On Sunday evening, regular programming and routine weekend affairs were interrupted so that the Commander in Chief could announce the successful murder of Osama Bin Laden, the alleged evil mastermind of the despicable terrorist attacks of 9/11.
It was a classic “National Security Moment” that bespoke the Orwellian demi-monde into which we have sunk. In modern times, lazy Sunday mornings or uneventful weekday nights are typically interrupted to announce some kind of actual national emergency such as the attack on Pearl Harbor or the events of September 11th. Other happenings of less immediate impact and consequence have been allowed to wait until morning. Thus, the immediate reaction to the White House announcement that President Obama would address the Nation within moments was necessarily one of intense apprehension. Like Winston, arrested by the blare of loudspeakers, we were left to wonder worriedly what dread and dire result loomed over us now.
With relief we soon learned that the announcement would deal with the locating and killing of Osama Bin Laden. We could return to our fourth beer, to making the kids' sandwiches or to twittering with our myriad faceless friends as our glow boxes were filled with all the chirping chatter one ever needed to hear about Osama.
The moment shortly dragged on into minutes and to near an hour. Apparently the president was ensuring that he was the last person on the planet to actually give the news. Perhaps he was waiting for a “consensus” to emerge.
When he finally did take to the podium he had nothing to add except a lot of political hay. But the hay is worth weighing because it reveals the Administration's utterly deceitful cynicism. Obama began,
“It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history. The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory … The worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child's embrace. Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.”
Surely tears must have rolled down the eyes of those assembled outside the White House bearing lighted candles and yellow ribbons. But any rendition of Amazing Grace would have to wait a little longer as the President continued,
“On September 11, 2001, in our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.”
What Obama served up was paradigmatic scapegoating; pure and simple, no more and no less.
As everyone knows, “scapegoating” consists in arbitrarily blaming someone or something else for a problem that afflicts a society or group. However, as theorized by René Girard, the French professor of literature turned anthropological philosopher, the process begins in what he calls 'mimetic desire.'
According to Girard, human desire is learned through imitation. We see another person desiring an object, we imitate him by desiring the same object. Advertisers make great and profitable use of this principle.
However, this imitation soon snowballs into personal antagonism. In a kind of integral psychological calculus, the more we imitate another person's desires for various things, the more we come to imitate him himself. In this way, envy for things turns into personal jealousy so that the person we imitate becomes our competitor and, ultimately, our enemy.
The only way to break the cycle of 'mimetic violence' into which we have become trapped, is to transpose our hostile urges onto a sacrificial victim — to desire to have, and thus to share, the same enemy. The inversion is key. As we once competed for the same desireable object, we can now join in hating, fighting and destroying the same loathsome object. The brutal elimination of the victim assuages the appetite for violence and leaves the group suddenly and miraculously appeased and calm. Peace and Unity have been restored.
And so, the Fifteen Minutes of Hate end with the soothing voice of Big Brother telling us,
“Justice has been done… Tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history, whether it's the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.
“Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
“Thank you. May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.”
Girard's theories open up a fascinating origami of anthropological, historical and theological implications. But, at a purely material level, mimetic desire is simply another way of describing class conflict. What happens between individuals happens in the aggregate when two classes desire the same objects like food, shelter and… well… gasoline. In one way or another, the class conflict must be resolved.
Today, the United States stands at the precipice of a Great Depression. Its credit rating has been down graded by Standards and Poor's, the International Monetary Fund has sounded the tocsin for “belt tightening,” Bernanke's quantitative easing has all but trashed the ever-sinking dollar, the housing slump deepens and unemployment continues substantially unabated. As ex Senator Simpson put it with inimitable vulgarity, “there are too many pigs at the sow's teats.” Move over People, there is not enough milk for General Electric and Bank of America.
There are solutions to the economic crisis, but they will not be found in Obama's neo-liberal incantations and ministrations. Prosperity for all is not, never has been, and cannot be achieved by shovelling wealth at the wealthy. Security for all is not achieved by endless war.
But war and poverty are all Obama actually proffers, now and for the foreseeable future.
In the Futurological Congress, sci-fi writer Stanslaw Lem describes a destitute world where “atmospheric hallucinogens” have deluded people into thinking that a dim bulb is a chandelier and that a tin of mush is roast goose. Big Pharma may get us there yet, but for the moment, we will have to rejoice in the killing of Bin Laden.
© Woodchip Gazette, 2011