Category Archives: Books

It’s About Time: Bud, Beon, and the Bots

kcoartsplit1

Sunday, July 2, 2017—This is a scene from my novel, a decades-old perpetual work in progress.  Superficially sci-fi, it is based on a philosophy that life is immortal, everything has consciousness, and everything runs its course then evolves into something else.  Time and space are illusions within a “spacious present.”  Death is like a phase change–like water converting to steam–while retaining the essential qualities of water.  From this perspective, there is no end point, and the process is the goal.

The purpose of the novel is to make you smile.  Let me know if you want more.

CHAPTER 4

CAUSE AND EFFECT

The sun, shining through dingy, crocheted curtains, cast a mosaic of light and shadow across the worn rug. By the angle of the light and content of the shadows, Joe knew it was at least 11 AM.

His head throbbed with an intensity of 200 on a one-to-ten scale.  The light hurt his eyes, but he didn’t have the courage to move.  He remained curled stiff, eyes clenched shut, until his bladder forced him to attempt the impossible and get out of bed.

He moaned, then winced.  He eased to a slouching position at the edge of the bed, resting his aching forehead between tender hands.  Slowly, ever so slowly, he stood and staggered to the bathroom, carefully shielding his eyes from the light.  He downed two aspirin and then a third, to abort the stroke he must be having.  It was at least a stroke. Maybe an aneurysm had burst.  He stared into the mirror.  Images of his certain, agonizing, and imminent death spread like acrid black goo across his quivering brain.

“I’m dying,” he told his haggard face. It stared back at him—coldly critical, his appearance substandard today, even for him.  He and his reflection eyed each other.  He noted the dark eye sockets, red eyes, fuzzy vision, chin stubble, wrinkles, and greasy hair.  He didn’t smell too good, either.  Let the embalmer handle it, he decided.  That’s what he’s paid for.

He trod a wobbly path through the living room to the kitchen, where the percolator was full of yesterday’s grounds.  His stomach wasn’t feeling much like coffee, but his head told him he was in caffeine withdrawal.  He cursed Marian for getting him so drunk that he forgot to prepare the coffee pot.  He imagined her boiling in a vat of coffee, begging for mercy.

Suddenly, Beon’s face loomed across Joe’s inner screens.  The balding, round visage grinned like the Buddha, his eyes innocuous, his portent ominous.  Joe’s head pounded harder, and his knees felt weak.  An image of lab rats, pinned to boards and randomly shocked, blotted out Beon’s face.  Then, the lab rats became little Joes, with Beon delivering the shocks.

Joe listed the objective, measurable reasons for his agony.  Unendurable pain. Undetectable caffeine levels. Betrayal by his only friend.  Violation of sacred coffee ritual, and death without absolution.  Beon.  He threw fresh coffee in the pot, spilling half the grounds on the counter, creating yet another reason to feel miserable.

Percolator finally started, Joe turned to face new trouble.  He opened the freezer and scowled at empty ice trays.  The little Joes in his head jumped and slumped.

He dragged his failing carcass to the couch. He imagined the pain in his head could power a small city, if he could figure out how to harness the energy.  Not today, though.  And tomorrow wasn’t looking too good, either.

Beon’s face returned, and with it, thoughts of the healing machine.  Joe wondered if it could cure his headache.  “Yes,” said Beon’s image.

“Who asked you?”  Joe demanded, not realizing he spoke out loud.

“You did.”  Joe decided he was going crazy, too.  “DALE,” said the face.  “Diet-Associated Life Enhancer.”

Joe covered his ears, but it did no good.  Beon’s image swelled in his head, and dream pictures bombarded his brain, rocking his scientific foundations.  The throbbing and pounding got louder, clanging against his skull.  Joe closed his eyes and waited to die.  Through it all, Beon’s face smirked, as if he enjoyed Joe’s suffering.

But death defied him, and Beon continued to grin.  Joe glanced around the room.  A single picture, hung askew, showed a listing clipper ship, an artifact left by the previous tenant.  George White left a few pieces of tired furniture, too, good enough for Joe.  His mailbox in the foyer downstairs still bore White’s name.  When neighbors called him “George,” Joe didn’t bother to correct them.  It was as good a name as “Joe.”

Now Joe wondered for the first time what happened to George White.  His couch may not look great, but it had personality.  It was warm, comfortable, inviting.  It was friendly.  It was taking care of him, helping him feel better, as a friend would do.

“I have tangible evidence that you existed,” he told the former tenant, “even if we’ve never met.  I still get your mail.  Beon is only imaginary, but he’s torturing me, and I can’t get away from him.”

Joe’s eyes began to blur.  His stomach felt queasy.  Vague terrors swept over him, and sweat poured from his upper body.  He wiped his face with a dirty napkin and dropped it on the floor.  “This is only a hangover.  It clouds my perspective, makes me think crazy thoughts.  It was only a dream.  A machine like that is impossible, and Beon doesn’t exist.”

Finishing People’s History

bkszinn2003

Seven years ago this month, I finished reading A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn, 2003 edition.  I have posted blogs about the first part of this book in March, 2017 and April, 2017.  In these blogs, I have noted events described in the book, as well as my thoughts on them.  The book had a powerful effect on me, supporting and expanding my beliefs about under-reported US history.  This May, 2017 post covers the final section of the book.

FINISHING A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, HOWARD ZINN

            Monday, May 3, 2010—I read some People’s History, now at World War II and how brutal the US was, dropping the nuclear bombs on Japan for no good reason except economics, killing 100,000 people in Hiroshima, mostly civilians, and 50,000 or more in Nagasaki.

Why oh why would people do this, I wondered.  It explains why people are so afraid now, why Americans are such mealy-mouthed wimps.

Thursday, May 6, 2010—I spent the afternoon reading People’s History, up to page 462.  Now into the race riots of the 1960s and 1970s, the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.  The FBI apparently did everything it could to intimidate King.

I can understand why people are afraid of government, and it is becoming more paranoid all the time.  I’ve always believed blacks are inherently peace-loving people, and Martin Luther King personified that spirit.

I wonder why I’m so fascinated by People’s History, because it implicates the federal government as a vicious, tyrannical bunch of mobsters since the land’s discovery.  Yes, it gives me even more data to support my beliefs.  It reveals what hasn’t worked.   Zinn focuses so intensely on the hatred and violence, though, that I wonder what ultimate purpose it serves.

While I believe the government is justifiably paranoid, I have to respect its power to hurt.  I’ve learned my lesson, I hope, about pissing the wrong people off.

As Malcolm X said, if you remain radical long enough, you win your freedom.  This is my belief, too, because I’ve come back from the “lunatic fringe” with more elbow room, maybe.

Fidel Castro in 1959 pissed the US off by confiscating land held by US corporations, then distributing it to landless peasants.  The Bay of Pigs was a manufactured crisis by John F. Kennedy and associates to stir up revolution against Castro in Cuba, but Fidel was too popular.  The US was embarrassed because its tactics, so successful everywhere else, failed with Castro.

Saturday, May 8, 2010—I read some People’s History, now up to page 490 in this 688 page book.  We’re in Vietnam now, and it is astounding.  The US has made a career of sadism, so no wonder we have a nation of victims.  We have the CIA actively stirring up trouble in a pacifist, land-based, family-and-tradition-based culture, but the CIA couldn’t seem to control the outcome, no matter how many cities and fields they bombed, people they slaughtered, or poisons they sprayed and dumped hither and yon.  They couldn’t understand how the revolutionaries managed to maintain morale, and I contend they weren’t fighting governments but for a way of life.  Ho Chi Minh, the North Korean leader, was immensely popular among the people, because he confiscated land of absentee landlords and distributed it among the landless, similar to what Castro did in Cuba.

Ngo Dinh Diem, the CIA/US plant in South Vietnam, was hated by the people, and South Vietnam was essentially a US government invention.  When Diem became an embarrassment to the US, they allowed him to be captured and assassinated.  Three weeks later, JFK was assassinated.

Castro and Ho Chi Minh understood Communism in the communal sense of the term, by giving land to the landless, and this is why the people were so willing to fight for it.  They weren’t defending ideological political battles for governments, or other people’s turf.  They were fighting for their homes, families, livelihoods, and way of life.

It amazes me the CIA could be so stupid, because it is obvious to me.  Their self-defeating, blind irrationality did more to promote Communism–in the communal sense—than any leader could have achieved alone.

Perhaps if we thought of people as belonging to the land, rather than the other way around, we would have a more solid footing.

Friday, May 14, 2010—I’ve been reading People’s History tonight, wondering how people can be so cruel for so long, such that it is institutionalized and considered normal, including the lying and deceit in government and the military.

I read about the Attica prison riot, followed by other prison riots, all turned into massacres by federal troops, FBI, and militia.  The prisoners’ non-violence was more threatening than if they had been violent.  Same with the American Indians, who occupied Alcatraz, a deserted federal prison, on a rock in the San Francistco Bay.  There were forcibly evicted from there and also from land at Wounded Knee they had by treaty; but that was given to the government under “eminent domain.”  This occurred in the 1960s or 1970s and hundreds of Indian men, women and children were slaughtered after the government tried to starve them out first.

Saturday, May 15, 2010—Reading books like People’s History shows I am not alone in my understanding—far from it–as people like Howard Zinn have tracked this for years and were even given a voice.  He makes no reference to the bankers’ playing both ends against the middle and leaves the stock market out of it, although he cites illegal campaign donations by specific corporations, like ITT and 3-M.

Reading about the American Indians validates my beliefs about the native American cultures, which respected the earth and all its creatures.  I wonder how much violence they had before the Europeans arrived.  I believe it was probably minimal and was developed in reaction to the European invasion and introduction of guns.

Sunday, May 16, 2010—I read more People’s History, through Ford, Carter, and Bush Sr.  All continued to serve the government/corporate marriage.  Pacifist Jimmy Carter increased defense spending significantly.  Zinn says the Democrats did more to impose regressive taxes—Carter increased payroll taxes—than the Republicans.

Zinn claims legislation like the Clean Air Act and OSHA  were deprived of teeth by subsequent caveats, administrative decree, or insufficient funding.  He does not go into the ways these bills helped the monopolists by stifling competition.

Zinn also seems to have a shallow idea of the domestic spending programs.  He implies they are good and necessary, but he doesn’t recognize they wouldn’t be necessary if the poverty weren’t artificially created by government’s social engineering.

Zinn says Ronald Reagan and Bush Sr. used CIA to interfere in Nicaragua, Panama, Granada, and El Salvador, under various pretexts.  Bush Sr. hoped to restore American confidence in the military, since the Soviet Union collapsed and was no longer an excuse, so he created a war in Iraq.  They and all their aides lied throughout.  Congress had passed limp dick legislation to pander to public disgruntlement, and to curb presidential powers, but Ford ignored it, and so did Reagan.  No one objected.  Congress looked the other way, and the Supreme Court, of course, felt no obligation to reprimand the presidents.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010—Now into the Bush Sr. years in People’s History of the United States.  Apparently HKW Bush was determined to do Desert Storm.

Zinn’s approach is becoming trite.  He emphasizes the contest between military and social spending without questioning the spending itself.  The idea that it’s a rich vs. poor issue, without understanding—as I suddenly did—that it’s a government control issue, as in controlling economic narrows.

Thursday, May 20, 2010—Down to the wire on People’s History.  We’re now into all the pacifist movements during the first Iraq war.  They were ineffective.

And on to the Clinton years.  Bill Clinton was as much a war hawk as any of them and cut social programs but not bureaucracy.

Government has appropriated unto itself responsibility for every area of people’s lives, so it needs the bureaucracy to dole out the money it has stolen, to return it piecemeal to those it deems worthy.

Zinn has some good ideas about how to rebuild America from the ground up, but he is still too tied to money, according to me.  The notion that everything must be tied to a monetary scale, like community involvement, restricts the flow of energy and diminishes the value of time, as well as other factors that have no monetary equivalent.

Friday, May 21, 2010—People’s History gives an account of the protests from many camps over the quincentennial of Columbus’ landing, on Columbus Day, 1992, so that hero has toppled from many pedestals.  The media ignored the protests.

Saturday, May 22, 2010—I finally finished People’s History.  Given his era and background, Zinn does a remarkably good job of describing the brutal history of the US and the rampant disregard for the very principles that citizens believed it stood for.  Rather than protect rights, nurture freedom, democracy and capitalism (in the human capital sense), it has made a mockery of all three, preying on a naive and gullible public to twist noble ideals into their opposites.

The current economic crisis is bringing it all to a head, I believe, because taxpayers are finding they have been used to dig their own graves.  The country is morally bankrupt, and there is no one to blame.  As the state assumed the role of lord, master, and god, acting as legal and moral judge, guard, and executioner, taxpayers must look in the mirror and see we are the state, and we are responsible for the monster it has become.

In People’s History, Zinn mentions protest against the bombing of Afghanistan following 9/11.  I remember being the only person I knew objecting to retaliatory gestures, and people around here hated me for it.

 

Ambling Through “People’s History,” Part 2

bkszinn2003April 15, 2017

Seven years ago this month, I was still reading A Peoples History of the United States,  by Howard Zinn, 2003 edition.  This is the second in a series of posts about this book, facts and my thoughts on them.  I blogged about the first 40 pages on March 7, 2017 (“Zinn on First Americans”).

Friday, April 2, 2010—I read 30 pages of  A People’s History of the United States  Now we’re into slavery from a Lincoln point of view, more or less, hinting but not stating what “freedom” meant to hoards of blacks who had no place to go and no skills except farm work, picking cotton but not selling it.

Sunday, April 4, 2010—People’s History horrifies me, as did Open Veins of Latin America.  I wonder why I persist in reading that stuff.  Am I merely looking for what’s wrong, following the trail I find so counter-productive in others?

I think I’m trying to understand how people can be so easily deceived into violating their own common sense and good judgment, on individual and mass levels, even when claiming the opposite.

My desire to trust, to give people the benefit of the doubt, has betrayed me more than anything else.  As a result, I have become the victim of numerous desperate people who believed they were saving themselves by sacrificing me.

This “die so that I may live” attitude is the fundamental betrayal of Christianity and perhaps underscores the strange notion that there is nobility in martyrdom.

I don’t see popes going to war, nor kings, nor presidents and members of Congress.  Thus the hypocrisy of the death by proxy stance that Christianity has become.

I have an idea.  Let’s create hell on earth so people will want to die.  That should solve the overpopulation problem.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010—We’re now into “The Other Civil War” chapter, page 237, about the strikes in the North in the 1830’s and beyond—long before the war on the South began.

Zinn annoys me because he focuses on the injustices and riots themselves, blaming the “capitalists,” the “rich,” and the “landowners,” without giving a good account of their methods.  The Robber Barons did a better job of showing how the railroad interests used government to further their ends.  In fact, Zinn’s history seems to worsen class divide by pandering to the disenfranchised and showing no effective retaliation other than violence, labor unions, and strikes.  He lets the government off the hook by virtually ignoring it, except in the most superficial way.

Thursday, April 17, 2010—I read about 12 pages of People’s History..  All about labor strikes during the mid-to-late 1800s.  A bad depression in 1893 due to boatloads of immigrants brought to lower the price of labor while native-born laborers couldn’t afford to feed their families.   Over and over the federal government and state militia came in to break up strikes, and the Supreme Court and lower courts cemented the rights of corporations over individuals in the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, the Interstate Commerce Commission, and other tactics that proved who the federal government really works for.

Zinn doesn’t say much about the Supreme Court, but it appears to be the great black hole in this whole US federal government farce.  Zinn only touches on the notion that it is composed of presidential appointees who are confirmed by Congress, thereby a mockery of the idea that the US is a republic.  But language distortion goes back a long way.  Even the 1800s sources Zinn quotes were discussing the conflict of labor vs. capital, referring to the overlord imperialists as “capitalists” unwilling to acknowledge human capital’s value.

Laborers never learned how to organize, except to fight, and this is why they failed.  Had they taken over the mills and factories and run them themselves, evicting the bosses, we may have written a different history.

Saturday, April 17, 2010—More violence.  Now the US in the late 1890s expands its imperialist empire, because all those machines that displaced all those workers are producing more goods than anyone needs or can afford.  So the US is forcing its way into other countries, like Japan and Cuba.  It’s justifying war, as in Cuba, supposedly to support revolutionaries against oppressive government, but also to protect American corporate interests that invested there.

Monday, April 19, 2010—Now, we’re into the Spanish-American War, in which the US used the Cuban revolution in 1898 or so to substitute the US Platt amendment for the Spanish rule.  It then used economic expansion to justify a bloody takeover of the Philippines, really bloody, in which American troops went on killing sprees wiping out entire towns, no one over ten years old spared.  And bragging about it, calling the Filipinos “niggers.”

McKinley was president at the time.  Of course he didn’t want war but felt it necessary to protect the Philippine timber and other resources from other countries and the Filipinos from themselves.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010—I read more People’s History, now up to page 363.  Late 1800s and early 1900s.  Strikes and more strikes, labor disputes, government stepping in at every turn to protect the corporations, the factories, murdering strikers, arresting leaders, making examples of them.  World War I was probably a diversionary tactic, to find an external enemy, because the internal mood was so belligerent.  No wonder people are afraid of the government.

But Zinn skips right over the Federal Reserve Act and income tax.  He subtly distorts the record by blaming Taft for the income tax and Wilson for the Federal Reserve Act, and only mentions these in a sentence or two in passing.

How strange, think I, that he would so easily bypass the vehicle by which the very workers he panders to were so completely disenfranchised.

People tell me Zinn is a “liberal.”  He seems to celebrate socialism, derived from Populism, but never defines any of it.  It’s clear “capitalism” was used in the vernacular in the 1800s to describe the industrialist imperialists, so demonization of the term began long ago.  The notion that human capital, like “qi” or life force in Oriental medicine, has been eliminated from the equation tells me this is why we are all are so debilitated now.

I can only do so much, I decided.  Many people have had a piece of the picture.  Zinn even quotes Helen Keller a time or two.  One of the heroines from my youth, she was social consciousness itself, a socialist at a time when socialism was needed, because it was synonymous with compassion.

Thursday, April 22, 2010—Peoples History shows how ruthless the GoverCorp attitude is.  People are right to be afraid.  Those who opposed the barbarians were glamorized, like Upton Sinclair, yet used to enable social reforms that played into GoverCorp’s hands.

On page 368 Zinn discusses World War I, the Espionage Act, which was used to jail and castigate people who opposed the war.  The Socialists didn’t, as a group, but notable Socialists like Jack London, Upton Sinclair, and Clarence Darrow, were soon converted.

Zinn’s history bats the ball back and forth like a tennis match but offers few insights into the causes.  The attitudes that have come down through time allow people to justify cruelty, violence, and bloodshed.

 

 

 

Zinn on First Americans

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A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES:  
1492-Present
by Howard Zinn
Published 1980; fifth printing, 2003

Introduction:  One of the best American history books I have read, this stellar work upsets any romantic notions one might have about our nation’s beginnings.  I read the book seven years ago, and it remains one of my all-time favorites.

Friday, March 12, 2010—I sprang for A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn, who just died a couple of weeks ago.  I have read 40 pages of this 690 page book and find it most inspiring, surprisingly enough.  It begins with an account of Columbus’ brutality in slaughtering the Arawak Indians in the Bahamas (which Zinn never calls the “West Indies”) and the blood lust that accompanied the gold lust and slave lust that characterized not only this but subsequent genocide in North and South America.

Apparently there were 10 million Indians (Native Americans) living in North America when the Europeans arrived, with their strange notions of property rights, their guns and superior attitudes.  Many of these natives were organized in loose confederacies by language.  The Iroquois spread through much of New York , with various centers or pockets of clans distinguished by their regions or specialties.  The Mohawks (People of the Flint), Oneidas (People of the Stone), and the like.  They were generally pacifist, meaning they existed in peaceful harmony with each other and other tribes.  Disputes were generally between individuals.  Land and housing were held and worked in common.  There was no sexual one-upmanship.  The senior women controlled the decisions about whether to wage war, elected the tribal leaders, and removed them if they got out of line.  They made the moccasins and tended the crops, so they controlled the supplies for warring missions.

The English in Jamestown and New England behaved as badly as Columbus, but here the issue was land rather than gold.  They plopped themselves in the middle of established Indian turf and used guns and deception to bully and con the area Indians into submission.  In the beginning, the natives were willing to share, because this was their way, but when the Brits began to reveal their barbaric, exploitive, attitudes, the Indians grew wary.  Brits raided Indian villages, stole women and children for sex, slavery, and sport, murdered at random, and burned crops for no good reason, even though they were starving.  They couldn’t get along with each other, either, enough to cooperate, and they were all too lazy to work.  Those settlers who defected to the Indians for safe harbor and food were severely punished if caught.

So this is our heritage.  Zinn says the combined assaults of war, disease, and famine decimated the North American Indians to about one million in a few short years (maybe 50).

A quote from Chief Powatan to John Smith in 1607:  “Why will you take by force what you may have quietly by love?”

I like Zinn’s approach.  He does not romanticize or pander to the cultures that were obliterated.  He is the ultimate egalitarian, so far, recognizing the clash of values in the clash of cultures, and writing the history from the perspective of the vanquished.

The book, and especially the first chapter, spoke to my soul, because the descriptions of Arawaks and mainland natives sounds much like my ideal commune, a place where everyone has a role to play for the communal good, and no role is considered better or worse than others.  I sense the Indian spirit is rising again, by default, if nothing else.  We are backing into it, because we are too weak and debilitated to fight, and there is little left to steal.

This is the great dilemma of modern man.  We have progressed ourselves into a quandary, slaves to our own progress, with a wheel that is spinning out of control.  Progress downhill fast has hit the swampy bottom, I hope, and is having to deal with the muck, sewage, toxins, landfill, and dysfunctional technology it has created.

The “health care crisis” is a political statement, and a wise one.  “Sorry, I’m too sick to go to war, to work, to pay taxes or contribute to the economy.  Where’s my check?  You promised.”
They are learning instinctively if not intellectually, that the way to downsize government is to bankrupt it.

For Better or Worse

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In late 2006, ten years ago, I started reading an abridged (317 pages) version of Democracy in America, the classic work by French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville.  It took several years to finish it, but I noted de Tocqueville’s observations and my reactions along the way.  Below are my comments at that time, along with my retrospective on the 2016 election and its implications so far.

DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA – ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE – 1832

             Democracy in America, the much quoted tome by French aristocrat and dilettante Alexis de Tocqueville, was written after a nine-month tour of the United States in 1831-2.  This 317-paged abridged version was edited by Richard D. Heffner, who wrote the introduction.  It was published in 1956.

Even in 1831, apparently, de Tocqueville recognized attitudes that have led to today’s problems in America, such as the driving greed of all layers of society, and the work-driven ethic.  At that time, class distinctions weren’t so clear, but this is shifting, and the oligarchy today consists in large part of so-called “public servants” who have commandeered public property and cordon it off against the public.

De Tocqueville also astutely observes that a comfortable populace will not revolt.  He didn’t anticipate they would not work, either, if the government makes life too comfortable, as is presumably happening now.

It bugs me that he calls this “democracy,” but I suppose it’s the closest form anyone in recent history has known.

De Tocqueville is optimistic and extremely perceptive, recognizing trends that have become so pronounced now that they are almost pathological, as the preoccupation with material things, for instance.

He was struck even then with the American love for money.  He did not see then the gradual centralization of power, but we didn’t have a democracy, either.  Slaves, Native Americans, and women were irrelevant in the political paradigms.

De Tocqueville’s observations provide perspective on America’s early ideals.  They show to some extent where we went awry.

He distinguishes, for one thing, between centralized government and centralized administration.  He says we have the former but an absence of the latter.

No more, I claim.  De Tocqueville wondered about the wisdom of the arrangement.  He said centralized administration saps initiative from local communities.

THEN AND NOW

            Democracy in America points to US priorities in the 1830s, and they are becoming ever more obvious today.  The fixation on material wealth and status stand out.  The idea that we have centralized government, and now centralized administration, too, seem particularly relevant with the president-elect’s cabinet and administrative picks.

I was one of those who stood aside during this 2016 election year, a part of the process by default but as removed as I could get.  My general belief is it doesn’t matter who the president is.  The machinery of government grinds on as if leaderless and, according to me, has been cruising downhill throughout my life.  That the pace has picked up recently, since the tech explosion, perhaps, or since 9/11, has less to do with the presidency than with general mass awareness and passive collusion with hitherto unseen forces.

Blame social media, “fake news,” the widespread sense of betrayal, and the general—albeit semi-conscious—preoccupation with money and status at all levels of society.  Blame the dissolving faith that government has answers, the disillusionment with delegated power and authority.  Passive aggression and passive resistance make for a general sense of social malaise that leads to personal and social stagnation.  What is left?

I’d like to believe we are undergoing a revolution in consciousness, a period of confusion in which we re-assess what we have believed and whether it remains valid. We are all—all of humanity and other life and non-life–in this stew pot together, for better or worse.  The fortune tellers on the payroll are busy trying to predict what disasters a Trump administration can wreak.  Even his supporters seem disgruntled over his choices of advisors and cabinet heads.

I say we got what we deserved, for better or worse, and, in retrospect it seems we have been heading along this path at least since de Tocqueville visited in 1831.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fake News and George Orwell’s 1984

There’s a lot written lately about “fake news,” the widespread dissemination of misinformation.  This is nothing new.  Fake news has been around at least as long as gossip and probably longer.  No one can know more than her own perspective, and to presume otherwise leads to trouble.

Seven years ago, I re-read George Orwell’s classic dystopic novel, 1984, published in 1949.  In this book, history was deliberately re-written on a regular basis by the Party of the infamous Big Brother.

1984 opens with protagonist Winston Smith going home at lunch to write in the secret diary he bought on the black market.  He works at the Ministry of Truth falsifying old news accounts.

Author George Orwell gets right to the point and packs the desolation of the times into the first few pages, describing the old, worn apartment building Winston lives in, Victory Mansions, with elevator that rarely works, the smell of boiled cabbage, the leaky roof, suspicious, deadened people.  We hear about Hate Week and Two Minutes Hate being a part of the daily routine.

The telescreen in his living room transmits both ways, and you can’t turn it off.  Smith lives in the world of the eternal present, in which the past is continually re-written  People disappear, and all record of them expunged.  There is perpetual war.  Smith lives in Oceania, which is currently at war with Eurasia and at peace with Eastasia, but despite obliterated history, Winston remembers only four years ago, Eastasia was the enemy and Eurasia the friend.

Posters, stamps, coins, cigarettes and myriad other things bear Big Brother’s face and the ominous “Big Brother is watching you.”  We have Thought Police.  We have the party’s slogans:  “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.”  News is so disconnected from what’s really happening that it is a farce, yet no one remembers clearly whether things have ever been different.

Language defines thought, and 1984 speaks to this more succinctly than anything I’ve ever read.  The point of Newspeak was to reduce the number of words, to constrict thought, render it homogeneous and controllable.

Midway through the novel, Smith is having an affair with Julia, a Party member who passed him a note saying “I love you,” when she fell in the hall and he helped her up.  She is 15 years his junior and content to live a double life of hating the Party while pretending to be a model member.  She is purely sensual, uninterested in politics except as it affects her life.  She believes war is frustrated sexual desire and that sexually satisfied people have no need or desire to fight.  This, she says, is why the Party outlaws it except between husband and wife, and only for the purpose of having children, and providing no one enjoys it.

Winston knows from the beginning he is doomed, just doesn’t know when his time will come.  Every move is watched, every facial expression, every sound transmitted over the telescreen.  Solitude is suspicious, as is unaccounted-for time.

Smith eventually takes Julia to meet with O’Brien, an inner party member he believes is a member of a subversive organization, the Brotherhood.  This organization is reputed to be headed by an Emanuel Goldstein, the demonized “Enemy of the People.”  O’Brian says he is indeed a member of the Brotherhood and enlists Winston’s participation, exacting promises to do whatever is necessary, on command, without asking questions, and expecting no rewards or acknowledgement.

 

Smith loses my allegiance when he says he is willing to abase himself to defeat Big Brother.  He dehumanizes himself with that commitment, and becomes no better than those he condemns.  He is willing to trade one overlord for another, perpetuating the cycle.

After meeting with O’Brien, Winston gets the forbidden Goldstein book and begins to read it, but he is then arrested in his hideaway just before reading the “Why?” of the party’s obsession.

The rest of the book is about Winston’s capture, imprisonment, torture, and re-education by O’Brien.  O’Brien says the party decides what reality is, and a lone individual like O’Brien cannot contest it.  The party is immortal.  He says the party did not make the mistake of previous dictatorships, (thereby admitting a past before the Party):  socialist governments that pretended to claim power merely long enough to establish justice and equality.  No.  The party wants power for its own sake, and it wants to use that power to crush all individuality and potential resistance. But even Winston Smith, during his interrogation, protests that such a brutal power structure as O’Brien describes could not sustain itself and would self-destruct.

In the end, of course, when O’Brien threatens to put a rat cage over Winston’s face, he commits the ultimate betrayal:  he begs to have them sick the rats on Julia, instead.

And, of course, the final two sentences—which I’ve remembered for 30 years, verbatim:  “He had won the victory over himself.  He loved Big Brother.”

Although George Orwell is uncannily prescient in some of his observations, like the muddying of language, the telescreen, and the homogenization of individuals into a mass mind where individuality is a crime, he cannot account for factors that make totalitarianism unsustainable.  We are now seeing the disintegration of the power structure that bleeds individuals to support itself.  It boils down to the simple fact that armed or violent resistance only reinforces the power structure, but non-participation and withdrawal deplete it.  Orwell is looking at an urban population dependent on infrastructure and easily controlled supply chains.

Also, while Orwell claims history is being wiped out by revisions in books, statues, streets, churches, and newspapers, he overlooks the fact that the dilapidated architecture itself bespeaks a more competent society, because those buildings were once new, with roofs and plumbing in good working order.

Orwell also deprives his characters of any curiosity outside politics or basic amenities.  In his first rendez-vous with Julia in the country, Winston is transfixed by the song of a thrush.  There is no other evidence of anyone doing anything useful, and the appreciation for the bird is an exception.

The characterization of perpetual war merely for the purpose of destroying excessive production, the three entities perpetually at odds with each other, the control of people by controlling their minds, is uncanny.  There’s a reference to 1914 as the turning point in history.

Doublethink, the ability to hold two mutually exclusive views at the same time and believe them both, is crucial.

 

But men have always thought in terms of violent revolutions that are manipulated simply to switch one power elite for another.  They do not recognize that these systems disintegrate from within because those in power can’t trust each other.  I believe the violence comes later, once people see how weak the structure has become.

I say you control by controlling the food and water supplies, and the product lines, a much more fundamental and practical method, if power is your aim.  Of course the power brokers know that, and all this talk about controlling minds is intellectual camouflage.  It’s hard to imagine Big Brother having much power in a rural area where people have more resources at their disposal.

George Orwell, pen name for Eric Arthur Blair, died a year after 1984 was published, at the age of 46.  He had lived through both world wars, the Depression, and had lived in poverty through much of his adult life.  He foresaw much of what is happening now, and he was discouraged about the future of mankind.  But in the final analysis, 1984 is a masterpiece of tight prose, excellent descriptions, good character development, and interesting plot, well worth reading.

Reflections: “Open Veins of Latin America”

bksgalopen1973

December 1, 2016

Seven years ago this month, I finished reading Open Veins of Latin America:  Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, by Eduardo Galeano.  This superb 1971 work of investigative journalism is the book that then Venezualan leader Hugo Chavez gave President Barack Obama.

I’ve been keeping journals in one form or another throughout my life.  I chose this seven-year interval to show how events do grow on themselves, and issues never die.  They merely change form.

Now we have the death last week of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, who was simpatico with Chavez.  We have the recent ousting of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff by a political coup, which was vehemently protested by the popular electorate.  Social upheaval around the world reflects the troubles in Latin America, yet the strategies used by the power brokers remain the same.

Open Veins reveals how the game has been played and how it continues to be played.  What follows is only a partial set of notes from my reading, but it summarizes the book’s overall message.

OPEN VEINS OF LATIN AMERICA, EDUARDO GALEANO, 1971

            The early part of the book, Open Veins of Latin America, depicts how Spanish conquistadors raped South America of gold and silver in the 1600s.  They enslaved the Incas and other natives to do their dirty work.  Priests soon followed and continued the tyranny, shaming the locals for being un-Christian and forcing them to work in the mines as penance..

The middle pages of Open Veins depict the violence and social repression brought by the foreign money exporters  They used and use local governments to protect heir “investments.”  The same story occurs over and over, under different cloaks, whether cacao, coffee, rubber, cotton, or bananas.

The oligarchies control the land, with the help of government.  Government gets its cut in the form of taxes and job security.  Peasants are paid in subsistence wages if they are lucky.  Monoculture of produce for export displaces food production for locals, and malnutrition is common.

The book shows how prices are manipulated on Wall St., how US surpluses dumped in other countries are “foreign aid” drops prices for local economies, and the peasants are the first to suffer.

I thought about how this book shows the same methods the robber barons used in the book by that name.  Confessions of an Economic Hit Man also comes to mind.  I thought the advantages of TV and the worldwide communication network is exposing the barbarian plunderers like never before.  No wonder the world hates the US, but we learned our methods from the British, who are no more civilized than they were when they were Angles and Saxons.

Their arrogance and ours knows no bounds, apparently, because they and we continue to get away with it. It also provides more evidence for my hypothesis that government and property rights are the problem.  Land can’t be owned, not really, but property rights and government are two sides of the same coin.

Reading Open Veins tells me others are aware of the tactics used by the exploiters and have been writing about them a long time.  Open Veins was first published in 1971, 36 years ago, as many investigative books were.  The clamp down on journalists since then has been subtle, a mere matter of monopolizing news sources and publishers the way United Fruit monopolized the Latin American banana market.

The governments change, but the methods are the same around the world.  Those who claim the land have all the rights, as long as others believe in property rights.

I believe the land claims its people.  I feel claimed by this property and am unconcerned about how I will hold on to it.  It will hold on to me, I figure, because it knows a valuable human sacrifice when it supports one.

In Open Veins, as everywhere, the oppressors succeed by dividing and conquering, by pitting people against each other, controlling food and water sources.

Why, you might wonder.

It is the folly of the testosterone poisoned, I claim.  They think oppression increases profits.  They aren’t free market capitalists, who know oppression is bad for business.  You want to keep your work force strong, healthy and happy, because they will work harder for you out of gratitude.

When you’re an absentee landlord, as so many of the latifundio owners are, it’s easy to pretend ignorance of the injustice perpetrated in your name.  But how much can they enjoy all that ill-gotten wealth, knowing they did nothing to earn it and most live in fear of those they exploit?

In the US, people are TV-educated, at least, and able to get different versions of the exploitation game.  US residents know they are being exploited, but they aren’t sure who’s pulling the strings.

You are, Joe and Josie Taxpayer, as long as you put up with it.

Open Veins  tells other stories of governments colluding with investors, primarily British bankers in the 1850s, to rape and pillage their countries’ natural resources, including their people, all for exports.

Because no one values the contribution of human capital, not even those like Eduardo Galeano, the author, books like Open Veins miss the point.  It correctly implicates foreign investors, governments, and bankers, as well as the established oligarchies in the various Latin American countries, but it blames the dictators rather than the social conventions that allow dictators to grow and flourish.

Open Veins alludes to the guano on the coast of Peru, left by centuries of seagulls and pelicans, discovered and plundered in a few short years to replenish nutrient-starved wheat fields in Europe.  The Peruvians destroyed the gull and pelican habitats by overtaking, effectively killing the goose that laid their golden eggs.  Meanwhile, the technique for fixing atmospheric nitrogen was developed, and the guano industry died overnight.

Galeano provides example after example of corruption, revolution, unstable governments all at the mercy of British and American governments and corporations.  Over the centuries the plundered resources have changed, but the methods remain the same.  Gold and later other minerals.  Tin, copper, iron, silver.

I’ve read about the oil in Venezuela and the oil cartel controlled by Rockefeller interests.

No wonder Chavez wanted Obama to read it, and no wonder Obama won’t do it.  But how many other people will?

Americans provide the markets for these treasures, but Americans are insulated from the real costs through price fixing, labor exploitation, and tax advantages.  Gas costs more in some of the producing areas than in the US.  The developed countries, like Britain and the US, control the refineries and the mills, usually locating them at home, where labor is paid multiple what the disenfranchised Latin American labor gets.

America and the world have been suckered into overusing oil to support the oil cartel, and they continue to waste it in the name of quick profits and unacknowledged long term costs.  Galeano notes that oil supplies the war machines, a fact I haven’t seen substantiated anywhere else.

Americans don’t want to see their part in all this.  If they do, they compensate by giving money to charities or support social programs on pseudo-philanthropic entities like the Ronald McDonald’s houses at hospitals.

Open Veins, like The Robber Barons, astounds me with its details, its voluminous research, its insight into the methods used through Latin American history to degrade and oppress people.  While the Spanish and the Catholic Church initiated the devastation, the British institutionalized it, especially when industrialization began.  The industrial centers became black holes for raw materials, including human capital to produce it, but the raw goods never garnered the prices of the finished products, and the Brits conveniently dominated the finished product industry.

The Brits bought and sold Latin American governments, used them to fight each other—such as the Triple Alliance against Paraguay and its leader/dictator, Francisco Solano Lopez, who was dangerously independent, building Paraguay’s internal economy with foreign debt.  The British bankers—Bank of London, Barings, and Rothschild—couldn’t stand it.  They financed Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay to wage war against Paraguay, effectively broke up Paraguay, and bloodied everyone involved, as well as indebting them and ravaging the country, then collected in London from all sides.

I’m amazed at the wealth of detailed information in Open Veins.  It substantiates everything in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man about how the US government and corporations work in foreign countries, all with banker help, of course.  In Open Veins, the International Monetary fund and governments of Latin American countries collude to export money out of the countries under the guise of helping them.  Galeano pegs Wall Street as the center of the vortex, as I have 40 years later.

            Open Veins was powerful.  Galeano ends by saying that more revolution is coming, but he does this without conviction.  He sees the foreign investors and banks as having won the economic wars.  The masses, he believes, are too beaten down to fight back.

Debt is the trap for these countries, as everywhere.  I believe these countries should not feel obligated to honor debt assumed by dictators who were subsequently deposed.  That’s why they were deposed. Governments are not like buildings, tangible assets that can be repossessed.  No.  Governments are paper shells, here today and gone tomorrow, leaving their works like corpses behind.

Governments are primarily economic entities, and this is where Galeano stumbles.  Politically, he needs to blame the corporations, knowing full well the enemy lies within, because the corps couldn’t do their damage if Latin American governments didn’t provide the keys, the prisons, and the armed guards to keep the masses under control.  In 1978 he wrote that his book was banned in several countries.  If he had questioned the validity of the debt assumed by these dictators, and the US/corporate players, he would not have lived to write the 1978 revision.

Of course, as usual, I am the only person on the planet who understands that the debt is illusory.  It is all uncollectible.  It is government who has enslaved the populace, here as well as elsewhere, and the populace will remain slaves as long as they believe they need masters.

Galeano doesn’t question the value of the technology and machinery these countries are acquiring at such great cost.  He has been seduced, like others, into believing this junk represents progress.  He sees this struggle between rich and poor—especially foreign rich—when I see more and more the imbalance between rural and urban.