How the Most Dangerous Game Is Being Played by Joseph Natoli

Make Capitalism History *

Image by Sterneck via Flickr

by Joseph Natoli
Guest Writer
Dandelion Salad
Sept. 11, 2011

There’s always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. — Aldous Huxley, “Brave New World

Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to become the means by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of other men. Blood, whips and guns – or dollars. Take your choice – there is no other. — Ayn Rand, “Atlas Shrugged

By the Democrats, the Game Has Been Played Like This Since the ’60s

“Old left” interests spurring the social and economic and, thus, political gains of the New Deal and its enfranchising and equalizing legislation gave way to a spirit of “doing your own thing,” of “finding yourself, man,” of gracefully acknowledging that what was one person’s “bag” wasn’t yours and that was O.K.. An early version of MY interest in YOU: “whatever.” Societal issues conflated to the size of one’s ego; public really meant personal and community meant a commune, if that was “your thing,” see The Farm.

If it all sounds like the “ME” Millennial generation, it’s because that devolution from others to self, from the public good to “personal design,” from socialist leaning “solidarity” to “self-empowerment” is shared by both generations. But the 50 or so years separating the two brought on a kind of inevitable end game. A countercultural turn from the social to the private developed into a personalizing of both politics and economics. It was not possible in the Vietnam protest years to fully personalize politics, to reduce it to a matter of personal concern – or not – as is the case with Millennials. The military compulsory draft made politics immediately personal. There was every chance that YOU would be wounded or killed in combat.

The slogan “all politics is personal” did not apply when it came to Vietnam because a private political response – running off to Canada or Mexico – had less appeal than a mass political protest. Political solidarity was called for. Civil rights protesters also turned their back on a private political response because that response, as Martin Luther King pointed out, had not brought blacks very far down the road of political, social and economic equality since the Emancipation Proclamation. Such was the same with the feminist movement, which also decided that personal triumphs against patriarchy were few and far between and that political solidarity was called for.

In these ways, the cry of “Power to the People!” emerged from real world need to go beyond “individual free choice,” “personal empowerment,” “Will It And It Will come” and all the various forms of a privatizing of the political which reduce the political universe to a YOUniverse. Thus, a counterculture that toyed with the anti-Establishment benefits of solipsism was forced, for purely selfish reasons, to not give up a collective politics, an organized mass front response to what was threatening.

Today’s Millennial generation is not threatened by a compulsory draft, but only by an economy that is not robust enough to give them the high-end salaries that Tom Cruise, for instance, in the film “The Firm” was offered. A volunteer military suits a generation that prizes personal choice above everything. The US can be fighting in several countries besides Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, but that – improbable and impossible as it is – is not threatening to those who can simply say, “No, I don’t want to join the military.” Any attachment or concern with wars ends at that point unless, of course, a loved one is not free as you are, but in the war.

Of course, every abuse of capitalism is not seen as threatening even though the way it plays its game leaves most without. The threat of not finding a job or having a job that doesn’t pay a six-figure salary or being in a job that doesn’t meet one’s qualifications does not compel – at least not yet – the Millennials into a political, protesting solidarity because the economics – capitalism – is not targeted as a mischief maker.

If you listen to the left, what threatens Millennials, along with every one else except the top 20 percent, is a capitalism that has put public education on the deficit side of their accounts; has frozen workers’ salaries at mid-70s levels; has passed on huge fortunes to shareholders in health insurance and pharmaceuticals, thus making health care unaffordable to the Many; has blocked regulations that would protect consumers against financial chicanery; and has allowed a progressive income tax to dissolve into a tax in which the wealthy no longer contribute in any significant way to the running of the government, a government whose military protection and not entitlement beneficence they need.

Millennials especially don’t worry about any of this. Left and right refer to configurations on a Facebook page. The Me-ism of the Millennials has relegated economics along with politics to a personal level, to a level where capitalism is prepared to welcome them. Individual competition and personal initiative win the day. Winners make personal decisions to be Winners. It’s all a matter of personal choice. If you spend your time complaining about your jobless state or your foreclosed home or your credit card bills, and so on, you are choosing to be a Loser. If you seek to organize a protest, you will simply be joining the Losers who failed to “want to be rich” deeply and strongly enough.

The protest you can join is a protest against a socialist leaning government led by that socialist Obama, that wants to reduce your personal choice – even though those choices haven’t done you much good – and thus prevent you from eventually empowering yourself, without government aid and becoming a “Winner.” Thus, the face of political solidarity is now the Tea Party. In actuality, Millennials prefer Ron Paul’s libertarian party not simply because Tea Partiers seem old as does the historical event they sample, but because libertarians seem to want to keep every intrusion into your personal choices at a minimum, indeed, to annihilate them totally. It’s “all about personal choice and individual freedom.” Oprah has been confirming this for decades.

In even greater actuality, Millennials do their politics on “social” networks, not in the fashion of the Arab Spring revolutionaries, but rather, in the fashion of a solipsist creating and living in a self-designed universe, one in which what you haven’t designed to suit your personal values and meanings can be “unfriended.” In a world in which sending and reading text pages and tweets stands for critical reading and interpretation, you need to question the profundity of Millennial ruling values and meanings. The market, of course, will not do the questioning; it is too occupied with exploiting for profit this self-confident, multi-tasking generation.

I would lay the development of this disaster at the doorstep of liberals/progressives, who detoured a leftist politics that kept its eye on economics toward a politics of ethnic, sexual preference, gender, racial identity, who applauded a multiculturalism that has only masked a new form of imperialism and who led an expansion of the notion of personal choice into a basic aspiration of democracy. You might say that the liberals have played the game right into the hands of globalized techno-capitalism’s political outlet store: the Republican Party.

Let’s see how they play the game.

If liberals/progressives play the game stupidly into the hands of a party they pretend to be opposing – thus fueling the view that we have one party in the US and it’s corporate though one plays “tough love” and the other “bleeding heart,” a version of good cop/bad cop – the conservative Republicans play the game with a lot of balls.

I could say they play it with impunity, boldness, dangerously, recklessly, cavalierly, but my initial response requires a real street sense of their face-off with about 90 percent of the American population. Everyone on the right since Reagan has been ballsy, while the left has had the timidity of Carter and now Obama. Carter was a “star crossed” president whose timidity was not so much his as a result of what Reagan became and what Reagan made of Carter. Carter’s indictment of a “malaise” at the heart of America – a ballsy step toward exposure of the most dangerous game – became nothing more than a defeated soul’s retreat in the face of what Reagan would proclaim as a glorious “new morning in America.” Reagan, with the help of his fellow conservatives as well as liberals, did indeed make it a new morning for the Few and the beginning of a nightmare of the middle and working classes.

Obama did not set out to be ballsy, but rather conciliatory and conversational with all sides because, to his mind, a pragmatic approach to politics would transcend bitter partisan politics. He seems to have felt that he could achieve bipartisanship unilaterally. Elizabeth Drew in her customary sharply interpretive piece on Obama’s strategy writes: ” … Boehner had, in effect, taken Obama to the cleaners. This established in both Democrats’ and Republicans’ minds the thought that Obama was a weak negotiator – a ‘pushover.’ He was more widely seen among Democrats and other close observers as having a strategy of starting near where he thinks the Republicans are – at the fifty-yard line – and then moving closer to their position.” (New York Review of Books, August 18, 2011) Obama’s initial cavalier approach to political ideologies has left him inexperienced in liberal or leftist ideology and unable to counter the powerful assault of the right. He is caving in because he does not know what counter-strategies to launch and, it seems clear by now, that he – and his wife – have more the regentrifying instincts of the Ivy League-educated, upper middle class than those he needs to defend in this most dangerous game.

Bill Clinton was most ballsy when he, a Democratic president, boldly stood before his fellow Democrats and announced the end of “Big Government” and the “end of welfare.” He joined the other side and had …the nerve to present this capitulation as the “Third Way” in politics. A case can be made that he did enough to forestall the “exposure moment,” that moment when the most dangerous game reaches a fatal moment, the sort of moment the Arab Spring revolts have reached.

A more proper and more precise interpretation than “ballsy” is one in which impunity, presumption and reckless boldness is not a personal choice, like Caesar crossing the Rubicon or the Light Brigade deciding to charge, but an axiomatic one. I mean that the boldness of the right is not a personal boldness but a built-in boldness of capitalism itself. It is axiomatic to do a number of things that will, in the end, be the end of capitalism. The zero sum game it plays in which someone has to lose in order for someone to win, a game which adheres to rules of opening market frontiers wherever and whenever regardless of environmental consequences, of maximizing profits to shareholders progressively, of reducing and where possible deleting the debit side such as wages to workers, of destroying all possible regulatory and punitive powers such as the federal government, of playing for a large return in the shortest possible period mindless of future consequences … this game determines the actions of all its players. And when there is no choice to be either brave or coward, ballsy or timid, good or bad, there can be no accolades awarded. Capitalism’s players are not adventuresome, risk taking players but are themselves played by the creed that owns them.

Let’s look at the game board and some of the moves being made from the right sight of the board:

The game board and the moves already made look like this: “trickle down” is a Ponzi scheme. You kept investing faith in it, but it will never pay off. The concept of doing all you can to support your Global Entrepreneurial Champions – the wealthy who have proven by having wealth that they are “Winners” – has ended in a truly stupefying wealth gap, private planes flying privileged youth to their summer camps and the top 5 percent (who account for one-third of all US spending) shopping at Bergdorf Goodman and paying $1,495 for Louis Vuitton shoes and a few thousand dollars for a Goyard bag “which has a distinctive pattern.” (New York Times August 4, 2011). Almost 30,000 children under 5 have died of starvation so far in the present Somalia famine. Over 20 percent of children under 18 in the US live in poverty. The poverty level in the US dramatically rose after 1980, the beginning of Ronald Reagan’s “trickle down” economics, the dawn of his “new morning in America.”

There’s a mind blowing obscenity to all this that the media will not touch or will only touch in a fashion that ties the viewer to what I call an over-stimulated frame of reference. Such a false frame imparts a false equality, a misleading equality of significance. Conditions and situations are so dire now that we must exercise silence in regard to what are not life and death matters. The media, in its 24/7 cycling, is not shaped to do this. But it is shaped to follow through on a Karl Rove tactic in our most dangerous game. That tactic is this: in our postmodern clime in which repetition and volume determine “truth” and “reality,” it is essential for the Few who are looting the Many to voice their defending stories – what Nietzsche called “alibis” – often and everywhere. Turn every issue into a debate of equally strong briefs. In a clime when it is now impossible for any side to validate and therefore legitimize its story except in a self-authorizing way, all that needs be done is to befog or muddy your opponent’s brief is to throw it into a state of undecidability. If you proceed in this fashion with every issue and take advantage of the media’s need to transmit every issue to feed its 24/7 appetite, an over-stimulation of the consciousness of your audience is created.

This I would argue explains much as to why the Many in the US turn from politics as a messy business and politicians as equally at fault. The generation of this sort of attitude allows our most dangerous game to kick up to truly incredible levels without fear of exposure or reprisal. What lurks, however, is an awareness by those who have benefited from the casino-like dispensations of capitalism that the unbalanced and unfair support of the wealthy Few by the exploited Many and the continued adulation of the Many of those proven entrepreneurial geniuses who are the engine driving the whole economy, will reach an exposure moment. The fog will lift; the emperor will be seen as naked; the shite will hit the fan; and Americans may have not a Founding Fathers’ real estate revolution but an Old World one, a very French one.

The “exposure moment” entails what? What does full disclosure, complete discovery, totally transparent exposure moment amount to? In that moment, the Very Many will realize that the wealthier just keep getting wealthier, that profits don’t return to workers’ salaries, that giving huge bonuses to Wall Street executives who take themselves and their trophy girlfriends around the world doesn’t improve the schools or the roads or, in fact, anything that the “public” might use and need. At that exposure moment, the Very Many will realize that the assault on the word “public” is being made by those who have private jets, send their kids to private schools, have private security, have their own swimming pools and libraries, belong to private clubs, visit each other’s private park-like compounds, have private medical insurance, lawyers on retainer and enough socked away in off-shore accounts to provide a comfortable retirement for the whole city of Detroit – if, of course, it wasn’t meant for their own “private” use.

So, what’s keeping some 80 percent of the population from doing what the Tea Partiers have done? Get out there; scream and shout and get your brand of legislator elected. Perhaps, some would say, the Tea Party already represents the Many, already is a legitimate grassroots populist movement. You can dispel that notion immediately by considering what the Tea Party is advocating in the present debate to raise the national debt ceiling: they want enough cuts to the federal government to get them out of the way of capitalist competition, and they don’t want taxes raised for any reason. They want Obama and “Obamacare” gone; he’s a socialist in their view and “Obamacare” interferes with the profit making of the health insurance and the pharmaceutical industries. “Privatizing” what is now “public” is a Tea Party mantra.

They do, however, provide a small part of the answer as to why Many put up with plutocracy politics. Some are confused and believe the Tea Party anger represents their anger, that the Tea Party is protesting for the same reasons they would protest. What percentage of Tea Party members are similar to the Tea Party protester who demanded that the Feds leave his Medicare alone I cannot say. Some are so disgusted by the Tea Party that it stands as just another reason to ignore all politics. There is a growing percentage of Americans who have already retreated to private cyber-wombs or who are drowning in ever mounting economic problems that segue into family and health problems and – like feudal peasants of yore – keep their heads down and pray by some miracle they’ll get by.

The biggest reason the Republican/conservative assault on the middle class and the “working, blue collar class” continues to play out with impunity is, once again, because it is engrained in the American mass psyche that anyone at anytime can become the lord of the manor, can join with the rich and famous and live out the American Dream.

That Dream is now precisely this illusion: you can will your own success, a success that you define as a material success. The trappings of that success are all around you, all the time. They attract and seduce like carny booths set up to take your dollar for just one more attempt to win what you can choose from all the colorful doodads hanging just out of reach. It is not only the mission of Madison Avenue-type advertising to lure you to their brand, to connect your identity with their brand. What has turned out to be the more important mission is to dangle all the accoutrements of wealth and privilege before your face all the time, to keep you yearning. It is more important now that you yearn to be part of that wealth and privileged class than that you have the wherewithal to purchase what is offered. And, increasingly, Americans don’t have the wherewithal to fulfill their rudely materialistic American Dream. The collapsed housing market has pulled out of reach one of the enticements that has kept the Many at bay.

Seduction joins forces in cyberspace with distraction, both generating an over-stimulation whose by-products are all manner of alphabet soup neurosis from attention deficit disorder (ADD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder (CD), back-in-the-day memory loss (BITDML), universal whatever response (UWR), off-line real world life impatience (OLRWI), multi-tasking thought and expression challenged (MTTEC) and addiction to hand-held electronic device syndrome (AHHED).

The last five I made up, justified as Carl Jung justified his postulation of a collective unconscious: I observed it empirically. Certainly, cyberspace is a growing shopping convenience and its advertising seductions are significant. But shopping has great distracting power and as the push of the Many to rock bottom reaches an incendiary reaction level by the Pushed, the distracting powers of cyberspace become crucial in defense of the Pushers. One would expect that as the middle class descends into an even lower shopping level than Wal-Mart – “tinker markets”? – and the already Not-Able-to-Shop underclass overspills even our private prisons, a 24/7 unstoppable barrage of commercial urges to shop will themselves become provoking, infuriating. I do not discount the fact that “gentrified” offerings like scented candles and macaroni sculpture available at the US version of open air, inexpensive stables European markets will continue to entice and, thus, distract Americans right up until food bank shopping and organized shoplifting of T-bone steaks.

Our plutocracy is betting all its chips on the power of cyberspace to keep people at home, either gambling online, or surfing porn online, or getting together as a family around Xbox or PlayStation, or surfing the latest sports results, and so on. The Millennials with smart phones can tweet and text, surf the web and update on social networks. There is not much need to even look up. The Great Outdoors is conflated to the size of a hand-held electronic device. When you are playing the dangerous game of take ALL the money and go live in a private gated compound kind of game, it is absolutely essential that any possible pursuers, call them the exploited or just plain victims, are not paying attention.

Technology, therefore, is a great boon to capitalism. It comes up with new inventions, new patents on new products and new sales and more profits. But it also has been able to kick up its excitement level on a regular basis. No generation of anything hi-tech is definitive; you need to purchase the newest new because it offers a higher speed or a bigger screen or eventually no keyboarding just vocal commands and eventually a virtual interaction. When technology offers the Many an opportunity to pick off a shelf any virtual reality they want, an opportunity to yourself be the actor and not merely the viewer, an opportunity not just to read or hear about celebs, but to be them, then it’s probably correct to say that plutocracy’s mad and dangerous gamble paid off, that the rich robbed the poor and kept on robbing them and got away with it. The promises of a virtualized cyberspace become then like the promises of a Christian heaven, a wonderful place you go to after this vale of tears.

A problem may, of course, arise when that gloriously seductive and distracting and over-stimulating technology arrives and the Many Americans can’t afford to buy. You may see then in that dystopic scenario a politics of limited entitlement emerge, a Medicaid program stripped of everything but free virtual reality gaming, a purely protective and defensive magnanimity. You recall that the soma tablets of Huxley’s “Brave New World” were gratis to the People.

Published originally at Truthout


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