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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2011: A Brave New Dystopia

COTO Report

By Chris Hedges

The two greatest visions of a future dystopia were George Orwell’s “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” The debate, between those who watched our descent towards corporate totalitarianism, was who was right. Would we be, as Orwell wrote, dominated by a repressive surveillance and security state that used crude and violent forms of control? Or would we be, as Huxley envisioned, entranced by entertainment and spectacle, captivated by technology and seduced by profligate consumption to embrace our own oppression? It turns out Orwell and Huxley were both right. Huxley saw the first stage of our enslavement. Orwell saw the second.

We have been gradually disempowered by a corporate state that, as Huxley foresaw, seduced and manipulated us through sensual gratification, cheap mass-produced goods, boundless credit, political theater and amusement. While we were entertained, the regulations that once kept predatory corporate power in check were dismantled, the laws that once protected us were rewritten and we were impoverished. Now that credit is drying up, good jobs for the working class are gone forever and mass-produced goods are unaffordable, we find ourselves transported from “Brave New World” to “1984.” The state, crippled by massive deficits, endless war and corporate malfeasance, is sliding toward bankruptcy. It is time for Big Brother to take over from Huxley’s feelies, the orgy-porgy and the centrifugal bumble-puppy. We are moving from a society where we are skillfully manipulated by lies and illusions to one where we are overtly controlled.

Orwell warned of a world where books were banned. Huxley warned of a world where no one wanted to read books. Orwell warned of a state of permanent war and fear. Huxley warned of a culture diverted by mindless pleasure. Orwell warned of a state where every conversation and thought was monitored and dissent was brutally punished. Huxley warned of a state where a population, preoccupied by trivia and gossip, no longer cared about truth or information. Orwell saw us frightened into submission. Huxley saw us seduced into submission. But Huxley, we are discovering, was merely the prelude to Orwell. Huxley understood the process by which we would be complicit in our own enslavement. Orwell understood the enslavement. Now that the corporate coup is over, we stand naked and defenseless. We are beginning to understand, as Karl Marx knew, that unfettered and unregulated capitalism is a brutal and revolutionary force that exploits human beings and the natural world until exhaustion or collapse.

“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake,” Orwell wrote in “1984.” “We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.

The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.”
The political philosopher Sheldon Wolin uses the term “inverted totalitarianism” in his book “Democracy Incorporated” to describe our political system. It is a term that would make sense to Huxley. In inverted totalitarianism, the sophisticated technologies of corporate control, intimidation and mass manipulation, which far surpass those employed by previous totalitarian states, are effectively masked by the glitter, noise and abundance of a consumer society. Political participation and civil liberties are gradually surrendered. The corporation state, hiding behind the smokescreen of the public relations industry, the entertainment industry and the tawdry materialism of a consumer society, devours us from the inside out. It owes no allegiance to us or the nation. It feasts upon our carcass.

The corporate state does not find its expression in a demagogue or charismatic leader. It is defined by the anonymity and facelessness of the corporation. Corporations, who hire attractive spokespeople like Barack Obama, control the uses of science, technology, education and mass communication. They control the messages in movies and television. And, as in “Brave New World,” they use these tools of communication to bolster tyranny. Our systems of mass communication, as Wolin writes, “block out, eliminate whatever might introduce qualification, ambiguity, or dialogue, anything that might weaken or complicate the holistic force of their creation, to its total impression.”

The result is a monochromatic system of information. Celebrity courtiers, masquerading as journalists, experts and specialists, identify our problems and patiently explain the parameters. All those who argue outside the imposed parameters are dismissed as irrelevant cranks, extremists or members of a radical left. Prescient social critics, from Ralph Nader to Noam Chomsky, are banished. Acceptable opinions have a range of A to B. The culture, under the tutelage of these corporate courtiers, becomes, as Huxley noted, a world of cheerful conformity, as well as an endless and finally fatal optimism. We busy ourselves buying products that promise to change our lives, make us more beautiful, confident or successful as we are steadily stripped of rights, money and influence. All messages we receive through these systems of communication, whether on the nightly news or talk shows like “Oprah,” promise a brighter, happier tomorrow. And this, as Wolin points out, is “the same ideology that invites corporate executives to exaggerate profits and conceal losses, but always with a sunny face.” We have been entranced, as Wolin writes, by “continuous technological advances” that “encourage elaborate fantasies of individual prowess, eternal youthfulness, beauty through surgery, actions measured in nanoseconds: a dream-laden culture of ever-expanding control and possibility, whose denizens are prone to fantasies because the vast majority have imagination but little scientific knowledge.”

Our manufacturing base has been dismantled. Speculators and swindlers have looted the U.S. Treasury and stolen billions from small shareholders who had set aside money for retirement or college. Civil liberties, including habeas corpus and protection from warrantless wiretapping, have been taken away. Basic services, including public education and health care, have been handed over to the corporations to exploit for profit. The few who raise voices of dissent, who refuse to engage in the corporate happy talk, are derided by the corporate establishment as freaks.

Attitudes and temperament have been cleverly engineered by the corporate state, as with Huxley’s pliant characters in “Brave New World.” The book’s protagonist, Bernard Marx, turns in frustration to his girlfriend Lenina:

“Don’t you wish you were free, Lenina?” he asks.
“I don’t know that you mean. I am free, free to have the most wonderful time. Everybody’s happy nowadays.”

He laughed, “Yes, ‘Everybody’s happy nowadays.’ We have been giving the children that at five. But wouldn’t you like to be free to be happy in some other way, Lenina? In your own way, for example; not in everybody else’s way.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” she repeated.

The façade is crumbling. And as more and more people realize that they have been used and robbed, we will move swiftly from Huxley’s “Brave New World” to Orwell’s “1984.” The public, at some point, will have to face some very unpleasant truths. The good-paying jobs are not coming back. The largest deficits in human history mean that we are trapped in a debt peonage system that will be used by the corporate state to eradicate the last vestiges of social protection for citizens, including Social Security. The state has devolved from a capitalist democracy to neo-feudalism. And when these truths become apparent, anger will replace the corporate-imposed cheerful conformity. The bleakness of our post-industrial pockets, where some 40 million Americans live in a state of poverty and tens of millions in a category called “near poverty,” coupled with the lack of credit to save families from foreclosures, bank repossessions and bankruptcy from medical bills, means that inverted totalitarianism will no longer work.

We increasingly live in Orwell’s Oceania, not Huxley’s The World State. Osama bin Laden plays the role assumed by Emmanuel Goldstein in “1984.” Goldstein, in the novel, is the public face of terror. His evil machinations and clandestine acts of violence dominate the nightly news. Goldstein’s image appears each day on Oceania’s television screens as part of the nation’s “Two Minutes of Hate” daily ritual. And without the intervention of the state, Goldstein, like bin Laden, will kill you. All excesses are justified in the titanic fight against evil personified.

The psychological torture of Pvt. Bradley Manning—who has now been imprisoned for seven months without being convicted of any crime—mirrors the breaking of the dissident Winston Smith at the end of “1984.” Manning is being held as a “maximum custody detainee” in the brig at Marine Corps Base Quantico, in Virginia. He spends 23 of every 24 hours alone. He is denied exercise. He cannot have a pillow or sheets for his bed. Army doctors have been plying him with antidepressants. The cruder forms of torture of the Gestapo have been replaced with refined Orwellian techniques, largely developed by government psychologists, to turn dissidents like Manning into vegetables. We break souls as well as bodies. It is more effective. Now we can all be taken to Orwell’s dreaded Room 101 to become compliant and harmless. These “special administrative measures” are regularly imposed on our dissidents, including Syed Fahad Hashmi, who was imprisoned under similar conditions for three years before going to trial. The techniques have psychologically maimed thousands of detainees in our black sites around the globe. They are the staple form of control in our maximum security prisons where the corporate state makes war on our most politically astute underclass—African-Americans. It all presages the shift from Huxley to Orwell.

“Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling,” Winston Smith’s torturer tells him in “1984.” “Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves.”

The noose is tightening. The era of amusement is being replaced by the era of repression. Tens of millions of citizens have had their e-mails and phone records turned over to the government. We are the most monitored and spied-on citizenry in human history. Many of us have our daily routine caught on dozens of security cameras. Our proclivities and habits are recorded on the Internet. Our profiles are electronically generated. Our bodies are patted down at airports and filmed by scanners. And public service announcements, car inspection stickers, and public transportation posters constantly urge us to report suspicious activity. The enemy is everywhere.

Those who do not comply with the dictates of the war on terror, a war which, as Orwell noted, is endless, are brutally silenced. The draconian security measures used to cripple protests at the G-20 gatherings in Pittsburgh and Toronto were wildly disproportionate for the level of street activity. But they sent a clear message—DO NOT TRY THIS. The FBI’s targeting of antiwar and Palestinian activists, which in late September saw agents raid homes in Minneapolis and Chicago, is a harbinger of what is to come for all who dare defy the state’s official Newspeak. The agents—our Thought Police—seized phones, computers, documents and other personal belongings. Subpoenas to appear before a grand jury have since been served on 26 people. The subpoenas cite federal law prohibiting “providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations.” Terror, even for those who have nothing to do with terror, becomes the blunt instrument used by Big Brother to protect us from ourselves.

“Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating?” Orwell wrote. “It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself.”


  1. The Illusion

    America shimmers, losing shape,
    lost souls, the weakest generation.
    Democracy stumbles, people awaken,
    trouble on America’s plantation.

    America stands strong and free,
    a land of life and liberty?
    Indentured servants, ever on,
    ftom sea to shining sea.

    Laws for this, laws for that,
    control of the air you breathe.
    Nanny State, exploding prisons,
    Stalinist tits, on which we teethe.

    House and Senate, bought and sold,
    mortgaged by corporate donations.
    Court Supremes, selling their soul,
    torture’s cool, but do it in other nations.

    Traitors act, as though elected,
    a free and fair republic?
    Lying thieves, electronic frauds,
    in office to cheat the public.

    Bankers steal, Pelosi jets,
    stimulate this, stimulate that.
    Corrupt leadership, so brutal,
    little need to trim the fat.

    China profits, Brazil prospers,
    around us the world grows.
    Bush and Clinton, hold their power,
    JFK? Oh, no one knows?

    It’s falling apart, not so funny,
    at least I’m close to passing.
    Before the riots, the martial law,
    before Obama starts the gassing.

    Long before the troops deploy,
    during all the fucking confusion.
    Lucky enough, simply to know,
    our lives were just an illusion.

    RJ O'Guillory

  2. For those of us who have believed/known about the corrupt nature of 911, the management of the 911 response and 911 cover-up, the question is ...what now?

    In all my years of working for US DoD I learned one primary lesson,......there is always a reason for the corrupt act,....some agenda or outcome that the perp's are seeking to influence, or to gain/prosper/profit from....
    So, I have a hard time believing that the people who set up 911,.....people with the pathological balls to kill thousands of their own people, you think they are finished with their agenda? Do you think the criminals bold enough to pull down those towers, killers openly corrupt enough to know that you-know-the-truth-and-they-don't you think they are done?

    I seriously, sadly, doubt it.

    So, really...what do we do?

    I think we use the structure of the country against them,.....start at the state level and demand a constitutional convention....declare a constitutional emergency based upon the Sepreme Court's approval of kidnapping and torture
    ......declare the whole government corrupt, disband/impeach the current government, temporarily replace them with constitutional convention delegates until honest, fair elections can be held.

    What do you think?

    RJ O'Guillory

  3. The idea that a solution is going to come from within Washington, or the Political/Financial elite in D.C., New York or L.A. is folly
    .....most people think bad government is about incompetent behavior...and with the correct
    "performance improvement", the problem can be solved.

    What many Americans do not understand is that the structure of the US government and it's agencies is really poorly constructed theatre
    .....for example, EEO Law,.......the system looks like it is available to fight for equal rights for all employees, but when you file a claim, the organization takes the position that you are now a problem to be managed, and by the time you fight your way through the system, many simply give up.

    Take the Federal Whistleblower Protection Act for example.....if you win, and there is a finding that you were abused under this statute, you have to ask the Attorney General of the US for permission to file suit in Federal Court!

    How many folk do you think get that far before they just give my point is,...we do not simply need to tinker under the hood of our damaged country,....we need an entire ethical overhaul of the nature and purpose of government,
    ......then we need to elect people who know how to really structure an organization efficiently, do the job it is designed to do...period.

    RJ O'Guillory

  4. Here are some thoughts I had on the Constitutional Convention concept:

    1.- The convention should be made up of approximately 1500-1550 members, or 30 representatives from each state or territory covered by the constitution. The CC shall be disbanded upon the conclusion of their appointed tasks, and the legal seating of a full, legitimate US Government.

    2.- CC State members will be elected in a special election, held with no electronic balloting and managed in an open, fair and diverse manner that is managed on a local level, by local citizens.

    3.- The CC should be charted for two years and include appointment of CC members to hold temporary Agency Head or Secretary level positions. Additionally, the entire CC would vote on 9 members to hold temporary Supreme Court positions until a Constitutionally legitimate government is re-instated and can appoint/vote for a legitimate Supreme Court.

    4.- The CC shall be charged with examination of all Constitutional issues and arguments with regard to the modern foundation of US Government. The CC shall lay out a Constitutional method for structuring the country to allow for maximum levels of personal freedom in private and business affairs, yet still create a fundamental safety net in society for those less capable, fortunate or damaged. The CC will be structuring the country to handle a diverse, 21st century country of 300 million very different Americans. However, the CC will be charged with accomplishing this task within the basic principles of the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. The CC shall be tasked with formulating Constitutional language that clearly define government’s role in society, and the elimination of government from all aspects of life that are based upon personal choice and consequences. The role of personal behavior within community necessity, will be formally defined for future courts and generations.

    5.- The CC will be charged with examination and elimination of the principle of Corporate Citizenship as allowed by previous corrupt Supreme Court Rulings.

    6.- The CC will elect/appoint a member-based clemency/parole Board. The role of this CC Board will be to release all Americans being held on non-violent drug or vice-based convictions in federal detention. The CC Clemency Board will also lead an active effort to reduce all prison populations within the state or territorial control, that also match the non-violent, personal-use type convictions.

    7.- The CC will be empowered with investigative and judicial power related to the apprehension and trial of all former US government officials who authorised and approved illegal activities ranging from assassination to all other levels of corruption. The CC will form a Truth & Reconciliation Commission that shall be empowered to use US Military force in the closure of the US CIA, and apprehension of all corrupt US Government Officials. Public disclosure of this R&C Commission’s findings, along with detailed information on the criminal activities of all Federal law Enforcement Agencies shall be a top priority of the Constitutional Convention.

    8.- The CC shall be empowered to investigate and control the Federal Reserve Bank of the US, and shall be empowered to make needed structural changes to US Monetary Policy. Monetary policy of the US should be designed to benefit the largest masses of citizens and not to maintain a corrupt elite.

    RJ O'Guillory

  5. RJ O'Guillory that is a lot of food for thought. I think I agree with your basic principles, but let me think about your comments in depth.

  6. Chris Hedges cites specific dangers in American government and society in support of an ideology that equates American government and society with "a brave new dystopia".

    In my opinion, Hedges is on point in most if not all of his critiques of negative, "dystopian" trends in contemporary American society and government. But, his is an "half empty" analysis that ignores completely the 50% volume of the glass that contains a refreshing liquid. It is a particlarly disingenuous analysis given the retreat of American government from the excesses of the last Bush administration's "war on terror."

    A realistic and balanced assessment of the challenges to democracy in contemporary America will prompt a fruitful discussion of tactics for progressives.