April 22, 2013

America the Ugly

The scene is dispiriting in its familiarity in a certain kind of cheap, derivative fiction. A gang of bullies -- let's say, a high school gang, although it could be another kind -- finally corners and badly injures the lone, geeky guy (who wears glasses, of course). The gang is made up of big, strong, athletic boys, most of whom weigh at least 100 pounds more than the geeky guy. The geeky guy is smart and clever; he had managed to elude the bullies for a long time. But they get him in the end. There are eight bullies, any one of whom could easily dispatch the geek in a contest of brute strength. And on the geek's side -- well, there isn't anyone else on his side. So the bullies beat him up very badly, even breaking a few bones.

The bullies then celebrate with an orgy of self-congratulation. "We showed him!" "Yeah, no one'll ever mess with us again!" They chant: "We're the best! We're the best!"

This kind of "message" fiction (or "family drama" in television or film) is intended to show what pathetic, even vile people the bullies are. What can there possibly be for the bullies to celebrate, if they were honest for even a second? The odds were all in their favor; it was impossible that the geek would elude them forever. In fact, there was no contest or battle of any kind. Brute, cruel strength visited destruction on a lone, comparatively very weak individual who never had a chance. No one wants to be like the bullies. We want to help the geek, we want to fight on his side.

Yet, as the events in Boston conclusively demonstrated, in America today, almost everyone does want to be like the bullies. They love the bullies. This should come as a surprise to absolutely no one:
Our children are taught that we equate "manliness" and "strength" with close to complete disregard for other people, with emotional repression and insensitivity to the point of catatonia, and with a willingness to resort to physical violence at the slightest provocation, and even in the complete absence of any provocation at all. We tell those people who suffer great emotional pain and even agony, often when they contemplate the terrible suffering of others, to "suck it up" and to have "thicker skins." The greatest virtue is to feel nothing, or as close to nothing as possible. There is one exception: you can feel unreasoning, unfocused rage, and you are free to act on it. You may lash out in any direction you choose. The innocence of your victim is irrelevant.

Our government acts in this manner repeatedly. Our political leaders all applaud it, and offer a lengthy series of "justifications" for our unending national cruelty. ...

[Our children] learned that cruelty and violence are not to be condemned, but constitute the coin of the nightmare realm of our culture: cruelty and violence are enacted many times every day in films, on television, in our personal lives, and by our government on a national and international scale. You will be rewarded for cruelty: the crueler you are, the greater the reward. ...

Our children learn all this, and many more lessons of the same kind. Of course, they are often vicious bullies. Our government is a murderous bully on a scale that beggars description; most politicians are bullies; the majority of adults are bullies to varying degrees. Why wouldn't these children be bullies? It's what they've been taught. In the most crucial ways, it's all they've been taught.

These children are the perfect embodiments of the central values of our culture. They have learned well.
(See "Bullied, Terrorized and Targeted for Destruction: Our Children Have Learned Well" for much more on this theme.)

Such children grow up -- and they become the adults who "celebrated" in Boston, after a vast metropolitan area and millions of people welcomed the bullies into their midst and enthusiastically followed every one of the bullies' orders. I repeat: Americans love the bullies. They want to be exactly like them.

If you can stand it, watch this video of the bullies at work in just a single house. (Thanks to ohtarzie for the tip.) If you haven't yet seen it, I will grant you a kindness in advance: the dog is not killed. A dog puts in an appearance at about the 3:40 mark. And the dog keeps barking periodically. When I first watched it, I started murmuring: "Please, please stop barking." I was sure one of the brave heroes with their terrifying weapons would kill the dog. Miraculously, they don't (at least, the dog is still alive when the video ends). With hideous regularity, dogs are killed by our brave bullies in similar situations.

I am not suggesting for a moment that I would expect or advise anyone to resist when the bullies arrive on your block in their war machines, laden with their war weapons. If I had been in that house, I would have done exactly what I was told to do.

But I wouldn't be grateful for it afterwards. And I certainly would not celebrate, nor would I congratulate myself for my astonishing courage. There are many words to describe the eager prostration before power, and the enthusiastic willingness to ally oneself with the overwhelmingly stronger side. "Courage" is not one of them.

"Bravery" and "strength" are similarly not words that bear any relation to how the vast majority of people in the Boston area chose to act. Among many revealing anecdotes from this cavalcade of bullying bellicosity were the wildly applauded remarks by David Ortiz, one of the Red Sox players: "We want to thank you, Mayor Menino, Governor Patrick, the whole police department for the great job they did this past week. This is our f***ing city, and nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong."

With no exceptions that I saw, our media refused to print or convey (the live utterance aside) what Ortiz actually said: "This is our FUCKING city..." It is doubtless the case that this refusal is yet another instance of remarkable courage and bravery. And: "nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong." It's not every day that you hear people (many people, of whose vast number Ortiz is but one bathetic example) proclaim their independence and strength from the position of submissive prostration.

The comedy didn't end there. Quickly following Ortiz's inspiring and courageous Declaration of Independence (in the revised version to suit the times) came the official benediction for what might have been perceived as an impermissible breach of the language etiquette we recognize as one of the bulwarks of civilization. The head of the FCC tweeted: "David Ortiz spoke from the heart at today's Red Sox game. I stand with Big Papi and the people of Boston - Julius"

This is so ridiculously absurd that I wouldn't dare include such a detail in a novel. I would expect any semi-intelligent reader to throw the book in the trash immediately. Why read a book containing such stupidly outlandish inventions? Millions of people celebrate their own non-existent bravery and courage, which bravery and courage consisted of doing precisely what the bullies demanded, and one of them dares to say FUCK while doing so. Yet another highly-placed bully immediately swoops in, to tell the children (for all such people remain children even if they have grown to adulthood, and children who are very badly damaged psychologically): "It's all right that you said a bad word this one time. You spoke from the heart." And we can hear the implied warning and threat: "Remember: you should always ask permission first. But I'll let it go this once."

Translation: You're taking part in the charade just as we want you to. Julius Genachowski and the other bullies are delighted beyond measure by these events, for the charade's purpose is to glorify the State, and to glorify subservience to State power.

I remind you of Albert Jay Nock's remarks about "mass-man" and the State:
The mass-man, ignorant of [the State's] history, regards its character and intentions as social rather than anti-social; and in that faith he is willing to put at its disposal an indefinite credit of knavery, mendacity and chicane, upon which its administrators may draw at will. Instead of looking upon the State's progressive absorption of social power with the repugnance and resentment that he would naturally feel towards the activities of a professional-criminal organization, he tends rather to encourage and glorify it, in the belief that he is somehow identified with the State, and that therefore, in consenting to its indefinite aggrandizement, he consents to something in which he has a share -- he is, pro tanto, aggrandizing himself. Professor Ortega y Gasset analyzes this state of mind extremely well. The mass-man, he says, confronting the phenomenon of the State, "sees it, admires it, knows that there it is ... Furthermore, the mass-man sees in the State an anonymous power, and feeling himself, like it, anonymous, he believes that the State is something of his own. Suppose that in the public life of a country some difficulty, conflict, or problem, presents itself, the mass-man will tend to demand that the State intervene immediately and undertake a solution directly with its immense and unassailable resources ... When the mass suffers any ill-fortune, or simply feels some strong appetite, its great temptation is that permanent sure possibility of obtaining everything, without effort, struggle, doubt, or risk, merely by touching a button and setting the mighty machine in motion."
This is the mechanism that was on display in Boston, and in much of the United States. (More from Nock and on these issues will be found here.)

But I have only begun to identify the idiocies and horrors revealed by this most recent episode in our national descent into hell. And make no mistake: hell is the destination. We are now closer to it than we were even a week ago.

To be continued.

(I should note that the comment the poster appended to the Youtube video reads: "Boston Bombing Lessons: Martial Law Doesn't Work," with a link to this. As I would hope regular readers here realize, this analysis is exactly ass backwards. "Martial law doesn't work"? But surely, that depends on what the goal is, does it not? If the goal was control and ensuring obedience -- and it was -- it worked splendidly. But there's a lot of this ass-backwards analysis going around, and I will offer some comments about it next time.)