June 14, 2012

The Nightmare Gathers Force

In writing about the ongoing crisis facing Greece (and Europe generally), commentators often advance the notion that what is occurring in Greece in particular provides a preview of what will happen in the United States if we continue on our current path. Conservative and neoliberal writers (but I repeat myself) proclaim that this necessitates governments becoming far more brutal in their dedication to "austerity": that is, the ruling class must be extravagantly ruthless, without surcease, in depriving those who are without power, wealth and privilege of every means of sustaining their lives. One of the assumptions of our "betters" is that truly deserving, "good" people will nonetheless manage to survive, and perhaps thrive, even in the midst of resources and possibilities for action that diminish daily. We are told that this is one of America's greatest virtues: anyone who is hardworking and dedicated, who genuinely "makes the effort," can succeed -- because, of course, the ruling class's success has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that they have long been favored by privilege and power, often from birth. To the contrary: the ruling class is the ruling class because of their magnificent virtue and hard work. They deserve their privilege, power and wealth. And you? If you can't manage to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps -- even though the last bootstrap was destroyed a generation or two ago, and even though you are unable to grasp a bootstrap or anything else since the ruling class cut off your hands -- well, you deserve to die.

The New York Times has a story on this theme which details a grim, unrelenting reality: "Dread and Uncertainty Pervade Life in a Diminished Greece." Here are a few revealing passages:
From its wealthy northern suburbs to the concrete blocks of downtown, there is a sense of an endgame in Athens. “It’s the last days of Pompeii,” said Aris Chatzistefanou, a co-director of “Debtocracy,” a provocative 2011 documentary about the Greek crisis ...

Giorgos, a 27-year-old economics major who did not want to reveal his last name, said the sense of uncertainty was oppressive

“There is a depression in the Greek people, in all my friends,” said Giorgos, who has put off plans to open a frozen yogurt shop. “They keep saying: ‘I can’t take it. There’s depression about our jobs, depression on the news, depression about the economic situation, depression in our family, depression and fighting among friends.’
The immense psychological toll and the sense of desperation are further underscored:
Highly educated young people are desperate to emigrate. Families are putting their property up for sale to pay debts. Banks long ago stopped lending. Casual conversations between friends end in tears.
Here are some numbers:
Saddled with debts to foreign lenders, Greece is in its fifth consecutive year of recession. The uncertainty, political and economic, has brought the economy to a standstill. Private sector salaries dropped 22.5 percent in 2011, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. New figures released last week show unemployment at 22 percent, rising to nearly 30 percent for Greeks 25 to 34 years old.
The Times describes how "the country is becoming more politically polarized between left and right." There's "the leftist party" (Syriza), "its conservative rival" (New Democracy) -- and there's even a "neo-Nazi, anti-immigrant Golden Dawn party," whose spokesman physically assaulted two female left-wing lawmakers on live television.

Perhaps those of us who seek to understand what happened in earlier eras can find ghoulish consolation in this: everything conspires to take us directly into the heart of the 1930s.

I'm certain that a full and more accurate picture of what is occurring in Greece is far worse than what the Times offers. In my ongoing series, I'm discussing how the Times article about Obama's "Kill List" represents the story the government wants to tell. In a more general sense, and because the NYT is a notably valuable appendage of the ruling class, the same is true of every story that appears in that venerated publication: the Times is written by and for the ruling class, and by and for those who aspire to rise into its fetid ranks (or descend, depending on your values and perspective). In the name of some perverse "balance," the Times offers a paragraph describing how Greece's economic collapse "has also hit the upper tiers." The soul of any decent human being positively shatters upon reading that a black Porsche 911 Turbo sold for $210,000 only four years ago -- and "[n]ow the customer brought it back to sell it for $97,000." These people are suffering. Quit your damned whining.

I wrote about hideous spectacles of this kind in a lengthy piece a year ago: "Caught Up in Nightmare: Killing Jack Rabbits." Here's one pertinent passage:
If we broaden our perspective, and if we look beyond particular developments and attempt to grasp what is happening over a longer period of time, the nature of the horror that awaits us takes on a clearer shape: The West's ruling class is embarked on a program of killing and elimination. A general caution should be kept in mind. I'm not suggesting that this program is one that the ruling class has explicitly identified, even to itself, at least not necessarily. The ruling class is intent upon increasing its own power and wealth; in one sense, that is its only concern. I suppose, in some fantasy world, the ruling class would be content to enjoy its immense power and wealth while "ordinary" people pursue their own lives of contentment. This, of course, is the goal which the ruling class announces, and which it desperately tries to convince both itself and us is true.

But we don't live in that fantasy world. In this world -- and, I would argue, in any world where brute power is the final means of settling every dispute, especially when that power is consolidated in the State -- the ruling class seeks power and wealth by dominating and controlling the weaker segments of society. The ruling class may not set out to kill those people it finds unnecessary for its aims, but if the ruling class can maintain and increase its power and wealth only by eliminating them, it will eventually eliminate them. This is the logic of the ruling class's desires. It is certainly true that the ruling class could change much of this if it wished to: the productive capacity of both England and the United States could be reinvigorated, and much new wealth could be created and enjoyed by many more members of society. But the ruling class believes that would necessitate the diminishment of its power and wealth, so they will not consider the possibility seriously.

The ruling class dreamed a nightmare, and made it real. We are now caught up in it. For many of us -- certainly for me, and very possibly for you -- the end result is clear: the ruling class intends to kill us. Not today or tomorrow, the ruling class hasn't reached that point of desperation quite yet, but they'll kill us soon enough. We have no value to them; we're superfluous; we're not needed.
"Oh, Arthur," some of my critics occasionally complain. "Why must you always be so extreme? It isn't that bad. And that certainly couldn't ever happen here!" All peoples in all times and places always offer such pathetic denials. Then the logic of events overtakes them; later, they always offer identical, pitifully unconvincing attempts at self-justification: "But no one ever knew it would come to that!" History is virtually non-existent for most people; it's as if nothing ever happened before. Yet with regard to the basics of human nature and behavior -- and until that welcome day when a critical number of people alter their basic mode of being -- it all happened before.

The reference to "jack rabbits" in my earlier essay arises from the horrifying war waged against the Philippines by the United States over a hundred years ago. As I discussed, "the Philippines episode established the pattern the U.S. followed in countless subsequent foreign interventions. It is the identical pattern that the ruling class has begun to reenact in England and the United States (and in other Western countries as well, to be sure)." Add Greece to the list.

Paul Kramer explains who the "jack rabbits" were:
One of the most banal and brutal manifestations of racialization was U.S. soldiers' imagination of war as hunting. The Manila occupation and "friendly policy" had frustrated martial masculinity; the metaphor of the hunt made war, at last, into masculine self-fulfillment. All at once, a language of hunting bestialized Filipinos made sense of guerrilla war to American troops, and joined the latter in manly fraternity. "I don't know when the thing will let out," wrote Louis Hubbard one week into the war, "and don't care as we are having lots of excitement. It makes me think of killing jack rabbits."
Who are the jack rabbits today?

You know the answer.