Look Away at Your Peril, Citizens

Terrible things happen regularly in our world, under the heading of “man’s inhumanity to man.”   At any given time one group of humans are catching hell from another.  For example, in 1921, a group of angry men in Tulsa, Oklahoma decided it was an intolerable outrage that another group of men, men who didn’t look like them, were prosperous while they themselves were struggling economically.   They went on a full-scale rampage, burning down a large section of Tulsa and killing an untold number of the other, hated, ethnic group.  After the pogrom, the survivors of that orgy of destruction, their former fine homes in ruins, were herded into an outdoor holding camp, presumably for their own protection from the still murderous mob.  

We don’t hear much about this particular racist massacre by a group of men who honestly believed they were superior to the people they were slaughtering, and fully justified in their violent actions.  Next year, when the centenary of the massive Tulsa Pogrom comes around, this particular little known slaughter will be placed before the public again. as if for the first time.

We can observe the sickening echoes of history, the sequences of unfolding events that “rhyme” with the most troubling episodes of the past.   We can see a familiar progression before every outpouring of mass rage:  legitimate grievance, harnessed and enflamed by finger-pointing demagogues, an “other” vilified (often as rapists and child murderers) and then, after sufficient time for this malignant brew to fully ferment, the chants begin, torches are lifted, men with guns ride to the rescue, the villains are brought to “justice,” swiftly, violently, without regard to the ordinary niceties for determining guilt or innocence.

It is a human instinct to look away from this kind of horror.   The impulse is understandable, even if it can also be fatal.   Historical comparisons are always slippery, often used to advance supremely idiotic arguments.   Certain things, however, always follow the same pattern.   In times of vast economic insecurity, for example, when massive transnational corporations employ armies of the world’s poorest, at slave wages, to maximize their profit margin, it is predictable that masses of their former decently paid workers, now without the prospect of employment for a fair wage, will rightfully feel betrayed and angry.  Angry people look for somebody to blame.  Demagogues direct their righteous rage towards some historically powerless group, the scoundrels who are to blame for this savage injustice.

It is predictable that when hundred year killer storms become the norm, instead of rare exceptions to the natural order — despite the robust right wing cries of hoax, fraud, lies, hysterical liberal alarmism — people affected by the storms will feel enormous desperation.  Every news report of a deadly tornado in an area that had never seen one, earthquakes in areas that had never had them, another large city flooded by a killer hurricane, landslides, wild fires, drought, rising sea levels causing floods … increases anxiety.  

It’s impossible to fully quell the thought, with the regular front page news of these now frequent natural disasters, that maybe this increasing natural destruction is not all a Chinese hoax invented by evil job-killing enemies who want to destroy our freedom.   The awful thought that maybe a hundred years of man’s wanton pollution has caused this scary change of the climate will creep in from time to time, especially after your own home is destroyed by an aggrieved Mother Nature.

Look away if you must.  Politics has become an ugly blood sport, the instinct to look away is stronger than it’s ever been, by deliberate design of the game.   As you turn your gaze inward to your own life, and making it as good as you can, in spite of the horrors around you, understand that only one side in the tribal wars has been actively and energetically organizing and preparing for this war for decades.  

Right now that side is winning bigly, while the other side cowers, afraid, torn by debate, many of its would be advocates turning away from “politics” and clinging to the things in life that make them feel most comfortable as the terrible rhymes of the worst episodes of history are jangling like ominous, maddeningly loud wind chimes agitated by a killing breeze.

Here in America only one side of our political divide, the extreme right, has organized a methodical long game to “right the scales” in the culture war.   One party now embraces views that, forty years ago, were the unthinkably paranoid, self-interested (and, frankly, racist) magical thinking of extreme fringe fanatics like The John Birch Society  [1].   The well-funded, smartly engineered campaign that created and funded influential “think tanks” to intellectually argue for their preferred public policies and shape national debate, endowed chairs at hundreds of universities for professors who espouse their liberty-loving views, founded, and funded, an influential national society of ambitious young lawyers and law students to ideologically indoctrinate and promote, through a fellow-traveler career ladder, future federal judges who will act as one to advance their agenda, given a case with the wiggle room to do so, funding national “grassroots” campaigns that appear on television to give the appearance of a massive, spontaneous public outcry, really has no analogue on the left. 

The protection of vast financial privilege, inequalities of wealth and grotesquely unequal chances for life or dignity, has long been the project of the privileged.  There is nothing mysterious about this; you or I, if we were cynics, would probably do the same, under these conditions.   If you stand to inherit a billion dollars from the family trust, and the government seeks to claim half of that in a punitive Death Tax, you will donate however many millions you are required to kick in for the cause of keeping it all.

Liberty, in fact, according to this orthodoxy, demands that the government not be allowed to coerce its citizens or unfairly confiscate the rightful property of  citizens.    An army of desperate poor people will be assembled to stand on the mall in Washington D.C. and every other major city and, in one voice, rail against this vicious government intrusion on human freedom!   Give ’em each fifty bucks and a free lunch, pay an additional ten if they make their own signs.   Why not?   That’s democracy in action, after all.   USA!  USA!!!!

The radical right has played a clever long game, learning from its mistakes, tweaking the program like a skilled engineer does to fix bugs in it.  It doesn’t hurt that they have unlimited money to deploy in sustaining their ever more effective long game.  Every beneficiary of the tangible privileges accorded to wealthy followers of the ideology will gladly kick in to advance the agenda for her own children and the children of her children’s children.   This is simply human nature, which you are free to judge, but powerless to do anything about.  

On the progressive side, historically, and presently, we tend to argue from entrenched positions — incremental change advocates (the practical art of the possible) versus institutional change advocates (justice delayed is justice denied).  We have moderates, urging us to not attempt to frontally attack long-time institutional injustices.   We have liberals, telling us that certain intolerable social evils should be reformed, must be reformed, to the extent possible in our divided political culture,  but that it may take a generation or two, or perhaps, as our recent history shows, a century or more.  

We have a few public radicals on the organized left, pointing out, correctly in my view, that the long slide toward autocracy (and bear in mind, the wealthy architects of the right wing revolution, in their hearts, prize their own liberty to be free of social coercion of any kind above everything else– autocracy for all!) cannot be countered with half measures.  We are fighting unscrupulous reactionary radicals, controlling untold wealth, who are busily spending to entrench themselves in permanent power, and only an equal and opposing energy, organizing and willingness to fight can make any difference.

The dilemma in a nation trained from birth to be pliant consumers — if you are appalled by the rapid advance of an extreme right wing agenda, there is really no place you can visit today, and directly participate to fight, that compares to any of the effective and massively well-funded one-stop shops of the formerly radical right.   If you are a young Libertarian, there is an easily findable career network and ready funding, from a variety of sources, for your liberty-enhancing ideas and a group of likeminded idealists ready to welcome you to their ranks.   Young leftists?  Good luck to you finding an organization to work with, finding people to organize, strategize and march with, in your city or town.

So, to the traumatized people of good conscience I know, I understand 100% your revulsion, and the reason you turn away from the ugly spectacle as our nation drops even the pretense of democracy.   It is painful and scary to witness, and a feeling of helpless anger is difficult to sit with.   There are wonderful entertainments to take our minds off this unsettling state of affairs, a host of diverting and excellent, healthy things to do– rather than watch in horror as the dark clouds of autocracy blot out all hopes of the light ever returning.   I get it, absolutely.   

And I will do my best to console you, sickeningly insistent realist (or unhinged, overwrought imaginer) that I am, in the cattle car, on our trip toward the relocation center.   At that point it will be senselessly cruel to remind anyone that all evil needs to flourish is for people of good conscience to look away, to do nothing.   How were you to really know how bad it was actually getting?   The New York Times was not freaking out, that much.

And, more to the point, it is not as if it was our children, or the children of anyone we know, who were snatched from their mothers’ arms and lost in a system of cages spread across many states, in the name of enthusiastically chanting crowds, for the profit of politically connected entrepreneurs who, flushed with a love of liberty, increased their bottom line bigly with government contracts to house these miserable sons and daughters of rapists and drug dealers.  

Do you think that on our way to the retraining center I would be crass enough to reproach anyone for their natural turning away from horror?   Not at all.   You won’t hear a word of reproach from me.  Why would you?


[1]  One of these wingnuts, the wildly influential, opiate-addled Rush Limbaugh, was decorated with the nation’s highest medal for a civilian, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, hung around his neck by First Lady Melania.   Why not?   Rush was one of the pioneers of this brutal new politics, and one of the most successful promoters of ideas previously considered too insane to publicly advocate.  Without Limbaugh, you don’t get to Trump.   A grateful president acknowledges his debt, without getting too close to Rush, whose late stage cancer might be contagious, after all.  Wind farms also produce cancer, a shit ton of cancer, people are saying.  You can’t be too careful, if you want to live to see the full ripening of your movement towards absolute liberty from government coercion.

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