Monday, August 10, 2020

Random Barking: You Know That

Everybody Knows

...And everybody knows that the Plague is coming
Everybody knows that it's moving fast
Everybody knows the naked man and woman
Are just a shining artifact of the past
Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there's gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows
         -- Leonard Cohen

We live in an anthropocentric world of social and political constructs, dominating the natural biosphere. That structure is composed of more layers than we can imagine, constantly interacting: a terrible beauty. 

We can't know how those layers interrelate with each other. Data and technology can reveal, even predict cause-and-effect interactions between some layers in the constructed world. But no one can have a god-view of the entire system. This makes a definite future difficult to predict.

As animals, we're hardwired for sensory input; every waking minute we navigate our constructed world, we take in information. We consider what we see as fact; or we reject it as false (it's not either/or; more a spectrum of relative value judgments). 

How we determine that is affected by our personal histories and emotional drivers -- and it's happening, for the most part, unconsciously, moment-to-moment.  And those emotional levers are notoriously easy to manipulate. Advertisers, social media oligarchs, megachurch 'pastors' and politicians know this.

Factually, all this is as much as we can know about how we are as thinking animals and the world we are living in. It's an intentionally simplified description, but stops here -- where a pitch by carny barkers, cults, social media platforms or political parties normally begins.

There are religious and metaphysical perspectives, too. I make a joke out of having once met the Dalai Lama (asking if he'd seen Caddyshack), but I was able to pose another question: Was there one passage or observation which he felt summarized the teachings and the way of the Buddha? The Lama -- who never stopped smiling -- considered for a moment, then said, "Do your best."


None of our basic assumptions about America are complete or correct. We've mostly been content to live as resources and participants in a materialist culture, having The Good Life that the Promise Of America is supposed to provide. We've been drifting along on assumptions about what America is, what our national priorities are, where we as a society we should go. Not even the 2008 Recession shook us out of our complacency.

Before Covid, most Americans assumed America wasn't perfect, but things are way better than they were in the past. Economic and racial inequality takes a long time to address! 2008? Well, we came back from that (or, most did). As long as people could pay their way, America appeared to be a progressive society. 

Unless you're Black. Or Latino. Or Native American. Or Poor. Or an Immigrant. Or 'Other'. If so, then they already understood the High School Civics Class View of America was not based on their lives. They already understood what the knee on the back of George Floyd's neck felt like.

All of the metrics of the Pandemic have already been reported: the unemployed, the shuttered businesses; the evictions; the dead, the populations at risk. The Great Recession wasn't a mortal blow to America. But the Pandemic might be


When not talking about SARS-CoV2, my friends in America are focused on the November election. They see it in traditional terms: Either / Or.  They're the "Democrats" (or 'Progressive Independents'; or 'Left', anyway),  in opposition to "Republicans" or 'The Right'. They see the result of this contest as pivotal, a critical juncture; I agree. But the unspoken assumption is, Once Biden is elected, everything can go back to the way it was

This is based on the ideal that American society and culture really are progressive, egalitarian. My friends -- some of whom have children -- want a good outcome for our collective future. So do I... but I realize we're looking at our current state through different lenses.

They believe the fundamental layers of America -- our collective assumptions -- are real. That they are strong enough to see us through this crisis. That the rise of an armed, delusional Right, the revelations of bottomless greed and vulpine mendacity of The Wealthy; the absolutely chilling, child-sacrificing heartlessness of right-wing politicians, over just the past seven months, will disappear, swept away by a 'Blue Wave'. I feel those assumptions are laughably naive. 


America is everything in our memory and our lives tomorrow; but what we were taught are a fiction. This isn't a new revelation -- but for generations, only marginalized, ignored Americans have been saying it: that our national history is incomplete. It ignores and marginalizes Slaves; Native Americans; Women; Non-Christians; Immigrants; Commerce and War; Wealth and Inequality. 

But the most incomplete part of our national history is that there really is a One-One-Hundredth, a One-One-Thousandth of the One Per Cent who own the majority of everything worth having. With the exception of noveau riche newcomers like a Bezos or Gates, a Musk or Ellison or Zuckerberg, you never hear about the truly Rich.  They are behind a curtain, living and playing in places you will never hear about or see in photographs, let alone be allowed to enter. 

The history of politics has always been a struggle between the representatives of Our Wealthy, and those speaking for The People, to wrest concessions from the Rich on behalf of the rest of us.  Everybody knows there is one system for Them, and another for us. Since the Gilded Age, 150 years ago, this has never been made clearer in America as now. 

They care about their families first, then those in their class. Everyone else is only important relative to our usefulness to Their interests. Politicians, the judicial system; even laws are inconveniences, things to be manipulated. 

They view society not as a structure of cooperation, but a mechanisim created to satisfy their desires and further their interests. To Them, the notion of 'Freedom' does not include the visions of a John Lewis, Dr Martin Luther King, a Dietrich Bonhoffer or Mahatma Gandhi. It does not apply to you and me.

And, they absolutely do not care at all what happens to you.  When a Covid-19 vaccine is developed, it will be provided to Them, first, because they are The Best, and Our Owners. The rest of us will wait; some will die. 

If you say all this makes the wealthy sound like monsters, I won't disagree. They are.


An opinion piece in today's WaPo notes that we are in a 'Pandemic Depression': Covid-19 has stressed all the fractures in our society at once -- racial, economic, gender; generational; political. But our past seven months of terror, suffering and cruelty were the result of the last four years of corrupt, incompetent authoritarian rule. 

And the Past four years were led by a Prologue: thirty-five years of right-wing talk radio and 'news': Limbaugh, Weiner, Murdoch; Sinclair, Mercer. Corporate media. The unbridled, savage expansion of personal wealth and societal power in the hands of the wealthy and conservative politicians, conservative judges. It will not vanish with a Democratic president. 

This is the malignancy which America's political right and Trump have bequeathed the country. It can't be walked back. We don't have the political cohesion to accomplish it. Republicans have shown themselves openly to be craven, ruinous opportunistic liars and toadies, and they will resist any change just to protect their bloodstained reputations. They are scum; no mistake.

But, let's be clear: Democrats are almost as corrupt as the Rethugs. Their campaigns are financed by the same wealth that pays the Right: it's equal-opportunity bribery. If our society isn't cohesive enough to heal our most serious divisions, the Democratic National Committee doesn't have the political will or desire. 

Many in the DNC want a return to Obama-era neoliberalism, the continuing march of globalism. Everything the way it was, with vaccines. Don't believe it? Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez is being denied a speaking slot at the Democratic Convention. But, She Who Will Not Be Denied, Hillary, will speak. So will her shiny Bill-O. They will be the Voices Of Our Hopes.

At least the Republicans are more open about what they are.


This is what Covid has done for us. It's made it easier to see and feel the weight of our collective cognitive dissonance around what America is. That the notion of race and social equality, getting better all the time, is a fiction. That what truly matters in America is how much money and influence you have, the color of your skin. 

For someone who's served, in more ways than one; taken oaths; to finally come to an understanding of what it is you'd been in love with is difficult. I'm not talking about some popularized 'woke' meme, adopting a perspective because it's Trending. It's a gut-level understanding that you've been wrong. My grandfather would have said: Du hast die Realität falsch verstanden; you have misjudged the reality around you. You're not sure where that takes you, but you're going to have to let it settle and live with it

Dashiel Hammett used to say that, when he came into a city, all he wanted to know was 'Who runs the cops?' Who are the real bosses? This is what we need to ask ourselves, going forward. It's the same question people ask in Putin's Russia, or Lukashenko's Belarus, Bolsonaro's Brazil, Orban's Hungary or Jinping's China. Who do we need to avoid, or bow to, just to keep living our lives?

The polite fiction of our country as egalitarian, a nation of laws, with two separate and different political parties offering a free choice of different perspectives, will continue until it becomes an encumbrance. Those of us who still have jobs will hang on to a vision of America as the freest place on earth, while watching Federal 'police' on the streets, rounding up the angry and the unruly and the hungry. 

Do Your Best.

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