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Posts Tagged ‘Pathology of Power

Self-Interest and the Pathology of Power: The Corruption of America, Part 2

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by Charles Hugh Smith
Posted February 9, 2012
 
The self-interest of the alcoholic is to keep drinking. Is this truly in his best interests? The answer illuminates the pathology of power in America.
 
IF WE IGNORE THE LIP SERVICE SHOWERED ON “REFORM”, WE FIND THAT THERE IS REALLY ONLY ONE STRATEGY in America: extend and pretend. Individuals, households, communities, cities, states, enterprises and the vast sprawling Empire of the Federal government and its many proxies – all are engaged in extend and pretend.
 
The closest analog is a seriously ill alcoholic who tells himself he just has a hang-over when it’s abundantly clear he is suffering from potentially terminal cancer. With a hang-over, extend and pretend is the only strategy that works: you can try various “magic potions” to relieve the symptoms, but the only real cure is to give the body enough time to cleanse itself of the toxins you’ve created and pretend to be functioning in the meantime.
 
In the case of aggressive cancer, then extend and pretend is the worst possible strategy: ignoring the rapid progression of the disease only makes eventual treatment more difficult and uncertain. The only way to treat cancer is to face it straight-on, learn as much as you can about the disease and the spectrum of treatments, consider the side-effects and consequences of various treatment strategies, and then get to work radically transforming your entire life, mind, body and spirit to effect the cure.
 
Why do we perpetrate the delusion of a hang-over when it’s painfully clear we have cancer? We’re afraid, of course; we fear the unknown and find comfort in the belief that nothing has to really change. We call this denial, but it arises from fear and risk aversion. In the moment, amidst all the swirling chaos of fear and uncertainty, we choose extend and pretend because it seems to be in our self-interest.
 
This is the ontology of extend and pretend: a delusional view of our self-interest. The drunk is terrified of not being able to drink himself into a stupor; in that dysfunctional state of being, then he perceives his self-interest as denying he has cancer because he knows that treatment will require him to stop drinking. In effect, what he perceives as acting in his self-interest is actually an act of self-destruction.
 
Political and social revolutions occur when the productive classes realize the Status Quo no longer serves their self-interests. In other words, the revolution is first and foremost an internal process of recognition and enlightenment: all the propaganda issued by the Status Quo, i.e. that it serves the best interests of the productive classes, is finally recognized as false. As this awakening begins, a divergence between the definitions of self-interest by the Power Elites (financial and political) and the productive classes begins to open. This is extremely dangerous to the Power Elites, who are fundamentally parasitical and predatory: their wealth and power all flow from the labor, taxes, debt service and passivity/complicity of the productive classes.
 
The Power Elites’ time-honored strategy to protect their own wealth and grip on power has three components: one is to pursue a strategy of pervasive, ceaseless propaganda to persuade the productive classes that the system is sound, fair and working for them; the second is to fund diversionary “bread and circuses” for the potentially troublesome lower classes, and the third is to harden the fiefdoms of power and wealth into an aristocracy that is impervious to the protests of debt-serfs and laborers below.
In addition to “the system is working for you” social control myth, the wealth/power aristocracy also invokes various fear-based social control myths: external enemies are threatening us all, so ignore your debt-serfdom and powerlessness, etc. In the ideal Power Elite scenario, a theocracy combines faith and State: not only is it illegal to resist the Aristocracy, you will suffer eternal damnation for even thinking about it.
Ask yourself this: how much influence do you as a citizen, voter and taxpayer have over the Federal Reserve? If we’re honest, we must confess that the Federal Reserve is as remote to us as any branch of the North Korean government: we have zero influence over it, and the same can be said of our elected representatives. This is the definition of an aristocracy, oligarchy (a power structure in which power is held by a small number of people), kleptocracy, etc.
 
The Power Elite has a key advantage over the citizenry: its own self-interest is clear. The citizenry must entertain this question: is the Status Quo really working for me or not? The Power Elite aristocracy has no such confusion: the Status Quo is working beautifully for them, and the only threat to their wealth and power is the possibility that the productive classes might opt out and stop paying the taxes and debt service which funds the parasitical Power Elite. Thus the Power Elite has a single goal: to persuade and coerce the citizenry into accepting their powerlessness and debt-serfdom as a pathological form of self-interest.
 
There is another dynamic to the Power Elite aristocracy’s grip on concentrated wealth and power: the self-selecting, self-perpetuating pathology of the aristocracy and the Upper Caste that so slavishly serves them. Author Chris Sullins identified this dynamic as one of self-propagating fractals (The MacRib is Back! September 23, 2008):
 
There are readers who might feel I’m being very hard on the public with the comparison so far. But look how people have allowed their names to be changed. They have gone from being called citizens to consumers. A citizen is a very human word which denotes awareness, involvement, and participation. It’s a word that sounds active and conscious in its very nature. A consumer by contrast sounds far more passive. A lot of other animals and even inanimate processes consume things. A consumer sounds like sheep grazing.
 
Once a populace accepts a self-definition that strips out their participation as anything but passive consumers, then the maintenance of power boils down to test-marketing new social control myths and fear-mongering. This sophisticated level of marketing and predation requires a highly trained class of servants: an Upper Caste of technocrats, middle managers, marketers, lobbyists, “creatives,” engineers, etc. who do the heavy lifting that keeps the Power Elite’s wealth and status not just intact but expanding. The reward for this service is a hefty salary that enables the purchase of the signifiers of upper-middle class existence and an intoxicating proximity to power and status visibility, i.e. some measure of recognition as “being somebody important.”
 
Until very recently I reckoned this Upper Caste of loyal servants comprised about 20% of the American populace, but upon closer examination of various levels of wealth and analysis of advert targeting (adverts only target those with enough money/credit to buy the goods being offered), I now identify the Upper Caste as only the top 10% (the aristocracy is at most the top 1/10th of 1%). Wealth and income both fall rather precipitously below the top 10% line, and as globalization and other systemic forces relentlessly press productivity into fewer hands, then the rewards aggregate into a smaller circle of laborers.
 
As noted yesterday in Social Fractals and the Corruption of America (Of Two Minds, February 8, 2012), you cannot aggregate healthy, thrifty, honest, caring and responsible people into a group that is dysfunctional, spendthrift, venal and dishonest unless those individuals have themselves become dysfunctional, spendthrift, venal and dishonest.
 
This is the ontology of the pathology of power: If you want to join the elite levels of the Upper Caste, where “doing God’s work” is a daily practice of fraud, embezzlement, misrepresentation, collusion, purposeful obfuscation, all in service of a pathologically self-destructive notion of self-interest, then you must become dysfunctional, venal and dishonest (with becoming spendthrift in service of acquiring signifiers of status a close fourth).
 
Since non-pathological people will quit or be fired, then these fractals of corruption are self-selecting and self-perpetuating. This is true not just of financial America but of elected officialdom. Anyone who is still naive or delusional enough to think that getting elected to Congress or the state legislature will empower “doing good” will soon learn the ropes: the next election is less than two years away, and if you want to retain your grip on power you’re going to need a couple million dollars.
 
And if you want to “get something done,” you will need to take orders from your party leadership and service your donors. I once had a friend who by extraordinary effort got himself elected to the state legislature. Being a young idealist, he actually refused to vote as his party leadership directed: thus identified as a rebel, he was predictably out two years later.
 
So much for “working within the system.” By the time all the donors, lobbyists, leeches and parasites have been properly serviced, the “reform” bill is 2,000 pages long. As a result of the feudal structure of wealth and power in America and the self-reinforcing, self-propagating fractals of pathological servitude, the citizenry are increasingly remote from power. The aristocracy, like feudal lords in distant, fortified castles, demands obedient service of the powerless citizenry: work hard, pay your taxes and service your debt – and fears any awakening of true self-interest.
 
Just because a devoted member of the Upper Caste is allowed to enter the castle to do his work doesn’t mean he is part of the aristocracy. That glow of proximity to power is his reward for dutifully slaving away as a higher-order serf.
 
The American Revolution was triggered not by a sudden upwelling of noble ideals, but by the realization of the landed nobility and productive classes that the commercial and political domination of Great Britain was placing their wealth and liberty at risk.
 
Put another way: they awoke to the fact that the Status Quo no longer served their essential self-interests. When the Upper Caste and productive classes reach this same conclusion, then perhaps they will elect a transformational third party to sweep away the corrupt political class. This new party must embody a moral imperative that acts as a social fractal: retaining power is not the goal. If the people want to restore the pathological aristocracy to power in two years, then by all means let them have it. They will do so without our complicity, interest payments, labor and servitude, for we have opted out of pathology.

WikiLeaks: The Banality of Evil and Imperial Over-Reach

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by Charles Hugh Smith
Posted originally December 14, 2010

The WikiLeaks controversy speaks to Imperial Hubris and insecurity; we have forgotten that the U.S.A. stands separate from the American Empire.

A number of readers have asked me to comment on WikiLeaks and the release of “secret” diplomatic/government cables and documents. (How “secret” were they if up to 3 million people had access to them?) I am going to connect a number of issues here by identifying the core contexts of the WikiLeaks controversy.

That every nation requiries diplomacy and a diplomatic corps is not in question, nor is the need for confidentiality in pursuing diplomacy. The need for Armed Forces to defend the nation against aggression is also not in question. What is in question is whether the American Empire is acting in the best interests of the U.S. and its citizenry.

1. The U.S. operates the sole Global Empire on the planet
The words “American Empire” offends some readers, who claim “That’s not what America is about.” You can make up your own version of what America’s about, but you cannot deny the existence of the Empire unless you insist on ignoring facts.

As I wrote in Survival+, I make no value judgment in describing the American Empire–it is simply a fact that no other nation has the military, diplomatic, intelligence and financial reach of the U.S.

When I describe the small portion of the Empire which is visible to those of us without security clearances, I get emails (some from veterans) accusing me of “saber-rattling.” I do not intend a value judgment, yet simple statements of fact are obviously triggering emotional responses.

Other readers are offended that the U.S. hasn’t yet crumbled, and they list various strengths of China and Russia in an attempt to discount the Empire’s scope and scale.

Once again: the American Empire is simply a matter of record. To deny its existence, to claim that the mere description of it is saber-rattling, to assert that China and Russia are almost as powerful as the Empire – these are value judgments and wishful thinking. I look at the U.S. Empire the same way as I do the Roman Empire: it was a real structure, and whether it was “good” or “bad” is another matter altogether.

At the risk of boring readers, I will once again go over the basic context of Empire, some of which I addressed in The Great Game: Geopolitics and Oil (October 19, 2010).

China and Russia are land powers, the U.S. is a global maritime power. The navies of China and Russia are designed not to project power but to thwart the power projection of the U.S.

Neither China nor Russia have the capabilities to project power beyond their borders. If Canada stops exporting shale oil to China, there is nothing China can do to force Canada’s hand except bluster.

China and Russia have long borders with potentially hostile states. The U.S. does not.

Historically, China and Russia possessed land empires. The U.S. has historically been a maritime, trading/mercantilist nation.

2. World War II forced the U.S. into global geopolitics
The U.S. began as a weak, vulnerable maritime nation focused on trade. It’s foreign policy was simple: promote trade, limit permanent alliances, avoid “foreign entanglements,” and deter European interventions in the Americas.

In 1940, the American people remained solidly isolationist. They wanted no part in the wars that were enveloping Europe and Asia. It required setting up Japan to be the aggressor against the U.S. to trigger America’s entrance into global war. The American Power Elites were awakening to the uncomfortable realization that what happened in Europe and Asia could eventually impact the U.S.

The U.S. had dabbled in Imperialism, taking control of Spain’s old Imperial holdings in the Philippines and the Caribbean via the “Splendid Little War” of 1898, but there was significant domestic opposition to such global meddling; even the President was appalled by the annexation of Hawaii by American residents’ force of arms.

This discomfort with global Empire evaporated in the titanic struggle to defeat the German and Japanese Empires. Once the war was won, America tried to return to its isolationist past; the military rapidly demobilized, maintaining a large force only in Europe to defend against Soviet expansion. The Soviet’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and German missile technology changed the context irrevocably; now the Pacific and Atlantic oceans were no longer bulwarks against attack.

The context of the Cold War was fundamentally military, with a generous side helping of diplomacy and propaganda to win or defend allies against the Soviet Bloc. Intelligence, especially photo and signal intelligence, became of paramount importance, as the secretive Soviet and Chinese societies left few transparent clues about their leaderships’ intentions or their capabilities.

With the advent of the Corona/Keyhole photo satellites, the U.S. began to receive useful intelligence from space-based assets. The U.S. continues to devote massive resources to signal collection intelligence.

For more on the U.S. intelligence gathering capabilities, please see The Satellite Wars. To say we civilians have little idea of the scope of such operations is an understatement.

This context remains in place today. The American Power Elites retain the Cold War context of military superiority, global intelligence and signal gathering and diplomatic efforts to set the agenda. (Foreign policy of the United States.)

As a result, it seems entirely “conventional” for the U.S. to spend $1 trillion prosecuting military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, and hundreds of billions more on GWOT (global war on terror) and a vast, shadow Empire of signal collection and analysis.

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