(Swans - March 22, 2010) It is crystal-clear who the villains are: The insurance cartels that shamelessly increase the payments on downtrodden and often unemployed clients. The banks, both large and small, that refuse to provide loans for small businesses despite the fact that one of the objectives of the federal bailout was to provide such incentives. The Wall Street brokers who devise complex methods for milking the general public and whose bonuses rise as steadily as their clients' savings wane. The Neanderthal Conservatives who fight tooth and nail against making health affordable to those most in need and pretend to be bipartisan when in fact they are treacherously working against both the Senate and House bills to prevent health reform from ever coming into being.
We know the villains because we trade with them, or are swindled by them, on a regular basis. We hear them being chided by our president and recognize that their power far outweighs his, and that even though their crimes are condemned by the media and a small claque of liberal zealots, it is all to no avail. Despite spirited denunciations, they remain in power -- their malice remains intact -- their greed continues to impoverish both the crippled working class and the bleeding middle class. We cringe when we see these two-faced politicos bloviate about federal spending and the ruination of American values. We register the fact that they are in it for themselves and their financial benefactors and recognize the intensity with which their lobbyists try to bend legislation so it will fall in line with the wishes of the corporations that regularly employ them.
We watch helplessly as American democracy turns a blind eye to the jobless and the impoverished. We cringe when they proclaim patriotic shibboleths to cover up the mendacity of their own private agendas; wrapping themselves in the flag and mouthing all the patriotic clichés behind which greed and selfishness continue to do their dirty work. We formulate our political opinions based on the projected personalities of our congressional representatives. We think that Sarah Palin is quite cute -- even sexy -- and so, in a sense, it doesn't much matter that she is brainless, covetous, and transparently self-serving. We watch with incredulity as hard-working non-entities like Scott Brown finagle themselves into the US Senate and we marvel at the national gullibility that takes them there.
We laugh at the late-night comics who transform bitter truths into transient giggles. We take solace in "comedy" like people too immersed in tragedy to confront that which is really undermining our lives. We assume that "hard times" will dissipate and "bust" will magically transform into "booms." We are persuaded that "better times are coming" even though the mendicants who threw our nation into crisis still reign -- walk free -- and are already devising money-making schemes for a future that will, in a decade or less, duplicate the economic tragedy that overcame all of us in 2008, 2009, and counting.
The contradictory nature of American democracy is such that we cannot take hold of clear-cut realities. There are so many contradictory opinions about the president and the Congress that we swing from despair to hope and then back to despair again. There are so many contradictory opinions about "right" and "wrong" that it dismantles our moral compass. It is like a clock whose hands, having been unscrewed, can no longer be trusted to provide the correct time. Consequently, opinions about our own welfare switch from hopeful to despairing. We juggle the Indian-clubs of dubious verities as they tumble from our trembling hands and ultimately, are left empty handed.
In a malaise such as this, escapism, not religion, becomes the opiate of the masses. If we cannot escape from personal strangleholds, the next best thing is to distract ourselves with gossip and frivolities. A National Enquirer that doesn't actually inquire is a useful means of distraction, and distraction is the name of the game -- whether it be drugs, sex, or rock 'n roll -- anything but a clear-eyed confrontation with reality.
We are fast becoming a nation devoted to gripes -- which are useful alternatives to protest. Let the press dissolve. Let literature fade from sight. Let blogs, Web sites, Kpindles, and Twitter reign in their stead. These are the shards of flying shrapnel that whiz around our heads when every truth is metamorphosed into a distraction.
Under stresses of this kind, the first thing to go is our traditional sense of righteousness. Everything we touch -- or that touches us -- spreads doubt and confusion. Eventually, we can no longer endure the horrifying realities that clog the front pages of our vanishing newspapers. We cannot empathize with the Congo, Nairobi, Haiti, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Jobless Multitude, the Starving Masses, the Obstructionist Republicans, the weak-willed Democrats, the vacillating president, the empty-headed Tea Baggers, the infidelities of Tiger Woods and the vagaries of Leno, Letterman, and O'Brien.
This havoc of uncertainties dressed up as factual truths mildews the mind and we turn into ourselves to avoid the turbulence of the outside world. In this new wasteland, we can hear the words of T.S. Eliot riding on the wind: "This is the way the world ends -- not with a bang but a whimper."
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