October 19, 2012
Thus read a fan's sign during the Tigers' victory over the Yankees last night. For you low-information sports observers, the reference is to Miguel Cabrera, baseball's first Triple Crown winner in 45 years:
Cabrera became just the 15th player to win baseball's Triple Crown, joining an elite list that includes Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig. Cabrera topped the AL with a .330 batting average, 44 homers and 139 RBIs, becoming the first Triple Crown winner in the major leagues since Boston's Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.Cabrera for President! The story refers to Cabrera as "one of baseball's reluctant superstars." If he were to bring a similar reluctance to assuming the office of President, he might be a significantly less awful choice than what is on offer. And the fan's sentiments are one of the exceedingly rare indications of a perspective on the election that I regard as remotely beginning to approach healthy normality.
One aspect of the baseball playoffs this year unexpectedly provides a useful insight into the presidential "contest." The following is in the nature of A Brief Treatise on the Post-, Pre-, Anterior, Posterior, Ad Hoc, Constructivist, Expressionist, Whateverthefuckist Nature of (Un)Competition in Contemporary America. This particular thought scorched itself into my wounded soul as I watched the Orioles, for whom I had rooted all season with the single-minded devotion of a goggle-eyed ten-year-old, go down to defeat by the Yankees in the American League Division Series. The Orioles had played a lot of great baseball during the regular season. Then, in the series against the Yankees, they solemnly dedicated themselves to a peculiar proposition. I spoke to a man highly placed within the Orioles organization after the team had been consigned to the wastelands of winter by the imperialist, fascist Yankees. This man would only speak to me anonymously, since the team had not granted him permission to speak on the record about the team's (non)performance in the Yankees series. He explained to me, in a tone of grave recognition of what he regards as a seminal breakthrough in human understanding that is positively (which is to say, negatively) goddamn metaphysical in its implications, the nature of the Orioles' insight:
"Winning in baseball has always been predicated on scoring at least one more run than your opponent. So to win, you gotta score some runs. But everyone does it that way. The Orioles decided that was ultimately uninteresting. What if winning, at least in the Orioles' minds, resulted from not scoring runs? Now that would really be something! So that became the Orioles' holy grail: whatever you do, don't score runs! I've never seen a team so fervently dedicated to a single goal. It was totally awesome. And they succeeded! They didn't score runs more than the Yankees didn't score runs. Since the Yankees were barely scoring themselves, that was very, very difficult. But the Orioles pulled it off. I've never seen anything like it. So they lost, which is to say, they won. In their heads, I mean. In the end, regardless of the cheers or boos the world gives you, you have to be able to look yourself in the mirror. The Orioles can be mighty proud of themselves. It's not easy to not score runs the way they didn't score runs. Fantastic!"
He also pointed out, his face and voice dancing with delirious glee, that the Yankees finally realized the superior nature of the Orioles' achievement -- for the Yankees are bringing a similar dedication to not scoring runs in the series with the Tigers. So successful (which is to say, unsuccessful) are the Yankees in their new quest that they may be swept by the Tigers in tonight's game. My anonymous source exulted: "This is so great! The Yankees can buy runs the way they buy players and everything else. They've always done it that way. Now they understand there's a much more enlightened approach. Now they're buying not runs. You might see the tide of history actually turning once in your lifetime. You're seeing it right now. Fantastic!"
When you hear it explained in these terms, it's impossible to disagree. If the Yankees win tonight -- that is, if they lose -- they will compel my respect, as well as my gratitude. At least until they start acting like imperialist fascists again. I give them maybe 20 seconds.
But, you ask, what the bloody hell does any of this have to do with politics? If you reflect on it a moment, you'll see how obvious the answer is. The truth of what's happening is the opposite of what you think. Maybe not what you in particular think (the readers of this teensy blog are, like, supersmart, for which we are totally grateful), but what people generally think. "This is a fiercely fought contest for the future of America!" "The Democrats and Republicans have fundamentally opposed visions for our country!" "The fate of the nation, indeed the fate of the world, depends on who is elected President!"
What a load of crap. What's actually happening? Here's part of the explanation:
Fascinating and entirely predictable fact of the week, month, year, decade and century: no matter who is elected the next president of these wondrous, unique United States of America, "the last, best hope" of all the planets in all the multiverses ever posited in your strangulated imaginations, with respect to every matter of consequence, the next president will be ... a white man! Surprise!Those are the opening and closing passages of an essay I wrote over four years ago. It's just as true today. When I wrote that piece in June 2008, Hillary Clinton was still in the race. As I explained in the article, in every significant functional respect, Clinton is a white man just as Obama is. (For a lengthy discussion of this point, together with tons o' links, see this.)
[T]he beliefs, motives, and goals of the American ruling class have remained basically unchanged for well over a century. That means they are the beliefs, motives, and goals of a white ruling class. Obama may be biracial in hereditary terms, but in every significant respect, he is as white as any black man can be -- ideologically, politically, and with regard to every critical policy issue.
As they say, dear reader: only in America. It's one fucking great country.
Romney and Obama are both perfect representatives and embodiments of the loathsome corporatist-authoritarian-militarist system that has been killing this country -- and millions of people, both abroad and at home -- since its inception. That's why they're running for President. In terms of essentials and basic principles, it doesn't matter a damn which is elected. But Americans do love their fantasy of a "representative democracy" -- which the United States never was, and was never intended to be. There is a significant sense in which the charade of national elections (and increasingly, the charade of elections at any level) is a symptom of a deeply neurotic, delusional separation from every relevant fact, and from reality altogether.
I'm working on a related essay which I hope to complete within the next week. In that piece, I will explain why I view anyone who is at all conversant with political events -- and I emphatically include all political commentators and bloggers, as well as regular readers of political blogs, in this group -- and who votes for either Romney or Obama to be profoundly immoral. I will also explain why I have concluded that anyone who votes for a third party candidate for national office, while certainly not immoral in the same sense, is making a grievous error. The error is especially regrettable because it makes far more likely the awful outcomes such voters say they oppose. I'll turn to those questions next time.
Now, I want to discuss a related but separate issue, and offer some thoughts about last night's debate. Yes, I watched it. Scotch helped. (Also periodically checking on the Yankees' commitment to not scoring more runs than the Tigers were not scoring, which blessedly remained intact. Go, Yankees! You almost appear to be not completely terrible for the moment.) As background to this issue, I offer another passage from that June 2008 post. I want to emphasize that I think very few people fully grasp the implications of these observations -- and I've found this failure to be common even among many dissenters and those who say they passionately oppose the actions of our government. The inability to acknowledge fully the meaning of this passage arises from the manner in which all of us are taught the primacy of obedience and the related reverence for authority from a very young age. These lessons make it almost impossible for most people to look at our national leaders and identify just how evil and dangerous they are. I'll have much more to say about this in the follow-up essay.
Here is that passage from four years ago:
Because all three of these politicians [Obama, McCain and Clinton] have chosen to engage in national politics at the highest level, they have no choice about enthusiastically adopting all the indicia of the ruling class, for indeed they are the ruling class. That is, they have no choice if they want to win. And all three of them assuredly want to win (even if one of them seems to be out of the running for the moment, but much can happen between now and November, and even between now and August).If you follow that last link, you will learn my prescription for this election, and for all national elections. If a sufficient number of people followed that course of action, significant changes might begin, and in a largely nonviolent manner. Until fairly recently, I viewed that "tale" as simply that: an imagining of how life without allegiance to any external authority might begin to emerge. I considered it impossible for events to develop in that manner in actuality. But given the nature of events that have occurred in the last ten years -- many of which I never would have believed or thought remotely credible before they happened -- I no longer view it as mere fantasy. Far stranger things have happened in history; far stranger things are happening every day. (As just one example, consider the trajectory of public attitudes concerning drones being used domestically in the United States. First, almost no one thought drones would ever be used domestically, certainly not in significant numbers. Then, most Americans got used to the idea of domestic drones, but we were concerned about "intrusive" surveillance and invasions of "privacy." Now, most Americans have already become accustomed to the idea of wide-scale surveillance, and they don't resist overhauling our conception of "privacy" altogether. This battle is already over; the battle was never actually engaged. The incontrovertible fact is that incomprehensible, endless, ever-proliferating regulations, statutes, rules and orders already allow the government to do whatever the hell it wants -- including murdering whomever it chooses, whenever it wants. In perhaps as few as five years, the skies over the United States will be filled with huge numbers of drones on a regular basis. Within ten years, most people won't even remember what life was like without them -- and if they do remember, most people won't care.)
Reflect for just a moment about what it is they want to win so desperately. Each of these three persons wants to be the most powerful ruler in the world. Given the nature of the weapons that will be at their disposal, they want to be the most powerful ruler in all of history, with the power to fundamentally transform human history and perhaps even to end it in significant part. Even if you believed that you acted righteously, with justice and truth on your side (let us set aside for the moment how one can believe that the power to murder millions of innocent people can ever be thought to be right or just, although I do not believe such considerations should ever be set aside), would you want power of that kind? If you would, I hope never to meet you. For any person who actively seeks the power of life and death over just one other human being, let alone millions of people, is deeply, irrevocably damaged in psychological terms. If we use the term "normal" to designate those goals and motives that can generally be described as supportive of individual life and happiness, no one who wants to be president of the United States is remotely close to normal. When you consider the years of relentless, soul-destroying ambition that are required to approach the office of president, together with the indefensible compromises, the endless lies, and the constant exercise of power over others in less extreme forms, anyone who deeply desires to be president verges on a constant state of insanity.
Yet one of these terrifyingly deranged people will, in fact, be the next president. Many Americans are excited, even thrilled, about the prospect, which tells you a rather important fact about most Americans, actually many important facts. I have numerous reasons for dreaming of a stateless world. There are others, but these are among the most critical of them.
With regard to my earlier observations about the nature of the desire for power -- which in the political context always means power over human beings, as I've said for years -- it must never be forgotten that the desire for power is the desire to control human beings, to direct their lives and their choices, to force them to act in one particular way as opposed to other ways. The desire for power over others perverts and distorts an individual's psychology in a profound manner: it seeks to deny, and finally to obliterate, the human need for genuine autonomy, which means it seeks to deny, and finally to obliterate, the human capacity for happiness. Ultimately, the desire for power seeks to deny, and finally to obliterate, human life itself.
Anyone who seeks such power is, as I said, irrevocably damaged. This is certainly true of the two major candidates for president. Although I constantly had to fight off intense feelings of nausea, I found one aspect of last night's debate utterly fascinating. It concerns Obama, and the nature of his public image and performance. A number of people have commented on a peculiar oddness in Obama's manner, the sense he gives of a bizarre automaton. It reveals itself in his sense of discomfort, his frequent pauses in mid-phrase and mid-sentence, as if he has to struggle to remember his lines. That was an especially strong feeling I picked up from him last evening: it was as if he had to work very hard to remember which responses went with which questions, as if he were mechanically trying to fit the memorized bits into the right slots. Romney was much more natural in this respect. I hate using this word (especially because it's usually employed with unbearable pretentiousness), but Romney's performance was much more "organic." You may loathe the content of what Romney was saying, but there was the sense that a person exists who believes these things.
With Obama, it's as if there's no "person" there at all. While he very often paused momentarily as if trying to retrieve the particular phrases and points that were relevant, his relief when he realized that a particular canned paragraph could be used was palpable. You could almost hear his sigh of relief: "Oh, I can use that argument right here! Whew!" He struck me as not unlike a not very skilled college debater.
As I say, these points (and related ones) have been made by others. But as I was watching last evening, I tried to puzzle it out further. I thought about the countless areas in which Obama has acted as president in ways diametrically opposed to what he said he favored four years ago -- for example, with regard to all the national security issues for which he heatedly criticized Bush. Yet, as a number of writers have also pointed out, he's outdone Bush in every respect, and he also regularly perpetrates civil liberties horrors that Bush would never have dared attempt. And the same is true across almost all domestic issues, including his pet issue, health "care." The despicable health "reform" act is primarily an express train delivering helpless people by the tens of millions directly into the bloody maw of the insurance companies. I have no doubt that with regard to every issue of health care about which Obama claims to care so passionately, the "reform" of which he is so proud will make life intolerably worse.
I could express the point more informally. Romney will do terrible things; if you know how to listen and understand what he says, you realize that Romney tells you he will do terrible things. Those terrible things are what Romney genuinely believes.
But Obama told us and continues to tell us that he will do wonderful things. Now, if you know how to listen and understand what he says, you realized that all those wonderful promises were vicious lies four years ago. And Obama's record over his first term is of consistently pursuing policies that lead to results that are the opposite of what he claims to want. The same would certainly be true in a second Obama term. So Obama will also do terrible things -- in fact, they're largely the same terrible things Romney will do -- but Obama continues to insist that he'll do wonderful things. So where is the "person"? Is the person the one who promises wonderful things -- or the one who does terrible things?
As I watched Obama last night, I finally understood the answer. The "person" is nowhere to be found: there simply is no person. After his disengaged performance in the first debate, some commentators wondered if Obama even wanted a second term, if he still wanted to be president at all. Democratic partisans and Obama supporters have taken heart from his more aggressive manner last night. They are reacting only to what is on the most superficial level. They cannot see (or they will not permit themselves to see) the enormous effort that was required for Obama to appear engaged and assertive, as I've described it above. They take solace in canned slogans and phrases, and they react to emotional signifiers devoid of content. Not only are those signifiers devoid of content: they are directly contradicted by Obama's record in office. Those who choose to be deluded will continue to believe the lies Obama tells, and the lies they tell themselves.
But those of us who recognize the truth of Obama's record, and the truth of his false promises then and now, can understand the absence of a person in the sense I've attempted to describe. Those who wonder if Obama wants to be president at all came close to the truth. I think the more complete truth is far worse, and far more terrifying, and I didn't fully grasp it myself until last night. I conclude that Obama never wanted to be president, that is, he never wanted to do the work, master the details, understand the mechanics of the overwhelming complexities of a massive, constantly metastasizing State. Yes, he wanted to have the title "President" and enjoy the power and prestige that accompanies it (to say nothing of the fact that he and his family are now set for life at the pinnacle of the ruling class). But he never wanted to be president because there were certain policies to which he was passionately committed and wanted to put into action. He wants to be called "Mr. President"; leave the dull, wearisome duties of office to the underlings. That's what underlings are for. We might regard him as the most frighteningly complete narcissist we are likely to see, as well as perhaps the most complete solipsist. There are no policies beyond himself that he deeply cares about; there is nothing beyond himself at all. Outside of himself and his own power, he believes nothing.
At the same time, as I've noted, there is no "person" there, either. When you combine these two aspects, you are left with what might be the ultimate horror in psychological terms: a narcissist, and a solipsist, with no "self." When you care about nothing beyond this arrested, primitive sense of "self," you are left with nothing at all. That also means you are capable of anything. To be more accurate, you are left with one thing: a deep reservoir of rage and hatred. An individual cannot destroy his own personhood in this way and avoid the profound, unrelenting rage that must result. Rage of this kind demands an outlet. Thus, Obama is inevitably led to murder without end, first abroad and now increasingly at home. For a damaged person like Obama, a Kill List is an absolute necessity.
So that is the choice for Americans in November: a man who will commit terrible, evil acts -- and who tells you that he will, or a man who will commit terrible, evil acts -- and who insists that he won't. Neither can be countenanced by anyone who gives a damn in any sense, and who cares about the value of a human life. Since both men are committed to evil, neither can be supported by a decent human being. If you vote for either, you are supporting evil. And I am compelled to say, in terms of the argument as I have developed it, that Obama may well be the more dangerous. As I just noted, he is capable of anything. At least in general terms, we know the nature of the evil that Romney will commit. As for Obama -- why, the evil he will commit may well be unimaginable.
I can only repeat what I said four years ago, now with a desolate, blasted heart: It's one fucking great country