I listened to Chris Hedges on the Sheer Intelligence podcast the other day. Robert Sheer and Hedges are very concerned about Julian Assange. Sheer was amazed that more people in the media profession and journalism were not as concerned. That got me thinking again about what I’ve noticed since I was pretty young, something that I think anyone reading this has understood as well. Status and money are vital to people in our culture. Suppose an opinion becomes detrimental to your ability to maintain your wealth and status. In that case, it’s in your interest to change that opinion or set it aside and focus on things that protect you. Our species is like that, and one doesn’t have to audit Robert Sapolsky’s lectures to know it.
Then I realized how “The West” is an astoundingly wonderful place to be rich. Increasingly other countries that used to be poorer are becoming that way too, as consumerism takes hold worldwide. China also has lots of fun ways for people to spend money. Japan has for a long time. In the United States, one can buy almost anything, more things than in most places, and more conveniently. Do you want a sports franchise, a ski resort, a superyacht, a private jet, a house in some of the most amazing cities on earth? It’s all there for the buying. The wealthiest countries in Europe are also like this; they are very nice places to be rich. In the T.V. series “The City on the Hill,” an immigrant from northern Ireland tells her new American friend that she “came for the money, of course.” What are refugees looking for; is it true that the only path to safety and security is cash?
If you are working for the Players, you may have the price of a ticket to the ball game and a six-pack, and that might be enough for you, as long as you can provide for your family and get a bit of respect from friends, family, and workmates. There are plenty of fun things for servants to do in an affluent society.
Entertainment is big business, and some well-paid entertainers are in media and journalism. They maintain the pro-business narrative needed to keep the consumer credit system rolling. If you are lucky, you get paid well to be a part of the system. Happy Days! You are a son of Uncle Sam.
Then I thought about a Netflix series I watched called “Sons of Sam,” and I realized how controlled that story was while it happened. The resolution of the case was the end of a perfect narrative structure. There is also a relatively tragic personal story of Author Maury Terry who starts connecting dots until his whole world became a connect-the-dots, never-ending obsession. The world can become a lonely place when you go too far down into a rabbit hole.
Of course, a group like “Q” conspiracy theorists must emerge from this system. Maury Terry was a prime example that you would inevitably see some pretty ugly connections if you look hard enough.
It’s interesting how traumatizing events must always have a beginning, middle, and end. They must be tied up neatly like a T.V. drama. There has to be an ending where the good guys win, and people can feel safe again. The talk therapy that Gabor Mate espouses is inaccessible to most people. Our culture isn’t concerned that deeply with the health and welfare of ordinary people.
Look at Epstein, at G.W. Bush on the aircraft carrier, Obama patting himself on the back when U.S. special forces killed Osama. The D.C. riots burned out just in time for investigators and prosecutors to chase down the insurrectionists and get justice. Biden rode in with his tried and true bit players to save the day after Trump tried to tear everything down. Wow, that was close; now everything is safe and regular again.
If there were no bad guys, we’d have to create one, which is what our culture does. Why do we need a war on drugs? Why did some folks at various agencies miss the Soviet Union so much? Because many folks work for people who want to be Players, they would lose their wealth and status without bad guys. The Players have a lot more, but the bit players have just enough to feel terrified of losing what they have.
Yes, I know, there are bad guys out there, and we must protect ourselves from them. But can you imagine that there are some cultures where there are far fewer problems and far fewer bad people, fewer sick people?
To keep ordinary people from tearing down a corrupt system, you need to keep them distracted, busy and just enough stressed that they haven’t much energy left to think deeply about things. When the system starts to break, the best distraction is a feared enemy or a criminal gang — “super-preditors.” Make people afraid, even if there is nothing really to be fearful of, and then have the powers that be come in and fix it. If you are a fan of history, you can see this playing out since the dawn of civilization.
The product the C.I.A. provides the U.S. government is all about this game of fear and hostility. It’s vital to the core values of American culture, American exceptionalism, and American innocence.
The pandemic is like Assange and Son of Sam; it provides a narrative for people to obsess over so they can release tension without focusing on the systemic and structural nature of their problems. It is always more profitable for The Players to have a crisis; it distracts from the real issues and consolidates more power and control. This game of thrones is the core of the system’s logic. There is no need for a conspiracy. Evildoers must be identified and defeated by heroes within the system over and over again. The cycle is relentless. Look at how connected Bernie Madoff and Jeffrey Epstein were. Corrupt people in high places are central players within the Big Game A.
It is also essential to maintain the belief in the population that ordinary people can become Players, someone with power and control and vast wealth and resources. That’s the dream. We constantly fantasize about what we’d do if we were Players. It keeps us going. Would we be a good Emporer or just exact vengence?
We worship football hoodlums and apologize for their horrific crimes because you see, they are football fans, addicts. They can’t help it. And we think it would be cool to get away with murder. These brutes become heroes, with popular YouTube channels garnering millions of views. Why is that?
A news organization is lucky to find a salacious story that will sell longer than the usual 24-hour news cycle. We call this market a news cycle, and they are cycling so fast now we can’t remember what was in vogue three months ago.
You must train yourself not to be taken in by this. It’s your only hope.
Think of all of these stories’ seemingly bizarre connections as a kind of six degrees of separation. If you look hard enough, everything is connected. Our problems are systemic, structural, and complex. We need to think slowly, clearly, and long term to find a way forward that isn’t this same old racket of violence and neglect.
Many people, groups, and organizations are working on providing pathways out of this insanity, but I fear it won’t catch on. And that’s what keeps me up at night.