Reclaiming the Commons> Taking Human Lessons in the Era of H.R. 347, Corporatism and Perpetual War

Reclaiming the Commons> Taking Human Lessons in the Era of H.R. 347, Corporatism and Perpetual War

Thursday 15 March 2012  Phil Rockstroh   Nation of  Change

“While Republicans desire to set clocks back to the Bronze Age — Democrats now run on Republican Standard Time, as collectively, the nation’s citizenry continues to roll over and hit the snooze button. “

With in­creas­ing ve­loc­ity, since the ad­vent of the post-Sec­ond World War na­tional se­cu­rity state, then gain­ing speed with the in­ces­sant search and de­stroy mis­sion waged on the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion known as the War on Drugs, and kick­ing into a run­away tra­jec­tory in the post Sept. 11, 2001 era — the in­crease in to­tal­i­tar­ian im­pulses, among both the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion and cor­po­rate and gov­ern­men­tal elite of the na­tion, has pro­ceeded at an alarm­ing rate. Yet, baf­fling as the fact re­mains to those pos­sess­ing a mod­icum of po­lit­i­cal aware­ness, large num­bers of U.S. cit­i­zens per­sist in be­liev­ing they dwell in a rep­re­sen­ta­tive re­pub­lic, gov­erned by the prin­ci­ples of in­di­vid­ual rights and civil lib­er­ties.

While Re­pub­li­cans de­sire to set clocks back to the Bronze Age — De­moc­rats now run on Re­pub­li­can Stan­dard Time, as col­lec­tively, the na­tion’s cit­i­zenry con­tin­ues to roll over and hit the snooze but­ton.

On an in­di­vid­ual basis, if a siz­able num­ber of the na­tion’s cit­i­zenry’s con­cept of free­dom of ex­pres­sion trans­lates into lit­tle more than the act of cast­ing a vote by iPhone in­volv­ing a choice be­tween a gag­gle of cloy­ing, long­ing-to-be-com mod­i­fied croon­ers on Amer­i­can Idol — it fol­lows that the egre­gious as­sault on civil lib­er­ties posed by H.R. 347 (the so-call Anti Oc­cupy Wall Street Bill…that has now made many acts of free speech and free­dom of as­sem­bly a fed­eral crime) will mean lit­tle within such a dim cos­mol­ogy of di­min­ished per­cep­tion and even more dis­mal mu­si­cal sen­si­bil­ity.

Re­flect­ing how dire the as­sault on civil lib­er­ties has be­come: The afore­men­tioned bill passed The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives by a 388 to 3 mar­gin (and was signed, shortly there­after, by Pres­i­dent Obama, on Fri­day March 9, 2012).

Just what por­tion of the fol­low­ing ad­mo­ni­tions con­tained within The Bill of Rights re­mains am­bigu­ous to these leg­is­la­tors: “Con­gress shall make no law re­spect­ing an es­tab­lish­ment of re­li­gion, or pro­hibit­ing the free ex­er­cise thereof; or abridg­ing the free­dom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the peo­ple peace­ably to as­sem­ble, and to pe­ti­tion the Gov­ern­ment for a re­dress of griev­ances.”

No­tice: The open­ing sen­tence: “Con­gress shall make no law…” No­tice as well: The right to “peace­ably as­sem­ble” is guar­an­teed as promi­nently as any other right on the list.

The in­tent of this bill is clear: Despots and their op­er­a­tives se­cure and re­tain power by ren­der­ing op­po­si­tion to their rule un­pleas­ant for dis­senters. Sys­tems of re­ward and pun­ish­ment are main­tained. For ex­am­ple, a right-wing radio dem­a­gogue will reap vast for­tunes for his ser­vice, while truth tellers will be mar­gin­al­ized, or if they start to grow ef­fec­tive…be crushed by po­lice state tac­tics and leg­isla­tive caprice (e.g., the man­ner that en­forcers of the cur­rent order have at­tempted to sys­tem­i­cally re­press the Oc­cupy Wall Street Move­ment).

Make no mis­take re­gard­ing the times we have been given. This strug­gle will be long and dif­fi­cult. Despotic per­son­al­ity types, as a rule, are not struck by life-al­ter­ing epipha­nies re­gard­ing the empti­ness of a life at­ten­dant to au­to­crat­i­cally im­pos­ing re­pres­sive mea­sures upon the pow­er­less to en­sure the con­tin­u­ance of their priv­i­leged sta­tus. Do not ex­pect to hear the lamen­ta­tion of the greedy as they awaken to how their ad­dic­tion to wealth has iso­lated them Mi­das-style in a mode of mind wherein their souls exist in a state of star­va­tion, be­cause the soul is not nour­ished by hoarded gold (or fun­nel­ing for­ma­tions of elec­tronic pix­els rep­re­sent­ing com­mod­ity trans­ac­tions).

On a per­sonal basis, if you in­sist on stand­ing op­posed to despo­tism, ex­pect trou­ble. In that case, one loses all cer­tain­ties…save one: The re­ten­tion of a vi­able sense of self.

“So lit­tle pains do the shal­low take in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of truth, ac­cept­ing read­ily the first story that comes to hand.”—Thucy­dides, from The His­tory of the Pelo­pon­nesian War

When one at­tempts to stand against surg­ing so­cial and po­lit­i­cal tides, feel­ings of pow­er­less­ness can flood one with anx­i­ety. Ac­cord­ingly, a sin­gle in­di­vid­ual can be­come in­un­dated with feel­ings of un­ease and un­cer­tainty. As a re­sult, the so­cial pres­sure to drown angst-cre­at­ing in­di­vid­ual doubt within the mind­less cer­tain­ties of a mob can be­come over­whelm­ing. Often, brick by brick, in an at­tempt to with­stand these pow­er­ful inner feel­ings and out­ward pres­sures, we build a struc­ture of false con­scious­ness…that we, often, mis­take for our con­vic­tions, and trag­i­cally mis­take this dis­mal dwelling for the whole of ex­is­tence.

How then is it pos­si­ble to with­stand feel­ings of pow­er­less­ness?

Put one foot in front of the other. Write one word after the next on your protest sign. Make your life a flam­ing arrow aimed at the dry and rot­ted heart of the sys­tem or make your own heart a warm hearth of com­pas­sion for its vic­tims, as you ne­go­ti­ate its cold re­al­i­ties. Thus, hope be­comes a process of en­gage­ment, not a com­fort­ing lie; not the stuff of pub­lic re­la­tions hus­tlers and po­lit­i­cal hacks but a qual­ity of hon­est con­vic­tion and per­sis­tent labor; and not a cyn­i­cal mar­ket­ing tool.

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Re­lent­lessly, from early child­hood on, our hopes and long­ings are sub­ject to com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion by the dream-usurpers of the cor­po­rate state. The process of men­tal col­o­niza­tion by the com­mer­cial holo­gram is as per­va­sive within us as was the dog­matic in­flu­ence of The Church within the psy­ches of Dark Age peas­ants.

The pre­sent order’s litany of eco­nomic in­equity af­fords few the op­tion of com­mit­ting the heresy of ques­tion­ing (or even ap­pre­hend­ing) the ex­ploita­tive and de­struc­tive na­ture of the sys­tem. As an ex­am­ple, cit­i­zen­ship as de­fined by con­sumerism has cre­ated a land­scape de­void of pub­lic space. (The at­tempt to re­de­fine what con­sti­tutes pub­lic space is one of the many threat­en­ing as­pects of the Oc­cupy Wall Street move­ment to the cur­rent power struc­ture.)

There­fore, the in­her­ent human need for a sense of place and be­long­ing can be eas­ily warped into a bel­liger­ent na­tion­al­ism that dead­ens the heart as it warps an in­di­vid­ual’s li­bidi­nous drive for com­mu­nal en­gage­ment into dis­placed rage, con­ve­niently ap­pro­pri­ated by po­lit­i­cal dem­a­gogues into a lust for per­pet­ual war.

Under such con­di­tions, one’s life is not one’s own. A dis­as­so­ci­a­tion oc­curs, an at­tempt to dis­tance one­self from the de­mean­ing de­mands of ex­ploita­tive so­cial arrange­ments. Under these cir­cum­stances, a kind of cul­tural am­ne­sia can occur. Per­haps, this re­lates to the U.S. pop­u­lace’s dif­fi­culty in­volv­ing col­lec­tive mem­ory, ex­pressed in the well-known wit­ti­cism that U.S. cit­i­zens in­habit: “The United States of Am­ne­sia”.

When one’s au­then­tic iden­tity is not en­gaged in cre­at­ing the cri­te­ria of one’s life, even one’s mem­o­ries seem the dis­mal, evanes­cent dream of a stranger; it is dif­fi­cult to store and re­call un­fold­ing events when one is in a trance of false con­scious­ness.

Hence, one must in­sist upon re­gain­ing pos­ses­sion of one’s life…to re­gain mem­ory and en­gage imag­i­na­tion.

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Dis­tinct from self-in­dul­gent navel-gaz­ing, this is a call to ac­tion. At this crit­i­cal point, the sit­u­a­tion in­volves more than a search for mean­ing and res­o­nance (al­though those things ar­rive as byprod­ucts of the ef­fort) — for we have been pre­sented with a world­wide cri­sis in­volv­ing not only the na­ture of our lives as in­di­vid­u­als — but also a rad­i­cally wors­en­ing cri­sis in­volv­ing the health of our en­vi­ron­men­tally be­sieged planet.

“Psy­cho­log­i­cal aware­ness rises from er­rors, co­in­ci­dences, in­def­i­nite­ness, from the chaos deeper than in­tel­li­gent con­trol.”–James Hill­man

There­fore, par­don this writer’s brief di­gres­sion into per­sonal mem­ory.

I buried a tur­tle in the sky.

While ex­plor­ing a creek near my home in Geor­gia, one spring af­ter­noon, when I was ten, I hap­pened upon a group of boys de­fil­ing the corpse of a mas­sive–eas­ily five feet in cir­cum­fer­ence–snap­ping tur­tle, by det­o­nat­ing fire­crack­ers, cherry bombs, andM-80s that they had placed in the crea­ture’s pu­tres­cent flesh.

Over­whelmed with mor­ti­fi­ca­tion, I turned and stag­gered from the scene, be­fore the boys, en­tranced in vi­cious rev­elry, no­ticed my pres­ence. I re­treated to the cover of a swath of scrub brush and pine saplings and vom­ited.

At that time, I lacked the lex­i­con, both ver­bal and emo­tive, to come to grips with what I had wit­nessed.

Years later, I had this enig­matic dream. I’m as­cend­ing in an el­e­va­tor into a high tower, a mod­ernist struc­ture that serves as “a col­lege dorm room in the sky”.

I pro­ceed to the top floor. Upon en­ter­ing the room, after pass­ing two pretty, brunette, fe­male twins in their mid-twen­ties, who dis­miss me as “a poor prospect in a ma­te­r­ial re­gard”, I came upon an in­di­vid­ual, who, in the wak­ing world, in the years to come, I would men­tor and I would come to write the bulk of a spo­ken word act he still tours with to this day.

Out­side the win­dow of this dorm in the sky, earth­bound trans­porta­tion ve­hi­cles, such as pas­sen­ger, freight, and sub­way trains, made a path through the heav­ens.

Then, de­scend­ing from above, with in­creas­ing ve­loc­ity, an ob­ject ap­peared that was on a col­li­sion course with our perch. Be­fore we had time to react, it crashed through the ceil­ing of the room…re­veal­ing it­self to be the corpse of a mas­sive tor­toise, its shell af­fixed with wings con­structed of pa­pier-mâché.

Ap­par­ently, dur­ing child­hood, to para­phrase the poet, the world was too much with me. Its ca­sual cru­elty and in­her­ent bru­tal­ity caused me to re­treat sky­ward…I was a poor prospect in the “ma­te­r­ial” realm, with its at­ten­dant rot­ting flesh and vi­cious laugh­ter. I chose to en­sconce my­self in a psy­chic uni­ver­sity above the stu­pid and bru­tal…to find a means to bury the corpse of that poor tur­tle in heaven.

The temp­ta­tion is still great…to stay above it all. But, un­like a child, I now have the lex­i­con to re­main on earth…to hold my ground when I am mor­ti­fied and give voice to my sor­rows and out­rage.

There­fore, to be true to my­self, I must give wings to the liv­ing and dead. I must ad­dress mat­ters that are hard to stom­ach.

It is a hard slog…I pro­ceed along, at times, at a tur­tle’s pace…but there are mo­ments when a ter­rapin brings me im­ages from the brack­ish depths, and, on oc­ca­sion, I can make mun­dane thoughts fly.

But this is not only about me. On an en­vi­ron­men­tal level, as a global-wide busi­ness model and a per­sonal mode of being in the world, we, in our de­mented rev­elry, are treat­ing the earth as if it is a dead thing, a corpse we hap­pened upon, and, like those cruel, ig­no­rant boys of my child­hood mem­ory, we are blast­ing our world to bits (e.g., bomb­ing, min­ing, frack­ing, de­fo­li­at­ing…and the hideous list goes on and on) with­out re­flec­tion or re­gret.

Given, the rapidly de­clin­ing eco­log­i­cal bal­ance of our planet, a bal­ance of di­verse, in­ter­re­lated sys­tems that are es­sen­tial for the con­tin­u­ance of con­di­tions fa­vor­able for our species to thrive, an in­di­vid­ual can no longer af­ford to bury one’s out­rage in heaven or vault it in the depths of one­self. It is self­ish to be­lieve that one’s angst and alien­ation are ex­clu­sively one’s own.

One of the pow­er­ful at­trac­tions of the OWS move­ment has been its em­pha­sis on re­claim­ing the pub­lic com­mons from the cor­po­rate state, and the dire need for cul­tural com­mu­nion be­yond the com­mer­cial sphere. Thus, for an at­om­ized, alien­ated pop­u­lace, the move­ment has pro­vided a re­fresher course in the act of sim­ply being human, on ex­ist­ing to­gether in com­mu­nal space.

OWS is not about “win­ning” po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage…that ap­proach plays into the fal­lacy of the win­ner/loser di­chotomy of the cap­i­tal­ist super state. Con­versely, by act­ing in the world in a man­ner that is unique to one’s char­ac­ter, one awak­ens mem­ory and re­an­i­mates imag­i­na­tion, thereby al­low­ing an in­di­vid­ual to oc­cupy his own life and times, and serv­ing to help ame­lio­rate the nox­ious ef­fects of the in­ter­nal­ized false con­scious­ness of cor­po­rate state au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism.

Un­less we start to see the world and our role in it with new eyes, we will be un­able to alter the struc­ture of the pre­sent sys­tem. Withal, it is im­per­a­tive to being full pos­ses­sion of one’s hu­man­ity when fac­ing the des­per­ate, de­hu­man­iz­ing forces of an order that has grown ever more bru­tal in di­rect pro­por­tion to its rapidly de­clin­ing pur­pose and le­git­i­macy.

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