CONTROL ISSUES

15 04 2018

There are a number of seemingly disparate issues affecting the country these days. When I examine their roots, and the way our society is attempting to deal with them, I see that they actually have a lot in common, and that the commonly accepted responses to them are failing to have their hoped-for effects, for a common reason. Likewise, the optimum solutions to all these very real concerns, while individualized according to the particular manifestation they treat, all spring from a common root. I am going to describe these problems, the conventional-wisdom solutions to them, look at the unintended consequences that these solutions engender, and, as best I can, suggest a Green,  radical–literally “to the root”– solution to them.

GUNS AND PUBLIC VIOLENCE

Gun violence has been a hot-button heart breaker for far too long. The natural, and obvious, response is to make it more difficult to obtain firearms, or at least, as comedian Chris Rock has suggested, to make the price of ammunition prohibitive. Five-thousand-dollar bullets would certainly rearrange a lot of people’s priorities. Hey, the Constitution guarantees the right to keep and bear arms–it doesn’t say anything about ammunition! I have no problem with making  high-tech rock throwers, or the rocks they throw,which have no other purpose than to harm or kill other beings, a lot more difficult to obtain.

But, in spite of the tremendous hue and cry about this devastating fact of American life, legislatures, especially Republican-dominated ones, remain deaf to the appeals of the growing clamor for gun control.

The other clamor for control that we hear around this issue is for increased funding for mental health services, to identify and “treat” kids who seem to be at risk of becoming “school shooters.” However, legislatures are often reluctant to authorize the increased “social services” spending that would be necessary for such an effort. On the surface, that sounds like willful disregard for public safety, but the reality is that it would result in even more psychiatric drugging than is currently the case–and those drugs do not have a good track record for quelling murderous urges, let alone helping unhappy young people get to the root of why they feel alienated and unloved.

These calls for greater control of guns and young people tend to ignore the reasons that drive people to overarm themselves, and the root of the alienation that pushes teenagers and young men to be so desperate that killing as many people as they can before killing themselves becomes the most obvious course of action.

People want guns because they feel fearful and insecure and don’t see much of a future for themselves. Young men become “school shooters” because they feel fearful and insecure and don’t see much of a future for themselves.

The American mainstream does not want to admit that the fears and insecurities of gun owners and alienated young men are all too valid. The future really does look bleak. Our country’s corporate sector has become brutally adept at sucking up every possible dollar it can, and eliminating as many ways for the average citizen to earn a decent wage as it can.  Given our current economic regime, the widely touted possibility of “a jobless future” sounds like a death sentence or a living hell  to the average American, who probably doesn’t like her or his job, but sees that job as the only alternative to homelessness. Factor in increasing levels of surveillance and decreasing personal privacy and freedom, and  things look even bleaker. With that kind of future, it’s no wonder so many people feel angry and hopeless. Is tighter surveillance of “non-conforming” individuals and increased administration of psychiatric drugs really the best we can do?  Is the continuation of greedy corporate policies that increase fear and alienation in order to increase profit really this important? What about finding ways to end corporate domination?

Oh, no, we can’t question corporate domination! Surely the solution must be more control!

SEX

Sexual predation is another real concern that the corporate state is attempting to cover over with the wrong answers. Ever since our primordial, partnership-based, hunter-gatherer culture with its relatively stable population numbers was overturned by competitive men who wanted women to produce babies, babies, babies so there would be more of US than of THEM,  so WE can take what THEY have, the subjugation and objectification of women has been a central tenet of human society.

How can we know that hunter-gatherer societies maintained their numbers and didn’t grow larger? The main groups of “primitive people” who survived relatively undisturbed into our time–the Australian Bush People, Native Americans, the tribes of New Guinea, the San of Southern Africa, and the natives of the Amazon Basin–all had various cultural restrictions on reproduction that kept their numbers fairly steady.

In our culture, recent increased “independence” of women has also made women increasingly vulnerable. In Freud’s time, Western women were largely confined to their parental, and then their husband’s, household, making sexual exploitation mostly “a family affair.” Freud heard these stories and couldn’t accept their reality, postulating instead that, for some reason, women (and young boys, as well) had fantasies of being molested. These stories were not fantasies. They were realities, perpetrated by fathers, uncles, cousins, and siblings who all shared the defect of lacking any perspective on their hormonally driven or otherwise subconsciously conditioned desires, because our culture is almost completely lacking in any kind of teachings about self-awareness.

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Why is there so much sexual harassment? Because this is how our culture teaches us to see women.

With the increased entry of women into the workplace, they have been exposed to the conditioned responses of men who lack even the level of inhibition produced by knowing that the possible object of their exploitation is a family member who will be part of their lives for the rest of their lives.

Legal sanctions are a crude tool for dealing with a complex psycho-social problem like this. It will take a massive public education program in self-awareness, with men gaining perspective on their sexual urges and learning to be sensitive enough to detect women’s communication of their interest in exploring a deeper relationship–or a possibly short-term roll in the hay–and women learning to be more expressive about their interest, and emphatic about their lack of interest, in a potential intimate partner. This will need to take place in the context of an overall paradigm shift away from our current assumptions about male superiority and its prerogatives.

Another aspect of this is the level of sexual exploitation that occurs due to “power-over” relationships in which the more powerful person (usually male) demands sexual availability in exchange for work-related favors. This m.o. could be largely eliminated by an expanded co-operative sector in our economy, which would put an end to autocracy in the workplace. It’s hard to have a political democracy in an economy of workplace authoritarianism.

As I said, I think that control-based legal sanctions that attempt to clamp down on sexual misconduct without addressing the underlying causes tread on shaky ground, and risk moving our society into the territory of George Orwell’s 1984 and its “Anti-Sex League.”

Here’s a relevant quote from that book:

Unlike Winston, she had grasped the inner meaning of the Party’s sexual puritanism. It was not merely that the sex instinct created a world of its own which was outside the Party’s control and which therefore had to be destroyed if possible. What was more important was that sexual privation induced hysteria, which was desirable because it could be transformed into war-fever and leader-worship. The way she put it was: “When you make love you’re using up energy; and afterwards you feel happy and don’t give a damn for anything. They can’t bear you to feel like that. They want you to be bursting with energy all the time. All this marching up and down and cheering and waving flags is simply sex gone sour. If you’re happy inside yourself, why should you get excited about Big Brother and the Three-Year Plans and the Two Minutes Hate and all the rest of their bloody rot?”

That was very true, he thought. There was a direct intimate connection between chastity and political orthodoxy. For how could the fear, the hatred, and the lunatic credulity which the Party needed in its members be kept at the right pitch, except by bottling down some powerful instinct and using it as a driving force? The sex impulse was dangerous to the Party, and the Party had turned it to account.

Think about it. On one hand, we have the Republicans, vowing to “make America great again,” and mobilizing white people with fear of immigrants, even as the GOP undermines the possibility of its base having what was once considered a normal American life. On the other hand, we have the Democrats, working to mobilize people of all colors, ethnicities, and sexual orientations against “Russians and other terrorists.” Both benefit from the alienation and anomie that plague the over-exploited masses, for whom porn and sports events are a poor substitute for genuine intimacy and community. Both political parties benefit from any measure that further alienates co-workers from each other and creates more frustration among men and women alike. Laws criminalizing overtures towards greater intimacy in the name of preventing sexual predation could do just that, just as “the War on Drugs” was promoted by raising fears about cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines, and then employed as a cudgel against the counter-culture’s use of marijuana and psychedelics, while the really nasty drugs became even more widely available. That’s where trying to “control” sexual predation in our current dominator paradigm will lead us.

music break: Eurythmics, “Sex Crime

COMMUNICATIONS

The metaphor of  the drug war as “bait and switch” also applies to our national/international speakers’ corner and public market, the internet. In the words of the late, great John Perry Barlow, the internet was intended to be

a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.

…. where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.

The internet has embodied the best and worst aspects of free speech. The mainstream media  has had its version of reality questioned from a broad spectrum of perspectives, with a broad variation in the accuracy of participants’ claims. “Caveat emptor“–“Let the buyer beware”–is an important caution to keep in mind, on the internet, since the courts of the US and most other countries have concluded that “freedom of speech,” while it does not extend to “freedom to libel,”  or “freedom to commit fraud,” does extend to “freedom to lie,” as long as the lie is not told with intent to libel or defraud. The framers of the US Constitution, and free speech advocates around the world,  have trusted that well-informed citizens will be able to sort the truth from the lies. The qualifier, of course, is “well-informed.” Who is “well-informed,” and who is “well-misinformed”? And by what standards does who get to judge?

Things have reached a pitch in recent years. Sites like Breitbart News engaged in undercover operations and creative video editing to discredit groups like ACORN and Planned Parenthood, and slanted their news coverage to paint a picture that portrasd anyone who is not a straight person of European descent as a danger to the public. Mainstream media did their best to promulgate a narrative of “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq” and the virtues of American corporatism and exceptionalism. News and commentary sites on the left published critiques of the corporate world view and proposed saner, more socialist alternatives.

The pitch came to a head in the 2016 election, which saw insurgents challenge both the Democratic and Republican Parties’ presumptive candidates. The Republican insurgency succeeded, resulting in Donald Trump’s candidacy. Bernie Sanders’ insurgency failed, in part because the Democratic Party’s leadership is far more used to fending off insurgencies than the GOP.

The internet, with its facilitation of the spread of ideas, was widely held to be responsible for Trump’s nomination and ultimate victory, both by enabling Trump supporters to connect with each other and by exposing candidate Clinton’s myriad vulnerabilities.

This has resulted in, yep, calls for greater corporate control of the internet. When the internet was introduced in China, optimists hoped it would enable the democratization of that deeply authoritarian society. Instead, the Chinese found ways to control and censor their internet, allowing widespread commerce and commentary on trivial subjects, but blocking the possibility of widespread critique of the regime. US authorities no longer criticize China for that. Now, Google and Facebook have changed their algorithms to downplay websites and posts that are “divisive” or “socialist.” As with the drug war, where the hue and cry was about hard drugs and the reality was quashing the counter-culture, on the internet the hue and cry is over the Breitbarts and Alex Joneses, but the reality is the throttling of sites like Consortium News, Black Agenda Report, and Alternet that critique global corporate capitalism and suggest saner alternatives.

Last winter, the corporate-captured Federal Communications Commission declared, against all reason, that internet service providers, such as AT&T and Comcast, are not “common carriers,” who are obliged to offer the same service to all comers. Barring a miracle from Congress or a court decision, starting in late April they will be able to discriminate as they see fit, to make “editorial decisions” about which websites they want to promote, and how difficult and expensive it will be for those whose opinions the ISPs do not care for to present their thoughts to the public, or for the public to access such sites.blocked-request

Once again, it’s a control issue. Things did not turn out in a way the ruling class was willing to accept, so they are pushing for tighter controls over the offending institution–in this case, the internet. But, just as tighter controls on angry, alienated, disempowered people who want guns does not address the root of the problem of gun violence, just as further repressing sexually repressed and repressive men will not solve the problem of sexual predation, so making it more difficult to discuss the fundamental flaws of society and potential radical remedies to them will not make those problems go away. Suppression now will only lead to a bigger explosion later. Economic inequality, a financial system and economic philosophy that are disconnected from reality and heading for ruin, the madness of America’s insistence on world domination, and the gathering storm of climate chaos will not go away if we can’t talk about them.

EVERYTHING  ELSE

Here’s a quick rundown on the “control issues” solutions to some of things I don’t have time to deal with in depth.

Income inequality–the world is running out of exploitable material resources–fuels, metals, water, farmland–that people can use to “get rich,” but of course the desire to be wealthier, being an addiction, does not weaken from being fed. The wealth that’s in the hands of the middle class–their homes and savings–is a resource that lends itself to exploitation. You could call it “financial cannibalism”–the rich eat the poor, seeking to control them through ever more militarized police. What will ultimately happen? It is quite possible that the poor will take their revenge by eating the rich. Maybe literally.

Financial gamesmanship–since our legislatures and supposed regulatory agencies are for sale (because they are staffed with people whose money addiction leads them, like those they are supposed to regulate, unable to resist financial blandishments), since they are for sale, they are, of course, purchased by the wealthy in order to circumvent any possible control. The Obama administration didn’t prosecute anybody or any Wall Street firms for the 2008 crash because they knew the people they would have to indict had more money and better lawyers than the government. Besides, they were donating money to the Democrats! Remember, rich people don’t have lawyers to keep them from breaking the law. They have lawyers to tell them what they can get away with. Donald Trump–AND Bill and Hillary–I’m talking about YOU.

And this mad scramble for the gold-plated deck chairs is taking place on the Titanic, which has struck not one, but two icebergs. One iceberg is the climate–which is spinning completely out of control–and the other is the sunset of US hegemony on the planet, which this country is trying very hard to maintain by exerting–yep–more control. Send in the troops, send in the drones, give local tyrants all the weapons they want, punish those who attempt to dissent,  threaten any possible competitor. Ignore the fact that for every person these policies kill or intimidate, they enrage ten more. The pressure of that anger will build until it blows. Uncle Sam is a mean drunk who has insulted everyone in the room but is too far gone to realize it’s time to back it down, pack it up, and go home. Will Sam kick over some tables, whip out his gun, and start shooting? Or will some of the patrons succeed in taking him by surprise and disarming him before he does any further damage? We may be about to find out.hqdefault

Having promised a solution, I have to confess that I don’t have a plan that will instantly spark the planetary encounter group it will take to resolve all these difficulties. Trying to “make” such a thing happen would just be another doomed attempt at control. But I can, and will, honestly listen to, ask questions of, and in general do my level best to communicate with, everyone I can, whether they agree with me or disagree. And, for all that the internet has enabled a certain level of communication. merely typing words in a box is a poor substitute for the richness of face-to-face, in-person connection. How does this take down the oligarchs who seem to be responding to their characterization as “the one percent” by attempting to eliminate “the ninety-nine percent”? I don’t know yet. All I know is, “start where you are,” and here I am.

So–whether you like what I have said here, or you don’t, please get in touch (and I use that phrase intentionally)–it’s an urgent family matter.

music: Richard Thompson, “Yankee Go Home

Eliza Gilkyson, “Requiem

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