On the political level, all of these aspects of Bush-Cheney America - the Bigness, the selfishness, and the oversimplification - are played out time and time again, chiefly by the Red states' administration and Congress, and at real costs to just about everyone and everything else. Our legislators have just passed the third consecutive major revenue bill in a row that favors the wealthiest few over everyone else to the greatest extent ever. First it was the income tax, with the highest cuts going to the wealthiest people. Then the estate tax cut, which only benefits hyper-rich families leaving their children estates of over a million dollars. And now the dividend tax cut, which confers a benefit only to those Americans fortunate enough to have assets tied up in the stock market (and, of course, the corporations in which they invest). I checked: the Tampa newspaper did not even report on the dividend tax cut. The right-wing tabloids in New York are focused on hating the New York tax hikes, never mentioning that they are only necessary because of cuts in federal aid - cuts made 'necessary' by the tax cuts for the rich.
And again, a denial of all responsibility: cutting social services, despoiling the environment (since my earlier Zeek article on this point, the Bush administration has decided to de-protect - a new word for a new horror - half a million acres of wilderness, and has submitted an Energy Bill with subsidies for Big Oil and no action -- none -- on fuel efficiency), providing no relief for the new poor, women's earnings still stalled at 79 cents to the male dollar, continued growth in the military-industrial complex, and of course those annoying wars in which innocent people die. The point is: these are not just policies that I happen not to like, in which I have my taste and the SUV driver has his. They are policies that cause great suffering.
As adept political actors in today's zeitgeist, the Republicans have realized that the Big Lie really can be pulled off, and they are engaged in pulling it off. The president leads us to war, so you can't criticize the president. Meanwhile, the Wag-the-Dog accusation (i.e. that the war was waged precisely for that reason) is so extreme that none of his gutless opponents can make it. As long as the lie is big enough - as long as it is so outrageous that it cannot be suggested in the mainstream - you can get away with it. Especially if the owners of the mainstream have an interest in colluding with the lie.
And again, the Left confuses the issue, just like I did in high school. They think Ashcroft is the enemy, with his theocratic moralism and assault on the bill of rights. Yes, abortion and civil liberties are endangered - but this is nothing compared with the restructuring of the American economy so that the Right wing will always stay in power. Or the foolish antiwar protesters, still moaning about the war in Iraq. You were duped, brothers and sisters. How about the fact that, with the new telecommunications rules, three companies will control all major media in the U.S.? Follow the money: that's where the heart of America is. It's more fun to be Holden Caulfield, but the phoniness is just decoration.
3. Fear lies at the center of consumption
Increasingly, the costs of hyper-capitalism are being felt even among the privileged. I had an interesting conversation with my mother in Tampa, which started with some reflection of how many of her friends - reasonably healthy-living people - had succumbed at young ages to cancer and other diseases. We agreed that genetic predisposition is at least partly responsible, but I maintained that it is simply unreasonable to suppose that we can inhabit a wholly artificial world - ventilated by air conditioning, surrounded by industrial materials, ingesting chemicals - and not expect some adverse effects on our bodies. We may be endowed with a Divine soul, but our bodies are animal bodies. They are not meant to consume as much and as industrially as they do. It's almost involuntary - while writing this paragraph, I ate monosodium glutamate, artificial colors, and processed, bleached flour - but it's still outrageously weird from a biological perspective. No wonder, I said, that people are getting cancer. We are living in a factory.
My mother replied that it's too much to ask people not to consume in this way, and, as the conversation expanded, she said it was also too much to ask them to depart from the socio-economic norm in general. This is what people grew up with, she said. You can't expect so much. My mother said that she too was amazed at the vulgarity and enormity of some of the excesses . But this is how people live, and it's not reasonable to expect everyone to see their way out.
Zeek in Print
Spring 03 issue available here
Simulacra and Science Fiction
I Hear America
I wish I was...
Josh Gets Contacts
When I Met Humility, I saw Letters
Zeek @ Low
June 26, 2003
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