Wednesday, October 12, 2011


"The enemy of the black is not the white. The enemy of capitalist is not communist, the enemy of homosexual is not heterosexual, the enemy of Jew is not Arab, the enemy of youth is not the old, the enemy of hip is not redneck, the enemy of Chicano is not gringo and the enemy of women is not men. We all have the same enemy: The enemy is the tyranny of the dull mind. The enemy is every expert who practices technocratic manipulation, the enemy is every proponent of standardization and the enemy is every victim who is so dull and lazy and weak as to allow himself to be manipulated and standardized." ~Tom Robbins

"Those who make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities..." ~Voltaire

“If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”   ~Malcolm X

The connections between peace, critical thinking skills and a good old fashioned (young fashioned? Pretty young protestors out there) sense of civic duty have not ever been more clear to me. I wrote elsewhere once a few years ago that fascism, or totalitarianism in general if you prefer, is more of a mindset than a government. This was in the context of a discussion a few years back (Obama was not yet president) of a Florida college kid who was tazed by a campus security officer at a Kerry campaign speech. Discussion erupted about whether the kid had deserved it; apparently he’d been going on and on at the mic during the Q and A and someone even mentioned that he had spoiled Harry Potter! And there was the inevitable argument that the security guys did what they had to do. After all, how did they know he wasn’t a threat? I found myself pointing out repeatedly that that wasn’t relevant. In a democracy that’s working, of course, the burden of proof was on the law enforcement. This is because they have greater physical and legal coercive power, and people just don’t handle power well unless it’s constantly checked. That the kid was rude and arrogant was never the point, no matter how true. That he’d spoiled Harry Potter was not the point (though one does sympathize). I was stunned to find myself hearing such arguments by those who say they believe in democracy in support of law enforcement being able to inflict pain essentially to correct public manners—to teach the kid a lesson.

The over-identification with authority and with the elites, in my view, explains such reactions. It explains the need to see the kid put down or even the need to mention Potter-spoiling at all. It also helps explain how so many of our essential institutions seem to have slipped out of our control. This kind of over-identification with authority is damaging to a democracy just as surely as an Al Qaeda or corporate media ownership. Yet it’s so hard to talk about because so personal and intangible. But understanding this dynamic is essential to being a citizen in a democracy because fascism, again, is not so much a regime as a mindset. A mindset that says, “They know best”. A habit that fails to take personal responsibility for being informed and forming one’s own opinions. Our own minds are the real last line of defense against totalitarianism. This is, as others have also said, why regimes even bother targeting academics, journalists and artists.

What’s the relevance to the unrest and peaceful uprisings that we’re seeing now, especially the Occupy movement? Finally enough people across the US—across the world—have begun seeing and saying out loud that we insist on our own voices being heard and the social contract continuing to work for at least most of us. Apathy and cynicism, of course both servants of the status quo, appear to be disintegrating. This is one reason that the “agenda” media folks seem to be demanding (they are of course elites too, deeply implicated in shaping what’s worst about our current status quo) isn’t crystal clear yet though themes of economic justice, jobs, addressing corruption and peace are clearly observable. Because the reality is that a number of institutions and cultural systems (media, political, financial) are seen to have all failed us, the problem is just probably not going to fit into one white paper. Wherever this ends, it must start with citizens doing their fair share of governing if we are to remain a government BY the people. Before we can #occupywallstreet, we must #occupyourown minds.

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