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Hiding From Shame, Addicted To Optimism

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JapanThe tyranny of our collective comfort zones
by Phil Rockstroh

The technologies that inflicted upon the world the ongoing tragedies in both the Gulf of Mexico and Japan serve a dangerous addiction, an addiction to blind optimism, a habituation of mind that allows us to dwell within provisional comfort zones but renders vast spaces of the world into deathrealms.

After each catastrophe, there ensues a scramble to contain the damage leveled, as, concurrently, the apologist of the present system explain the anomalous nature of the event. Yet, this much should be obvious: Attempting to clean up the mess, after it occurs, as oppose to altering the way of life that incurs the damage, is analogous to an addict believing a few days in detox will serve as a solution to his addiction.

In the same way drug dealers are reliant on an addict's unwillingness to reflect on the carnage created in his life, as well as, the havoc reaped in the lives of those near him, engendered by his addiction, the small group of hyper-wealthy elites who benefit from the current system rely on collective cognitive dissidence (or, as it has been termed, the fear of fear itself) to dissuade the public at large from peering deeply into the pernicious situation.

One of an addict's biggest obstacles is his optimism i.e., he is convinced he can figure out somehow, someway to use his drug of choice in a less destructive way…and, by reflex, rebels against the deepening sorrow that he must change.

When large, powerful corporations create messes beyond their ability to control the damage wrought by their institutional cupidity, those in charge spare no expense aggressively confronting the problem…that is, of course, by means of public relations blitzes aimed at the general public, while tsunami-sized waves of campaign contributions flood the coffers of elected officials.

Apropos, a school of thought has developed in which framing the perception of a catastrophe supersedes all other considerations. An after the fact casuistry, possessed of crackpot optimism, similar to the following, is affected: Dated technologies were at fault in that particular mishap, but, not to worry, in the near future, new innovations will safeguard against similar calamities.

Sure thing: The future will be bathed in the benign light of new technological wonders; our dread will be washed away by sparkling clean coal. Magical technological innovations will soon render nuclear power so safe that the only danger to the general public will be posed by the risk of being smothered by its profoundly huggable properties.

Such are the free market capitalist's versions of End Time belief systems, a variation of the type of magical thinking that induces an individual to scan the empty sky, waiting for Jesus to float earthward and redeem the ceaseless folly perpetrated by mankind.

If we are willing to accept being lulled back into our comfort zones by such fantasies (that are as craven as they are preposterous) we might as well wait around for hazmat crews of leprechauns riding flying unicorns to arrive on the scene and clean up the messes that corporate capitalist greedheads inflict on our increasingly besieged planet.

In a manner similar to how the indefatigable salesmen of the consumer state sell optimism, but, in reality, deliver anomie, the propagandist of the neo--liberal paradigm promise peace and prosperity -- yet their shock troops, comprised of the political and media elite, instead level class warfare at home and perpetual war abroad that renders landscapes blighted and mindscapes shell shocked.

Among their most pernicious contrivances has been to convince the passengers seated aboard the runaway train of the corporate state that the blur of landscape out the train's windows is caused by their own poor vision and the impending crash will be due to their negative thoughts. The implicit message imparted is: "If only you would have thought more optimistically and worked harder, you'd have been one of life's winners and you would have been cruising above the impending carnage in your private jet. How sad for you, loser. And, by the way," they lie, "did you know socialists are manning the controls of the doomed train?"

While these practitioners of the art of weasel word wizardry insist they sell hope, in reality, they sell shame.

Growing up in the deep south, being raised, as we say there -- not brought up, but raised--like corn, hogs (or Lazarus or zombies from the grave) and socialized there, shame is a subject with which I'm well acquainted; it has taken me a lifetime (and it remains an ongoing process) to sort through and shake out the shame-based sensibility acquired there.

"If you think that I am dumb, There is another universe of stupidity that I can show you!" -- comment posted on my FaceBook page when a stubborn, inconsiderate fact would not yield to his rightist umbrage. 

What is the origin of such an outlandish, inadvertently self-satirizing statement?

Shame (its flip side being southern pride) arises, descends, converges and intermingles from manifold influences and multiple traumas: The bizarre-as-a-talking-serpent concept of sin passed down through Calvinistic belief systems; the legacy of degradations inflicted from being on the losing (and morally wrong) side of the Civil War; as well as, the degraded social milieu that circumscribes the lives and fates of large numbers of the permanent white underclass residing in the region.

Shame stains southern sensibilities like red clay on Sunday whites.

A large number of the blustering, willfully ignorant, southern men that I grew up around, whether they are khaki clad, country club smoothies or leather jacket-donning punk rock belligerents, were twisted inside out, kicked and stomped insensate by shaming authority figures before they shed their baby teeth. If one listens closely, one can detect the voice of shame-bearing demons hissing in their every utterance.

Yet the knowledge of the origin and source of their suffering remains buried deep within these men. To acknowledge shame (even to oneself) is considered a tacit admission of having something to be ashamed of i.e., "If you ain't got nothing to be ashamed of, you miserable peckerwood, then you wouldn't have no need to feel it." So, more or less, the line of thinking, rather train wreck of pathology, passing for thought, goes.

Accordingly, a strong impulse arises to explain it all away -- to claim the entire episode is a misunderstanding, or to dismiss their feelings as being trivial, or merely an indulgence of weak-willed, thin wrist losers, or impugn the motives of those who find grievance in the situation. This mode of mind has made multi-millionaires of the black magicians of rightwing talk shows, experts at performing emotional sleight of hand tricks that displace the shame of their listeners on a host of targets.

The cordiality of my fellow southerners is as facile as it is fragile. In southern culture, a great deal of psychic energy goes into distancing oneself from shame. Brooding beneath southern culture's superficial charm and gentility is the unspoken threat: "Be nice, now" that often translates to, "ya'll do as I say -- and there won't be any trouble."

More often than not, it is all made personal. Affronts are long remembered and resentments cultivated, and being confronted with information outside of one's realm of experience and field of reference is regarded as condescension.

Being made to feel "less than," by insults, real or imagined, can bring on a noxious cascade of shame and its concomitant host of desperate evasions and violent displacements to mitigate the feelings of unease engendered.

This is how it was explained to me on FaceBook recently by a feller named Frank who was addressing the issue of his loathing of liberal/socialist tyranny: "My facts are correct. The far left is nothing more than the new set of communists looking to take over. Just a call me a southern god fearing commie killer who cannot wait to put more notches on his weapon if the day ever arises again. I did enjoy killing them so. Your sheep I will never be. That's a fact. [R]eal Americans have better things to do that listen to your drivel. I'm out of here."

Just what kind of demented cultural circus produces these crack-brained battalions of killer clowns for Liberty? A culture with a brutal and rigidly enforced (but furiously denied) class structure that inflicts constant humiliation, yet, because of its nebulous structure, remains hidden from view.

Therein exists the allure and tenacity of neo-confederate hagiographic nonsense. Pride is held near, and clutched closely to oneself, because the corporate state has left the white underclass bereft of little else. It is painful to admit to being powerless and devoid of a means to change the trajectory of one's fate. One feels demoralized and diminished as a result.

Moreover, nationwide, under the present system, riddled with vast economic inequity, the negative repercussions for disobedience and failure are more than most people can endure, economically as well as psychologically. In a culture where success is deemed the end all/be all of all things, failure is devastating. In a corporate structure rigged to benefit a privileged few, and upward class mobility is merely a mind-fogging, cultural myth -- then failure is altogether likely.

Combine this, with the pernicious, puritanical/Calvinistic notion that failure is due to flawed character, and you have a troubled population…staggered by self-doubt, roiling in the unfocused rage of the humiliated, and primed and stoked for demagogic displacements.

While nice liberals retreat to their comfort zones, the forsaken laboring class constructs insulating walls of resentment. In the US, more and more, the criteria that forges personality and informs our condition is wrought by the calculus of enclosure: guarded gate communities; isolation in motor vehicles; the insular pixel fiefdoms of the internet; long work hours, often spent in cubicles, comprised of meaningless labor, and cut-off from both the norms of nature and resonate human contact.

These conditions create an existence as redolent of the aromas of existence as plastic covered cheese-food. In cultural terms, it is as if the people of the US have become mummified in plastic packaging wrap… have been rendered -- Body Bag People.

Of course, one yearns for the void to be filled. But with hearts and minds mortared closed, sealed off from the shock and humiliation experienced from the daily economic exploitation of a hidden, intractable class system – what penetrates these self-constructed prisons is loud, stupid, even fascistic in tone and theme e.g., violent video games; the empty spectacle of steroid-fueled professional sports hype; the exercise in Rock and Roll imperium that US militarism has become; fundamentalist sermons that long for the blood and thunder of Armageddon. In short, all the Sturm and Drang necessary to pierce protective walls, yet, at the same time, insure one remains ensconced in one's comfort zone.

Yet the sense of powerlessness is not mitigated for long, a nebulous sense of unease nettles. The world appears to bristle with threats…a low-grade hysteria is maintained and ceaseless war is both convenient and inevitable. Yet all the ramparts and fortifications of the national security state still do not create a sense of safety; instead, its siege mentality increases the interior void of the US populace, and, as a result, the vitality of life is barred entrance.

Blood sacrifices must be made to the god of the inner abyss...corpses are tossed into the void.

Over the top? Given the fact of the hundreds of thousands of corpses the US empire has lain under the native soil of nations from the Persian Gulf to Central Asia (and now North Africa) in only the past decade up to the present -- which, in combination with a government that practices and a general public that is indifferent to the use of torture -- the image limned above doesn't seem hyperbolic in the least.

At what point, does it become incumbent upon an individual to seize back his identity, to reject being defined by the exploitive, dehumanizing demands imposed (and small bribes proffered) by corporate/governmental elites?

The ongoing tragedy in Japan reveals how dangerous it can be to refuse or defer the challenge.

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Visit Phil's website http://philrockstroh.com/


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