Swans Commentary » swans.com November 1, 2010  



After The Fall


by Michael Doliner





(Swans - November 1, 2010)   It's interesting to think about what the end of constitutional government in the United States will mean. It will not be just the end of this constitution, but the end of constitutional government forever, in toto. For as we have seen, a constitution is no hindrance to criminality. Words on a page are insufficient to stop crimes. The courts ignore the powerful who commit crimes while they persecute citizens who have done nothing. So where's the law? Complain, point to the law? They just twist the words to mean whatever slants things their way. The law persecutes the innocent citizen and allows the powerful to get away with murder. So the words on the page are no longer a guide to what should and should not be done. And in any case rigid rules produce case after case of atrocious injustice without anyone raising a peep. Law destroys the human sense of right and wrong, even when properly enforced. The stupidity of the marijuana laws is enough to discredit law itself. How many people have we allowed to be locked up for smoking marijuana? That in itself discredits our entire civilization and its basis in law. The whole mentality of rigid obedience to written rules has bred a population ready to accept without protest just about anything no matter how horrible. The Dreyfus affair at the end of the nineteenth century caused a scandal because Dreyfus's trial was an abuse of law, not because it was a case of anti-Semitism. An abuse of law produced a huge eruption and gave birth to Zionism. When Hertzl witnessed the Dreyfus affair he gave up on Jewish assimilation -- that is, on the reality of the institutions of law the Enlightenment inspired. Now, you could barely get people to notice. Bush? War crimes? Forget about it. What Hertzl feared has ripened and rotted. Laws, to be laws, must apply every time and even then will produce only barbarism. What Hertzl didn't realize was that even well administered laws can and certainly will produce atrocities precisely because they leave no ground upon which one might stand and challenge them. Since interpretation can, as we have seen, twist the meaning of written words to be anything, laws cut away any ground for judging actions. Without good will the words are meaningless and with good will, they are superfluous. So where's the law? If a law sometimes applies and sometimes doesn't, well, thank you Professor Kafka, that's not a law. Since it is always open to interpretation it is meaningless, and when it is applied rigidly it is barbaric.

As Isak Dinesen once said in explaining her view of propaganda to a German general during the giddy period of Hitler's rise in the thirties: propaganda is like spending your capital. Your language becomes worth less and less as you compromise its meaning, and finally you find it is worth nothing. Twisting the words of the law has the same effect. The source of value is used up. The connection between words and things is too completely erased to be restored. Will you write it down so this time we'll know what it says? And do you promise to really really mean it this time? There is nothing left to say and no language to say it with. And so the helpless population is supine waiting for a new criminal class more violent and less clever than the present one on Wall Street to take over. The dust from Attila's horses is on the horizon. In helpless paralysis, we await him.

The end of law will become very apparent as the US government falls rapidly into incoherence and people try to form new structures to replace it. Are we going to try to write down some rules again? That the very concept of law itself is gone will be hard for an American to grasp. But really, how can we put our faith in those scribbles again? After what we have done, talk of written law is a farce. Although Americans can barely think of creating a government without a constitution, that is exactly what they would have to do. Rely upon human judgment. Choose people who have shown themselves good in actual face-to-face encounters. Trust them. Not much chance. Just as the collapse of the Soviet Union wiped out the idea of communism, so the collapse of the United States will wipe out of concept of written law.

So when the United States collapses what will it collapse into? The big powerful elite guys now destroying the country will be outlaws bled dry by the private armies they will each have to maintain to prevent the gangs from targeting their riches. These winners will look like ripe peaches there to be picked. Having made it big on Wall Street doesn't make you a leader of men. They will have to hire rather than inspire their private armies, and they had better pray the private armies don't turn on them. But why wouldn't the private armies turn on them? Will their suave Ivy League manners cow these former Blackwater henchmen? Even after a month or more of close contact? What good reason will the henchmen have to obey rather than extort all the money from the sensitive and so easy-to-torture Barons of Wall Street? What's to stop them? The rule of law?! Why wouldn't they want to become the rulers themselves? At the very least the Wall Street geniuses will become pretty captives. Sounds sweet, doesn't it? And the Wall Street winners will not be above treating one another as prey at the first sign of weakness either. Hey, sorry Bill, but business is business. Fish eat fish. Their loyalty to one another will extend only as far as mutual interest.

With the present elites now fully exposed and on the run, who will be able to stand up? Who will stem the rising tide of banditry and criminal horror that will follow the collapse of the United States and the rule of law? A veritable pox of human trafficking sprang up in the former Soviet Union after the fall. Why not here? New gangs will spring up from the swamp of the poorest of the poor. Foot soldiers trained as killers in the imperial wars will form their own gangs. They will recruit street kids with nothing to lose as new expendable foot soldiers. For what will keep the incredibly vicious gangs now growing in Mexico and Eastern Europe from growing here? These gangs will be ruthless; the Wall Street rich will be good on computers; who will win?

The police have already pretty much become just another gang. But it won't take long before the drug cartels or other criminal cartels will match them and even surpass them, as they do in Mexico. The police doing their job will prove no match for the endless hoards of the desperate poor, most of whom don't really expect to live past today anyway. To try to defeat the poor is like trying to defeat germs. You can inflict holocausts, but they will come back and develop immunity to whatever you throw at them. The development of the IED in Iraq spelled the end of the rule of state-organized force. In Mexico now the Zetas are challenging the Federal government itself. Without law how could it be otherwise?

But maybe someone will be left who can rally the troops, pull the fat out of the fire, snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, put the USA back in the saddle. But who? Greed, like the mark of Cain, is on all their foreheads. How about Hillary? Obama again? He's better than the Repubs, anyway. How about Newt, Palin....please. Are these worn-out old brand names going to be able to appear before a terrified people as actual human beings? Out of this rather extraordinary nadir of both intelligence and probity, who is going to pick the country up and say "This is the way to go. Follow me."? Who? Who? After Obama, who can be believed? Who could even acknowledge the problems? After Obama who could believe that one of them had acknowledged the problems just because he said he did. Honestly, what are the words of any of this crew worth?

Nader, perhaps. He has integrity. Perhaps people would listen to him, but could even he tell the truth that has to be told, namely, it's not coming back? The United States cannot continue. It must soon default on its national debt sending its fiat currency into hyperinflation. The numbers don't add up to anything other than toilet paper. And since any successor state, as Russia was the successor state to the Soviet Union, will have to accept that debt, there can be no successor state. Even without the debt Americans will not be able to create a successor state without a constitution, and a new constitution is impossible. We are in one of those moments in history when one civilization disappears and another, or none at all, replaces it. Nader is too big. He could only be the leader of a successor state. New leaders will have to be of smaller entities.

Does anyone not know that all the politicians, journalists, indeed all those in public life, are boobs? In the midst of this unparalleled crisis we have a political class, none of whom can speak without a teleprompter. But that's just fine and dandy with the rest of us. Can't talk without a puppet master? No problem. How about "talking points?" Does anyone besides me know how insane this concept is? Fine. Want to be president? Here's what your PR man wants you to say. Have some champagne. We have lost all sense of what a human being is. All politicians lie and we listen to people whose job it is to sift through the lies and tell us what grains of truth have accidentally slipped through. It's nuts on the face of it, but who can see it? Zombies R Us. The US population is, right now, the walking dead. Clueless, and clueless that it is clueless. Commentators explain Obama's pursuit of his wars with his fear of looking weak. Fear of looking weak! Is that really a legitimate motive for a country to go to war? Enormous amounts of resources that are desperately needed to be wasted? People in other countries to be slaughtered? Especially when those wars are doomed. Are they actually saying that Obama continues to pursue a criminal war that he can't win so that he can look good a little longer at the cost of, certainly American, and in all likelihood, Western, Civilization? And that that is the way things normally work! Oh good, for I minute I thought that was what the taters of the tube were saying. Oh say can you see the madhouse?

Do the math, people. It costs them nothing and us hundreds of billions if not trillions to keep armies in Iraq and Afghanistan. We can't afford to stay there. Leaving is losing. It's a lost cause but we have to stay there a little longer so Obama, who has already spent all the political capital he will ever have anyway, can look good. Hey Barack, looking good, man. Couple hundred billion more and you'll be ready to paint the town. So get your dancing shoes on. I'm with you all the way.

But such image-shaping blather, bolstered with a waggle of the head of whoever the jackass commentator du jour might be, passes for political intelligence. Is it brains or is it Jello? Nobody knows for sure. Maybe you haven't noticed people, but this is not television, it's live.

Has a challenge ever been flubbed more pathetically in all of history? Disaster hurtles down upon us and we just diddle along. We worry about gaffs, cultural centers, free trade, don't ask don't tell, whatnot. We suffer from the ridiculous hostilities of racism, sexism, Islamophobia. We passionately adhere to tinker-toy philosophies and fast-food religions. Our eyes glued to American Idol can't see the fist about to smash into our faces. Has an entire civilization ever been so out of its collective fucking gourd? La la land to the power of la la land.

So. No successor state. How about regional statelets? The northeast, the southwest? I used to think so, but now I'm not so sure. How are these statelets going to constitute themselves? Will they engage in the farce of writing a constitution after having seen what is going on now? And who will do it? Certainly not the present gaggle of retread buffoons. With chaos (no money, reduced food) and law a joke, criminality will run wild. What would hold these regional statelets together?

No, regional statelets won't work for there is no political energy available to constitute them. Really, can anyone imagine a Constitutional Convention today? The US will disintegrate down to the states themselves because the states happen to be there as political entities, all set up with now completely farcical constitutions of their own that look better than nothing but are actually the rocks below to catch your fall. So some new jerk will labor to try to hold his state together under its constitution. Take care of roads, do other piddling stuff. Helpless, pathetic, clueless. No one has the energy, confidence, and public trust to actually galvanize these states into the necessary action. If someone did have it you wouldn't know him, for anyone who appears in public today is by definition clueless. None of them can tell the truth, which is...it's not coming back and to try to make it come back destroys the chance for transition to any possible future human life might have.

Where is the imagination going to come from to even hold these new entities together with baling wire? Will they print state money that people will use? Ouch, it hurts to laugh so much. Probably impossible to stop complete disintegration within the states into roving bands or simply free-lance criminals. Sounds Chicken Littleish, doesn't it? Well can you imagine your state or local government actually doing something? I mean something that actually needs to be done, like preparing the community for peak oil and drastic climate change? No? Didn't think so. And how do you think your community will do without any preparation? Will it still be a community? Oh, it makes you feel all ostrichy, doesn't it? Hide that news away. Peak oil? Climate change? Nasty leftist rumors.

Given the mentality ruling now we can instead expect New York to arm itself to prepare for the war with Pennsylvania. Instead of manuring the fields we'll sell this shit and buy tanks. The country's breaking up in no way guarantees that anyone will come out of the fog. The madness could just continue on ever smaller stages until the states fragmented into cities, villages, families, individuals. One big family feud. For what really will hold any of us together once the Fed Gov is gone? A continent full of people ignorant, deluded, without principle, alone, racist -- what's going to hold them together?

There will be much less oil and everything else fairly soon. Who is going to get the remaining stuff? Why wouldn't we fight over it? Out with the Empire goes our ability to steal things. Our last days in the Middle East are already in sight. Ditto for Israel's. So we can't steal any more. Can we trade? What do we have that the world wants other than food and weapons? Food production is declining and weapons are all super high tech. Maybe the land of the free and the home of the brave will morph into the Grinder of Destruction. I can see it now: a new National Anthem praising death. But even our supposed technical superiority is vanishing fast. For the instruments of stupidity fly like crop dusters right through the first grade. The fog descends early in the USA. The very epistemology of the country is a spin into cotton-brained madness brought on by a diet of scrambled real with pseudo objectivity, shameless hype, and an electronic cacophony of such astonishing stupidity as to beggar the imagination. The deadness in our classrooms is suffocating.

The population must be made to see this: either the human race sets itself to reduce the use of fossil fuels, pretty much to zero, or there will be global warming and huge amounts of suffering. What are the chances of the message getting through? Who will the messenger be? Indeed there will be global warming and huge amounts of suffering no matter what we do now, for it is too late to stop it. The Arctic Ice is in a death spiral; clathrates are bubbling up in the Arctic Ocean; permafrost is melting; ditto the Greenland ice pack. These positive feedbacks guarantee that global warming won't stop until vastly expanded oceans can absorb more carbon dioxide. Keeping carbon in the ground might, but only might, reduce the amount of warming in any way that could matter to us. Maybe we can shrink resource use fast enough to avoid a last apocalyptic war. Maybe something can be preserved. Civilization as we have known it is over, either in an atomic war or through some quieter extinction, which just might not be total. Maybe something more modest, more local, can survive. Maybe. But only if we change our way of life drastically. To remain selfish is to bring on a time of unbelievable criminality and probably atomic war.

I suppose the real question is: do we have any interest in surviving -- as a species I mean? We certainly are not worthy of hanging around given the really atrocious way we have fucked up the place. But, given that we are a species that can't take a hint, even the most blatant, we might want to overstay our welcome anyway. It certainly feels like we've been at the party too long, that we have become a sloppy, lingering, impolite guest. So can we gracefully bid adieu given that our presence on the planet is life's worst nightmare? We sure as hell aren't doing any good here. I mean if so many of us hate life why do we cling to it?

The smart money now is certainly on total extinction. For it is very dubious that, even if we chose to survive, we could. Maybe a few humans, a carrier of a genotype rather than a being with reason, can survive, but the world will have no civilization as we have known it again for thousands and more likely millions of years. Not likely to be human if it happens at all. Maybe alligators with brains. I suppose the good news is that life seems likely to go on and therefore might, in millions of years, reconstitute itself in all the multiplicity we have known. But I suppose that is only good news for some of us. Others would rather the planet was charred to a cinder. Why?

Something of human life might continue, or it might not, for a few hundred years. But the planet is going to become very inhospitable to our kind in the next few centuries and remain so for quite some time. It's going to be no picnic. Given that history and historians are themselves something of a luxury, those who follow may soon lose all track of us. For most people are not really all that interested in ancients they have never known who lived so differently from themselves.

So, given that we will all be forgotten, do we really care? And if so, why? For most of us even our precious hoard of genes will be extinguished. (Raise your hand if you bought the idea you were supposed to care about this.) Why should human beings continue on this planet? Haven't we already done our best, second best, and worst work? We have made our music, our art, our philosophy, our history, our literature, our technology, our architecture, our religions, our wars, our tortures. We have experienced our loves, our joys, our suffering. We've done great and shitty things. What's left? We've already done our best work and, if not our worst work, work that is fucking bad enough. What justifies our continued existence other than a blind hunger for a life that we seem to hate! Are we still grabbing at all the gusto; that is, fleeting pleasures, that we can get? Unless we can answer this question it seems only right that the U.S., and probably the human race, has played its last card only to discover that it is checkmated in a game it forgot it was in.

If we are going to stay, let us justify our staying, and if we decide to leave, let us leave without shitting on the floor. Come on people, be civilized.


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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 November 1, 2010