Trying to make sense of the polarization in the United States and in the world at large is daunting, especially in the context of perhaps the most thorough and consistent barrage of propaganda I’ve ever encountered, propaganda not from official state organs but from an angry oligarchy whose will has been thwarted but whose tentacles still manage to strangle our society on every level.
Since I was an adolescent I was mystified by how the German people went from being the most socially and culturally advanced of the eighteenth century, to a people who not only tolerated but supported the authoritarianism of the Nazis; by how the Bolsheviks became Stalinists. I was mystified because such apparent transitions were portrayed as aberrant rather than the norm but as I grew and became involved in continuous academic endeavors, I eventually pierced the fiction presented as history and realized that the purported bad guys were never as bad as presented nor the good guys as noble as popular history, the kind taught in elementary and secondary schools and in undergraduate college programs and through the mass media, made them out to be. All too frequently the reverse was much too true.
Today I am watching the evolution of that phenomena unfold before my eyes, in great part due to social media and the capacity that it provides to interact in real time with myriads of people throughout the world. And I try to synthesize that with the historical perspective I’ve attained over an almost half century of academic interaction and activism. It is sickening, probably just as sickening as it ever was, not just because of the principal protagonists but because of the public acceptance of fictional scenarios so utterly incoherent. It’s not just that we are becoming the Germans of the early twentieth century, it’s the realization that that’s who we’ve always been, and by who I mean “us” on a worldwide basis, not just as Americans, although as Americans our impact is much more dangerous than anywhere else, much more dangerous than the adversaries we’ve created, like ISIS Al Qaeda, the Russians and the purported purveyors of “conspiracy theories”.
I recall the dismay I suffered during the early eighties when simple superficial research made it clear to a number of us that, notwithstanding the antiwar movement of the sixties and seventies, the Democratic Party had almost always been the war party (War of 1812, Mexican War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam). The only exception that came to mind was the Spanish American War of 1898 to which today, we can add the bipartisan supported conflicts in the Middle East. Perhaps even more importantly, that particular group of which I was then a part became aware of the historically bellicose role that the mass media has played in the United States, consistently pushing us into unjustified wars. The incoherence is terrifying. No wonder it was relatively easy for George Orwell to perceive and document it in his seminal “1984”, first published on June 8, 1949, the dawn of the “Cold War”.
Today, we are deeply embedded in George Orwell’s nightmare with only slight deviations. Big brother is not the official leader of the State or Party, he is a conglomerate personality comprised of the mainstream media; the intelligence, financial and military industrial communities; and, the traditional leadership of both major political parties, although today, the bitter losers of the last election appear to be spearheading the virulent counteraction against a public that dared to defy its electoral orchestrations, a production they had deemed too well designed and implemented to fail. And as for the thought that the currently designated uber-enemy might be removed from that role, well that was pure anathema, an abomination, intolerable.
The incoherence becomes more extreme on a daily basis. Resistance to illegal spying on both the citizenry and the electoral victors is characterized by the mainstream media as treasonous; obvious violation of laws designed to protect the citizenry from the consequences of spying on the public is deemed virtuous; and, anything that seeks to diminish the probability of international conflict, even nuclear holocaust, is deemed traitorous. The quest for answers different than those created out of thin air or by hysterically hyperbolic interlocution by the mainstream media are labelled “conspiracy theories” while the mainstream media’s conspiracy theories are labelled “reality”. I can almost hear the echoes of the mainstream media’s fabricated “Remember the Maine” campaign, or the “Remember the Lusitania” (which turned out to be lined with munitions, as the Germans alleged), or the “Remember the Gulf of Tonkin”. Apparently, we derive an almost orgasmic pleasure at being deceived and being led by our noses into conflicts that devastate both us and our designated adversaries, while at home, our health care system, education and infrastructure are left to rot. It’s as though battered wives and battered children are clamoring to be hit some more, a horrible game of blackjack gone wrong.
I recall my naiveté when the Berlin Wall was torn down and the Cold War purportedly ended, wondering just what the poor military industrial complex was going to do, hoping perhaps that those endeavors would be turned towards the exploration of space and expecting that the resulting peace dividend would be allocated to finally attaining the common welfare, the goal for which society is purportedly designed. I recall my admiration for Mikhail Gorbachev, the real architect of those events, my admiration for the courage and faith he had demonstrated. But the truth was that the neoliberal order that had so profited from more than a century of conflict was not yet ready to fade. Not by a long, long shot.
First they replaced Gorbachev with Yeltsin and opened the floodgates to corruption and chaos in the former Soviet Union while concurrently manufacturing new villains from their former heroes in the Middle East (remember Osama bin Laden, freedom fighter against the Soviets?). A little tweak here, a little shove there, some carefully placed insults and the desecration of sites held holy, a bit of a holocaust (not capitalized) against a few Arabs with the bad taste to have lived for millennia on land other Semites wanted, and Booooom, two towers fall and the profitable conflagration is relit, not in its cold version this time but the real thing. Hot dog! Finally, and the folks they are a’ cheering!! Now how hard was that? But now some wealthy semiliterate buffoon is out to wreck that dream with the nightmare of peace with Russia and noninterference in foreign conflicts. Give us the “we came, we saw, he died” gal every time; it was her turn and he must a’ cheated!!! No other explanation. Get out the bras and burn them again. Rebel, revolt, resist!!! No more peace, no more peace, no more peace!
And thus, as the American Revolutionaries played in 1781, we again find “The World Turned Upside Down”.
Black is white, wrong is right, lies are truth.
Just as it’s always been.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2017; all rights reserved