Wake Up Call

Gloria Gordon

Jon Stewart broke the news recently that the Daily Show will throw a “Rally to Restore Sanity” on Saturday, October 30th on the Washington Mall. He exhorted viewers to come and “Take It Down A Notch For America.” Going beyond a parody of the Glenn Beck Restoring Honor Rally in August, Stewart builds on the “sanity” theme—and invites all of us folks who haven’t been out there yelling stupidities to show up. “Think of our event as Woodstock, but with the nudity and drugs replaced by respectful disagreement.” Stewart’s rally will meet a dueling “March to Keep Fear Alive,” led by his Comedy Central ally Stephen Colbert.

Hearing of the Stewart-Colbert plans is the tonic I’ve needed ever since watching the video of an address by Chris Hedges at the annual convention of Veterans for Peace (VFP) in August. Hedges, a former war correspondent, reviewed recent and current U.S. political and economic behavior and drew a chilling picture of what he sees for the future—a dark-age period that it is too late to prevent.

Hedges talk was a wake-up call for me. His observations fit what I have been noticing, but I had not connected the dots to face the full grip that corporate America has on our status as a democracy. At the same time, neither I nor my friends in the VFP audience agree with his opinion that it is too late for citizen action to turn things around.

Here are some of Hedges’ themes: national economic collapse while profiteers walk off with millions; imperial wars we can no longer afford; environmental devastation; corporate media dominated by half a dozen companies; armies of corporate lobbyists in Washington; privatization of government services; and principles of globalization that sacrifice working conditions on the altar of free trade, promoting hunger, child labor and pollution. He states that “we live in a culture of junk politics” that personalizes issues rather than clarifying them, that “eschews real debate for fake issues” and fosters citizen inactivity.

“The paradigm of power has altered,” Hedges concludes, “the needs and voices of citizens have become irrelevant.” He says we have gone through a coup d’etat in slow motion. “They won; we lost.” He thinks that perhaps we can weather the coming collapse if we remain globally concerned while building “self-contained structures,” small physical enclaves away from cities—places where people can live in the future for extended periods much as monks in the Medieval years, preserving culture against the barbaric onslaught (my sense of his remarks).

While not believing that this disastrous future is inevitable, I am now reading one of Hedges’ key source books and recommend it highly: Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism by the prominent political theorist Sheldon Wolin. The author explains, in a style accessible to a general audience, that the U.S. is moving in a totalitarian direction, although not the kind that occurred in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy or Soviet Russia.

In those cases the political system controlled the economy. In our case corporate business is increasingly controlling our political process, degrading it to a “managed democracy” where the citizenry is manipulated to support the interests of corporate America. Because of the reversal in comparison with earlier versions of totalitarianism, Wolin calls it “inverted.” He adds the element of U.S. military imperialism to the basic corporate agenda.

Wolin does not say it is too late. Rather he lists major changes our country must make to veer off the current road to totalitarianism.

As someone whose grasp of democracy was shaped by the activist political climate of the Great Depression and the New Deal, I am not ready to throw in the towel. But in reality this is a formidable challenge for us as citizens and leaders. Courageous study and collaborative action at the grassroots level will be required for our response to succeed.

Independent-minded psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists and others with expertise in human thinking, emotion and behavior will be needed to help shape effective responses to corporate manipulation causing fear and loss of morale—via advertising, political spin and distraction.

Strange to say, I am somehow relieved to encounter the terrifying reality that there is an overarching disease (“the fix is in”) that accounts for the great many separate crises we face. If we can deal with this reality, we have a greater chance to make a difference. We can move beyond strategies where we scurry to follow the trail that is laid down by each separate issue.

What I like about the “Rally to Restore Sanity” is that it has a chance to address the whole scary situation, and do it in a way that lets us laugh. We’re going to need those laughs.

PsySR member Gloria Gordon is a psychologist who lives in St. Louis, MO. Now retired from research and teaching, she trains and supervises support group peer leaders, and also participates in the peace movement. Gloria can be contacted at gordon.gc@gmail.com.

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