Barry Spector's Posts (227)

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Part One 

What is madness but nobility of soul at odds with circumstance? – Theodore Roethke

Divide us those in darkness from those who walk in light. – Kurt Weill

Dionysus was the ancient Greek god of wine, drunkenness, masks, frenzy, ecstatic joy, paradox, suffering, tragedy – and madness. Wherever he appeared, he subverted the classical Greek consensus of reason, exalted discourse, and refined culture. He posed annoying questions upon king and philosopher alike, tore down the walls of the isolated ego and insisted that everyone was fundamentally animal, social, instinctual, sexual and irrational.

In terms of Depth Psychology, he represents the paradoxical archetype of the Other. He is an aspect of nature – and human nature – that is both outside the boundaries of the known, familiar and acceptable, but also deep within, at its very core. Since he confronts us with the mystery behind the reconciliation of opposites – male/female, active/passive, light/dark, mortal/immortal, sacred/profane – we can only define him by what he isn’t. Simply by showing up at the gates of the city (or the mind), he threatens our carefully built sense of who we are. He reminds us that identity is constantly shifting.

Consequently, patriarchs and authoritarians have attempted to repress the Dionysian impulse for well over two millennia. However, his modern incarnations persist in our imagination as the Other. He is everything that America has cast into the shadows: women, gays, non-bindery or transgender people, people of color and poor people. But this happens at a great cost. By denying this innate archetype, we deny much of who we are, because, as Walt Whitman taught us, we all contain multitudes.

If Dionysus were to speak to Psychology and the medical establishment in the Age of Covid, economic instability, Black Lives Matter, climate change and a collapsing American empire, he might ask certain annoying questions, such as:

Is a child molester a criminal, a sinner or a sick person? Why do we think of a terrorist or a tyrant as evil rather than sick? Why are convicted murderers not considered insane? Why do we punish criminals instead of rehabilitating them? Why does America demonize its children simply because their parents are poor? Why are we so violent? Why are the mentally ill disproportionately female and poor? In a dysfunctional culture, what is a dysfunctional family? What is functional? Why do we take so many drugs, legal or otherwise? Why, in these maddening times, isn’t everyone running through the streets raving and grieving? Isn’t willful innocence a form of madness?

Perhaps all these questions can be rolled into this one: Why are Americans so Freaking Crazy?

Invoking this god as my guide, I want to circle around these themes in a Hermetic, Dionysian, soulful, non-linear manner, showing more interest in surprising connections and brief liftings of the veil than in logical proof. In his realm, the questions are more interesting than the answers.

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The god of madness lives in our asylums and halfway houses and among the homeless. And at home: In any given year one in four adult Americans suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder. Six percent are seriously debilitated; and half will develop a mental disorder at some time in our lives. Depression has doubled since World War II, with each generation showing increasing rates. It now impacts twenty million American adults. One in ten women and six percent of children take antidepressants.

Nearly half of young people have been diagnosed with some sort of psychiatric condition (counting substance abuse), and almost twenty percent have a personality disorder that interferes with everyday life. Eighteen percent of college students take prescription psychological medications, and fifteen percent are clinically depressed. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students. 

Although the percentage of Americans confined to mental hospitals has declined since the 1960s, the numbers of those seeking professional help has increased. Still, nearly three-quarters of those with serious psychiatric problems never get professional help, turning instead to alcohol and other forms of self-medication.

The statistics indicate that many of us are going crazy. But, asks Dionysus, who defines sanity? For decades, Benjamin Rush’s nineteenth-century definition prevailed: “…an aptitude to judge of things like other men, and regular habits, etc.”

But for those considered abnormal, Rush, the father of American psychiatry, advised, “…TERROR…should be employed in the cure of madness…FEAR, accompanied with PAIN, and a sense of SHAME, has sometimes cured this disease.” His name evokes the history of the brutal treatment of the mentally ill, in which all manner of torture was used well into the 20th century, including mustard baths, application of hot irons, “punishment chairs,” bleeding with leaches, electroshock and “refrigeration therapy.”

Freud saw sanity as the abilities to love and work. This meant fitting in with one’s cultural norms. One of his disciples stated that the goal of psychoanalysis is “the eradication of mystery.”

The libertarian psychotherapist Thomas Szasz, however, insisted that most mental illness is composed only of behaviors that psychiatrists – white, middle-class men – disapprove of.

Dionysus also asks, who should die because they commit crimes even though they know right from wrong? America no longer executes the mentally retarded, and Psychiatry has drawn the I.Q. line at 70. Paula Caplan, however, argues that I.Q. testing is notoriously inaccurate:

Like ‘intelligence,’ ‘retardation’ is a construct. Why should anyone decide that a prisoner who scores 69 on an IQ test should live but one who scores 71 should die?

We know what is acceptable by identifying those who, as John Jervis writes, “contradict the official self-image, disturb its clarity, question its necessity.” “Female” behavior has long been the baseline. Doctors committed nineteenth century women to asylums for such “symptoms” as flirting too much, refusing to marry men chosen by their fathers and excessive religious fervor. Asylums, writes Phyliss Chesler, functioned as “… penalties for being “female,” as well as desiring…not to be.” The gender imbalance still exists, even if such behaviors are no longer valid excuses for institutionalization. It remains safer for women to turn their dissatisfaction inward through depression rather than outward through violence (more typically male behavior). One in eight women will be diagnosed with depression during their lifetime, and they are twice as likely as men to receive electroshock treatment.

Middle-class women utilize private therapy, but often consider hospitalization in midlife (if they can afford it), when they are both overworked and beginning to feel sexually and maternally expendable. Chesler claims that, prior to 1970’s feminism, most women simply gave in to mixed expectations of their social condition, which provided them few options. Now, single, divorced, and widowed women all have lower rates of mental illness than married women, and the reverse is true for men. Poor women, however, have few options but the penal system and state mental hospitals.

If “female” behavior – collective, emotional, “hysterical” – defines the shadow of our value system – and of the prejudices of psychology – then the perspective within the pale is American radical individualism, which emphasizes the individual differentiating out of the family – the heroic ego, as James Hillman described, in a hostile world.

Part Two

Those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. – C.S. Lewis

Especially in times of great change, society manipulates definitions of sanity when unstable social conditions require scapegoats. “Drapetomania” explained the “irrational tendency” of black slaves to flee captivity. Benjamin Rush diagnosed rebels against federal authority with “anarchia…excess of the passion for liberty…a form of insanity.” The dominant medical perspective still reflects Puritan prejudices when it defines some children as born “neurologically defective” (a more acceptable term than “original sin”).

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But in America these conditions occur (or are identified) within the all-encompassing situation of late-stage capitalism, in which the most corrupt industries – most especially Big Pharma – have been quick to take advantage of human misery, financially endowing university departments of Psychiatry and selectively funding pro-drug research programs. In 2006, it accounted for thirty percent of the American Psychiatric Association’s $62.5 million in financing. About half of that money went to drug advertisements in psychiatric journals.  

(Americans may be ill-educated on these issues, but they are not stupid. Mass resistance to the Covid vaccines is not simply a function of religious intolerance, anti-science ignorance or right-wing propaganda, but very often of fear of corrupted science. In 2015, the editor of the leading medical journal The Lancet, cited “studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest,” concluding that “much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue.”)

Big Pharma provides the answer to nature gone wrong (previously cured by baptism at birth). In the U.S., 2.5 million children and 1.5 million adults manage hyperactive and attention deficit behaviors with Ritalin, with 17 million prescriptions per year. Peter Breggin, MD, however, writes that the Attention Deficit (ADD) diagnosis was developed specifically to justify “the use of drugs to subdue the behaviors of children in the classroom.” The U.S. produces and consumes ninety percent of the world’s Ritalin, most of which is given to our children, including ten percent of all ten-year-old boys.

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However, when we hear of epidemics of depression and anxiety, we need to ask whose interest that impression serves. Cui bono? Follow the numbers: between 1995 and 2002 the number of children and teens diagnosed with depression doubled. American doctors are five times more likely than British doctors to prescribe antidepressants to minors.

Follow the politics: while minimizing poverty, irrelevant schooling and epidemic violence, the psychiatric priesthood maintains a symbiotic relationship with the pharmaceutical industry, which annually spends $25 billion on marketing worldwide and employs more Washington lobbyists than there are legislators. Prior to the Covid pandemic, the top class of drug by revenue ($14.5 billion in 2009) was antipsychotics. In 2008 the New York Times reported on Psychiatrist Joseph Biederman:

A world-renowned Harvard child psychiatrist whose work has helped fuel an explosion in the use of powerful anti-psychotic medicines in children earned at least $1.6 million in consulting fees from drug makers from 2000 to 2007 but for years did not report much of this income to university officials.

Due in part to Biederman’s influence, the number of American children and adolescents treated for bipolar disorder increased 40-fold from 1994 to 2003.

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Simply put, madness is big business: labeling others (Others) as sick, scaring parents and pushing (prescribing) drugs as the only cure. Each edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) has included more mental disorders than the previous one.

One of those “disorders”, “Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder” (PMDD), has defined premenstrual emotional swings as mental illness. A 1992 study took the symptoms listed for PMDD – then called Late Luteal Phase Dysphoric Disorder (LLPDD) – and asked three groups of people to document every day for two months the symptoms they experienced. The groups were women who reported severe premenstrual problems, women who reported no such problems, and men. The answers did not differ among the three groups.

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Why did the DSM demonize a natural condition? Follow the money: shortly before, with the patent on Prozac about to expire, its manufacturer, Eli Lilly, rebranded it as “Sarafem” and marketed it as the cure for this new condition. The DSM complied, and recommended antidepressants as the only psychiatric therapy for PMDD. Lilly’s patent on Prozac – and its profits – were extended for seven years.

Deinstitutionalization reduced the asylum population from 500,000 in 1955 (half of all hospital beds) to around 60,000 in 2010. But Reagan-era budget cuts decimated the community mental health systems that had supported the released patients, instantly creating a population of tens of thousands of homeless people. Now, our largest warehouses of the mentally ill are the Los Angeles and Chicago jails.

Drastic overbuilding of hospitals in the 1970s left many institutions in serious financial trouble. Psychiatry provided the answer to this problem in 1980 with new diagnoses like “oppositional defiant disorder.” Marketing campaigns convinced thirty thousand families that only private hospitalization would keep their children from suicide. Ten years later, six times more adolescents – primarily white and middle-class – were confined to locked psychiatric wards. Skeptics, however, called the new disease “KID” (Kid-with-Insurance Disorder), pointing out the amazing rate of “recovery” once the insurance ran out and parents had to start paying out-of-pocket.

But in public facilities, the numbers of teens have actually decreased, because minority kids go to jails and, unsurprisingly, receive no treatment at all.

Enforced hospitalization exemplifies the shadow of a society that claims personal liberty as its highest value. The “therapeutic state,” says Szasz, uses psychiatric justifications to strip individuals of their rights. It creates two classes: those who are stigmatized as crazy and subject to coercive intervention, and “us,” whose conventional behavior and well-concealed abnormalities indicate our innocence. No one else – neither priest nor judge – has the psychiatrist’s power to have someone committed, even if he came into his office of his own free will:

Only in psychiatry are there ‘patients’ who don’t want to be patients…If you’re in a building that you can’t get out of, that’s not a hospital; it’s a prison.

Certainly, many of the involuntarily committed are dangerous to themselves or others. Yet too often, psychiatrists function as the Church once did, as agents of the state, as gatekeepers who determine who is or isn’t the Other.

Part Three

The ideal of growth makes us feel stunted; the ideal family makes us feel crazy…So long as the statistics of normalizing developmental psychology determine the standards against which the extraordinary complexities of a life are judged, deviations become deviants. – James Hillman

It is possible that poet Theodore Roethke romanticized suffering when he asked, “What is madness but nobility of soul at odds with circumstance?” Yet we can’t consider mental illness outside of its social, cultural, economic and political contexts. Psychologist Mary Watkins writes, “The symptom as it appears in the individual points us also toward the pathology of the world, of the culture.” Depression is not rare among non-Western people, but it increases when they move to America. Some claim that schizophrenia is more prevalent in cultures like ours that combine high rates of poverty with low senses of social belonging.

But America adds two other factors. The first is that our characteristic American expectation of positive emotions and life-experiences makes sadness more pathological here than elsewhere. Sociologist Christina Kotchemidova writes, “Since ‘cheerfulness’ and ‘depression’ are bound by opposition, the more one is normalized, the more negative the other will appear.”

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She argues that twentieth century America took on cheerfulness as an identifying characteristic. The new consumer economy of the 1920s called for cheerful salespeople who’d be careful to avoid provoking vital customers. A powerful emotional deintensification process also began at that time. The American etiquette obliged “niceness,” which excluded strong emotionality. Railroads introduced “Smile School” in the thirties. Among the dozens of self-help cheerfulness manuals, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936) sold over thirty million copies.

In the 1950s the media industry invented special devices such as the TV “laugh track” to induce cheerfulness. Eventually, politicians discovered cheerfulness. All Presidents since Ronald Reagan smile in their official portraits. The “smiley face” button sold over 50 million buttons at its peak in 1971.

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The laugh-track has a specific purpose: keep people engaged, pleasantly entertained and therefore receptive to the commercials selling them things that they don’t need. The products in the commercials are meant to create emotional associations with the artificial cheerfulness stimulated by the laugh track. In other words, since the 1950s, television (and increasingly, films and later the internet) have mediated our emotions; they’ve been telling us what to think and feel.

Ronald Laing argued that the modern family functions “to repress Eros, to induce a false consciousness of security…to promote a respect for ‘respectability.’” To be respectable is to produce, and, in America, to look cheerful while doing it. Our obsession with feeling good (“pursuing happiness”) is enshrined as a fundamental principle of the consumer society.  Kotchemidova writes,

Our personal feelings are constantly encouraged or discouraged by the culture of emotions we have internalized, and any significant deviance from the societal emotional norms is perceived as emotional disorder that necessitates treatment.

She argues that Americans feel significant pressure to look cheerful in order to get a job. Once they are employed, putting on a ready-made smile is simply not enough. “Corporations expect their staff to actually feel good about the work they do in order to appear convincing to clients.”

Most advertising is in some sense selling happiness or relief from unhappiness. Despite all our “stuff,” however, our characteristic American individualism subverts social networks, making it difficult for those in emotional or spiritual crises to find containment except through drugs, religious literalism, political cults or madhouses. In a culture that remains Puritan at the core, Americans have commonly internalized the mad notion that our suffering is our own fault, and that others who appear to be happy are normal (in religious terms, “among the elect”). The cultural pressure to appear upbeat invalidates sadness, pathologizing it into depression. Thus, a person who feels sad may also feel guilty.

Or angry. Very angry. The second factor that American culture adds to the brew of madness is our radical individualism with its characteristic expectations of constant growth and social mobility. (For lengthy speculations about the myths of progress and growth in Chapter Nine of my book.) When our assumptions of social mobility are revealed as fiction, the hero encounters his opposite – the victim, or the loser – within himself, and we become what we really are (except for Nazi Germany), the most violent people in history. American crime and violence are natural by-products of our values, alternative means of social mobility in a society where “anything goes” in the pursuit of success. In “A Mythology of Bullets”, mythologist Glen Slater writes that “America has little imagination for loss and failure. It only knows how to move forward.”

We go ballistic when we can only imagine moving forward and that movement is blocked. Then guns become the purest expression of controlling one’s fate. As such, they are “the dark epitome of the self-made way of life.” We as a people may well dream bigger dreams than other peoples. With great possibilities, however, come great risks. Gaps between aspiration and reality – the lost dream – are also far higher here than anywhere else. When we don’t meet our expectations of success, when that gap gets too wide, violence often becomes the only option, the expression of a fantasy of ultimate individualism and control. In this sense, the Mafia is more American then Sicilian, and the lone, mass killer (almost all of whom have been white, middle class men with no criminal background) is an expression of social mobility gone bad.

Gun violence throws us back onto some of the basic questions posed by Dionysus: Why are convicted murderers not considered insane? Why do we punish criminals instead of rehabilitating them? We could also add: Is a depressed young man who massacres schoolchildren or Black churchgoers, or who drives his car into a crowd of BLM protesters evil or sick? Should he be punished or given compassionate treatment?

Depression has been defined as “disturbance of affect.” But “affect” is culturally determined. Positive expectations and assumptions of the right to the “pursuit of happiness” make feelings of sadness and despair more pathological in America than anywhere else. Feeling good has become no longer simply a right, but a duty. If we cannot accept normal depression, we may become ashamed and alienated from ourselves, we may well experience the rage that often lies below the depression, and in true American fashion, we may search for scapegoats to punish.

Depression, violence, a culture that cannot grieve and poor medical standards, meet Big Pharma. The gatekeepers who update the DSM comply with these prejudices, having reduced acceptable, “normal bereavement” from one year to two months. Psychiatrists administer drugs instead of psychotherapy in over seventy percent of patient visits. Frederick Crews writes,

Those stigmata, furthermore, are presented in a user-friendly checklist form that awards equal value to each symptom within a disorder’s entry. In Bingo style, for example, a patient who fits five out of the nine listed criteria for depression is tagged with the disorder. It is little wonder, then, that drug makers’ advertisements now urge consumers to spot their own defectiveness through reprinted DSM checklists and then to demand correction via the designated pills.

The percentage of patient visits to a psychiatrist involving any psychotherapy fell from 44% in 1996 to 29% in 2004. Bruce Levine argues that Psychiatry has increasingly replaced psychotherapy with “medication management,” which largely consists of symptom assessment and prescription updates. It typically takes 10 or 15 minutes and is scheduled every two to three months, rather than weekly, as is psychotherapy. Insurance companies favor medication management because it is so cheap, and drug companies favor it for obvious reasons. Psychiatrists themselves favor it because they can make far more money with it. Those who offer only medication management routinely make nearly triple the income as do those who provide mostly psychotherapy. And when drugs don’t work, some still prescribe electroshock for children. Madness is big business.

Part Four

If therapy imagines its task to be that of helping people cope (and not protest), to adapt (and not rebel), to normalize their oddity, and to accept themselves “and work within your situation; make it work for you” (rather than refuse the unacceptable), then therapy is collaborating with what the state wants: docile plebes. Coping simply equals compliance. – James Hillman

Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness. – Blaise Pascal

In the 1950’s Time Magazine’s gatekeepers described left-wing comedians Mort Sahl and Lennie Bruce as “sicknicks.” But simultaneously, hipsters used “crazy” in positive terms. The powerless attain some control by inverting language, as 1960’s Black people used “bad” to replace “good” and, more recently, teenagers recently indicated approval with “sick.”

Clearly, however, madness predates capitalism, and economics doesn’t explain it all. Enter Dionysus. The term bakkheuein (“maddened by Dionysus”) occurs in over half of the extant works of Greek Tragedy. “Divine madness” came as a gift from the gods. The Muses inspired poetic madness, Apollo was the god of prophetic madness and Aphrodite gave erotic madness.

From the Greek perspective, the gods reveal ourselves to ourselves, and madness is a fundamental, archetypal aspect of the psyche. Dionysus, the mad god himself, was the patron of ritual madness. Classicist Walter Otto understood both the Greek world and ours:

A god who is mad! …There can be a god who is mad only if there is a mad world which reveals itself through him.

Plato distinguished two basic kinds of madness: “one arising from human disease, the other when heaven sets us free from established convention.” This insight, however, hardly exempts us from the necessarily painful experience of transformation. Another classicist, E.R. Dodds, described the conflicting emotions involved: “…a mixture of supreme exaltation and supreme repulsion… at once holy and horrible, fulfillment and uncleanness, a sacrament and a pollution.”

This ambivalence describes Dionysus himself, known both as the cause of madness (Bakkheios) and its cure, Lusios, “the Loosener.” And it recalls one of his stories: the Titans (progenitors of the gods) captured the baby Dionysus, tore him to pieces and devoured him. Athena saved the heart and gave it to Zeus, who ate it. Out of this Dionysus the God was reborn. Zeus struck the Titans with thunder and burned them to ashes, from which humans were formed. Therefore, humans have inherited something of the divine from Dionysus, and something evil from the Titans. The titanic aspect – excessive, manipulative, patriarchal, inflated, violent – is expressed in the madness of mass society, which nearly always attempts to repress the irrational, androgynous and potentially joyous, Dionysian aspect.

Which madness do we follow? Hillman summarized the old thinking: “…insanity is following the wrong god.” In any case, repressed diversity ultimately re-appears as psychopathology. Raphael Lopez-Pedraza wrote, “Illness is essentially repression.”  But the myths of Dionysus take this idea even further. In story after story, those who deny the divinity of this Other call upon themselves a terrible fate. He drives them raving mad – mad enough to slaughter their own children by mistake.

Many of these stories reflect historical opposition to his cult. But what are the archetypal implications? Why does the gentle god of ecstasy arrive with such ferocity? King Lykourgos persecuted young Dionysus, who hid under the sea, protected by goddesses. He re-emerged, no longer ecstatic but furious, driving Lykourgos mad enough to kill his own son. Boutes, who chased the maenads into the sea, went mad and drowned himself. Perseus killed some of Dionysus’ followers. The god responded by entrancing the Argive women, who devoured their own infants. The three daughters of Minyas scolded Dionysus’ devotees. Disguised as a maiden, he warned them of their folly, but they ignored her. So he changed himself into a lion, then a bull and then a panther. Ivy and vines grew over their looms. In their madness they dismembered and devoured one of their children, then roamed the mountains until Dionysus finally changed them into birds.

When Dionysus approached Eleuther’s three daughters wearing a black goatskin, they rejected him and he drove them mad. They were cured only when their town instituted the worship of Dionysus Melanaigis (“of the black goatskin – in league with the dead.”) Similarly, King Proetus’ three daughters went mad, infecting other women, and all left their families. Some ate their own children and wandered as cows in heat, fitting partners for the bull-god. Zeus asked Ino and her husband Athamas to hide the baby Dionysus from Hera. But she discovered the ruse and struck them with madness. Athamas killed one of his sons, thinking he was a stag, and Ino threw the other into boiling water.

His most famous story is Euripides’ Bacchae, in which King Pentheus persecutes him and his followers. It ends when Dionysus drives the women of Thebes (led by Pentheus’ own mother, Agave) insane, and they mistakenly kill and dismember Pentheus. But casual readers of the play and even many classicists often miss a crucial distinction between the women who choose to follow Dionysus – the Bacchants – and those – the Maenads (from mania, “possession”) – whom he drives insane because they have resisted him.

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The essential message I take from these stories is that a soul – or a culture – that refuses to welcome and honor its irrational aspects will inevitably turn its rage onto its own children (or inner children). How else can we possibly explain a society such as ours, that condemns at least 25% of its children to poverty simply because their parents can’t find decent work?

It might have been different, writes Nor Hall: “Had they joined the Dionysian company willingly, they would have enacted this state of wild abandon within a protective circle.”

Robert A. Johnson wrote,

We hear a screech of brakes and a crash…Cold chills go up and down our spine; we say “How awful!” – and run outside to see the accident. This is poor-quality Dionysus…what happens to a basic human drive that has not been lived out for nearly four thousand years.

When society agrees on a definition of Apollonian “normality” peopled by contented, comfortable, positive-thinking citizens working or recreating in the mild sunlight of a suburban world, we naturally, perhaps desperately, long for a visitation from the darkness.

I suggest that America, with its history of unrepentant slavery, aggressive genocide, imperial aggression and puritanical sexuality, has and continues to identify – and demonize – the Dionysian impulse with racial and sexual minorities. And our unique mythology of innocence functions to keep the white middle-class safely within the pale of acceptable belief.

“Poor-quality Dionysus” indicates the return of the repressed, a subject I address in Chapter Four of my book, Madness at the Gates of the City: The Myth of American Innocence. “Mad,” after all, has other meanings: angry, rabid. If we think of some mental illness as a socially powerless, alienated person’s attempt to unite body and feeling – to resurrect Dionysus and the other gods from the underworld – or if we substitute “uninitiated” for “mentally ill” – madness can be part of a natural if painful process of restoring balance. Curiously, this is precisely how African Shaman Malidoma Somé describes the purpose of ritual.

As Jung taught, the old gods can only return as symptoms. This impacts many women who feel compelled to repress feminine values. In taking on the compulsively driven, cutthroat standards of the corporate world, they are like the Bacchants who cry out to Dionysus for release. Marion Woodman wrote that when women elevate thinness at any price to the highest value, the repressed gods take vengeance through somatic distortions like obesity or anorexia:

The Dionysian “madness” inherent in compulsive eating may be a modern expression of what was earlier known as “possession” and in more recent years as “hysteria”…The symptom may be the cross on which thousands are forced to writhe because they are unaware of the androgynous god striving towards consciousness.

No one is exempt from the modern condition. We all suffer from the collective emotional effects of the long-term shift from the indigenous, rural, pagan world to monotheism, urbanization and industrialism. We are all, to some extent, alienated from the Earth and from our bodies. We are all, in indigenous terms, unwelcomed, unacknowledged and uninitiated. We are the net products of a process that has taken some 200 generations to unfold, reaching its peak with many of our recent political and corporate leaders, whom Erich Fromm described as “necrophiliacs”:

…the necrophilous person loves all that does not grow, that is mechanical. …driven by the desire to transform the organic into the inorganic, to approach life mechanically, as if all living persons were things…The necrophilous person can relate to an object – a flower or a person – only if he possesses it…if he loses possession, he loses contact with the world…He loves control, and in the act of controlling he kills life.

But long before the advent of Trumpus and his mystifyingly huge popularity, Psychiatrist Russel Lee studied the political leaders of World War I and concluded that every one of them was bonkers: “The very qualities of egocentricity and megalomania characteristic of many psychoses are precisely those that lead men to aspire to high office.” He describes psychopaths as “superficially charming, intelligent people who don’t feel deep emotions and lie about almost everything because they neither understand nor care about others,” and argues that “in today’s rapidly changing business world, increased corporate rewards for risk taking and nonconformity can offer the psychopath faster career movement than before.”

Large-scale denial of the sorrows of our history and long-term identification with such men and other celebrities contributes to this condition. Nearly every American suffers from suppressed grief, which returns as anxiety, addiction, narcissism, depression or merely a vague sense of guilt.

The mad culture, led by madmen, continually requires new scapegoats to sacrifice and restore our innocence. Three million Viet Nam veterans (and now, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans) carry the burden of delayed stress for us all. Movies that portray them as ticking time bombs allow us to consider memory’s immense power without confronting its universal application. And, warns Dionysus, we are all ticking.

But who best displays our national shadow for us but our children, all of whom come into this world with the archetypal expectation of being welcomed and celebrated, but who encounter this madness? Consider their clothing: baggy pants drooping below the waste, butt cracks showing; untied shoes; oversized, black, hooded sweatshirts. This depressed style of presentation common among adolescents everywhere, regardless of ethnicity or social class, cries out: Look at us, look at what we carry for you!

Part Five

Harmless violence where no one gets hurt breeds innocence…the innocent American is the violent American. – James Hillman

In a mad world, only the mad are sane. – Akira Kurosawa

So many of our children, and all depressed people, carry the shadow of our manic celebration of progress, growth, heroism, extraversion, cheerfulness, grandiosity and radical individualism, below which is a bedrock layer of Calvinist hatred of the body. They are the canaries in the mineshaft, showing us that the more popular culture emphasizes these characteristics, the more depression spreads. We who channel the madness into fundamentalism, consumerism or war fever may feel temporarily welcome among the elect, while the Others who cannot do so are proof to us of our righteous standing and innocence. 

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At least since the beginning of the nuclear age (I write this post on Hiroshima Day, 2021), popular culture has hesitantly acknowledged this condition. Novels like Catch-22, Slaughterhouse Five and One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest hinted that modernity, with its stressful pace of change and nearly constant fear and anxiety, is mad, or maddening. But even four hundred years ago, the first modern novel, Don Quixote (published two years before the English invaded Virginia), took madness as its basic theme. More recently, Paul Shepard described an “epidemic of the psychopathic mutilation of ontogeny” – in simple terms, we don’t grow up the way nature intended anymore. We are, by indigenous standards, uninitiated, children.

Medications and alcohol level our highs and lows, effectively casting out both angels and demons. Still, perhaps forty million Americans experience anxiety.

Clearly, any caregiver hopes to reduce suffering. “Successful treatment,” writes E.F. Torrey, “means the control of symptoms.” But when psychotherapy merely attempts to recover a sense of “productive normalcy,” that condition which is itself a cause of our unhappiness, it becomes yet another effort to recover lost innocence – and a condemnation of an archetype ruled by the mythic image of Dionysus.

John Zerzan argues, “To assert that we can be whole/enlightened/healed within the present madness amounts to endorsing the madness.” This is partially a question of awareness, much of which is conditioned by the media, whose primary purpose, lest we forget, is to sell us to advertisers.

On the one hand, we collude, veiling both our complicity and our suffering. On the other, media obsession with crime and terrorism produces an on-going sense of anxiety. This decades-long, roiling, alternating sense of both paranoia and denial describes our peculiarly American form of collective madness. 

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This has occurred – since long before 9/11 – in three major ways. On the positive side, pundits present a unified front of reassurance and denial: Global warming is a fiction, racism is a thing of the past, Iraqis welcome us as liberators, etc. Television idealizes the nuclear family and small-town values in cloying commercials that convey a ubiquitous, Disney-style innocence. Sit-com protagonists are usually young, attractive, middle-class whites whose problems – caused individually, not systemically – consistently resolve themselves. Reality shows are Social Darwinist fables in which the ablest triumph, but everyone gets a hug. It’s all good. Michael Ventura, however, measures how deeply “…people know that ‘it’ is not all right…by how much money they are willing to pay to be ceaselessly told it is.”

The negative side involves both sanitized violence as well as a constant atmosphere of low-level dread: illegal immigrants, teen pregnancy, drugs, urban violence, satanic cults, child molesters, “security” rituals at airports (do we laugh or cry when we give up our water bottles?) and TV news, where “if it bleeds it leads.” By the time the average student graduates from high school, he/she has viewed 18,000 TV murders. Fifty-five percent of local newscast coverage of children concerns violence. As a result, three out of four parents worry – unnecessarily – that strangers will kidnap their children. (Crimes in which a stranger snatches a child are actually quite rare). Between 1990 and 1998, as murder rates declined dramatically, murder stories on network newscasts increased by 600 percent, not counting O.J. Simpson stories. We can theoretically take two populations of children and predict that, as young adults fifteen years later, those who watch more TV will be more violent than those who watch less. Ten percent of women in their forties expect to die of breast cancer, while the real odds are one in 250.

Ignoring race and the political-economic sources of terrorism, we fret about issues that the media choose for us. After several generations of TV, we rarely differentiate between ignorance and apathy: I don’t know and I don’t care. Meanwhile, the Dionysian scapegoat – defined as lacking the essential Protestant virtue of self-control – presents a tempting return to innocence. Everyone can avoid discussing gun control when newspapers editorialize, “It’s Not Guns, It’s Killer Kids.” We dread the disturbed individual, the bad seed, rather than systemic inequities. So our emphasis on individualism links happy denial to this constant, low-level background of fear. Periodically, when actual – or contrived – episodes of terror evoke the old frontier paranoia, we jettison our moral and democratic priorities like recycled computers.

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The third factor is our electronically enhanced mania. In most public, urban spaces – stores, shopping malls and sports arenas – we endure unrelenting onslaughts of loud music, blinking lights and high-definition visual images. Often the atmosphere approaches that of gambling casinos, which are deliberately designed to create altered states of consciousness so as to heighten anxiety and encourage shopping. However, this anxiety never fully dissipates, and we acclimate to greater levels of it.

This awkward combination of fear, denial and over-stimulation has ruled our consciousness during the seventy years of television, which was born amid both consumerism and McCarthyism. From the start, Lucille Ball diverted us while Richard Nixon admitted, “People react to fear, not love.”

The roots of American paranoia go back to the original confrontation of settler colonists and natives. Ever since, we’ve held the contradictory notions of chosen people and eternal vigilance. If we are attacked, the release of disillusioned energy drives us to engage in, condone – or happily watch – extreme violence. Our lost innocence – we have done so much good – justifies our Biblical fury. Bad dreams constantly interrupt our 400-year sleep of denial, and we awake exhausted.

The only other comparable emotional mix is the universal war experience of long periods of boredom interrupted by periods of absolute terror. Psychologist Edward Tick writes, “This twin dimensionality…makes it surreal, almost hallucinatory. Horror is married to boredom, fascination to putrescence.”

For forty-five years we’ve flocked by the millions to disaster films. This genre works both sides of the fear/denial dichotomy by heightening fear of apocalyptic retribution and then cleanly resolving the threat through the intercession of selfless heroes.

The pathology of this condition is that it subjects us to overwhelmingly persistent messages that completely discount our emotional, intuitive and moral intelligence. It is the same wounding that children receive if adults tell them that they (the children) don’t really feel something – and this happens all day long, every day of our lives. We all learn this: My ways of evaluating reality are failures. And, since failure in America is always moral failure, I am a failure. As Jerry Mander writes, “Television isolates people from the environment, from each other, and from their own senses.” The result is epidemics of depression, self-medication through substance abuse, consumerism and fundamentalism – and a peculiar aspect of “poor-quality Dionysus,” the distanced, vicarious enjoyment of violence.

After 9/11 the mad fusion of fear and denial reached cliché proportions with color-coded terrorist alerts. Americans awakened daily to a degree of apprehension that shifted according to un-confirmable “findings.” However, most (employed, pre-recession, white) people had the existential experience of nothing being particularly wrong. William Rivers Pitt documented at least five occasions when damaging reports of administration malfeasance emerged in the media, only to be forgotten when the government quickly raised the terror alert.  By 2006, 79% expected another terrorist attack soon, but only 20% were personally concerned. In psychology experiments, such intermittent reinforcement drives lab animals insane. And it drives humans to release the tension by sacrificing a scapegoat.

Our characteristic American denial of death also ensures that we carry great loads of unexpressed grief. Malidoma Somé observes: “A non-Westerner arriving in this country for the first time is struck by how… (Americans) pride themselves for not showing how they feel about anything.”

This succinct, tribal definition of alienation brings us back to the loss of the Dionysian experience. If we can neither grieve nor tolerate the vision of the dark goddess and her bloody, dismembered son, then we can’t experience joy either. We tolerate pale substitutes: romance novels, horror movies (often with characters who refuse to die), the spectacles of popular music and sports, Sunday church and happy endings. We learn early to emphasize the light (“lite”) and exclude the dark.

It follows that we’re fascinated with media (mediated) violence. Death’s repressed experience re-emerges in images. As suppression of sex creates pornography, American attitudes toward death result in what sociologist Ellen Zinner calls “necrography:” highly sensationalistic, electronic mayhem. This substitute gratification allows us to meet death and remain unharmed; thrill and pseudo-terror replace grief. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, however, insisted that our denial of death “has only increased our anxiety and contributed to our… aggressiveness – to kill in order to avoid…facing of our own death.”

How does this happen? Subject to vast, impersonal, forces impacting us from remote, Apollonic distances – government, corporations, junk phone calls, invisible viruses – most of us refrain from exploding in personal violence. By tolerating long-distance violence against the Third World, however, we safely displace our rage upon the Other.

America was characterized from the start by extreme violence. It was present in the “idea” of America – not the abstract ideals of the founding fathers, but the projection of darkness onto the Other in the seventeenth century. By the Industrial Revolution, white Americans had been slaughtering Indians and enslaving Africans for two centuries. Mass media certainly amplified alienation. But the seed of depression and long-distance violence fell on fertile soil that had been well prepared.

The final factor is TV and social media, which help us remain sheltered from the world and our impact upon it. “We are so desperate for this,” writes Ventura, that we are willing to accept ignorance as a substitute for innocence.” On the other hand, even as programming perpetuates fear, it desensitizes us to the actual effects of violence. We innocently observe and quickly forget.

Never having confronted our own suffering, we must find a way to see it. We are, however, so abstracted that we don’t care whether death occurs on a three-inch game-boy, on an IPhone or in a Palestinian street. And our shell of innocence insulates us from our complicity: the nation that has more handguns than citizens is shocked – shocked! – each time a (white) teenager massacres his schoolmates.

Somé describes the consequences of refusing to grieve: “People who do not know how to weep together are people who cannot laugh together.” To paraphrase Mexican poet Octavio Paz: a culture that begins by denying death will end by denying life.

Part Six

If you talk to God, you are praying; If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia. If the dead talk to you, you are a spiritualist; If you talk to the dead, you are a schizophrenic. – Thomas Szasz

I talk always to the man who walks along with me; men who talk to themselves hope to talk to God someday. – Antonio Machado

We have no tradition of shamanism. We have no tradition of journeying into these mental worlds. We are terrified of madness. We fear it because the Western mind is a house of cards, and the people who built that house of cards know that, and they are terrified of madness. – Terrence McKenna

Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be break-through. – Ronald Laing

A major function of the myth of American innocence is to channel our grief toward either “Titanic” distractions or depression. From the perspective of shaman Martin Prechtel, depression is, quite simply, “the refusal to grieve…petrified sorrow.” Curiously, in the Tutzujil Mayan language of his Guatemalan people, the word for alcohol translates as “the Tear Loosener.”

Many men are well aware of this condition. One of the most common statements at men’s retreats is: “I haven’t cried in thirty years – and I won’t start. If I did, it would never stop.” It leads to a view of madness as the fine line between delusion and revelation, or between the return of the repressed and spontaneous initiation – the territory of The Bacchae.  

The return of Dionysus can appear as psychological dismemberment. But in modern life, such experiences typically occur outside of any ritual containers. Schizophrenics enter liminal space alone, without guides. Freud felt that psychoanalysis couldn’t help them, and psychiatry now diagnoses them as caused by bio-chemical imbalances or genetic defects that require lifelong drug treatment to repress the symptoms.

Jung, however, saw psychosis as a natural renewal process, a spontaneous, unconscious attempt at radical inner transformation, or metanoia. John Weir Perry argued that we should “regard the term ‘sickness’ as pertaining not to the acute turmoil but to the pre-psychotic personality…in need of profound reorganization.”

“Chronic schizophrenia” is created by society’s negative response to what is actually a perfectly healthy and natural process…It’s a well-known fact that people can and do clear up in a benign setting. Actually, they can come down very quickly. But if some of our cases had gone to the mental hospital, they would have been given a very dire message: “You’ve had a mental breakdown. You’re sick. You’re into this for decades, maybe for the rest of your life!” and told “You need this medication to keep it all together.”

Many of his patients described visions consistent with the ancient symbolism of kingship and initiation. Joseph Campbell wrote that such fantasy “perfectly matches that of the mythological hero journey.” From this perspective, madness becomes an opportunity, under the dubious guidance of the mad god himself.

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Mircea Eliade described shamanic initiations in Siberia: “The profane man is being ‘dissolved’ and a new personality…prepared for birth.” Initiates are torn apart: “They ‘die’ and…are cut up by demons …their bones are cleaned, the flesh scraped off.”

Similar images can appear in the visions of modern people who descend into madness. “If they are not supplied from without,” writes Campbell, “…they will have to be announced again, through dream, from within.”

What is being “dis-membered”? In America, and often at midlife, it is phallic, isolated, heroic masculinity that breaks down for a new identity to emerge. Dismemberment has one advantage, writes Nor Hall: “…we get to see all the parts.”

In historical accounts of persons who went mad but also had religious experiences, most took their revelations literally. They had visions of death, apocalypse, sexual inversion, and rebirth – all images of initiation. Those who did recover developed a poetic way of thinking past the literal to the metaphoric. In 1830 John Perceval wrote, “The spirit speaks poetically, but the lunatic takes the literal sense.” Hillman observes, “Only as Perceval becomes humorous, doubtful and ironic does he become sane…he moves from gravity to levity.”

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Author Dick Russell offers a deeply moving account of his son’s long-term dance between a schizophrenia diagnosis, medication and African shamanic initiation in My Mysterious Son.

But Perceval was an exception. Most get stuck in “chronic liminality,” wrote Robert Moore. In the myth of Ariadne, many heroes entered the underground labyrinth, only to be killed by the Minotaur. Theseus defeated it because he was grounded; he had kept in contact with the world above by means of Ariadne’s thread. It enabled him to return to the light (normal consciousness) after completing his task. Those who have no thread of connection to community remain below in that “labyrinth of transformative space,” but only partially transformed. Thus, says Moore, many pathological states are merely failed initiations. The danger is that approaching the symbolic brush with death of initiation can evoke literal death. One of his clients was lucid enough to say, “I need to die, before I kill myself.” Seven centuries earlier, when it was more common to think metaphorically, Rumi advised, “Die before you die.”

Until the seventeenth century, Europeans believed that madmen were close to the unseen world and accepted them within the community, rather than banishing them to the margins. Traditional West Africans still perceive distress as a call for help: madness is a sign that the community (who know nothing of “family systems therapy”) is sick. They perceive madmen as undergoing crises resulting from the activity of spirit and protect them, hoping that their healing will benefit the community. To them, a sick world speaks through the most sensitive of us.

Perry and Laing attempted to provide just this kind of ritual space in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. The therapeutic community movement (followed later by the Spiritual Emergence Network) aimed to support people while they broke down and went through spontaneous healing, rather than reinforcing the existing ego defenses that maintained the underlying conflict.

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But can men transform themselves – by themselves – in a world that lacks real community? Or, to pose the question in ritual terms: Can uninitiated older men initiate younger men? Shortly before killing himself, Ernest Hemingway wrote, “What do you think happens to a man going on 62 when he realizes that he can never write the books and stories he promised himself?…If I can’t exist on my terms, then existence is impossible.”

Suicide was his failed initiation, the heroic ego’s literal response to the symbolic challenge of transformation. By contrast, James Joyce brought his distressed daughter to Jung, who could see that she was psychotic, but he was more interested in Joyce:

His ‘psychological’ style is definitely schizophrenic, but with the difference…the ordinary patient cannot help talking and thinking in such a way, while Joyce willed it and…developed it with all his creative forces.

Joyce had both the will and the talent to move his madness into art. Some just get lucky. One man, stuck in an unsatisfying life and ignorant of mythology, fell into a midlife psychosis, compelled to draw grapevines on his walls. Fortunately, a therapist introduced him to a relationship with Dionysus, and he gradually achieved healing through alliance with the right god. As Plato wrote, “…the greatest blessings come by way of madness, indeed of madness that is heaven-sent.”

Part Seven, Conclusion 

The whole world is sick…and you can’t put this right by having a good therapeutic dialogue or finding deeper meanings. It’s not about meaning anymore; it’s about survival. – James Hillman

I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons,
knocking on a door. It opens. I’ve been knocking from the inside. – Rumi

Tourist: “Have a nice day!” San Francisco Bagwoman: “Don’t tell me what to do!”

Dionysus is an image of our dismembered soul. We see ideals in other gods, but we see ourselves in him. He reflects our diminished, modern condition. But paradoxically he also represents our instinctual, embodied, integrated, original face. “I’m looking for the face I had,” wrote Yeats, “before the world was made.”

And his unique condition is one of his gifts to us. The suffering god models the universal connection between personal wound and intrinsic purpose. Finally, he shows us the way back to wholeness – the ecstasy of being, paradoxically, outside ourselves. But with no communally accepted and ritually precise methods of accepting his invitation, we encounter ecstasy’s other face: violence and horror. Those who deny him in themselves must force him upon others, because he must reside somewhere. Then he recruits his followers from imprisoned or marginalized regions of the culture – and the psyche – those with nothing to lose. 

He requires that we endure the tension of irreconcilable opposites and resist the temptation to choose. As soon as we locate him in one half of any of his polarities, we repress the other side, and it begins to plot vengeance. Each truth is a mask that conceals its opposite. He enters our lives when that opposite quality breaks out past the mask. Tragically, by that point, it is often too late to appease him.

The distinction in his stories between the Maenads and the Bacchants is crucial. Approaching the darkness in a ritual manner, within a strong communal container, we may pass through madness into a deeper sanity. The Bacchants sought a holy madness caused by – but also cured by – Dionysus. They provoked extreme emotions, but opposed the other, more destructive madness he imposed upon the Maenads who had refused him. They engaged in the first to avoid the second, losing their minds to become sane.

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Fifth-century Athens incorporated toned-down Dionysian rites into its religion. Among its major festivals were the Anthesteria, when he returned from the underworld, and the Greater Dionysia, celebrated with dramatic presentations. The mad, drunken god was the patron of Greece’s most profound cultural creation, Tragic Drama. The entire male population of Athens crowded together in the theater in broad daylight. Confronted with irresolvable conflicts, they suffered like Dionysus himself, weeping openly in a purging (katharsis) of emotion. Aristotle explained that this came through “pity and fear,” but classicist W.B. Stanford translates eleos (“pity”) as “compassionate grief.” They left the theater exhausted but revitalized, not because their differences had been resolved, nor because a victim had been sacrificed for their sins, but because they had suffered together.

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The rational Greeks had great respect for the irrational. In the Dionysian festivals, solemnity and mourning combined with dancing, drunkenness, and inversion of sex roles. Wild processions with large phalluses recalled his mythic intrusions into the city – and the mind. In myth, Apollo – most exemplary Greek God of reason, beauty, exalted discourse and refined culture, voluntarily relinquished his shrine at Delphi for three months every year, inviting his raving, trailer-trash, half-brother Dionysus to move in.

What would a culture that invited Dionysus back look like? The easy answer is a replay of the 1960s: sex, drugs & rock ‘n roll, wild abandon, relaxed boundaries, blurring of gender roles, long hair, colorful clothing, anarchy, irresponsibility, spontaneity, and chaos. The Id conquers the Superego. A return to childhood and innocence…

Wait. Stop the fantasy. First, lest we forget, when the archetype emerged in the form of sexually ambivalent Rock stars, its darker side also appeared as disturbed but charismatic figures – Jim Jones, Charles Manson and David Koresh – who led modern Maenads on lethal rampages. Fifty years later, their grandchildren thought they were following Trumpus when they attacked the U.S. Capitol.

Second, I have already described the repression of Dionysus as a return to innocence. To recapitulate: the myth of American innocence is a story we tell ourselves about ourselves, a series of narratives that presents America as a beacon of freedom, equality and opportunity, the land of the new start, where anything is possible if we work hard. An America that only goes to war to defend democracy and spread the pure light of freedom. Pure. Light.

The myth, however, requires Others, from Native Americans and African slaves and their descendants to immigrants to gays to communists and the most recent Others – Muslim terrorists, Chinese, Iranians and (once again) Russians – all of whom the myth has weighed down with Dionysian characteristics. Because they have carried Dionysus, white Americans haven’t had to.

One of the epithets of Dionysus was Lusios (the Loosener), derived from lysis, also the root of analysis, which means setting free. A catalyst is a chemical agent that precipitates a process without itself being changed. Dionysus Lusios relaxed the boundaries of ego, family and society. To truly invite him back into American culture after so long is to relax those boundaries without knowing what will come in, because opening to one extreme means opening to the other as well. This is the essence of Dionysian ritual as it is still practiced in places like Haiti: create the container, invoke the gods, then get out of the way, because the ritual belongs to them. It is to invite the madness back, in hopes that it might save us from our own culturally induced, hyper-rational, violence-at-a-distance, ecology-crushing, disembodied madness.

Dionysus was the only god who died and was reborn, and the only god (except for Demeter) who grieved. Here is the clue. For long-term healing to occur, America will have to pass through, to spend much time, in the territory of grief. Indeed, mass celebration without rituals of grief reduces to mere spectacle. For Dionysus, if we truly welcome him, will open up the boundaries of innocence and memory, and through the gaps (as poet William Stafford wrote) will come

…with shouts, the horrible errors of childhood storming out to play through the broken dike.

Consider another story. Hera was disgusted by Hephaestus, her lame, ugly son, and hurled him out of Olympus. He survived and was ultimately accepted, but never forgot his early abuse. Eventually, he took his vengeance by tricking Hera into sitting in a golden chair, where she was instantly bound.

Looking at this myth, Murray Stein argues that behind the rejection of the son is the rejection of the mother under Patriarchy. The result is a cycle of mutual ambivalence and hostility. In Jungian terms, a man’s repressed feminine “marries” his shadow complex of repressed masculinity, giving the feminine an evil tone. Projected onto actual women, this feminine threat justifies his unwillingness to become emotionally intimate.

This emotional distance describes a long series of American heroes, from Daniel Boone to Rambo and beyond, who unleash their violence upon the Other, save the innocent community and then ride off into the sunset – away from women, family and all relational values.

But this story entertains the possibility of an integrated masculine identity. None of the gods, even Aries, could force Hephaestus to relent. So Zeus called upon Dionysus, who brought his wine and got him drunk. When he woke from his stupor, Hephaestus beheld Aphrodite and fell in love. They married, Hera was released, and peace was restored, all because of Dionysus.

Getting Hephaestus drunk symbolizes initiation into a masculinity that has made peace with the mother complex. Dionysus, says Stein, is both the “agent and the product of initiation…the integration of feminine spirit into masculine consciousness.”

Before he bestows these gifts, however, Dionysus will confront us with the madness of our history: the massacres, smallpox-laden blankets, slaughter of the buffalo, Indian schools, sexual repression, witch hunts, thefts of resources, robber barons, invasions, Hiroshima, B-52’s, napalm, deforestation, My Lai, Wounded Knee, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, embargoes, assassinations, coups-d’état, slave-whippings, selling of children, castrations, Eugenics, lobotomies, rubber hoses, lynchings, police murders and stolen elections. The children ignored and the lives wasted working at unsatisfying jobs while chasing the elusive pie in the sky. The sorrows. The madness. The refusal to grieve.

An unveiled look at American history reveals an enormous catalogue of injustice. It also requires, however, that we be willing to imagine a different story. America has two histories; the first is literal, unveiled history. As painful as it is to contemplate, the truth undermines the myths of innocence and good intentions. However, if we persist in the search for the Other – Dionysus in America – we imagine a second history that psychologist Stephen Diggs calls “unconscious and alchemical.”

This is the story of America’s slow transformation and descent from the Apollonian heights of the heroic, isolated ego and the abstract, distanced killing of life. It is America’s return to its body, to the communal experience of shared joy and suffering; healing as a gift of the Other.

However, honoring Dionysus means re-learning the old rituals of mourning from indigenous people, because we are at the end of an age, and the appropriate behavior at the death of anything – especially an empire – is mourning. In the novel Beloved, Toni Morrison coined a phrase, “disremembered past” to describe that which is neither remembered nor forgotten but haunts the living as a ghost. The path to healing, for the soul and for the soul of the culture, goes directly through the recovery of memory – inviting the return of the repressed – through art and ritual.

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I envision a culture that invites, invokes and celebrates its own grief. And we have only to look to the Other to re-discover the way. Consider the Jazz funerals of New Orleans. The traditional procession has two sections. The “first line” consists of officials, musicians, the family of the deceased, and pallbearers. The “second line” of local people follows behind. Everyone marches from church to cemetery, while the band plays slow hymns and dirges. This is the first stage of the familiar three-part ritual/initiation format. The second stage is internment at the cemetery, where the dead and the living briefly share liminal space.

The third stage is the procession home. Now the second line takes over and the tone changes from melancholy to ecstasy. The band (now in the rear, separating the living from the dead) shifts into high-spirited tunes, and the mourners’ slow cadence becomes wild dancing, or “second lining.” Returning to the neighborhood, they celebrate the life of the deceased; in making ritual closure with the dead, the mourners achieve re-integration into their community.

Imagine combining two Dionysian concepts, Greek Tragedy and New Orleans Funerals. Imagine mass public rituals attended by the citizenry and political leaders, in which warriors and civilians, rich and poor, women and men, white and POC, gay, straight and in between, and crazy and “normal” confront the impossible paradoxes and crimes of our history and suffer together. Imagine an American President standing in this container, begging forgiveness for his country from an African-American and a Native American. (It’s already happening in New Zealand).

 Imagine the community pouring out grief for all those who died as soldiers, victims and activists, and even for the forests that once covered the continent. Imagine the relief at having finally shed tears together as a mosaic of uncommon peoples sharing the land with the Other, and the gratitude bordering on ecstasy with which an entire nation dances the “second line” on its way back home.

Imagine a critical mass of individuals willing to bear their own shadows, unlike Pentheus, the boy-king who realized too late that he was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Death before rebirth. Such madness might cure us of our madness.

For four centuries, American Dionysus has been willing to offer this nation images of its own dark soul, so it can see what it must reconcile with. Imagine if America stopped trying to force those images back outside the walls of the city, back onto the shoulders of the Other. Imagine (to use Christian terminology) that he loves us so much that he offers us the path to suffering – and eventually to laughing – together. Imagine a language like ancient Greek, whose word for “stranger” (xenos) also meant “guest.”

Before sending Pentheus to his death (by dismemberment), Dionysus pleads:

Friend, you can still save the situation.

 

 

Read more…

Part One

Racist White Blues Cats

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then, I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.) – Walt Whitman

I’m a lifelong fan of African American music, especially Blues, and I’ve written about the subject extensively in Chapter Eleven of my book, as well as here, here, here, here, and here.

So I was surprised to learn about a recent decision by the Blues Foundation to rescind Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s 2021 Blues Music Awards nomination for best blues/rock artist. But I was stunned to discover the reason: apparently Shepherd had portrayed the Confederate flag on his car and guitars. A Blues cat displaying something that any African American (and most Euro-Americans) would instantly recognize as a symbol of racial hatred and multi-generational suffering?

It gets stranger. Had the board of directors independently determined the inappropriateness of nominating this guy for an award (less than two weeks after a Confederate flag-carrying mob attacked the Capitol building)? Why, no. It took a long social media post by Mercy Morganfield, daughter of – yes – McKinley Morganfield, otherwise known as Muddy Waters, to get their attention. Her post – “The Way My Daddy Looks At a White Man Winning a Blues Foundation Music Award While Waving A F*****g Confederate Flag” – was a masterpiece of righteous polemic, part of which I quote:

My daddy did it (played Blues) because he had no choice. He was born in the early twentieth century when a blk man could become strange fruit in the blink of an eye…(his) greatest rebellion was refusing to return to Mississippi to perform…What is y’all’s excuse? Why haven’t y’all descended on the Blues Foundation in droves and demand they rescind that award to that motherfucking racist?…It was born in bondage. In the southernmost part of the Mississippi delta. Where a confederate flag represented the very bondage it was born into and the very men who would gladly have hanged McKinley Morganfield from a tree if he was in their town after sundown…Now, you give a blues award to a man who feels the need to decorate his fucking car with a Confederate Flag? That’s a brand new kind of stupid…If one of the whitest institutions in American history, NASCAR, can ban the Confederate Flag, Blues Foundation, why can’t you?

The Foundation initially responded, “We are not a political organization” before public pressure forced them to do the right thing. Shepherd issued an apology with the lame explanation that the car is a replica copy of the “General Lee,” (yes, that General Lee) featured in the favorite TV show of his childhood, “The Dukes of Hazzard.” Was the apology helpful? I doubt it. Not when the flag had been removed from toy versions of the car back in 2013.

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Well, I hadn’t been paying attention to this kind of stuff. But an internet search reveals that simply because they play Blues, white musicians are not always politically sympathetic to Black people. Several (Willie J Campbell, Jimmie Vaughan, Anson Funderburgh) are apparently Trump supporters. Then we have the case of Eric Clapton, who went full racist in a live 1976 concert (Notice the URL):

Do we have any foreigners in the audience tonight? If so, please put up your hands. Wogs I mean, I’m looking at you. Where are you? I’m sorry but some fucking wog…Arab grabbed my wife’s bum, you know?…this is what all the fucking foreigners and wogs over here are like, just disgusting, that’s just the truth, yeah…I think you should all just leave. Not just leave the hall, leave our country…I don’t want you here, in the room or in my country. Listen to me, man! I think we should vote for Enoch Powell…Stop Britain from becoming a black colony. Get the foreigners out. Get the wogs out. Get the coons out. Keep Britain white. I used to be into dope, now I’m into racism. It’s much heavier, man. fucking wogs, man. Fucking Saudis taking over London. Bastard wogs. Britain is becoming overcrowded and Enoch will stop it and send them all back. The black wogs and coons and Arabs and fucking Jamaicans…this is a white country, we don’t want any black wogs and coons living here. We need to make clear to them they are not welcome. England is for white people, man. We are a white country. I don’t want fucking wogs living next to me with their standards. This is Great Britain, a white country, what is happening to us, for fuck’s sake?…Throw the wogs out! Keep Britain white!

Clapton has repeatedly apologized over the years, blaming his heavy drug and alcohol addictions for his racist diatribes. In the old movie cliché, the “liquor made him do it,” or in Homeric terms, some god made him say those things. Such refusal to take full responsibility is, according to one Black writer, a form of “whitesplaining.”

These men are second and third-generation white Blues cats. Back in the first generation, they didn’t even bother with apologies. Greil Marcus writes that Jerry Lee Lewis,

…far more than Elvis, came to represent all the mythical strangeness of the redneck South: lynch-mob blood lust, populist frenzies, even incest.

Lewis also flew the Confederate flag, back when few fans even noticed, and freely used the N-word.

Lewis’ cousin is the televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, who (like many other TV preachers) suffered a series of scandals involving prostitutes in the 1980s and 90s. This may offer us a clue to their world. In Chapter Eleven of my book I write of Southern religion:

Throughout the Jim Crow era this spirit survived in the black church. Even though many of its members absorbed the conservative social values of their former masters, there was never any mind-body split in the practice of their religion, which some white churches copied. Southerners, both white and black, have been in this bind for generations, writes Michael Ventura. “A doctrine that denied the body, preached by a practice that excited the body, would eventually drive the body into fulfilling itself elsewhere.” The call-and-response chanting and rhythmic bodily movement typical of southern preachers absolutely contradict their moralistic sermons. This contributes to “the terrible tension that drives their unchecked paranoias.”

Only such a “terrible tension” can produce people who love Black culture but are willing to insulate themselves from the social realities that convert that tension into white supremacy, or that allow them to appropriate and profit from that same culture. We’ll return to this question, but let’s contemplate a related theme.

Muddy Waters is one of my culture heroes. But what of some of my intellectual heroes? Carl Jung, according to some of his detractors (and current Neo-Nazis), was at least a borderline anti-Semite, although he opposed the Nazis in World War Two. (At the same time, Ezra Pound supported Italian Fascism and was a proud anti-Semite.) A similar controversy swirls around the legacy of Joseph Campbell, the father of modern mythological studies.

Never mind all those mass killers like Columbus, slaveholders like Washington and Jefferson and Indian killers like Lincoln whose names are being stripped off public schools. Never mind “they were men of their times.” This is America: many socialists like Jack London were outspoken racists; feminist Margaret Sanger was a eugenicist. We could go on and on. According to filmmaker Ken Burns, “That’s what’s so endlessly fascinating about (Ernest) Hemingway, is that in the Whitmanesque sense, he contained multitudes.”

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Well, I thought I was done with this theme. But then I had an opportunity to attend the wonderful Bioneers conference, which has devoted much energy to the concerns and values of tribal people.

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There, I attended a “council” workshop on cultural appropriation  and heard many of the points of view that I’ve already articulated.

The idea of council comes from the indigenous world. The process encourages all participants to speak from the heart with respect and concern for communal values as the talking stick passes around the circle. And although each speaker’s voice is supposed to have equal value, the reality is that the leader(s) of the conversation do invoke the privilege of speaking both as authorities and as participants.

In this council, and under these circumstances, one of the leaders offered an opinion that I found rich and provocative: “Good intentions are not enough.” She was implying that potential appropriators must go to great lengths to avoid harming or insulting the indigenous carriers of tradition. She was right, of course. But her statement was more than an opinion: it was a prescription: This is how you must act. And assertions about how we must act can result in our not acting at all.

In response, I thought of something I heard once from a drumming teacher: Bad drumming insults the ancestors. But I’d also heard a different teacher say: There are no drumming mistakes, only new rhythms. Together, they cover the whole cultural appropriation range, from the gatekeepers who hide esoteric forms from the public to those who actually ask Westerners to carry on dying traditions. The first drumming teacher may well have been accurate, but the second was kind and generous. I’ll go with the second.

And how about those good intentions? Linguist George Lakoff says that 95% of our motivations are unconscious. Most of the time we have no idea what our real motivations or agendas are or how many parts of ourselves are in conflict with our conscious ideals.

Recall this old saying – No good deed goes unpunished. Often our (personal and national) “good” deeds go punished (have unintended consequences) precisely because some or most of our unconscious motivations are in direct opposition to our conscious good intentions. It’s like driving with your parking brake engaged. Most of the time those conscious motivations are all we really know. We are – all of us – ambivalent (ambi-valent = “both strengths”) by nature. This is one of the most fundamental realizations of Greek Tragedy. Realizing this may be the first step to self-acceptance and self-forgiveness.

The tyranny of the ego assigns value only to those conscious motives. And that ego-tyrant is our internalized father-figure, who represents the authority of Jehovah/Allah, the mono-god of monotheism. But outside of our Judeo-Christian-Moslem tradition, almost all indigenous and tribal people practiced polytheistic ways that more accurately mirrored our complex psychology. Having a complicated pantheon of figures in one’s mythic imagination encourages one to ponder the equally broad range of internal voices, each of whom may well have their own agenda.

And that is one reason to take the leap into the unknown and engage in ritual. In my experience, ritual more than anything else can help us clarify those intentions, to learn the complex nature of who we are. Encouraged by religion, we think: I need this. Ritual asks: Really? How much do you need this? Do you need it or do you want it? What’s the difference? What will you sacrifice in order to attain it?

Every deed – every single thing we do – has unintended consequences. Now what? Do nothing that might possibly be tainted with cultural appropriation for fear that we might trigger someone?

A Hassidic story (yes, I’m appropriating it) told by Elie Wiesel addresses this dilemma:

When the Baal Shem-Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews, he would go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire and say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished. Later, when his disciple, the Magid of Mezritch, needed for the same reason to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: ‘‘Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer,’’ and again he would have success. Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Lieb of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say: ‘‘I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place, and this must be sufficient.’’ It was sufficient. Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting at home, his head in his hands, he addressed God: ‘‘I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is ask You to redeem us, and this must be sufficient.’’ And it was.

We will screw up. We will hurt someone’s feelings, period. But, as we really feel the terrifying reality of the political, environmental and spiritual conditions in this moment, I remember another old saying: The perfect is the enemy of the good.

We no longer have the privilege of hesitating because we might not be doing something perfectly. We must do what we are called to do (even as we clarify that sense of calling), knowing full well that our intentions can never be fully clear, that our actions – without exception – have consequences beyond our knowledge.

Right action means being willing to accept responsibility for those consequences. Only people (and nations) who are utterly invested in their own innocence act with no sense of consequences. Ultimately, this business of cultural appropriation is about waking up and clarifying the complex nature of who we are – our good intentions as well as our darker motives – accepting them and loving them. This willingness to acknowledge our fullness is a necessary precursor to self-forgiveness.

It All Comes Back To Me

Not willing to be vicious, I lost my voice.

Not wanting to be foolish, I lost my courage.

Averse to being led, I lost my way.

Unwilling to be like them, I forgot my name.

Remembering now is blessing enough.

Waking up groggy is still waking up.

– Victory Lee Schouten

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¡Bienvenudo al Mundo Tercero! Driving south from Texas in a huge SUV with my friend Michael who is on his way to do anthropology field work in Belize. Me, I’m simply escaping an unbearable emotional crisis at home, the breakdown of my marriage and all I had ever thought of as normal. All is illusion, Maya.

We have great conversations as I grieve inwardly – Jazz on the tape deck – tiny, thatched huts – transition from desert to semi-tropics, from cacti to palm trees – cornfields, distant volcanoes – town drunks, – sixteenth-century churches, grinding poverty. Macho truck drivers passing each other on dangerous curves, challenging la muerte.

Our first night out, in our motel we are awakened at 4:00 AM by the screams of a pig being slaughtered outside our window – beach resorts – watching baseball games with chickens wandering through the outfield – flowering papaya trees – men on horses and burros – sugar cane – short, tired women with ubiquitous pregnant bellies – giant speed bumps (topes) at the entrance to each town force us to slow down, where we are quickly surrounded by kids begging or selling Chicklets. Colossal Olmec stone heads.

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Burning cane fields: yellow flames, grey smoke, impossibly green grass, with brilliantly white egrets feasting on insects at the edge of each fire – fruit stands with huge bunches of bananas – shrines to the dead everywhere on the sides of the highway – open trucks full of farmworkers – pineapple plantations – everyone in the towns selling something – cantinas/whorehouses.

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Faithful to one woman for eighteen years, I want to make a ritual gesture of separation. However, as The People’s Guide to Mexico says, “A visit to a brothel that caters to campesinos and local businessmen is funny and surrealistic rather than erotic.” The gesture will have to wait.

Oil towns – moneychangers – plastic “crafts” – campesinos walking in the dark near a VW dealership – a bridge next to the road, crossing nothing – pollo en mole con arroz – platanos fritos, pescados murrader (with the dreaded jabanero pepper known as “El Chernobilito”), liquados, corn on the cob stands on three-wheel bicycles – cattle ranches – RV caravans driven by fat Texans– a happy madness – passeos in the zocalos  theme from Exodus wafting out of a craft shop – local merchants patiently letting me try to bargain in primitive Spanish, then switching to English for the credit card transaction – swimming at a beautiful natural spring with friendly locals, then returning to the SUV with anti-gringo curses written in the dust caked on the vehicle – the exuberance and complexity of the visual/auditory/olfactory world competing with, almost mirroring, the loopy turmoil of my inner world.

A bizarre but common sight: local police or military standing with shotguns in front of every bank or public building in every town, no matter how small – guarding what? From whom? These peasants? Who is the freer, more advanced population? We Norteamericanos who (after eight years of Ronald Reagan) don’t need to have the dominant paradigms of power prominently displayed or shoved down our throats, because we have utterly internalized them – or these people, heirs to a living history of resistance? Indeed, a mere five years later, in towns not so far from here, the Zapatista rebellion would begin.

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Sensory overload in the towns – heat and traffic in Tuxpan, smelly Tampico, Coatzacoalas, Cardenas, Olmec ruins at La Venta, Mayan ruins at Xpujil, Villa Hermosa, Escarcega – then the vast cultural complex and psychedelic Mecca of Palenque, with its hoards of tall, blonde European tourists, the young women dressed scandalously in this conservatively Catholic region – the further south we go, the more we see signs saying “Maya” this, “Maya” that, on every billboard or bus – the slanting facial profiles of the tiny, barefoot indigenas selling souvenirs exactly matching those on the ancient sculptures.

All along, we have been seeing gigantic trucks bearing “dichos” (mottos or proverbs) on their front fenders. Many are muy macho; others are self-mocking, sad or philosophical: Rambo, El Chillero, El Timido, Zorro, Casi un Angel, Corre Caminos (Road Runner), El Puma, Dios me Permitte Regresso, Cruz Azul, Christo Negro – Casi Siempre, Don Juan, No Vale la Pena, Super Galan, Angel Salvage – Vagabudo – Ama sin Dueno – Coronel Javiercito – En el Nombrese de Dios – Christo Rey, Comanche, Bonanza, Creo en Ti, Senor, Bandolero, Huevitos, Lo Siento por Ti, Quien como Dios? (For more, see Grant La Farge’s delightful book, Faith in God and Full Speed Ahead!: Fe En Dios Y Adelante : Dichos from the Trucks and Buses of Mexico and Latin America).

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The SUV breaks down twice, but each time it restarts after cooling off. Approaching Vera Cruz, we encounter the gigantic Pemex petroleum refinery, stretching for vast distances along the highway, with dozens of 100-foot-tall steel towers and smokestacks, miles of interconnecting pipes, steam, noise – a surreal, futuristic scene, yet evoking images of Hindu temples, Spanish cathedrals, Cape Canaveral, sci-fi cityscapes, the place as much a shrine to the gods of technology as the other buildings are to theirs.

Then trouble: the SUV stalls out yet again. We pull over and open the hood, waiting for the engine to cool down again. I get out and take some photos of this bizarre scene directly across the highway from us, then return to the SUV. Soon, we see two jeep loads of soldiers approaching – to help us repair the truck? ¡Pero no! Turning to my right, I encounter the muzzles of two M-16 rifles inches from my face! I think this is rather funny, until Michael jabs me in the side with his elbow, informing me that my irreverence is somewhat inappropriate.

Courteously but firmly, the commanding officer informs us that we (did I mention that both of us are long-haired and unshaven?) look like terroristas, and that it is forbidden to photograph the oil refinery. After reviewing our identification, he demands my camera so as to expose my role of film (remember film?), when Michael explains in his excellent Spanish that he’s an anthropologist and that we’d only been photographing ruins and cultural sights (true enough) before seeing the refinery, the photos of which were at the end of the film roll.

El teniente is flattered, polite, if somewhat lax in security terms; he possesses that Hispanic quality of extreme honor and dignity known as pundonor. Taking us at our word, deciding that we are harmless, he gallantly exposes only the last pictures on the roll and hands it back to me with the remaining frames intact. He offers us his compliments, wishes us buen viaje, collects his troops and drives off – without offering any assistance with our SUV, which eventually starts up on its own. We depart from that mysterious place, unaware that 27 years later a massive explosion there will kill 24 workers.

A few hours later we stall yet again after gassing up at a rural gas station that has no services. We watch some more baseball for a while, but it still won’t restart. Eventually, some bored guys who’d been waiting for a bus approach us and offer to help. They tell us the local gasoline is muy malo and often clogs fuel filters, resulting in that double entendre, No hay tigre en el tanque.

We have extra filters, but no wrench to remove the old one. No problemo, they respond, and ask for a large screwdriver and a hammer, which we do have. One of them climbs onto the engine, whacks the screwdriver with the hammer, drives it all the way through the fuel filter, grabs both ends of the screwdriver and turns it until he has unscrewed and removed the filter! They call their method El estilo Mexicano: use whatever you have on hand to get the job done. They refuse cash payment but do accept several beers, which we share in the heat. The SUV starts up, we embrace our new friends and move on.

Vera Cruz on a weekend: thousands of partiers, soldiers, gringo tourists, police, children, musicians, Indians, food carts, teenagers and prostitutes. And, in front of every small mercado, postcard stands with five-cent pictures of the same Pemex refinery, from every angle, the same photos we’d almost been shot for taking! ¡El estilo Mexicano! ¡Como Mexico no hay dos!

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More of my articles about Mexico:

Mexico’s Mother Goddess

Protest, Grief and Memory in Mexico

The Prince of Flowers

The Weeping Woman

Read more…

How powerful are the words we use? How have they influenced the narratives we tell ourselves about ourselves? To really understand, we need to know how Christianity arose.

Only monotheistic thinking, with its simplistic dualisms, sees difference as a threat to be eliminated; whatever isn’t aligned with our god must necessarily follow his opposite. Here is a clue: if your people consider their story to be literally true and other people’s stories are “myths,” then you and your people are thinking mythically or literally. Other mono-words share the brittleness of one correct way: monopoly, monogamy, monolithic, monarchy, monotonous.

By the time of Jesus the idea that humans are alienated from God was firmly in place (Genesis 6: 5-6). And so was the idea that the children of light must forever confront the children of darkness. God forbade men to create “graven images,” which were central to indigenous spirituality. Later Christians would fight brutal wars over this question. This was the birth of monotheism’s assault upon the imagination.

Word One: Hamartia

Greek mythmakers had long told stories of tragic heroes. Aristotle used the word hamartia (“error” or “missing the mark,” a term from archery) to describe the hero’s inevitably fatal flaw, the wound that connected him to his potential. It was, paradoxically, the very thing that made him unique. In both the Greek and the Celtic worlds, if sin had any meaning at all, it meant “failure,” and – this is critical – potentially any failure can be reversed. Christians, however, interpreted hamartia as inherent and inescapable sinfulness, mankind’s literal inheritance from Adam’s original mythic transgression. From this thinking came the doctrine of original sin. Men needed discipline and moral purification to control their darker side.

The change in the meaning of hamartia is an historical marker that drags us into a fearsome new world in which every single person is tainted from birth with the mark of evil. By this logic, children are corrupt by nature and must be kept from polluting adults through baptism (“to dip, steep, dye, color”) very soon after birth. It was a toxic mimic of indigenous initiation ritual.

Word Two: Daimon

Another factor in the solidification of Christian dogma (originally, “opinion”) was the rational and ascetic Greek philosophical tradition. The Church turned Plato’s notion of a realm of pure ideas into the afterlife, which was a higher, better place than the sensual world. Another old word took on new meaning. Plato wrote that before birth each soul receives a unique soul-companion or daimon that selects a pattern for it to live on earth. James Hillman explains, “The daimon remembers what is in your image and belongs to your pattern, and…is the carrier of your destiny.” It was known as genius (related to gene, generate) by the Romans and jinn or genie by the Arabs.

Like hamartia, daimon was connected to the universal notion of purpose. Older traditions understood the vast complexity of the human soul, but Greek dualism marked a clear boundary between good from evil. In the second century B.C.E., the seventy men who translated the Hebrew Bible into a Greek book (the Septuagint) used daimonion to denote evil or unclean spirits.

Thus, with two linguistic shifts, western man gradually lost both his guiding spirits and his sense of his innate purpose in life. Eventually, one’s intuition, if it disputed church dogma, would express only the voice of the demonic, and the pagan gods, archetypal images of human and cosmic potential, became demons.

Changes in language signaled changes in cult practice. The breakdown of ritual eventually led to a condition in which human urges that were once hallowed to the gods became acts of evil. The church repressed them into the personal and collective unconscious and blamed all suffering upon human sinfulness. Orphism had taught that the soul (derived from Dionysus) was potentially good; but the body (from the ashes of the Titans) was its prison, where it remained until all guilt had been expiated. This led, writes E. R. Dodds, to “a horror of the body and a revulsion against the life of the senses.” The Orphics themselves had written: “Pleasure is in all circumstances bad; for we came here to be punished.”

As the age of mythological thinking neared its end, it became more difficult to think in terms of the symbolic processes of initiation and rebirth. The holy text that emerged out of this period omitted the few metaphors of the sacred Earth that had been allowed into Hebrew scripture. As a result, writes Paul Shepard, the New Testament is “one of the world’s most antiorganic and antisensuous masterpieces of abstract ideology.”

All these factors were rolled into the messianic tradition. Pagan cults had expressed a longing for the return of the king or the divine child who was reborn in the hearts of the initiates. But as mythological thinking declined, the Jews longed for a literal messiah (“the anointed”, Khristos in Greek). They witnessed the quick passing of many such figures, including the historic Jesus. After his death, however, he became “The Christ,” a concept, writes Arthur Evans, that was molded by traditions that had “…nothing to do with his life, applied by people who never knew him, recorded in a language he never used.”

Word Three: Apocalypse

At first, the Roman world welcomed the new god. Their cosmos was still marked by epiphany, the continual manifestation of spirit in the world. Paganism never needed to create structures of belief. Celebration of multiple divine images was one of its most essential characteristics.

But it was precisely this animating connection between cosmos, Earth and individual that Christianity sought to replace. Its transcendent god could only enter the world through revelation, which led to dogma and reduced a world of possibilities to one of dreadful certainties. This god was kept alive through belief, not through sacrifices. Saint John of Patmos interpreted his apocalyptic dream vision not as an internal initiation experience, a “lifting of the veils,” but as universal destruction. His Book of Revelation is ecstatic poetry. Interpreted literally, however, it is the very definition of – and a prescription for – madness. To Puritans obsessed with judgment and evil it became the Bible’s most important section. Later, they would invent the Antichrist to embody the world’s resistance to the Word, who “…became flesh and resided among us.”

Word Four: Pagan

For generations, the new belief (a word that has long lost its etymological connection to “love”) system was primarily urban. Everywhere across Europe, rural people were the last to be forcefully converted (some not until the 14th century), since they lived closer to the natural and still magical world that had been served by the older cults. Christians called them “country dwellers” (paganus). Eventually the term Pagan became so thoroughly defamed that today’s English language can barely describe it in value-neutral terms. Common dictionary definitions include “an irreligious or hedonistic person.” For millennia these people had gratefully accepted the mysterious bounty of the earth in the form of Dionysus’ wine and Demeter’s bread. The Eucharist (“thanksgiving, gratitude”) ritual eventually expressed this same mystery, after having removed both Dionysus and Demeter.

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In the late fourth century the Church set the Christian canon (“measuring line, rule”), which excluded much writing that posed alternatives to the new orthodoxy (“right, true, straight”). It declared that Jesus had been born on December 25th. Now, his birth coincided with the rebirth of the sun, and the symbolism of his light conquering darkness matched a common theme in ancient hero myths. Other old beliefs, such as reincarnation, died slowly. Early theologians had embraced it, but eventually the church opposed it because it promoted the idea that men could find the truth for themselves, without intercession by religion. It wasn’t until 543, however, that they declared it anathema (“devoted to evil”).

Absolutely nothing attributed to Jesus in the Gospels suggested anything about his death as a sacrifice. Saint Paul, however, changed Christianity’s central image from the birth of the Divine Child to his death and resurrection. An invitation to immanence became an excuse for transcendence. A religion of love became an obsession with suffering. It taught that Christ’s sacrifice had occurred once, not as part of an unending cycle. Emphasis on this single event and the progression from creation to salvation solidified our concept of linear time and led to the invention of clocks, which eventually contributed to the regulation of social behavior for the purpose of production (the word “calendar” came from the Latin calends, the first day of the month, when business accounts had to be settled). The western world understood myth literally, as actual history. Jesus, unlike Dionysus, had died not to symbolize the cycle of creation but as a payment for humanity’s bad behavior.

In the indigenous world men had always understood the necessity of symbolically killing the child-nature in their boys to invite their full participation in the adult world. But the crushing of paganism produced a different narrative, the actual sacrifice of a child for the glory of his father. Fanatics emulated this god, and Europe feasted on the bodies of its young in constant warfare.

Word Five: Martyr

Jesus was now the suffering god, but not the ecstatic, bisexual destroyer of boundaries, and no longer a Prince of Peace. Worshipers beheld his stern figure, the Pantocrator (“ruler of all”), glaring down from church ceilings, amid horrifying scenes of the Last Judgment. “Because a monotheistic psychology must be dedicated to unity,” writes Hillman, “its psychopathology is intolerance of difference.” For centuries, white men would rape and pillage to hasten the coming of the Prince of Peace. The meaning of the word martyr gradually changed. Abraham’s knife became a soldier’s sword in Christian iconography. Dying as Christ (around 100AD) became dying for Christ (500), which became killing for Christ (1000).

Word Six: Breath

Dualistic thinking and misogyny were interlinked in language. Men identified with mind and spirit and associated women with nature and the body. We can follow the linguistic shift. The Old Testament Hebrew word ruah (spirit/breath) is feminine. Translated to Greek it became pneuma, which is neuter. But Saint Paul elevated pneuma to the Trinity as the Holy Ghost, which became the masculine spiritus in Latin. In a long, mysterious process, spirit would become an Alchemical term, a substance that unites the fixed and volatile elements of the philosopher’s stone, and eventually the essence of distilled alcohol.

Word Seven: Evil

As I mentioned in Part One, the Aramaic word used by Jesus and translated into Greek as diabolos and into English as “evil” actually means “unripe.” An unripe person is not evil; he is simply immature, or in ritual terms, uninitiated. His antisocial behavior may be nothing more than a cry for help. The classic Hero doesn’t overcome evil, not even an evil part of himself, but his own “unripeness.” Through the corruption of the term hamartia, however, the Church made it clear that no one was unripe; everyone was inherently evil.

Word Eight: Devil

The Holy Ghost required an evil twin. In Hebrew myth, Satan was originally an adversary of humans and enforcer of Jehovah’s will. His meaning gradually changed from “opponent” into a personality whose nature is to obstruct, a rebellious prince in eternal opposition to the divine will. The Septuagint used the Greek word diabolikos (accuser, slanderer, “to throw across”), which became the English “devil.” Hebrew myths of the fallen angel (Lucifer, or “light-bringer”) added to the image of this eternal opposition: “How thou art fallen, oh day-star…” (Isaiah 14:12).

This established the foundations for European racism. Light/white became synonymous with spirit/goodness, while dark/black represented the material and sensual world. The New Testament solidified the image; Barnabus described Satan as the “Black One.” Saint Jerome linked blackness with sex; the Devil’s strength was “in his loins.” Augustine (himself a North African) claimed that everyone is black until he accepts Christ.

The choice was now clear and unambiguous. If one wasn’t an observant Christian, he followed the dark prince. In this form, writes Jacob Needleman, the Devil becomes irredeemably evil: “All the truly terrifying images of the devil are in one way or another rooted in the diabolical.”

As early as the second century, Clement of Alexandria declared that the gods of all other religions were demons. Since their mere existence placed in doubt the belief in one true God, they could only be in league with Satan. The church now had an “Other” to justify its Catholic (“universally accepted”) self-perception – and justification for its genocidal crusades.

Scholars disagree as to how Satan received his popular image. Some claim that the earliest model was the lecherous goat-god Pan. Early Christians feared Pan because of his shameless sexuality and his association with the wilderness, where hostile spirits lay in wait. He caused panic. They depicted Satan with Pan’s hooves, oversized phallus and horns, which carry a potent ambiguity, writes historian Jeffrey Russell. They symbolize Satan’s power and evoke the “mysterious, frightening otherness of animals…not only fertility but also night, darkness and death.”

Some link Satan with the European Horned God, consort of many Goddesses, especially those worshipped on the island of Crete. These images evoked the ambiguous mix of fertility and death (not evil) that indigenous people still understand, but which the modern mind splits into two figures.

Others connected Satan with Hades, ruler of the underworld, but the Greeks also knew Hades as Pluto (“wealth,” root of “plutocrat”). Here is as sharp a divide as we can find between monotheism and Pagan thinking, which perceives a wealth of possibilities both under the ground and in the psychological underworld. The Western world would not begin to imagine these possibilities until the late 19th century, when Freud “discovered” the unconscious, although he admitted, “Everywhere I go I find a poet has been there before me.”

Word Nine: Heretic

The paranoid imagination created enemies within to match those without. More dangerous than pagans were Satan’s followers who took the form of schismatics who divided the community with false doctrines, and heretics (“able to choose”).

Word Ten: Hell

When Christians assigned Satan a realm to administer, they named it after Hella, Nordic goddess of the underworld, sister of the wolf who threatens to emerge and wreck vengeance upon the gods of the upper world. Greece, however, has retained indigenous associations. There, the lord of Hell is still Charon, the ferryman of the river Styx (“the hateful”), and rural Greeks still place coins over a dead person’s eyes to pay for the journey. If Hades (as Pluto/wealth) is forgotten, his ferryman still makes a tidy profit.

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Conclusion with Three Questions

First Question: Why was Joe Biden nominated?

Long before the primaries it was clear that Biden had no charisma, no base of voters, and no chance of beating Trumpus. But as I argued throughout this essay, the corporate Democrats feared their own left wing (even as the public favored it) more than it feared any Republicans. It feared the insurance companies more than the 69% of the public who supported Medicare For All. In Part Three I showed how they manipulated the primary results to steal the nomination from Bernie Sanders, just as they had done in 2016. As Johnstone writes, “There’s no point telling the Democratic establishment that Bernie would have won. They know Bernie would have won. That’s why they stopped him.”

Second Question: Why did Biden win (or Trumpus lose)?

1 – With the most profoundly unpopular and deeply reviled president in U.S. history, it still took a pandemic with 300,000 dead (by the election) and an economic depression with forty million unemployed. With no pandemic, Trumpus would be in his second term. Here is a study confirming this.

2 – A second major factor is that 108 million people voted early, nearly 70% of all votes cast. Those early ballots (and millions of other votes cast in voting booths on election day) were all paper ballots that could not be compromised or flipped by corrupted machines (as they certainly were in many states).

Certainly, an astonishingly large number of people still preferred Trumpus. But he didn’t receive 74 million votes. The official number was greatly swelled (and Biden’s greatly reduced) by those same corrupted machines (see below) in the 26 states ruled by Republicans. We will never know the actual numbers, but it’s clear that Biden won by even more than the official numbers. However, this leads to a deeper question:

Third Question: Why did the Democrats perform so badly in the House and Senate?

Why didn’t the biggest turnout in history sweep the Republicans away? Why didn’t the Democrats clobber this buffoon and his allies in massive landslides at every level? What happened to the expected “blue wave”? Why (once again) were the polls so wrong? Why did millions of people apparently split their ballots, rejecting Trumpus but re-electing Republicans who supported his policies?

Despite the heroic efforts of Tracey Abrams and countless others, voter suppression was still a major factor. The biggest turnout in history was still much smaller than the numbers of people who actually wanted to vote or thought that their votes had been counted. We know for example that over 300,000 ballots were checked into the mail system but not checked out of it. As Palast reminds us, 22% of all mail-in votes never get counted.

And there were other factors.

1 – Fraud: Can any reasonable person believe that over a million Floridians voted for raising the minimum wage but also supported Trumpus over Biden? In Kentucky, as I showed in Part Twenty, McConnellhad under 40% approval on election day, but beat Amy McGrath (who received more votes than Biden in in 119 of 120 counties) by 19 points. And, we are told, McConnell won by landslides in heavily Democratic areas, most of them using the easily hackable ES&S machines. In South Carolina, Lindsay Graham won in the same dubious manner. The pattern was repeated in Maine, Texas, Iowa, Florida and other states.

I think we can say that election commissioners in most of those 26 Republican-controlled states gamed the electronic voting machines to flip five percent of the votes. If we were to subtract 5% of Trumpus’ national totals – perhaps four million – and add them back into the other column we might have a clearer idea of Biden’s victory. And we’d have a clearer sense of what happened in the Senate and House.

Going forward, there have been two unanticipated result of Trumpus’ constant predictions – and then claims – of voter fraud. One is that millions of right wingers have been confirmed in their sense of victimhood. They have a new “Lost Cause” to organize around. The second is that once again, liberals find themselves on the defensive and have been forced to insist that there was no fraud, thus repressing, once again, the issue of the massive crimes that actually did occur and will occur next time.

2 – Apathy and voters’ distaste for moderate Democrats. About 67% of eligible voters cast ballots, but that still means a third – eighty million adults – did not. A majority of these non-voters believe it makes no difference who is elected president and that things will go on just as they did before. They also, as I wrote throughout the campaign, tend to be Latino. Only 52% of Latinos surveyed said they were registered to vote, compared to 80% of whites and 78% of Blacks.

A strong endorsement of Medicare For All would have made a major difference. As mentioned before, progressives won almost all their races, while many of the Dem losses were by moderates and freshman congresspeople in essentially blue districts. And there was much vote-splitting, in which people voted against Trumpus (rather than for Biden) and left the rest of their ballots empty. Susan Collins, for example, won by 55,000 votes. But 50,000 voters who voted for the top of the ticket failed to cast a vote in that Senate race. Early in the Georgia (pre-runoff) count, Jon Ossoff trailed David Perdue by 90,000 votes. But 98,000 voters who voted for President failed to vote in this race.“Hidden Trumpers”? Nope. I dealt with that issue in Part Twelve.

3 – Ignorance: The government provided enhanced unemployment benefits and stimulus checks (even if it provided for no taxes to pay for them) to millions of households. Partially as a result, 40% of polled voters thought they were better off financially than they were four years ago and apparently saw little reason to vote for change.

4 – Fear: The Dems allowed the Repubs to reframe the BLM protests and the “defund the police” issue into the old standby of “law and order.” As a result, Trumpus won a higher percentage of white women than he did in 2016. And although 55% of registered young voters turned out, a much higher number – 65% – of elderly people responded to the fearmongering and chose to vote for policies that might protect their investments and privileges but would most deprive their own grandchildren of a future. Once again, we find ourselves in the realm of mythology – the killing of the children.

The Inauguration: The King is Dead. Long Live the King!

So where does this whole election cycle – and the $14 billion that was spent on it – fit into our understanding of myth? The most basic narrative at the base of the American story is that of the killing of the children. What lies on top of that within our psyches is American innocence. So at the end, I refer back to the questions I ask in interviews: When did you lose your innocence? and When did you lose it again?

When innocence is the foundation of a belief system, when a culture refuses to offer its young people the initiatory rituals that affirm their unique gifts and permanently erase their childhood innocence, people have little choice but to live lives of denial and perpetual childishness. When the inevitable tears in the fabric of the myth of innocence appear, it quickly closes back up, and each loss of innocence, no matter how old we are or how often it happens, feels like the first time. So only the most naïve among us should be surprised to see that Nancy Pelosi’s initial statement about the Capitol insurrection was: We’ve really lost our innocence.

Conclusion: Auguries

After five years of non-stop lies, insults, boasts, threats, buffoonery, misogyny, racism and gratuitous cruelty, Trumpus had so alienated so many of us that exhaustion, massive anxiety and a collective PTSD had set in even before the insurrection at the Capitol. Brand Trumpus was so toxic to all but the legions who had turned him into a cult leader that it actually had the effect of building up Brand Biden. By inauguration day, liberal America had conjured up an image of a kindly, religious, poetry-spouting, emotionally accessible – yet determined, laser-focused, purposeful leader. A public servant and “a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief,” whom the San Francisco Chronicle called our “mourner in chief.”

The sentiment was authentic, even as we know (or should know) his deepest allegiances. We know of course that the Empire will abide. We know that the military-industrial complex was happy with either candidate. We know that the incomprehensively expensive and cruel “War on Terror” will continue. We know Biden’s long history of facilitating mass incarceration. We know that 24 hours after presiding over a memorial to the victims of the pandemic, the new administration announced that it will continue Trumpus’ murderous policies in Palestine and Venezuela. We know that one of the invited guests listening to Biden’s denunciation of fascist violence was Carlos Vecchio, who in 2014 had fled to the United States to escape “incitement of violence” charges in Venezuela. And we remember Noam Chomsky’s quote: If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged.

But – for one moment at least – having left his stuttering and self-sabotaging behind him, Biden stepped into the role of Sacred King, or at least a guy you might actually want to have a beer with.

The word inaugurate (“induction into an office with suitable ceremonies”) comes from the same root as augury. An augur was a religious official in ancient Rome who foretold events by observing and interpreting signs and omens. The deeper root may be avis (bird), since the flights, singing, and feeding of birds were important objects of divination, leading to words such as auspicious. One of ancient Greece’s greatest mythmakers, Aeschylus, said of another one, Euripides, “He shows people who they are, and I show them who they might be.” The essence of the ritual imagination may well be the willingness to hold the tension of the opposites while still imagining a positive outcome. May it be so.

The end of this election cycle leaves us exhausted, fearful, sick and broke, yet relieved to put Trumpus (if not the conditions that led to him) behind us. We know we felt this way when Clinton replaced one Bush and Obama replaced another. We know that they manipulated our innocent expectations of a happy ending. Looking back, we know that they served the Empire just as their predecessors had. And we know that we have no choice at this point but to imagine something better. May the birds return and show us the signs.

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Welcome to 2021, or 2020.2

Be there, be wild! – Trumpus

I beat the socialist! – Joe Biden

This election will not be over until the Bidens move into the White House. Prior to that event, with its possibility of bringing some degree of calm, two main events occurred. The first showed us who we might be, while the second reminded us of who we are.

Georgia: A victory over racism

Trumpus brazenly tried to force Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to flip the election results. Was Trumpus, knowing that the conversation was being recorded, unconsciously attempting once again to destroy himself? In another example of a broken clock being right twice a day, Raffensperger refused, instantly becoming a hero to liberals. Greg Palast, however, reminds us that Raffensperger had been at the very center of massive voter suppression, “misleading a federal court to keep 198,000 Georgians from voting” in the run-off. Palast also points out that the Georgia Repubs were working directly with provocateur extremists who went on to lead the riot in Washington.

But the faithful found themselves in a bind (one that Black people are very familiar with): if the other side had stolen their democracy, was there any point in voting? Trumpus helped out (“We’re all victims here.”) The night before the election he told a Georgia crowd, “The deck’s stacked against you. They’re cheating and stealing it. Go vote anyway.” Marjorie Taylor Greene, congresswoman for Northwest Georgia and noted QAnon sympathizer, was equally vocal about the “fix.” The result? Her heavily Republican area became the worst-performing area of the entire state. Perhaps there is a God.

Once again, people of color saved the day. But there was a deeper issue to be learned from this madness. Throughout the campaign, Biden and most the leading Dems had steered clear of any possible accusations of “socialism.” Then came December and the debate over pandemic stimulus checks. Keaton Weiss writes:

Enough voters realized that, because House Democrats backed Trump’s $2,000 proposal and Mitch McConnell didn’t, that they would need to elect Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock if they hoped to see more stimulus money…Then, as election day drew nearer, Democrats made their promise of $2,000 payments central to their closing argument…The GOP incumbents held a small but steady lead until it was made entirely clear to Georgians that they would receive more government assistance if they voted blue.

The lesson? Just as in the general election, when moderate Dems usually lost and almost all progressive Dems won, people get excited when politicians listen to people’s needs and promise to redistribute the wealth for the greater good. It’s called democratic socialism.

The real winners? My inner idealist says: Stacey Abrams, Kamala Harris and the people of Georgia, of course. My inner cynic says: Joe Manchin. You haven’t heard of him? He’s the most conservative Democrat in the Senate. Sensing the moment, he came out against the proposed $2,000 stimulus checks to his own suffering people in West Fucking Virginia. This was a personal message to Biden: You are going to have to come through me to get anything passed in the Senate. As the swing vote in a perfectly divided body, he will be the new Mitch McConnell.

Washington: A victory for racism

Let’s be clear about what, several days later, still isn’t obvious to the mainstream media.

First: This was a riot of white supremacists led by members of well-known hate groups who, compared to almost any BLM activists, enjoyed the privilege of gentle treatment by law enforcement (82 arrests as opposed to hundreds).

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Indeed, many of the participants were off-duty police and military who flashed their badges and ID cards as they entered the Capitol building. The mob included at least six Republican officeholders, one of whom later claimed to have no regrets for having attacked the Capitol. Another resigned after posting video of himself.

Second: Responses by the various security agencies in this most-surveilled city in the world were shamefully slow. This was despite the fact that right wing websites had publicized their plans for the event long before Trumpus incited the crowd and retired to his tent party to watch it on TV. Afterwards, with hundreds of videos available, the FBI, in an insult to the entire nation, claimed to require public assistance in identifying them.

The Metropolitan Police Department claimed to have had “no intelligence” suggesting “there would be a breach of the US Capitol.” The Capitol Police knew about the threat days before it took place, but reportedly rejected offers of help. Officials explained that they wanted to avoid using federal force against Americans! Mayor Muriel Bowser requested support before the rally, but the Pentagon limited the local National Guard to managing traffic. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan tried repeatedly to send his state’s National Guard, but the Pentagon would not authorize it. When the Capitol Police finally requested aid early Wednesday afternoon, Defense officials held back the Guard for about three hours before ordering it in.

I suppose it’s possible that some of the leadership were truly naïve about the intentions of the fascist leaders, well-publicized as they were. But more likely, both their lack of preparedness and their tepid response are evidence of a deeper problem that some of us have been noting for two decades: the infiltration of police departments by white nationalists. No centralized recruitment process or set of national standards exists for the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States. Since at least as far back as 2006 the FBI has been aware of the term “ghost skins,” used among white supremacists to describe “those who avoid overt displays of their beliefs to blend into society and covertly advance white supremacist causes.” It has also known that skinhead groups have encouraged ghost skins to seek employment with law enforcement agencies.

It’s much worse when leadership shares their values. “You don’t get to ransack the Capitol for hours, then calmly walk away, unless law enforcement and its command share your views,” wrote Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America. “What we saw yesterday was tacit approval of the rioters.”

Who exactly was responsible? Federal officials who still supported Trumpus, or local officials (a few blocks away) who knew very well how tenuous their control over their own racist cops actually was? Or were even these leaders complicit? Consider for example New York City’s profoundly racist Police Benevolent Association with its 24,000 members and its leader who endorsed Trumpus.

Third: Most of the day was performative rather than goal-oriented. Yes, many people were hurt and five died (including a woman carrying a “Don’t tread on me” flag who was trampled to death). But once the cops allowed the crowd into the building the violence dissipated. Then it quickly became clear that almost no one had any political agenda other than Confederate flag-waving, petty theft, vandalism, posing in outrageous costumes for journalists, smearing of graffiti and feces, exploring of government computer screens, selfie-taking (in at least one case, with a cop), racist slogan-shouting and live-streaming of their exploits. Supporters of Israel displayed anti-Semitic T-shirts. “Blue Lives Matter” fans pissed on symbols of authority. It appeared to be a party atmosphere reminiscent of tourists at Mardi Gras, frat boys at Spring Beak, live action role-playing games, or a twisted version of Burning Man.

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From a psychological perspective, this release of inhibitions was an example of Freud’s phrase, “the return of the repressed.” Mythologically, it was an expression of what Robert Johnson called “low-quality Dionysus.” For much more on this issue, see Chapters Four and Ten of my book, or my essay, The Dionysian Moment. Trump Lets the Dogs Out. There is a profound, and profoundly dark potential in this story, as I acknowledge in Part Seven:  

Here I must confess to a certain naiveté. In much of my writing I’ve tended to see the return of the repressed as a good thing, as in liberated sexuality, as the return of the Goddess or as political revolution. And I still think that way – in the long run. But perhaps I’ve been ignoring my own text: What was a human impulse can become monstrous.

And one of the most welcome – and most dangerous – characteristics of demagogues from Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler to Reagan to the architects of the Rwandan and Armenian holocausts to Trump has been their ability to “lift the burden of individual responsibility” from their followers, to dissolve their isolated egos. It is to grant them permission to let out the dogs of their most repressed, violent fantasies that had previously been held in control by superficial notions such as goodness, fair play, tolerance, rationality, justice – and democracy.

But curiously, it was Trumpus who helped out again, this time by inciting the riot in the first place and making it easy (once the danger passed) for even thugs like Lindsay Graham to emerge from their thick cocoons of hypocrisy and denounce him. This ensured that the Presidential confirmation vote would flow smoothly – precisely what the mob had been trying to stop.

Fourteen Republican senators had announced they would object to counting the certified votes; in the evening count the number dropped to six, most notably Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley. But in the House, 138 Republicans, more than half the Republican caucus, doubled down and stuck with Trumpus, even after the riot.

For five years the Repubs and their corporate owners have allowed Trumpus to serve their interests by letting the dogs out, but they may have painted themselves into a corner. Now it appears that they are divided into two groups. One is composed of true believers in various versions of the Trumpus / QAnon narrative – none of whom hold any real power in the party.

The second, the great majority, are absolutely non-ideological, lying con men who have utilized the first group as their useful idiots. Here’s a rule of thumb: the higher the visibility and influence, the less sincere their rhetoric. This group includes several Senators and Congresspersons vying to lead the last-ditch effort to derail the election results. It is obvious that none of them give a damn about Trumpus. Aside from the money they continue to fleece the true believers out of, this has been nothing other than a PR stunt (one that resulted in five deaths). Their only motivation is in building brands that might identify them as inheritors of his base. Trumpus has taught them well – their first principle is how can I take advantage of this?

Even if Trumpus keeps his own candidacy alive (to grab more money), each of them wants to be the best-known right-wing loony when and if the boss retires (or goes to jail). This has nothing to do with 2020 and everything to do with tactics regarding 2024. Some of those tactics involve low comedy. Cruz tweeted that Biden was not working hard enough to “bring us together or promote healing” and that “vicious partisan rhetoric only tears our country apart.”

Others took the opportunity to claim the high road and denounce Trumpus. Some (including the rulers of Facebook and Twitter ) waited as long as possible to drop off his money-raising tit, as did Elaine Chao and Betsy DeVos, who resigned from the Cabinet (possibly to avoid having to vote on deposing him under the 25th Amendment).

Speaking of con men (and women), most Evangelical leaders, watching which way the winds were blowing, initially kept quiet. Eventually, most expressed mild condemnation of the riot, without acknowledging their own complicity in creating the conditions that led to it. Some put out false equivalencies about BLM events. Most avoided linking Trumpus to the attack or criticizing him personally. By the end of the week, with the political winds becoming clearer, they, like many of the GOP leaders, began to distance themselves from him.

At this point, absolutely anything that any Repub official has to say, whether pro-Trumpus or anti-Trumpus, is about 2024. One poll indicates that 45% of Republicans approve of the storming of the Capitol. Another poll claims that Trumpus is the most admired person in America. And regardless of Democratic talk of impeachment, he still has ten days – and beyond – to lurch through our nightmares like Frankenstein’s monster. And it’s a serious question whether his thugs will go away once he does. As Richard Seymour writes,

Trumpism is not an aberration, but a mass phenomenon. Trump greatly expanded his base between 2016 and 2020, adding more than 10 million votes to its total. He expanded into places and demographic constituencies thought to be closed to him. No other Republican presidential candidate could have done this. And it was achieved precisely through the same means that led to the spectacle in the Capitol. To hope that Joe Biden can defuse this by restoring civility and bipartisanship to Washington would be unforgivably complacent.

First as farce, then as tragedy. But this week let’s remember Georgia.

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Part Twenty-One: 2021

Ah yes, America. The country where Republicans spend all day screaming that socialism is happening and Democrats spend all day making sure it never does. – Caitlin Johnstone

The eternal mystery of Trumpus. Of course, he’s a gross misogynist, a sadist and a racist who appears to hunger for opportunities to exert gratuitous cruelty. But for five years, liberal commentators have wavered between two major views of what he is at the core, each of which has been backed by mounds of evidence. Is he shamelessly ignorant, a steaming cesspool of idiocy and denial who believes the image that the media has created for him? Or is he a brilliant con man, plotting several moves ahead, the leader of an organized crime family who’s made an entire career of stealing from those who most adore him?

The final weeks and now days before the inauguration have him displaying both sides. Is he hiding out at Mar-A-Largo playing golf, emerging only to tweet nonsense or berate subordinates, or is he slyly continuing to exhort his base to protest the election, even as he pockets over $250 million from them?

For those of us who can avoid the temptation of easy demonization and take a step back into American myth, there’s a third possibility: yes / and. Behind our superficial religiosity, aren’t we all at the core both materialists hoping to “get ahead” and astonishingly stupid (see Parts 16 and 17)? No con man or any other kind of celebrity can exist for long in our culture without the collusion of the public. Trumpus is the essential American. He is us. We needed him to arise in these years. We dreamed him up and vomited him out onto our projective landscape of the imagination so as to bring out the darkest truths of our collective racial and military madness, our culture of uninitiated adults,

Republican Corruption: Over two million people have voted prior to the January fifth Georgia run-offs. A judge has ordered officials in two rural counties to stop invalidating voter registrations due to so-called “unreliable” change of address information, a ruling that could protect over 4,000 residents from voter suppression. Meanwhile, in Cobb County (whose half million voters had preferred Biden over Trumpus by 56% to 42%), officials cut the number of early voting stations from eleven during the general election down to five for the runoff. And over 120 counties simply and illegally closed polling stations on the weekends. 

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It’s hard to keep up with Trumpus’ level of sleaze, but Ted Cruz is trying. He is raising money for the runoff – but the actual beneficiary is his own campaign committee. And he’s not the only one, writes Lachlan Markay. The National Republican Senatorial Committee “encouraged its members to use grassroots donor enthusiasm surrounding the runoffs to help build their own fundraising programs.” Several politicians, including McConnell – and Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York – have lined up to feed at this particular trough.

How would you like your sleaze? The previously disgraced and recently pardoned General Michael Flynn (whom many believe is Q himself) is now hawking QAnon merchandise.

Meanwhile, speculation continues about what Trumpus and friends will do on January 6th, when Congress is supposed to count the electoral ballots and give final confirmation for Biden:

Here’s how the rest of Trump’s desperate effort to stay in power will play out

Conservative writer reveals 3 main fears insiders have about Trump’s last days in office

Trump Encourages ‘Wild’ Protests in D.C. on Date of Electoral College Vote Count

Pro-Trump Missouri senator announces he will contest Biden’s certification

Gohmert suit may force Pence’s hand in effort to overturn Trump’s defeat

Once that date passes, there will still be two weeks of crazy before the inauguration, during which Trumpus can still make his last stand. The U.S. military has sent missile-laden cruisers to the South China Sea and B-52 bombers over the Persian Gulf. Iran’s foreign Minister voiced what is obvious to anyone but believers in American innocence, that Trumpus is fabricating a pretext to attack Iran. Although last year’s widely feared October Surprise never happened, anything could still happen, because it has happened in the past.

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Got Democracy? Yes, there was a large increase in voters in November. About 67% of eligible voters cast ballots, but that still means a third – eighty million adults – did not. Finally, somebody (the Medill School of Journalism) has surveyed non-voters, and the results should not surprise critics of the Democratic National Committee.

Twenty percent disliked both candidates. A majority of those eighty million people believe it makes no difference who is elected president and that things will go on just as they did before. They are less likely to say that elections in this country are free and fair for all. They are also more likely to be younger and make less money than voters – and they are exactly the demographic the Dems might have been interested in. However, fewer than a quarter of them (compared to almost half of voters) said any political campaigns had reached out to them. They also, as I wrote throughout the campaign, tend to be Latino. Only 52% of Latinos surveyed said they were registered to vote, compared to 80% of whites and 78% of Blacks.

Although Latinos heavily favored Biden, the DNC’s still-incomprehensible unwillingness to reach out to them with appropriate vigor and raise their voting numbers certainly cost them the Senate. With real Latino turnout, the Georgia runoffs would be an afterthought.

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https://madnessatthegates.wordpress.com/2020/12/21/barrys-blog-359-a-mythologist-looks-at-the-2020-election-part-twenty/

Winter Solstice

I’m very, very concerned that if you solicit votes from typically non-voters, that you will affect and change the outcome. – United States Senator Rand Paul, 12/17

Republican Corruption: Timothy Noah asks: “How can you tell that the GOP has accepted Biden is the duly elected president?” His answer: “They’re trying to destroy the economy.” These thugs in black suits have squeezed what they could out of the economy for their corporate masters, and now they are shifting their focus to sabotaging the transition, prolonging the recession and convincing the base that Biden will be responsible.

And more statistics have arisen showing what that base is composed of, what color they are and why Trumpus came so close (in the Electoral College) to winning. I take these numbers with a grain of salt, because no one really knows the opinions of those who voted by mail; but clearly it’s all about race, as Dan Siegal summarizes:

The election was close only because Trump won overwhelmingly among white voters, who cast two-thirds of the votes nationally…(White evangelicals) made up 28%of the electorate, and Trump won 76% of their votes, his largest bloc by far. Biden won among all other voters by a margin of 62-36. In other words, Trump’s near victory was the result of his support by white evangelicals…Trump won a majority of the votes in 15 of the 17 states where evangelicals make up 21 percent or more of the population…

Sixty-nine percent of voters say that racism is an important problem in the U.S. These voters supported Biden, 68-30. The voters who believe that racism is a minor problem supported Trump 84-14. Voters with favorable and unfavorable attitudes about Black Lives Matter split along almost identical lines. The most accurate predictors of who would vote for Trump were (1) identifying as White; (2) membership in evangelical churches; (3) residence in the South or Midwest; and (4) attitudes about the importance of racism.

How close did Trumpus come? The Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected his lawsuit, bogus as it was, by a margin of only 4-3, with the swing vote coming from a right-wing judge suffering from a rare case of cojones.

And let us not forget that Trumpus’ attempts to steal back the election – incompetent and laughable as they are – have been entirely about race. As Elie Mystal writes,

This election witnessed new and destructive attempts by the GOP to win: Instead of merely trying to suppress the votes of Black people, the party tried to nullify those votes altogether. In predominately Black city after predominately Black city, Republicans urged courts, state boards of elections, and secretaries of state to throw away ballots cast by legitimately registered voters on the basis of “voter fraud.” They offered no evidence for these allegations but expected officials to throw out literally hundreds of thousands of votes anyway.

And it almost worked. In Michigan, for instance, the two GOP members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers…initially refused to certify the results in their county, which includes Detroit. Palmer indicated she’d be willing to certify results everywhere in her jurisdiction except for precincts in that predominately Black city.

But it’s much weirder than that. We need to address an even deeper level of rot. I predicted all through the election cycle that the Repubs would corrupt the voting machines and flip votes in all or most of the 26 states where they control the counting process, and that individual Democratic candidates would need at least a 5% lead in the polls in order to offset the vote theft. By October it was clear that the vast numbers of people voting by mail would make comparisons between official results and exit polls useless, and that’s what happened. Exit polls only tell us so much.

But now we have the first analysis of actual vote patterns, not exit polls, showing that electronic election theft is precisely what happened, and it happened on a massive scale just as it did four years ago. This article by Alternet – Busted? Why the numbers behind Mitch McConnell’s re-election don’t add up  goes into deep detail:

In Kentucky, McConnell, with under 40% approval on election day, beat Amy McGrath by 19 points. “Hidden Trumper” votes? I’ve already debunked that theory, but even if they existed, in 119 of 120 counties, McGrath got more votes than Biden. Evidently, one in five Kentuckians voted for both her and the pussy-grabber Trumpus! It also appears that McConnell won easily in Democratic strongholds, including counties that he had never before carried, some of which had voted overwhelmingly for Democrats as recently as last year. For example, in his six previous Senate elections, Elliott and Wolfe counties had never voted for McConnell. Yet in November, McConnell won 64% of the votes in Wolfe and 66% in Elliott. Or so we are told.

Landslide winner in Democratic counties

In one of the looniest and most incompetent post-election lawsuits, the Trumpus team may have intended to accuse Dems of election fraud, but in describing a possible plot, they actually attributed the cheating to themselves and inadvertently revealed their own con game. In a Dec. 4 filing in Georgia, they referred to a “machine-controlled algorithm deliberately run” by a voting machine vendor that “generally took more than 2.5% of the votes from Mr. Biden and flipped them to Mr. Trump.”

The article goes on to generalize to the entire political map. It would appear that the electronic culprit was not Dominion, as Trumpus has been claiming, but another company, ES&S.

McConnell had his biggest percentage of registered Democrats voting Republican in counties using ES&S machines…Other Republican incumbents, whom polls indicated would have close races, had similar luck to their majority leader on election day…Lindsey Graham’s race in South Carolina was so tight that he infamously begged for money, yet he won with a comfortable 10% lead—tabulated on ES&S machines throughout the state. In Susan Collins’s Maine, where she never had a lead in a poll after July 2, almost every ballot was fed through ES&S machines. Kentucky, South Carolina, Maine, Texas, Iowa and Florida are all states that use ES&S machines…when Trump calls this the most fraudulent election in our history, maybe he knows of what he speaks.

The Democrats: A tale of two appointments — Pete Buttigieg (who has never administered anything larger than a city with a population of 100,000) received Biden’s nomination to run the Department of Transportation (with a $73 billion budget and 55,000 employees). First gay cabinet member? Great! Payback for entering the presidential race with the sole intention of helping defeat Bernie Sanders? Bet on it.

Biden also nominated Congresswoman Deb Haaland as Interior Secretary. First Native American cabinet member? Great! She could be his most progressive choice so far – and there’s the rub. This decision could be just what it appears to be, the right choice at the right time. But Biden is nothing if not a politician, and this will be a win-win (maybe a rare one) for him. If the Dems win both Georgia races, he gets his way with all his nominations, including his atrocious war hawk foreign policy picks. If they don’t – consider the quote in Part Eighteen of this series about Neera Tanden. If the Repubs consider this person a “leftist” who “stands zero chance of being confirmed,”then Haaland shouldn’t even bother attending her confirmation hearing. But Biden will receive mucho acclaim for having nominated her.

Read more…

https://madnessatthegates.wordpress.com/2020/12/16/barrys-blog-358-a-mythologist-looks-at-the-2020-election-part-nineteen/

Mid-December

Some people take, some people get took, and they know they’re getting took, and there’s nothing they can do about it. – Shirley MacLaine, in The Apartment”

The Supreme Court rejected the Texas lawsuit. Supported by 17 Repub attorneys-general and over a hundred congresspersons, it was absurd and had no legal standing. But with all those reactionary justices, including three who had helped G. W. Bush steal the 2000 election from Al Gore, this was no forgone conclusion. But they actually did the right thing legally, and to many innocent liberals, it appears that they are now more respectful of the Constitution than the majority of Repub elected officials (or that, by “resigning”, Bill Barr has suddenly been infected by an ethics virus).

Bullshit. These same thugs in black gowns are planning to destroy abortion rights sometime next year. If they decided to put a legal seal on Trumpus’ fall from grace, we should assume that they were simply acknowledging that the useful idiot is no longer useful to their corporate masters – or that he will be more useful as a vengeful, fund-raising ex-president with his own TV network threatening to run again in 2024.

Republican Corruption: Trumpus is reportedly dangling Presidential pardons like Papal indulgences for people who haven’t even been accused of anything, even as he expects to execute thirteen federal prisoners this year. Meanwhile, he and the entire Repub leadership thrive on the creation and maintenance of anxiety. This is who they are and what they do – and how they raise money. So it appears that some of them will contest the election right up to the Georgia primary on January 5th (which will probably not be decided that day), and into the 6th, when some of them will probably stage a final challenge on the floor of the House of Representatives.

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Officials in another Georgia county (Camden) took voter suppression to a new low by ordering that voters would have exactly one day of early voting. In the long run, we should take note of how their policies have and will continue to infect the public’s confidence in the political process. Palast quotes James Kwak’s Washington Post article (yes, this broken clock can be right twice a day):

For years, it’s been clear that American democracy faces a real threat: voter suppression policies (generally implemented by Republican state legislatures or governors)…But today, Trump has shifted the frame: Many of his supporters believe the conspiracy theories he tweets and retweets, forcing Democrats and state election officials to declare that the electoral process is healthy and robust simply because it is not contaminated by widespread fraud.

For the next four years, it’s likely that debates about elections will focus on the nonissue of whether the 2020 presidential election was stolen. In the meantime, real voter suppression will continue, largely out of sight and out of mind…Now Trump has truly hijacked the conversation.

Democratic Corruption:

The Georgia Senate race is offering us yet another view of the rot at the core of the Democratic Party. Even as Abrams builds her well-deserved reputation as the leader of the fight against voter suppression and female people of color establish themselves as the activist base of the party, Reverend Raphael Warnock has responded to Kelly Loeffler’s anti-Semitism-baiting by rejecting his previous criticism of Israel:

I condemned BDS, its refusal to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. And I support President Obama’s memorandum of understanding [$3.8 billion in aid a year], it’s the largest such commitment made in history…Our aid and support to Israel is something I would advance as a member of the Senate. And there’s no question that Iran cannot get a nuclear weapon.

His statement had its intended effect, as he won the endorsement of a well-healed Israel lobby group. Yes, yes, I know – one does what one has to do to gain power, including trashing one’s principles for incremental gain, and the perfect is the enemy of the good, etc, yadda, yadda.

And Palestinian children will die because this “progressive” gave in to the warmongers.

Censorship: On December 9th, after the states had certified the election, YouTube announced that it was deleting any user videos that claim the election was fraudulent. Good idea, huh? But consider that the statement never claimed that any of the videos (loony as most of them undoubtedly are) endanger anyone’s health, incite violence or mislead voters (six weeks after the election). As Johnstone writes,

It’s simply deleting the videos because they are believed to be wrong. This is an important distinction, because it’s a marked deviation from the previous policy of content deletion used by YouTube and other new media platforms.

Taibbi agreed, insisting on a tech-supported double standard. Democrats and most of the MSM have pushed their own unprovable narratives about Trumpus’ collusion with Russia to steal the 2016 election for four years, while Trump supporters are now banned from doing essentially the same thing.

Intelligence agencies, think tanks, and mainstream news agencies have been preparing us for this concept for years as well. This dates back to the infamous 2016 Washington Post story hyping PropOrNot, a shadowy organization that identified a long list of homegrown American news sites like Consortium, TruthDig, Naked Capitalism, and Antiwar.Com as vehicles for “Russian propaganda.”…(Meanwhile) Unrestrained speculation about the illegitimacy of the 2016 election had a major impact on the public. Surveys showed 50 percent of Clinton voters by December of 2016 believed the Russians actually hacked vote tallies in states, something no official agency ever alleged even at the peak of the Russiagate madness.

Right-wing media distracts right-wingers and mainstream media distracts liberals. As I argued at length here, it wasn’t the Russians but the Republicans who hacked that election. But the combination of Russiagate and the marginalizing of legitimate progressive news served to keep the public from a much-needed discussion of the real reasons while Clinton lost, including her party’s abandonment of its working-class base.

In sum, it’s okay to stoke public paranoia, encourage voters to protest legal election results, spread conspiracy theories about stolen elections, refuse to endorse legal election tallies, and even to file lawsuits challenging the validity of presidential results, so long as all of this activity is sanctified by officials in the right party, or by intelligence vets, or by friendlies at CNN, NBC, the New York Times, etc…If, however, the theories are coming from Donald Trump…then it’s time for companies like YouTube to move in and wipe out 8000+ videos and nudge people to channels like CBS and NBC, as well as to the home page of the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. This is a process YouTube calls “connecting people to authoritative information.”

With the press, we put up with gossip and errors and lies not because we think those things are socially beneficial, but because we don’t want an aristocratic political establishment having a monopoly on those abuses. By allowing some conspiracy theories but not others, that’s exactly the system we’re building…Acts like the YouTube ban…(will) almost certainly further radicalize this population…now you’re removing some of the last incentives to behave like citizens…This is a stupid, dangerous, wrong policy, guaranteed to make things worse.

Liberals don’t care about censorship, as long as it’s the right kind of censorship. Meanwhile, the big news is that three days after the Supreme Court refused to hear the Texas lawsuit, the Electoral College certified the election. The next day, McConnell congratulated Biden. And if the Dems don’t run the table in Georgia, Biden ought to return the favor, as he will have about as much power as a constitutional monarch, and McConnell will be the de facto President.

Read more…

December 8th

Republican corruption: There are still a few days until the Electoral College meets. We itch with uneasiness as we watch Trumpus flailing about in his tragicomic, slow motion coup, and there are some forty days of non-specific crazy left until the inauguration. Many Repub diehards, such as those on the bipartisan House and Senate Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, refuse to certify Biden’s victory. Then we have the recently pardoned Michael Flynn, who has implored Trumpus to suspend the Constitution and declare martial law. Newly elected Michigan state representative Abraham Aiyash, a Muslim, has received over a thousand online threats of violence.

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As his legal chances grow dimmer, however, it’s becoming clearer that the coup is not against Democrats, or democracy itself, but against his own supporters. It’s a grifter’s coup, and the con has been extraordinarily lucrative, with $200 million taken in so far. Indeed, according to one strain of speculation, Trumpus will declare his candidacy for 2024 right after (or during) the inauguration. This would ensure the continuation of both the gravy train and the media circus, and it might provide an excuse of politically motivated prosecution (or persecution) if New York continues its probe into his tax schemes after he leaves the protection of the White House. I doubt if any of that money will end up in Georgia. No problema. The Repubs have plenty of money to spend on the Georgia Senate double-header runoffs on January 5th. Welcome to 2021!

That anxiety will last several days longer until the final tally. The people of Georgia will have to endure a non-stop ad blitz, as the campaigns are collectively on pace to spend a half a billion dollars. Nationally, over $14 billion will have been spent on all Federal-level campaigns, doubling what was spent in 2016. There is some small consolation to see the Repubs beginning to eat their own, as they trade increasingly bitter threats at each other. Meanwhile, Greg Palast and Stacy Abrams are suing to re-instate those 200,000 purged voters. The Repubs have responded by cutting the number of early voting sites in Cobb County in half.

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Still, it is possible for the Dems to control both Houses of Congress and actually accomplish something. May the best-case scenario be so. If not, Mitch McConnel will be the de facto President, tens of millions of Americans will be cast down into deeper suffering, and nothing will be done about global warming.

Democratic Corruption: It could have been different. As I also suggested, Biden could have announced his support for Medicare for All and a Green New Deal. Had he done so, the Dems would have taken the Senate, despite the MSM consensus that the left caused the down-ballot fiasco. Real progressives actually kicked butt. It was Dem moderates who lost. And Biden himself would not have won at all (we finally have some statistical proof) if Trumpus hadn’t mishandled the pandemic so egregiously. As Jeremy Scahill writes:

For millions of voters, this was not a choice between Biden and Trump — it was a referendum on Trump, and Biden’s name on the ballot was a stand-in for “No!”…More than any administration in modern history, Trump’s tenure presented a clear opportunity for the Democrats to show the strength of their collective spine and serve as a moral alternative to the horrors of Trump and the Republican Party. Overwhelmingly, this did not happen.

Thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – of people masked their faces, entered the polling places, held their noses, marked their ballots for Biden and not bothering to vote at all for Senator or Congressperson, walked right on out. Ballot splitting used to be no big deal. People would often go down the ballot considering the candidate rather than the party and vote accordingly. But they would vote for someone. Not any more.

So what about that huge turnout? Wasn’t it supposed to bring out millions of new voters who would vote Democratic? Well, yes, it did, raising the percentage of young voters to perhaps 55% of their registered numbers, many of whom were undoubtedly among those who hated both Trumpus and moderate Dems. But it also brought out 65% of elderly people, who, despite his mishandling of the pandemic and his hints about cutting Social Security, did what they have been doing for fifty years. The “greatest generation” chose to vote for policies that might protect their investments and privileges but would most definitely deprive their own grandchildren of a future. Once again, we find ourselves in the realm of mythology – the killing of the children. Timothy Noah writes:

The true age-demographic story of 2020 wasn’t that young people flocked to the polls in higher proportions than ever before. It was that this youthquake had no discernible impact on the makeup of the American electorate…No matter how you measure it, the elderly are still very much in charge of American politics.

Eventually we will (happily) turn our attention away from Trumpus. But we’ll (unhappily) have to look seriously at the corporate stooges and warmongers Biden has surrounded himself with.

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So far one of them is a perfect example of everything that could go wrong actually going wrong. Neera Tanden, who would be White House Budget Director, is president of the Center for American Progress, a “liberal” think tank funded by the usual oligarchs, including Facebook and the United Arab Emirates. She is the epitome of the Washington swamp who has spent years publicizing the Russiagate lies, and she has been (writes David Sorota), “…the single biggest, most aggressive Bernie Sanders critic in the United States of America” and (writes Greenwald) one of Sanders’ “most vicious and amoral attackers.” Taibbi writes:

Sanders is the ranking member (and, perhaps, future chair) of the Senate Budget Committee. Every time Bernie even thinks about doing Committee business, he’ll be looking up at Neera Tanden. For a party whose normal idea of humor is ten thousand consecutive jokes about Trump being gay with Putin, that’s quite a creative “fuck you.”

Johnstone adds:

After months of lying to themselves that lifelong warmongering corporatist Joe Biden could be somehow “pushed to the left” by progressives in order to make voting for him seem more palatable, the incoming administration has been seemingly going out of its way to prove them wrong in as spectacular a fashion as you could possibly imagine with its nominees and transition team of war whorescorporate sociopathsfree speech opponents and austerity enthusiasts. Tanden is just the diarrhea icing on the giant steaming shit cake.

Progressives, of course, are appalled by Tanden. And it gets worse. Evidently, those hefty investments from the United Arab Emirates paid off: her group backed away from criticizing the UAE’s and Saudia Arabia’s genocidal policies in Yemen.

However, this is so 2020. In this mad universe it’s no longer a simple thing to distinguish the bad news from the good. As I mentioned previously, there are hundreds of presidential appointments that must be vetted by the Senate – and in 2021, unless the Dems win both Georgia races, a very hostile Senate. As beholden as Tanden is to big business and the warmongers, the Repubs still consider her nomination “…more proof that @JoeBiden and the Democrats will continue to move further and further to the Left…(she) stands zero chance of being confirmed.” 

Read more…

Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people – H. L. Menken

As freedom grows, the need to coerce and control opinion also grows if you want to prevent the great beast from doing something with its freedom. – Noam Chomsky

Public Education

Tens of millions of us are really dumb – or to be generous, profoundly misinformed – despite our educational system. Or, we have to ask, is it because of this system? In Chapter Five of my book I compare indigenous initiation traditions to mandatory – that is, forced – public education and refer to John Gatto’s classic book Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, which asks, “Could it be that our schools are designed to make sure that not one (child) ever really grows up?”

The Social Darwinists and eugenicists who designed our educational system modeled it on the one used by the militaristic Prussian state. Since then, six generations of us have endured a routine carefully designed to restrain dissent, originality and critical thinking and reduce everyone to a uniform, standardized level. Gatto, once New York state’s Teacher of the Year, quotes from early texts and distills schooling’s intent into six functions:

1 – Adjusting: establishing fixed habits of reaction to authority to preclude critical judgment.

2 – Integrating: making people as alike as possible.
3 – Diagnosing: determining everyone’s proper social role.
4 – Differentiating: sorting children by role and training them “only so far as their destination in the social machine permits.”
5 – Selecting: identifying the unfit at an early age.
6 – Finally, the propaedeutic function: teaching a minority to manage the rest, who are “deliberately dumbed down and declawed…”


Regarding number 5: As Americans copied late 19th century German teaching methods, only a generation later the Nazis openly thanked American eugenicists for modeling the selection system whose terrible logic would eventually lead to Auschwitz. And the American system would return the favor. As I mentioned previously, a tenth of American adults have never heard of the Holocaust.

Gatto concludes that American public schooling was never intended to create citizens, but servile laborers and consumers. It teaches children that they can exchange obedience (including obedience to the military) for favors and advantages. It leaves them vulnerable to marketing, which ensures that they will grow older but never grow up.

From the indigenous perspective, it reverses the age-old tradition of identifying a child’s innate and unique gifts. Older cultures really did emphasize what the Romans called educare – to identify, lead out and welcome something important that already exists. America institutionalized something quite different: instruere (to build into, instruct). The Yiddish word is more effective: schooling assumes that children come into the world with nothing and then schtups them full of information.

The latest insult is standardized testing, which converts our natural curiosity into docility and narcissism and trains middle class students not in critical thinking but merely in how to take tests. For the rest, the cruel euphemism of “No Child Left Behind” relies on threats and punishment, imposes narrow agendas, overrules local control and punishes entire schools for the failures of the few. Finally, it completely ignores the impact of poverty, which leads to the vicious circle of inadequate funding.  

New ways continually emerge for the sins of the fathers to fall upon the young. “Zero tolerance” policies allow school administrators no leeway for interpretation. Examples are endless, if tragic. A valedictorian is charged with a felony and banned from her graduation for mistakenly leaving a kitchen knife in her car. A thirteen-year-old who brings a model rocket to show in class is suspended. An eleven-year-old is jailed for bringing a plastic knife in her lunch box. A ten-year-old girl is charged with sexual harassment and suspended for asking a boy if he liked her. Mall police turn away girl scouts for being “similarly dressed.” A third of the students of a Chicago high school are expelled because of zero tolerance. It began not through political correctness, but because governments that cannot enact real gun control for adults divert the spotlight onto children. And youths convicted of any drug offense permanently lose federal financial aid (over 130,000 when I wrote my book ten years ago), even if possession laws are later overturned.

It gets crazier. We’re talking about public programs, but we’re also talking about those 25-35% of Americans who are evangelicals and who have strangleholds on state and federal budgets. Thirty-seven states require that when schools offer sex education, they must discuss abstinence, and 26 of them require that it be stressed, including censoring of textbooks. In 2017, a third of the $300 million federal funding for teen sexual health education programs was for abstinence education. All told, the feds have spent well over $2 billion on it. However, claims researcher Laura Lindberg, “…it leaves our young people without the information and skills that they need…We fail our young people when we don’t provide them with complete and medically accurate information.”

The government continues to throw money at these programs even though its own studies have shown that they have no effect on sexual behavior among youth. Worse, they generally withhold information about pregnancy and STD prevention. They don’t reduce pregnancy or STD rates, and they have no effect on adolescents delaying intercourse. However, when they do become active, many teens fail to use condoms, unlike their peers in other countries who have routine access to contraceptive education and counseling.

The final insult is that language used in abstinence-based curricula often reinforces gender stereotypes about female passivity and male aggressiveness – attitudes that often correlate with domestic violence. In Chapter Ten I assess the cumulative result:

It is likely in vast areas of the country for a girl who has been raped and impregnated by a relative to have no access to abortion (family rape is the source of 40% of teen pregnancies). She might run away with her child to escape the ongoing abuse, go on welfare (until the funds run out and the state takes the child) and become a homeless prostitute. She would be a sacrificial victim, no different in any respect from similar girls in the Middle East.

The Sacrifice of the Children: we are back in the depths of American mythology. Should we be surprised then that one result of this mad system of education has been an epidemic of illiteracy? In 1909, a century before we spoke of “white privilege”, the eugenicist and racist Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton University, told teachers, “We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class…a very much larger class…to forgo the privilege…”

From precisely that point, just before World War I (when the system was installed universally), literacy declined from nearly 100% to a point when, in 1973, 27% of men were rejected from military service because of functional illiteracy. Now, 14% of adults, over 30 million – including nearly 20% of high school graduates – cannot comprehend texts that are appropriate for 10-year-olds, and almost half of us cannot read well enough to understand basic health information.

Forty-two percent of college graduates never read a book after they finish school.

The even poorer quality of inner-city education for students of color is part of a much larger discussion of race and segregation in America and the deliberately exclusionary policies pursued by generations at every level of government. Here are some of my relevant essays:

Affirmative Action for Whites

Blaming the Victim

Did the South Win the Civil War?

Hands Up, Don’t Shoot: The Sacrifice of American Dionysus

For now, though, we can explain why white, suburban students perform so much better on the tests with the simple fact that their school systems spend far more per pupil than urban systems can. The reason is that the U.S., nearly unique in the world, requires local jurisdictions to fund education through local property taxes. And our national obsession with scapegoating, punishment and blaming the youthful victims of capitalism has produced a situation in which most states spend more on prisons than they do on education. California is the worst, investing $65,000 per prisoner compared to $11,500 per student.

To ask why they do that – and why we allow them to do it – is to question the most fundamental aspects of American myth.

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In certain respects, the situation in private, religious education is worse. Ten percent of the sixty million students in the country attend private schools, three-quarters of which are religious. Large numbers of these 4.5 million students learn in atmospheres that are strongly misogynist at best and racist at worst. Their parents are Trumpus’ base. According to Christian researcher Robert P. Jones,  

…white Christians – including evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics –  are nearly twice as likely as religiously unaffiliated whites to say the killings of Black men by police are isolated incidents rather than part of a pattern of how police treat African Americans…White Christians are also about 20 percentage points more likely to disagree with this statement: “Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for Blacks to work their way out of the lower class.”

What about higher education? Some studies have indicated that the more educated we are, the more likely we are to support America’s wars. To Chomsky, higher education is a system of imposed ignorance in which the most highly educated people are the most highly indoctrinated. At a certain level, the distinction between stupidity and ignorance slides into willful denial. For those privileged to attend the best universities and train to become the next generation of corporate, political – and especially media – leaders,

A good education instills in you the intuitive comprehension – it becomes unconscious and reflexive – that you just don’t think certain things…that are threatening to power interests.

This entire issue of how our institutions function to dumb us down is part of something even larger than the myth of American Innocence. The myth of the killing of the children is the most fundamental narrative upon which all of Western patriarchal culture is founded. In Chapters Six and Ten of my book I discuss the immensely long narrative – beginning with Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son to impress his god – in which fathers learned to invert ancient male initiation practices into the literal sacrifice of male children in the cauldron of war. Beginning with mandatory public education and continuing with the spell of advertising and mass media, that process has resulted in conditions in which our innate intelligence – our ability to discriminate and think critically – has atrophied.

Indeed, even if we retain our belief in the value of public education, this process has produced a nasty feedback mechanism in which the most ethically-challenged and hyper-ambitious individuals rise to the highest corporate and political heights, and then we continue to elect them as they shamelessly, even proudly go about destroying that institution. Why? Because they work for people who know, as Aristotle and Jefferson agreed, that if the rest of us really learned how the world works, we’d rise up and and throw them out.

Please note that nowhere in this essay do I blame teachers, thousands of whom understand exactly what I’m talking about and work within the system to actually educate — rather than instruct — their students. But in our demythologized world, that system, like all of our institutions, was designed to bring out the worst in us, not the best. We need to imagine something better.

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Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it. – Mark Twain

Our government wasn’t set up for one group to have all three branches of government…You know, the House, the Senate, and the executive…my dad fought 76 years ago in Europe to free Europe of socialism. – Tommy Tuberville

Mr. Tuberville is a retired college football coach, a climate change denier and Alabama’s new Senator. He is also an ignoramus, or at least he plays one on TV. Either way, he’s a perfect symbol for our next query: Are Americans really that freaking stupid?

I’ve explored a related question – Why are Americans so freaking crazy?  here. And I’ve argued that many New Age Yoga types have bought into the QAnon con job because they seem to lack the ability to discriminate between reality and convenient, self-serving narratives here.

It’s a no-brainer: an educated populace is a prerequisite for a functioning democracy. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” Long before, Plato argued that men who didn’t know right from wrong shouldn’t be allowed in government. But all Greek men were expected to participate in the public sphere. Those who didn’t were known as idiotas.

So what is a well-informed populace? How do we make sense of seventy million people voting for Trumpus, more than in 2016, when they had four years to hear at least some of his 20,000 lies? Yes, I try to have compassion for those who vote against their interests. But no, I don’t have the patience to talk about meeting such people halfway. Are they stupid or just terribly misinformed? And yet – what about all those Democrats who swallowed the Russiagate lies, or those who supported Bernie Sanders’ platform but allowed the DNC to convince them that he was unelectable?

In 2010, half of us believed the Constitution establishes a Christian nation. Seventy percent couldn’t name their senators or congresspersons. Twenty percent either thought that Barack Obama was the Anti-Christ or were not sure, and 40% wanted the government to “stay out of Medicare.” Forty percent didn’t believe in evolution and could name only four of the Ten Commandments. Nineteen percent thought that conservatives oppose cutting taxes. Twelve percent of American adults believed Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.

More recently, one in three Americans would fail the citizenship test. Twelve percent think Dwight Eisenhower led troops in the Civil War. One in three believe God decides who wins sporting events. One in four believe the Sun orbits the Earth and can name all three branches of government. A third cannot name any First Amendment rights. Eighteen percent say that Muslims don’t have the same rights as Christians. Forty percent (including 25% of those with college degrees) believe that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago. Forty percent believe that there is a war on Christmas. We think Muslims are seventeen times as large a portion of the U.S. population as they actually are, and we think, wrongly, that most immigrants are in the country illegally. A tenth of adults have never heard of the Holocaust. Only 15% of Republicans believe that climate change is a serious problem, and 75% of them believe that the recent election was rigged.

If these lists seem skewed toward evangelicals, well, duh! That “forty percent” keeps coming up. But such folks, numerous as they are (25-35% of the U.S. population), are not the only demographic to seriously misunderstand reality. We are similarly ignorant about one of our most fundamental mythological values: social mobility, or the opportunity to get ahead. The likelihood of advancing in social class has decreased significantly since the 1980s. But 56% of those blue-collar men who correctly perceived George Bush’s 2003 tax cuts as favoring the rich still supported them. In 2000, 19% of us believed we would “soon” be in the top one percent income bracket, and another 19% thought they already were. Two-thirds expected to have to pay the estate tax one day (only two percent will).

We could go on. Even without referencing the recent presidential vote, it’s clear that large numbers of us don’t know very much. But here’s the real question: are Americans really so naturally dumb, or have we been socialized to be both uninformed and apathetic? As a progressive, I side with those who argue that we are naturally intelligent, and that the few profit by keeping the many unaware. As a mythologist, I suggest that we are in a time when our myths are collapsing, and with them, our fundamental institutions, including media, religion and government. And as we’ll see, one institution in particular – public education – was specifically designed to dumb us down.

Media

James Madison agreed with Aristotle that full democracy would lead to the poor uniting and taking the property of the rich. Aristotle’s solution was to reduce inequality, while Madison, articulating the basic contradiction of American mythology, proposed reducing democracy. This originally meant keeping citizenship away from people of color and women, the vast majority of the population. Once legal discrimination ended, it meant keeping people from voting, or distracting people from caring about voting. It meant turning tens of millions of us into idiotas.

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The media, writes Noam Chomsky, functions “to keep people from understanding the world.” An efficient system of control, a brainwashing under freedom, combines relatively free speech and press with patriotic indoctrination and marginalization of alternative voices, leaving the impression that society is really open. By limiting debate to those who never challenge our mythic assumptions of innocence and benevolence, our system maintains the illusion that we all share a common interest.

Those who control government and media allow such debate, but only when the boundaries of acceptable thought are clear. In this context, the “loyal opposition” legitimizes these unspoken limits by their very presence. The system works precisely because of our traditional freedom of expression. It distributes just enough wealth to limit dissent, while it heightens anxiety, isolates people and turns them toward symbols that create loyalty.

Ignorance is a major component of the myth of American innocence, and for seventy years, television (a third of which is advertising) has functioned to keep it that way. American children view 20,000 commercials a year. The generations raised on TV have been the first to be less well informed than their elders. This is partially a result of the impact of technology and partially due to decades of well-financed right-wing shock jocks, the loss of the Fairness Doctrine, the rise of religious programming and Fox News – an entire industry, in Rebecca Solnit’s words, that is

…devoted to convincing white people that liberal elitists look down on them…plus a political party whose leaders all understand that that idea is key to their political project and so join in the chorus at every opportunity.

But it’s also partially due to the fact that the grand old giants of the mainstream media have long been complicit in keeping Americans unaware of the massive violence perpetrated by the American empire, and failing that, in justifying it in terms of American innocence and good intentions.

This is the original “fake news”, and it comes in two forms. The first, of course, is outright if discrete lying or propaganda. The second, more subtle, is censoring, ignoring and marginalizing of ideas until they can do so no longer, at which point they begin to demonize (often with false equivalencies). Bernie Sanders is only the most recent example. The MSM know very well what not to say, and who butters their bread. As David Rockefeller candidly admitted in 1991,

We are grateful to the Washington Post, the New York Times, Time Magazine…whose directors have attended our meetings and respected their promises of discretion for almost 40 years. 

I’ve compiled many articles about how the MSM serve both the American empire and the myth of American innocence here. We know the purpose of fake news: to generate internet traffic and revenue. The worst offender, the Washington Post (owned entirely by the CIA contractor Jeff Bezos), regularly publishes terrible, sensationalistic articles that get massively re-tweeted, and then posts tiny retractions in its back pages. Glen Greenwald writes:

Whether the Post’s false stories here can be distinguished from what is commonly called “Fake News” is, at this point, a semantic dispute, particularly since “Fake News” has no cogent definition. Defenders of Fake News as a distinct category typically emphasize intent in order to differentiate it from bad journalism. That’s really just a way of defining Fake News so as to make it definitionally impossible for mainstream media outlets like the Post ever to be guilty of it (much the way terrorism is defined to ensure that the U.S. government and its allies cannot, by definition, ever commit it).

But this attempt to manage our minds is, of course, much older than the internet. And here’s an argument for our innate intelligence. Throughout the entire twentieth century, the mass media was forced to inundate the public with massive, daily anti-communist, then anti-Muslim and now anti-Russian and anti-Chinese propaganda in their effort to override our more cooperative and compassionate natures. But even so, by 2015, it was clear to millions that the MSM had long been the voice of the oligarchs. Trumpus flipped the notion to criticism of the “liberal” media and then shortened it to “the media.” And, since progressive news groups went underfunded and marginalized, Fox and its even loonier descendants appeared to be the only alternative.

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Now, the algorithms used by all the major social media platforms encourage rapid dissemination of unreliable information and the confirmation bias that results from seeing only what the viewer already believes in. Trumpus’ base have been in a curious position for years in this regard: they are intelligent enough not to believe the MSM, but having been propagandized by decades of right-wing media, they look at him and simply don’t believe their eyes.

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But let’s remember that in any large, capitalist nation the function of both mainstream and far right media is similar and twofold: to make money, and to serve the deep state by keeping people docile – or, failing that, by manipulating their prejudices. And we are not talking about something theoretical. Yes, it’s Thanksgiving and Trumpus appears to be conceding. But as Fairness in Accuracy and Reporting writes, the MSM have been

…slow to accurately convey the reality and significance of Trump’s election theft efforts…failure to report the facts much earlier is inexcusable…they cannot credibly feign ignorance…they have also run cover for the Republican Party’s complicity in enabling and actively assisting Trump’s efforts, as Trump cannot steal the election on his own.

The cliché is true; we are divided. Most of us now fall into two groups – those who consume the lies and denial of the MSM, and those who consume the lies and fear mongering of right-wing media. Since left-wing media is so underfunded, and since social media severely marginalizes it, most people are simply unaware of it. The second factor deeply impacted the past two elections in which 55% of white women decided that privilege was more important than reproductive rights, sexual autonomy, access to health and child care or solidarity with women of color. Even if such decisions produce short-term benefits, in the long run they’re killing us.

          Blame it on the black folks, blame it on the Jews, blame it on anybody not like you.
          You can blame it on the reds, you can blame it on the greens,
          But you never put the blame on the man who pulls the strings.
          …Why? Because you’re stupid. — San Francisco Mime Troupe

Next, Part Seventeen: Is it only the media, or is education itself the problem?

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How Many Elephants can fit into this Living Room?

Democratic Corruption: I don’t follow each section on Repub corruption with one on Dem corruption (or incompetence) to provide balance. I’ve had plenty to say about how the media constantly engage in false equivalencies. I do it to continue my chronicle of how this election in its entirety is merely one example of the ongoing collapse of the myth of American innocence, and of how privileged segments of our population continue to try and shore up the cracks in its façade.

We have to address some basic questions: Why didn’t the biggest turnout in history – during a recession, no less – sweep the Republicans away? Why (once again) didn’t the Democrats clobber this buffoon in massive landslides at every level? What happened to the expected “blue wave”? Why (once again) were the polls so wrong? Why did millions of people – especially in California – split their ballots, rejecting Trumpus but re-electing Republicans who supported his policies, despite the Democrats having spent over a billion dollars on Senate races? Why did 72 million people vote for Trumpus? (We’ll see: perhaps they didn’t).

Some have cited “hidden Trumpers” for the inaccurate polls. I’ve already argued against that idea, and this time it’s even less possible to use it as an excuse, because so many people voted by mail and could not be questioned in exit polls. (We should also recall Greg Palast’s research indicating that 20% of mail-in ballots are rejected.) So we can no longer study the discrepancies between official results and exit polls. This is very significant, because it is now harder to find indications of computer fraud. In fact, we should now reject the whole idea of exit polling, along with any trust in the scientific part of “Political Science.” Once the final results are published, we may be able to compare them to pre-election polls and speculate further. Meanwhile, here are some theories:

1 – Many of the Dem losses were by freshman congresspeople in essentially blue districts, where the Repubs, who cared less about Trumpus and more about Congress, had a much stronger presence on the ground and the Dems limited canvassing because of the Coronavirus. 

2 – The government provided enhanced unemployment benefits and stimulus checks (even if it established no taxes to pay for them) to millions of households. As a result, 40% of voters thought they were better off financially than they were four years ago.

3 – Remember the “Lincoln Project” with their witty attack ads, expensive stunts (including a Times Square billboard in the uncontested locale of Manhattan) and promises to win over moderates? David Sirota suggests this was yet another con job that “convinced liberals to give them more money…than was raised by the Democratic Party’s national campaign to win state legislatures.” The result: Trumpus actually increased his share of the Republican vote and won a higher percentage of white women, compared to 2016. At best, such waste of resources convinced some moderates to reject Trumpus personally and then vote red all the rest of the way. Good for Biden, bad for the nation.

4 – Michael Bloomberg and other olligarchs donated hundreds of millions to attack Trumpus personally but little to activists on the ground, especially in Florida. Nadia Ahmad writes that this was a result of “…a deliberate decision by the leadership of the Florida Democratic Party to ignore and sideline Black, Latino, AAPI, immigrant, and Muslim voters.”

5 – The Dems allowed the Repubs to frame the “defund the police” issue into their usual “law and order” fearmongering, which certainly impacted white women. Good for Biden, bad for the nation.

6 – Matt Taibbi writes that the Dems are no longer the party of the working class:

Trump won with the sort of people who do not read The Washington Post or watch MSNBC, and disagreed with their myths…As Missouri Republican Josh Hawley put it the night of the election, “We are a working-class party now. That’s the future.”

There is some truth here, but Taibbi makes a common mistake, equating the “working class” with the white working class and not including people of color in that group. In fact, Biden’s lead among POC was about the same as Clinton’s in 2016, and it was much greater among young people. And what about that “working class” vote? Jim Naureckas suggests that we follow the money:

It’s true that Trump does 15 percentage points better among white voters without college degrees than with them—but what if class involves not just education, but money? Among the almost three-fourths of voters whose households make less than $100,000 a year, Trump trails badly: Biden showed a 15-point lead…among those who make less than $50,000 and was 13 points ahead…with the $50,000–$99,999 bracket. Only among the wealthiest quarter did Trump have a lead, winning $100,000+ households 54% to 43%.

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The power brokers, aided by the usual media gatekeepers, were very quick to blame the left for their losses (as I predicted they would do). Centrist Abigail Spanberger, one of several retired CIA officers in Congress, was particularly vocal. (Hint: there is no such thing as a “retired” CIA officer. Another hint: the DNC listens very carefully to “retired” CIA officers.)

Progressives, on the other hand, argue that in fact it was their on-the-ground organizing that brought out the urban vote and actually won the swing states, despite the party’s refusal to address economic inequality and other class issues. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted:

Anyone saying this after immigrant organizers delivered AZ, Black grassroots flipped Georgia, MI going blue w reality-bending 94% Detroit margin + @RashidaTlaib running up the margins in her district & Trump publicly challenging @IlhanMN in MN and losing isn’t a serious person.

Biden certainly shot himself (or the party) in the foot by stubbornly refusing to support Medicare for All. Even Fox News acknowledged that 72% of all voters supported it. But if the millions – overwhelmingly Democratic – who voted by mail had been polled, that number would certainly be much higher. Voters favored “bread and butter” progressive issues in many places. Colorado voted to provide 12 weeks of paid family leave. Arizona voted to increase taxes on the rich. Voters in four states approved legalizing marijuana. Even Mississippi legalized medical cannabis.

“The Squad” of progressive congresswomen doubled in size. Every congressional member who ran for reelection while supporting Medicare for All won their respective race, even if their district supported Trumpus. Altogether, 112 co-sponsors were on the ballot and all of them won their races. 98 co-sponsors of the Green New Deal were on the ballot and only one lost. Apparently, most of the Dem losses were by centrists who once again had attempted to use the old, failed tactic of ignoring the economy and appealing to moderates.

But the mystery remains. As in any good myth, we are left with more questions than answers:

1 – How many Dem votes were suppressed, purged, rejected or flipped? We know that over 300,000 ballots were checked into the mail system but not checked out of it. When a federal judge ordered USPS officials to sweep 27 processing centers for the missing ballots, they simply refused.

2 – How many votes did Trumpus actually receive? Either his official total of 72 million is real, or there was massive computer fraud. We can’t come to any conclusions on this because nobody polled the mail-in voters. But, true to form, Trumpus has already accused the Dems of flipping electronic ballots; and another thing we know is that whenever he accuses anyone of doing something illegal or unethical, we can be sure that it’s something he and the Repubs are already doing.

3 – Despite the record turnout, how many people still saw no difference between the parties and didn’t bother to vote?

4  Was the massive increase in early voting mostly in safely blue states and therefore of little importance in red states?

5 – What happened to the predicted greatest gender gap in history? Did women (white women) actually reject a woman (a Black woman) Vice President?

6 – Why did immense numbers of people who favored progressive causes also vote for Trumpus? In Florida the proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15/hr won by a landslide – 60% of the state’s 11 million votes, or 6,600,000 votes (in 2018, 65% had voted to restore voting rights to ex-felons). Trumpus received 51.2%, or 5,640,000 votes. That means that over a million Floridians voted for raising the minimum wage but also for Trumpus. We might understand this if pre-election pollsters had asked questions like this: “If you vote for Biden, will you also support the other Dems on the ballot — or vice versa?”

“Or will you leave the rest of your ballot blank and go home?” Joe Brunoli writes:

 

Biden had zero coat tails. But then, that was never the point...In Maine, for example, Biden won handily, but so did Susan Collins, a candidate all the polls had losing by double digits. Collins won by 55,000 votes. But 50,000 voters who voted for the top of the ticket failed to cast a vote in that Senate race. You can bet those voters were Biden voters. Or, more aptly put, they were “single issue” voters whose single issue was getting rid of Trump...

Let’s look at Florida’s 26th and 27th Congressional Districts, which include Miami-Dade County. Although Biden lost Florida, he won BOTH these Districts comfortably...(However) The incumbent Democrat for FL26, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, lost by almost 12,000 votes. Likewise, the incumbent Democrat for FL27, Clinton retread Donna Shalala, also lost by almost 10,000 votes...

Both these losers were “moderates” who opposed Medicare For All and remained silent on Florida’s Amendment 2 to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour (the amendment won with 62%). Both candidates had won primaries against progressives who did support Medicare For All as well as other progressive policies. Both were enthusiastically and publicly supported by Nancy Pelosi...

In Georgia, Jon Ossoff is down by 90,000 votes in his race against the Republican David Perdue. But 98,000 voters who voted for President failed to vote in this race. Republicans never neglect to vote. These blank ballots were from Biden voters.

Here is the real explanation for what happened in the congressional races. Beyond that, it’s safe to say that election commissioners in most of those 26 Repub-controlled states gamed the electronic voting machines to flip five percent of the votes, enough to retain the Senate and several congressional seats. But that still leaves Trumpus with over 65 million votes. Indeed, if we factor out California, the vote split nearly 50-50.

And millions of “moderates” were so unimpressed with Biden’s brand of liberalism that, even as they expressed their personal disgust with Trumpus, they still preferred conservative economic policies, male supremacy and outright racism.

In other words, the politics of fear always trump touchy-feely liberalism when it isn’t backed by strong, progressive policy. And the DNC, made immensely rich by its contributors, simply doesn’t care. As Chris Hedges writes:

If there is one group that deserves our deepest contempt it is the liberal elites, those who posture as the moral arbiters of society while abandoning every value they purportedly hold the moment they become inconvenient…Biden’s campaign was utterly bereft of ideas and policy issues, as if he and the Democrats could sweep the elections by promising to save the soul of America.

Johnstone adds:

There’s no point telling the Democratic establishment that Bernie would have won. They know Bernie would have won. That’s why they stopped him.

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Realistic cynicism vs reframing:

The likely situation in 2021 is a perfect, wet-dream scenario for the national security state and the oligarchy. Even if the Dems prevail in the Georgia runoffs and take control of the Senate, Biden will change nothing in foreign policy but will still be responsible for any major blunders. And if he faces a hostile Senate, he’ll fail to pass any useful domestic legislation, but he’ll be able to blame the Repubs rather than his own lack of vision. He’ll have a perfect excuse for not being able to stack the Supreme Court or push statehood for Puerto Rico or the District of Columbia.

And, since members of the Cabinet are subject to confirmation by the Senate, Mitch McConnell will ultimately decide who Biden can pick, and not only members of the Cabinet. A President gets some 4,000 appointments, but 1,200 of them must be confirmed by the Senate. Four years of ineffectiveness will lead to a Republican takeover of the House in 2024.

The reframe: The Dems win both runoffs in Georgia and flip the Senate. Biden (who has already pledged to be a one-term president) realizes that he’s too old to be intimidated by the corporate power brokers anymore, and actually does what the public wants. He cuts the defense budget and completely withdraws from the Middle East. He comes out for Medicare for All, appoints dozens of federal judgeships, stacks the Supreme Court – thus saving abortion and LGBTQ rights – and offers statehood to Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, thus ensuring the progressive agenda for decades.

Hey, why not? May it be so. Next, Part Sixteen: Are Americans are just plain stupid? If we are, why?

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America will have a Presidential President again in Joe Biden. – The New Yorker

How does that phrase land on your soul? Are you cheering the downfall of the fascist Trumpus (as I certainly am) and a step back from the precipice of irreversible climate change? Are you celebrating a return to “normalcy”? Or are you one of the millions of people who rejected him but apparently still supported his policies?

On 11/7 Biden was declared the winner – not officially, by the government, but by the four major media networks, who in our American mythology have asserted the superior moral function traditionally held by the clergy. On the 11th, I took a short walk around my Oakland neighborhood and saw twelve American flags hanging from front porches. Sure, it was Veteran’s Day, but most of them had been up for several days in a mass expression of that same mythology.

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Republican corruption: The oligarchs were also celebrating something – their tax breaks, their complicit Senate and their captive judiciary – and it began to appear that they no longer have any use for their useful idiot. Fox News was the first network to call Arizona for Biden (days before the others) and refused to retract that decision even when Trumpus personally called Rupert Murdoch. Laura Ingraham announced that Trumpus should accept defeat “with grace and composure,” while Fox suspended the horrid Jeanine Pirro for insisting that the election had been rigged.

Republican leaders criticized his frivolous lawsuits and piously insisted that all ballots should be counted! Most seemed to be content with the results, but Newt Gingrich continued stoking the QAnon-fueled fires of hatred and anti-semitism. The election was “a left-wing power grab, financed by people like George Soros…”

The national state of anxiety will continue at least until December 14th, when the electoral college votes to certify Biden’s election. Prior to that date, all states must officially select their electors by December 8th. Until then, any state legislature (26 of them have republican majorities) can theoretically override the popular vote and appoint any electors they like.

Trumpus was keeping notions like this alive with over 130 fundraising post-election emails (by 11/10), along with demands for recounts and dozens of bogus lawsuits (15 in Pennsylvania alone), so as to maintain the charged emotional state of his supporters, who, despite their privileges, continue to see themselves as victims. And he was doing this not because there are any real possibilities of changed results, but because, a con man to the end, he can still soak them for more money, with half of all donations (in fine print) going to pay down his election debt. And, as David Cay Johnston writes, Trumpus

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…will be in a position to exact revenge, a word that by his own account is his entire life philosophy... (through) firing officials, issuing pardons to friends and family and other acts Trump can do great damage between now and Inauguration Day, when his shield against criminal prosecution vanishes. He can also hobble the transition to a Biden administration.

However, everything changed by 11/8 when it became clear that both of Georgia’s Senate seats (and the Republican Senate majority) were still in play and would go to January runoffs. Republican leaders quickly reversed course and supported Trumpus’ refusal to concede, joining him in his attempt to arouse the faithful. On 11/10, Mike Pompeo announced, “There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.” At least four Republican Senate and House candidates who’d lost by wide margins also refused to concede. The deluge of lies had its effect: 70 percent of Republicans now say they don’t believe the election was free and fair (up from 35% only two weeks ago).

Trumpus Jr., Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and others brought the con job out into the open by reminding Republican-dominated state legislatures that they can still override the popular vote in their states. Can these “faithless electors” really do this? Snopes fact checkers think not:

Any state’s legislature could, theoretically, pass a law setting out a new method for designating presidential electors other than popular vote. However, they would have to enact such a law prior to Election Day; they could not retroactively change, or just disregard, their current laws to defy the will of voters. State election laws and regulations must be established and in place prior to Election Day — they cannot be improvised or instituted on an ad hoc basis after the fact.

David Sirota writes:

Republicans would have to get not one but many of the five Biden states with GOP legislatures to try to ignore the popular vote…Congress would also have a role to play deciding which electors to recognize, which gives the House Democratic majority some leverage. And it’s not clear that any of the maneuvers would hold up in court…

Snopes, however, adds a qualification:

… the law is only relevant to the extent that is it enforceable. If Republican-dominated legislatures were determined to flout their state laws regarding the designation of electors, and a Republican-controlled Senate were willing to facilitate the scheme, and a conservative judiciary were compliant in upholding the results, then such a plot might indeed succeed.

And if such madness were to reach the Supreme Court, it would encounter three justices who worked directly on the Bush v. Gore case that stole the 2000 election and led directly to the “War on Terror.”

Meanwhile, if the media are the moral gatekeepers of our society, the lawful gatekeeper is the nonpartisan General Services Administration, which is supposed to acknowledge the winner of the election and assist him financially in the transition. Its head, a Trumpus appointee, is refusing to do so.  

image16_custom-4c9be3a24736e8ef26663debc2219333ed960566.png?w=300&profile=RESIZE_710x                                                              Boston, 1976

But really, beyond the obvious moral and social justice issues and all the hard work and money spent, exactly why are people so emotionally moved at the possibility that Trumpus might steal the election? Perhaps the answer lies in the mythology of American innocence and the anthropology of American nationalism. Ever since the end of the Civil War, non-violent, rational, polite, good-natured acknowledgement of the transfer of power has been our quadrennial, ritual expression of our shared sense of national purpose.

At least for good-hearted liberals, who still maintain a naïve belief in the inviolability of our institutions (one of those institutions is education, and we’ll look at that in the next installment), to call the will of the voters into question in this manner is to question our entire identity. In this post-modern world, where ideology and grand narratives of meaning have mostly lost their attraction, just exactly who are we if not Americans, and who are Americans if we aren’t free and equal and if we don’t share our traditional democratic ideals and aspirations? Why, as believers in our national religion – Americanism – do we call ourselves patriots, unlike people in most other countries who use the more appropriate term – nationalists?

In their profoundly important book, Blood Sacrifice and the Nation, Carolyn Marvin and David Ingle write that Presidential elections are “contrived fertility rites of mating between the people and a leader” in which we periodically announce the rebirth of our democratic institutions, those social agreements that remind us of who we are and what makes us different from other people. The very fact of uncertainty “heightens ritual by investing it with consequence.” In this context, the flag

…has a visual power and presence for its believers that is comparable to the medieval crucifix…the sacred object of the religion of patriotism…It represents the sacrificed bodies of its devotees just as the cross, the sacred object of Christianity, represents the body sacrificed to a Christian god…

In Christianity the revivified totem is the risen Christ. In American nationalism the transformed totem is the soldier resurrected in the raised flag. On the basis of his sacrifice the nation is rejuvenated. As the embodiment of sacrifice, the flag has transforming power. Certain acts cannot be performed except in its presence. It must be kept whole and perfect, as holy things are…

…What counts for the survival of the group is what we will do in public on its behalf while congregants bear witness…The sanctity of national symbols is protected by treating them gesturally as sacred, even while we insist in language that they are not. And when the god commands it, we must perform the ritual sacrifice, war, that sustains the group.

I think it will be – a long time from now – an indication that this society has matured when we begin to see fewer national flags and more Earth flags.

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Is there a sense of anxiety expressed in our flag display? Here’s one more quote of theirs, on the significance of proper election procedure:

The losing candidate is an immediate sacrifice. The inaugural includes the ritual death of the old king whose willing submission defines democratic procedure.

It’s nearly a week since the networks called the election for Biden. And now it’s been several days since Trumpus cranked up the anxiety levels once again by not only refusing to concede, but by (for his own reasons, of course) pointing out that the Emperor has no clothes (It’s rigged!).

Now it occurs to me that those flags around my neighborhood are not only gestures of celebration. Perhaps they are prayer flags.

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Part Thirteen – El Dia de los Muertos

Republican Corruption: By claiming that Trumpus is leading in the polls and repeating his claims that he can only lose through foul play, conservative media are setting the stage for potential violence. Trumpus Jr. has called for “every able-bodied man and woman to join Army for Trump’s election security operation.” A private mercenary group, Atlas Aegis, has recruited former soldiers to watch polling places in Minnesota. Police pepper-sprayed Black people at a peaceful rally in North Carolina, literally preventing them from voting. Armed thugs threatened a Biden campaign bus, forcing cancellation of an event in Texas, and Trumpus praised them. Michigan’s Attorney General proclaimed a ban on guns at polling places, but sheriffs and police announced that they would refuse to enforce it. A caravan of Trumpus supporters temporarily blocked people from voting in Southern California. As if they needed any more encouragement, Trumpus bellowed:

That’s why they’re talking about the 25th Amendment, right? Three weeks. Three weeks in, Joe’s shot! Let’s go, Kamala, you ready? Most liberal person in the Senate. She makes Bernie Sanders look like a serious conservative.

Brett Kavanaugh handed down an opinion shamelessly justifying voter suppression and setting a precedent for the Supreme Court to intervene in a disputed election. The Republicans claim to have an army of lawyers on election day who already have over 300 lawsuits underway in 44 states to try to stop the counting of mail-in ballots.

Polling, the good news: Women are trending strongly to the left, contributing to the largest gender gap since they began to vote a hundred years ago. The bad news: Partially due to the Democrats’ incomprehensible refusal to fully value them, Latino men continue to trend more conservative, and Biden’s average lead among Latinos in Florida is 9 points lower than Hillary Clinton’s was at this time four years ago.

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Early voting, the good news: 95 million people have already voted, the majority of them Democrats. Over a quarter of them appear to be new or infrequent voters. Blacks and younger people are turning out in higher numbers than in 2016.

The bad news: We have no idea how many of those votes are being rejected. But we do know what Greg Palast has been telling us. Nearly seventeen million Americans – one in twelve of all previously registered voters – have been purged from the voter rolls, and many of them have never been informed of the fact. What we’ll never know is how many people have stood or will stand in line for hours only to be surprised to learn that they will not be allowed to vote:

In total, no less than 5,872,857 ballots were cast and never counted in 2016. In addition, a minimum of 1,982,071 voters were blocked from casting their ballots. That is a total of 7,854,928 votes and voters left uncounted.

According to the US Civil Rights Commission, the chance your vote will be disqualified as “spoiled” is 900 percent more likely if you’re Black than if you’re white. As I’ve been arguing from my series on that election, the only way we’ll be able to gauge the extent of the voter suppression and the computer fraud is to carefully study the discrepancy between the official results and the exit polls.

Exit polls are the State Department’s own “gold standard” used to measure the honesty of – and in several cases – decertify elections in other countries, such as Nicaragua and Uganda. Our own Agency for International Development (a well-known front for the CIA) has stated: “A discrepancy between the aggregated choices reported by voters and the official results may suggest, but not prove, that results have been tampered with.” Indeed.

George W. Bush was never elected President. In 2000, exit polls gave Al Gore the win in Florida. In 2004 they gave John Kerry the win in Ohio, but its Secretary of State had complete control of the electronic voting machines and almost certainly flipped the vote, giving the election to Bush. Do you remember how exit polls showed Kerry with a huge lead that mysteriously evaporated in the evening – after the polls closed? Do you remember how, at almost exactly the same moment, the U.S. refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Ukrainian election – because of the exit polls?

So how, asks Palast, could these professinal statisticians with decades of experience get exit polls so wrong? Answer: they didn’t. The polls in Florida in 2000 were accurate. That’s because exit pollsters can only ask, “How did you vote?” What they don’t ask, and can’t, is, “Was your vote counted?”

Wisconsin, by the way, uses machines that have been banned in California precisely because they are easy to tamper with. Other machines come with special “ballot protection” software to prevent this sort of thing. But in 2004, Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell gave specific instructions to disable that software.

In 2016 exit polls were conducted in 28 states. In 23 of them the discrepancies between the exit polls and the vote count favored Trump. In 13 of them those discrepancies exceeded the margin of error.  

In a week or two, we may have to recall that Edison Research, the company that conducts exit polling for the mainstream media, has admitted that it massages its exit poll data once official vote counts have been released to align the exit poll numbers with the electronic vote totals. Indeed, the whole argument about vote flipping is possible only because researchers have been able to post those exit polls before Edison can change them.

May this not be necessary. May this election be a step back from the precipice of irreversible climate change. May Biden win so early and by such a wide margin – despite the millions of Democratic votes that will not be counted – that neither right-wing mobs, nor right-wing lawyers, nor the Supreme Court can contest the results. And, despite his own history, may he respond to the real needs of suffering people. It could happen, all of it.

If it doesn’t happen, check the exit poll discrepancies where Republicans control the vote counting apparatus. Watch how quickly the Democrats blame their own left wing. Watch how the pollsters blame their mistakes on “hidden Trump voters.” Notice how soon the New York Times recommends that next time, the Democrats should move further to the center. And check your belief in the myth of American innocence.

In the meantime, check how the last-minute, high-rolling gamblers are betting, and what Trumpus’ “liaison for Christian policy,” Pastor Frank Amedia is predicting:

God has heard the prayer of repentance from this nation and God’s people. He told us the other night while we we’re praying, five plus five…‘If we just add 5 percentage points to every state, to every senator, and to the president, and take away five from the opposition, from those who are not pro-life, who are not lined up with the kingdom of God, that’s 10. Ten is the fullness of God, five plus five.

He also predicts that if Biden wins (moo it be so),

Wait until animalism (sic) becomes acceptable and somebody can marry a cow and have perverse sex with them. You think I’m laughing. That’s what’s going to come.

Read more…

Could you imagine if I lose? I’m not going to feel so good. Maybe I’ll have to leave the country…I could raise more money. I would be the world’s greatest fundraiser, but I just don’t want to do it. – Trumpus, 10/15

Existing emotional instability or psychotic tendencies may be aggravated by corticosteroids. – Warning label for Dexamethasone, Trumpus’ anti-Covid medicine.

Thank you so much for your leadership. – Diane Feinstein to Lindsay Graham, concluding the Amy Coney Barrett hearing.

I am the least racist person in this room. – Trumpus, second debate

Republican Corruption: Trumpus continued to play the old Nazi strategy, accusing his opponents of things that the Republicans themselves are doing or planning to do, especially voter fraud. He mocked Biden for vowing to “listen to the scientists”; accused him of leading an “organized crime family”; demanded his arrest along with that of Obama and the Clintons; called Kamala Harris a “monster”; insulted Dr. Fauci (“a disaster”), reporters (“criminal” and “a radical left Democrat”), CNN (“bastards”) and Michigan governor Gretchen Witmer, refusing to condemn the militia terrorists who had planned to kidnap her.

The Vice-Presidential debate revealed little other than, as Fair.org wrote, “You can’t have a real debate if one party refuses to follow the rules” – such as actually answering the questions – and moderators can’t or won’t enforce them. It did reveal that Pence – and, soon after, Amy Coney Barrett – like their boss, would not commit to supporting a peaceful transfer of power.

California Republicans installed bogus ballot drop-off boxes and refused to remove them. USPS agents raided the home of a QAnon-supporting postal worker and found a massive amount of undelivered mail. The Postal Service itself still hasn’t reversed its election mail slowdown, despite multiple court orders. Sheldon Adelson, whose company had received $700 million in tax cuts, donated another $75 million to Trumpus.

The Supreme Court: Since Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation was a foregone conclusion, the least the Democratic Senators might have done was ask serious questions that she couldn’t avoid answering, and they didn’t. The broader issue is what a Biden presidency and a Democratic Senate might do to offset the majority of reactionaries on the court. So far, Biden has allowed Trumpus to set the terms, accusing him of planning to “pack the court.” The real issue, however, is that for three decades or more, the Republicans have done exactly that, from the Supreme down through the various levels of federal judgeships. Mitch McConnell blocked over a hundred of Obama’s nominations. This contributed to a long-term situation in which all but six of the 114 justices to sit on the court have been white men. Trumpus has filled 200 judicial vacancies with 85% white and 76% male appointees. Today, nearly 60% of all sitting federal judges are white men.

Early Voting, The Good News: The well-publicized news of Republican voter suppression tactics may cause some people to stay home in despair. But in the short run, these plans appear to have backfired, motivating vast numbers of people to vote early. Over fifty million have endured the long waits to cast their ballots in numbers that dwarf all previous elections, and it appears that the great majority are Democrats. 

The Bad News: No one knows how many people leave without voting because they can’t tolerate the long lines, caused by the fact that Republicans have closed 1,688 polling places in the last six years, primarily in minority neighborhoods. Over five million Americans remain disenfranchised and unable to vote.

In several places, those who remain in line have endured insults and threats not seen since the Jim Crow era. In Memphis, a poll worker was fired for turning away early voters wearing Black Lives Matter shirts. A Miami policeman packed a gun and wore a Trumpus face mask inside a polling place. In primarily Black and Hispanic East Dallas only one in six voting machines were working. In Virginia, Trumpus thugs tried to obstruct people from entering a polling site. This was clearly a dry-run for November 3rd.

Democratic Corruption: Dianne Feinstein praised Lindsay Graham’s leadership of the Barrett hearings, going so far as to hug him. Was this an ironic gesture or just what it looked like – one old conservative acknowledging that she shares 80% of her values with another? Or, more ominously, did her hug reveal Biden’s actual priorities? In September, he had chirped, “I’m not opposed to the justice…She seems like a very fine person.” Perhaps even more ominously, it was reported than Biden was vetting various Republicans for positions in his post-Trumpus cabinet.

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The role of the FBI: Trumpus attempted to smear Biden with accusations about his son Hunter in a story with so many holes that even Fox News wouldn’t touch it. FBI Director Wray dismissed it as part of a Russian disinformation campaign. Given the prevalence of fake news, especially around the Russiagate narrative, I certainly don’t know if the allegations are bogus. The point is that here – and by breaking up the kidnapping attempt on Gretchen Wittmer – the FBI is, once again, getting involved in the election. We recall James Comey’s announcement that he was investigating Hillary Clinton’s emails just eleven days before the 2016 election. No one knows what any of this means. Anyone who says they do has their own agenda. But in broader terms, it fuels my own speculation that this election – like every election since at least 1964 – is essentially nothing more than a food fight between various elements within the ruling class. These are people who agree on 95% of foreign policy issues and 75% of domestic issues. These are people who are divided into those who prefer to provoke China and those who prefer to provoke Russia.

Do either of these guys really want to be elected? For Trumpus, see his “Maybe I’ll have to Leave the country” quote. As for Biden, see anything in the “Democratic corruption” section above.

An October Surprise? These things have happened with such regularity over the years that the phrase itself has attained cliché status. Every day now, minor surprises are assaulting us, but the really big one – provoking of a military confrontation with Iran remains a strong possibility. On October 9th Trumpus bellowed to Rush Limbaugh, “If you fuck around with us, if you do something bad to us, we are going to do things to you that have never been done before!”

Some of these October surprises may or may not have swayed earlier elections. But even talking about them can divert our attention from something more profound – the November Surprise of massive computer fraud in each of the 26 states that have Republican Secretaries of State. You may want to review my argument about this in Part One of this series, or in my discussion of the 2016 election. The discrepancies between the official results and the exit polls revealed then the extent of this criminal behavior, and they will next month as well.

1024px-party_affiliation_of_current_united_states_secretaries_of_state.svg_.png?w=300&profile=RESIZE_710x                                         Republican Secretaries of State in Red

Hidden Trumpers? Biden signs are everywhere in my city of Oakland, along with countless BLM signs, and zero Trumpus signs. However, Trumpus did receive around 5% of the vote here in 2016. We can assume that very few of them were cast in (primarily Black) West Oakland or in (primarily Brown) East Oakland. So most of those votes came from the more affluent white neighborhoods like mine. If we assume the same 5% this time, then it follows that perhaps a fifth of my neighbors will do so, and that many of them are either afraid or ashamed to advertise their preferences – or to even tell pollsters.

Their votes of course will be meaningless in calculating California’s electoral votes, just as Biden supporters in Mississippi might as well stay home. But this does bring up the question of what social scientists refer to as social desirability bias. And opinions vary. Right-wing sites like this one quote a survey finding that 11.7% of Republicans said they would not report their true opinions on telephone polls, compared to 5.4% of Democrats. 

Unsurprisingly, writers on liberal sites such as Ariel Edwards-Levy argue the opposite:

…researchers spent a lot of time in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential vote looking for evidence of a cadre of “shy Trump voters” big enough to swing an election. Most didn’t come away with much evidence…The most common version of the shy Trump voter theory rests on the idea of social desirability bias ― that a significant bloc of Trump voters was uncomfortable enough about sharing opinions with pollsters to either feign indecision or to lie about their preferences…we know that this isn’t a systematic issue for all polling on Republican candidates…If support for Trump was uniquely stigmatized, you’d expect him to outperform his polls more than other Republican candidates did theirs…Trump outperformed his estimates by an average 1.4 percentage points in 2016, compared with a virtually identical 1.3 points for GOP Senate candidates.

Jonah Goldberg concurs:

A postmortem by the polling industry went looking for significant numbers of SMAGAs and came up empty. If people were afraid to tell the truth to pollsters, there should have been a gap between results from polls conducted by humans and machines. There wasn’t.

Pollsters long ago debated the possibility of a “Bradley effect” in biracial elections, but conclusions are conflicted.

Can hidden Trumpers explain the discrepancies between the exit polls and the official results? Perhaps in Oakland, but not in most national elections for the last twenty years, unless we posit that Republicans have been dishonest with pollsters since long before Trumpus. A web search found little or no mention of “hidden Romney voters”, “hidden McCain voters” or “hidden Bush voters”, yet similar poll discrepancies were reported in all those elections (especially in 2004). And most certainly not in the 2020 Democratic primaries, where (as I showed in Part Three) these same discrepancies appeared between Biden and Sanders in state after state.

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Why am I dwelling on this? Because this was the way pollsters explained the discrepancies in 2016, when the Democrats gave a hundred million people no reason to vote for them, and it is the only argument against outright computer fraud, despite anecdotal statements by Democrats who saw their electronic votes switching to republican. (To be fair, Republican voters claimed exactly the opposite.)

After Trumpus’ electoral college victory I asked: Why, despite the polls favoring Clinton, did the vast majority of high-rolling, last-minute gamblers bet on Trump?

Yes, this was reported in the mainstream media, but no one seems to have paid it much attention, except for other gamblers…Did they think that the FBI revelations would sway large numbers of voters? Or did they know that millions of people would not be able to vote – or that their votes would not be counted? We might also ask, as Fitrakis and Wasserman do: “Those who dismiss such warnings as ‘conspiracy theory’ might confront this simple question: ‘How will the electronic vote count in the 2016 election be verified?’ The answer is simple: ‘It can’t be.’

There will most certainly be a November surprise, although it may not be large enough to overcome Biden’s lead, maybe only enough to ensure GOP dominance at local levels. If it does cause Biden to lose, the Dems and the MSM will blame the Left, and they will point to silent Trumpers to explain the inevitable poll discrepancies. Why won’t they bring up computer fraud? Because they do it themselves when they can get away with it. For some deeply insightful – and darkly funny – insight into whom to actually blame, read Lee Camp’s “Top 10 People to Blame if Joe Biden Loses (It’s Not The Left)”.

The polls, as we all know, show Biden with a large lead, and most gamblers agree. Quite a few of them, however, seem to be happy taking the odds. On this site, they’re betting on Trumpus. What do they know that we don’t?

I can’t end on such a sour note, so here’s Rebecca Solnit on the difference between optimism and hope:

The tricky thing about hope is to not confuse it with optimism. Optimism is confidence that you know the future and it requires nothing of you. It’s a mirror image of pessimism, which likewise assumes it knows the future, only pessimism’s future is dismal and not up to us either. Hope is a sense of possibility within the uncertainty of a future that does not yet exist, but that we are making by our actions…I’ve modified the slogan, hope for the best, prepare for the worst to: Hope and work for the best (and also be prepared to wrestle with the worst if it arises). You have to believe in the worst to diminish its chances of coming to pass. Maybe this time around we believe it because to some degree we’ve lived it.

Read more…

Part Seven: Responding to New Age Conspiracists

Who is he, who even were truth on his tongue, his way of speaking it would make truth almost as offensive as falsehood? –  Herman Melville

A fanatic is someone who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject. – Winston Churchill

In America the legacy of violent crusading is channeled through our unique emphasis on individualism, and, I would add, our narcissism: What is true for me, what saved my soul, is necessarily true for you as well, and it would save your soul as well. You should believe what I believe. This is the potent, underlying assumption of all religious proselytizers, because it serves to cover up their own ambivalence and anxiety. In other words, if they can convince you to accept Jesus (or Q), their own beliefs are validated.

Remembering Hillman: we are all psychologically Christian. This also explains the rigidity behind some of our secular disputes. The examples in middle class consumer culture are endless: clothing styles, therapy or exercise styles, doctors or healing modalities – and especially diet. What helped me with my problem would help you with your problem. Am I exaggerating? Consider your last Thanksgiving dinner conversation with a vegan relative you hadn’t seen in years, or if you prefer, an advocate of the paleo diet. When believers suggest — a little too often — that you would be better off converting to their way of thinking, this is a form of fanaticism. And it can only exist in a monotheistic universe where we assume only one correct way to be, and taken to its logical conclusion, it becomes jihad, or crusade. Ironically, fanatic derives from fanum (“temple, shrine, consecrated place”).

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I’ve been suggesting that critical thinking, or discrimination is the key. Not in the monotheistic sense that divides the chosen from the fallen, but discrimination in the Buddhist sense of clear comprehension of reality. So I’ve devised a somewhat poetic response to discrimination-challenged NACs:

1 – Admit that we are all gatekeepers. In 2005, Stephen Colbert coined the word “truthiness.” He said, “We’re not talking about the truth; we’re talking about something that seems like truth — the truth we want to exist.” No matter how far out on the margins anyone is, there is always someone further out, and we each determine where the boundaries are. Behind the justifiable but still monotheistic hunger for Truth, we find a deeper but smaller truth, the Pagan wisdom that there is no Truth, only various truths. Or, as the great physicist Niels Bohr said: “The opposite of a correct statement is a falsehood, but the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”

2 – Believe nothing; entertain possibilities. Thanks to Caroline Casey for this insight. We are talking about stories that could be true, or not. Like all myths, they are stories we tell about other people but which in fact – always – are about ourselves. We project the stories we need to hear about ourselves onto celebrities (our substitutes for the pagan gods), or upon the shadow of celebrity, those who will not reveal their identities, or those who claim to have knowledge of the shadows. Only in our demythologized age, when myths no longer serve the deep needs of the soul, do stories about truth become concretized, literalized into affirmations of belief. Indigenous people who are still held in living mythologies and rituals understand that stories are meant to provoke increasingly deeper questions, to drop us into the work of the soul, not to provide simplistic answers. “That is how he grows,” says Rilke, “by being defeated, decisively, by constantly greater beings.” Stories are meant to entertain us. As I write in Chapter Ten:

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Our primary leisure activity is entertainment, being passively entertained. Certainly, we deserve relaxation and restoration. But why does it seem so unrewarding; and despite this, why do we constantly repeat the experience, as if something might change and our longing be fulfilled?

Entertain means “to hold together.” But what does “together” refer to, subject or object? Two or more subjects can hold something in common. Or, one subject could hold two or more objects. Finally, a community, several subjects, could hold mutually exclusive concepts – the tension of the opposites – in a ritual container such as tragic drama, and suffer together. I suggest that the original meaning of entertainment was ritual renewal of the community though shared suffering. (Ancient) Athenian audiences did exactly that; viewing the clash of unbearable contradictions, they held that tension and wept together. They emerged spent but renewed, purged of their anxieties for a while.

3 – Follow the money. In searching for truths in America one’s first question must always be Cui bono?  Who profits? Other ways to frame it would be: Does this theory come from the bottom up or from the top down? Whom does it serve? Does it merely appear to come from the bottom up? If you are getting your political information from “wellness influencers” are they also selling stuff on their websites?

Anchoring ourselves in this perspective, we automatically align ourselves with the masses of suffering humanity. Then it becomes easy to see that behind most so-called “populist” movements of the Right are some very wealthy people. Quite simply, there would be no Tea Party – and hence, no Trumpus presidency or QAnon – without the massive infusions of money provided by the Koch brothers and other billionaires.

To take their bait, once such sponsors are revealed, and still accept the proposition that the mega-rich have anything in common with these people besides their racism is to lack any discrimination. But to accept the challenge to discriminate, it becomes possible to realize that the only Deep State that Trumpus is trying to destroy are agencies that regulate his friends’ businesses.

4 – Judge a tree by its fruit. Even if at this late date you still harbor notions that Trumpus is out to destroy the Deep State, just consider the scoundrels he has always surrounded himself with, from his original mentor Roy Cohn to New York and Russian mobsters to the corrupt bankers and anti-regulators dedicated to serving Big Business. For a while, David Icke’s website featured a banner reading, “President Trump needs your help. Sign the petition to build the wall!”

To judge what the tree really thinks, look at what other trees think of it. During the 2018 Florida Gubernatorial campaign, the Republican Ron DeSantis made outrageous public statements but denied their obvious racist nature in debates with the Democrat Andrew Gillum, who countered with:

…he’s got neo-Nazis helping him out in the state. He has spoken at racist conferences…I’m not calling Mr. Desantis a racist. I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.

Similarly, it doesn’t matter if Icke purports to hold certain progressive views; anti-Semites love him, and that’s all we ought to know.

5 – Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Just as there is no overarching, grand Truth, no one is perfect except for the archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, and this is the source of the cult of celebrity which so characterizes our age.

So we can’t expect our purveyors of information to precisely share our versions of reality. At the same time, a certain general consistency in philosophy ought to produce general consistency in specific views. Consider Rand Paul, who occasionally criticizes America’s imperial wars from the libertarian perspective, but who would also ban all abortions. Can someone favor banning a woman’s freedom of choice – choice! – and still claim that they love freedom? Or is that freedom simply freedom from taxes? It’s all about discrimination.

Of course, elements within the Bush administration had prior knowledge of the 9-11 attacks, but that doesn’t mean that they take their orders from Reptile people. The fact that Alex Jones questions the official narrative – or that he gives Dr. Andrew Wakefield airtime opportunities to respond to his “debunkers” is no reason to believe other claims of his (Film of the Moon landings were faked! Democrats and Communists plot “white genocide” attacks!) Jones’ major product, like that of all right-wing conspiracy theorists from the early Puritans to Tucker Carlson, is fear. And his major cures range from scapegoating Black people to nutritional supplements and gold investments (follow that money again).

6 – People do cruel things because they are cruel, sick – and, ultimately, traumatized – people, not as representatives of racial or ethnic groups. Life is hard because rich people want to be even richer, and they don’t care about you. All mass shooters act on their own, even if the vast majority of them are white males with similar, right-wing views. This was true long before QAnon, and it’s true now. And it’s all about white privilege.

At this point, my good-hearted friend will ask, “What about George Soros?” His name is often at the center of the connect-the-dots charts, which emphasize his Jewish identity first and his billionaire status second. My friend has probably never heard of Jewish right-wing billionaires such as Paul Singer, Bernard Marcus or Sheldon Adelson, who just gave Trumpus another $75 million. Nor does he realize that the Soros narrative – and the huge uptick in worldwide anti-Semitism associated with it – was created by two long-time Republican (and, yes, Jewish) dirty tricksters, who ironically were also advisors to Benjamin Netanyahu. You can’t make this stuff up.

7 – The Lyndon Johnson trick in reverse, as told by Hunter S. Thompson:

…(in) one of Lyndon Johnson’s early campaigns in Texas. The race was close and Johnson was getting worried. Finally he told his campaign manager to start a massive rumor campaign about his opponent’s life-long habit of enjoying carnal knowledge of his own barnyard sows. “Christ, we can’t get away calling him a pig-fucker,” the campaign manager protested. “Nobody’s going to believe a thing like that.” “I know,” Johnson replied.  “But let’s make the sonofabitch deny it.”

In reversing this tale, we recall the line from Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Do actual non-racists ever have to deny accusations that they are racists.

Trumpus: “I’m the least racist person anybody is going to meet.”

Icke: “I’m one of the least racist people on Earth…”

To be fair, we should note that Icke, unlike Trumpus, has consistently pointed out that he is an anti-Zionist. And this issue drops us back into the false equivalency muck, where Republicans – and, sadly, most elected Democrats – accuse even pacifist critics of Israel of being anti-Semitic and continue to demonize the BDS movement. So, referring back to Andrew Gillum’s statement (“I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist”), we can only ask whether admitted racists consider Icke an ally. In this sense, his own beliefs are irrelevant. And would an articulate anti-Zionist ever have anything whatsoever in common with such a pro-Israeli imperialist as Trumpus?

The only thing that broken clocks have in common with each other are their brokenness.

8 – It’s not my circus, not my monkey. We have to ask ourselves: Do I really need to spend any more time obsessing with this stuff? Is it doing me, my loved ones or the world any good at all? Why am I concerned with global (or inter-galactic) issues over which, admittedly, I have no control, when I could actually have some influence in local issues? And: why would these groups be going to such elaborate and expensive lengths to control the world when to a very great extent, they (as corporate monoliths) already do?

As Jeremy Lent writes, there are in fact corporate conspiracies that we don’t need to explain by reference to reptile people. And the most critical of them all is the heavily funded refusal to acknowledge the threat of climate change and the very real possibility of extinction.

Discriminate! Yes, 5G may be dangerous, because no cellular transmission technologies have been adequately tested – not because evil scientists created it to enhance the coronavirus and justify a one-world government. When you feel that sense of certainty coming on, take a breath.

Certainty is a rigidly mythic position, and opposites are surprisingly similar. To leap from one certainty to another skips the holy ground of uncertainty, of not knowing, of humility, into which genuinely new information can come. What unites the pundits of all persuasions is their certainty. This is not to patronize but to challenge those who cleave to meta-narratives that clearly no longer serve them. In the 20th century we have seen plenty of evidence that those who have done so often reached the depths of profound disillusionment, as in this true story. In archetypal terms, Hillman referred to this experience as betrayal, and he saw it as a prelude to soul-work. Or, as Rumi says:

When school or mosque, tower or minaret get torn down,

Then dervishes may begin their community.

Only when faithfulness turns to betrayal and betrayal into trust

Can any human being become part of the truth.

But betrayal and disillusionment do not necessarily lead to increased self-awareness. Too often, popular culture offers us another attractive meta-narrative or ideology to fill the void. However, at any moment – and New Age people ought to understand this – we can actually choose to disengage ourselves from belief systems and courageously ground ourselves in this post-modern, very uncertain world. Then we can “believe nothing – entertain possibilities.”

Part Eight: Reframing

…he is constantly being squeezed between the world and his idea of the world. Better to have a broken head – why surrender his corner on the truth? Better just to go crazy. – Stephen Dobyns

All things depend on each other. Everything breathes together. – Plotinus

Take a deep breath, feel like you’re choking. Everything is broken. – Bob Dylan

When we encounter betrayal or disillusionment and refuse the opportunity for soul work, we can easily leap from devotion to disgust, as our love-hate relationship with celebrities reveals. But then we are likely to search for a new devotion. It’s been said that there are no more virulent anti-communists than former leftists (Lyndon LaRouche and David Horowitz come to mind), or more vocal anti-Catholics than former Catholics. And if another ideology doesn’t fill the void, substance abuse can be an overwhelming attraction, as in the story I posted above.

If we pay attention – if we can discriminate – we may see that life always presents the need and the opportunity to reframe our obsessions. How do we do that? By looking past the literal to the symbolic. If we survive the era of Trumpus, we may well discover a new meta-narrative. Perhaps it will have something to do with the return of the Goddess, or the Whole Earth, as I speculate in Chapter 12 of my book. But any new story can quickly become yet another belief system.

As we accelerate the return from monotheistic back to pagan thinking, we may discover something entirely different. Rather than connecting the dots to justify our helplessness in a grand narrative of control, we may well begin to pursue mini-narratives in the form of questions, such as: What have I been called to do? What gift must I manifest, without which the world would be less for? What god or goddess did I come here to serve? What is my responsibility to the other world, and to those who come after me?

The year 2020 began with a virus that attacks our ability to breathe and progressed with a grisly murder in which a policeman prevented a Black man from breathing. In California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona and Colorado, massive forest fires have made it a year in which we all have to struggle to take a healthy breath. We can only breathe together in virtual spaces.

Cultural survival may require us to cook the word “conspire” down to its essence – to breathe together – and then reframe it further, into the Hawaiian ritual of “Ha.” This is a mutual greeting that recognizes and welcomes the Other. Two persons press the bridges of their noses together, inhale and exchange the breath of life. To ancient Hawaiians the breath was the key to good health and possessed mana (spiritual power). On their deathbeds, elders often passed down wisdom to their chosen successors with this ritual. May we all aspire to creating the kind of society that inspires our children rather than condemning them to more of the same.

And we can also reframe the idea of gatekeeper, from one who figuratively stands at the entrance – the threshold – to the world of acceptable discourse, charged with the responsibility of maintaining its borders and deciding who is pure enough to be admitted. In many indigenous societies some people straddle two worlds and mediate between them. Such people, comfortable in liminality, serve the community by guiding people in transition from one state to another. Many Native Americans use the term “two-spirit” to describe persons of unconventional sexual or gender orientation, while in West Africa words describing them actually translate as “gatekeeper.” Sobonfu Somé explains:

Without gatekeepers, there is no access to other worlds…They are mediators between the two genders…There are many gates that link a village to other worlds. The only people who have access to all these gates are the gatekeepers…They have one foot in all the other worlds and other foot here…Without them, the gates to the other world would be shut. On the other side of these gates lies the spirit world…Gatekeepers are in constant communication with beings who live there, who have the ability to teach us how to deal with ritual…Gatekeeping is part of one’s life purpose, announced before birth and developed through rigorous initiatory training to ensure that its power is not misused.

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So let’s imagine a culture that invites a return to a ritual relationship with the Earth, with ancestors, with Spirit, with strangers; a culture that perceives the Other not as a threat but as one who arrives bearing gifts; a culture that respects the wisdom of the past but also welcomes the young and those on the margins. Imagine some people being called from birth – from before birth – to heal the divide between worlds so as to welcome the potential of each person, including the potential to re-imagine the world, rather than to exclude those who question inherited Truths. Let’s imagine a world not dominated by the Western, crusading, monotheistic urge to enforce those Truths on others, but one that appreciates these insights from the far East:

Since everything is but an apparition,

Perfect in being what it is, having nothing

to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection,

One may well burst out in laughter.  – Long Chen Pa

If you love the sacred and despise the ordinary,

You are still bobbing on the ocean of delusion.  – Lin-Chi

Leave your front door and your back door open.

Allow your thoughts to come and go.

Just don’t serve them tea. – Shunryu Suzuki

Read more…

Part Five: Save the Children!

I see it (the New Age movement) fundamentally shaped by an impulse to the irrational…it seems to lack any critical evaluation of itself. – Terence McKenna 

The psychotic drowns in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight. – Joseph Campbell

In March of 2020, a book with no stated author – QAnon: An Invitation to the Great Awakening – entered the list of the top 75 of all books recently sold on Amazon. It alleged that Hollywood celebrities and top Democrats rape, torture and murder large numbers of children, often to drain “adrenochrome,” a substance that allegedly keeps them alive.

In August NBC described a group that had formed in July:

“Freedom for the Children” has organized more than 60 rallies in 26 states and Canada…local media coverage of the events has been widespread and credulous, almost never mentioning the events’ QAnon connections. Indeed, many of the signs seen at rallies ask why the media is reporting on COVID-19 or Black Lives Matter protests instead of “the real pandemic” of missing children.

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Most of the organizers and attendees appear to be women. Annie Kelly, who studies digital extremism, notes:

…there’s something about QAnon that makes it stand out in the world of Trump-adjacent online groups: Its ranks are populated by a noticeably high percentage of women. Many of the congressional candidates who have voiced their support for QAnon are women…Even more alarming are the believers who have demonstrated their willingness to hurt people…Plenty of far-right conspiracy theorists, such as the neo-Nazi believers in “white genocide,” make similar claims about defending children but cannot point to such gender diversity across their ranks. So what is going on?

…At the heart of QAnon lies an undeniably frightening ethos that demands harsh punishment, even execution, for its ever-growing list of political enemies. History teaches us that sex panics do not end well for society’s most vulnerable minorities…(Rejecting QAnon) becomes more personally and politically difficult if the theory’s adherents look less like our traditional conception of fascists and more like ordinary concerned mothers taking a stand for child sex abuse victims.

Kaitlyn Tiffany (“The Women Making Conspiracy Theories Beautiful”) claims that Instagram is a major site of misinformation:

Instagram—more than any other major social platform—shows each of its users exactly what they want to see. It’s a habitual, ritualistic space where people (like me) go for examples of how to be happy and well liked…Time spent there is reciprocal, a never-ending exchange of sweet words and the heart icons that are the only possible way to instantly respond to a piece of content on the platform. Instagram is women’s work, as it demands skills they’ve historically been compelled to excel at: presenting as lovely, presenting as desirable, presenting as good, safe, nonthreatening. All of which, of course, are valuable appearances for a dangerous conspiracy theory to have.

She quotes Becca Lewis, who studies online political subcultures,

It’s a huge misconception that disinformation and conspiracy theorizing happens only in fringe spaces, or dark corners of the internet…much of this content is being disseminated by super popular accounts with absolutely mainstream aesthetics.

White-supremacist internet personalities use similar tactics. Their Instagram accounts may be completely free of extremist rhetoric and dedicated instead to dreamy engagement photos and romantic vacations. Then they draw followers to YouTube, where they tell how they’d come to believe in various white-nationalist, far-right causes, and conspiracy theories.

If you’re able to make this covetable, beautiful aesthetic and then attach these conspiracy theories to it, that normalizes the conspiracy theories in a very specific way that Instagram is particularly good for…Of course, it’s hard to say what’s orchestrated and what’s genuine on Instagram. But the effect is the same…

With the election approaching, this business is happening in real time, and much may already be outdated by the time I post it.

By August 2020, the major social media platforms realized the nature of this particular con and limited the reach of most Q-derived sites (along, we note, with many legitimate progressive sites). Quickly, Q leaders urged their followers to drop the “QAnon” label and instead publicize their crusade against the secret cabal of baby-eating politicians.

The anonymous Q account…wrote an uncharacteristically unambiguous message to adherents last week: “Deploy camouflage. Drop all references re: ‘Q’ ‘Qanon’ etc. to avoid ban/termination…_censorship install. Algos [sniffers] bypass.”

Some high-profile QAnon influencers with hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers took down their accounts and scrubbed any mentions of QAnon to avoid the ban. Other accounts were able to amplify and co-opt #SaveOurChildren and its related language by creating a large and unprecedented flurry of posts and activity. “This is not about pedophilia,” said Whitney Phillips, co-author of the book, You Are Here: A Field Guide for Navigating Polarized Speech, Conspiracy Theories and Our Polluted Media Landscape. “This is not about child protection. This is about a conspiracy theory that’s trying to couch itself in other terms to get more people involved and sympathetic…”

By September, because it takes a con-man to know a con, Trumpus’ own people quickly got into the act, announcing that the federal government would award over $100 million in grants to target human trafficking. The problem is real, of course, but the announcement was clearly pure politics. However, in an ironic twist on the concern for the children, some Q followers are endangering actual children. Will Sommer writes:

Police and court records have lately revealed a…clandestine network comprising QAnon conspiracy theorists, fringe legal figures…and even Republican politicians…This network has allegedly encouraged and inspired other QAnon believers, especially parents, to commit crimes, including kidnapping…often by targeting parents who have lost custody of their children or fear they will.

Timothy Holmseth’s profile grew this spring, when he became the leading “source” for viral claims that tens of thousands of abused “mole children” had been rescued from underground prisons underneath New York City…While on the run, Holmseth recorded a video urging his fans to shoot child protective services staffers who come to their homes…postulating that Child Protective Services are abducting children for sex-crime networks raises the risks for agency workers, the families, and the children involved in the cases.

Q-sponsored pedophilia obsession is a massive con, fabricated by right-wingers to manipulate large numbers of people, a majority of them female followers of New Age wellness influencers. On the other hand, the Jeffrey Epstein story reminds us that child sexual abuse certainly does occur among the powerful.

But the deeply emotional obsession with it reveals projection and or displacement on many levels. So we can’t stop here. We need to look into the historical/sociological, psychological, political and ultimately the mythological factors that make so many Americans uniquely susceptible to these machinations.

Part Six: Why Are Americans So Obsessed with Pedophilia?

It is well that war is so terrible. We would grow too fond of it. – Robert E. Lee

You can’t stop me. I spend 30,000 men a month. – Napoleon

I would rather have a dead son than a disobedient one. – Martin Luther

Anybody who tells you that he has some way of leading you to spiritual enlightenment is like somebody who picks your pocket and sells you your own watch. – Alan Watts

We need to address this question from four perspectives:

1 – Psychology

It is certainly possible that some NACs who may be high on empathy and low on boundaries, especially women, are abuse survivors themselves, and that the highly publicized pedophilia within the Catholic Church has triggered old memories of trauma for thousands of people. However, outside the safe, ritual container of therapy, the urge to reveal the truth may be overcome by denial and projection. Psychologist David Bakan writes, “Some things are simply too terrible to think about if one believes them. Thus one does not believe them in order to make it possible to think about them.”

These ego defenses also make it possible to ignore their loyal support of Trumpus, a man who brags about abusing women. Another ego defense – idealization – is the way we keep the secret that our entire culture is built upon the symbolic sacrifice of our children, a theme I’ll return to below.

2 – History and sociology

Conspiracies centering on the vulnerability of children are neither new nor distinctly American. Wild claims of Jews killing Christian children and using their blood in rituals – the “blood libel” – date back to at least the 12th century, and long before that the Roman authorities accused Christians themselves of performing similar rites. So we certainly ought to ask why child-abuse paranoia explodes into public consciousness at certain moments?

ritualmord-legende.jpg?w=924&profile=RESIZE_710x                                                       The Jewish Blood Libel

In the 1980s the McMartin preschool accusations, with their similarities to last year’s “Pizzagate” narrative, provoked a national spectacle during which scores of people were accused – wrongly, it turned out – of sex crimes against children. The continuities between these two cases suggest a broader explanation for pedophile conspiracies: they’re an outgrowth of reactionary politics.

Richard Beck locates the roots of the McMartin conspiracy theory in the social progress of the previous decade, particularly – and ironically – in the gains won by women. Ali Breland writes that the idea of day care has always held a prominent place in right-wing demonology, that it was a communist plot to destroy the traditional family:

In 1971, President Richard Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Child Development Act, which would’ve established a national day-care system…By the time Judy Johnson came forward in 1983 with allegations that a teacher at the McMartin preschool had molested her child, the country had been primed to assume the worst by more than a decade of child-care fearmongering.

It wasn’t just the movement of women into the workplace that created the conditions for a reactionary panic. There were other cultural forces at work. The anti-rape campaign of the 1970s, historian Philip Jenkins writes in Moral Panic, had “formulated the concepts and vocabulary that would become integral to child-protection ideology,” in particular a “refusal to disbelieve” victims. The repressed-­memory movement of that era had created a therapeutic consensus surrounding kids’ claims of molestation: “Be willing to believe the unbelievable,” as the self-help book The Courage to Heal put it…And the anti-cult movement of the late 1970s had raised the specter of satanic cabals engaging in human sacrifice and other sinister behavior…

If women’s entry into the workplace in the latter half of the 20th century triggered deep anxieties about the decay of traditional gender roles and the family unit, in the 21st century it was same-sex marriage, growing acceptance of transgender rights, and the seeming cultural hegemony of a social justice agenda.

The new accusations have shifted from individual, male preschool teachers to an entire class of liberals and globalists, many of whom (Epstein, Soros, Dershowitz, Weinstein) are Jews. Chip Berlet writes: “In all Western culture, you can argue that all conspiracy theories, no matter how diverse, come from the idea of the Jews abducting children.” 

But QAnon has added a new and more secular factor, as Amanda Marcotte writes:

Evangelical Christianity played the same role for conservatives in the pre-Trump years, letting them feel holy and moral despite openly backing politicians who promoted immoral policies. But it came with a bunch of downsides, like being made to feel guilty for premarital sex, divorce or even (as Falwell Jr. found out) drinking and partying. With QAnon, you get to sleep in on Sunday and have all the sex you like, without giving up that pious assertion of moral superiority or the presumption of secret knowledge. 

Again, we can’t help but notice the unmistakable smell of money – and the con man, as Eddie Kim writes:

…“Save Our Children Initiative” is fighting to “end sex trafficking” by…asking for sponsorships and selling a $35 T-shirt…revenue from the shirts will go to an unspecified “charitable organization” that is “supporting funding towards increasing the survivors [sic].”…the founders don’t appear to have any experience in child advocacy work; one is a Trump-supporting fitness and lifestyle influencer, while the other runs a custom apparel-printing shop…

My essay “The Con Man” traces the intersections of religion, capitalism, consumerism and the unique confluence of optimism and naivete in the American psyche: “No con man can succeed without a ‘mark,’ however, and this is where American myth re-enters the conversation.” The source of any con man’s power to trick us comes from our own willingness to be tricked. /

3 – Politics and Morality

Many of the Q supporters obsessed with pedophilia have undoubtedly emerged from the same evangelical ranks that have crusaded for decades against abortion rights while simultaneously voting against programs intended to care for poor children (who, in public perception, are often perceived as brown or black). This privileged, even willful ignorance allows them to resolve the cognitive dissonance that arises from the conflict between the legitimate desire to lessen suffering on the one hand, and outright racism on the other.

Beyond their own dissonance, their concerns about child abuse and trafficking are a deep insult to Black people, whose ancestors really were raped and trafficked in the hundreds of thousands; to Native Americans, whose ancestors were stolen in the thousands as children and confined to prisons, otherwise known as “boarding schools;” to contemporary Native American women (at least 5,600 of whom the FBI listed as “disappeared” last year); to Japanese Americans, whose ancestors were sent as children to concentration camps, otherwise known as “relocation camps;” and to the thousands of Latinx children currently held in cages by ICE and the Border Patrol because their parents illegally entered the U.S. looking for work or legally applying for asylum.

Ironically, the Q-inspired paranoia has motivated so many good-hearted people to become active that they actually get in the way of activists who fight the real problem by clogging up phone lines, confusing their fundraising efforts, and interfering with social media campaigns. 

4 – Mythology

History reflects mythology. The misplaced concern about pedophilia rests upon and has re-energized an immensely old story in which boys are groomed by their elders to offer up their bodies in the great ritual sacrifice of war. Here are two essays of mine that refer to it: Redeeming the World and The Hero Must Die.

The myth of the killing of the children is our culture’s most fundamental mythic narrative, as I describe in Chapter Six. We idealize the family as the ultimate “safe container.” Yet we experience the breakdown of myth and the loss of initiation rituals most directly in the crimes and betrayals that adults inflict upon children. Myth suggests that it has always been this way – or at least since the triumph of patriarchy.

Child sacrifice is a common Old Testament theme. Jehovah accused the Israelites: “… you slaughtered my children and presented them as offerings!” Like the pagans, they “shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the altars of Canaan…”

Most significantly, Abraham – father of Judeo-Christian-Moslem monotheism – prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac to prove his loyalty to God. Bruce Chilton writes, “Different versions of Genesis 22 circulated in an immensely varied tradition called the Aqedah or ‘Binding’ of Isaac in Rabbinic sources and – with key changes – in both Christian and Islamic texts.”

From our point of view, it doesn’t matter that Jehovah stopped the sacrifice, only that Abraham was willing. Indeed, in some later versions of the myth, Isaac was indeed killed, and he came to embody the only sacrifice acceptable to God. Generally, however, the patriarchs couldn’t openly admit that they were capable of such barbarism, so they projected child sacrifice onto the gods – such as Moloch – of other people.

moloch-and-his-minions.jpg?w=915&profile=RESIZE_710x                                                                      Moloch

In the Christian version, this same God confirmed the centrality of this most fundamental theme of Western culture when he abandoned his only son. When the crucified Jesus asked, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” he was quoting the ancient Psalm 22, which acknowledged centuries of abuse, betrayal and the profound depression – or unquenchable desire for vengeance – that results. Whether Hebrew or Greek, patriarchs feared rivals among their subjects or children, pursued the most terrible of initiations and slaughtered the innocent, while the survivors became killers themselves.

These stories are absolutely central to Western consciousness. They describe basic father-son relationships and indicate how long it has been since initiation rituals broke down. Once, the fathers used to kill the sons symbolically so that they might grow into authentic men. For at least three millennia, however, the patriarchs have conducted pseudo-initiations, feeding their sons into the infinite maw of literalized violence. Indeed, it was their great genius – and primordial crime – to extend child- sacrifice from the family to the state. Boys eventually were forced to participate in the sacrifice. No longer surrendering to symbolic death, they learned to, in a sense, overcome death by inflicting it on others.

Ultimately, sacrifice – dying for the cause – became as important as physical survival. Martyrdom became an ethical virtue that every believer must be prepared to emulate. Chilton writes:

Uniquely among the religions of the world, the three that center on Abraham have made the willingness to offer the lives of children – an action they all symbolize with versions of the Aqedah – a central virtue for the faithful as a whole.

When the state replaces the fathers, boys must become patriots (Latin: pater, father) to become men. Those who most excel in this madness become sociopathic killers and mentors to future generations. Such fathers feel pride, but they also fear the possibility of being overthrown. Thus their initiations always contain both a threat and a deal: You will sacrifice your emotions and relational capacity, submit to our authority in all matters and become our mirror image. In exchange you may physically and sexually dominate your women, your children — and the Earth — as we abuse you.

Yet don’t we idealize our children? Parents commonly deny their own needs so that the children might have a better future, and government demonizes and punishes those suspected of harming them. We go to war so the children may be free. The deeper truth is that we love children because the archetypal child symbolizes rebirth, transformation and innocence. Christ said that to enter the kingdom one must be as innocent as those whose minds and bodies are still undivided by civilization.

The image of the child personifies the lost unity all adults long for. However, to recover that unity requires long and painful work, as D. H. Lawrence knew:

          I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self,
          and the wounds to the soul take a long, long time, only time can help
          and patience, and a certain difficult repentance.

So the image of the child evokes something else: the suffering to be endured on the road back to wholeness, and the grief over what we have lost. Consequently, many adults are compelled to destroy that image, to remove it from consciousness and replace it with idealization. Why else would we emphasize family values and threats to “the children” while destroying social programs that keep families together, or punish children simply because their parents are poor? This can only happen in a society that is deeply ambivalent about its own children.

Lloyd de Mause begins his survey of the vast literature on European child-raising: “The history of childhood is a nightmare from which we have only recently begun to awake.” Christians long believed that children were inherently perverse: “The new-born babe is full of the stains and pollution of sin, which it inherits from our first parents through our loins.” They required extreme discipline and early baptism, which used to include actual exorcism of the Devil. Initiation rites became literalized in child abuse, with customs ranging from tight swaddling and steel collars to foot binding, genital circumcision and rape.

There is considerable evidence of the literal killing of both illegitimate children (at least as late as the 19th century) and legitimate ones, especially girls, in Europe. As a result, there was a large imbalance of males over females well into the Middle Ages. By the sixteenth century, the new religious dogma of Calvinism flowed seamlessly into the older myth of the killing of the children. Now, the patriarchs had a perfect excuse for their culture-wide abuse of their children: children deserved it, because they were bad by nature.

Physical and sexual abuse was so common that most children born prior to the 18th century were what would today be termed “battered children.” However, the medical syndrome itself didn’t arise among doctors until 1962, when regular use of x-rays revealed widespread multiple fractures in the limbs of small children who were too young to complain verbally.

What kind of men do these patterns traditionally produce? De Mause argues that war and genocide do “…not occur in the absence of widespread early abuse and neglect,” that nations with abusive and punitive childrearing practices emphasize military solutions and state violence in resolving social conflicts. Or they produce other men who, in reaction to this legacy, live lives of quiet, unsatisfied desperation and conformism, disconnected from their natural gifts and callings.

What kind of women do these patterns traditionally produce until very recently? Lives lived in fear of their fathers, husbands and all adult men, repressed ambivalence toward their sons and grief for their daughters; lives of constrained possibilities and impossible dreams of sovereignty.

“Americans,” writes James Hillman, “love the idea of childhood no matter how brutal or vacuous their actual childhoods may have been.” Finally, we idealize childhood because our actual childhood did not serve its purpose, which was to provide a container of welcome into the world that would be the necessary precursor for initiation into mature adulthood. Without such preparation, we assume that alienation is the true nature of maturity.

And if humans have no true animating spark, neither does the natural world. So generation after generation of young men are socialized to project their own need for rebirth onto the world and set out to literally destroy it. This is how Patriarchy perpetuates itself. In each generation, millions of abused children identify with their adult oppressors and become violent perpetrators themselves. In a demythologized world, they have no choice but to act out the myths of the killing of the children on a massive scale, or to glorify those who do.

Can it be any wonder that we are periodically unable to keep ourselves from displacing our rage – and our complicity – of this ancient condition onto some convenient scapegoat, in hopes that he might take our sins way with him into the wilderness?

Read more…

I have never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure. – Mark Twain.

The period from mid-September through the first week of October were bookended by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death and Trumpus’ illness.

Republican Corruption: The release of Trumpus’ taxes revealed years of no payments at all, income from undeclared foreign sources, massive debts to unknown creditors, gargantuan conflict-of-interest problems when they come due soon, and the likelihood of outright fraud. It was revealed that he had described war veterans as “suckers and losers” and that his 2016 campaign had identified 3.5 million Black Americans as voters they wanted to suppress through Facebook logarithms.

Republican plans to wreck the election continued quite openly. Trumpus hinted at his plans to use phony claims about “fraud” as cover to keep election officials from counting all the ballots after Election Day and repeatedly refused to promise that he’d step down peacefully if he lost. Right wing operatives were everywhere in the swing states, openly attempting to restrict the vote. A judge struck down their plan to allow only 1 ballot box in each Ohio county. But Governor Greg Abbot simply avoided the courts entirely and effectively handed Texas over to Trumpus by ordering all Texas counties to do exactly that. Harris County (population: 4 million, including Houston) will have exactly one drop-off box.

A pro-Trumpus militant Group has allegedly recruited thousands of police, soldiers and assorted thugs to monitor and harass voters in Black and Latinx neighborhoods. Even the FBI – certainly no friend to people of color – is now preparing for a “violent extremist threat” posed by anti-government militia whose members have advocated for a “race war.”

But why are Trumpus and Barr being so open – almost bragging – about their plans to steal the election? The answer, like their plans, is right in front of us. Polls indicate that Democrats are less likely to vote if they believe Trump will steal the election, something Republicans are banking on. Those voters are most assuredly people of color, who understand the long tradition of American white mob violence quite well, writes John Feffer:

Whether it was the displacement and massacre of Native Americans, the horrors that slaveowners inflicted on African Americans, the wave of lynching that followed Reconstruction, the bloodletting of Red Summer around World War I, the murders conducted by the Ku Klux Klan and other extremist organizations, or even everyday resistance to federal policies like school desegregation, gangs of Americans have repeatedly taken the law into their own hands on behalf of white supremacy.

This puts the Dems in a tight spot. While it is absolutely vital to raise the alarm, amplifying Trumpus’ promise to sow chaos serves his goal of suppressing Democratic turnout. So, as these bastards learned over many generations in the South (although they were Democrats then), the threat of voter suppression is itself a form of voter suppression.

Liberals were shocked. His base, if they noticed at all, approved.

Ginsburg’s body was hardly cold before Trumpus named her replacement. As I mentioned above, they had already used strong-arm tactics (under Roger Stone) to steal the 2000 election, and Amy Coney Barrett had been a member of his team, providing some of the wacky legal arguments that helped sway the Supreme Court. For twenty years, she has quietly epitomized the bizarre confluence of Christian zealotry and mob tactics that characterizes these people. Aside from the certainty that her presence on the court will destroy Obamacare, abortion rights and same-sex marriage, Trumpus will expect her support if the election is disputed.

Democratic Corruption: Analysts have posed this question about Trumpus for four years: can his corruption be distinguished from his incompetence? Is he an idiot, or does he simply play one on TV? It’s time to ask the same question of the Democrats. On September 22nd, Biden made his loyalties crystal clear, telling interviewers that no one earning up to $400,000 would see their taxes raised by “one cent” and following that with “I beat the socialist!…Do I look like a socialist?”

By the way, we are not talking about a 6-3 split on the court if she joins it; we’re really talking about 7-2 (unless the Dems win the Senate and expand the size of the court), since the liberal Stephen Breyer turned 82 in August.

But, again, if we simply blame Republicans for this state of affairs, we miss the real story. The federal courts would not play such a large political role if the Democrats had been serious about winning at the local level. Their nearly exclusive focus on winning the Presidency had resulted in the loss (under Obama alone) of over 900 seats in state legislatures and the Congress. “The fact that the Democrats mishandled this situation so badly”, writes Margaret Kimberley of the Black Agenda Report, “is one of the reasons they have deified the late justice Ginsburg. They have to divert attention from the mess they created.”

… the Democrats are now…behaving with the same lackadaisical attitude that cost them the 2016 election. In the must-win  state of Michigan, the Biden campaign has no in-person voter outreach, and no one that people who want to help can talk to…an on the ground campaign doesn’t really exist…Of course, Hillary Clinton raised more money than Donald Trump, but four years of propaganda have rendered most Democrats incapable of critical thought. They believe that repeating a losing strategy will somehow work this time around.

The First Debate: I see three critical points. The first is that the mainstream media framed the debate itself, not Trumpus, as deplorable. The next day, my local paper, the liberal San Francisco Chronicle proclaimed: “First Debate devolves into debacle,” rather than “Trump wrecks debate.” For contrast with normal years, you may want to read my earlier essay, The Ritual of the Presidential Debate.

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The second is that relative to almost any election in memory, most people have already decided whom they prefer, or hate less. This year, the “undecided moderates” who are the traditional targets of most rhetoric and advertising are an endangered species. The largest bloc of undecided voters are the one hundred million people who haven’t decided if it is worth voting at all. The Republicans are doing everything possible to keep them from deciding to vote, while the Democrats want them to vote but not become active in the future or put any pressure for real reforms on a Democratic Congress.

This leads to my third point. Trumpus knows he’s losing in the polls (for what they’re worth), and he knows what he needs to do to win, including having a Fox News “journalist” as moderator who consistently framed his questions from a right-wing perspective. His intention, well-rehearsed and certainly gleaned from the study of focus groups (see below), was quite clear: to provoke such a hot mess that large numbers of people would not only quickly change the channel but give up in disgust on the whole process.

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His intention, precisely as with his studied refusal to condemn white supremacy, was literally to suppress the vote. Well, that’s my opinion, but I found it confirmed across the spectrum. On the left, Caitlin Johnstone wrote:

You seriously could not have designed a more perfect display to do everything we’ve been told for years that Russian propagandists are trying to do: depress the vote, encourage support for third parties, weaken public trust in America’s institutions…

On the right, Frank Luntz (who certainly knows more than he let on) claimed to have found a dozen undecideds for a focus group – and to have been as shocked as anyone else: “This debate has actually convinced some undecided voters not to vote at all.”

Part of that strategy was to provoke Biden into a no-win situation – continue to act the spineless wimp, always willing to come more than halfway, or take the bait and add to the chaos. Still, who can deny that it felt good to see the old geezer show some cojones?

Then Trumpus got Covid (and knowingly exposed large numbers of people). The news immediately set loose an astonishing range of speculation, fear, chaos, rejoicing, incrimination, flip-flop announcements from his own doctors, and full-on looniness from the QAnon crowd. Was this the long-awaited October Surprise or merely a very convenient distraction? Or both? Michael Moore wrote, Trump being diagnosed with COVID is about the best thing that could have happened to him right now. So much so, in fact, that I pretty sincerely doubt that it’s true.” Some of his speculations:

— He can control the news cycle and get lots of free publicity.

— He can opt out of the next debate without repercussions.

— He’s going to be cured by a new drug that will make him and his cronies billions.

— He doesn’t have it but will “recover” very quickly to show how Covid is overblown.

— He’s planning to drop out of the race and be replaced by Pence, who will then pardon him.

“Don’t even pretend you can’t believe he’d lie about it,” wrote Moore.” Indeed, many people had predicted weeks before that Trumpus would claim to get – and be quickly cured – from Covid.

But his doctors claimed to be using a treatment plan normally used only for the severely ill, leading many to suggest that he was sicker than they were letting on. Meanwhile, at least two Republican Senators on the Judiciary Committee contracted Covid, raising questions about the timing of the Barrett hearings. The Republicans vowed to continue, even if they have to change the rules.

Biden hung up his cojones. Predictably, the Democratic leadership and the usual media pundits took the high road with faux-Christian charity, praying for Trumpus’ recovery and even removing their negative advertising (even as the Republicans specifically refused to do so). Johnstone would have none of this:

Do these seem like the sentiments of a media class who believes Donald Trump poses an urgent existential threat and must be defeated at all cost?…Would you stop fighting someone who was trying to kill you with every weapon at your disposal just because they got sick?… It turns out all that unprecedented hysterical shrieking about a Russian Nazi in the White House was just political hyperbole…They’ve never seen Trump as a uniquely menacing threat, they see him as what he is: a garden variety corrupt American president who is evil in more or less the same ways the other corrupt American presidents are evil. They see him as a part of the establishment they serve, advancing more or less the same agendas…

All kinds of broad, quotable philosophy went around the web. Here’s my favorite: The country is being asked to pray for their abuser and being shamed for not feeling sorry for him.

After just a few days Trumpus, having “controlled the news cycle and got lots of free publicity,” left the hospital, claiming to have been miraculously cured, removing his mask and telling the public not to fear the virus. He received no charity bump, though, as Biden’s poll lead increased. Perhaps there really still were/are lots of undecided voters. Or perhaps some committed Trumpus voters changed their minds.

The only thing that is sure is that the nation is in utter chaos – a deeply archetypal, ritual image. The King suffers from a wound in his groin (symbolic of the capacity to generate new life), and our Parsifal is a holy fool. We know from world mythology that chaos is the necessary precursor to the re-stabilizing of cosmos, the ordering of culture. But chaos can just as easily lead to even deeper chaos. It does not by any means predict a straight line toward a happy ending. Its primary characteristic is a most profound not-knowing.

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