Thinking outside the box
It is time for Americans with no conventional economic future to start thinking outside the box. Getting outside the box is the only road to salvation, but it does not itself constitute salvation. Salvation is what you do after you've gotten there. And it's not easy to get there. We don't know who discovered water, but we can be pretty sure it wasn't a fish. Eons ago I used to play chess. The good players also called the clueless, lesser players "fish"—they were easily caught and eaten. Don't be a fish.
Naturally you are asking: what is this box I need to get outside of? That's easy to answer and hard to answer at the same time.
The "box" is the consensual sociocultural reality, including the agreed-upon political realities you are immersed in every day. It is the very air you breath, the water you swim in. It includes but is not limited to all the messages, explicit or implied, you receive every day in the media, including all the news, all the entertainment and especially the advertising.
With some rare exceptions, all mainstream media people are inside the box. If you think in terms of left/right, liberals/conservatives, Democrats/Republicans, you are inside the box. If you accept the legitimacy of our corrupt political system, if you think we live in a Democracy, or a Republic, you are inside the box. If you unthinkingly accept culturally co-opted people referring to you or others as "consumers," you are inside the box. If you don't question why international terrorism incidents (or alerts) make up the bulk of the Evening News, you are inside the box. And so forth.
There is a paradox inherent in solving what I call the "consciousness problem" or simply "the box problem." You must know you're living in a box before you can escape from it. Solving this problem is harder than it sounds. Most people never do. It took me years to get outside the box, and even when I thought I was free there were still more miles to travel. Them that don't know don't know that they don't know.
The box problem is best approached by example. Writer Joe Bageant is outside the box. In fact, he apparently got off the bus in Mexico and never came back, so he's literally outside the box. To illustrate, I'll use his essay Y UR PEEPS B SO DUM? Ignorance and courage in the age of Lady Gaga. There are many passages to choose from, but obviously I'm forced to select specific examples.
It is the job of our combined institutions to manage cultural information so as to deny the harmful aspects of the rackets they protect through legislation and promote through institutional research... [For example, see my post The Fed's Imaginary Jobs]
Our hyper capitalist system, through command of our research, media and political institutions, expands upon and disseminates only that information which generates money and transactions. It avoids, neglects or spins the hell out of information that does not. And if none of those work, the info is exiled to some corner of cyberspace such as Daily Kos, where it cannot change the status quo, yet can be ballyhooed as proof of our national freedom of expression. Here come the rotten eggs from the Internet liberals.
Cyberspace by nature feels very big from the inside, and its affinity groups [like Daily Kos], seeing themselves in aggregate and in mutual self reference, imagine their role bigger and more effective than it is. From within the highly directed, technologically administrated, marketed-to and propagandized rat cage called America, this is all but impossible to comprehend. Especially when corporate owned media tells us it is.
Joe is actually describing the box here, and the inherent limitations imposed upon those living inside it. Thus, the liberals at Daily Kos imagine their role to be bigger and more effective than it is. In fact, their only role is to demonstrate that we have national freedom of expression. But freedom of speech inside the box means next to nothing. It is a subtle part of our enslavement. We're glad to have it, to be sure, but we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking that it makes one whit of difference concerning what goes in this country. Here's another quote from Bageant—
Of course, there is still money to be made by the already rich. So the million or so people who own the country and the government use their control to convince us that there is no collapse, just economic and political problems that need to be solved. Naturally, they are willing to do that for us. Consequently, the economy is discussed in political terms, because the government is the only body with the power to legislate, and therefore render the will of the owning class into law.
This is what the world looks like from outside the box. For some background on this last excerpt, see my post America's Elites Own You.
Now let's illustrate the consciousness problem from inside the box. I selected an essay by author George Friedman called The Next Decade: Where We’ve Been… And Where We’re Going. The choice was arbitrary, but this essay was introduced by John Mauldin in his newsletter Outside The Box. As you regular DOTE readers know, I am not entirely without a sense of humor
I invite readers to consider two themes. The first is the concept of the unintended empire. I argue that the United States has become an empire not because it intended to, but because history has worked out that way. The issue of whether the United States should be an empire is meaningless. It is an empire.
The second theme, therefore, is about managing the empire, and for me the most important question behind that is whether the republic can survive. The United States was founded against British imperialism. It is ironic, and in many ways appalling, that what the founders gave us now faces this dilemma. There might have been exits from this fate, but these exits were not likely. Nations become what they are through the constraints of history, and history has very little sentimentality when it comes to ideology or preferences. We are what we are.
It is not clear to me whether the republic can withstand the pressure of the empire, or whether America can survive a mismanaged empire. Put differently, can the management of an empire be made compatible with the requirements of a republic? This is genuinely unclear to me. I know the United States will be a powerful force in the world during this next decade—and for this next century, for that matter—but I don’t know what sort of regime it will have.
Friedman has put forth a bold proposition: the United States is an Empire! And being an Empire, there is an imminent threat to America's status as a Republic. Nevermind that the United States became an Empire in 1950. Nevermind that its status as a Republic has been diminishing since that time. I am not going to argue these points here. Read Gore Vidal's The Last Empire: Essays 1992-2000. Vidal was outside the box, and thus generally ignored. But he knew his history.
Not only has it been obvious for a very long time that the United States is an Empire, but it is also very clear that the Empire is now falling apart. But Friedman has just now discovered our Imperial nature! It is not clear to George Friedman whether the Republic "can withstand the pressure of the Empire or whether America can survive a mismanaged Empire."
Geopolitics describes what happens to nations, but it says little about the kinds of regimes nations will have. I am convinced that unless we understand the nature of power, and master the art of ruling, we may not be able to choose the direction of our regime. Therefore, there is nothing contradictory in saying that the United States will dominate the next century yet may still lose the soul of its republic. I hope not, as I have children and now grandchildren—and I am not convinced that empire is worth the price of the republic. I am also certain that history does not care what I, or others, think.
Friedman is babbling, spouting nonsense, engaging in sterile intellectualization without any grounding in reality. Let's return to Planet Earth. George, I've been awake for some time now, so let me tell you how part of the story ends. After 60 years of Empire, the Republic is largely gone. Presidents now declare wars. The Congress gave up that important constitutional responsibility, and now merely rubberstamps presidential wishes. The Empire is always fighting some futile war it must borrow money to wage. The Bill of Rights is no longer worth the paper it's written on. And so on.
I can not resist showing you one more bit of silliness.
In order to understand this office I look at three presidents who defined American greatness. The first is Abraham Lincoln, who saved the republic. The second is Franklin Roosevelt, who gave the United States the world’s oceans. The third is Ronald Reagan, who undermined the Soviet Union and set the stage for empire. Each of them was a profoundly moral man ... who was prepared to lie, violate the law, and betray principle in order to achieve those ends...
Yes, it's true—the man who guided the Union through the Civil War and freed the slaves, and the man who guided America through the Great Depression and most of World War II, have been mentioned in the same paragraph with the man who starred in Bedtime For Bonzo. Their common theme? Greatness. When did the Empire's decline begin? All the economic data point to the early 1980s.
Such are the lengths to which people inside the box will go to avoid the Awful Truth about the society they're vested in. You will often encounter this kind of incoherent nonsense in mainstream commentaries. For example, read anything by George Will. To a person living outside the box, it can be jarring to read the fantastic stories people make up to "explain" transparent events. Those inside the box must constantly find a way rationalize away the evil all around them. Wealth inequality? That's easily explained away. The poor? Well, I'm standing here looking outside my living room window—I don't see any poor people. And if a few people are poor in this blessed land, the Greatest Country On Earth, no doubt they have only themselves to blame.
The consciousness problem transcends mere opinion. In a decent society—perhaps we can imagine one—the box problem would not exist. There would be no inside, there would be no outside. But in the United States, with its huge discrepancy between the Official Story—the self-serving Lie—and the harsh Reality, solving the box problem counts for everything, especially if you are on the wrong side of things, if you are the screwee, not the screwer. In contemporary America, the vast majority of the people are getting the short end of the stick.
Bageant talks about the deconditioning required to get outside the box—
Deconditioning ... involves risk and suffering. But it is transformative, freeing the self from helplessness and fear. It unleashes the fifth freedom, the right to an autonomous consciousness. That makes deconditioning about as individual and personal act as is possible. Maybe the only genuine individual act.
Once unencumbered by self-induced and manufactured cultural ignorance, it becomes clear that politics worldwide is entirely about money, power and national mythology, with or without some degree of human rights. America still has all of the above to one degree or another. Yet for all practical purposes, such as advancing the freedom and the well being of its own people, the American republic has collapsed.
Yes, there is risk and suffering in getting outside the box, but it is transformative. The way things are going in this country, you have less and less to lose, and everything to gain. But first, you've got to wake up, start paying attention. After that, critical thinking is the key. And trust your feelings. If something doesn't feel right, it's probaby not right. Usually, the truth is right in front of you. Later you'll wonder why you didn't see it all along.
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