Wassail, traveler, and welcome to The Gable Grey -- a place of retreat, of renewal, and of resistance: a tree-shaded refuge in Dark Times. Now pass the threshold, and rest from journeys! For a cold wind is blowing; and here, if you wish, you may hear tidings of the world without...

Monday, December 27, 2010

2011: A Brave New Dystopia

by Chris Hedges

The two greatest visions of a future dystopia were George Orwell’s “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” The debate, between those who watched our descent towards corporate totalitarianism, was who was right. Would we be, as Orwell wrote, dominated by a repressive surveillance and security state that used crude and violent forms of control? Or would we be, as Huxley envisioned, entranced by entertainment and spectacle, captivated by technology and seduced by profligate consumption to embrace our own oppression? It turns out Orwell and Huxley were both right. Huxley saw the first stage of our enslavement. Orwell saw the second.

We have been gradually disempowered by a corporate state that, as Huxley foresaw, seduced and manipulated us through sensual gratification, cheap mass-produced goods, boundless credit, political theater and amusement. While we were entertained, the regulations that once kept predatory corporate power in check were dismantled, the laws that once protected us were rewritten and we were impoverished. Now that credit is drying up, good jobs for the working class are gone forever and mass-produced goods are unaffordable, we find ourselves transported from “Brave New World” to “1984.” The state, crippled by massive deficits, endless war and corporate malfeasance, is sliding toward bankruptcy. It is time for Big Brother to take over from Huxley’s feelies, the orgy-porgy and the centrifugal bumble-puppy. We are moving from a society where we are skillfully manipulated by lies and illusions to one where we are overtly controlled.

Orwell warned of a world where books were banned. Huxley warned of a world where no one wanted to read books. Orwell warned of a state of permanent war and fear. Huxley warned of a culture diverted by mindless pleasure. Orwell warned of a state where every conversation and thought was monitored and dissent was brutally punished. Huxley warned of a state where a population, preoccupied by trivia and gossip, no longer cared about truth or information. Orwell saw us frightened into submission. Huxley saw us seduced into submission. But Huxley, we are discovering, was merely the prelude to Orwell. Huxley understood the process by which we would be complicit in our own enslavement. Orwell understood the enslavement. Now that the corporate coup is over, we stand naked and defenseless. We are beginning to understand, as Karl Marx knew, that unfettered and unregulated capitalism is a brutal and revolutionary force that exploits human beings and the natural world until exhaustion or collapse.

“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake,” Orwell wrote in “1984.” “We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.”

The political philosopher Sheldon Wolin uses the term “inverted totalitarianism” in his book “Democracy Incorporated” to describe our political system. It is a term that would make sense to Huxley. In inverted totalitarianism, the sophisticated technologies of corporate control, intimidation and mass manipulation, which far surpass those employed by previous totalitarian states, are effectively masked by the glitter, noise and abundance of a consumer society. Political participation and civil liberties are gradually surrendered. The corporation state, hiding behind the smokescreen of the public relations industry, the entertainment industry and the tawdry materialism of a consumer society, devours us from the inside out. It owes no allegiance to us or the nation. It feasts upon our carcass.

The corporate state does not find its expression in a demagogue or charismatic leader. It is defined by the anonymity and facelessness of the corporation. Corporations, who hire attractive spokespeople like Barack Obama, control the uses of science, technology, education and mass communication. They control the messages in movies and television. And, as in “Brave New World,” they use these tools of communication to bolster tyranny. Our systems of mass communication, as Wolin writes, “block out, eliminate whatever might introduce qualification, ambiguity, or dialogue, anything that might weaken or complicate the holistic force of their creation, to its total impression.”

The result is a monochromatic system of information. Celebrity courtiers, masquerading as journalists, experts and specialists, identify our problems and patiently explain the parameters. All those who argue outside the imposed parameters are dismissed as irrelevant cranks, extremists or members of a radical left. Prescient social critics, from Ralph Nader to Noam Chomsky, are banished. Acceptable opinions have a range of A to B. The culture, under the tutelage of these corporate courtiers, becomes, as Huxley noted, a world of cheerful conformity, as well as an endless and finally fatal optimism. We busy ourselves buying products that promise to change our lives, make us more beautiful, confident or successful as we are steadily stripped of rights, money and influence. All messages we receive through these systems of communication, whether on the nightly news or talk shows like “Oprah,” promise a brighter, happier tomorrow. And this, as Wolin points out, is “the same ideology that invites corporate executives to exaggerate profits and conceal losses, but always with a sunny face.” We have been entranced, as Wolin writes, by “continuous technological advances” that “encourage elaborate fantasies of individual prowess, eternal youthfulness, beauty through surgery, actions measured in nanoseconds: a dream-laden culture of ever-expanding control and possibility, whose denizens are prone to fantasies because the vast majority have imagination but little scientific knowledge.”

Our manufacturing base has been dismantled. Speculators and swindlers have looted the U.S. Treasury and stolen billions from small shareholders who had set aside money for retirement or college. Civil liberties, including habeas corpus and protection from warrantless wiretapping, have been taken away. Basic services, including public education and health care, have been handed over to the corporations to exploit for profit. The few who raise voices of dissent, who refuse to engage in the corporate happy talk, are derided by the corporate establishment as freaks.

Attitudes and temperament have been cleverly engineered by the corporate state, as with Huxley’s pliant characters in “Brave New World.” The book’s protagonist, Bernard Marx, turns in frustration to his girlfriend Lenina:

“Don’t you wish you were free, Lenina?” he asks.

“I don’t know that you mean. I am free, free to have the most wonderful time. Everybody’s happy nowadays.”

He laughed, “Yes, ‘Everybody’s happy nowadays.’ We have been giving the children that at five. But wouldn’t you like to be free to be happy in some other way, Lenina? In your own way, for example; not in everybody else’s way.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” she repeated.

The fa├žade is crumbling. And as more and more people realize that they have been used and robbed, we will move swiftly from Huxley’s “Brave New World” to Orwell’s “1984.” The public, at some point, will have to face some very unpleasant truths. The good-paying jobs are not coming back. The largest deficits in human history mean that we are trapped in a debt peonage system that will be used by the corporate state to eradicate the last vestiges of social protection for citizens, including Social Security. The state has devolved from a capitalist democracy to neo-feudalism. And when these truths become apparent, anger will replace the corporate-imposed cheerful conformity. The bleakness of our post-industrial pockets, where some 40 million Americans live in a state of poverty and tens of millions in a category called “near poverty,” coupled with the lack of credit to save families from foreclosures, bank repossessions and bankruptcy from medical bills, means that inverted totalitarianism will no longer work.

We increasingly live in Orwell’s Oceania, not Huxley’s The World State. Osama bin Laden plays the role assumed by Emmanuel Goldstein in “1984.” Goldstein, in the novel, is the public face of terror. His evil machinations and clandestine acts of violence dominate the nightly news. Goldstein’s image appears each day on Oceania’s television screens as part of the nation’s “Two Minutes of Hate” daily ritual. And without the intervention of the state, Goldstein, like bin Laden, will kill you. All excesses are justified in the titanic fight against evil personified.

The psychological torture of Pvt. Bradley Manning—who has now been imprisoned for seven months without being convicted of any crime—mirrors the breaking of the dissident Winston Smith at the end of “1984.” Manning is being held as a “maximum custody detainee” in the brig at Marine Corps Base Quantico, in Virginia. He spends 23 of every 24 hours alone. He is denied exercise. He cannot have a pillow or sheets for his bed. Army doctors have been plying him with antidepressants. The cruder forms of torture of the Gestapo have been replaced with refined Orwellian techniques, largely developed by government psychologists, to turn dissidents like Manning into vegetables. We break souls as well as bodies. It is more effective. Now we can all be taken to Orwell’s dreaded Room 101 to become compliant and harmless. These “special administrative measures” are regularly imposed on our dissidents, including Syed Fahad Hashmi, who was imprisoned under similar conditions for three years before going to trial. The techniques have psychologically maimed thousands of detainees in our black sites around the globe. They are the staple form of control in our maximum security prisons where the corporate state makes war on our most politically astute underclass—African-Americans. It all presages the shift from Huxley to Orwell.

“Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling,” Winston Smith’s torturer tells him in “1984.” “Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves.”

The noose is tightening. The era of amusement is being replaced by the era of repression. Tens of millions of citizens have had their e-mails and phone records turned over to the government. We are the most monitored and spied-on citizenry in human history. Many of us have our daily routine caught on dozens of security cameras. Our proclivities and habits are recorded on the Internet. Our profiles are electronically generated. Our bodies are patted down at airports and filmed by scanners. And public service announcements, car inspection stickers, and public transportation posters constantly urge us to report suspicious activity. The enemy is everywhere.

Those who do not comply with the dictates of the war on terror, a war which, as Orwell noted, is endless, are brutally silenced. The draconian security measures used to cripple protests at the G-20 gatherings in Pittsburgh and Toronto were wildly disproportionate for the level of street activity. But they sent a clear message—DO NOT TRY THIS. The FBI’s targeting of antiwar and Palestinian activists, which in late September saw agents raid homes in Minneapolis and Chicago, is a harbinger of what is to come for all who dare defy the state’s official Newspeak. The agents—our Thought Police—seized phones, computers, documents and other personal belongings. Subpoenas to appear before a grand jury have since been served on 26 people. The subpoenas cite federal law prohibiting “providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations.” Terror, even for those who have nothing to do with terror, becomes the blunt instrument used by Big Brother to protect us from ourselves.

“Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating?” Orwell wrote. “It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself.”

Chris Hedges is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute. His newest book is “Death of the Liberal Class.”


Wassail. -- C.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Inexorable... Fate

"Fate is the excuse the weak use for not rolling up their sleeves and shaping their destiny.  What, did you sleep through Philosophy 101?  Fate is the hand you're dealt, bunky.  Destiny is how you play it.  Both are scary, but the former is what you surrender to if you're too bluck-bluck to exercise the latter."  -- Countdown to Mystery #8

Wassail. -- C.

Haiku 6

Ice hones edges on
The hemlock-boles and hill-bones.
Root and twig shudder.


Haiku 2

Winter winds cover
The land with a chill blanket
And the trees sleep deep.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

"There Seems to Be an Event Happening"

About the only thing worth remembering about M. Night Shyamalan's failure The Happening is the utterly ridiculous line, "There seems to be an event happening."  (Well, that and the exclamation "Cheese and crackers!", which has become a permanent part of my vocabulary.)  In trying to convey everything, it conveys next to nothing, which appropriately enough defines these days ticking down to the end of year 2010.

To listen to the Main Stream Media (Or, as Sarah Palin likes to call them, the "Lame Stream Media."  One of her few moments of greatness... probably unintentional.), you'd think there's not much going on besides deciding the fate of gays in the military, and Elizabeth Edwards' death, and a trial centering around someone named Elizabeth Smart, whoever she is.  But my heart is filled with something akin to foreboding... trepidation, maybe?  Wrong!  It's the fatalistic acceptance of an upper-deck spectator at the circus known as the Decline and Fall of the American Empire.  But the stands at this show of tired metaphors are not even half-full, or even one-third.  It's a bit lonely up here.  (Hey, Richard!  Wayne!  Come sit by me!)

Yesterday I went into one of our local antique shops, where I sometimes venture for below-spot-price silver coins.  I'd thought it my little secret, as there has always been plenty of silver dollars, halves, and smaller denominations to choose from.  My last visit there, back in the summer, had yielded some great deals on silver halves.  Now, however, it seems my secret is found out.  There were no silver dollars to be had, and only a few halves.  The prices were still below spot, but I left with only a silver half and a couple of silver dimes and some silver wartime nickels (my first purchase ever of the latter -- they used to turn up from time to time in my change, but they are very hard to come by in that manner any more).  The nice lady behind the counter informed me that she'd never seen such demand for their coins. 

The door to silver investment is slowly being closed, at least for me and mine.  With my preferred Ebay dealer selling his common date silver dollars for $27-$28 and up, I am nearly priced out.  I watch the silver market daily, and fret as the price climbs, knowing that I wasted too much time and money by not buying more silver while it was more affordable.  Precious metals are one of the few safe investments for small potatoes investors like me, and with gold near $1400/oz., silver has been my only option.  Now I may be forced to collect copper cents, which have a spot price of .03.  Not exactly a good way to build a retirement fund, there.  Then again, who am I kidding?  I'll never get to retire, not in the sense my parents and grandparents knew it.

Oil prices are wobbling, though the direction they are trending is unmistakeable... 

One other thing the MSM/LSM is talking about is the WikiLeaks saga, though they are talking about the wrong thing.  In their coverage of Assange they show their utter complicity with TPTB (The Powers That Be).  As has been mentioned elsewhere, any respectable journalist should be standing up and shouting in defense of Assange's right to a free press; but there is nary a whisper of such to be had from the likes of CNN, Faux News, and the rest.  Instead they cower like the whimpering worms they are, seemingly afraid of what might happen if they stand up for themselves and their own professional integrity.  They have traded the latter in for career security.

CNBC, of all places, in a rare fit of journalism revealed the depths to which the U.S. military-corporate machine is willing to go to to control the populace in the event of civil unrest, like what we are seeing in London (amid the bitter cold), and in Greece earlier this year.  So, even if Joe Blow is mainly concerned with keeping his wife off his back about getting up the Christmas tree and lights, and how to finance the holiday, the gub-ment is seeing to it that the natives, should they become restless, will naetheless NOT impede Joe's ability to consume, consume, CONSUME.

Speaking of which, the Bush Tax Cuts will continue, and actually be expanded for All Americans.  This is to encourage further Consuming, a way to part the Consumer from his Hard Earned Paper, which will grease the wheels of Commerce and thus please the Holy Economy, which is God.  (Apologies for abusing the capital letters... I get off on that, a little.)  However, as even my diminishing intellect was able to grasp, this is nothing more than further Quantitative Easing, in essence QE2.5, flooding the markets with "liquidity."  Or, as I prefer to call it, "flexing our Weimar muscle" (DISCLAIMER:  the latter is not a reference to any kind of Central European sex act).

My store sales are down, noticeably.  I am worried.  My customers are broke.  Or, to quote the old Bo Diddley tune "Hey Man":   "broke-ass."  Nobody has any money, really, at least not among my clientele, who are, by and large, who you would call regular folks.  And they are, the lot of them, largely clueless as to why they are broke-ass.  I think they may feel an unease in their gut that something's not quite right, though they no doubt attribute the feeling to liberals, Julian Assange, or gas.

Everything and nothing, indeed.  And my beer is warm, dang it. 

How about a pretty picture?  Okay, then.  Here's "History of the D.C. Universe" by the incomparable Alex Ross.

Wassail. -- C.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The 12 Boxes of Christmas

Yep, twelve.  Twelve boxes of Christmas stuff that I hauled out of the basement today, including the ginormous old tree, along with enough lights to put the Andromeda Galaxy to shame.  Or at least, a Ford Galaxy.

Stuff.  'Tis the season for stuff.  The orgy of consumption that begins right after Halloween these days is in full swing.  As a dedicated neo-Luddite and amateur Scrooge, I am bearing up remarkably well, in my opinion, and look forward to the stillness of January with (sweet) relish.  I am hoping for a couple pair of new Carhartt pants and/or overalls, and that's all, though Santa may bring me a bicycle to replace the one that got stolen a couple years ago.  I miss riding bikes with Belle.

The Angle is slipping into Winter with its usual grace.  One of our eight sycamores still has some leaves, but the rest are naked.  A gift of about ten pounds of Spanish moss from my in-laws is well-timed, since I can now drape it over the cypresses and other trees unimpeded.  Work on the garden has slowed, but I hope to put in the topsoil soon, followed in January by the cow manure, and give it a few months to settle before Spring planting season.  The chickens are fat on leftovers... but there have been no eggs, not yet.  One good thing:  the neighbors know about our flock, and are cool with it, even interested.  I'll have to bring them some eggs, if we ever have any.

Ten pages and a real, live, working plot are new fruits of my autumn artistic endeavors.  I hope to finish Chapter 1 this month, and post it to my companion blog.  It's a new story, told with a different voice than I am used to, and it may not become anything, but I am having fun with it; it only feels a little like work.

These days, my thoughts turn to my friends, those I've kept in touch with and those I haven't.  I miss them all the time.  I hope they know I am with them in spirit, even as I withdraw further and further from our society in decline.  We're all getting long in the tooth, and though there are hopefully decades more to come, I need to work to maintain the ties that are still strong, mend those that are fraying, and in some cases, repair those that have (not a few by my own actions) broken altogether.  To those friends reading this:  I sincerely hope you and yours are well.  I hope to still call you friend as the tale of our years goes on and on, down from the point where we began knowing one another. 

Wassail, friends, and have a merry Yuletide season. -- C.C.

Whiles carried o'er the iron road,
We hurry by some fair abode;
The garden bright amidst the hay,
The yellow wain upon the way,
The dining men, the wind that sweeps
Light locks from off the sun-sweet heaps --
The gable grey, the hoary roof,
Here now -- and now so far aloof.
How sorely then we long to stay
And midst its sweetness wear the day,
And 'neath its changing shadows sit,
And feel ourselves a part of it.
Such rest, such stay, I strove to win
With these same leaves that lie herein.

-- William Morris, from
"The Roots of the Mountains"