I intend to devote no more time to the upcoming presidential elections than walking to my local polling station on Election Day, voting for a third-party candidate, most likely the Green Party candidate, and going home. Any further energy invested in these elections, including championing Bernie Sanders’ ill-advised decision to validate the Democratic Party by becoming one of its presidential candidates, is a waste of time.
Every action we take now must be directed at ripping down the structures of the corporate state. This means refusing to co-operate. It means joining or building radical mass movements. It means carrying out sustained acts of civil disobedience, as Kayactivists are doing in Seattle and fishing communities such as Kodiak, Cordova and Homer, as well as a dozen indigenous tribes, are doing in Alaska, to physically halt fracking, drilling for oil and natural gas or U.S. Navy training exercises in the pristine waters of the Arctic. It means striking for a $15 minimum wage. It means blocking city streets to demand an end to the indiscriminate use of lethal force by militarized police, especially against poor people of color. It means, in large and small ways, acts of open rebellion. It means always having as the primary objective the disrupting and overthrowing of corporate power. It means not playing the game.
The corporate state seeks to get us to participate in the political charade of choreographed elections. It seeks to make us play by its rules. Our corporate media, flush with the dollars from political advertising, fills the airwaves with the ridiculous and the trivial. Candidates, pollsters, political strategists, pundits and celebrity journalists provide endless loops of banal and absurd “political” chatter, all of it a grotesque form of anti-politics. We will be bombarded with this propaganda, largely centered on the manufactured personalities of candidates, for many months. Tune it out. It means nothing.
The voices of those who matter will not be heard in these elections. The marginalized and poor in our internal colonies, the 2.3 million people in our prisons and their families, the Muslims we persecute here and in the Middle East, and the suffering of the working poor are airbrushed out of the discussion. In this Potemkin America there is only a middle class. Our liberties, including our right to privacy, along with the consent of the governed—all of which have been taken from us—are held up in this electioneering farce as sacred and inviolate. We are assured that we live in a functioning democracy. We are promised that our voice will count. And even Sanders will tell you no different. If he stepped forward and spoke the truth, especially about the Democratic Party, he would be banned from the debates, vilified and crushed by the Democratic establishment, stripped of his Senate committee chairmanships and tossed into the political wilderness to which Ralph Nader has been exiled. Sanders, unfortunately, lacks Nader’s moral fortitude. He will, when it is all done, push his followers into the vampire-like embrace of Hillary Clinton. He is a Pied Piper leading a line of children or rats—take your pick—into political oblivion.
Political theater works because many in America have been systematically indoctrinated and severed from reality. Our corporate masters have built a mass culture centered on the cult of the self, unchecked hedonism and spectacle. Neoliberal ideology infects every institution and belief system. Those who suffer deserve to suffer. Victims are responsible for their victimhood. We can all achieve wealth and prosperity with hard work. This mantra permits us to be cruel and heartless to the weak and the vulnerable, especially the poor as well as women and children, whom we discard as human refuse. Our warped neoliberal vision is defined as progress.
America celebrates itself as virtuous and good while it inflicts terrible human suffering at home and abroad on those it deems unworthy of life. The particular and self-centered definition of good that defines the primacy of American imperial and corporate power is presented as a universal good. There are Americans, especially those beset by falling incomes and a dismal future, who find in state power an expression of personal power. They see in the mythical virtue of the nation a personal virtue. Attack systems of power and this American “virtue” and they feel attacked and disempowered. And the state can count on those who cling to this myth to turn with fury against all of us who seek to exist in a reality-based universe. The state will stoke hatred among these “patriots” to incite violence against all who dissent. Standing up to the corporate state, refusing to play by its rules, will be difficult and dangerous.
Today’s servant of systems of power is what Friedrich Nietzsche referred to as the Last Man.
“The time is coming when man will give birth to no more stars,” Nietzsche wrote about the Last Man in the prologue of “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.” “Alas! The time of the most contemptible man is coming, the man who can no longer despise himself.”
“They are clever and know everything that has ever happened: so there is no end to their mockery,” Nietzsche went on.
Nietzsche’s Last Man endows the banality of his private life with the meaning he has withdrawn from larger concerns, indulging his “little pleasure for the day, and [his] little pleasure for the night.”
Chalmers Johnson made much the same point when he called America a“consumerist Sparta.” And Curtis White in “The Middle Mind” argued that most Americans are on some level aware of the brutality and injustice used to maintain the grotesque excesses of their consumer society and the heartlessness of empire. White posited that most Americans do not care. They do not want to see what is done in their name. And the systems of mass media cater to this desire for ignorance.
The replacement of history with myth, the use of mass surveillance and the Espionage Act to shut down any investigation into the centers of power, the collapse of journalism, the deformation of education into a vocational program for the corporate state, along with mindless forms of entertainment and spectacle, create obedient subjects that demand their own enslavement.
Mahatma Gandhi castigated the West for its fictitious histories and false moral crusades to justify slavery, oppression, colonial occupation, massacres, despotism, and the destruction of indigenous traditions, religions and languages. The relentless assault by imperial powers against the wretched of the earth was not, he noted, part of the price of progress or the advance of civilization. It was part of the raw exploitation of the weak by unfettered capitalism and imperialism. The mythical narratives used to defend this exploitation, Gandhi pointed out, created a cult of history much like the cult of religion or the cult of science. It permitted immorality in the name of noble and virtuous ideals. These visions of an emergent world of light and universal civilization are always employed by those in power. And these visions can, as Albert Camus wrote, “be used for anything, even for transforming murderers into judges.”
“The West does not like to admit this fact about itself,” William Pfaff and Edmund Stillman wrote in “The Politics of Hysteria”—that it “has been capable of violence on an appalling scale, and has justified that violence as indispensable to a heroic reform of society or of mankind.” The atomic bomb, napalm, phosphorus raids and indiscriminate area bombing were used by Americans and the British in “a mission of bringing liberty to the world.” The technological and scientific advances of industrialized nations made possible the conquests and the theft of natural resources in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. “To be a man of the modern West,” Pfaff wrote, “is to belong to a culture of incomparable originality and power; it is also to be implicated in incomparable crimes.”
This evil lurks within the body politic. It is fueled by an induced ignorance. The specter of meaningless presidential elections caters to this idiocy. Our corporate masters are counting on most of us remaining entranced by the shadows they project on the wall of the cave.
“The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding,” wrote Albert Camus in “The Plague.” “On the whole, men are more good than bad; that, however, isn’t the real point. But they are more or less ignorant, and it is this that we call vice or virtue; the most incorrigible vice being that of an ignorance that fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill.”
There is, however, a new, emergent consciousness. It has not reached the majority. But it has reached enough of the minority to make resistance possible. It is a consciousness grounded in truth and the bitter reality of our age. It sees through the myths and self-delusion. It understands the configurations of corporate power. It knows that, as the ecosystem unravels and the most terrifying security and surveillance apparatus in human history holds us hostage, revolt has become a moral imperative. The state, too, is ready. It has its spectacles, including its political theater, and it has its goons. It will use whatever tools work to maintain power. Asleep or awake, we will all pay a heavy price.