What the Koch Brothers Want Students to Learn About Slavery The history-teaching wing of the Koch brothers empire is seeking to promote an alternate narrative to slavery

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Given that the billionaire Charles Koch has poured millions of dollars into eliminating the minimum wage and paid sick leave for workers, and that in 2015 he had the gall to compare his ultra-conservative mission to the anti-slavery movement, he’s probably the last person you’d want educating young people about slavery.

Yet the history-teaching wing of the Koch brothers empire is seeking to promote an alternate narrative to slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. The political goal of these materials is to ensure students see racism and slavery as flaws in an otherwise spotless U.S. record, rather than woven into the fabric of our country from its inception.

The Bill of Rights Institute (BRI) is the education arm of the network of front groups the Koch brothers use to promote their far-right ideology. Maureen Costello, the education director from Teaching Tolerance, has pointed out the many factual inaccuracies in the “Homework Help” video the BRI has recently promoted to teach students about slavery. She concludes that the history presented is “superficial, drained of humanity, and neglects to reckon with the economic and social reality of what opponents called ‘the slave power.’”

A dive into their “Documents of Freedom” readings reveals an even more disturbing agenda. The BRI bills the “Documents of Freedom” as a “modern take on the traditional textbook” — a “completely free digital course on history, government, and economics” authored by unnamed “teachers.” It’s essentially an online textbook that aims to promote a particular version of history, government, and economics that aligns with the interests of the Kochs.

The main “Documents of Freedom” reading on slavery, titled “Slavery and the Constitution,” is essentially a defense of the founding fathers and the Constitution against “some scholars” who “portray the founding fathers as racists.” The reading cherry-picks quotes from “the Founders” to argue that they believed slavery was morally wrong. Although the authors write that “most of the signers of the Declaration and the Constitution own[ed] slaves,” they steer clear of the brutal reality of chattel slavery.

They paint Thomas Jefferson as an anti-slavery crusader who “attacked the slave trade in harsh language” and “included African Americans in the universal understanding of the promise of liberty and equality.” But the Kochs’ curriculum fails to mention that Jefferson wrote Black people were “inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” Jefferson kept nearly 200 people in bondage, and even in his death emancipated only five. He regularly sold human beings away from their families to raise money to buy wine, art, and luxuries that only wealthy planters could afford. Nothing in the BRI reading acknowledges any contradiction between “the Founders’” awareness of “the immorality of slavery and the need for action” and their actual actions defending and protecting slavery.

Furthermore, the reading justifies the so-called three-fifths compromise — whereby an enslaved person was counted as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of congressional representation — by arguing “the Founders” had to make a “prudential compromise with slavery because they sought to achieve their highest goal of a stronger Union of republican self-government. Since some slaveholding delegations threatened to walk out. . .” Not only is this type of “compromise” immoral, but the problem with this logic is that the “slaveholding delegations” that threatened to walk out were themselves “Founders” who played an important role in crafting the Constitution.

In addition to selectively quoting the founders, the authors use quotations from Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln to bolster their argument that the Constitution was an anti-slavery document. It ignores that most politicians, including Lincoln, believed that the Constitution protected slavery where it existed. It also ignores the very large wing of the abolitionist movement, whose most prominent figure was William Lloyd Garrison, that viewed the Constitution as a “devil’s pact,” one “dripping with blood.” Douglass himself was part of that wing of the movement until he broke with Garrison in the 1850s, when he became convinced that framing the Constitution as an anti-slavery document could be a useful tool in the struggle to end slavery.

The reading also ignores how central slavery was to the economic growth of the United States, with phrases like “the number of slaves steadily grew through natural increase.” Natural? There was nothing natural about the expansion of slavery. Slavery expanded because it was profitable. The authors seek to divorce the expansion of slavery from the economic design of the capitalist cotton empire and from the horrific practice of breeding, which became a large source of revenue, especially for Virginia slaveholders.

What is most egregious is what the reading leaves out. Even today’s corporate textbooks will include a paragraph or two that attempt to provide the perspective of enslaved people. However, this reading concludes by arguing there was a steady “rise of freedom” after the Constitution because “the new nation was mostly bent on expanding liberty and equality.” The only way the Koch brothers’ Bill of Rights Institute can draw this conclusion is by completely ignoring the perspective of those whose land and labor were violently stolen by the wealthy U.S. elite.

As if that reading wasn’t bad enough, the follow-up reading, titled “Civil War and Reconstruction,” is a long, boring account that almost exclusively focuses on the battles between Radical Republicans in Congress, who the authors claim wanted to “punish the South,” and Presidents Lincoln and Johnson, who favored more “moderate” reconstruction plans. It might be the first reading I’ve ever looked at on Reconstruction that makes almost no mention of what Black people were doing during the era and barely discusses anything happening in the South.

Only in a pro-KKK film like Birth of a Nation and in the Koch brothers’ curriculum is Reconstruction reduced to a punishment for white Southerners. Let’s look at Reconstruction from the standpoint of those who were freed from more than 200 years of enslavement. It was a time when the formerly enslaved became congressmen; when the Black-majority South Carolina legislature taxed the rich to pay for public schools; when experiments in Black self-rule in the Georgia Sea Islands led to land reform, new schools, and a vital local governance. During Reconstruction Blacks and poor whites organized Union Leagues, and led strikes, boycotts, demonstrations, and educational campaigns. During this period other social movements, especially labor and feminist movements, were inspired by the actions of African Americans to secure and define their own freedom.

As the late historian Lerone Bennett Jr. wrote: “It had never happened before, and it has never happened since, in America.” During Reconstruction, “the poor, the downtrodden, and the disinherited present[ed] their bills at the bar of history.” Of course, today’s elites like the Kochs have no interest in students learning this radical history. In the Kochs’ history, the only mention of Black people’s actions comes in one sentence at the end of the reading that papers over the massive accomplishments of the era: “Although African Americans soon made up the majority of voters in some southern states and even elected some black representatives to Congress, the right to vote was curtailed by southern states through several legal devices. . .”

Tellingly, the Koch authors finish off this reading with a quote from James Madison about the “Tyranny of Majorities.” The authors claim that Jim Crow was an example of when “African Americans in the post-Civil War South discovered firsthand the dangers of majority tyranny in a republic.” That’s the main lesson the Bill of Rights Institute wants students to draw from the Civil War and Reconstruction: You can’t trust the masses, so leave politics to elites like the Koch brothers. Of course, the inconvenient truth is that when one actually focuses on the South during Reconstruction, we see an era where poor white and Black people took political power away from elites. It’s this history that the Koch brothers don’t want students to learn.

By Adam Sanchez / Zinn Education Project

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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War and Empire

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Intersectionality is a Hole. Afro-Pessimism is a Shovel. We Need to Stop Digging

Time to begin critically unpacking intersectionality and its nappy headed stepchild afro-pessimism

The US left has a fundamental problem, perhaps the root of most of its other problems. That fundamental problem is that the US left is not organized as or led by any class conscious or class oriented formations. Union membership is somewhere around 5% of the workforce, and major unions have long been captured by the Democratic party. So the US left is composed of the black activists in their boxes, the gender activists in theirs, the immigrants and their friends over here, Latinos over there, the environmentalists in their corners and the rest in their own zones, each and every one doggedly “centering” their own experience, and if we’re lucky “intersecting” now and then.

It’s a recipe for impotence and futility. But this is the US of A, we tell ourselves, where for some reason a class struggle oriented left has not emerged in any of our lifetimes. Adjusting to this toxic reality rather than taking the responsibility for changing it, US leftists have developed a self-deceiving and self-limiting language, a discourse that normalizes a kind of alternate universe in which class analysis is deprecated and discouraged and class struggle taken pretty much off the table. Intersectionality, and its nappy headed stepchild Afro-pessimism are prominent features of the stifling closet in which the US left has locked itself.

The word intersectionality was originally used by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in her discussion of a civil rights lawsuit filed by a black woman who alleged she’d been discriminated against as a black person AND as a woman. Absurdly the court rejected her claim, saying the plaintiff needed to choose whether she alleged discrimination on the basis of gender or of race, but not both. Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality to cover these instances of multiple and overlapping oppressions. As a legal theory it hasn’t gained a lot of traction. But in the worlds of politics and the nonprofit industrial complex intersectionality has become a pervasive buzzword.

In the worlds of politics and nonprofits intersectionality has become a sneaky substitute for the traditional left notion of solidarity developed in the process of ongoing collective struggle against the class enemy. Intersectionality doesn’t deny the existence of class struggle, it just rhetorically demotes it to something co-equal with the fights against ableism and ageism and speciesism, against white supremacy, against gender oppression, and a long elastic list of others. What’s sneaky about the substitution of intersectionality for solidarity is that intersectionality allows the unexamined smuggling in of multiple notions which directly undermine the development and the operation of solidarity. Intersectionality means everybody is obligated to put their own special interest, their own oppression first – although they don’t always say that because the contradiction would be too obvious. The applicable terms of art are that everybody gets to “center” their own oppression, and cooperate as “allies” if and when their interests “intersect.” What this yields is silliness like honchos who run the pink pussy hat marches telling Cindy Sheehan earlier this month that their womens’ movement can’t be bothered to oppose war and imperialism “…until all women are free,” and the advocates of this or that cause demanding constant, elaborate performative rituals of those who would qualify for “allyship.”

The nonprofit industrial complex, funded as it is by the one percent, loves, promotes and lavishly rewards intersectionality at every turn because it buries and negates class struggle. Intersectionality normalizes the notion that the left is and ought to be a bunch of impotent constituency groups squabbling about privilege and “allyship” as they compete for funding and careers, not the the force working to overthrow the established order and fight for the power to build a new world. Even Hillary Clinton uses the word now.

Afro-pessimism is a term coined by Dr. Frank Wilderson at UC Irvine, and a nappy headed stepchild of intersectionality. Afro-pessimism, to hear Wilderson tell it is the realization that black people have no natural allies anywhere, that we are born with ankle irons, whip marks on our backs, bulls eyes on our foreheads and nooses around our necks. Blackness, he says is “a condition of ontological death ,” and the dead have no allies, at least among the living. Wilderson is at least honest. He freely admits that afro-pessimism leads nowhere and offers no answers to any strategic or even tactical questions. Wilderson’s shtick is that of an old man throwing word grenades and he seems not to care much where or how they explode, as long as they do. Whatever works for him, I guess.

But in the context of a US left that just doesn’t DO class struggle Wilderson’s grenades are being picked up and thrown again and again, both by old heads who ought to know better, and by younger ones looking to fit in with what bills itself as the movement. The intersectionality that dominates the US left is a kind of poisoned atmosphere in which the purple prose of afro-pessimism fits and thrives, a place where the dishonest can pretend, and the unwary can believe it provides the answers that even Wilderson says it does not.

To be fair, some intersectional activists do pretend to embrace class struggle. Patrice Cullors one of the three ladies responsible for the #blacklivesmatter hashtag famously proclaimed herself and Alicia Garza were “trained Marxists.” One might imagine that a trained Marxist would look at US history and discerning that there are no leading class struggle organizations contending for power, try to figure out how to overcome the obstacles to their creation and successful operation.

But the embrace of intersectionality has led the US left in precisely the opposite direction. Intersectionality pretends that class struggle and overthrowing the capitalist order and fighting for power are impractical, impossible, non-pragmatic or just secondary to gender struggles, to the plight of immigrants, to the environment, or in the case of afro-pessimism, to those permanent ankle chains, whip marks and nooses around our necks. Intersectionality calls upon the left to adjust to powerlessness and our poisoned atmosphere, not to contend for the power to change it.

Intersectionality is a deep hole. Afro-pessimism is a shovel. The next thing we should do is stop digging.

By Bruce Dixon/BlackAgendaReport

Posted by The NON-Conformist

The Empire of Apple The company’s new iPhone and retail “town centers” presage a future of Apple as global infrastructure—one that may already have arrived.

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Phil Schiller stands in front of a screen demonstrating the Face ID feature of the iPhone X.Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, announces features of the new iPhone X

For two decades now, Apple has been fighting a battle between attention and disregard. In 1997, when Steve Jobs returned as interim CEO, the company was a struggling maker of personal computers with limited market share. Then came the iMac, a Mac computer people finally wanted to own again. Then the iPod, which transformed the company into a maker of high-design personal electronics and accessories. Then, of course, the iPhone, which made Apple the most valuable company in the world—and changed forever the way people live, work, and play.

Apple’s latest plans, announced on Tuesday at its Cupertino headquarters in a new theater bearing Jobs’s name, suggest that the company has entered a new phase. The iPhone has become so popular that it’s almost hard to notice, like the air people breathe. So now Apple has a new job: to make the iPhone just as important when it’s old and banal as it was when new and extraordinary.

As Apple’s success has magnified, so have expectations for the company. Investors want assurances of continued growth, which has become a concern as the smartphone market has matured. Now everyone has one, and sales growth is stagnating.

For years, both the market and the public have been waiting on Apple’s response. The assumption has been that this would come in the form of a new product (or products). The iPad was the first candidate. Then the Apple Watch. Both have been successful, but not nearly as successful as the iPhone. Expectations have remained transfixed on new, more dramatic future products, among them the mythical Apple Car, whose future is uncertain.

This approach—lining up one new, killer product after another—seems almost impossible, even for Apple. But the company’s latest announcement points toward a new way of culturing attention, one that’s much more subtle than just getting people to buy or rent a glass rectangle year after year.

Attention is a strange thing. It’s often thought that the way to retain power or influence is to hold onto people’s attention—to keep it active, front and center. That’s how iPhone rose to prominence, after all: by ripping a hole in popular understanding of mobile telephony and introducing a totally new paradigm.

But over time, active attention recedes into the background. It has to. Extraordinary events, products, and ideas cannot survive as wild curiosities. They must be made ordinary. Such is the fate of every influential media form, from the electric light to the automobile to the refrigerator to the television to the smartphone.

Media’s true power comes from this habituation. When everyone relies on electricity. When everyone unloads a dishwasher. When everyone commutes by personal automobile. When everyone connects and reads and works and plays on a smartphone.

* * *

Apple’s announcement revealed two new approaches to manage its fall into habituation. One is technical and one is social.

The first approach changes the way an iPhone turns on. Apple’s new, flagship smartphone, the iPhone X, has an OLED display from bezel to bezel, supplanting the home button from the device’s front. To replace TouchID, the fingerprint sensor that provided security for device use and payment, Apple has introduced a new facial recognition technology called Face ID.

 

Why Obama’s Big Cash-In Matters

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One of my little online entertainments this year has been to ask my social media network a question: “So, what’s Obama up to lately?”

I want to know, but I haven’t had the stomach to follow the man once he left the White House.

Truth be told, I burned out on Obama years ago.

I called him out as a corporate, neoliberal imperialist and a de facto white supremacist (as ironic as that might sound given his technical blackness) from the beginning of the nationwide “Obamas” phenomenon in the summer of 2004.

Empire’s New Clothes

From 2006 through 2011, I dedicated inordinate research and writing to the “BaRockstar.” Prior to his 2009 inauguration (an event I found likely once George W. Bush defeated John F. Kerry in 2004), I tried to warn progressives (and anyone else who would listen) about Obama’s coming presidential service to the rich and powerful, their global empire and the white majority’s desire to deny the continuing power of anti-black racism in the United States. I collected my warnings in a 2008 book that bore the deceptively neutral title “Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics.”

I continued to follow Obama closely. In 2010, my next book, “The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power,” detailed his dutiful fealty to the nation’s “deep state” masters of capital and empire (and to white majority opinion on race) during his first year in the White House. This volume exhaustively refuted partisan Democrats who insisted that Obama really wanted to do progressive things but was prevented from that by a Republican Congress. It was a nonsensical claim. Year One Obama had just won the presidency with a great voter mandate for progressive change and had a Democratic Congress. He could have steered well to the wide left of his corporate-center-right trajectory if he’d wanted. But he didn’t want to, consistent with Adolph Reed Jr.’s dead-on description of Obama after the future president first won elected office in Illinois:

In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program—the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance.

By acting in accord with Reed’s retrospectively haunting early description, the “deeply conservative” President Obama ironically helped create the very Republican “Tea Party” Congress his loyal liberal defenders were then able to cite as the excuse for his right-wing policymaking. Governing progressively in 2009 and 2010 would have been good politics for the Democrats. It might well have pre-empted the “Teapublican” victories of 2010.

You’ve Got to Meet Real Socialists

But that’s not what “Wall Street Barry” was about. He was a Hamilton Project, Robert Rubin-sponsored actor who never would have gotten the elite backing he needed to prevail had he been the peoples’ champion so many voters dreamed him to be.

Obama set new Wall Street election fundraising records for a reason in 2008. “It’s not always clear what Obama’s financial backers want,” Ken Silverstein noted in a fall 2006 Harper’s Magazine report titled “Obama, Inc.,” “but it seems safe to conclude that his campaign contributors are not interested merely in clean government and political reform. … On condition of anonymity, one Washington lobbyist I spoke with was willing to point out the obvious: that big donors would not be helping out Obama if they didn’t see him as a ‘player.’ The lobbyist added: ‘What’s the dollar value of a starry-eyed idealist?’ ”

After his 2012 re-election, Obama spoke at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council. “When you go to other countries,” Obama told the corporate chieftains, “the political divisions are so much more stark and wider. Here in America, the difference between Democrats and Republicans—we’re fighting inside the 40-yard lines. … People call me a socialist sometimes. But no, you’ve got to meet real socialists. [Laughter.] I’m talking about lowering the corporate tax rate. My health care reform is based on the private marketplace.”

It was what the socialist writer and activist Danny Katch called “a touching ruling class moment.”

The warm feelings made good capitalist sense. Fully 95 percent of the nation’s new income went to the top 1 percent during Obama’s first term. Obama won his second term partly by appropriating populist rhetoric from an Occupy Wall Street movement he’d helped dismantle with infiltration and force in the fall and winter of 2011. He did this after keeping Wall Street so comfortably bailed out and restored that plutocracy could reach the point where the top U.S. thousandth owned more wealth than the bottom U.S. 90 percent.

By Paul Street/Truthdig

Posted by The NON-Conformist

The Dance of Death

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The ruling corporate elites no longer seek to build. They seek to destroy. They are agents of death. They crave the unimpeded power to cannibalize the country and pollute and degrade the ecosystem to feed an insatiable lust for wealth, power and hedonism. Wars and military “virtues” are celebrated. Intelligence, empathy and the common good are banished. Culture is degraded to patriotic kitsch. Education is designed only to instill technical proficiency to serve the poisonous engine of corporate capitalism. Historical amnesia shuts us off from the past, the present and the future. Those branded as unproductive or redundant are discarded and left to struggle in poverty or locked away in cages. State repression is indiscriminate and brutal. And, presiding over the tawdry Grand Guignol is a deranged ringmaster tweeting absurdities from the White House.

The graveyard of world empires—Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mayan, Khmer, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian—followed the same trajectory of moral and physical collapse. Those who rule at the end of empire are psychopaths, imbeciles, narcissists and deviants, the equivalents of the depraved Roman emperors Caligula, Nero, Tiberius and Commodus. The ecosystem that sustains the empire is degraded and exhausted. Economic growth, concentrated in the hands of corrupt elites, is dependent on a crippling debt peonage imposed on the population. The bloated ruling class of oligarchs, priests, courtiers, mandarins, eunuchs, professional warriors, financial speculators and corporate managers sucks the marrow out of society.

The elites’ myopic response to the looming collapse of the natural world and the civilization is to make subservient populations work harder for less, squander capital in grandiose projects such as pyramids, palaces, border walls and fracking, and wage war. President Trump’s decision to increase military spending by $54 billion and take the needed funds out of the flesh of domestic programs typifies the behavior of terminally ill civilizations. When the Roman Empire fell, it was trying to sustain an army of half a million soldiers that had become a parasitic drain on state resources.

The complex bureaucratic mechanisms that are created by all civilizations ultimately doom them. The difference now, as Joseph Tainter points out in “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” is that “collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global. No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilization will disintegrate as a whole.”

Civilizations in decline, despite the palpable signs of decay around them, remain fixated on restoring their “greatness.” Their illusions condemn them. They cannot see that the forces that gave rise to modern civilization, namely technology, industrial violence and fossil fuels, are the same forces that are extinguishing it. Their leaders are trained only to serve the system, slavishly worshipping the old gods long after these gods begin to demand millions of sacrificial victims.

“Hope drives us to invent new fixes for old messes, which in turn create even more dangerous messes,” Ronald Wright writes in “A Short History of Progress.” “Hope elects the politician with the biggest empty promise; and as any stockbroker or lottery seller knows, most of us will take a slim hope over prudent and predictable frugality. Hope, like greed, fuels the engine of capitalism.”

The Trump appointees—Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson, Steve Mnuchin, Betsy DeVos, Wilbur Ross, Rick Perry, Alex Acosta and others—do not advocate innovation or reform. They are Pavlovian dogs that salivate before piles of money. They are hard-wired to steal from the poor and loot federal budgets. Their single-minded obsession with personal enrichment drives them to dismantle any institution or abolish any law or regulation that gets in the way of their greed. Capitalism, Karl Marx wrote, is “a machine for demolishing limits.” There is no internal sense of proportion or scale. Once all external impediments are lifted, global capitalism ruthlessly commodifies human beings and the natural world to extract profit until exhaustion or collapse. And when the last moments of a civilization arrive, the degenerate edifices of power appear to crumble overnight.

Sigmund Freud wrote that societies, along with individuals, are driven by two primary instincts. One is the instinct for life, Eros, the quest to love, nurture, protect and preserve. The second is the death instinct. The death instinct, called Thanatos by post-Freudians, is driven by fear, hatred and violence. It seeks the dissolution of all living things, including our own beings. One of these two forces, Freud wrote, is always ascendant. Societies in decline enthusiastically embrace the death instinct, as Freud observed in “Civilization and Its Discontents,” written on the eve of the rise of European fascism and World War II.

“It is in sadism, where the death instinct twists the erotic aim in its own sense and yet at the same time fully satisfies the erotic urge, that we succeed in obtaining the clearest insight into its nature and its relation to Eros,” Freud wrote. “But even where it emerges without any sexual purpose, in the blindest fury of destructiveness, we cannot fail to recognize that the satisfaction of the instinct is accompanied by an extraordinary high degree of narcissistic enjoyment, owing to its presenting the ego with a fulfillment of the latter’s old wishes for omnipotence.”

The lust for death, as Freud understood, is not, at first, morbid. It is exciting and seductive. I saw this in the wars I covered. A god-like power and adrenaline-driven fury, even euphoria, sweep over armed units and ethnic or religious groups given the license to destroy anything and anyone around them. Ernst Juenger captured this “monstrous desire for annihilation” in his World War I memoir, “Storm of Steel.”

A population alienated and beset by despair and hopelessness finds empowerment and pleasure in an orgy of annihilation that soon morphs into self-annihilation. It has no interest in nurturing a world that has betrayed it and thwarted its dreams. It seeks to eradicate this world and replace it with a mythical landscape. It turns against institutions, as well as ethnic and religious groups, that are scapegoated for its misery. It plunders diminishing natural resources with abandon. It is seduced by the fantastic promises of demagogues and the magical solutions characteristic of the Christian right or what anthropologists call “crisis cults.”

Norman Cohn, in “The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Messianism in Medieval and Reformation Europe and Its Bearing on Modern Totalitarian Movements,” draws a link between that turbulent period and our own. Millennial movements are a peculiar, collective psychological response to profound societal despair. They recur throughout human history. We are not immune.

“These movements have varied in tone from the most violent aggressiveness to the mildest pacifism and in aim from the most ethereal spirituality to the most earth-bound materialism; there is no counting the possible ways of imagining the Millennium and the route to it,” Cohen wrote. “But similarities can present themselves as well as differences; and the more carefully one compares the outbreaks of militant social chiliasm during the later Middle Ages with modern totalitarian movements the more remarkable the similarities appear. The old symbols and the old slogans have indeed disappeared, to be replaced by new ones; but the structure of the basic phantasies seems to have changed scarcely at all.”

These movements, Cohen wrote, offered “a coherent social myth which was capable of taking entire possession of those who believed in it. It explained their suffering, it promised them recompense, it held their anxieties at bay, it gave them an illusion of security—even while it drove them, held together by a common enthusiasm, on a quest which was always vain and often suicidal.

“So it came about that multitudes of people acted out with fierce energy a shared phantasy which though delusional yet brought them such intense emotional relief that they could live only through it and were perfectly willing to die for it. It is a phenomenon which was to recur many times between the eleventh century and the sixteenth century, now in one area, now in another, and which, despite the obvious differences in cultural context and in scale, is not irrelevant to the growth of totalitarian movements, with their messianic leaders, their millennial mirages and their demon-scapegoats, in the present century.”

The severance of a society from reality, as ours has been severed from collective recognition of the severity of climate change and the fatal consequences of empire and deindustrialization, leaves it without the intellectual and institutional mechanisms to confront its impending mortality. It exists in a state of self-induced hypnosis and self-delusion. It seeks momentary euphoria and meaning in tawdry entertainment and acts of violence and destruction, including against people who are demonized and blamed for society’s demise. It hastens its self-immolation while holding up the supposed inevitability of a glorious national resurgence. Idiots and charlatans, the handmaidens of death, lure us into the abyss.

By Chris Hedges/Truthdig

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Noam Chomsky: America is an empire in decline

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[This piece, the first of two parts, is excerpted from Noam Chomsky’s new book, Who Rules the World? (Metropolitan Books)]

Noam Chomsky: America is an empire in decline

Image: AP/Hatem Moussa

 When we ask “Who rules the world?” we commonly adopt the standard convention that the actors in world affairs are states, primarily the great powers, and we consider their decisions and the relations among them. That is not wrong. But we would do well to keep in mind that this level of abstraction can also be highly misleading.

States of course have complex internal structures, and the choices and decisions of the political leadership are heavily influenced by internal concentrations of power, while the general population is often marginalized. That is true even for the more democratic societies, and obviously for others. We cannot gain a realistic understanding of who rules the world while ignoring the “masters of mankind,” as Adam Smith called them: in his day, the merchants and manufacturers of England; in ours, multinational conglomerates, huge financial institutions, retail empires, and the like. Still following Smith, it is also wise to attend to the “vile maxim” to which the “masters of mankind” are dedicated: “All for ourselves and nothing for other people” — a doctrine known otherwise as bitter and incessant class war, often one-sided, much to the detriment of the people of the home country and the world.

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