Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

Phil Rockstroh: Roasting Marshmallows on the American Reichstag Fire to Come


clampdowna.jpgI happened to bookmark this thoughtful piece by Phil Rockstroh a couple of days ago (see PG Picks). Thanks to Phil sending it, I had the welcome opportunity to re-read it and I’m pleased to feature the full article and not just the link here.

By way of preamble, just in the last few days there have been a number of important articles about the continuing diminution of constitutionally-enshrined rights and the danger of martial law in the United States. Many of you will have seen, for example, Michel Chossudovsky’s piece in the Canadian site Global Research entitled Bush Executive Order: Criminalizing the Antiwar Movement.

In addition to this, see Kurt Nimmo’s Decider Guy Demands Further Erosion of the Fourth, James Bovard’s Martial Law: Waiting for the Clampdown, Dave Lindorff’s The Threat Of Martial Law Is Real, Paul Craig Roberts, My Wake-up Call: Watch For Another 9/11-WMD Experience and Ernest Partridge, A Republic, If We Can Keep It — but a sample of the wake-up call in the last couple of weeks alone.

The dangerous erosion of civil liberties is not of course limited to my dear friends in the States. Here in Australia at Empire’s Edge, and in the UK, draconian new “terror” laws are also being enacted, though the corrosion of constitutional democracy seems most marked in Empire’s Epicentre in the US. Nor is all this intended merely to depress us; rather, we are the informed citizenry upon which a healthy and genuinely functioning democracy depends, and we already have means available for redress and reclamation. The impeachment movement is a start that changes the players, there is more we can each do to better direct the system.

In Fascism Anyone? Lawrence Britt enumerates upon the fourteen common characteristics of fascist regimes (subsequently expanded upon and updated in Heather Wokusch’s Bush and the F-Word in 2006), and their prevalence today, identified as:

Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism; Disdain for the importance of human rights; Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause; The supremacy of the military/avid militarism; Rampant sexism; A controlled mass media; Obsession with national security; Religion and ruling elite tied together; Power of corporations protected; Power of labor suppressed or eliminated; Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts; Obsession with crime and punishment; Rampant cronyism and corruption; and Fraudulent elections.

On the US Constitution: GWB has said that its “just a goddamn piece of paper (Nov 2005).

In Friday’s LA Times too, Rosa Brooks recalls Ron Suskind‘s oft-quoted passage in his book The One Percent Doctrine on imperial hubris in its presumption of the unilateral construction of reality (see A Really Bad Case of “Reality”; and the ‘aide’ quoted is widely tipped to be Karl Rove):

The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism.

He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’

Phil Rockstroh captures the zeitgeist very well and addresses both the imperial imposition of (its version of) reality and its creeping fascism. He is a contributing editor to Cyrano’s Journal Online and is an auto-didactic poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City.

Tales of Angst, Alienation and Martial Law: Roasting Marshmallows on the American Reichstag Fire to Come

by Phil Rockstroh

In this summer of angst and grim foreboding about what further assaults against common sense and common decency the Bush administration might inflict upon the people of the world, how many times during the day do those of us — still possessed of mind, heart and conscience — take pause, hoping we’ve seen the worst of it, then, fearing we haven’t yet, attempt to push down the dread rising within us, so that we might simply make it through the day and be able to rest at night?

Accordingly, those who have been paying attention are aware that the outward mechanisms of martial law are in place. We shudder knowing that Bush has issued an executive decree that grants him dictatorial power in the event of some nebulously defined national emergency. In addition, the knowledge nettles us that a vast network of internment camps bristle across the length of the U.S., standing at wait for those who might raise objections to the fascistic fury unloosed by the American empire’s version of the Reichstag fire.

Moreover, a closer look would reveal that the inner processes by which an individual begins the act of acceptance of authoritarian excess — the mixture of chronic passivity, boredom, low grade anxiety and unfocused rage inherent in the citizens/consumers of the corporate state that primes an individual for fascism — have been in place for quite some time within the psyches of the American populace, both elites and hoi polloi alike. Although, don’t look for torch-lit processions thronging the nation’s streets and boulevards; rather, look for a Nuremberg Rally of couch-bound brownshirts. Instead of ogling the serried ranks of jut-jawed, SS soldiers, a contemporary Leni Riefenstahl would be forced to film chubby clusters of double-chinned consumers, saluting the new order with their TV remotes. In the contemporary United States, the elation induced by the immersion of one’s individual will to the mindless intoxication of the mob might only be possible, if Bush seized dictatorial control of the state while simultaneously sending out to all citizens gift certificates to Ikea.

After the catastrophes spawned by the rise of European fascism in the 1930s, a number of brilliant, original thinkers (including Hannah Arendt, Roberto Freire, Wilhelm Reich, and R. D. Laing) set out to study the phenomenon in order to learn how future calamities might be prevented. Although the methodologies and conclusions of these thinkers varied, each noted that alienation and dehumanization festered at the core of the death urge of fascism.

Nowadays, in contrast, the elites of the corporate media have proven themselves useless in this regard, believing, as they do, they constitute the thin line between the rabble at large (me and you) and the chaos begot by freedom. At present, mega-churches attract alienated suburbanites. Right-wing talk show hosts misdirect their listeners alienation towards so-called illegal “aliens” and exploit their audience’s sense of powerlessness (created by the rigged system of corporate capitalism) against elitist liberals (who themselves, ironically, benefit from the present system and who only want to change it to the degree that their own privilege will not be affected — in other words, not at all).

Combine the above with the American character trait of being hostile towards introspection and it becomes evident that the present disaster has been building for quite a while now. And it can (and most likely will) get worse — far worse.

Most Americans alive today have been trained since birth to adapt to and serve the corrupt corporate structure by means of the shunning of critical thinking and have been conditioned to be in constant (empty) motion or in the thrall of mass media distraction. We have been taught that passivity is for losers, yet we find ourselves nearly powerless before the corporate/consumer/military/police/entertainment state. In this way, we serve our corporate masters; it serves the corpocracy that the lower orders refuse meaningful self-awareness. If one were to glimpse one’s own illusions, then it follows one might begin to question collective delusions, and this would upset the social order.

Those who have studied the dangers of authoritarian rule have advised us to be wary of people who carry an inner emptiness. Of course, these unfortunates yearn for the void to be filled. But with their hearts and minds mortared closed, what makes it through the self-constructed prison is loud, stupid, and fascistic. At present, what penetrates is: Fundamentalist Sermons on Armageddon, violent video games, the empty spectacle of steroid-induced professional sports hype, the lethal fantasies of American exceptionalism, the exercise in Rock and Roll imperialism that U.S. foreign policy has become. In short, all the banal Sturm and Drang necessary to pierce those protective walls and penetrate the pervasive inner emptiness.

When the people of a culture have been conditioned to worship power — but feel powerless — there’s trouble ahead. The elites must displace the public’s rage by a demagogic sleight-of-hand such as the demonization of marginalized groups. In the US, we’ve been inundated by years of state and commercial propaganda that has degraded and demonized the country’s permanent underclass by the labeling of them as welfare parasites and career criminals.

It has been noted that the mindset, methods, and procedures of America’s punitive, profit-driven prison-industrial complex was a prototype for the systemic cruelty of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib; furthermore, it is a given that those institutional affronts to human decency will have served as prototypes for the methods and procedures that will be practiced upon those who are swept-up in the purges and detainment mania following the declaration of martial law in the United States.

We push this knowledge away from us, fearing we will be paralyzed by its crushing implications. Worse, what is nearly impossible to admit is, most likely, the system crushed us long ago. Apropos, R. D. Laing averred that being able to adapt and function within an insane, authoritarian system renders one for all practical purposes insane — only insane in a manner acceptable to a power mad ruling elite.

This is the knowledge we push down, every hour of everyday. Otherwise, we would be driven to admit outright that the system has crushed our individual hopes, aspirations and yearnings. We must, at all costs, keep these feelings concealed; otherwise, we might be compelled to contemplate what we have forsaken, what passions and truths we have traded away for the false sense of security that the corporate order offered us when we tacitly agreed to surrender what was most sacred, vital and alive within us. One psychological manifestation of this phenomenon is the incessant chanting of that mantra of the American corporate workforce: “I’m not my job. I’m not what I do all day long.”

For a moment, meditate on the calamity implicit in such a sentiment. Because If we cannot locate and engage our true selves during our waking hours, then who the hell are we anyway? This is a profoundly troubling circumstance. Moreover, if we’ve condemned our daylight selves to a void of non-being, what then remains of us?

We experience this dislocation of the life force as a sense of nebulous dread. Everything, these days, the architecture and accouterments of our lives seems so fragile and unreal; it feels as if everything could just fly apart at any given moment. The world and our place in it seems so flimsy: an empire built of eggshells; it could all shatter in an instant.

Living on credit, the house of cards of the real estate market, jobs evaporating, most of us languishing only a couple of paychecks away from ruin: The empire is coming undone. As it is, it seems the nation is only being held together with hydrogenated fat, wheat gluten, over-extended credit and particleboard. Ergo, there is one law the lawless Bush administration and their keepers from the plundering class cannot flout: the second law of thermodynamics. They won’t be able to claim executive privilege to avoid the consequences of negative entropy.

In a similar vein, we, the underlings of empire, stand helpless before the prevailing madness. Individual reason rarely acts as a countervailing force to stem a drowning tide of cultural cognitive dissonance. Because the more epic and all-compassing the mistake, the more epic and all-encompassing come the rationalizations, the scapegoating and the compulsion for do-overs. If the surge isn’t working as fantasized, then we’ll double-dog surge you and then bomb Iran. If police state tactics fail to alleviate a sense of anxiety, then we must construct more detainment camps, more maximum security prisons, enact more federal death penalty statutes. “Bring back the electric chair; being put to sleep, like stray pets, is too good for the traitors,” the mob will rage. That’s the solution, but (cognitive dissonance being what it is) we need to go bigger — we need an electric sofa — yet, bigger still — an electric dining room set! “Aahh . . . the smell of deep-fried dissidents in the morning.”

And over the smoking corpses, let us pray. We need to pray for . . . what? . . . more prayer. These prayers would work, the homicidally faithful will insist, if every single doubter was induced to drop to their knees and pray. Hence, we need prayer in the public schools. We need prayer on public transportation. We need prayer in public restrooms!

Animus, ignorance, and magical thinking are a tragic mix and, I’m afraid, that vintage of mind is the hideous wine of our times. The social criteria that gives rise to fascism is in place in the U.S. and those in positions of power have a strong interest in seeing things remain that way. All we can do is what folks (a minority) have always done . . . exile or resistance.

In my opinion, both are honorable. The other options are varying degrees of “little Eichmann[ism]” — Ward Churchill’s much scorned, career purge-inducing — but nevertheless accurate phrase. If one does the “soul work,” to appropriate archetypal psychologist James Hillman’s term, it is still possible to resist complicity. Training yourself to avoid lying for provisional gain is a time honored means of preventing alliances with exploitive assholes. They will avoid you, fire you, curse your name from the darkness of their inner abyss, but this will solve the problem of dependence on them and you’ll be forced to live by other means. Generally, one is more adaptable than one believes.

Keep yourself as healthy and as sane as possible: we’re going to need you around after the inevitable collapse of the present system. Also, beware of those reductionist demons of the mind who diminish the soul-making possibilities of “mere” words. The acts of writing and reading are seen as passive; to crackpot realists, these activities seem useless, unproductive — the feckless indulgences of a class of the thin-wristed effete.

Accordingly, Americans have all but ceased reading. Worse, they displace their feelings of self-loathing borne of their own corporately induced passivity upon writers and thinkers. If the tenets of democratic discourse are to survive, it is imperative that writers and thinkers begin to engage in a passionate defense of themselves against the kvetching armies of crackpot realists that have encircled and laid siege to our collective hearts and minds.

But don’t expect to be lauded with praise for the effort. It’s doubtful our adversaries will be moved by our entreaties: There cannot be a rapprochement with reality for those who have never had a relationship with it in the first place. Yet verbal imagery and depth-inducing insights are the DNA of compassionate engagement. It is not a coincidence that George W. Bush is an inarticulate oaf. Conversely, there are many things in this world that require being touched by words, for there are occasions when words alone can suffice to take us deep and lift us up and serve to ameliorate our alienation.

It is in this spirit that I offer the above words to you. I’m traveling light; they’re all I’m carrying with me, at this late hour, in these dark and dangerous times.


5 comments on “Phil Rockstroh: Roasting Marshmallows on the American Reichstag Fire to Come

  1. 99
    30 July, 2007

    Only partway through this post you sparked me up on the greatest failing of erudition. It is supposed we have intellectuals that the masses might be spurred to action by their insights, but this really has not been true for a long time. Intellectuals are actually reviled by an astonishing number of people, and where this is not the case a couple of other impediments to action exist. A swath listens dutifully precisely so that they might then express admiration and illustrate their own humility. “Wow, what a brilliant person that is! I could never think that well.” And there it ends. Another engages to immitate, debate or berate, see who gets the most attention, the top spot on the search engines out of it. So casting aside the multifarious failings of our entirely too fat and lethargic population, the intellectuals are of their ilk (only with impressive expression) and doing precisely as Rove predicted, which is to say: doing nothing… which is what set the masses against them to begin with. Anyone who might at least satisfy the intellectual appetites of a few while we wait helplessly for our RFID chips, just ends up having facilitated their implantation!

    We can’t say the world into acting as we would have it, or out of acting as it does. Comedians and writers are gaining fame (and sometimes fortune) as never before precisely because of the mechanism about which Rove spoke.


    Thank you. Thank you very much indeed for enduring another outburst from me. xoxoxox

  2. Ann El Khoury
    30 July, 2007

    Another very good insight, 99. Its true we can’t “say” the world into acting as we would have it, but it also true that language constitutes reality and not only frames our world and how we apprehend reality, but also reproduces that reality. Thoughts and words become deeds, and while a certain amount of disdain for armchair scholars who do not crucially act upon their insights is healthy, particular in a more corporatized university environment, I’ve met some pretty committed scholar-activists out there in the trenches, so to speak. I can understand the motivation behind anti-intellectualism if all scholars were sitting in their comfortable ivory towers, not daring to speak truth to power lest they place in jeopardy their tenured careers, but we’re not all like the equivalent of “art for art’s sake” intellectual hedonists.

    And some of the most erudite (and active) people have not been scholars.

    More to the point you make however, erudition is on its own insufficient, yes, but it is also an essential prerequisite and indispensable as part of the social change equation when taken together with action. I was on the proverbial streets in a peace mediation group on Sunday, and reminded there how words are an essential supplement to, though obviously not a substitute for, action.

    The erudition here is a call to action, a making sense of what is happening and a raising of awareness. Rockstroh himself puts it best I think when he says: “Yet verbal imagery and depth-inducing insights are the DNA of compassionate engagement.”

    “Words are all we have to go on” as the playwright Tom Stoppard once said — and deploying them in the service of social justice action (the “real” eloquence) is something we can all learn.


    One citizen campaign for impeachment — got any other ideas for strategy?

  3. 99
    30 July, 2007

    Bill Maher making my point. [eight-parts put together into one post]

    And, well, I’m bedecked with grotesque orange ribbons and betaking myself into the public daily… two things I simply loathe… in an effort to goose people about impeachment, which I’m convinced is the only stop to the warring… among entirely too many other things. I’m jaded by having to endure the blathering of dolts who think their use of long words makes them “right” where I donate my time for a good cause. I’m frustrated by the fucking ocean of incentives to revolution that seems only to have sodden my countrymen. I’m up past my eyeballs with the knowledge of how activism turns so swiftly into another iteration of identity rather than, say, efficacious. Move someone to actually move and soon you find them moving like crazy just as they once opined like crazy… toward illustrating their position on the matter… missing completely that the object has not been attained. The rare few who will act are further reduced by how many of them find they like its reflection. We need a big mob of people who hate to act, only slightly less than they hate what’s going on, and will DIE before making it a hobby.

    I am a rabid defender of teachers and as rabid toppler of ivory towers. I’m wondering how the heck we ever got around to the First American Revolution… how Thomas Paine, et al. managed to rally the forces.

    I’m thinking it would help if all teachers kept in mind the civic responsibility inhering the education of citizens, never letting them forget that it isn’t even for its own sake that it is worth while, but for the planet’s sake.

    And I happen to know a few of the leading lights of Blogistan’s intelligencia, and, well, they are very wrapped up in their own statures, in each other’s statures, and what we would suppose should flow from their eloquence doesn’t. It’s serving to soothe the freaked minions, assuring them that their hysteria is justified. This tends toward SETTLING the juices which would otherwise move them into the streets.

    It’s a very bad problem.

  4. Dave Bath
    30 July, 2007

    Good post, good find!

    On resistance or exile: this might be usefulhow to renounce your Australian citizenship

    On the XO itself:
    Given timezones, I think Tigtog’s And we thought Haneef had it bad at LarvProd was quick off the mark. There’s also a worry for us Aussies because the XO was courtesy of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. A couple of days later and another XO extended Bush’s ability to gag scientists if facts get in the way of the Bush agenda. Little Johnny, Ruddock et al will be taking notes in case they get back after the election.

  5. Ann El Khoury
    30 July, 2007

    Indeed! Great post (Room 101) and I read it and LP’s take with great interest — very scary. I too was gob smacked at this latest XO (someone at LP linked to the whole list):

    I notice our Prime Miniature is refusing to say sorry to Muhamad Haneef for his wrongful detention:

    Howard: “Australia will not be apologizing to Dr. Haneef. Dr. Haneef was not victimized and Australia’s international reputation has not been harmed by this ‘mis-start’ to its new anti-terrorism laws.”

    Pull the other one, John. And the capricious Kevin Andrews is a disgrace, adding insult to injury by continuing to defame Dr Haneef: (“His lawyers indicated to my department … that he wanted to get out of Australia as soon as possible. If anything that rather heightens, rather than lessens, my suspicions.”).

    I missed the 60 Minutes interview yesterday but am glad to hear at least it showed the government up. It was amusing to watch even the tabloids’ about-face on this one. In the Sunday papers the family was so gracious in thanking the public for their support, that was the only bright spot for the crap this innocent man had to endure.

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Timely Reminders

"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes perceptibly worse than what it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself."
-- Aldous Huxley

"The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All others are subsumed by it."
-- Diane DiPrima, "Rant", from Pieces of a Song.

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there"
-- William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"