Swans Commentary » swans.com June 28, 2010  



The Gang's All Here


by Michael Doliner





(Swans - June 28, 2010)   When I think of the United States now, it is hard not to think it's already gone. It reminds me of a character in a Jack London story who has gone out when it is way too cold. The cold has frostbitten the delicate tissue in his lungs and this damaged tissue will, when spring and wetter air comes, flake off, cause the lungs to fill with fluid so that the man dies of pneumonia. He is already dead but he doesn't know it. He keeps staggering around, doing things, having a life. This might go on for quite a while, but his fate is already sealed.

Perhaps what convinces me most that the U.S. is posthumous is its apparently suicidal tendency to continue doing what will surely doom it. Take what is called "income inequality," but should be called poverty. Poverty is our most important product. Enormous numbers of people are falling into homelessness or near homelessness. What will that do to what we call the social fabric? Present day Americans are a docile sort. They seem quite ready to take all the crap anyone is inclined to dish out. But what of their children, the ones who will grow up in poverty, scrabbling on the streets where they will be robbed, beaten, and killed? Some of them are going to do that robbing and beating, and a few of those are going to know how to get others to do their robbing and beating and killing for them. These boys and girls will not be so docile. Here is a story that tells us what will happen to them. The gangs that spring up in poverty exploit poor kids on the street until they join a gang or form a new one. Pretty soon they have control of the neighborhood. Then they exploit rich kids. It's anything but rocket science. Having suffered and inflicted violence all their lives it is as natural as breathing to them. They live with death and expect it. Think the police will save you? Guess again. They will know the police, nothing but kids from the same neighborhood who decided to take the state's penny, and will be quite ready to fight with them and even with the military. But the police won't be ready to fight because the police are only doing a job and have no intention of getting killed while doing it. They have families to protect. They are happy to kill others as long as they have overwhelming force, but not when things get even close to even. They will spend most of their time waiting for backup. They have no motive to risk being killed, and police, like anyone else, are open to corruption. Gangs pay off police to leave them alone. As things begin to slide and tax revenues grow short, the gangs will be able to pay them better than the state. The gangs and police soon develop a modus vivendi. Criminal gangs are just feudal fiefdoms in embryo, a new form of government growing in the shadow of the old. They are as natural as weeds.

The old government, hiding under the Constitution the way a bum in the rain cowers under an old newspaper, is completely unable to respond to this threat. With Bush et al. unprosecuted, with patently unfair drug prosecutions, and with obvious racist and classist bias, the courts have force, but no authority. Judges don't judge but inflict mandatory sentences that no sane man would think just. Cops force innocent people to plea bargain, threatening them with arcane prosecutions against which their innocence could not protect them. Police murder people, get caught on cell phone camera, and then walk. The drug war, especially against marijuana, is an obvious persecution of innocent people. No one believes in the justice system, so why shouldn't the police work for the highest bidder? The system is just "the system," without moral weight. The courts are nothing but an extension of the rule of force and, with the hideous torture palaces such as Guantánamo, the big boys seem to be cutting out this wasteful rigmarole of a "justice system." I mean, why bother with trials anyway? Cut out the middle man and throw them directly into the clink.

As history's stupidist tyranny impoverishes the population, the gangs will grow. The government will, for a time, be able to decapitate these gangs and that will fragment them. But gangs are like oil spreading on water. Little droplets combine into larger ones as one gang overwhelms another and takes its territory. They become the real government. They don't think of themselves as the bad guys. The smarter and more successful leaders will provide services, not only commit crimes. When a leader is killed it just makes room for another, for the ability to lead is a human talent that grows in this soil. Unlike ambitious politicians financed by special interests with no talent for leadership, gang leaders have had to win the loyalty of their follows with their personal qualities -- perhaps cunning, perhaps savagery, or perhaps even the ability to keep others happy. These are guys who came up in a trial of fire on the streets, not smarmy financiers whose talent is tap, tap, tapping away at keyboards. Eventually, the gangs will challenge the government itself, not everywhere like a revolution, but just locally, say, in Arizona. There will be nothing "political" about it. The American military, like the police, is a mercenary force. Whatever patriotic impulse it retains will quickly evaporate once it is deployed on home ground against Americans. Sadism and careerism will remain, and those so inspired will not be inclined to risk-taking or unconventional thought. At best the government will be able to retain loyalty up to its ability to pay for it. This doesn't make for good soldiers. In any case the military always makes bad police. They don't know what is going on in the neighborhood.

As far as the military goes, the U.S. possesses far less force than it might seem. Most of the war toys are useless. For example, the huge aircraft carriers will be sunk in the first day of battle with, say, Iran. The only thing that keeps them afloat is the U.S.'s ever more blatant threat to use nuclear weapons. The generals, locked into groupthink and runaway careerism, are not going to even try to peek around their blinders. Their game is to find out what the right thing to believe is, and declare it. Such brains can pursue failed policies for years. How long are they going to fight the present lost wars? Like totalitarian toadies everywhere their beliefs ride on weather vanes. Toadyism is the talent most rewarded in the USA today. It's a toady, toady world, fella. Question anything and get your head lopped off. So, the smart money is on laying low with a finger in the air.

Is it all for defense? Why would anyone attack the United States when it lies so supine and half dead at your feet! With the tsunami of dollars sloshing around the globe foreigners can just buy the fucking country with wads of worthless greenbacks. The only ones who might attack the U.S. are its own enraged citizens after being tempered in the forge of poverty. But that doesn't stop these lard-brained generals from conjuring up menace after menace and throwing money down the rat hole to protect against fantasies.

The present wars are a good example of just how helpless the U.S. is. The U.S., with its soldiers so burdened with equipment that they don't look human or encased in lumbering tanks and near-tanks, come rolling into town and blow it all to hell. All right, but then what? You can't go around loaded down with so much crap that you clank with every step and expect to make friends. Do you think they don't know you are there to exploit their country? Are you going to buy them off with chocolate bars? The plans put forth (COIN) only show that insanity and stupidity are vying for control in the spongy brains that concocted them. Win the hearts and minds? Are you serious? Shouldn't you be seeing a specialist? The only friends we are likely to win are those we pay, and that's not much of a friend in my book. The wars are already lost, and have been since the Iraqis perfected IEDs (improvised explosive devices). IEDs destroy multi-million-dollar pieces of equipment at dime store costs. Those who set them can pretty well lay low out of danger. It only takes a few people to set up many of these, and aside from the bomb maker they don't have to be that well trained. And of course the bomb maker can train others. We are engaged in a contest to see if we can keep bleeding long enough that they get tired of sticking us with forks. Does that sound like a way to win a war? The real fighting didn't start until all the early blowing up was done and the U.S. was sitting in the town square. When they pulled down Saddam's statue they started, they didn't end, the war. Now that we are there we have to fear anyone on a cell phone. That's no way to show you are the master race. As long as the enemy can set these devices, the occupying army can have almost no political influence. You would think that someone in the government might figure out that you can't make friends with people sitting at the table when you are cowering under it.

"The men in Pakistan's tribal region view Americans as cowards and weasels," he added. Why wouldn't they? It's not brave to sit back in Arizona munching on a Big Mac while joysticking drones into houses and blowing them up like aliens on a computer screen. These weapons serve only one purpose, to kill without running the risk of being killed. They are deadly fireworks celebrating cowardice. The U.S. is like a traumatized child cowering in the corner behind the garbage cans. I guess this is the result of never in living memory having been attacked. Or is it just part of the national character? Obviously, those who are running this bedlam are both incompetent and mad. The mightiest military the world has ever seen and we're afraid of mice.

The American imperial venture has, for some time, been a peculiar one, with all the foreign interventions being losing propositions. For the wars cost far more than we can ever hope to extract in wealth from the states we enslave, even the oil-producing ones. Perhaps that is why fools think our wars are not imperialist. But these wars served first, to justify the military budget, used to extract wealth from the American population itself, and secondly, to enforce dollar hegemony, that allows the U.S. to borrow immense sums without having to pay it back. It's a clever way to support a useless, moronic, joyless class of accountants.

America is like a small-town carnival in which a fireworks display distracts the Rubes while pickpockets comb the crowd. Except it's worse, because the Rubes hand over their dough willingly, overwhelmed by the stream of bullshit that fills their brains and short circuits any thoughts that might once have sparked in their synapses. Those who dish out the bullshit probably believe it, for they are the cream of the liar crop, and the best liars believe their own lies. For example, who in the Defense establishment could possibly open his mind wide enough to comprehend that this giant war machine built to counter an enemy who doesn't exist is superfluous, never mind wasteful and evil? On the contrary, with the sincerest voice, and no doubt with a pure heart, the Pentagon experts will advocate its enlargement. Stupidity is not a trait of individuals; it's built right into the system and has become a human right, supplied in ever greater doses the higher up you climb in this pyramid of buffoons we call the state. Instead of a meritocracy we have created a moronocracy. You've got to be a complete idiot to get anywhere in this hell hole. I had never realized that such complete bewilderment was part of civilizational decay.

In such an atmosphere what is the meaning of good intentions? The nation-state system is really a form of hypocrisy-helper with built-in mechanisms for thwarting good intentions. Since the Defense Department's purpose is to extract money from Americans and spend it on war machines thus enriching the generals and their buddies, the goal, from a business point of view (and what other is there?), has to be perpetual war. Though I am sure it is not "intentional" and no doubt never mentioned, the American imperial venture is more a question of permanent war than of fighting wars to win and end them. That this is never mentioned, that it not be seen for what it is, is obviously essential to its perpetuation. All evidence that those in charge truly, really, sincerely, wanted to do something noble, something truly good, is correct, and irrelevant. Sincerity is not a measure of anything and hypocrisy has long since ceased to know itself. The government can't rely on individuals manufacturing their own hypocrisy; it does it for them wholesale, on an industrial scale. This relieves them of the burden. The system churns out all the bullshit necessary to drench oneself in it, and that is the only route to social success for the ambitious. It even makes you pay for the bullshit.

The game is nearing its end. The middle class is sucked dry and the system has borrowed up to its eyeballs to keep itself going. As more and more trade bypasses the U.S., China, Russia, and Japan slowly unload Treasury bills, and the spigot of dollars is running dry. America's gauzy image of itself doesn't mesmerize the rest of the world. Instead, Russia and China see the U.S. as a two-year-old with dangerous weapons throwing a temper tantrum. Japan is sick and tired of the military bases stuck to it like leaches. The U.S.'s other toys are being taken away and it is going to cry. All it has left are nuclear weapons. In its present state of no mind who knows what the U.S. will do. Maybe it will start World War Three. The best bet is to humor it until some grown-up manages to get control and take away its bombs. And, God help us, what is going to happen to those bombs when the U.S. collapses? For we will drown in debt, probably translated into hyperinflation. Without the spigot of foreign money all liquidity will dry up. Poverty will spread like a stain. All this feeds the gang and warlord culture that springs up like a flowering of mushrooms in such a fetid environment.

Do you doubt me? How about the economy? Flat on its ass and certain to stay that way. The tens of trillions of dollars in debt will never be repaid. Foreclosures on houses will again get worse. Most of the lost jobs are gone and will never come back. The wheels are coming off, yet it rolls on, stock market and all, as if somehow it's all going to get fixed. Prognosticators signal an upturn! Yippee! Will it be L shaped, V shaped, or W shaped? They are building again in Las Vegas even though there are 9,517 empty brand-new houses! Things are looking up. Soon it will all be rumbling along again. Stimulus packages are in the pipeline; clever economists tell us how it will work. In reality, Las Vegas is as dead as road kill, the gambling tables mostly empty, the water level in Lake Mead sinking fast. California is also a dead duck about to be awash in a new round of foreclosures from Alt-T mortgages and people in upside-down mortgages discovering that they don't have to pay. Watch the concept of the "duty to repay" melt like an ice cream cone in July. How do you think Florida is going to do with its beaches perpetually covered in goo? But, we are turning the corner, and on and on. It's all bullshit.

How about education? Most kids can't read, and many can't do arithmetic. The public school system is collapsing. Americans notoriously can't remember what happened yesterday. Everyone knows that all educational reform is an exercise in futility, serving only to draw the ever-more threadbare gauzy veil of illusion over the real face of things. To do this they must teach people how to not think. Most of the population can twitter at best. Almost none can talk. Moronization, that so American product, is the only part of the economy that is booming.

How about that oil spill, eh? BP insisted for a month that it was 5,000 barrels a day and not a single reporter from anywhere bothered to ask, "How did you get that figure?" I don't know but you'd think someone with a brain might have asked this question. In reality, of course, ninety-nine percent of our fearless reporters are doing nothing but sucking the tit. Anyway, what does one do to prepare for ecological catastrophe?

None of this is correctable within the present structure. The big shots who control government have revealed that they are clueless, impervious to argument behind thick bureaucratic walls that encase them like jellied fat around a torpid body. The Pentagon needs the wars, the bankers need the collapsing economy, and the educators, especially in the universities, have too much commitment to the standard pieties to even see what is wrong.

With all this the United States has become puny. The state is so terrified of its own people that it sets up vast surveillance systems and deploys SWAT teams that swoop down onto innocent people at 2 in the morning. Cops use tazers on harmless people as a matter of routine. People, both alert and larded in boredom, check the size of your plastic bottles at airports. Make a joke in an airport and get the shit kicked out of you. The government goes into paroxysms of fear at a bomb scare. Meanwhile it rains down bombs constantly on others all in the name of defense. We're scared shitless of our own shadows. Well, we are right. It is coming. There's an IED in our future.

If you really want to see how pathetic the country is take a look at the view of a man Hollywood churns out. The pathetic ineffectual Hollywood movie star! One moron after another, filled with fear, bullied by women, tries to prove himself good enough for the warm smile of some bitch. And the women swing between being pissed off and being somewhat pleased.

Out in the so-called real world almost nobody is doing anything worth doing. A job is a job. Some feel better about themselves because they think their job is a scam. At least then you're an honest scoundrel. Everybody knows that everything he does simply hastens the doom of, probably, the whole species. But every morning off to work. Why? Money. A good vacation is our raison d'être. Disaster, atrocity, species death, nothing penetrates. The brains are all blown; absolute stupidity reigns.

All this fear has made it impossible to see what is right in front of our faces. The shit is hitting the fan, folks. The fucking capitalist system is over and the fucking sooner the better. Things will change DRASTICALLY and FAST, whether we plan it or not. What could be more obvious?


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About the Author

Michael Doliner studied with Hannah Arendt at the University of Chicago (1964-1970) and has taught at Valparaiso University and Ithaca College. He lives with his family in Ithaca, N.Y.   (back)


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published June 28, 2010