – remember the philosophers, in the endless quest for truth, invented natural philosophy and methods we now call “scientific.”
So, it is not only the naysayers who argue that democracy is self-contradicting and stupid, but it is also the culture of education that is justified by the facts. Isocrates and Horace Mann are vindicated. They understood that if you want a workable democracy, the voters have to be well informed and capable of critical reasoning. It requires some work by citizens. Unlike cultures with blood-based caste systems and divine rulers, the culture of education presumes that people are mutable, that they can change, improve themselves, create change – progress. Those who hate books and hate school are a problem. There is no free lunch. Freedom requires effort and vigilance. We have to raise our kids to understand their role in a democracy. It is more than screaming about their personal rights. We tend to forget that democracy is not perfect, but the alternatives have been tried over and over again and have proven to be worse for human progress and happiness (one of our major pursuits). The idiots who march and rally, intimidating government workers and frontline healthcare professionals with their assault rifles have no idea what living under autocratic rule is like. Those morons running around with guns, swastikas, and wearing Nazi helmets while riding their motorcycles and spluttering about their rights, do not understand that they would be among the first eliminated by a Hitlerian regime that demands total discipline and conformity. Hells Angels (fraternities for fat angry men) with their clubhouses and secret rituals wouldn’t stand a chance against an autocratic regime. Only one flag would be tolerated. Only one symbol. Only one leader. Only one party. Efficient to be sure but hardly free or even smart.
Groupthink is a theory about poor decision-making. Hyper-cohesion and blind loyalty lead to stupid decision-making. Ala Trumpism, where party members proudly announced that they refused to read the Mueller Report. Why? Because they are a bunch of omegas fawning over their alpha. I’ve never seen Americans so weak and willing to follow no matter what. The church has pounded in the message that one must surrender and submit to a higher power and here we are. Ignorance is a form of ignoring the truth. Trump has worked like a dog to politicize the pandemic. It’s all Obama’s fault. Democratic governors want everyone to die. It’s a media hoax. China did this. “Liberate” Democratic states! The virus doesn’t know Trump exists and doesn’t give a damn. Life-instinct rooted in genetic structures automatically pursues reproduction/survival, and it is thriving in “blue” and “red” bodies because Trump is playing politics rather than fighting the virus. We lost the war because our leadership found it too hard to stay indoors and wear masks. We lack toughness and discipline. Honesty, integrity, and grit do not exist in GOP leadership. It has, but since Reagan, it is all about money. They are ambitious to be sure but not tough. They are takers, not makers. Patience and endurance are essential to this war against COVID 19. Unfortunately for us all, Trump is utterly weak and undisciplined. But to those who adoringly chant his name, he is the man. Ted Cruz epitomizes the omega follower. Only independent thinkers are standing up to him as his equal, as real Americans. Trump has given up. On May 14, 2020, while the cases continued to rise in many states, he decided to tell experts that they are wrong about opening schools and to announce that testing for the virus is not important. He is cutting and running, but this is a frontline we are all standing on, and our commander-and-chief, is giving political speeches about how great he is and how the mess is someone else’s fault instead of governing. The illogic is absurd. On the same day he denounced the value of testing he said he made a plan because the Obama plan was useless, and he made the plan for the pandemic back in August 2019, five months before the virus emerged. But for months after it emerged, he has insisted that “no one saw this coming,” Obama left him no plan, and he never mentioned a plan he had made back in August. Lies. Lies and more lies, while we are fighting for our livelihoods and lives. We are stuck in a foxhole with a delusional coward, who happens to have rank on us all—horrible leadership. The results speak for themselves. The U.S. is overrun by the virus that could have been slowed greatly if we just started wearing masks and distancing coast-to-coast in January. His new scapegoat, globalists. But he is one. None of his three wives were from Iowa or Ohio. His best friends are in the palaces of the Kremlin, Riyadh, and Pyongyang. He literally writes love letters to them and has pillow talks with them about how bad the “scum” in the U.S. intelligence community and the FBI are. You can’t make this up.
How did we come to this? Greed totally polluted the American mind. And the industrial base was sold-out, destroying working-class lives, making them angry and lost. Our system is essentially predatory. “Buyer beware” is our national motto. The system killed itself. Vietnam led to a distrust of everything. As Hegel noted, there was an internal contradiction. The system was not sustainable as it evolved into late-capitalism after WWII, or it reverted back to the Gilded Age form after the nation dug itself out of the Great Depression and the war. Either way, greed cannibalized the nation. And more -- rampant racism had been at the core of the system since its inception. Genocide of First Nations, widescale extinctions, slavery…all are essential to our understanding of how we got here. The Civil War held the union together, but it never overcame the origins of the conflict… Then we became consumers… happy, dancing idiots in millions of hours of advertising we consume from birth to death. Watch the ads… most literally have dancing smiling morons going into debt. That’s us. Look in the mirror.
In the U.S., advertising and comics became the vanguard of American culture and the dream. Warhol, Lichtenstein, Richard Hamilton… were on point. A genre of B.S. as old as the traveling “Doctor” who sells potions and elixirs became American philosophy and wisdom. Meanwhile, real philosophy was maligned by business types who don’t want consumers to be able to think. For the same reasons, logic and reasoning skills are also vilified by religious types who also abhor independent thinking. Philosophy was disparaged as something “eggheads” do. Critical reasoning skills and the truth were for sissies and commies. The customer/sucker fawns over the silver-tongued “genius.” We sell Jesus and the Statue of Liberty like we sell beer and insurance. Everyone is self-branding on Facebook. We have the personification of this new culture in the White House. How do I know he’s a beautiful genius? Because he tells us all the time. Rhetoric, the Great Third Sophistic works. Only now, we have degenerated from written culture back to visual culture. We don’t like books with words. We like books with pictures. So, the dream of elevation morphed into becoming the train in the train wreck no one could look away from. Instant celebrity was conferred on dysfunction, and in the process, it was normalized. The days of teleplays written by the likes of Paddy Chayefsky, William Faulkner, Gore Vidal, Horton Foote, Sydney Lumet, Arther Penn, Rod Serling, Alfred Hitchcock, were pushed aside by silly shows that created a more lucrative audience for advertisers. Classy comedy and variety hours were also canceled. Talk shows like the Tonight Show with Steve Allen, Merv Griffin, and Dick Cavett dedicated entire episodes to discussions with artists, writers, and politicians; people such as Jack Kerouac, Salvador Dali, Norman Mailer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ernest Hemingway... Even Johnny Carson felt it important to be serious from time to time and debunk frauds such as Uri Geller, for his national audience. And PBS had intelligent conservative talk with the founder of National Review, William F. Buckley’s Jr.’s Firing Line for 33 years!! No doubt Buckley would be aghast at Trump and this GOP. Things have changed in my lifetime.
Theatrical and silly T.V. gave way to a new trash world with nothing too low. Chuck Barris (The Gong Show), Morton Downey Jr., (whose signature phrases were “pablum puking liberal” and “zip it”), and Howard Stern broke the rules and proved that there were in Reagan’s deregulated world no rules to break. During the show, Barris used to keep a hat pulled down over his face to hide the public intoxication he needed to handle his own amazement at what the American audience would not just tolerate but come to demand. Initially, people like Stern and Limbaugh were repeatedly fired from their broadcast jobs because broadcasting used to have standards. But with the Reagan years, ratings became all that mattered. WWE Raw and Smackdown, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, The Biggest Loser, Ghost Hunters, and The Apprentice. This trash would become the spawning grounds for GOP cultural and political leaders. Wrecks of selfishness and the culture of excess, pseudo artists such as Ozzi Ozborn, Gene Simmons (of Nazi S.S. Kiss fame), Hulk Hogan, Trump, the Kardashians, became the dream.
On the academic front, the new
political economics experts sold the demise of the middle class as a scientifical (shades of Good Will Hunting) certainty. Nothing personal. It’s all the laws of economics -- ratings. People felt confused and hopeless. The “smartest guys,” as at Enron, were greedy, lying, cheats. Psychopaths in tailored suits with reams of statistics, charts, graphs, and slick PowerPoints. Slick was the visual rhetoric, and with the Internet, anyone can look slick today. They even got the poor salaryman who can’t dodge his taxes to bail out the wealthiest guys on Wall Street.
And as history shows, the race to the bottom ended up, in turn, hurting places like Japan and Taiwan, as China became the new lower rung on the labor ladder. Nixon didn’t open up China for humanitarian reasons. It was a billion dirt poor workers corporate America was licking its chops over. What a coup. Communist China handed over its workers to the capitalists. Castro resisted that. Now oligarchs in China rule the place. But then another cheaper option always comes along. Now Vietnam and India undercut China. I have shirts from the mall made in Sri Lanka. What’s even cheaper? Wherever capital can find political leaders to keep the masses in line, conform (“adapt” as some scientifical apologists call it) to no labor protections, no environmental protections, barely subsistence wages. Africa is next up… China and the U.S. are jockeying for position. All those easy to buy dictators and cheap, cheap labor. If someone speaks up like a journalist or an environment/labor activist, kill them.
According to the pseudo-scientists (most registered Republicans, of course) who promote “cultural adaptation” ideology, those who resist the madness are “malcontents,” “cognitively, behaviorally, and affectively unfit,” “needing psychotherapy,” and are criminally “maladapted.” The apologists assure us all that forcing “strangers” to conform is actually for the maladjusted’ s own good. Why? What is the justification for conformity? Pure quantity. The “mainstream culture” they claim is the majority. So just lay back and enjoy it. But even that is false. As Marx noted, the dominant ideas of society tend to be the ideas of a small minority class. In any case, by rolling over for the “majority,” the apologists preempt reason and critical assessment of policies and processes promoted by the “majority.” Any critical response, any attempt to rationally examine the mainstream ways, is labeled by them as “unfit to live with.” Debate, and alternative solutions, must be purged. Nothing less American or democratic can be imagined. So why promote this ideology? Why purge difference? Because it is good for the stability of the mainstream. Don’t rock the boat. Keep the slavery going smoothly. Moral, ethical reasoning is preempted and sacrificed on the altar of “efficiency” and “competence,” the latter being equated by the apologists with conformity to mainstream ways. The well-balanced, well-adjusted person they say, thinks, acts, and feels as they are told. It is a tautology in service of extreme conservatism. The apologists make zero mention of science or logic or reason to adjudicate decisions and policies. According to them, the majority is right, by definition. Debate is impossible because debate always posits an opposing position. That is unacceptable. It is disturbing to the equilibrium of the system. And that is all that matters. The system, no matter how degenerate and unjust, cannot be questioned, say the adaptation theorists. That’s being “critical” and that’s bad.
Pseudo-scientific soothsayers get grants and awards. Conservative (what I call Confucian) Academics thus justify the repression of not just dissent, but any participation in the system that is not always already redundant with the system. The only good path of behavior is that which reproduces the system. Steven Biko and Jamal Khashoggi are prime examples of those who keep their voices. There are thousands more. Trump would kill journalists if he thought he could get away with it, and among some of his omega supporters, they would still vote for him (for defending freedom no less). Adaptation scholars do the same to students who dare to question their theories. Symbolic violence… the attempt to “kill” careers and silence debate. Their slogan, borrowed by Star Trek’s the Borg, “resistance is futile.” Irony of ironies, some such scholars have had a lifetime of benefits because minorities before them got all uppity and made the change in the face of terrible oppression… an oppressive mainstream that claimed validity as the truth based solely on power. The ultimate tautology is made. The “mainstream power” is the truth. Got it? asks/tells the soothsayer? Don’t be mentally ill and deny reality. Do the apologetic soothsayers appreciate the sacrifices of those minorities that came before? Nope. According to their truth, they achieved by sheer bootstrap effort. They achieved without any context. The system that rewards their loyalty is pure, objective. Everything is blind egoism.
Germans are smart. They buy German cars because they know their neighbor needs the job, and they want their standard of living to stay high. As a failed actor, Ronald Reagan took a job at General Electric going around as their spokesman preaching to middle-management rallies the corporate line that labor costs had to come down. Free enterprise was the objective truth. But who defended the freedom? And where did responsibility lie? He preached, unions are demonic, and government that protects workers and the environment is “the beast.” Cut taxes. Cut benefits. Deregulate—free capital to exploit at will. Finally, when he got in the White House, unions and the Middle Class were squarely in his crosshairs. Yes, the Teamsters and some unions had dirty leadership. Because steelworkers, coal miners, railroad workers, anyone who tried to stand up and ask to see the books and negotiate honest and fair salaries were beaten by armed thugs and Pinkertons hired by companies. The unions had to find muscle, so the mafia got into them. But not all unions were tainted. And the idea of worker organization and representation is not ipso facto evil. Ever hear that communication is a good thing? Negotiation is a form of communication. But for it to be in “good faith” the negotiators have to respect each other and that comes from being equally powerful.
With exporting jobs, automation, dismantling of unions, the Middle Class died, and we saw an explosion of poverty and homelessness in America. The FCC was gutted. Mass media was turned into a 24/7 propaganda machine. The Fifth Column was built to promote the destructive trends. And now, during the Coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. can’t make masks and test kits. China owns our massive debt, tons of patents, has manufactured essential components in all our electronics, even own much of our agribusiness such as Smithfield Foods, including the Smithfield meat-packing company that operates many of the processing stations that are hotspots for the virus. WH Group of China owns them. Meanwhile, millions have no access to healthcare, and for the first time in U.S. history, the American lifespan is decreasing (even before the pandemic). The last couple of generations have done less well than their predecessors. The U.S. has been declining. And the great champions of business have pushed the car over the hill. Greater profits await in Africa.
We are turning into Russia. Yes, we have nukes, to be sure, but also like Russia, increasingly we produce nothing anyone wants to buy but oil. Drill baby drill chanted the cult members at their convention. Once the envy of the world but not anymore. Ranked by the U.N. Human Development Index (life expectancy, education, per capita income), the U.S. is not even in the top ten, and many had to totally rebuild after WWII. The U.S. was the unconditional heavyweight champ of the world and it shouldered the Marshal Plan to prove it. Today, it needs help. As of 2018, the U.N. Development Index goes from number 1 down; Norway, Switzerland, Ireland, Germany, Hong Kong, Australia, Iceland, Sweden, Singapore, Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Canada, New Zealand… How about the U.S. rank on the U.N. Health Care Index? From number 1; Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Denmark, France, Spain, Austria, Thailand, Australia, Finland, Netherlands, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Norway Belgium, New Zealand, Germany, Qatar, Israel, Estonia, Switzerland, Portugal, Canada, Singapore… finally, the U.S. shows up at number 30. Sure the U.S. has good healthcare, but half the country has little to no access. Two-thirds of bankruptcies in the U.S. are due to illness (American Journal of Medicine, 2009). Healthcare costs inflate faster than any other part of the economy. Obamacare helped, but the GOP is constantly trying to destroy it even though it was originally proposed by members of the GOP! At this writing, the GOP and Trump almost have the votes in the Supreme Court to take Obamacare away with nothing to replace it. No plan is the GOP plan. Laissez-Faire, disconnection. Autistic political economy. Government that does no governing is the goal. Social Darwinism. Every man for himself, saith the Lord. Expertise and authority are not part of this “conservatism.” Teachers, scientists, and doctors are parts of the problem.
It took some decades to ruin, but the corporate-backed GOP has succeeded. U.S. world leadership is tittering. Most Americans don’t travel abroad, so they don’t realize that they live in a country that has a lower standard of living than 25 other industrialized nations. Now we are so excited when a foreign company builds a factory in the U.S. But these foreign firms (except for some European ones who actually prefer labor to be organized – case in point Volkswagen’s fight with Tennessee’s “right to work” law which takes away labor’s voice), are cautious to avoid unions and environmental protections. They don’t want Americans to have much say in anything. Foreign companies can’t vote, but they sure can lobby. And the GOP is eager to take their money. Foreign firms have been very active in creating U.S. domestic law and policy to stop workers’ rights by lobbying, especially southern state GOP politicians. And if you can’t get a foreign-owned factory into your community, then get a Casino. Gambling is the solution. States started lotteries (with all their attendant social problems) because was no other way to support education. This was acceptable to the “conservative” GOP, but not raising taxes on the well-to-do. Like the great American tradition of tipping, gambling gets the poor to support themselves while the cream is skimmed by the rich. Let them gamble to support education. What a moral disaster. Trump tried to run a casino.
Reagan’s education by G.E. management and its media efforts have grown into our base culture. Workers became demonized as “communists.” And the Dixie culture found its mouthpieces in Reagan, Limbaugh, Gingrich, and Hannity. Lincoln’s victory and Roosevelt’s Great Society have been dismantled. Protesters with guns carrying Confederate flags assault our deliberative bodies, and Trump approves. In the 1990s we began to see several southern red states qualify for development loans from the World Bank, and many are perpetually and massively subsidized by blue states. The GOP states, as well as many corporations, are the biggest welfare recipients. This fact prompted Chuck Thompson to write the book Better Off Without ‘Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession (2012).
I watched my high school friends at first get good jobs alongside their dads and uncles in the mills and factories while I went to college and had very little spending money. Meanwhile, they had new cars, stereos, even boats. They sorta laughed at me, but things changed. I watched them start families and buy houses. And then I watched their lives collapse. Hard to go “back to school” after you have two kids and a mortgage and debt, and you haven’t cracked a book in five years. A handful who were single, joined the military to get out. The Vietnam draft officially ended some months before I was eligible, and so going into the military became a “safe haven” – a viable “career choice.” The military absorbs some unemployed and offers education benefits. Arms sales is huge business, one sector where the U.S. continues to lead the world, a fact that has prompted many including Eisenhower to wonder if the U.S. can afford peace anymore.
Other high school acquaintances stayed in Marion and just survived as best they could. Many saw their standards of living decline from when they were kids in the early 1970s. I noticed a spat of suicides among the fathers of friends of mine. Three in my neighborhood alone and all when they appeared to be doing well. Appearances can be deceiving. Only three families had swimming pools in my neighborhood, and two of those three had suicides. A tipping point had been reached in my community.
When an entire town – in fact, region, declines, when a thousand people show up for one job opening, including folks from several surrounding towns, when every house on the block is up for sale… people get depressed, sick, abusive, lost. It’s a hopeless situation. The last work employees at Tecumseh performed involved packing up parts and machines to move to Mexico -- not unlike building your own coffin, digging your own grave while being supervised by those killing you. Labor/management clashes intensified. I worked at Tecumseh for two summers while in college. Being a union shop, the pay was good even for summer jobs. The company had not updated anything since before WWII. All the profits went to the shareholders. Workers used to say the U.S. did Japan and Germany a favor by blowing up all their old factories so they could build new ones. The smell alone was indescribably bad. Steel equipment was worn smooth by decades of use. Everything was old, worn, and wobbly.
I vividly remember the first Japanese car (singular) to come to Marion in 1972. There were no Datsun or Toyota dealerships. I was friends with the son of the guy who owned the Suzuki motorcycle shop in town, and through him, I also knew the son of the guy who owned the Honda motorcycle shop in town. The Honda shop got a “Civic.” He invited us over to take a look. We were all 15 years old. We went over and played with it in a parking lot. It could fit in the trunk of an American four-door sedan. We had no idea what was about to happen. No way this car could gain a foothold in the home market of the mighty Ford, GM, American Motors, and Chrysler brands. A year later, in 1973, one of us, Greg Arter, got a Toyota Corolla. In the 1970s, U.S. car companies shifted leadership from WWII veterans and engineers to young managers coming up through sales with MBAs. The U.S. car became trash, even deadly like the Ford Pinto. The workers putting the cars together could see the change and protested. Ford management got angry because their factory parking lots were filling up with Japanese cars. They threatened to fire workers not driving Fords. Well, the workers knew the truth, and no one listened to them—some welded pop and beer cans into the bodies of crap cars like Gremlins, Vegas, and K-Cars. G.M. slapped some stickers on cheap Chevy Cavaliers and called them Cadillacs (Cimarron). Efficiency experts built platforms like G.M.’s J platform that could be used for several nameplates with common parts and little cosmetic tweaks. Ford did the same thing. The Ford Pinto with a little bric-a-brac was the Mercury Bobcat. The Ford LTD with a badge was the Mercury Marquis. The Ford Maverick was the same thing as the Mercury Comet. Nothing but marketing B.S.
The country decided that branding was more important than substance. Who knew? We could have won WWII with just a really good, and oft-repeated sales pitch, good hair, and convincing arm movements. Everything became rhetoric. In a couple of my publications including the book Coarseness in U.S. Public Discourse (2012) with my former doctoral student and friend Phil Dalton, I called it the Third Sophistic – the rise of sales rhetoric over substance – a culture inundating itself with advertising B.S. If you raise kids on this garbage, they don’t learn how to reason or think independently. We poisoned ourselves. Capitalism’s fruit was abundant stuff and to idiotize the masses. Dumb people are easier to separate from their money. Personal debt rose. Gotta have the next thing. In the ads, everyone is perpetually happy, even dancing. Dancing idiots. And violent content. Millions of hours of it pumped into living rooms. Those who never actually went to war felt themselves to be lesser men, and so they set out to buy guns and be the “mountain men” “James Bonds” of Mainstreet. Since they didn’t actually go to war, who should they model? Hollywood. John Wayne, Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson, and their ilk of tough guys that were ridiculous. Musclemen. I show a picture of a bunch of miserable, dirty, exhausted Marines in Guadalcanal to my students. They have dysentery. They weigh about 100 pounds each. No smiling faces. No bravado. Then I show them a picture of Arnold posing in a Mr. Universe contest. Then I ask, which is the real man? Sacrifice is the opposite of selfish care and feeding of the self. Celebrity is not heroic. Underemployed status-seekers set out to prove their manhood by running around in pickups with assault rifles. Pathetic. Really. No wonder they end up fat and broke and/or INCELS. Then they blame the Democrats. By the way, the overwhelming number of soldiers in WWII voted Democrat. Roosevelt as hugely popular. So was Truman. Then they started assassinating Dems and progressives to stop them. INCELS.
The problem was and continues to be, the culture was not providing meaningful ways to have a purpose and value. And juxtaposed to this reality for millions were the vulgarians marching across our T.V. screens in the new genre of Reality T.V. Remember the grotesque Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous hosted by Robin Leach? Of course, that would lead directly from the Reagan years of excess to The Apprentice, featuring one of the most vulgar people in U.S. pop culture… and that then to our current disaster in the White House. Workers could be replaced by workers anywhere else on Earth. And they were. The parade of vulgarians on T.V. convinced us that we really do want to be filthy rich too and that we, like Oprah and Gates, could become modern-day Horatio Algers. The fact that it was one in a million and that the reality was that half of America was one paltry paycheck from destitution and had no access to healthcare was suppressed. Wealth was transferred into fewer and fewer hands until about 25 families control over half the wealth in the entire nation. Think about that! Look around your neighborhood and randomly pick 25 houses. That’s it. The size of one of my medium-size classes. Twenty-five people would be utterly lost in a football stadium. The amount of concentration; what a billion is; is staggering, and most just don’t have the capacity to understand it. I ask my COLLEGE students how many thousand are in a million. They don’t know. Then how many millions in a billion. They don’t know. And that is just fine for the predator. Stupid prey is easy. Rip them off as workers, then rip them off again as consumers, then if conditions arise, use them as soldiers to defend your system and your assets (trade routes, et cetera).
The media helped people escape. It turned their minds against them. Who wants to dwell on a disturbing message about stagnating or declining wages when seductive, sexy messages were out there to occupy our minds? Video gaming exploded. Online porn exploded. So, we have a First Lady who literally made softcore porn to sell herself. Facebook turns each of us into a brand. It fits the zeitgeist perfectly. It all makes sense. Message sent and received. You are “essential” but worthless because you are a dime a million. So photoshop yourself and live a virtual lie. And the working poor had their noses rubbed in it by dot com kids with billions and hedge funders screaming, “greed is good.” Russia and China got on board. An old word, oligarchs, became common. It was about those who privatized state-owned industries in the wake of the Cold War. George Soros tried to warn the West that the worst of its kind, the Manaforts of the world, was infiltrating the corpse of the Soviet Union, turning it into something really dangerous and vulgar. Putin took control, and Trump loves him, respects him more than our own intelligence agencies and experts. Trump and Putin are simpatico. Their roots lie in the Reagan revolution that saw close ties with the likes of Marcos in the impoverished Philippines and the “Madame” spending the nation’s wealth on lavish parties, houses, yachts, vaults of gold, and thousands of pairs of designer shoes. Kitsch had become the culture of choice among the rich of the world, and they had no national allegiance but instead owned homes and stashed assets all over the world. Paying taxes was for suckers. Patriotism was just a prop to be pulled out at strategic times. Bone spurs were for the slick dodger. The world really had become their oyster. And workers were dumbly still believing in national pride while they were pitted against each other in a vast global market of teeming faceless hands to toil away, making profit for the absentee owners/investors.
But the rich deserve their wealth because 1) they work hard, 2) they are thousands of times smarter than the rest of us, and 3) they are willing to take big risks. If you believe Trump workers that much harder than others or is that much smarter, then you deserve to have his boot on your neck. What about number three, the swashbuckling daring-doer alpha? Here’s how it really works. If massive incompetence derails an enterprise, limited liability (an invention of the Crédit Mobilier – a crew of some of the most corrupt people in U.S. history), practically eliminates all the risk for the owners because their personal wealth is separated from the incorporated machines that they own and which create it. The vision of the hero entrepreneur, big risk-taker, is a myth. The owner has the taxpayers cover most costs and losses, while he is protected by limited liability. Same for banks with FDIC. Every “cost of doing business,” including apartments, cars, boats, planes…, are tax-deductible, which means the lowly taxpayer is buying this stuff for the guy who is ripping them of as their employees and as consumers, with his products and services. You can’t lose unless you are totally inept, which many are. What is limited liability? It’s an invention of the U.S. capitalist. Here’s the secret. If you totally fail, your mansions, cars, motorcycles, boats, art collections, thoroughbred horses, jewelry, and fancy dogs… all your private property and toys are untouchable.
Also, having your company, not you, file for bankruptcy protects it from “its” debt. So, you and your company are separate, sort of, in the eyes of the law given this new invention, limited liability. And each of you is protected by taxpayers. You own the company and use it to make all sorts of profit, which you then take for your own (privatize the money), and that’s the trick of magic transformation. What you take out of the business is no longer part of the business, so it can go under while you remain rich. Sure, the workers go under with it, but you, the owner, can just start over if you want. If the company fails, you, the owner, doesn’t get whacked. Besides, if you totally screw it up, steal from it, whatever, and it fails, taxpayers and courts will bail the company out. Your private gain is untouchable.
The owner gets all the benefits and none of the risks, especially if you get others to invest in it, such as banks, ala Trump. And don’t cry for the banks, they make it up charging regular folks all sorts of service fees. You own and use the company and its employees to generate wealth, but it remains separate from you, so if it fails, you are untouched. You get all the benefits of ownership and no disadvantages, no risk. Sure, if it fails, it’s sad for you that the money machine stops, but you are whole, and you can start up another money machine if you want to. The person taking the real risk is the easily replaceable worker who, if she gets sick or injured and can’t work, starves. Limited liability takes the risk out of being an enterprising entrepreneur. So, don’t see such people as heroes. And don’t confuse wealth with intelligence. Sure, one of them might “give you a job.” But they will keep you on if and only so long as you make a profit for them. If you are not exploitable, you have no value to them, and they will toss you aside. You may be replaced by another worker in a foreign land, by a machine that never gets sick or complains, or a chicken, as in the story “Meal Ticket” in the Oscar-winning and episodic film The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) by the Coen brothers.
Even religion, everywhere including Russia, became utterly corrupted with evermore gaudy personalities strutting across the neon stage with a new cannon, “prosperity theology.” Now religion has always had at its core a grand lie and is thus corrupt, but religion has also at times served to remind us of the value of kindness and generosity. With the rise of Reagan, “liberation theology,” promoted by Jesuits trying to defend their parishioners and their environment from horrific exploitation and destruction from right-wing death squads in Central America, was targeted and exterminated. In the U.S. chants and magic spells, speaking in tongues and laying on of hands, moved down out of the Appalachian hills into the cities and finally onto the global airwaves. Religion lost its mysterium tremendum et fascinans, its inward reflection and sobriety of self-appraisal to became tastelessly ornate – gaudy in expression and vulgar in content – amplified, electrified, bombastified with equally grandiose egos. It lost its moral foundation as it embraced selfish individualism and Darwinian cost/benefit calculus. Money, money, money. Preachers had their jets and helicopters and mansions and massive tax-exempt semi-political operations while rappers sang the praises of Donald Trump during the crazed 1990s. Bling proved the truth of the new worldly philosophy. Money is truth. All else is a lie. The U.S. as a community began to fall apart. Now as noted, slavery, genocide, robber barons are essential to understanding the history of the nation. But not until now has the nation embraced such a vulgar leader and not until now has its standing in the world declined so precipitously. Slowly history was bending toward justice. Obama proved that. And also Obama marked a flashpoint. Now our path has veered off into a different direction as a reaction to Obama has flared into a conflagration of stupidity across many fields.
Marx was right all along. Capital is reality and nothing else. But… racism and sexism and xenophobia are real too and they don’t care about money. A rich black man is still a black man. Identity politics has erupted. Hegel was stood on his head by Engels. But the materialism wasn’t all about money. It was about the flesh. Politics is about the flesh.
The First Lady deplored the shoddy conservative aesthetic of prior presidents, demanding a total redo of the White House, including all-new China – I’m speaking of Hollywood Nancy, but it would make sense if you thought I was talking about Melania. Same cloth. Can you believe the first lady wears a designer coat with the message “Do you care? I don’t.” plastered across its back while visiting border guards at the same time children, separated by the U.S. government from their parents, huddled in detention centers – in violation of U.S. and International Law on refugees? Even senators were blocked from entering the facilities to see what was going on. Welcome to Reagan’s vision finally come true. It took a while to end the Great Society and abandon its Enlightenment principles, but we have arrived. Trump says he prefers people from Norway to immigrate, but why on Earth would they come to a country that despises their values and beliefs manifested in their socialist policies. Trump likes the results but has no idea how they are created.
Well, the turn away from substance to bullshit, as technically defined by the Princeton Professor of philosophy, Harry Frankfurt (2005) worked. It took a few decades of anti-intellectualism and degradation of literacy (part of our construct of masculinity – yet to be fair lots of females are ignorant too and fightn proud of it), but we finally have a president at this writing that is nothing but an empty brand, and what a disaster. Duck Dynasty and WWE Raw in the Oval Office. Deplorable is not a bad word to describe the situation. Uneducated “Social Influencers” and Jackass lead the way. The Kardashians are better known than the guys on Mount Rushmore. Dennis Rodman more revered than Jonas Salk. PewDiePie more notable than Cyrus Fields or Philo T. Farnsworth (without whom “reality” celebrities would not exist). Oprah is our Socrates. Look under your seat. There’s a goody bag of consumer products and maybe a new car! Zoom in for the reaction shot; the money shot to raise Oprah’s ratings. It takes her 5 hours a day in makeup to not look too black. Fandom explodes. Rich businesspeople are our culture’s heroes, perhaps especially when they are arms merchants like Batman and Ironman. Only Marlon Brando had the clout to play Superman’s Dad. Superman can’t be ugly, short, black, or shy.
In the early 1980s, one of our neighbors in Marion had a new Chrysler K-Car. It had a label in the trunk that said it could not carry more than 50 pounds! CEO Lee Iacocca, another super-salesman, said in the ads, “If you can find a better car, buy it.” Americans did. Chrysler had to be bailed out with tax dollars more than once, “too big to fail.” Salesmen and efficiency experts, not “car guys,” started creating tinfoil cars. We were told the old managers had been wasteful building cars of steel that lasted too long and were also too easy to work on. Quality went to shit. Deming, the quality guru, not an efficiency nut, but the champion of quality, couldn’t get anyone in Detroit to listen, so he went to Japan with his four-step iterative production circle method. Toyota adopted it. The rest is history. Well, there was the opening to knock-out the Great Society. Greed, and complacency, were our weaknesses. Cut corners and believe that the American consumer won’t notice. They did. And Japan was hungry and wanted to prove that it should have won the war. They dedicated themselves to slaying the giant. “Corporate Samurai” worked themselves literally to death (called Karoshi) to prove their point. China is doing the same today. But China is more like America than Japan in that its leaders seek to become gods. The kids in China work twice as hard at school as U.S. kids who still think we are in 1960, and the U.S. is untouchable. Brain-dimming delusions of grandeur. But the kids of rich folks with Party connections are another story.
We have the coalition of the stupid marching us over the cliff. Truth is, no great nations last forever and, from the Maya to the Romans to Imperial China, they always fail from the inside out. Fish do rot from the head down. With the most cynical of motives, the murderous dictator Justinian exploited the rising tide of superstition, forcing the end of the great universities of antiquity, filled as they were with pagan mathematicians, scientists, logicians, philosophers who openly debated ideas, argued with logical consistency, and marshaled honest evidence – evidence that could be tested and independently verified. Pursued, persecuted, and sometimes executed by religious zealots, the last of their kind tried to carry as many books to safety as they could. For over 1000 years, the libraries, art, and architecture of antiquity were wantonly destroyed by ignoramuses in frenzies of escalating hate and destruction to prove their status as ever more devout defenders of the faith. Savonarola, a fire and brimstone preacher in the Florence of Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello, Leonardo (and other “Ninja turtles”), tried to hold back the rebirth of Hellenistic reason by whipping the masses into riots of destruction called the bonfires of the vanities. People were threatened with damnation if they did not bring out art, books, maps, clothing, to throw onto the pyres of superstition and pure power mania. At one, a bench was thrown from the Doge’s Tower, and it broke the arm off of Michelangelo’s magnificent sculpture, David. Today most Americans would recognize the Ninja Turtles but not the actual great artists who, along with Petrarch, Dante, Boccaccio, Copernicus, Galileo, Hans Lippershey, Jan van Eyck, Rubens, Christopher Clavius, and others, who helped to wrench the West out of a millennium of darkness. Three-dimensional thinking struggled to re-emerge and with it, analytical objectivity. Humanism turned out attention back to this world with an optimism that we could change. We could do better. The artists and scientists/philosophers proved we could. Cervantes proved that human, all too human aspiration was often nobler than the so-called nobles.
The descent of darkness happened almost a thousand years earlier. In AD 529, a small band of about 12 scholars and students escaped the final destruction of Plato’s revered Academy, which had lasted nearly a thousand years. They made their way via footpaths through the hills seeking freedom from religion under the Sassanid king Khosrau in Baghdad. Damascius would be the last headmaster of Plato’s illustrious school that had educated countless intellectuals, including Cicero, who tried to stop the fall of the Roman Republic. The world would have to wait over a 1000 years to see a rebirth in honest intellectual work. And so, it did but as a struggle.
The Renaissance revived ancient modernity, but it has, from its launch, been threatened by powerful medieval forces who wish to deny truth-finding and to engender on a mass scale fear, ignorance, and blind obedience to personalities. Bertrand Russell put it best when he said that the current god is either a fiction, or much worse, an omnipotent and omniscient psychopath. This god demands that you love and worship him, and him only, or he will punish you with eternal, unimaginable torture. This god is like a jilted lover who will not leave you alone but instead spies on your every move, your every thought, your every emotion. This god will not leave you alone if you don’t choose him. No. He is a stalker with relentless power and vengeful malice.
No wonder millions converted. And abject terror won over reason. It is the classic cult strategy. You are inherently flawed, “fallen.” You must be saved. There is only one who can save you. All other sources of information must be eliminated, lest they contaminate you. This is the con that leads to absolute power over body and mind reducing all, except the one (and his lieutenants/enforcers), to tyrannized sheep. This is the constant struggle of humanity – to escape from mega-bullies and find independence to think freely without constant threat. The struggle is humanity against the superhuman unimaginable Other, naturalism versus supernaturalism, freedom from super-visional surveillance. The belief in equality versus the belief that some have innate supernatural powers that the rest cannot achieve. Modernity sees all individuals as having a right to life and the pursuit of happiness without harassment. Modernity sees all as having the freedom to compete, and with that, meritocracy which leads to a better society overall. But the old dark ways claim that god has chosen certain people and that only they have gifts and one must convert or be cast into hell. School, public school for everyone, embodies the belief in the mutability of the individual. That through education, anyone can learn and achieve, invent, and progress, and not by abject submission to some supernatural Other power. All of this context can be explanatory, but it also demonstrates a pattern into which one can insert the case of the U.S. today. Marion, Ohio, is a microcosmic version of a world where supernatural laws of economics that are governed by divine will withhold prosperity. These laws transcend all contingencies and explain them. Why did the demigods of economics withhold prosperity? Because the workers were not worthy, they would not work endlessly for little or nothing. They dared to try to be equal to the overlords. Max Weber would tell us that their great sin was to embody the Protestant Work Ethic but also to presume to try to exercise freedom and agency (worker’s rights to collective bargaining). When they dared to withhold their labor, they doomed themselves. The punishment was the destruction of their lives. It was total. And all told them it was their fault and that the fates were logical – governed by laws of economics. Nothing personal. It’s just business.
So as the rust was growing, increasingly people were trying to “get out of there.” I went to college. Failure for me was not an option. My mom had a high school diploma. My Dad had an 8th-grade education. They were not super well educated, but they were smart, and they could see things were going wrong and that the world they lived in was fast vanishing. In today’s U.S., my Dad would not stand a chance. He defended a country that spawned a generation of college business majors who belittled him, the guy who handed them a free country. And his son, me… if I were young today, I would never see the inside of a college campus without incurring massive debt. Back in the America that was trying to open up the potential of desegregation and greater opportunities of women, back in that revolutionary America filled with turmoil and promise, our family lived on one paycheck. We lived in a nice three-bedroom, one bath house in a good neighborhood. My parents had new Fords and Chryslers and took a vacation fishing in Ontario once a year. I had my teeth straightened and went to college. And… my parents saved probably 25 percent of their money. You can’t do that today, not with their backgrounds. Progress? Not from my window. The great Reagan Revolution? It was reactionary. My generation was the last to reap the benefits of the New Deal, the GI Bill, and the post-war prosperity. I was so lucky.
My father, LeRoy, had been a bill collector for Ohio Edison. It paid relatively well. He had a company car – a little black Falcon with the Ohio Edison sign on the side. He also worked as a meter-reader. I remember him walking all day through snowstorms to read meters. That was not easy, but when he was promoted to bill collections, he hated that. It wore him down. Sunday nights he couldn’t sleep because the next day he had to go to work. He had to drive out and ask for the money or pull the meter and let people sit in the dark with rotting food. Day after day, he saw, close up, the devastation of factory closures. Of course, he never visited the people who paid their bill, only those who were three or more months behind. He got in trouble for paying some peoples’ bills himself. I think a grateful person called in and told his supervisor not knowing it would get him in trouble. I remember there was a little Black church he talked about. They had nothing. But the preacher was always very kind when he went out to collect. He paid their bill a few times. He watched people get desperate and get mean. Thankfully not many had guns then. That bit of “progress” would come despite Reagan and Brady getting shot, and, in their hypocrisy, trying to stop the wheel of the gun lobby the GOP had started rolling. What had once been an organization that mostly taught gun safety, the NRA morphed into a political action organ for gun manufacturers. Irony of ironies. Some threatened my Dad. He understood their anger, but he had a job to do. He retired as soon as he could.
So, I could see early on, and thanks to my parents, that the place was falling apart. And my parents insisted I go to college or die trying. When I went, my attitude was I could not fail, period. And more than a few other kids I knew in college had the exact same attitude. Some understood that higher ed was one of the few paths to stability. Both of my parents Helen and LeRoy grew up into adulthood during the Great Depression and war years. All they had known was a hardscrabble life until the post-war prosperity began to materialize. They had managed to get through and didn’t want to see the family back-slide. Ohio University cost about $2,500 per year (three quarters), room, board, fees, everything but books, and walking around money. That’s an academic year. That’s less than $12,000 in 2020 dollars (adjusted for inflation). Back then, factory workers with little education could afford to send their kids to college and even take vacations up on Lake Erie. The smart ones knew it wasn’t going to last. Many like my parents had little education, true, but they read more than many today, and what they read was solid journalism, not the garbage that permeates the Internet today. And they watched the evening news. They did things like sew and build flowerbeds because there was no Internet or cable T.V. to waste time on. Billionaires did not exist. The middle class existed. Then the country changed. Unions were attacked, factories moved overseas, government programs were cut, automation took over, salaries stagnated or went down, wealth dramatically shifted upward. Carter, a nuclear engineer for the Navy and entrepreneur, had been President, but oil men and OPEC managed regime change by cranking up oil prices and cutting supplies. Gas shortages killed Carter and ushered in a new ideology and new kind of leader, the third-rate celebrity brand. Powerful interests had their puppet. The country took off into a frenzy of deregulation and greed. Wealth consolidated.
Media consolidated and was purchased by increasingly conservative interests who wanted to use it for ideological reasons. Here the Democrats were suckers. It was Jimmy Carter who personally intervened to allow Rupert Murdoch to purchase U.S. media. The law had been that mass media had to have majority ownership in the hands of U.S. citizens. Murdoch is Australian. Carter helped fix that and even helped secure U.S. tax dollars for Murdoch’s ambitions. You think National Inquirer is vulgar, look at what the Murdoch family has done hacking the phone of a teen suicide victim in England and worse.
Rolling Stone Aug 3, 2011:
Yes, Reagan and his FCC chair Mark Fowler (who I personally debated in 1987) did damage to the public sphere by eliminating the Fairness Doctrine that attempted to assure “honest, equitable, and balanced” content. Like so much right-wing rhetoric, Fox would take those words and turn them inside out and upside down. Reagan and later Pres Bush I blocked all attempts to reinstate some form of fairness in media messaging with presidential vetoes. But Democrats, in their naivete, also did serious and irreversible damage. Like Murdoch’s successful manipulation of Carter, Clinton was suckered by talk of “competition.”Whenever the biggest guy on the block is promoting competition, it’s because they 1) know they will win, and then 2) after eliminating all competition, they can make sure there is no more. Bill Clinton’s FCC deregulated media even more. His massive restructuring of media regulation, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, opened the flood gates to monopoly and unregulated hate speech across America. It killed the 7/7/7 rule that had served the country by assuring diversity of voices since 1934. Clinton’s deregulation meant that a single company was no longer restricted in how many radio stations it could own and operate. So, ownership plummeted while the number of transmitters went up. A few national voices took over, and local and regional voices died. Irony of ironies… one deserved… his wife Hillary suffered the consequence of one more of his stupid actions. The conspiracy of the right-wing media (especially right-wing talk radio) was real and destructive. It successfully turned her great career of public service into a sorted tale of endless conspiracy and rumor-mongering and false charges of corruption. The mechanism was put into place by the Clinton FCC and its naïve notion of “competition,” leading to much much less competition, not more. Voices disappeared. Carter launched Murdoch and Clinton, Limbaugh. Hilarious, if it were not horrible for our democracy.
All those GOP supporters out there, well, unlike your grandparents and parents, you can’t do an editorial, perform music, tell a story, or promote a local activity on your local radio station because it’s now an empty building turned into a repeater station for syndicated content originating far far away -- culturally, geographically, and economically. All the voices that used to exist have been replaced by fewer and fewer like Limbaugh from coast-to-coast. They promote hate and anger. No diversity, no discussion, no interviews even.Just endless pedantic demagoguing. Similarly, you can’t have an op-ed in your local newspaper because it too is gone. Your kid’s little league home run, your bowling championship, your business promotion, will not be reported anywhere. You guys wanted no voice and power… you got it. The omegas fell over each other to prove their undying love for the dear leader. As many historians, such as Shawn Rosenberg, have noted, one of the greatest ironies of all is that democracies have elected to become dictatorships. Hitler won elected office before he eliminated elections. We may be doing the same thing. How does it happen? First, you have to dumb-down education. Starve all public institutions, including schools. Also, create economic conditions where both parents MUST work in order to survive so the family is fractured, and the kids raise themselves. Then manipulate the masses into freely giving up their liberty and opportunity, even fighting and chanting at rallies to have it taken away. You have to let rich and powerful people change the laws so that they can concentrate even more wealth and power.Today, iHeartMedia is the largest corporation with 855 radio stations under its name across the nation [what had been radio stations were gutted and converted into repeater stations with no staff. Local news and talent disappeared, replaced by voices like Limbaugh across hundreds of stations]. The Telecommunications Act was supposed to open the market to more and new radio station ownership. Instead, it created an opportunity for a media monopoly. Larger corporations could buy out smaller independent stations, which affected the diversity of music played on air. Instead of D.J.s and music directors having control of what is played, market researchers and consultants are handling the programming, which lessens the chance of independent artists and local talent being played on air. This is a primary reason, so many artists on air have the same sound. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 deregulation of the radio industry has had a negative impact on the public and musicians. It has promoted less competition and variety in programming. “Deregulation has damaged radio as a public resource.”
Since the rust started growing on the closed factories, we have never really recovered. Now kids take on severe and enslaving debt for education in the hope of making themselves exploitable by huge corporations whose allegiance is to investors, not workers. Half of America has little to no hope of gaining ground. Media was deregulated, and a relentless drumbeat of anti-intellectualism and hate-speech commenced. I see no going back to rules for responsible broadcasting. The FCC once enforced rules such as the Equal Time Rule that assured people who were attacked, and did not own media, would have a chance to respond and defend themselves. That combined with massive consolidation of all media into a handful of corporations has drastically simplified our worldview, making us have a drop in collective cognitive complexity. So, we have become tribal. Everything is simple. Us versus them. A few conglomerates own all the media and have converted much of it to propaganda purposes, and that has changed the culture.
First cable T.V. was supposed to fix the problem of access by eliminating scarcity. Reagan pushed that scenario to ease regulation. But it has never been an issue of quantity but instead the quality of content. Even though there were fewer channels before spectrum space was artificially created via cable, there was a greater diversity of voices. That is because there were many more owners than today. After deregulation destroyed competition and opened the door to endless cruel and vulgar monologues on talk radio, the Internet was supposed to fix everything. Those who were skeptical like me were supposed to be people who don’t understand the new technology. But I have a Ph.D. in telecommunications and actually designed my first two personal computers myself. Michael Rushkoff wrote Cyberia in 1994, a Pollyannaish ode to the new cyber world, and many jumped on the bandwagon. After having kids, he has jumped off that bandwagon and is now concerned with Internet addiction, among other issues. But for a time, Rushkoff and academics I know got goodies from Internet corporations as rewards for all the good press. Like Rushkoff, the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee has also done an about-face. Berners-Lee laments how the Internet has turned into a mess with personal information commodified, added to “big data” to control things in an ever-tightening feedback loop owned and controlled by corporations and a massive playground for the Id with no Superego. Welcome to my side. But it’s too late.
By the end of the 1980s, I was saying this was already evident, but the tidal wave of technophilic worship was everywhere. I was noting that because of Japan’s scarcity of personal space, they had perfected the Walkman, which served to isolate people into audial-optical bubbles on subways. Personal electronics took over the world. The new wave of tech was continuing the process of social fragmentation. T.V. proliferated so that everyone in a family had their own in their bedrooms. No more shared family viewing. And the Walkman made listening to music totally private. Then we got our “personal” computers designed to be used and viewed by just one person at a time. We all fell into the screen world – into a billion portholes searching on our own. The isolation is continuing with headphones and virtual headsets, closing us into private worlds. But yet we meet there. But this form of interaction is not typical. Anonymity has taken normal social checks away, and here we are with 24/7 bullying and all sorts of vulgarity and cruelty.
Back when this was just beginning, I predicted this. Coming from sociology and mass communication and understanding the history of mass comm industries, money, human nature, and advertising, I predicted this would happen. At the same time, most “experts” of the Internet saw it as a wonderful new communication system. They took bits of interpersonal theory from Goffman and Garfinkel and applied them to social media-use and became famous while totally missing the gigantic boat going by behind their backs. The Internet almost immediately became commercialized, just like every other major technology in history. The equality of everyone on the net was a façade. Inequality grew enormously. Kids like Gates and Zuckerberg came to wield huge amounts of wealth and power. Others who tried to maintain a noncommercial field were soon seduced by the obvious potential to push ads in front of our faces. Yahoo, Google, Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube, TikTok, Reddit, Linkedin, Spotify… are all purely commercial entities stacking ads within ads and devising ways to make it impossible to avoid ads popping up in the middle of other content and tracking with you as you scroll.
That all of this would become one gigantic advertising mash was obvious to mass media scholars, and the motive for the development of applications was also obvious to anyone who has read Thorstein Veblen, Herbert Marcuse, Harold Innis, Ben Bagdikian, Vance Packard, Lewis Mumford, Armand Mattelart, or even derivative writers such as Joshua Meyrowitz, Michael Schudson, and Robert McChesney. This is the algorithmic version of what German artists such as Gerhard Richter and Konrad Lueg call capitalist realism. No alternative can be imagined. Money is truth. Money is reality. Consumption is nature. Of course, the Internet would become consumed consumerism.
So now we can’t regulate ourselves because self-control, discipline, integrity, community standards (any limits on behavior any restraint or constraint) have all been defined as barriers to liberty and enterprise, the real reality and purpose of life – the utopia of personal action – hypertrophic egoism. I don’t see how that can be reversed. About half of America lives a few paychecks from being homeless. Many drift back-and-forth between poverty with a roof and temporary homeless conditions. The virtual is the new escape. Technology, essentially, and as Archimedes teaches us, is merely a way to amplify force, to intensify and extend our actions, drives, wants, desires. It is an amplification of our own capacities. It is a prosthesis process that extends what we already are. It is quantity. It magnifies our biases. The Internet is just another way to make money, posture, and kill time. But it is massive, and it enables the massification of messaging and the acceleration of wealth accumulation. We pile up “likes,” “friends,” and “followers.” We become “influencers” that have been influenced into striving to become influencers. And the quantitative difference (massive reach), the ubiquity, and seductive slickness have profound consequences. It is a lubricant. It makes grazing for the sheep so easy. We “surf.” And yet, we are tracked. And we quickly follow rutted paths, which this too, is no surprise to those who understand human nature. The echo chamber is born. Habits form and addictions of redundant minds become easy to predict and sell. Time wastes away. Obesity expands. Stimulation is demanded. And we seek the endorphin induced pleasure of seeing our biases amplified and intensified. Our egos expand. We have our champions who say what we want to hear.
Back when the country had a viable working class, and I was part of it, I mowed yards and was able to save up enough money to buy a new Mercury Capri when I was 15 for $2,300 tag, title, and tax. My Dad let me do all the negotiations myself. I drove that car all the way through grad school. As a teenager, I spent a couple of summers working fishing camps in northern Ontario. There I learned very valuable lessons about hard work, quietude, and solitude. I went to university in 1975. I studied pretty much as hard as I could, wrestled, fenced, and played rugby.I had no interest in fraternities, which, at Ohio University in 1975, were unpopular and going-out-of-business. I believe they are booming these days again. Rugby was a club sport and doable. My dorm had one broken T.V. down in the lobby, and one payphone in the lobby. We all had mailboxes in the lobby, and that’s how we communicated with home.
When we went to college… we left home for good. Now kids Skype home all the time, Facebook, and boomerang. Even if the T.V. worked, we probably could not get any channels. Cable was just beginning. There was no Internet. So, we all talked to each other, had fun, and studied. Each floor had a study room, and that was full of newspapers kids’ parents had subscribed to for them. We had multiple copies of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Columbus Dispatch, The Blade from Toledo, the Dayton Daily News, The Cincinnati Herald, and The Cincinnati Inquirer, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Detroit Free Press, The Akron Beacon Journal (once the flagship paper of Knight), The Youngstown Vindicator, The Louisville Courier-Journal, the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Mother Jones, Playboy, Road and Track, Motor Trend, Newsweek, Time, Rolling Stone, U.S. News and World Report… We even had a couple of kids from New York and New Jersey, so we had the New York Times and the Trenton Times. We read because there wasn’t much else to do, and high-quality material was lying around everywhere -- content written and edited by pros. It helped us learn to write and to think. And yes, we had the Marion Star, which at the time was still a real newspaper. Now it is an ad sheet operated out of a different town, Mansfield.
I was in Guatemala and Belize in 1978. It was a mess. Guatemala was in the height of a civil war. Government forces were attacking peasants and committing genocide against the Mayan population. A string of military dictators dominated the politics fo the times. In 1976 a massive earthquake had destroyed several cities in Guatemala with over 25,000 dead. When I was there, in 1978, General Romeo Lucas Garcia had taken power in a fraudulent election. Corruption had made a recovery from the earthquake impossible. Guerilla groups such as the Organization of the People in Arms (ORPA) and Guerilla Army of the Poor (EGP) were operating. Paramilitary groups were responding with brutal counter-insurgency campaigns. Salvadoran and Nicaraguan guerillas were involved. And Guatemalan government forces had been rampaging through the country with “death squads” for years. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter banned all military aid to the government due to widespread and systematic human rights atrocities. Army massacres were far too common. Reagan reversed that to help the “freedom fighters” of Central America, many drug dealing dictators. Guatemalans were fleeing north to Mexico and the US. On top of this, Guatemala claimed to own Belize.
Then, I visited China in early 1984. Mao had died just about seven years earlier. Deng Xiaoping was dismantling agricultural collectivization and creating special economic zones where state-owned enterprises were beginning to interface with the West. Communist leaders and cronies were privatizing everything in what they called “state capitalism.” I passed through the countryside, and it was primitive. Most were peasants. Very few cars or trucks. Very few. The one main road was just useable. I went to Guangzhou (old Canton) on the Pearl River. There was only one modern hotel, and that was the only place non-Chinese were allowed to stay. It rose high above the rest of the sprawling city that was very poor. I got up before dawn and walked through the city. People stared at me. I believe they had never seen a white person. I could still see burn marks on many beautifully carved old doors from the rampages of the Cultural Revolution. No doubt such craftsmanship was deemed bourgeois. None of this exists now. Now it is the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area megalopolis in the Pearl River Delta. The entire area is hyper industrial and all new.
Then I went to Eastern Europe, and while I was there the great Soviet empire fell apart, genocide was happening in Bosnia-Herzegovina, just a few miles from where I lived. Turkey, a NATO country, was threatening to bomb Bosnia by also violating Greek (also a NATO member) airspace for the flyover. And former Soviet operators were stealing all the assets by “privatizing” them, while the population was falling deeper into economic depression. Corruption was rampant, and fledging democratic efforts were struggling. While I was there, Russia went through its great constitutional crisis. Through 1991-1993 Boris Yeltsin and Gorbachev who was Soviet President and General Secretary were rivals. They were, in their own ways, struggling to contain the old hardliners in the Russian parliament until there was finally a coup (the “August Putsch”) attempt, and Gorbachev was abducted in August 1991. Yeltsin had become the first democratically elected President of the new Russian republic just a month earlier in July 1991. The Soviet system was beginning to come apart, and hardline Communist Party members were fighting to stop it. Yeltsin essentially rescued Gorbachev, and in the process of confronting the hardliners, he became politically more powerful than Gorbachev. Immediately after the failed coup, all the Soviet Republics declared independence. It was an extremely chaotic and tense time. The great empire was collapsing. Once the slide started, things were moving extremely fast. Yeltsin was pushing to free Russia itself from single-party control. The Communist Party still existed, and its hardliners attempted to retake Russia. In October 1993, Yeltsin tried to disband the Supreme Soviet and Congress of People’s Deputies. Hardliners seized the Russian “Whitehouse” (Parliament building) and refused to leave, claiming that they were the legitimate government. Yeltsin ordered the Russian army and interior forces to attack the hardliners. For a second time in a year, tanks literally rolled into Moscow. The great nuclear power was on the brink of total meltdown. Armed conflict ensued, and some hardliners who were armed and fighting were killed. The rest were removed, bringing to an end the Communist Party rule of Russia. Yeltsin was popular for a while, but his ineptitude and corruption among his children led to the rise of Putin. Then the Murrah Federal Building bombing happened in my backyard… And now, the pandemic.
In my later years, I’ve enjoyed peace and quiet. I was gone too much and doing too many things. Now my great struggle is to get students to read and to appreciate what they have inherited. What kills freedom? Indifference and ignorance. Those are my enemies.