Propaganda is subtle – at least effective propaganda is. The more hamfisted it is, the more skeptical even the most earnest of readers become. In his usual clear-eyed style Arthur Silber lays that out in his latest essay (which you should go read right now). Back? Angry yet?
I am. I’m angry. I’m angry that the impeccable avalanche of logic that Silber lays out, facts that roll down to more facts which roll down to inevitable conclusions burying us in a 10 foot wall of cold truth, just aren’t enough. As happenstance has it, I was listening to The Coup as I read his essay, and Boots Riley’s lyrics dovetailed in perfectly:
They got the TV, we got the truth
They own the judges and we got the proof
It’s all there for the taking. There’s no logic that can explain kids starving while we dump excess food in the ocean. There’s no logic that can justify the homeless freezing in doorways while houses stand empty, or are bulldozed. There’s no logic to spraying people with water in freezing temperatures just because they had the gall to ask that capitalism not poison their water.
There’s no logic to profit, to capitalism; there’s just effective propaganda telling us over and over, beating our brains with it until we are numb, that we are nothing more than a collection of individuals responsible for our own rise or demise. For the hundred thousandth time in my life, fuck the myth of bootstraps, that central origin myth of modern Western civilization. I don’t think you can find a single belief that’s left more bodies in its wake. Millions and millions dead, silently, so that the Christmas lights can gleam in the cold air downtown while you do your shopping. We step over the bodies assured that it’s not our fault, that it’s a cold hard world and we just live in it.
These lessons start early, and are reflected and refracted constantly in Western society. My wife was driving home from the grocery store yesterday and on the corner was a woman and her kids. In 45 degree rainy weather they were standing on the corner with a cardboard sign that simply said “Anything helps, extremely hungry.” My wife stopped and gave the woman some cash, 8 or 9 bucks, and offered to take them to get some sandwiches if that would help.
The woman burst into tears.
She’d been passed by car after car and no one had stopped or even acknowledged her. Another human being starving in the cold on a corner and no one could even be bothered to offer her a warm word, let alone a warm meal. A scene that’s repeated daily, hourly in this, the “greatest of nations”. Make America what again?
Why is that? I believe that fundamentally we are social animals – and left to our own devices, I think that most people default to compassion not callousness. But compassion is a liability to capitalism. Capitalism isn’t just casually callous, it’s actively hostile to compassion. Indeed it’s predicated on the idea of atomized individuals, where community is defined as the group against which we measure our own success. Pity for those “less fortunate” than us replaces compassion. Think about that phrase – we acknowledge on one hand that our success is based on luck – that people are simply “less fortunate”, but we can’t acknowledge that as privilege. Sure sure, we feel bad for “those people” but ultimately only in that they become actors in the theater of ourselves; they are the fuck-up foils highlighting our own virtue; privilege be damned, we worked hard for this!
I do a lot of thinking about revolution. That’s strange by social standards I guess, but I do. Some of that is based on hope. It’s a life raft that I cling to at times, when the absurdity of the empire becomes particularly stark, when a starving woman bursts into tears at even a modicum of respect being paid to her. “This too shall pass”, I remind myself. I imagine bricks being thrown, tides of people pushing back against the constant, relentless propaganda that buries us.
I still have hope. I’ll take that with me to the grave. I’m not willing to cede that to capitalism and empire, even if they take everything else. “This too shall pass” indeed. It may take decades, centuries, but eventually capitalism will take its proper place in history alongside every other psychotic and barbaric path that humanity has walked down. I believe that wholeheartedly. [edit: There’s been an active discussion over at Tarzie’s blog after he reblogged this – and I want to clarify that my belief here is that capitalism is not a permanent state of being for humanity; either it will end or humanity will end. That, plus my use of the word ‘hope’ seems to have made this come off as either acting on ‘faith’ or acting fatalistically – neither of which was my intent. More on that in my comments at Tarzie’s.]
But goddamn it’d be nice if our compassion could overcome capitalism’s bullshit long enough to push it into irrelevance sooner rather than later.