October 24, 2013

Dying for Control (III): The State as Your Nightmare Lover from Hell

Part I: Neurosis and Terror as National "Policy"

Part II: An Exhausted Culture, Founded on Psychological Manipulation

In the preceding part of this series, I described the ways in which all of us, with tragically rare exceptions, are taught to be experts in psychological and emotional manipulation. As Alice Miller has shown in her work, the methods by which we learn these dark arts are universal; they can be found in almost all cultures, in all historical periods. And we must always remember the other lesson we are taught, which is necessarily and inextricably linked to the mastering of manipulative skills: the axiomatic fundamentality of obedience to authority. These related lessons are killers in multiple senses: they suffocate originality and spontaneity of thought and feeling; they transform genuine happiness and joy into phantoms forever eluding our grasp, to be replaced by the gray drudgery of days devoted to pleasing others, always trying to gain their favor and struggling to avoid even the smallest sign of strong disapproval; and, when transferred into the political realm, they lead to suffering and brutality on a vast scale, and even to mass death and genocide.

I have also argued that the elements forming the core of our psychologies are identical in the personal and political realms. Proponents of the State and of State power would like us to believe otherwise; they maintain that individuals who may be driven by greed, resentment, anger or even rage, and a host of other factors commonly regarded as negative in nature, are miraculously transformed into selfless saints when they work on behalf of "the people." How this transmogrification occurs -- how it is even possible -- remains one of the great mysteries of the ages. And when we consider the matter, we see that a transformation of this kind is not only impossible, but that the opposite must be true.

We are taught the indispensability of psychological manipulation; the great value of manipulation (in this catechism) is that it enables us to control others: "In both the personal and the political realms, the pursuit of control means the pursuit of power -- and the pursuit of power means the pursuit of power over other human beings. Those who wish to rule, wish to rule people." Because we are first taught the art of manipulation when we are young children, most of us absorb the lesson unthinkingly. Most of us never consciously examine this mode of behaving and living. We know that everyone does it, it's just the way things are. Yet many people sense that constant manipulation is a great danger to be avoided; they realize, but only in an emotional sense, that manipulation destroys the chance of genuine connection to others, just as it destroys the chance of real happiness and fulfillment. So most people practice manipulation haphazardly and inconsistently. When they try to manipulate others to get they want, they sometimes succeed, but they often fail. They play the game, but only as amateurs.

And then there are those who excel at the art of manipulation. These are the professionals, those who rise to the uppermost levels of corporate enterprises (or academia) -- and those who enter politics. These individuals have developed their sensitivity to the feelings and reactions of others to an exquisite pitch: they often know how others will react to a particular stratagem before those others know themselves. They practice manipulation full-time, as a way of life. Such people learn the skills of deception very early. They first deceive their parents, by telling them what they, the parents, want to hear. When they see how easy it is to be successful in this manner, they do it with teachers and professors, and then with those with whom they interact in business. If they go into politics, they manipulate and deceive other politicians -- and, of course, they manipulate and deceive their constituents, the voters.

Those who become masters of manipulation, who take positive pleasure in controlling and exerting power over others, are frequently and inevitably drawn to politics. For politics is the perfect playground for such individuals: they seek power over others, and the State permits them to force others to act as the manipulators desire under the compulsion of law. This is the professional manipulator's dream come true. The manipulator will always tell himself, just as he will tell you, that he does everything "for your own good." This is his all-purpose justification and rationalization; it is the justification he learned from his parents in the first instance. When our parents teach us the crucial importance of manipulation and the necessity of obedience to authority, they always tell us they do so "for our own good." But manipulation on the scale practiced by the politician, especially a politician on the national level, rests on a deep reservoir of anger and rage, and a profound contempt for humanity in general. The proof lies in the fact that the manipulator's playground is all too often transformed into a killing field, as history shows us with horrifying frequency.

The highly skilled manipulator constantly adjusts his tactics. He cannot be too obvious, or go too far. That would arouse the suspicions, and perhaps even the resistance, of those he seeks to manipulate and control. Most of us have experienced this phenomenon in our personal lives. It may have happened with a close friend, or a lover. You begin dating a man or woman. The two of you have real "chemistry" together, intellectually, emotionally, and sexually. You quickly spend more and more time together, spending many nights at each other's homes. After several weeks, or perhaps a month, your new lover gives you a copy of the keys to his home -- and suggests that you do the same. You're not at all comfortable with that. You think that things are moving too quickly, and you give voice to your reservations. Your new lover immediately tells you that he understands completely, and he apologizes profusely. He tells you that you're absolutely right.

You continue dating, and spend a lot of time at the other's home. A few more months go by. You become completely comfortable with the relationship. Your lover is wonderfully attentive to all your needs, and all your moods. You are true soul mates. You've given him the keys to your home, and now you're talking about moving in together. Three or four more months go by, and the two of you are living in a new home, and you have a joint checking account. Your lives become completely commingled. Everything is wonderful, and you're very happy for a time. Then, again over a period of only a few months, it all begins to fall apart. Small differences become large conflicts. You clash more and more often. Finally, your lover -- who is still a comparatively "new" lover, for all of this has happened in a couple of years, or perhaps even less time -- tells you that he's met someone who is truly his ideal. Everything he thought he had found in you he has found in someone else. You struggle along together for a while longer -- how, you wonder, could all this have happened so quickly? -- but the relationship only gets worse. Finally, you come to your senses and kick him out. In part, you do this because, during the last part of your relationship, you paid most of both your living expenses yourself. You had much more money, and he was going through hard times, and you were still trying to work things out, so why wouldn't you? But it's finally over.

And it takes you a long time to understand how the hell it happened.

Many of us have experiences like this, in more or less extreme forms, if not with a lover, then with a close friend. What is important is the pattern: the professional manipulator is always advancing, always trying to bend others to his will in additional ways. Occasionally, he will go too far. The object of his manipulations will then resist, and might even become suspicious more generally. So the manipulator will have to retreat -- but it's a strategic retreat. He only retreats so that he will soon be able advance farther. He falls back temporarily, but then regains the ground he has given up, and stakes out new ground on which he can build as he wishes. The work of the professional manipulator is never done, and he is never satisfied. As long as other people exist, as long as others can choose not to fall prey to his manipulations, he will never have enough power.

The same is true for the professional manipulator in politics. And politics, especially national politics, is peopled only with professional manipulators. Keep these dynamics in the forefront of your mind, and consider the NSA-surveillance stories in their light. And read these provocative comments from a few months ago:
Snowden’s revelations have generated a great deal of pushback from a wide spectrum of political interests, so much so that a veritable avalanche of bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate to rein in the NSA. And with the Obama administration throwing Snowden induced temper tantrums, it has really been starting to look like this story is the real deal


Nothing gets this kind of press coverage unless it serves somebody’s agenda. The American press are wholly owned and operated by those who seek to shift power from political to economic. The press does not serve the public… there’s a reason billionaire Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post. This story is benefitting money somewhere, somehow. But how?

As usual, Catherine Austin Fitts has it figured out. In her words:
Now that the financial coup is complete, the trail is cold and the money across, we are proceeding to rebuild the overt side of the economy. Now that new economy has the benefit of reduced labor costs, complete digital control, is free of legacy retirement and pension fund obligations with the power of unions significantly diminished. However, the “brand” of American democracy needs revival given what has happened to the reality of it.

In addition, the military-intelligence bureaucracies who were most instrumental in engineering the coup need to be put back in their place, same as the financial ones have experienced. Those parts of the intelligence and enforcement agencies and related defense contractors (particularly systems and telecommunications companies) need to be return[ed] to a quieter, more obedient role. They are having their hands slapped. As the boom is lowered, the cowboys are getting put back in their box, reminded as to whom is boss. ...
In other words: tyranny is bad for business. Business is the mechanism by which power gets consolidated at the economic level and away from the political level. But business cannot function beyond a certain point under repressive regimes. It requires things like consumer confidence, trust in the currency, faith in the rule of law.
I'm not familiar with the site where this post appears; from skimming a few entries quickly, and because of some formulations in the balance of this entry itself, I don't agree with certain aspects of its analysis. The same is true of Fitts: I think she is unusually perceptive on some crucial issues, but I differ with her on other matters.

But the critical point in this passage is true in my view, and it is what I argue above. Actually, several critical points are true.

The NSA-surveillance stories are widely covered because at least one segment of the ruling class wants them covered, and finds such coverage to be in its interests. We're not talking about a renegade radical publisher here, or a contemporary version of Tom Paine distributing pamphlets on streetcorners: the stories are delivered to us by major press outlets. Given the nature of our corporatist State, those major press outlets are connected to the State in numerous ways. In some fashion, the State has blessed the NSA stories. They wouldn't be published where and how they're published if that were not the case.

Over the last decade, the United States government, together with other Western states, has continually ratcheted up numerous oppressive measures: from airport undressings and strip searches, to drone murder, to constantly increasing surveillance, to the imposition of martial law in an experiment to determine how easily that degree of control can be imposed (incredibly easily, it turns out), to many more. Americans are becoming more and more accustomed to these devices of control, and they increasingly view them as a normal part of life. But the State -- run by the most expert of manipulators -- must be careful not to go too far. If it does, a troubling number of Americans (troubling to the State, that is) might grow restless. If the State appears to be going off the rails in too brazen a manner, some Americans might even begin to gather together to resist the State's actions.

So the State needs to provide a release valve. And, as Fitts observes, certain elements "need to be put back in their place." It's not -- I repeat, it is not -- that those elements are being put out of business. To the contrary: they remain in business, but some discretion is called for. The same measures will continue to be employed, but the State will put on its soft gloves. Indeed, some refer to the current state of affairs as a "soft tyranny." And that is the way the State wants to keep it for the moment. A "hard tyranny" may come out of hiding at some point -- most likely, in response to a major terrorist attack (or what is billed as one), or a financial collapse -- but that will happen after the ground is more fully prepared, after Americans have lived with increasing control for a longer period of time.

Tarzie recently wrote about how and why the ruling class has approved the NSA leaks, writing in part:
So, to summarize, we know that certain wealthy, important people around the world are concerned about the NSA because:

1. Their own emails and phone calls are being monitored by the NSA
2. The NSA is engaging in corporate espionage
3. NSA spying interferes with profitable internet business by impeding customer trust
These explanations largely track those offered by Fitts for the NSA stories. All these reasons are true (and Tarzie offers further reasons, which you should read). To these reasons, I now add this further related explanation, which is a systemic one, if you will, concerning the tactics of manipulation and readjustments that periodically are required, including strategic retreat.

And if you reflect on the NSA leaks in light of this combination of reasons, then the emergence of these stories is easily understood. From the "careful" and "responsible" manner in which the leaks are so carefully manicured, to the remaking of dissent from what could be a serious threat to the State into a familiar screenplay ready-made for Hollywood, to dissent that is like a comfortable pair of old, tattered slippers that even Richard Cohen is happy to wear -- all of it makes perfect sense.

All of it is not only not any kind of threat to the State: it all serves the interests of the State and the ruling class.

And now, like the perfect decoration on top of the State's deadly concoction of oppression and control -- but oppression and control delivered to us gently, trying to soften all the rough edges (for now) -- we have Greenwald's alliance with Pierre Omidyar, one of the richest people in the entire world. Omidyar is a multibillionaire who benefits in countless, huge ways from the existing authoritarian-corporatist system. To believe that he would do anything that would seriously threaten that system is idiocy of the first order. And if he did, the State would very quickly slap him down. The existing corporatist system is one that encompasses the world. If Omidyar genuinely threatened it, that system could destroy him in an instant. Omidyar himself knows that. That so many others are apparently oblivious to this blindingly obvious fact, including many on the supposed "left," only makes the deadly work of that system that much easier.

Today's New York Times carries a story about the "fury" of "leaders and citizens in Germany" in response to America's spying. The article also references the similar angered reaction in France, and the postponement of Brazil's state visit to the U.S. All of this, too, is easily understood when we remember the factors discussed above. Part of it is various factions of the elite reasserting themselves against other factions and protecting their own particular interests, and part of it is to assure the general populace that, yes, some of the elite have gone too far. But don't worry: we'll see that the excesses are curbed, and that balance is again restored.

This, once more, is only strategic retreat. Any "excesses" involved are not going to be eliminated completely; they may be scaled back a bit -- and then, when the time is right, they will reemerge even more powerfully. This is why I have observed that it is precisely when the State grants concessions and seems to retreat (and perhaps even actually retreats on a few points it considers temporarily dispensable) that you should be especially wary and on guard. These are master manipulators. They are not in the business of giving up power altogether. Their goal is always more power, and more wealth. You forget this central fact at your great peril.

In today's Times piece, after discussing the reactions in Germany and France, we read this:
Both episodes illustrated the diplomatic challenge to the United States posed by the cache of documents that Mr. Snowden handed to the journalist Glenn Greenwald and others. Last week, Mr. Greenwald concluded a deal with the eBay founder Pierre Omidyar to build a new media platform that aims in part to publicize other revelations from the data Mr. Greenwald now possesses.
This is stated so starkly, and so shockingly, that I am amazed that huge crowds of people have not already stormed every government building in Washington, D.C. But then I remember that we are victims of the Stockholm Syndrome, and I am not surprised at all. More and more, we survive only at the State's mercy. When the State grants even a temporary reprieve, when it engages in strategic retreat, we breathe a brief sigh of relief. The State has permitted us to live another day. We are grateful for even the smallest, meaningless morsels of information and "dissent."

Omidyar is one of the critical players in the corporatist system that is strangling the world. That system is what provided his power and wealth, and what sustains them. And Greenwald exerts what is a near monopoly on the Snowden documents (and what may be a true monopoly with regard to many of them). The data has not been distributed in a widespread manner that would truly concern the State (any State). The Omidyar-Greenwald partnership and their promised "new media platform" is another safety valve for the ruling class, a way of assuring people that things aren't that bad, that there is still reason to hope, that the system can be "reformed." In this way, the ruling class reestablishes trust. People become comfortable once again -- and then the stage is set for the ruling class to exert still greater control, to oppress our lives even more.

The State is your nightmare lover from hell. Its ultimate goal is complete control. In time, if you permit it, it will destroy you altogether.