Spellbound. Hypnotized. Entranced. Narcotized. Captivated. Anesthetized. Mesmerized. Fascinated. Mystified. Stupefied. From literature to film, our culture is rife with stories of men and women coming under the mental sway of diabolic schemers. Wielding the conditional clauses like a wand, Iago spellbinds Othello to a state of jealous rage, which leads him to kill Desdemona, his innocent wife. In the German series Perfume, a master of scent-making conjures fragrances unique to a particular person, and which makes him or her completely irresistible. In the film Inception, ingenious thieves implant formidable ideas in the subconscious of unwitting targets. Anywhere we look along the cultural horizon, we see myriad forms of mental control enacted by hypnotists, enchanters, occultists, witches and wizards. Of course, none of these appellations carry anything but contempt in the public realm. Except that the idea of mentally hijacking the consciousness of another person, or many persons, is no myth. It is real, and it happens daily, typically through the various apparatuses we’ve liberally scattered through our homes. Televisions, mobile apps, podcasts, magazines, books, even Amazon echoes, which are being made to recognize emotional states (in order to monetize them). We are eminently suggestible. We are prey to the charisma of the sociopath, susceptible to the pressure of peers, tender-minded before the majestic visions of religious seers.
And one needn’t turn to Othello to read of a man held under the sway of a deviant marplot, though it is perhaps our best embodiment of the phenomenon. French Marxists and sociologists have left a shelf of helpful tomes to apprise us of how we have ourselves been bamboozled. Louis Althusser proposed Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs) that condition populations to accept the ruling ideas of society (ruling ideas courtesy of the rulers, of course). Jacques Ellul described a kind of “current events man” whose entire attitude and mood is determined by the streams of news media he or she consumes. When we move into the literature of propaganda and social control, we may swap the more pedestrian term ‘social conditioning’ for the titillating one, ‘wizardry’, but they really do amount to the same.
The Friendly Liberal
I’d like to look at one particular form of brainwashing that we have fallen for. This brand of brainwashing is important to spotlight because without seeing through it, without unmasking it, the full-throated cries for justice issuing from the streets will come to naught.
Though it is easy to disagree with conservatives, with their stridency and purblind allegiance to transparent frauds like Donald Trump, they often see across the aisle better than the liberal left sees itself. There is absolutely something akin to Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) in this country, a special kind of trance that has overwhelmed an outsized share of the American mind. It is a capacity to attribute nearly all wrongs in society to a singular figure, the president. Into that cipher of spray tan and hairpiece we deposit blame for all perceived injustices. Against that visual figment on the screen we aim all of our aimless fury at the state of the nation. So much so that the majority of us, it seems quite plausible to suggest, have narrowed our political purpose to a single act: Get Trump. As a result, many of us will likely vote Democrat in the fall, gently shepherded into the booth by gatekeepers like Bernie Sanders, hectored by a fiendish alarmist media, until we pull the proverbial lever for Joe Biden, the more effective evil marketed as the lesser. Given this likelihood, what can we expect in terms of positive progress from the mass uprisings across America, having now encompassed 500 cities and towns?
Uprising and Upshot
Here we are, weeks into the George Floyd protests, and what has been accomplished? The demand to defund the police is a powerful and intelligent one. It has exposed the budgets that have sandbagged municipal and state policy. One hundred billion dollars annually goes to police departments around the country. Nearly six billion alone goes to the NYPD. Education, healthcare, and other services are happily cut even as police funding either advances unscathed or is improved upon. Budget increases in PDs have outpaced population growth. The Pentagon’s 1033 program has facilitated the transformation of police from beat cops with billy clubs to mercenary urban soldiers with body armor, chemical agents, tasers, and machine guns on their bodies. Federal spending on police, prison, and courts of law have grown significantly since the 1970s, even as presidents Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and Obama slashed welfare, from temporary assistance to food stamps.
On the heels of the widespread call for defunding, residents of Capitol Hill have created the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ, that is free of police, or the enforcement arm of state fascism. CHAZ was established after the police were chased off the Hill and abandoned their precinct there, something not even the WTO protests of 1999 could achieve. If the CHAZ plays its cards right, they could be an incubator for a new kind of community policing, or at least something akin to what’s been done in Camden, New Jersey. It only strengthens the call for defunding if there is a model for community-based security ready to receive reallocated funds from the draconian city PDs. Yet this concept represents an existential crisis for PDs across the country, which suggests they will push back hard. Already we’ve seen an unhinged, half-comic, half-swinish piece of theater from the NYPD union boss insisting people “stop treating us like animals and thugs and start treating us with respect.” Tit for tat, one might reply.
Crumbs for the Craven
It also goes largely unremarked that the police forces in LA, NY, and Boston are presided over by biddable Democratic liberals. In Manhattan, Bill De Blasio’s administration spends more on policing than health, homeless services, job development put together. At the same time, he has gone out of his way to lavish sycophantic praise on the precinct after precinct, even as his daughter is assaulted. Like all neoliberal handmaidens, he responds to calls for justice with promises to listen, provide answers, and deliver inclusive dialogue. None of which will amount to anything more than mounting frustration as more people realize the carceral state is the brainchild of the Clinton administration and a longtime segregationist and punitive enthusiast who happens to be our lesser evil candidate for November.
Given the lay of the land, what has the duopoly given us in response? A tepid reform bill that renders illegal a police action that has long been banned. An array of Congressional Democrats delivered a contemptible show of unity with the protestors, donning multicolored Ghanaian kente stoles and kneeling (unsteadily) on the hard marble floor of Emancipation Hall on Capitol Hill. Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, having survived a likely loss to Bernie Sanders thanks to backroom DNC chicanery, has littered the cultural landscape with garbage of a particularly repulsive kind. One day he tells an audience if they are black and don’t vote Democrat, they aren’t black. Then he announces that he opposes defunding police departments and declares that they actually need more money to do their job.
Has ‘radical’ democratic ‘socialist’ Bernie Sanders rallied his once-formidable movement in support of the protests? No, Sanders has endorsed Biden, the man who supposedly represented all that he opposed. He has joined Biden in calling for more money for police. He scolded his followers for being “irresponsible” when many declared they wouldn’t support Biden. He allowed his staff to create a Super PAC to funnel money into the duplicitous DNC. He warned his delegates they needed to back Biden or risk being removed. His empty calls for police reform mirror those of the establishment. He is precisely the “sheepherder” that the late Bruce Dixon of Black Agenda Report said he was five years ago.
The New York Times declares a reckoning has hit “boardrooms, classrooms, streets, and stadium”, but its lead evidence is that Merriam-Webster is changing its definition of racism; a university dance coach was fired; NASCAR banned the Confederate battle flag; and Nike made Juneteenth a paid holiday; “The Bachelor” finally picked a black bachelor to lead the next edition of the show after 18 years of wonderful whites. Forgive us for being underwhelmed.
Aside from this token reform and tepid theater, the only other things protesters have received from the liberal establishment — the side of the establishment that is supposed to be on their side — are calls to vote Democrat in November. Even veteran critics like Noam Chomsky are insisting we must vote for Biden this fall or the planet will be extinguished by climate change. As if rejoining the non-binding but lavishly hyped Paris Accords will fix things, and as though the Democratic Party is not beholden to the energy industry. Lesser evilism is tantamount to treading water in the sea. Sooner or later, you either swim for shore, or you drown.
Meanwhile, paid-up liberal apologists at places like The Atlantic trot out their timeless quadrennial refrain: our candidate has changed, he has evolved over time to embrace the better angels of our nature. This tawdry platitude can be dismissed as easily as it is proffered. As the late Christopher Hitchens pithily remarked (probably while on his barnstorming anti-Yahweh tour), “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” True and necessary in a time of wanton fabrication. As one poster on social media remarked, these ‘changes of heart’ in our candidates are merely signals that our jejune political lifers have spied the political weathervane moving in a different direction. They are amoral at core, bereft of conviction in a business that demands the most pliable moral posturing.
Yet the “he’s evolved” argument, trotted out every four years, is really a psychological salve for the cognitive dissonance of liberals, if they feel any. When the “evolved” candidate wins office and promptly betrays his progressive promises, they can simply say they had been naive. They had had too much faith in human nature. What can I say, I took the man at his word. In other words, they’re exempt from blame for his odious backtracking. But this ignores the history of lies that Democrats have fed liberals for decades. Only by deliberately eviscerating that history from their memories could liberals claim any sort of legitimate naivete. Otherwise, they are consciously facilitating a gross imposture. They move safely within the establishment realm while maintaining a patina of progressivism and a facade of ignorance about the near universal likelihood that Democrats will govern well to the right of their campaigns.
Shouting into the Void
Prediction: It is unlikely anything of significance will emerge from these weeks of protests. As noted, both parties have quickly refused to defund, with Biden calling to increase funding, either a brazen act of elite defiance, or the tone-deaf ignorance of a political hack. The CHAZ will likely be overrun like Obama coordinated with states to violently uproot Occupy, before co-opting their message for his re-election campaign. This is not to mention his blasé disinterest in Standing Rock, another sign that the man simply did not identify with minorities or, crucially, the working class. His was a tribe of rulers.
Until a critical mass of citizen-consumers recognizes outright that neither party supports them, episodic uprisings will change nothing. Just tepid critiques, token reform, and facades of institutional progress. As veteran activist Angela Davis points out, that aside from the woeful inadequacy of reformism, “…reforms have often rendered the institution itself more permanent.” Was not Obamacare a move to forestall demands for Medicare for All, and an attempt to help shift the burden of healthcare from the shoulders of corporate America onto those of ordinary taxpayers, who already pay a higher percentage of their incomes to the IRS than do most corporations?
Given the Democrats’ slavish servitude to corporate money, there is no evidence they have the moral fortitude to unhitch themselves from the coffers of the global oil and gas industry, meaning they will never effectively address climate change. Given the Democrats’ subjection to the patronage of Wall Street, there is no evidence they will meaningfully restrain financialization and the crushing meltdowns that confirm the moral hazard of ceaseless bailouts, meaning the next collapse will only further immiserate workers in order to enrich hedge fund barons who have never known indigence but are happy to inflict it on others and reproach them for their lack of industry. Given the Democrats’ fealty to the garrison state, there is no evidence they will willingly take on the Pentagon budget, let alone shrink the metastasizing scope of our foreign wars, meaning they will continue to clandestine slaughter of poor people of color in points abroad.
It was Biden, after all, who was point man for the unseating of Victor Yanukovych in Ukraine, implanting U.S.-friendly puppets in Kiev, as a stepping stone into Russia in the ongoing energy war for control of European pipelines. In other words, Biden is the right man to ensure the continuation of the hegemonic strategy that Donald Trump unwittingly threatened, when he speculated about friendlier relations with Moscow. The entire Russiagate fiasco was a steady state action to control the Executive. A majority of bourgeois liberals have fallen for the ruse, even as their beloved Democrats have wedded themselves to the intelligence community in a cynical alignment that should have, once and for all, established the party as the servants and hirelings of imperialism. But it didn’t. For reasons of consciousness.
Effecting real change will require the facade of bourgeois liberalism to be unmasked. Liberals are not truly on the side of the working class. Liberals, the bourgeoisie professional class who gain the most from elitism, have loudly proclaimed their solidarity with minorities. They’ve waved flags, blown horns, leaned out of windowsills and chanted their support. But we know how far these virtue signals go. They go all the way to the threshold of the voting booth, where they are gently set aside while professional whites vote their class interest. They then console themselves with the baseless belief that whistle-stop rhetoric can be believed and tell themselves that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice, however incrementally. So, liberals are not real friends of the African-American. They will vote for the system, not against it.
For them, everything flows back to the figure of Donald Trump. Blind to the symptomatic nature of his presidency, they cannot temper their bloodlust. They will back any steady state program to unseat the orange beast. Spying on a presidential campaign and assembling fake kompromat? Done. Treason investigation? Done. Impeachment trial? Done. Color revolution? Done. Nothing has yet ejected the scourge from the White House. That will likely happen in November. But the result will be a forfeiture of outrage. A celebration of the return to the quietude of the continuous manufacture of inequality. Beneath a banner of multiculturalism, the gap between rich and poor will widen exponentially, while efforts at bridging the gap will happen in small increments. The gap will grow, incremental ‘progress’ notwithstanding. This is the hypnotic facade that needs shattering before a popular front, built on class, themed by diversity, and empowered by numbers, can deconstruct and reconstruct the state in its own image. It’s time to break the spell.Print