The arrest, Thursday, of Chris Hedges along with fifteen other protesters in front of the Goldman Sachs offices in Manhattan, signals further exposure of the fangs of fascism lurking not-so-stealthily beneath the cover of our self-proclaimed democratic republic. The fraud, conspiracy, terrorism, and criminal belligerence engaged in by this and previous administrations should not go unpunished. The repeated use of force to silence thoughtful and largely conscientious voices is itself criminal, no less so than the torture and murder of civilians across MENA. What happened to the right of free speech in the homeland… or did it never really exist here? Was that “right” merely allocated to the landed-aristocracy, the wealthy class, and more recently, to the corporations (or super-citizens), by our aristocratic founding fathers and their well-heeled progeny?
On the other hand, what, if anything, could materialize from a revolt of those citizens claiming to represent the 99%? Could it ever lead to an ideal egalitarian society? Is such a vision of the body politic even possible, given the complexion of social and political structures emerging so many generations ago, and refined over the millennia into an efficient propaganda machine of top-down management and control? How does a society groomed on hierarchy, on progress, on individual excellence and achievement completely reverse course, learning instead to focus on the welfare of the group, on relationships, on charity, on giving rather than taking, on protecting the planet, and on cooperation rather than competition?
It has been repeated often enough that the USA is a nation of laws, grounded upon the “rule of law.” And even those who protest now in the streets of this nation, clamor that we need to recommit ourselves to that rule. I hear claims from OWS crowds and supporters alike that we need to restore the rule of law in this land. The fact is that the laws are crafted to protect the property and the vision of the elite, whether it concerns their vision of non-human nature, human relations, economic transactions, or the exercise of political power. In brief, there is a hierarchy controlling what is lawful and what is not. And while we can talk about natural law, or natural rights, this talk itself always presupposes a hierarchy of needs based upon unquestioned assumptions about the good or the proper ends of human life; it is always anthropocentric and, further, State-centric in its foundation. Even the statement, “All men are created equal,” was formulated by elite white males with the pre-understanding that it excluded those who they considered non-human or not important, viz., people of color (slaves, indigenous populations) and women. What is justice in such a formulation? And upon what basis, what foundation, do we make such determinations?
Chris Hedges argues at one point:
Our teachers, police, firefighters and public employees are losing their jobs so speculators like Blankfein can make an estimated $250,000 a day. Working men and women are losing their homes and going into personal bankruptcy because they cannot pay their medical bills. Our unemployed, far closer to 20 percent than the official 9 percent, are in deep distress all so a criminal class, a few blocks from where I speak, can wallow in luxury with mansions and yachts and swollen bank accounts.
But, how can we legitimately criticize? Upon what basis do we claim that the oligarchs, the corporations, and their minions (the political class) have contravened the rule of law? They create the laws, as well as the rules that govern the laws of commerce and the scales of justice. It is their system, and they have the lawyers (or they own the lawyers) to validate its lawfulness and the legality of their actions. In fact, they would argue that they are following the law (and the policies) as articulated by our leaders, the supposed representatives of the republic. If we want to question their actions, we must not question their adherence to “the rule of law.” After all, our very concept of lawfulness, as well as specific laws themselves, were crafted by these folks, their mentors and progenitors. Instead, we must question the concept of the Law itself; what it means, and the assorted hierarchies according to which such laws are promulgated in the first place. We must question their underlying and largely unspoken presuppositions.
In short, we must question the principles of capitalism, their conception of economic relations; we must question the modern idea of individualism, we must question the idea of progress, we must question the systemic need to control and manipulate both non-human and human nature, we must question the presumption and role of hierarchy itself (which the OWS group seems to be attempting), and finally, we must question the legitimacy of political power as such, its aims and its raison d’etre.
Only such radical critique, only a “shaking of the foundations” (to borrow a phrase from Paul Tillich) can hope to expose the errors in those systems and institutions that have led us to this precipice of global failure. Anything short of that critique can only lead to more of the same… eventually, if not immediately. Just look to Egypt:
Egypt’s ruling generals are working to perpetuate their hold on power… causing a political furor, [and] threatening a second revolution…
Or perhaps Greece:
Greece was in turmoil and the world economy in limbo Thursday as a high-stakes game of political brinkmanship in Athens led Prime Minister George Papandreou to abandon his explosive plan to put a European rescue deal to a referendum…
Here it may be possible to visualize the potential future that awaits us after a revolution. Certainly, those in charge can acquiesce to redistributing some of the wealth, improving the living conditions of those who have recently lost out, but the system, its institutions and hierarchies will remain intact and largely unaffected.
And while those calling for non-hierarchical organization may have an honest sense of the alienation and anonymity (not to mention the misrepresentation) inherent in any modern political or social hierarchy, the question remains as to how a country of over 300,000,000 people, let alone a planet of 7,000,000,000 (already well into overshoot), can possibly operate in a non-hierarchical, non-representative, egalitarian mode. It is simply beyond my current comprehension, particularly where the “individual against the world” mentality is so thoroughly ingrained, as it is in the theoretical underpinnings of the Curriculum of the West. But this basic dichotomy (self vs. world) is only the surface reflection of a much more profound opposition that we must examine and overcome if we ever hope to inhibit its momentum, or reverse its ill effects.
As David Abram rightly points out in The Spell Of The Sensuous, when human communication made its dramatic transformation from the spoken to the written (particularly the alphabetic) word, non-human nature suddenly fell silent and men began speaking only amongst themselves, mesmerized by the magic of their own written discourses. It is at this point that the fundamental dichotomy between human and non-human nature fully emerged, with a dead and now alien nature confronting humankind, simply waiting to be managed and controlled. And, of course, this was validated by the written biblical word, while being executed almost flawlessly by missionaries, explorers, and developers ever since.
Furthermore, the written word gave way to the syllogism, the basis for our modern conception of the “rule of law.” Such laws — first emerging in the ancient Near East, in Ur and Sumer, gaining refinement and headway through the centuries until they became fully self-conscious in the hands of Aristotle — were always aimed at controlling the hordes and unwashed masses occupying these newly founded cities and States, the 99%, the citizenry. They were never meant to apply to kings, legislators and the other autocrats managing the parade or the menagerie. But, until we get back behind that magical event, to the establishment of these institutions erected to protect and control, we can never hope to outrun the hierarchies that would control us and our nonhuman brothers and sisters.
Worse yet, the syllogism (Major premise, minor premise, conclusion) not only committed Western civilization to control of the masses and nature; it also committed us to the principle of historical causality (If A=B, and B=C, therefore, A=C), and an unshakeable faith in unilinear temporality, leading ineluctably to the pursuit of progress and an intractable focus on the future. It committed us, in short, to an emptied present, a life enslaved by their systems, dedicated to future dreams or dread over what our lives may never become.
To gain a concrete foothold on this, our present moment, before the precipice we are fast approaching, we must dig deeper and find a way behind this fundamental binary opposition that drives Western civilization and its hierarchies of command and control. We must find a new way onto that ancient footpath leading us beyond the nature/culture divide, rediscovering a perspective that recognizes human and nonhuman nature as one piece — my flesh, the flesh of the world. Only then may we again comprehend the cycles according to which all of nature — human and nonhuman — operates, and respond accordingly. If we cannot do this, I am afraid that any solution (political or economic) to our current dilema will simply maintain the institutional status quo, and continue to hold us hostage to the same systems of manipulation and control.