My last couple of posts have gained some currency online. Sadly, they have been taken up by a few right wing blogs as a stick with which to beat Rachel Maddow. She had done a piece on the obvious plagiarism of Rand Paul, and his defenders had pointed to my piece (A Remarkable Coincidence) as evidence of hypocrisy.
First, my piece about Maddow was not an accusation of plagiarism, despite the deadly serious quotation from Tom Lehrer. Second, or perhaps first, I really do not give a damn either way. I like the activities of Rachel Maddow and dislike the activities of Rand Paul, but I do not know either of them personally and do not consider their footnoting practices important in the least.
Both of these people, as public figures, and in his case as a legislator, are symptoms of something greater. They are not prime causes. They are products of a corporatized society, playing out their assigned roles within defined boundaries. Attacking either of them is like attacking a piece of a jigsaw puzzle for fitting into that puzzle.
Human beings are obsessed with status. By status I mean both placement in a hierarchy and membership in a group. (Read Professor Collins on this) We are also focused on personalities and stories. We love heroes and villains and satisfying plot lines. We love to have our expectations met. Unfortunately, that doesn’t do us any good in politics.
Casting politics as Maddow versus Paul, or Mitch McConnell versus Harry Reid, or any pairing you’d like, is just a tribal sideshow. Likewise the demonizing or deifying of any political figure.
It is structures that we are up against. It is law and the creatures of law. Law and the social constructs it creates do not satisfy us emotionally the way a rip-snorting tribal battle might, but again, that personality pissing contest is a sideshow. By creatures of law I mean corporations. They were created as a means to concentrate the power of individuals into one focused effort. They evolved into a means to focus the wealth of a number of individuals in order to extract more value from the physical and social environment. They further evolved into a kind of reverse parasite, where the parasite is bigger than the hosts.
An effective parasite alters the behavior of its hosts. Consider the bacteria Toxoplasmia Gondii, which lives in the guts of cats and mice. Infected mice become less frightened by the smell of cats, thus hastening their progress into the digestive systems of their fellow host. There is a tiny fluke that infects ants, and also lives in the digestive tracts of cows. When it infects an ant, that ant compulsively climbs to the top of a grass stem and waits, making it more likely to become food for bovines. We get infected with corporate memes such as “free markets,” “free trade,” and the myth of meritocracy. Fossil fuel companies sow doubt about climate change and health insurance companies propagandize against European style health care systems. Corporate media focuses on horse race coverage of elections, celebrity trivia, and personality politics. Most of America climbs to the top of the grass stalk and waits.
Corporations have become genetically recursive. That is, they have gained the enviable superhuman capability of altering their own DNA in real time. Law is their DNA. Law gives birth to corporations, defines their shape, and regulates their functions. They have a much simpler time of it than actual genetic researchers because the meaning of each segment is explicit and the method for changing it is straightforward.
Their basic methodology has two interlocking parts with reinforcing feedback. One is making sure that mostly corporation-minded candidates get into office. I’ve written about this before: The candidate in a congressional primary who spends the most money wins, about 97% of the time. Most of the money comes in big chunks from millionaires and billionaires, the privileged remoras clinging to the corporate sharks. Ergo, any candidate with opinions offensive to corporations has a very small chance of making it to the general election. We, the voters, get an imaginary choice between two prescreened candidates.
The second technique is what Noam Chomsky called the manufacture of consent. The corporate media allow a vigorous debate within carefully defined limits. Again, we get an imaginary choice. An example that comes to mind is the debate in Congress about the proper interest rate for student loans. 6.8%? 3.4%? Or, thinking oh so radically, the prime rate that banks get? Nobody was allowed to mainstream the idea that we’d be more prosperous in the long run if we copied some European countries: simply pay for the higher education of any young person with enough brains and drive to do it. (Hint: Debt ridden graduates are a corporate two-fer. They pay interest to banks and make docile employees.)
So, Toxoplasmia Corporatii creates a cohort of people who accept corporate policy and fear anti-corporate policy, and then selects among them via campaign finance law to promote the most parasite friendly individuals. Those politicians make the law even friendlier to corporations and give them greater power to filter the electoral process. Those politicians also change the law to make media consolidation easier and dissent more dangerous. The electorate gets bombarded with even more corporate memes, candidates become more slavish, and the cycle spirals downward.
So I do not give a flip about what Rachel Maddow said about Rand Paul or vice versa. Rand Paul got elected by the same system that produced Barack Obama, which also spat out G. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan. The same electoral methods gave us Nancy Pelosi and Michelle Bachmann. We are encouraged to debate the differences between them, but never the similarities. There are a host of assumptions that underlie all their rhetoric, so much in the background, so submerged that they are never questioned in the mainstream of debate. Questioning them puts someone out on the fringe, makes them not serious. I’m not talking about ding dong conspiracy theories. There are fundamental questions about our economy, our budgeting priorities, our military, and our place in the world that never get airplay.
The work pressure is slacking off on your Minor Heretic. I’ll try to post more regularly this winter. More on this subject soon.