August 25, 2008

Psst -- While You Were Gibbering, the Ruling Class Rigged the Game and Won Everything (I): The Personal Touch

As I consider the stunningly trivial and monumentally stupid commentary offered by almost everyone in this election season, a season that already promises to be among the most ghoulishly and sickeningly dishonest of my lifetime (which is not short at this point), I am often brought up short by one question that forces itself into my consciousness many times a day: How did it come to be that so many people are so willing to believe and propagate so many lies? How and when did it become close to impossible to state the truth on almost any subject, or to have the truth acknowledged and taken seriously?

It is a lazy and invalid response to state, without even an offer of proof, that people are just rotten and stupid. If that is your response in some form, I'm tempted to come back with this: "Speak for yourself, you son of a bitch." Unless you believe in Original Sin -- and where, pray tell (as it were), is your proof for that disgusting idea, except in the most primitive of superstitions? -- it is contemptible to condemn all of humanity because you cannot be troubled to explain a profoundly damaging phenomenon, one that has distorted and almost completely destroyed our ability to have any kind of genuinely meaningful public debate. Oh, my; that reminds me of the phrase "national discourse," a formulation that causes me to shudder in revulsion (see: "'Regrettable Misjudgments': The Shocking Immorality of Our Constricted Thought").

But the widespread acceptance of lies on every imaginable subject is worthy of serious investigation. I don't see anyone else trying to engage this subject in a systematic manner, going back to some of the original causes. So, with considerable reluctance, I shall have to do so myself, and I will have to begin my series on the various kinds of tribalism and their immensely destructive effects, including tribalism of the contemporary political variety. I shall begin that series this week; I know that I've promised to begin it several times before, but I have to do it now. I say I "have to" because it is impossible to make sense of the absolute wreck of our culture and the suffocating shroud of lies without understanding certain dynamics. Besides, my ability to focus on narrowly political topics is severely limited now. To put it simply, I do not enjoy handling shit all day long. And that's all our politics is now: unending, unadulterated, mind- and life-destroying shit. When I begin the tribalism series, I will explain why I enter into this discussion with reluctance. I do not expect that series to be widely read, nor do I expect many people to agree with what I will say. But I'm quite used to that by now. At the moment, though, I still need to deal with some of the day-to-day crap, for certain connections need to be made.

I've discussed most people's acceptance of lies in many essays. As just a few examples: "Obama's Whitewash" (and the excerpt from an earlier piece of mine at the outset of that essay seems to have become my watchword); "The Mythology of the 'Good Guy' American"; in a slightly different form, "Of Abortion, and Women as the Ultimate Source of Evil" (so much for the allegedly propitious effects of religion); and this further discussion of the many lies associated with the Obama candidacy. Lies would be bad enough; what is still worse is that the truth has been inverted completely. Obama has adopted every critical view of the ruling class, as he would have to since he intends to be the ultimate ruler of that class. Historically, and still today -- since cultural attitudes and beliefs develop over long periods of time and can only be altered over similarly lengthy time frames -- the ruling class is a white, male ruling class. In addition, Obama has fully adopted the myth of "American exceptionalism" -- which is a myth of white American exceptionalism. All this means that it is Obama himself who has adopted the white racist framework.

Yes, I repeat that: Obama has adopted the white racist framework with regard to every issue of importance. Here's a comparatively minor example (although not so minor for the undeserving targets of Obama's dishonest criticisms); see the other essays linked above for further, broader examples. Yet for pointing this out -- and supporting my argument with many facts and examples from both history and the present -- I am the racist. It's enough to drive you insane.

This election campaign will be especially awful for anyone still capable of the most minimal kind of rigorous thought, in significant part because we have the triple- or quadruple-twist of the Obama lies on top of all the lies that are regularly trotted out every four years (and on a lesser scale, every two). We are told about how "important" it is that we vote -- although for many of us (including me, since I live in California), our votes are altogether meaningless on the presidential level, to say nothing of newer voting methods, which make one wonder if all of this is nothing but a charade for idiots -- and we are told of the glories of "participatory democracy" and how splendiferous it is to hear "the people's voice."

These are the idiotically empty cliches and slogans of our civic religion, which serve to drug "the people" into apathy, into granting the ruling class still more power, into taking part in these vacuous exercises in "democracy," and into colluding in a massive coverup of the truth of what has transpired over more than a century and is now set in stone: this is government of the ruling class, by the ruling class, and for the ruling class. Barring severe economic collapse (more than possible), widespread global war (also more than possible), repeated natural catastrophes (similarly more than possible), it shall not perish from the earth -- until it implodes as the result of its own rot and corruption, as have all similar systems in the past. Assuming disasters on a massive scale don't occur, it's probably here for your lifetime at least.

"It's Called the Ruling Class Because It Rules" details how the ruling class consolidated its grip on state and private power, and made that grip all but impregnable. The major mechanism utilized by the ruling class was the intermingling of state power with private interests of vast wealth and influence. This is what Gabriel Kolko calls "political capitalism," and what I (and others) often refer to as "corporatism." Most of today's progressives don't know much, and what they don't know could fill many books -- including Kolko's, The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900-1916. I offered some excerpts from Kolko's book in the earlier post, preceded by these comments:
Kolko's work hit the world of historians and of historical analysis with tremendous force. He performed significant original research -- and the results of his research upended what had come to be accepted as the conventional narrative of the Progressive era. Much additional research since the publication of Kolko's book has confirmed the accuracy of his analysis. At one time, it would have been somewhat understandable for progressives to regard the opening decades of the twentieth century as a testament to the "benevolent" powers of government, operating to constrain rapacious business practices on behalf of "the common man" and "the common good." Today, nearly half a century after Kolko's book was first published in 1963, there is no excuse whatsoever for people who are politically active and who regard themselves as at all knowledgeable about political history to be so profoundly in error about this critical period. Yet today's liberals and progressives appear to understand next to nothing about what actually happened during those years.
Since many people tend not to follow links, here are some crucial passages from Kolko:
The American political experience during the Progressive Era was conservative, and this conservatism profoundly influenced American society's response to the problems of industrialization. The nature of the economic process in the United States, and the peculiar cast within which industrialism was molded, can only be understood by examining the political structure. Progressive politics is complex when studied in all of its aspects, but its dominant tendency on the federal level was to functionally create, in a piecemeal and haphazard way that was later made more comprehensive, the synthesis of politics and economics I have labeled "political capitalism."

The varieties of rhetoric associated with progressivism were as diverse as its followers, and one form of this rhetoric involved attacks on businessmen -- attacks that were often framed in a fashion that has been misunderstood by historians as being radical. But at no point did any major political tendency dealing with the problem of big business in modern society ever try to go beyond the level of high generalization and translate theory into concrete economic programs that would conflict in a fundamental way with business supremacy over the control of wealth. It was not a coincidence that the results of progressivism were precisely what many major business interests desired.

Ultimately businessmen defined the limits of political intervention, and specified its major form and thrust. They were able to do so not merely because they were among the major initiators of federal intervention in the economy, but primarily because no politically significant group during the Progressive Era really challenged their conception of political intervention. The basic fact of the Progressive Era was the large area of consensus and unity among key business leaders and most political factions on the role of the federal government in the economy. There were disagreements, of course, but not on fundamentals. The overwhelming majorities on votes for basic progressive legislation is testimony to the near unanimity in Congress on basic issues.


The Presidents considered -- as they must be -- as actors rather than ideologists, hardly threatened to undermine the existing controllers of economic power.


This essential unanimity extended to the area of ideologies and values, where differences between the Presidents were largely of the sort contrived by politicians in search of votes, or seeking to create useful images. None of the Presidents had a distinct consciousness of any fundamental conflict between their political goals and those of business. Roosevelt and Wilson especially appreciated the significant support business gave to their reforms, but it was left to Wilson to culminate the decade or more of agitation by providing precise direction to the administration of political capitalism's most important consequences in the Progressive Era.


This identification of political and key business leaders with the same set of social values -- ultimately class values -- was hardly accidental, for had such a consensus not existed the creation of political capitalism would have been most unlikely. Political capitalism was based on the functional utility of major political and business leaders. The business and political elites knew each other, went to the same schools, belonged to the same clubs, married into the same families, shared the same values -- in reality, formed that phenomenon which has lately been dubbed The Establishment.


Yet a synthesis of business and politics on the federal level was created during the [First World War], in various administrative and emergency agencies, that continued throughout the following decade. Indeed, the war period represents the triumph of business in the most emphatic manner possible. With the exception of a brief interlude in the history of the Federal Trade Commission, big business gained total support from the various regulatory agencies and the Executive. It was during the war that effective, working oligopoly and price and market agreements became operational in the dominant sectors of the American economy.
If you take away only one sentence from these excerpts, it should be this one: "It was not a coincidence that the results of progressivism were precisely what many major business interests desired." In other words: major business interests captured government and state power, and used that power for their own ends. Those ends included "stabilization" of market forces, which meant that already vested business interests would not be threatened by new competitors (of which there had been many, until progressive policies squelched those found most troubling by already favored business interests), and the entrenchment of the ruling class into the foreseeable future.

This amalgamation of major business interests with state power, this system of oligopoly and governance of, by and for the ruling class, has metastasized beyond imagining since the Progressive era. It has expanded in every direction and subsumed virtually every industry and business in America, large and small. It is this system of "political capitalism" that dictates domestic and foreign policy, including a foreign policy of endless war, preparation for war, and various forms of "cleaning up" after war. You the ordinary citizen, you "the people," figure nowhere in this -- except to provide the necessary labor and, when required, your blood and your life.

Thus, I wrote in the previous article:
In yesterday's post, I referred to many progressives' "idiotic belief in the stupid, childish vision of America, an America that is still noble if flawed, still capable of being fully redeemed." A great many conservatives share the same fundamental vision, for most Americans subscribe to the identical mythology. Reading Kolko, and understanding the mechanisms by which government and business band together for their common goal -- the protection of the interests of the most wealthy and powerful for, they hope, perpetuity, and the use of the unanswerable power of the state as their enforcer -- reveal that my characterization was hardly too severe. Various online liberals regularly indulge in notably treacly, self-flattering, vacuous sentimentality -- "the American public," indeed (which, to the extent it can be identified, is an ignorant and frequently violent ass) -- but as I discussed in "The Elites Who Rule Us" (and here as well, on a narrower issue), the American government does not exist to serve "the people," whoever the hell they are. It serves the ruling class: it provides them with untold weath and power, it coddles them, it nurtures them, and it makes them still richer and still more powerful. There is no conflict between the aims of business and of government; their aims are identical on every point of importance. You, "the people," do not figure in their calculations. Their nods to "serving the people" are, as I regularly note, the propaganda used to drug you into unthinking acceptance, and into the willingness to grant them still more power.
If you think the death grip of the ruling class will be threatened in any measurable way by the election of Barack Obama, I pity you. That's one lie you ought to give up, if you wish to have an adult, serious discussion about the massive problem that confronts us. In addition to the material discussed in the Pam Martens articles excerpted here, read Matt Taibbi on "Candidates for Sale":
The truth is that the campaigns of both Barack Obama and John McCain are being inundated with cash from more or less exactly the same gorgons of the corporate scene. From Wall Street to the Big Oil powerhouses to the military-industrial complex, America's fat-cat business leaders know that the Animal House-style party of the last eight years that made almost all of them rich with bonuses, government contracts and bubble profits is about to come to an end, and someone is going to have to pay to clean up the mess. They want that someone to be you, not them, and they've spared no expense to make sure both presidential candidates will be there to bail them out next year.

They're succeeding. Both would-be presidents have already sold us out. They've taken the money and run — completing the cyclical transformation of the American political narrative from one of monopolistic Republican iniquity to an even more depressing tale about the overweening power of corporate money and the essentially fictitious nature of our two-party system.

In layman's terms, we've gone from being screwed to being fucked.
The much more accurate truth is that this "transformation of the American political narrative" was essentially completed during and immediately following the Progressive era, and then enshrined by the New Deal and World War II. We were fucked a very long time ago. What's tragic is that it is only now that a few more people are beginning to notice -- and even now, it is still only a very few additional people. These are truths that no politician will tell you, and that almost no commentators or bloggers will mention. Lies are what sustain you, lies are what you live on, lies are what you demand, and lies are what you'll get and all you'll get. If you keep this up, the lies without end will kill you, and a lot of other people as well.

Proceeding on the belief that it's better to laugh than dissolve in uncontrollable revulsion and hysterics, I have to say that Obama's selection of Biden as his running mate truly reaches new heights of wonderfully funny hypocrisy and lying on a scale that Democrats will still insist are possible only to Republicans. The Democrats are for the "working man/woman," the "average" Joe and Josie, the "little" guy and gal. And the new Vice President might be the man whom many dub the "Senator from MBNA." This is funny shit, man. And this is in addition to everything that is sickening about Biden that I discussed the other day.

I mention the following not because it is unusual or unusually awful, but for the opposite reason: this is how business is done by and for the ruling class, a group that decisively includes Joe Biden. Nothing "average" about this Joe or his family. I have repeatedly argued that the ruling class is not like you and me, and that their lives are nothing like ours. This is the kind of thing that goes on all the time, every day; it is the way their lives are conducted, for members of both parties.

And it sure is nice to be a member of the ruling class:
During the years that Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. was helping the credit card industry win passage of a law making it harder for consumers to file for bankruptcy protection, his son had a consulting agreement that lasted five years with one of the largest companies pushing for the changes, aides to Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign acknowledged Sunday.

Mr. Biden's son, Hunter, received consulting fees from the MBNA Corporation from 2001 to 2005 for work on online banking issues. Aides to Mr. Obama, who chose Mr. Biden as his vice-presidential running mate on Saturday, would not say how much the younger Mr. Biden, who works as both a lawyer and lobbyist in Washington, had received, though a company official had once described him as having a $100,000 a year retainer. But Obama aides said he had never lobbied for MBNA and that there was nothing improper about the payments.
A cool hundred thou a year -- as a retainer, for "consulting." Can I get me some of that?

But there was nothing "improper" about the payments. I suppose they mean it isn't specifically illegal, which is not precisely the same thing. And in any case, the problem isn't what's illegal: the problem is what is legal. Who was it who said:
The law is not some Platonic Form plucked from the skies by the Pure in Heart. Laws are written by men, men who have particular interests, particular constituencies, particular donors, and particular friends. (The same is now true of women as well, of course. But for most of our history, it was men and only men. Straight, white men, to be precise; see here and here.) Laws are the particular means by which the state implements and executes its vast powers. When an increasingly authoritarian state passes a certain critical point in its development, the law is no longer the protector of individual rights and individual liberty. The law becomes the weapon of the state itself -- to protect, not you, but the state from threats to its own powers. We passed that critical point some decades ago. The law is the means by which the state corrals its subjects, keeps them under control, and forbids them from acting in ways that the overlords might perceive as threatening. In brief, today, in these glorious United States, the law is not your friend.
Oh, yes: I said that.

The state means the ruling class; they are one and the same. Take it away, Christopher Layne:
In his book Myths of Empire, Jack Snyder talks about elites "hijacking" the state. This fails to make the point quite strongly enough. Dominant elites do not hijack the state; they are the state. The United States pursued hegemony because that grand strategy has served the interests of the dominant elites that have formed the core of the U.S. foreign policy establishment since at least the late 1930s, when the New Deal resulted in the domestic political triumph of what Thomas Ferguson calls "multinational liberalism." At the core of the multinational liberal coalition were large capital-intensive corporations that looked to overseas markets and outward-looking investment banks. ...

The multinational liberal coalition that cemented its hold on power during the New Deal had its roots deep in the Eastern establishment: it also included the national media, important foundations, the big Wall Street law firms, and organizations such as the Council on Foreign Relations.* This coalition favored economic and political Open Doors and the strategic internationalism that accompanied them. Although the bipartisan consensus among the U.S. foreign policy establishment favoring strategic internationalism and U.S. hegemony that was forged some six decades ago has occasionally been tested -- notably during the Vietnam War -- it has proved remarkably durable. Unless it undergoes a Damascene-like intellectual conversion, as long as the present foreign policy elite remains in power the United States will remain wedded to a hegemonic grand strategy. It probably will take a major domestic political realignment -- perhaps triggered by setbacks abroad or a severe economic crisis at home -- to bring about a change in American grand strategy.
Amazing how knowing something about history helps, isn't it? But most people don't know or understand any of this, so the lies keep being told. And people keep believing them.

The NYT story about the Biden family business tells us: "MBNA employees have given Mr. Biden more than $214,000 in campaign donations over the years, the largest amount in his coffers tied to any single company. But the company's employees have given even more lavishly to President George W. Bush and top Republican lawmakers." Well, MBNA gave "more lavishly" to Bush and the Republicans, so that's okay then. The Democrats are 2% less shitty than Pure Evil! It's all they've got!

I suppose when you tell these lies often enough, you don't vomit as much. The Times story has this, too:
The financial services industry began seeking relief from Congress in the mid-1990s from an increase in bankruptcies that was cutting into its profits. Its initial support came from Republican lawmakers, who repeatedly introduced bills to make it more difficult for consumers to erase their debts. During that time, executives at MBNA, which was bought in 2006 by Bank of America, began donating heavily to both major political parties and many national politicians, including Mr. Biden.

In late 1996, the company hired the younger of Mr. Biden's two sons, Robert Hunter Biden, known as Hunter, who had just graduated from Yale Law School, as a lawyer. The company promoted Mr. Biden to senior vice president by early 1998. And after the younger Mr. Biden worked at the Commerce Department on electronic commerce issues from 1998 to 2001, MBNA hired him back on a monthly consulting contract to advise it on such issues, aides said.

Consumer advocates say that Senator Biden was one of the first Democratic leaders to support the bankruptcy bill, and he voted for it four times — in 1998, 2000, 2001 and in March 2005, when its final version passed the Senate by a vote of 74 to 25.

Travis Plunkett, legislative director of the Consumer Federation of America, a consumer group that opposed the bill, said that Senator Biden had provided a "veneer of bipartisanship" that eventually helped the credit card companies win over other Democrats. "He provided cover to other Democrats to do what the credit industry was urging them to do," Mr. Plunkett said.

Aides to the Obama campaign said Sunday that Senator Biden's goal was always to strike a workable compromise between the competing interests on the bankruptcy bill, and that he was not influenced by his son's work for MBNA or the campaign donations.
Noble Joe wasn't influenced by any of this. And still they don't vomit! This is truly impressive shit, man.

So it goes for the ruling class. Have no fear: our survey of the lives and power enjoyed by the ruling class is far from complete. And we haven't even considered the extent to which the ruling class likes to bomb and murder people who couldn't possibly threaten them. It's just a fun thing to do, doncha know. Good for business and all. And it most definitely is "The American Way of Doing Business." Lying the United States into war didn't begin with George Bush, as impossible as it seems to be for certain brain dead partisans to understand that. See also, Clinton's Murderous Adventures in Yugoslavia.

To be continued.