A Surrender of Sorts
Relaxing in the Handbaket
November 2, 2012
We are doomed, saith the preacher, and should accommodate ourselves to it. In times of growing governmental power, protestation at some point becomes futile. Little is served by standing in front of a charging Mongol army and shouting, “No! You should reconsider! Perhaps some other course would be advisable. Let’s parley….”
Complaint is useless. It is too late. It booteth not. We are done. The Mongols ride. America comes apart at the seams. The country turns into something altogether new, new for America.
In high school, I read Shirer, first Berlin Diary and then The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I had little idea what I was reading. A naval base in rural Virginia is not a hotbed of historical understanding, or any understanding. I knew nothing of Weimar or the Spartacists or the Treaty of Versailles. Still, I dimly grasped that a theretofore civilized country with great rapidity turned into something horrible. It was not an evolutionary change, like the Industrial Revolution. Brahms to Goebbels in a decade.
Something alike happens in America, and one wonders—I wonder, anyway—how can this be? In little more than a decade, the Constitution has died, the economy welters in irreversible decline, we have perpetual war, all power lies in the hands of the executive, the police are supreme, and a surveillance beyond Orwell’s imaginings falls into place.
These observations are now commonplace. It is almost boring to read of them—yet they proceed apace. Where we go, we go fast. Already against the authorities there is no recourse. Should you talk back to the police, you will spend the night in jail.
I sometimes wonder whether there is not some malign force in play, some diabolical miasma with a sense of humor that, having brought the Soviet Union down, amuses itself by turning the United States into the same thing. Or maybe it is just that if any state that can become totalitarian, it will.
Or maybe it was just a chance simultaneity of enabling events. Communism died in China and thus ceased to protect America from the withering competition of a populous, intelligent, and industrious race. The internet and easy transportation allowed American companies to abandon ship and head for cheaper climes. They did. Huge countries unexpectedly began a meteoric rise (if meteors rise), chiefly the BRICs. Big once-American corporations became free-floating transnational beings, loyal only to themselves. Open an apparently American laptop and you find that the screen and memory come from Korea, the hard drive from Malaya, the CPU from an Intel fab in Ireland, the whole thing assembled in Taiwan. America cannot stanch the bleeding. Corporations rule the country, and go whither they will.
Have you ever thrown a stick for a dog, which loves to chase it but, when he comes back with it, cannot bring himself to give it to you to throw again, although that is what he wants? The United States cannot let go of its empire. It fights war after war, constantly losing, bleeding money it doesn’t have, because—because it can’t let go. The military itself, an upgraded WWII force, badly unsuited to modern war, cannot let go of its glorious carriers and obsolescent combat aircraft. Governments too can suffer from arteriosclerosis.
And now the Pentagon growls fiercely at China, like an aging terrier at a Rottweiler pup. The world changes. Minds do not. Some minds do not.
Domestically, the storm likewise approaches. Desperation encourages desperate measures, a hard line, and invites the notorious Man on a Horse.
Economically, the country has trapped itself. It is bankrupt in all but admission, but it cannot spend more prudently. If it cuts welfare in the cities, riots will ensure and elections be lost. If it cuts the bloated federal bureaucracy, a form of welfare, the dismissed will add to an already dangerously high number of the unemployed. And elections will be lost.
Cut the military? It and its parasitic industries are so large, so deeply embedded in the fabric of the country, so rife with influential people with families to feed, that reductions are not possible. The suggestion of even minor and usually fraudulent cuts is greeted by predictions of dire but unspecified consequences. Minor cuts are not what are needed.
The dog cannot let go.
It is said that democracy depends on an informed public. This is to say that democracy is impossible. In the American case, blank ignorance of anything outside the borders leaves people easily manipulable. The genius of the American political system is that it is not necessary to suppress inconvenient information, but only to keep it off television. So few people will encounter it as not to matter.
Giving people the choice between Candidate A and Candidate A, neither of whom addresses the real problems of the nation, is to grant them the influence they would have had in the Habsburg Empire. But it keeps them quiet.
It would be interesting to ask the general public: “Which of the following Arab countries is suspected of trying to develop nuclear weapons? (1) Turkey (2) Pakistan (3) Iran (4) Afghanistan (5) None of the above.”
Nonsense is ever a firm basis for politics. The American public believes itself to be free, to have a spirit of rugged individualism, to live in a democracy admired by the world. In fact Americans are not particularly free and becoming less so by the minute, are not individualists but herd consumers formed by a controlled press, and do not live in a democracy.
And totalitarianism comes. This is no longer the assertion of those dropped on their heads as children. Daily we read of more weaponry for the police, more surveillance authorized by courts, more unlegislated powers for Homeland Security. Currency controls fall into place to prevent people from fleeing the country with their assets.
In this direction, I think, lies the future. It is perfectly possible to store every email sent, every purchase made except by cash, every withdrawal of cash; to institute airport-style “security” for trains and buses; to monitor any conversation by telephone; automatically to track cell phones and read license plates and store it all. We are close. We are very close.
Protesting is pointless. No governmental mechanism prevents the headlong progress of things that would have sickened Thomas Jefferson. In the presidential debates neither Candidate A nor Candidate A has said, so far as I know, a word about the tightening watchfulness.
The only reasonable approach is to lie down and enjoy it. Which I shall do.