JR'S Free Thought Pages
Obama and the “Futility of Hope”
By Johnny Reb
Hope is political pabulum for an infantilized nation – Joe Bageant
Faith and Hope are for Suckers
The impetus for this essay is subtly expressed in one of my favorite epigrams: “The optimist believes we live in the best of all possible worlds; the pessimist fears that this is true.” I’ve often thought of writing an antidote to the glut of New Age Pollyanna pabulum that pollutes our bookstores, books touting the delusion that happiness, success, even reality, are simply a matter of positive attitude and power of the will. Some titles I've contemplated are The Power of Positive Pessimism, Cynicism for Dummies and A Skeptics Survival Guide in a World of Bullshit.
Hope is the leash of submission - Raoul Vaneigem
So why do so many of us engage in mindless gibberish about faith and hope?
First, it allows us to avoid the difficult work of thinking. With faith one can form a conclusion without the intellectual toil of researching the facts, drawing inferences and formulating arguments. Faith’s partner in delusion and deception is hope, the two familiar tools used by those who have power over us. They’re elated when their subordinates resort to hope at the expense of reflection, critical thought and subsequent action. As Hitler once quipped, “it’s fortunate for those in power that people don’t think.” Faith and hope are the partners of optimism, delusion, credulity and the farcical “positive thinking” movement– don’t worry; be happy because after all, your political leaders, your Boss and God will look after all your needs. Thinking is really hard work, so why not just sit back, put on those rose tinted glasses, sip that glass of Riesling or chill out with a Molson’s and dream for better things. In short, just have hope. Your corporate masters and their bought and paid for sycophants in government will look after you.
Second, hope and faith are promoted by those who desire power over us. Both concepts are antithetical and detrimental to democracy. It isn't merely false hope that keep those who go along “everywhere in chains” as Jean Jacques Rousseau put it, but the very idea of hope itself. Barrack Obama’s campaign for the presidency in 2008 was based on the sterile rhetoric of “change” and “hope.” Unsurprisingly nothing about the impending “change” was articulated and so far nothing much at all has changed. In fact the global economic depression, imperialistic wars and culture of corporate thievery left by the corrupt Bush administration has been exacerbated. The status quo of the corporate oligarchy is still intact with the same Wall Street Financial Mafia and kleptomaniacs calling the shots and playing their crass casino games. The next economic meltdown, probably the last nail in the coffin of civilization as we know it, is just around the corner.
It’s remotely conceivable that Obama really did want a radical break from Bush’s crude politics and desired to change the systemically corrupt political and economic system but his campaign was cleansed of contentious topics and issues that really mattered to vast majority of Americans. Only certain questions were permitted at debates and questions were framed to avoid genuine concerns.
Obama has practiced the same Machiavellian cynicism and pursued the same basic domestic policies and hegemonic imperialism as the prior George W Bush administration. Ramping up the war in Afghanistan was one of his first acts as President. And the fiasco in Iraq continues. After almost a decade, still no Osama bin laden! He’s probably languishing in an opulent Penthouse in Manhattan. But anyone with a brain stem knows it was all about Iraq's massive oil reserves. Osama bin Laden simply provided a convenient smokescreen and fear mongering ploy, not unlike most other wars throughout history. But unlike Boy George who struggled putting a sentence together, his polished speeches are frequently uplifting and erudite, but anemically non-confrontational and the paragon of political correctness. Obama, despite the ludicrous ranting and raving corporate sponsored Tea Party Movement and Sarah Palin Republicans, including their oxymoronic claim that he’s a communist and a fascist, has every possibility of turning out to be the ultimate savior of finance capitalism and as such, one of the more successful conservative presidents ever. Ironically, history has shown us that there are progressive changes that only hard-line extreme right wing conservative can accomplish, such as Nixon in China and de Gaulle in Algeria. Even FDR was a staunch conservative, born into an extremely wealthy family, who saved capitalism from destroying itself during the Great Depression with the New Deal. Without the New Deal, there would have been not only the widespread civil disobedience that was witnessed during that period, but possibly a full blown revolutionary civil war.
Barrack Obama’s best-selling book was given the warm fuzzy title The Audacity of Hope. Those who voted for Obama are now seeing that he’s nothing but “Bush with a brain” or as Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek called him, “Bush with a human face.” So far he’s made no more than a few cosmetic changes to the system of cronyism and piracy of the corporate Wall Street oligarchy and wealthy investor class that financed his campaign. He’s squandered the bully pulpit that was given to him and has chosen a cabinet that is populated with the same sort of corporate pimps who facilitated the meltdown of the global economy and the virtual bankruptcy of his country. He's even nominated the CEO of General Electric to be his chief economic advisor. Is it any accident that GE received bailout money and has not paid a cent in corporate taxes for several years despite raking in billions in profits? A more apt title to his book would have been the “Audacity of Hype” or “The Futility of Hope.”
We’re told by both Bush and Obama (and all the other Liberal or Conservative leaders of the past) that the ordinary citizen must understand that it’s impossible to make up the shortfall in education budgets, unemployment insurance and social security but imperative to produce an endless funnel of billions, even trillions, into failing banks and endless imperialistic wars. Even the idea of nationalizing these rogue financial institutions is beyond the pale since it smacks of “socialism”, but it’s not socialism to bail out an investment bank rendered penniless by speculation, deregulation, unmitigated greed and mismanagement. The urgency of the global financial crisis became an unconditional imperative, with sums of unimaginable magnitude created throughout the world out of nothing - but there’s never any urgency for species extinction, global warming or starving children throughout the world. Even democracy, discussion and debate are quickly suspended to meet the dreadful emergency. And what was the emergency? It’s to restore confidence in the dysfunctional system of greed and corruption called state capitalism and the availability of endless credit. In other words, nothing of substance is created or produced, but simply to restore belief - faith and hope in a destructive toxic socio-economic system.
Consider the anti-immigration movement in the American Southwest in particular. The movement of illegal Mexicans crossing the US border into what was, ironically, once part of their own country is deemed a serious issue - but by whom? It’s certainly not the capitalist class or businesses who hire them as ultra-cheap sources of labor. The perceived problem of Latinos in the United States is no different than the Muslims that have been imported into Western Europe for the same reasons. So, when we talk about anti-immigration measures, about the different forms of immigrant exclusion, and so on, we should always bear in mind that anti-immigration politics is not directly linked to capitalism or the interests of capital. The free circulation of cheap labor is, on the contrary, in the interests of big capital, since cheaper immigrant labor will put pressure on "our own" workers to accept lower wages. That was the primary goal of the so-called Free Trade Agreements pushed through by neo-conservative governments throughout the world in the 1990s. And is outsourcing not also now an inverted form of employing immigrant workers? Resistance against immigrants is primarily the spontaneous-defensive reaction of the local working classes who (not wholly unjustifiably) perceive the immigrant worker as a new kind of strike-breaker and, as such, as an ally of capital. In short, it is global capital which is inherently multicultural and tolerant of this phenomenon.
The reality is this: the present Conservative Corporate Welfare State cannot be changed from within, but rather needs to be dismantled and replaced by a genuine democratic grass roots people's movement. The Democratic and Republican Parties in the US and the Liberal and Conservative Parties in Canada need to be abandoned since they no longer serve the needs and wishes of 95% of the population. This will require not only civil disobedience, but revolution because no one willingly relinquishes power. But as long as people believe that their lives will improve under the present plutocracy, we're doomed to serfdom. Not only anarchist groups and those on the left, but most on the conservative right will admit to this as well. They all agree on one thing: the present system is an insult to democracy, run by rapacious corporate zombies, their lapdog media and their complicit puppet lizards in government - and must be brought down. These disparate groups need to toss their precious ideological dogmatisms aside and get together, at least until the present regime is destroyed. We're facing total collapse and unless we do something now, the power vacuum will be filled by fascist assholes who belong to the Christian Right, the NRA and John Birch Society who are armed to the armpits and far more motivated and pissed off than the rest of us. Or perhaps we could end up with an oligarchic mafia like the USSR after its total collapse in 1991. The country is a basket case and run a man named Putin who is no better than a gang leader in East LA.
And forget about hope - in fact hopelessness and despair are more valuable emotions because they feed the rage and the need for ACTION. We need to get as pissed off as Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch) in the 1976 movie Network ("I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore") or better yet, Joe Stack who flew a small airplane into an IRS office in Austin Texas on February 18, 2010. The suicide letter he left articulated quite brilliantly what was the problem with his country. When the present system is trashed, an organic debate can decide how to create a genuine democratic order. This is how the French Resistance defeated the Nazis, by old enemies cooperating for the common good; Communists, Socialists, Anarchists, de Gaulle Conservatives, monarchists set their petty differences aside and fought the common enemy. This is what is needed today and we must start today before the entire system collapses. The first corporate entity to be taken over and run by the people ought to be the biggest and most nefarious criminal organizations on the planet, banks.
Ironically, the people most mentally prepared to bring down the state are anarchists, but they are adamantly opposed to creating another one. Any sort of hierarchical system is anathema to them. In his book Reinventing Anarchy (1996), Howard J Aldrich wrote: "Anarchy is not without leadership; it is without followers. Leadership under anarchism is exercised within an egalitarian framework. That is, it is based on the presumption that the leader knows more about the subject for which he or she is providing leadership" Anarchist "leaders" attempt to influence outcomes through education and rational argument, not through issuing orders or directives. Of course this approach assumes that everyone is amenable to education and open to the truth if evidence and compelling argument are presented to them. There is of course a potential problem with this approach. How does one reason with the 60% of respondents to a CBS poll who believe that man did not evolve according to the Theory of Natural Selection but rather through divine creation according to the story of Genesis in the Bible.
Acquiescence and Willful Ignorance
The most profound slavery must be that in which the slaves can conceive of no other possible or better world than their bondage – Joe Bageant
Hope and its partner faith, we are told, are the lights at the end of our tunnel of despair. Politicians, religious leaders and New Age Gurus ramble on about how hope and a positive attitude will solve all our problems; get us that college degree, job, promotion and financial security. Surely I'm not the only one who is tired of being polite to people who blather about such idiocy and nonsense that’s shamelessly promoted in best-selling self-help books such as The Secret by Australian New Age guru “Help Me” Rhonda Byrne. Hope is our reason for persevering, optimism our protection against the desolation of pessimism and doubt which must at all costs be avoided. As Byrne argues in her outrageous pseudoscientific book, negative thinking and skepticism are the primary cause, not only of poverty and failure, but disease. Those who are in dire straits, suffering from poverty or ill health just need a change of attitude and a new reality can be created. Reality is just a mental construct, a mere act of volition - an idea that ought to be an insult to the intellect of anyone with a junior high school science education. At the heart of each of these arguments is the Big Lie called "The American Dream", the insistence and willful ignorance that our plans and expectations will be achieved if we just believe. We are continually implored to trust our Governments, Wall Street, Bay Street, the Bank of Canada and the Federal Reserve, though none of them care about nor serve our interests. Some believe the same things about their imaginary friend Jesus - and his Deadbeat Dad, God.
The basic premise of each of these arguments is an appeal to our willingness to believe that everything will work out fine if we just believe, hope and have faith. Yes - Politicians, Pastors and Peddlers love credulity. When the American feel-good industry tells you to "be positive", it's really telling you to accept your misery with a smile on your face. In British Columbia we accept $8 an hour (lowest minimum wage in Canada) and are expected to be happy about it. Accept that America exploits and murders innocent workers and civilians overseas in corporate sweatshops and imperialistic wars - but be happy about it. Don’t worry; be happy. The nightmare called the American Dream has been fed, and continues to be fed, by our willingness to suspend reality in exchange for believing that we can have anything we want if we just want it badly enough. Or just work harder, like the many who worked like slaves in factories and coal mines 12 or more hours a day until they died from work-based debilitations and diseases such as black lung before the age of 40. The so-called “American Dream” has always been a big lie, an Orwellian smoke screen intended primarily to anaesthetize the masses and give them an elusive “hope”. Just keep your nose to the grindstone. As the late great George Carlin rightly exclaimed in one of his skits, “It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”
Even when the working class wage slaves have on rare occasion taken off their rose-tinted spectacles, revolted against a typically conservative autocracy, organized and won an often bloody revolution as in the Bolshevik revolution, Cuba, Mexico (remember the movie Viva Zapata ?) and elsewhere, they never really win. Both the Bolshevik and Cuban revolutions were destined to fail. These revolutions, and all the others, were sabotaged by the powerful imperialist and colonial powers of Western Europe and the United States. In Russia the Western capitalist countries sent thousands of troops and armaments to Russia in support of the brutal feudalistic Romanoff monarchy, inciting a civil war, and in Cuba the United States starved Cuba with harsh economic embargos, military intrusions and multiple assassination attempts on Castro (638 at last count) by the CIA (Convenient International Assassinations). Assassination attempts on Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez are so common the Venezuelan press no longer bothers to report them.
Surely the recent global financial meltdown brought about by the neo-conservative ideology of international thievery called global capitalism is sufficient to wake people up from their “hope and dream” slumbers – but no, the nightmare endures. As the late working class icon Joe Bageant informs, “The ‘crisis’ was set in motion by institutions lending each other non-existent money none of them can pay back. Consequently, the masses are once again expected to produce enough material value in the world to make the funny money real, and shore up the system one more time. To ‘raise the money’ to do this will require generations of future working class productivity shoveled into the furnace of corporate capitalism's banking machinery. There was nothing left to steal, so extorting the future was the only option left.”