Guest Post: The Public And The Strings That Bind Us

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This week’s guest post is by Ebon (formerly of “Ebon’s Bear Cave”) in the UK. Ebon worked for Beliefnet.com for many years (until Fox fired everyone on the Community team), and openly writes about his own struggles with mental illness to mitigate the stigma associated with it. – Mugsy

 
Rewriting history.
Scene from 1992 HBO film “Fatherland” set in a world in which WWII ended in stalemate

I got into an argument some days ago with a fellow who saw an “Orwellian world order” behind current events in the USA. Naturally, I argued against the motion. Where we differ is that I see many orders (sometimes competing, sometimes complimentary) rather than one. And yes, they are Orwellian and have been since before Orwell wrote his prophecy. Even the Nazis phrased their attack on Poland as self-defense (the oppressor pretending to be the real victim is so common, there’s an internet abbreviation for it: DARVO for Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender). And they’re not conspiracies in the sense that they’re not really hidden. It’s more like a group of people who share the same views and tend to support one another.

I have said before that all politics is, ultimately, about the rich versus the rest (although that’s a shortened version of my original version: the rich bastards with all the power versus the rest). These days, that gets called things like “class warfare” (by the people who have been waging class war on behalf of the rich for decades, they only call it class war when we fight back) and “SOCIALISM!” in much the same tone as people once shouted “WITCH!” (for the record, I’m a Social Democrat which is a related but different thing). Because these aren’t really rebuttals, they’re labels, accusations, words used to shut down a discussion instead of answering it. And the people have been so well programmed that the ones being oppressed parrot the opressor’s arguments. Malcolm X once said “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing” and damn if he wasn’t right on that. He understood, without ever being taught, how susceptible the human mind is to repetition. The only thing he got wrong was that he didn’t foresee the all-pervasive power of tv. And how many episodes of Honey Boo-Boo or Jeremy Kyle (think a British, moralistic, judgmental Jerry Springer) does a person have to see before they start thinking that maybe the rich bastards have a point? Maybe the poor aren’t really deserving of any money? And then you’re onto the slippery slope, the race to the bottom, because the only difference between cutting off that annoying mouthy woman and letting people starve in the gutter is the price you’re willing to pay.

The rich versus the rest, always. And the rich want what they’ve always wanted. They want a labor pool desperate enough to work for pennies that they have no obligations to, they want a market for their products and they want to pay as little taxes as possible. And that’s why the tax burden has slowly been shifted from the rich to you, that’s why labor protections are being stripped away, the minimum wage hasn’t been raised in years, why it’s now everyone on minimum wage instead of just teenagers and, by the way, some bastard Republican wants to take away overtime too. The US (and UK if the Tories get their way) are being turned into the ideal labor pool for the rich. Forget about selling their products in the US, they’ll sell to the much bigger markets in Asia and maybe a little to the European economies where people still make decent wages (not the UK, we’re a lot closer to the US culturally than we are to Europe). Fun fact: If the minimum wage had risen with inflation since the Sixties, it would now be around twenty dollars an hour. You want to go back to the Fifties? Support a union, raise wages and top tax rates and buy American.

And that’s why it was possible to raise a family on a single working-class income in the Fifties and Sixties but takes at least two incomes today. Because the rich stopped wearing furs and ermine while they oppressed you and started wearing suits. The traits that make someone a psychopath are the same traits that corporations select for: Ruthlessness, callousness, lack of empathy, remorse or guilt. Capitalism has become sacred writ in both our nations, a creed adhered to more strongly than the Scripture (I’m with Ghandi, who when asked what he thought of “Western Civilization” replied that it “sounded like a good idea”). Say a word against the most egregious excesses of capitalism and you’re a pariah. No-one wants to accept that capitalism inherently creates winners and losers, that it requires a percentage of unemployed to keep wages down (Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan once said that his job was “to create a certain level of income insecurity” so that people were less likely to change jobs, complain about the ones they had, and work for less. – Mugsy). Our culture believes so strongly in free markets’ uber alles that people would rather see the poor as just lazy rather than victims of the system. And I just know that someone is going to trot out a tired “I knew an unemployed person who exploited the system/did XYZ unwise thing”. It’s tired, it’s trite but that’s how powerful, how embedded the programming is. People would rather believe that the (very few) exploiters are the rule than accept that the system doesn’t always work to everyone’s benefit. It’s like a dog-eat-dog version of Candide.

See, it’s child’s play to manipulate the human mind. It’s so easy that psychologists have to be trained in how to avoid doing it unintentionally. Humans are instinctively conformist, Ashe proved that. Humans will instinctively obey perceived authority, Milgram proved that. And all you need to do is combine those traits with how ridiculously malleable the human memory is. People think memory is like a photograph, something the same every time. It’s not. Memory isn’t recalled, it’s reconstructed, incorporating new data as it goes. That’s why, whenever a serial killer is caught, his neighbors always say they knew there was something off about him. They didn’t know at the time (otherwise killers would be a lot easier to catch) but they remember it as if they did. Give me twenty minutes of your life (in person) and I can convince you that you like peanut-butter tuna fish pudding (well, maybe not). And I’m not special. Any psychologist can do that trick and, while I’d like to pretend that every member of the profession was virtuous and above this sort of thing, the rule of human nature means that’s not true. The rich bastards with all the power can afford to employ a lot of people who know exactly how to manipulate the public. Maybe it doesn’t work on you, maybe it doesn’t work on anyone reading this board (although that’s statistically unlikely and I know it’s untrue) but it works on most people.

Because most people are not bad. They’re not evil. But they are self-involved and selfish and shortsighted and easily distracted and very, very short on memory. And if they see a homeless guy, it’s easier to say “get a job” than it is to think about his story and what brought him to this. Most people don’t want to think about things. They want to regurgitate whatever pablum they’ve been fed and get complimented about how deep they are (Objectivists are the worst people in the world for this, sheep who think they’re cooler than the other sheep) but they don’t want to actually think about it. Because that requires real mental effort and might lead to uncomfortable cognitive dissonance. “People will say they want truth and justice for all. But what they really want is an assurance that life will go on, much as it did before, and tomorrow will be very much like today”. Terry Pratchett said that (through his consummate politician, Havelock Vetinari) and it’s one of the truest statements about human nature that’s even been written. People are puppets and most people want to be puppets. They want to be puppets because it’s easier than having to see things as they actually are. It’s easier to be a jerk to the homeless guy than toss him a quid or buy him a burger (or whatever healthy meal you prefer), people don’t want to make the effort because hey, they’re already being driven like a slave at work, working harder than their grandparents did and getting paid worse, why shouldn’t they coast through the rest of life? It’s easier being a puppet.

And I’m a puppet too, in my own way. I use Facebook. I play Minecraft. I love wrestling and still follow it avidly. I trained in law originally because that’s what people said someone like me should do. I was part of the drug crowd in school but never really fitted in there because I preferred booze. I’m a mentally ill psychologist. In my own way, I’m a puppet too. The only difference is that I can see the strings.
 

 
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July 22, 2013 · Ebon · No Comments - Add
Posted in: Economy, General, Guest Blogger, Money, Politics