By Phil Rockstroh
The recent pepper spraying “incident” at the University of California at Davis represents more than an opportunity to create a cleverly photoshopped, viral meme. The act is part and parcel of a larger collective mindset–a proclivity towards authoritarian overreaction now deeply internalized in daily life in the U.S.
To cite only a few examples, by means such as, “zero tolerance” policies in public school systems, to “no knock” warrants, to snooping on and control over employees private lives by corporate employers, to the war on the Bill of Rights that is the so-called war on drugs, to the brutal suppression of constitutionally granted rights to free assembly and free expression by militarized police forces, to the unconstitutional killing of both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals abroad by predator drone attacks–daily existence within the nation has become more repressive, less inclined to the acceptance of the moments of creativity and uncertainty inherent to freedom. In fits and starts, by law and deed, the U.S. has moved closer in the direction of a panopticon-prone, brutality-leveling, waking authoritarian nightmare than a democratic republic devoted to erring in the direction of the ideals of justice and liberty.
Granted, such ideals will never exist in pure form. Still, by the same token, the sane neither shill for utopia nor become adapted to tyranny.
The act of pepper spraying peaceful protesters by the enforcers of official power should not be viewed as an incidental occurrence. Conversely, the act is emblematic of a mode of mind gripping the nation and one that must be challenged in the streets.
Memes are ever-replicating, exponentially reproducing, collectively evolving bits of human thoughtware–while our bodies are the hardware. If their resonances remain strictly in the realm of pixels and soundbites, a meme will translate into little more than pop culture ephemera. Memes must be carried by flesh into the non-virtual world; their human carriers might even be peppered sprayed themselves and carted off to jail, if it comes to that.
Otherwise, as is the case at present, memes dissipate…dissolving amid the ever-proliferating mirages of the commercial hologram. Thus the tragedy of the consumer state: The manner the present age of media-borne illusion usurps our instinctual drives and individual longings–the appetites and imaginings–that compel our life force to its zenith–but instead will induce us to spend our lives in the pursuit of careerist vanity and consumer dreck, and, in so doing, serves to deliver our passions to a wasteland of electronic dust.
When the inhuman demands of a seemingly implacable system control the lives of a people, an aura of nebulous fear, nettling resentment and habitual passivity, alternating with impulsive aggression, will seize the spirit of a culture. This is what Walker Percy wrote of a similar internalized landscape:
“Death in the form of death genes shall not prevail over me, for death genes are one thing but it is something else to name the death genes and know them and stand against them and dare them. I am different from my death genes and therefore not subject to them. My father had the same death genes but he feared them and did not name them and thought he could roar out old Route 66 and stay ahead of them or grab me and be pals or play Brahms and keep them, the death genes, happy, so he fell prey to them.”–excerpted from Percy’s novel, The Second Coming
In a declining culture, the vitality available within daily experience withers and falls away, and is soon supplanted by the dismal scions of the death genes. As reflected by the architecture (e.g., bland, prefab retail strips; shoddily built subdivision housing; sterile office parks) of late capitalism, beauty and common communion holds no dominion. As a consequence, fecund dreams dry to dust and rise from the arid land as blinding squalls of displaced fear and anger.
Antithetically, as an antidote, on Thanksgiving Day, my wife and I trundled by subway train down to Zuccotti Park for a taste of liberty. Of course, this particular national holiday is the marking and celebration of an age of genocide in regard to native folk.
My father is half Comanche; he was born on a reservation in the U.S. midwest. In general, on Thanksgiving Day, at least one-fourth of my blood (and the rest of the three-fourths of my humanity, and all of my soul) finds the task of remaining a polite dinner guest a bit difficult when people insist on being toxically (at times, belligerently) ignorant on the subject.
Significantly, by their ongoing acts of aggression perpetrated against the OWS denizens in Liberty Park in lower Manhattan (which, in itself, is an indigenous name, Manna-hata, meaning, “island of many hills”) the mayor of New York City and the NYPD have revealed that they regard the area as Injun’ Country. From the start of the OWS occupation, the protectors of the present order surrounded the “dirty, dangerous savages” within Liberty Park by blue uniform-clad troops and by force attempted to drive them off the land–land that is as much ours to appropriate as it is their own or anyone else’s.
And don’t talk to me about private property…The land in question was stolen from the get-go in a shady real estate swindle. Moreover, the OWS movement is a challenge to those types of societal notions that have bestowed legitimacy on larceny.
Regarding the almost exclusive exploitation of land for commercial exploitation e.g., the practice of claiming as private property, inflating the price of, and ceaselessly turning over for profit parcels of real estate has proven an enterprise that has degraded both landscape and soulscape, and has proven to be a less than propitious practice in regard to the health of the community at large and the planet itself. Withal, this mode of mind has engendered a culture in which the brutal and ruthless thrive…has enabled the rise of psychopathic personality types to positions of unapproachable power whose creed is, “all the things of the earth are ‘mine’ to exploit and it is my right to bring to submission, lest I’m entitled to destroy, those things I cannot possess and control.”
Conversely, my hours spent in Liberty Park have done my partial native blood good. Why? Because we are a veritable Injun’ uprising. And that is why they fear us and have tried to silence our drums and our mic-check, tribal gatherings and they have torn down our Tepee-like tents. Caucasian swindlers scammed the native people of this island in the first place; hence, the scam artists of Wall Street are only the latest incarnation of that European cultural trait–and that is the true tradition of Thanksgiving. But, they are discovering that another, lost tradition is coalescing across the land–the tradition of resistance.
The actions of and reactions to the OWS movement serve to reveal the hypocritical core of the present duopolistic political system. For example, if the recent brutal, police “crackdowns” (in truth, outright abuses of constitutionally granted rights) on the OWS movement had been coordinated and perpetrated under the Bush administration, Democratic Party partisans would have been calling for hearings of impeachment to be convened against George W. Bush. The lack of outrage among liberal insiders regarding recent events is an object lesson into the invidious nature of duopolistic rule. What Democratic Party partisans warn against–the big business beholden, freedom phobic, Republican agenda–is advanced in a more efficient manner when a Democrat is installed by the 1% in the U.S. presidency. Apropos, Democratic Party apologists are as guilty of carrying the agenda of the national security/corporate state as are oligarch-duped teabagger sorts.
More and more, nationally, as well as globally, people are catching on to the machinations of the 1%, to the scams of crime syndicates such as Wall Street and the IMF, to the means by which we have been coerced, by debt enslavement to neoliberalism’s global company store, into spending the fleeting days of this finite life working for the inequitable power, wealth and privilege of these ruthless few.
At present, growing numbers have taken heed of the situation and are fighting back. Within the span of a few short months, the narrative of the corporate media has, to a limited extent, been altered. Yet, at this point, the development is merely background noise: The neoliberal order is collapsing; capitalism itself is nearly at the end of its five hundred year run.
OWS is part of a global movement of resistance that is laying the groundwork for a new paradigm. Although, change will not come without struggle and suffering, without defeats, betrayals and moments of despair. But, given the unsustainable nature of the present order, a shift in both perception and practice is inevitable. Yet when there are this many variables (known and unknown) in play, gazing darkly or through rose-tinted eyewear will prove neither adequate nor helpful.
Finally, engaging in acts of resistance are often not about winning or losing a particular battle; rather, it is the propitious manner the act transforms one’s character by drawing one out of isolation and into the heart of life.
By such acts, we are strengthened. Our resistance to the present order has deepened our character and strengthened our resolve, and has bestowed upon us the courage to care deeply about the lives and fates of others as well as the imperiled state of our planet’s environment. We can–and we will–meet one another in reclaimed public space, and, finally, and, at long last, take up residence in a life-vivifying landscape where the death genes grip is loosened and where the wit of the world remains.