“Doing repairs on the outside of a rocket in mid-air is a ticklish job. We slacken off the circulation when they are the right way up so that they are half-starved, and double the flow of surrogate when they are upside down. They learn to associate topsy-turvydom with well-being; in fact, they are only truly happy when they are standing on their heads.” ~ Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
Learning to associate “topsy-turvy” with well-being is something fictional and real astronauts do, but it is usually not something everyday folks are expected to master.
Yet, that is exactly what is going on.
We are now expected to navigate “fake news,” “alt news,” World War III, crazed politicians, crooked bankers, market paradox, media fragmentation, brain-eating Artificial Intelligence, terrorism, hyper-volatile cryptocurrencies, and deadly cyber attacks without losing our minds.
Thomas Hobbes (the Scottish philosopher, not the comic-strip character) had things right when he said that life can be brutish. Perhaps it was an understatement given the historical context. When citizens are insecure and, at the same time, driven by competitive aspirations (you too can join the top .05 percent), they yearn for stability rather than civic engagement, protection rather than political involvement. The facade of normalcy is designed to create instability to keep us off balance and passive.
We may cringe at the notion that our cherished ideas of democracy are so flimsy, yet we tolerate institutions and individuals who perpetuate banality and political spectacle without end. Whether it is Harry and Megan’s pending nuptials or Mohammed El Arian’s newly found penchant for posting about sports and not economics, the banality keeps us clicking on the wrong topics, and the spectacle keeps us hopelessly distracted.
We are mired in “politics without political value.”
So instead of actually participating in democracy, the virtual citizen gets to vent all manner of “opinions.” You can rage about candidate Roy Moore to your friends on Facebook who assuredly feel the same way you do, which does absolutely nothing. You might garner some predictable responses and extract gut-level, knee-jerk reactions from a few naysayers. Do everyday people discuss substantive issues? No, they do not. The moderators and canned journalists center the dialogue on the cult of personality, empty rhetoric, and slick public relations.
I’m afraid we see things as if upside down, and we are becoming accustomed to the view. We could never imagine this happening in such a great country. Our betters, those whom have galvanized more wealth in their own hands since the turn of the 19th century, have managed to undermine the possibility of activism and cohesiveness by enslaving us to debt. To be politically useful, they have created different, distinct interest groups that inevitably find themselves in tension or at odds with other organizations. There is no possibility of organized dissent, because we are busy fighting one another. Our democracy is endangered, because the citizenry is busy figuring out who the bad guy (literally) is.
We are already upside down—so when, exactly, will we prepared to admit that our democracy is “officially” upside down?
Why are we not discussing the following?
1. The global and dominant discourse dictated by consumerist capitalism and cronyism has gone wildly astray from our democratic values and concentrated wealth in the hands of a minute few.
2. Fractionalized reality is dominated by inequality and tension based on gender imbalance, secular/religious strife, cultural/political stratification—which naturally exacerbates long-standing, intense economic competitiveness.
3. Everyday choices between risk-averse or risk-embracing behaviors are ameliorated by wild swings in the markets, forcing almost anyone who is paying attention to think they are “missing out.” This creates a complete inversion of the societal schema. You do not have a choice but to “buy-in,” or at least you are being led to believe this.
Most readers are aware that multinational corporate “culture” diffuses the cultural spectrum and impinges on the citizen’s important right to individuation discourse by creating false-fraternities/sororities. We’re surrounded by easy to join cultures and rules that tend to erode differences and cultivate blandly “team/group think.” I am talking about yoga studios and exercise fads. I am talking about TedTalks and Tony Robbins. Where I live, there are literally packs of men at conferences, each of them wearing the same colored t-shirts with their company logo.
Not to mention the new cults of personality that seem to pop up on a daily basis—be they Kim, Kayne, Trump, Hillary, Deepak, or Robbins—it does not matter that at the center is a narcissistic individual whose “formula” for success is touted. You can include megachurches, fascination with yoga, meditation, Eastern religions, even the military, and paramilitary. These are all “proxy cultures” that promote unity but cannot provide it to disorientated, overly-stimulated individuals with no sense of reality.
Marginalization of Oppositional Voices.
Anyone speaking out against the shifting paradigm is considered “dangerous” and “anti-American.” We saw the emergence of a “shared economy,” which is nothing more than lots of unemployed people pooling their resources. Meanwhile, a progression of endless wars is perpetuated and obscured. We are no longer sure whom we are fighting or why, or when it will end.
Add to this the simultaneous marginalization/gentrification of individual people, religions, customs, and cultures and the false integration of foreign workers. We allow for individuals to enforce their identities at home, be they Mexican, Hindu, Muslim, or Chinese, where they perhaps do not even speak English. We expect them to be “Americans” at work, but do we expect them, or rather, do we cultivate the citizen in them?
We saw the direct result of this dangerous precedent in Germany, France, and Brussels where radicals fail to integrate into the dominant social paradigm and instead enforce the opposite one. All of the above helps to disintegrate the possibility of collective action entirely and reinforces the creation of the origin of fear in the “other,” that is, anyone not willing to “buy in.”
Consider disenfranchised minorities who literally cannot afford to buy in—and now, intellectuals who at one time or another have been confused with one another in the “lump-sum” game the politicians are playing and the media is supporting.
Amidst this growing confusion of problems, who has almost absolute authority over our lives?
Are we in control of what we chose, or are we led along the primrose path by the facade of freedom itself? After all, there must be something more compelling to live for than buying more sh*t we do not need.
The Future of Democracy.
I believe in representative democracy, but I do not think that genuine democracy has had its day. Democracy has yet to be realized in any meaningful form. We must question our definition of it and courageously ask if our actions match that meaning. In other words, we must find out if we are prepared to walk our talk. Democracy has yet to produce any semblance of global unity. In fact, besides some meaningless gestures, the only things we have in common with most democratized nations is that the natural resources of those countries are extracted by the same people.
The ambiguation between democracy and capitalism is real.
People complain of corporate slavery but do nothing about it. Donald Trump is the nation’s first fully avowed capitalist president, and that might be a good thing for consistency. You needn’t do more than search for this platform with the words “quit your job” to check the pulse of almost widespread dissatisfaction. The system is quite good at extracting what it needs and wants, both from the biosphere and us. The system is brutally efficient at destroying meaning and confabulating spirituality as a new gimmick.
The system is good at convincing you that it’s alright to be upside down. Short of a headstand, I prefer to be upright.
Author: Louis D. LoPraeste
Image: Unsplash/Sue Tucker
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina