Monday, November 24, 2008

The Obama Paradox

Right-wing talking heads are right. The United States really is a center-right country.

If you've been following what the right-wing talking heads have been saying on mainstream news programs, then you know that they've been pushing the meme that "the US is still a center-right country." They started doing this immediately after Obama got elected, and true to their essentially robotic natures, they've churned out this meme Hostess Twinkie, conveyor-belt style nonstop ever since.

The thing is, though, this time, they're right. The so-called "left" has argued that Obama's election is, in itself, proof that the US is not a center-right country: "If the US is so center-right, then how come Obama got elected?" They'll ask, thinking they've just shut down the opposing argument. Well, here is the answer: Obama is a center-right politician. A President that appoints a Wall-Street millionaire as his Chief of Staff, arguably the second most powerful position in government, and a Barry Goldwater fan who helped pass NAFTA as Secretary of State is--not--a center-left President by any plastic-surgery strrrrrrretch of the imagination.

There are two Obamas: The real Obama, and the Obama as perceived by the incredibly naive public. This fact makes evaluating his election to the Presidency a bit complicated, because, even though the real Obama isn't going to do anything but nudge the country a bit to the left, the fact that the world thinks the US has voted for real change is something in itself. The American public has chosen what it thinks is change; on a certain level, it doesn't matter that it is wrong.

So the right-wing talking heads are right: America is still a center-right country...it just thinks its center-left. And thats the tragedy of the whole thing, or the tragicomedy, rather--as in you don't know whether to laugh or cry when you watch videos of Obama supporters going crazy after the election. Watching them, you'd think a revolution had happened, Bush had been tried and convicted, and a machine had been invented that sucks up all the pollution out of the environment and turns it into electricity and mountain-spring water. But, sadly, no: all that had happened was another Wall-Street-backed candidate winning the Presidency.

All the screaming and jumping up and down was just hysteria. This is the thing about Americans: They need to believe in something, in someone. Pretend to be the someone they need to believe in, and they'll believe. They won't even check to see whether you really are who you say you are. Why look a gift Obama in the mouth, after all? By the time November 4th rolled around, some 70 million Americans had convinced themselves that the political equivalent of the second coming was well nigh. The crazed enthusiasm that Obama supporters displayed on election night was so disproportionate to what had actually happened you got to wonder what the fuck is going on? (Although if you've been following politics, you've probably been wondering what the fuck is going on for 28 years already, and you have the psychology of a person who doesn't know whether breaking into a madhouse wouldn't actually really be breaking out of one.)

It's really heart-breakingly sad when you think about it. These people are so utterly downtrodden, feel so helpless, abused, and hopeless, that they'll convince themselves of the most ridiculously far-fetched fantasies just so they can go on. They lead empty, empty lives. This is what consumerism in a capitalist system turns people into. I remember a time when people would get up at 8, get to work by 9, and return from work at around 5:30. Now, everybody I know that works gets up at 7, and doesn't get back until--at least--7, and they work over the weekend, too. What the fuck kind of a life is that? And it's not only the need to pay the bills that drives them, but the sad fact that they don't really have any kind of a home life. There's just nothing to do except work. Once upon a time, there used to be these groups of people called "families." Now there are isolated individuals apportioned according to the number of television sets in their vicinity. And everybody is on something, usually alcohol.

And most people's jobs suck, too. Office Space wouldn't be as funny and popular if that were not the case. You don't even have to scratch the surface to get to the hostility that drives the series--the hostility is already there, on the surface. Except the perspective from which the shows are interpretable is the one that is aligned with the cool guy only, never the one aligned with the object of the hostility, like the asshole of the office or the boss. You're always looking at the office as if you were looking through the cool guy's eyes, seeing things that others don't, interpreting the world in an "intelligent," sober, and sophisticated manner, which is ironic, because the millions of assholes and bosses out there also look at the office from the perspective of the cool guy. Somebody's got to be mistaken, right? But, hey, that's America.

Obama might be able to push the country in a direction more aligned with Roosevelt's New Deal, but that is not going to make people's lives more meaningful. As a matter of fact, it was precisely the comfortable and secure lives that the New Deal afforded Americans that lulled them into the state of idiocy that allowed a maniac like George Bush to become President. And that is the Obama paradox. That was the Roosevelt paradox, too.

Meet the new paradox, same as the old paradox.

A society's culture is largely determined by its economy, by the means through which goods are exchanged. There have been times and places in human history when people have exchanged goods by exchanging gifts, by bartering, and by other means. Most of them have thought that the way they do business is natural, that things have always been the way they are used to things being--just like we do. But the fact of the matter is that capitalism is less that 300 years old, and there is nothing natural or permanent or fatalistic about it. We can change it if we want to. And we should, and not just because it periodically produces catastrophes like it has just started doing recently, and not just because instrumental intelligence and technology have advanced to the point where the enforcement of a global permanent state of emergency is possible, where permanent war and religious fanaticism have to be implemented to keep capitalism viable--as if each of those were not reason enough, as if FISA and the PATRIOT Act were not reason enough.

We should get rid of capitalism because of the effect that it is having on human culture, namely, fucking it up. Christian fundamentalists and their ideological brethren, the mollahs and Mormons, claim that the "social fabric" is being ripped apart by godlessness. The social fabric is being ripped apart, but it's not simple godlessness that is doing the ripping. It is capitalism. Capitalism produces godlessness; godlessness is a vacuum state. What, are we to believe that faith and religiosity are a matter of choice? That God died because people became lazy? No, God died because of capitalism. Religious people can yammer all they want, but that's a fact: God died because of capitalism, and that is, to put it ironically, a "blessing in disguise."

Objectively, life--the very cosmos--is meaningless. "Meaning" is, itself, is a human invention at the service of life. When God dies, one kind of meaning dies, and life becomes difficult: families fall apart, jobs become a bore, life itself becomes an intolerable protracted psychological torture session complete with middle-of-the-night cold-sweats and middle-of-the-freeway panic attacks, not to mention middle-of-the-workday silent moments when one's brain refuses to shut the fuck up.

The way that I look at it, to ask the question, "What is the meaning of life?" is to display the tell-tale symptom of a disease: the existential malaise, as it has been called, a thoroughly modern, which is to say capitalistic, disease.

Twenty, thirty years ago, the existential malaise was the intellectual's disease, and a slightly hip one at that. Woody Allen could wonder about the meaning of the universe, and his preoccupation with it would make him look smart. Today, the existential malaise is eating up American culture. People keep marveling at the number of fat Americans walking around in shorts, displaying their copious amounts of lard. Why do you think they're fat? When the ideology that controls and channels one's appetites withers away in the unmerciful atmosphere of naked capitalism, the appetites take over--people eat because eating is the only thing that gives them pleasure. That is why there are so many fat Americans. And fat people are going to be visiting your corner of the world, too, and soon.

The problem is that the psychological industry has wrapped-up the existential malaise in its own ideology, called it "depression," and come up with all kinds of drugs that its twin in the pharmaceutical industry produces as a cure. That's all bullshit. All you have to do is take a look at these signature American "diseases." If it isn't obesity, its anorexia or bulimia, the same problem, except in the inverse: people trying to gain control over their lives by exerting influence over the only thing they can, their bodies, because, indeed, life without meaning is like a ship without a rudder, and if your ship's got no rudder, then the only thing you have control over is the ship, so why not burn the whole fucker down and feel some real power in the process? And if it isn't anorexia or bulimia, then its that good old Attention Deficit Disorder. What is ADD, if not a kid having trouble focusing his attention because his parents haven't transfered to him those things that are worth focusing on, because they don't know what those things are, themselves?

More on this in a bit.

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