The culture of torture is The Voice, Dancing With The Stars, The PBS News Hour, Charlie Rose, Guggenheim, The NFL, NBA, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, Fox, Hannity and Rick Steves. The culture of torture is the soundtrack of our lives, Spotify, YouTube, the apps that make us feel so free. We are not redeemed by the freedom of our expression. Turns out, the First Amendment is just a gateway drug to the high grade corporate dope.
The hallmark of our age is that we don’t exist in the here and now. Everything we engage in – i.e. the media – is designed to distract us from it. Better put: to relieve us of its demands. The standard analysis of contemporary culture is centered on distraction. They, whoever “they” are, are always trying to distract us. They stick enough crap in front of us and we’ll forget about everything. This doesn’t fly. (Just because a girl walks by in a bikini doesn’t mean that I’m going to wreck my car into the telephone pole.) The better analysis is that we have constructed a culture for the sole purpose of getting us off the hook. All the art, books, films, technology, grand expressions of our complicated souls are constructed to vindicate our passivity, make us feel like doing nothing is doing something. In a contemporary capitalist society, it’s not religion that’s the opium of the people, it’s culture.
Even when some part of our culture does give us seemingly relevant information, that selfsame culture condemns those who would act upon it. (I think this is why many of us are so fucking crazy.) Say you read an article about CIA Black Sites a decade ago and determined that you couldn’t allow this to happen to happen on your watch. You view your life as a kind of stewardship and being complicit in a society that tortures violates your ethics as a human being, renders your world so darkly meaningless that you have to do something to survive. You do further research, come to a place of rational understanding, then go chain yourself to the gates at Langley so that the spooks can’t get in or out. (You probably can’t get within five miles of the George Bush CIA Headquarters (that you paid for), but let’s assume you do something that physically disrupts operations there…)) It is impossible to even imagine one of the talking head liberal publishers, or talking head journalists, or talking head whatever going on their Sunday morning talk shows and doing anything other than slightly smirking, scoffing or mocking the action if the action is even mentioned at all.
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And the orgy of smugapathy™ is yet to even begin: light of our lives, essence of our democracy, the interminable season of our disease where watching five thousand hours of the most vapid bullshit commentary aka the presidential election is seen as being engaged. This is it. The smorgasbord of the republic, the projectile vomit of all civics lessons, our bloated culture sitting at the roundtable like that fat man in Monty Python just waiting to explode. The punditry and intelligentsia the John Cleese waiter who keeps saying that it’s wafer thin. One more bite. Come on. It may be messy, but the free flow of ideas are critical to a democracy…
It’s got to be rad to own a magazine or newspaper and feel like merely publishing information makes you into Tom Paine. To live up there in the ether, condo on the Upper West Side, ignoring emails from everyone except from the most important name brand people, going to museum fundraisers and getting to play Sojourner Truth while the world further descends into the sadistic status quo. What could better than to simultaneously criticize the system while benefitting so greatly from it? It’s like living with your fingers crossed behind your back and getting away with it every time. Give me Dick Cheney any day.
Yeah, Dick Cheney may be our own little Torquemada, but he also may be the most honest man in America. He would do it again in a minute. And so would we. We wouldn’t? Okay, what would you do to stop it? (Go see a documentary?) What would you do to stop anything that you swore that you would never allow to occur? They deregulated the financial industry again in the budget they passed last week. How many of us way, way back there in 2007, said that if Wall Street ever tried to pull the same shit, then we would personally go down to the financial district in Manhattan and disrupt the investment banks? Some brave people actually did, or at least tried, but as a general principal we don’t like those people. We don’t like activists so much that the word activism has a bad connotation. Writers are always trying to find new words for it, to rebrand it, to somehow make it acceptable to mainstream culture, when the entirety of mainstream culture is established to undermine those who take action. This is the real purpose of American culture: the enabling of apathy.
Not through distraction, but by offering up moral confusion on a silver platter so that we suck it down like lines of coke off the Lynrd Skynrd mirror we scored at the fair. (The mirror, not the coke. Alright, the coke…) At the end of the day, we just don’t know, because really we just don’t want to know, because if we knew, and we didn’t do something about it, then we would not only be bad people, but we would a bad country. And America cannot be a bad country. You have to trust us. We’re the good guys, even when we’re torturing you, because we’re still not quite sure what the deal is…hmmmm…not quite sure what the deal is…Not quite really sure what all the facts are…It’s a very complicated situation….Yeah, that environmental scientist was smart, but that guy from the oil company made some good points and looked so nice…The language of fascism is not everyone screaming let’s put all the rats in concentration camps and torture them till they die – although it gets there eventually – it is the dominant national group embracing an intentional uncertainty so as to not be held responsible for the actions that it supports and condones. It is the lazy willingness to accept obviously idiotic, patently fucking moronic, reasoning and justifications that give rise to the culture of control. Fascism finds its birth in nothing more than a refusal to address reality, life in the nostalgia of the past, the promise of the future, when enough people claim to be lost and confused in the here and now.
Right now there are, as best we can estimate, more than 90 thousand people being held in the extreme deprivation of solitary confinement. They are in a dehumanized living hell, human beings driven into madness, suicide, brutalized on a mass scale. Not at some CIA Black Site, but here at home, not more than a few miles from where you live. There’s the mall, the movie place, then the prison down the highway. They got People magazine’s there in the secretary’s office, murals on the walls painted by a local artist, and TVs in the visiting room. No pictures of Stalin, Pol Pot or Holiday in Cambodia on the turntable, which would be weird. It is the gulag, plain and simple, except Ivan Denisevich was not held captive and tortured by a publicly-traded corporation on Wall Street.