Archive for February 18th, 2008

The Party’s Over

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The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies
Barak Obama is not a black version of John Kennedy. He is a pathetic but apparently successful attempt to repackage tired political hackery as this season’s hot new reality show. And yet, he is not what is wrong with American Politics.

Hillary Clinton is a nakedly ambitious, calculatingly manipulative career politician who wants to create a dynasty by keeping the presidency in the hands of two families for nearly 30 years. And yet, she is not what is wrong with American Politics.

John McCain is an authentic war hero who now wants to lead an American permanently at war with all who resist the American Way, for thousands of years if necessary, making the Hundred Year War flash by in comparison. And yet, he is not what is wrong with American Politics.

George Bush has been easily the most disastrous president in modern American History, squandering decades of goodwill and consensus building within and without our nation, shattering the emerging unity of progressive democracies and savaging the American economy for the enrichment of the narrow sliver of socio-economic stratum from which he hails. And yet, not even he is what is wrong with American Politics.

What is wrong with American politics is our outdated, terminally corrupt and putrefying political parties, which have grown like cancers within the body politic, choking the life from its once robust physique.

The enduring genius of our system of government is that it was established, and continues to operate, on a set of timeless principles embodied in the oldest functioning Constitution on the face of the planet. This document has withstood the test of time because it does not try to solve the issues of the day, or reflect current thinking on the inevitable conflicts of interest groups which occur within any authentic democracy.

Rather, it was intended to be an enduring paradigm for the peaceful interplay of interest groups which is at the heart of modern democracy. As times changed, the issues of the day and the interest groups involved in them would change, but the system, with its checks and balances, would endure.

When a group of individuals with common interests in one or a group of issues of the day, they band together in an orginazation to promote those interests. These groups are called political parties.

Unlike the underlying structure of the US government, they were never meant to be permanent. Quite the contrary – by their very nature they were meant to be transitory. They were meant to be spontaneous and ad hoc, and as interests, demography and development changed, new parties would be born and old ones would wither away.

And thus it was during the early years of the Republic. Some of the most memorable parties in our nation’s past lasted only a few election cycles. The famosisimo Federalist Party, which was formed by Alexander Hamilton and controled the government until 1801, only really lasted 24 years (1792-1816).

At around the same time, the Democratic-Republican Party, also called the Republican Party, but not to be confused with the modern-day GOP, founded by Thomas Jefferson, outlived the Federalists by a few years (1792-1824) before it lost power, split, transformed, and changed its name.

Other notable names had even shorter existences. The Whig Party withered away after 22 years (1833-1856) and both the Know-Nothing (American) Party (1912-1916) and the Bull Moose (Progressive) Party (1912-1914) made it through a single election. The Liberal Republican Party (1872) and the Constitutional Union Party (1860) lasted less than a year.

Today newly formed parties don’t seem to stand a chance. They are short lived, puny and powerless compared to the major parties. Remember the Citizen’s Party (1979-1984), the Vegetarian Party (1948-1964) or the American Worker’s Party (1933-34)? Neither do we.

We do, however, remember the Natural Law Party (1992-2004), which we actually voted for in three presidential elections because their candidate, Dr. John Hagelin, a physics professor at Maharishi University and MIT, promised to deliver world peace through Transcendental Meditation and Yogic Flying, which we have always wanted to try.

This is what political parties should be all about. The excitement of forming something new, of sweeping away the old, of constant renewal through throwing out the soiled and patched-up plans of the previous generation, and starting from scratch with a fresh piece of paper on the political drawing board.

But for over 150 years the American political panorama has been dominated by just two behemoths, the Republicans (b. 1854) and the Democrats (b. 1820’s). They are now ancient, by historical standards, and have become much more of an impediment to than an implementation of a modern functioning Democracy.

Old parties are dominated by old men, and the adage that power corrupts holds just as true for political parties and their leaders as it does for kings.

The major American political parties have become institutionalized to the point that they are incapable of acting as agents for real change in the political system, which clearly is failing us in this, our hour of need. The insidious and incestuous coupling of political parties with centers of economic power has reached the point, after 150 years, where they cannot be separated.

Feeble efforts at campaign reform, like the McCain-Feingold Act, are doomed to failure because the clannish cadres at the cupolas of capitalism and the political parties have merged; they share the same values and interests, and they act in almost unconscious concert.

The fact that the two major party candidates in the last presidential election belonged to the same Yale University secret society 40 years ago, as did the heads of dozens of major American corporations, is NOT serendipity.

Because the cancer of Special Interests has spread too widely and penetrated too deeply into the major parties to be excised, these parties need to die. At present, they are staying alive thanks to transfusions of young, relatively uncorrupted blood. But they are capable of giving nothing in return, and will eventually and inevitably infect the donors, who will develop an antipathy or active antagonism to the political process as a result.

Barack Obama, we repeat, is NOT The One. He is a clever repackaging of the same tired old Democratic Party pseudo-populism, a political philosophy which should have died with the industrial revolution. Because he is young and good-looking, because, unlike most other candidates since JFK he can give a humdinger of a speech, and most of all because Democratic voters are so desperate for real live human alternative to the animatronic robots they keep foisting on us, he seems to be the front runner. Besides being a fraud and a cruel mirage, Barak Obama is a Republican wet dream.

But it really doesn’t matter who wins this election. We are more convinced than ever that The One will not emerge from either the Democratic or Republican parties. Whoever wins this election will be faced with intractable problems, and saddled with so many promises and debts that he or she will be unable to effect change on the level needed to right the course of the ship of state.

The American public, groping its way by instinct, is aware that the major parties are bankrupt. The 22% approval rating for Congress is a much better measure of the public esteem for the parties than the interest in the presidential race, which is powered by the vain hope that the victor will actually be able to change anything.

Unfortunately, things will have to deteriorate way past where they are now before a majority of Americans get desperate enough to abandon the doomed relics of parties past and start thinking about how to design a functional, transparent, participatory political party in the internet age.

Despite our curmudgeonly and cynical attitude, the Dowbrigade is a dreamer at heart, and a believer in the dream of democracy. To us, the Democratic and Republican parties are the most significant impediments to a rebirth of Democracy in this country. We truly believe that a better model is waiting to emerge, and that The One is waiting to lead it.

We just wish that he or she would hurry up.

Snap Killings – Lottery of Death

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DEKALB, Ill. (AP) — Steven Kazmierczak had the look of a boyish graduate student — except for the disturbing tattoos that covered his arms. Professors and students knew him as a bright, helpful scholar, but his past included a stint in a mental health center.

The 27-year-old Kazmierczak also had a history of mental illness and had become erratic in the past two weeks after he stopped taking his medication, said university Police Chief Donald Grady.

from AP

At least since Lizzie Borden allegedly (she was never convicted) took a hachet to her father and step-mother, the American press has fixated on and glamorized snap murders – incidents in which previously unexceptional, seemingly normal individuals suddenly snap and commit acts of uncommon violence and sociopathic savagery.

It would be interesting to study the origins of this kind of killing: have they always existed, or are they a product of modern urban culture? What seems clear is that the public fascination with the phenomena is rooted in the deep-seated fear of the familiar suddenly becoming threatening – the same fear that popularizes movies about alien infections, demonic possession or Stepford Wives.

Except that in this instance the danger is very real and very deadly. Although the statistical probability that someone in your classroom or office will decide to come in strapped like Rambo on any given day is infinitesimal, it is not zero, and that is enough to keep some people awake at night and add to the background level of primal fear, instinctual unease and environmental paranoia already rampant in the atmosphere.

One of the reasons we are increasingly uncomfortable is that, whatever their origins or causes, these berserker attacks seem to be increasing in frequency. Whereas in Lizzie Borden’s time notorious cases arose every decade or so, in the past century, after the state-sponsored killing frenzies of the WWs, sudden, private sector killing sprees seemed to crop up every few years.

Post offices were so often the scenes of such inexplicable massacres the term “going postal” entered into the American lexicon.

Now, hardly a semester goes by without a horrific attack on some campus, in a kind of macabre academic lottery of death.

As a rational academic and a God-fearing sinner, the Dowbrigade has two very different gut feelings about these snap killings.

On the one hand, what we know about the practice of modern pharmaceutical psychology and the chemical causation of psychosis has convinced us that the common clue in all of these cases – “he recently stopped taking his medication” – is the key to the killings.

The human mind, for all its indomitable resiliency and adaptability, can be a fragile vessel. Given the pressures and unnatural postures minds are forced to endure today, and the paucity of spiritual support, it is a wonder more minds do not snap. After tens of thousands of generations of slowly evolving as wandering tribes primarily eking out from nature the resources needed to survive, in less than a hundred generations we have morphed into urban micro-nodes in a global cyber-organic network, completely disconnected from our environment and constantly consuming objects and ideas neither necessary nor necessarily conducive to our survival.

No wonder people snap.

Actually, under normal conditions, people do not snap, even when they go mad. Shakespeare’s glorious descents into madness (think Lear or Macbeth) paint a more typical picture: gradual loss of one’s grasp on reality, hallucinations, especially audio (hearing voices), fixations, increasingly erratic behavior. Traditionally, societies developed a series of mechanisms to deal with these warning signs; talking, praying, sleeping potions, exorcisms, cold baths, sanatoriums in the countryside.

In extreme cases, the mad were locked away in asylums or attics, or simply killed, overtly or through neglect.

But today, modern psychiatry claims to have banished these archaic and inhumane treatments, in favor of scientific therapy, usually a combination of “talk therapy” and medicine. Because time is money, and it takes a lot longer to train and prepare a good shrink than it does to manufacture and market a good pill, these days the emphasis is on the drugs. The interests of the trillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry may also play a role in this.

Thanks to modern medicine millions of Americans who would otherwise be neurotic, disruptive or severely disturbed are instead able to lead productive, “normal” lives, working regular jobs, having families, paying taxes and participating in our cultural, economic and political life.

The problem is that these drugs just mask the symptoms of mental illness and bandage over the serious psychological problems which afflict these folks. Many of these walking wounded are seriously psycho, and would normally have ground to a halt or behaved in ways that demanded attention, if not for the drugs.

Think of the mind like a motor. When something goes wrong, a nut comes loose or a wire gets disconnected, it normally rattles around or shuts down until you get it fixed. These powerful pharmaceuticals allow the motor to keep functioning while broken, taking the mind to places that minds do not ordinarily go. Not good places.

One of the side effects of these drugs is that they make many users feel like “zombies”, lethargic with fuzzy thinking and muffled emotions. Imagine not being able to fully wake up, or to sense things with the strength and clarity you used to have.

So they stop taking their medication, and within 72 hours are trapped within a full-blown psychosis, delayed and intensified by the drugs, complete with voices, visions, compulsions and unstoppable urges, previously sealed up like malevolent genies in bottles of capsules, now uncorked.

And this is the rational, scientific explanation. On the other hand, despite an intense antipathy to everything associated with the religious right, the recent spate of snap killings has almost convinced us of the existence and active intervention in the waking world of the Devil – Lucifer, Satan, Mephistopheles, call him what you may.

It is the sheer malevolence of these attacks which points us in that direction, as if the killer had sat down and asked himself “What is the absolute most horrible, sadistic, evil thing I could possibly do?” and “How can I absolutely assure myself of a first-class ticket to hell, and how can I take as many innocents with me?”

It is difficult for us to imagine even the most demented or damaged human being honestly asking those questions, let alone acting on his answers, without some demonic intervention. Crimes of passion, crimes of greed, even crimes of indifference or plain cussedness, all those we can understand in human terms.

To a thinking, feeling human being struggling to fit this phenomena into our world-view, the unexpected, inexplicable evil of these snap attacks, like the miracles and saved souls on the other side of the ledger, require us to look higher, or lower, than the limits of the human soul, for answers.