Sunday, October 16, 2011

American rebellion: Hey you get offah mah cloud...

I first posted this way back in February of 2010, it still works for me, so I'll run it past you again. DS

Not the American way

Alas and alack, the peasants will never really revolt in this country. We shall have our terrorists in Texas and Utah and such; armed groups who go nuts once in awhile. But the strikes are gone, the unions are dead, and people are drugged by their tvs, pcs, and other toys. (reader comment to my previous post).
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The opinion above is one that I am tempted to agree with: that the American way of life with its peculiar mixture of anxiety and banality, has the US population politically gelded. However any temptation to agree dissolves when confronted with the Supreme Court decision to remove all restrictions to corporate "investment" in political campaigns. Obviously our good and the great are sufficiently worried about the temper of the population to take such a drastic step.

Why the fuss?

As I said before "the natives are restless".

When I was a kid I worked for some time as a gofer in the movie business and one of my jobs was to handle crowds of extras. I remember one cool trick that I think was invented in the Cinecittá in Rome. It goes like this:  If you have a bunch of extras suited up to play a disgruntled crowd of peasants, you have them all mutter simultaneously the words, "gravel, gravel". It sounds like this:
gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel, gravel 
And since it's impossible for them to synchronize their gravels, they finally  all sound  mad as hell. Neat huh? I think that is the sound the leadership cadres of our regime are hearing and they want to drown this disturbing noise in corporate money. I can't overemphasize how valuable it is to watch the film of the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu's last speech what you'll see there is every leader's worst nightmare... in fact, I'm sure that many very highly respected world leaders have broken into a cold sweat when they watched it.

Losing the crowd and having it turn on him is a leader's greatest fear. Leaders are like lion tamers and in democracy the media are their chair and whip.

However, the USA is a very original country and does everything "the American way". The SCOTUS decision, for example, is in reality a coup d'etat, but the US is not Honduras or even Argentina, so it was done without the circus atmosphere of military intervention, without disappearing anyone.

The "rebellion" of the American people is also sui generis, its "streets" are electronic, (blogspot is one of them). In these streets opinion is being formed without much official "guidance". We could call this "cloud rebellion" and the consensus, both on the left and on the right, is that the people that are running the show, the economy, the wars... (fill in the blanks you want) are a bunch of incompetent thieves. The country is headed in "the wrong direction" and is in "decline". I think that what has the wind up the powers that be is that public opinion is creating itself by itself, with less and less help from them.

The fundamental change has been the sudden loss of the "gatekeeper" function that the great corporate media has had for generations.

There used to be three major networks and everybody watched them, now there are hundreds of channels. These days with TV a la carte, a Walter Cronkite father-figure to guide the masses would be impossible.

With the TV and radio networks, the great metropolitan newspapers supplied the rest of opinion and they published, as the New York Times puts it on their masthead, only "the news that is fit to print": what is fit or not to print being their decision. The symbol of that falling apart was when Matt Drudge broke the Monica Lewinsky scandal in his funky little blog, a story which the Washington Post was sitting on because they thought it wasn't "fit to print".

Between the blogs, Google and Craig's List the newspapers are dying and probably even Steve Job's pocket Segway wont be able to save them.  They have lost the people's trust. Today, opinion, barring terrorist attacks on the scale of 9/11, is practically uncontrollable: gravel, gravel, gravel.

Where this will lead nobody can tell and as good business is based on predictable outcomes (ask Dick Fuld), America's good and the great would like to reduce the variables and plan to do so by investing billions of dollars in AstroTurfing this discontent so that it does them the least damage possible. The SCOTUS decision paves the way for that.

You may think this is a bit exaggerated on my part, that the establishment doesn't have that much to worry about, but at the heart of the discontent and the power structure's reaction to it, as expressed by SCOTUS's ruling, is a much more fundamental problem, one that might even justify what I perceive as their panic.

The problem is this: genuine liberal democracy is simply incompatible with certain levels of inequality and America is getting more unequal by the day. If the inequality reaches a certain level the democracy has to be decontented or Doctor Frankenstein's castle gets stormed with torches and pitchforks and that  sort of thing usually leads to an old fashioned coup d' etat... and those carry the risk of even more unpredictable outcomes.

I repeat: genuine liberal democracy is simply incompatible with certain levels of inequality.

When Thomas Jefferson said that "all men are created equal", he didn't mean women and he didn't mean blacks (his only direct descendants) and he certainly didn't mean the Indians. He meant white men of property. In colonial America if you ignored the suffering of human beings of African heritage and the Native-Americans -- at that time not considered  fully adult human beings -- then America was a place where white men were reasonably equal.

Recently stolen from the Indians, land was cheap and opportunities to prosper were many and any local inequality was not much of a problem: if you didn't like the deal where you lived, you pulled up stakes and moved west.

America's institutions date from that period.

These days the frontier is somewhere in China and the US economy has become a game of musical chairs, where every time the music stops they take away more chairs.

The tinder is dry and sparks come when you least expect them. Just like Smokey the Bear preventing forest fires, the trick in governance is to clear the underbrush and keep things from getting too dry.

This is getting extremely difficult in the new environment.  This from the New York Times:
Lots of the bloodletting we’ve seen in the labor market has probably been permanent, not just cyclical. Many employers have taken Rahm Emanuel’s famed advice — never waste a crisis — to heart, and have used this recession as an excuse to make layoffs that they would have eventually done anyway.(...) There are multiple ways to explain why permanent job-losers represent a higher share of the unemployed this time around. Maybe, as others have suggested, many of the jobs gained in the boom years were built on phantom wealth.(...) in addition to obtaining new degrees or training, some workers may need to move to new places in order to start a different career. But sharp declines in housing prices, plus high loan-to-value ratios on many mortgages before the downturn, will make that transition harder. Homeowners who are “underwater” — that is, who owe more in mortgage payments than their house is actually worth — may not be able to sell their house for enough money to enable them to buy a home in a new area. All of which is to say that many of the Americans who are already out of work are likely to stay in that miserable state for a long, long time. And the longer they stay unemployed, the harder it will be for them to transition back into the work force, further adding to America’s growing underclass.
Try to visualize the anger, frustration, the disappointment of the people described in the snippet above and you'll see that my Ceaușescu metaphor has its merits. Gravel, gravel, gravel.

The major difference is that the wealth and the sophistication of America's power elite is infinitely, incomparably, more complex, layered and suffocatingly powerful than the worn out, broken down Communist Party and security services of Ceaușescu's Romania.

However, with the SCOTUS decision America's power structure is beginning to eat its own seed corn, it is beginning to cannibalize it's principal asset, the innermost secret of its power: the prestige of America's fundamental institutions. This is a very, very slippery slope that they have chosen to walk upon. DS

1 comment:

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

Hit the wrong button, sorry.
Harry Haller has left a new comment on your post "American rebellion: Hey you get offah mah cloud......":

The Chinese might have been reading la Clinton lately.