| Society

To Hell with Centrism: We Must Reclaim the Inspired Edge

During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.
– George Orwell

I don’t want to be part of your revolution if I can’t dance.
– Emma Goldman

Rumsfeld is gone. Mehlman is gone. Delay is gone. Yet let’s not have our progressives’ version of a strutting on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier moment. Because mission has not been accomplished.

For those who haven’t noticed, while we were busy with other concerns, many of our rights and liberties went missing. Moreover, along with them have gone or are going fast: our planet’s polar ice caps; accountability of the corporate sector (our nation’s true power brokers); as well as, a sense of place, history, and even a cursory understanding, among a large percent of the populace of the US, of the precepts of civilization and of democratic discourse.

These circumstances, like the melting of the polar ice caps, have transpired, incrementally, and have been going on for longer than that Reign of Terror in Tiny Town known as the Bush presidency. For example, regarding the increasingly authoritarian terrain we negotiate our way through daily: In American work places, bosses routinely snoop into underlings’ personal e-mails and monitor our web-surfing practices. How did it come about that so many Americans have grown to accept such demeaning intrusions into our privacy?

In such a repressive societal milieu, there is no need to threaten would-be dissidents with old school totalitarian measures such as forced deportment to Siberian labor camps. Threats, overt and covert, to one’s economic security and social standing serve to dissuade most of us from political and social dissent. In the class stratified structure of the US work force, where the personal consequences borne of financial upheaval are swift, punitive and severe, the implicit threat of being deported to America’s urban gulag archipelago of homelessness renders most of us compliant to the exploitive dictates of corporate oligarchy.

Where did this all begin? How did it all get away from us? Furthermore, why do we stand for it, when these practices are antithetical to everything we claim to believe in as a nation?

In part, the proto-fascistic transgressions of corporate rule have made these circumstances all but inevitable, because our concept of what it means to be a human being has been incrementally defined downward. There has been much discussion of the dumbing down of American life. And these assessments are accurate and unnerving. But there has been little discourse given to the pervasive corporate blandification of American life — the manner in which its criteria both numbs out the personality of an individual and renders the nation’s landscape monotonous and ugly.

The effects of corporatism are insidious. In such an environment, there is no need for mass rallies replete with bonfires blazing against the totalitarian darkness: Corporatism establishes an authoritarian order by way of a series of overt bribes and tacit threats. This social and cultural criterion causes an individual to become fearful and cautious — and, after a time, flattens out one’s inner drives and longings. As a result, a Triumph of the Bland comes to pass, internally and externally.

Ergo, the oligarchs atop the present order have no need for reeducation camps or the ever vigilant gaze of neighborhood block captains. We have become our own, ever-vigilant minders; within us, we have in place vast networks of secret police informers — our own personal bully boy enforcers of blandness who leave us as passionless and empty as the architecture of the corporate nothingscape that surrounds us.

In addition, corporatism demands employees render themselves fecklessly pleasant. One doesn’t want to be caught being “negative” or be accused of the treachery of not being “a team player.” Such accusations bring to an individual a similar decree of ignominy as being denounced as a counterrevolutionary under the fallen regime of the former Soviet Union.

Accordingly, despite their midterm election victory, this problem remains mirrored in the leadership of the Democratic party — most of whom are the bought and sold products of corporatist rule and, therefore, have been trained to act with the kind of ersatz public congeniality demanded of all underlings in the corporate state. Apropos, the odd combination of fecklessness and smugness they delude themselves into believing is conducive to steering a course of “sensible centrism.” From refusing to fight stolen elections — right up to the present Democratic leadership of congress stating they will not press for the impeachment of the most corrupt president in the history of the republic — we bear constant witness to it.

In this regard, it’s very considerate of congressional Republicans who, in synergy with the Bush cartel, perpetrated one of the most vicious, vindictive and exclusionary reigns in congressional history to now want to play nice and “reconcile.” It’s very magnanimous of them to forgive us leftists for being right on all fronts — and generous of them to forgive the majority of their Democratic peers in congress for cowering before them, day in and day out, for the past four years of one party rule.

Moreover, it was we leftist outsiders — not reasonable, accommodating liberals — who were right about the disastrous consequences that would befall an invasion of Iraq; as we were and remain right in our revulsion to the fascistic fraud that is the Patriot Act and the War on Terror.

This is the reason we’re not let into the closed club of mainstream punditry. Although, to avoid being cruel, such an event might prove to be unfair to the slow children therein. We’d be hurling our ninety mile-an-hour progressive fast balls past them — while they’re playing tee-ball . . . Only the insularity inherent to a life of privilege can render folks as outright slow to the realities of the outside world as evinced by our present day pundit class. The little Beltway Oligarchs.

In short, mainstream Democrats and self-proclaimed centrist pundits have adapted the mandatory mode of being that is demanded of corporate underlings: self-annihilation by habitual amiability. It remains to be seen whether this habit can be broken or modified. I have my doubts.

Yet, one aspect of Election Day 2008 was indisputably salubrious for us: the powerless rabble crushed beneath the corporate class: Owing to the fact, that, at least, for one day, the act of voting served to pry our sagging asses off our sofas and out of our office cubicles — and into the soul-reviving vastness of life.

And this point gets to the heartless center of the tragedy of corporate hegemony: The manner in which the system’s monomaniacal drive for excessive profits and the habitual consumerism mandatory to sustain it serves to usurp our essential longings and passions. The absence, in contemporary life, of (non virtual) public space, wherein human to human discourse can flourish has created the social conditions inherent to the rise and pernicious influence of anti-democratic institutions such as so-called megachurches. This loss of communal connection, in confluence with consumerism and the influences of American Puritanism and Calvinism, has wrought, within the US populace, a desperate longing for group involvement — even for those ecstatic states involving the immersion of one’s rational mind found within the excesses of a totalitarian mob.

Likewise, the phenomenon plays into the pernicious sin/shame continuum, psychologically, at the root of the present genus of Protestant fundamentalism arising from the toxic soil of the corporate state.

Huge, corrupt and bloated out, like Elvis in his final years, this is how religions die. As was the case with Elvis, Christian Fundamentalists believe they’re bigger than ever, but the course they’ve taken begets self-destructive behavior: Given the fact that being a consummate consumer/religious zealot implicitly demands one be prone to excess (from their enormous, Graceland-gaudy churches to their over-the-top myths of world-wide, time-ending wars) — a scenario plays out, time and time again — whereby a Saved*Mart devotee breaches the rigid moral code of the group, then, overwhelmed by shame must submit and surrender to public confession and other exhibitionistic displays of phony redemption.

Within this paradoxical dynamic, the corporate/consumer/quasi-theocratic state compels one to live excessively, yet, simultaneously, dictates one suppress one’s lusts and passions, hence creating an unbridgeable psychological splitting process. As a consequence, many are bound to stray into the realm of the forbidden (because almost everything is forbidden) and with this comes the aforementioned need for a come-to-Jesus repentance. Conveniently, the whole sick symmetry serves as a means by which the individual can be controlled by the unscrupulous personalities at the head of fundamentalist organizations — who play Colonel Tom Parker to the hapless flock’s Elvis.

These ruthless phonies, in combination with the cunning apparatchik of the UberCulture, have become adroit at controlling any untidy outbursts of freedom of expression that might threaten their cultural hegemony. They have far too much at stake — too much money and power might be lost, if freedom’s voice were to be heard unfettered; hence, they serve up the spurious ecstatic states proffered by both pop culture and megachurch hucksterism.

These are the regions of the national soul we on the left must reclaim. Traditionally, music has aided progressives in the struggle. Accordingly, Woody Guthrie believed all songs are political. Songs take up residence in our hearts and in the non-verbal areas of our minds where we harbor our deepest longings. There, they inform our perceptions of the world. It is this sublime terrain, existing beyond the material that progressives have abandoned to the frauds and flimflammers.

Lost, in our retreat, has been our affinity with the spirit of defiant longing for release from hard labor beneath the unforgiving Mississippi sun that found voice in the late night, crossroads barroom freedom of Delta Blues — or the likes of our finding refuge from the dehumanizing, daylight demands of mid-twentieth century, industrial, urban existence in the midnight transcendence of Bebop and Free Jazz. Also missing has been an atmosphere (cultural and personal) of creative risk and abandon, whereby Jimi Hendrix would conjure and fuse the urban and rural spirits of Robert Johnson and John Coltrane, plus toss some Malcolm X into the mix and, a short time later and further down a southbound road, Duane Allman would resurrect a redneck hippie, guitar Jesus who fed the post-honky tonk multitudes Orange Sunshine as he delivered an electric guitar Sermon On The Georgia Red Dirt Mount fusing the spirits of Tim Leary, Martin Luther King, and the Carter Family. Then, a few years later, across the gray Atlantic, the Sex Pistols would howl like Post-Industrial Age demons, trapped within the detritus of the crumbling British Empire . . . much like, nearly a decade and a half later, Kurt Cobain would have his short, Icarian flight across the flaming-out sun of the American Empire.

In addition, the realm of sexuality has been claimed and exploited by moralizing hypocrites and opportunists. Hence, it’s high time, we progressives ceased to be such priggish ninnies — and challenged the Puritan/Calvinistic delusion that the worst aspects of sinfulness can be traced to the fleshy theme parks of the human genitals. It’s time we addressed and confronted the (mundane but far more deadly) sin of obliviousness to the larger world existing beyond one’s immediate shallow, self-serving needs, concerns, and compulsions — the outright careless disregard of anything on this living earth that does not serve the cravings of a culture overrun by overgrown infant tyrants dropped from the poisonous womb of corporatism. Possibly, in this light, the words sin and sinners are too loaded with cretinous religious connotations and, accordingly, their meanings should be reinterpreted more along the lines of “self-centered fuck-ups.”

In order to bring freedom and its full range of ecstasies and excesses back to American life, we must not only wrest back ecstatic states from the bible-brandishing, brown shirt-prone class — but the very definition of what constitutes spirituality, passion and sin as well. We’re not talking about so-called blue states or red states here, but states of inspiration. Very few folks are ever moved to change their lives by the promulgating of wonky statistics or even well reasoned arguments. That’s not how human beings are made up — Praise be! — to the happenstance of evolutionary grace.

In conclusion, we must strive to live with the same degree of passion and fervor as fundamentalist Christian preachers do . . . when they’re seeking out converts and hookers.

(images by Matthew Coleman)


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