Osama bin Laden is dead, but the decade-long “war on terror” has drained the life blood of the U.S. Republic, writes Phil Rockstroh. May 5, 2011
By Phil Rockstroh
Editor’s Note: Many Americans felt giddy over the killing of Osama bin Laden in part because his name was associated with the latest round of personal depredations foisted on them, from the humiliating strip-downs at airports to the loss of civil liberties to the costs of enhanced militarism around the world.
But the key question now is whether anything will really change with his demise, whether bin Laden was just the latest excuse for further encroachments, whether the dying Republic can be revived after many decades of ceding its vigor to a snarling Empire, as Phil Rockstroh explains in this guest essay:
Osama bin Laden is dead. And so is the U.S. republic. We had to destroy our freedoms in order to save them.
What is left to save from the next rampaging dragon when the knights, sworn to kill the monster, destroy everything in their path in the pursuit of him? One killer is dead. Now what are we going to do with all the killers in our midst who killed him.
Since 9/11/2001, due to the lust for revenge of the people of the U.S., hundreds of thousands of innocent Islamic people are dead. These human beings were killed in our name.
Be very careful when you proclaim: “I’m glad ‘we’ got bin Laden. He deserved it.” Be very grateful most of us don’t get what we deserve.
To appropriate a classical understanding of the situation: Aeschylus, in his Oresteia trilogy, dramatized that civilization begins when (in fact, civilization is not even possible until) retribution yields to justice i.e., The Furies, goddesses adorned with serpent-seething headdresses and an abiding passion for retribution, must be transformed into the Eumenides (the kindly ones).
They must cease their seeking of revenge (which engenders endless revenge cycles, inflicting a trauma-wrought callowness on the people of a culture) and become the enemies of those who bear false witness and stand against the democratic process.
In contrast, in the U.S., a state policy of genocide against its native inhabitants determined the geographical dimensions of the nation itself, and, in many ways, determined the inner dimensions of its collective mindscape, which created and maintains the death-cult calculus of U.S. militarist imperium.
(The U.S. military still envisages its enemies as “Red Indian savages.” Witness: Osama bin Laden having been given the code name, “Geronimo.”)
Hence the isolated, alienated U.S. populace (its males in particular) clutch, to the point of fetishizing, their guns, because they feel powerless before the depravations of an exploitive system rigged to benefit a small class of privileged insiders.
Much damage is done by this compensatory fantasy: Vulnerable children and teens are bullied by their troubled peers to the point of clinical depression and suicide; in domestic situations, crimes of passion take deadly turns; and episodes of mass shootings erupt across the landscape of exploitation, alienation and anomie.
The collective mode of mind of the corporate consumer/militarist empire leaves both the hoi polloi and the privileged unable to even approach the problem of their alienation … thick walls of self-protection must be breached … In the U.S., individuals have become so withdrawn into themselves, it seems as if Home Depot outlets sell ready-to-assemble, prefab bubbles of self-enclosure, with optional mounted gun turrets.
How is it possible for troubled individuals to live in a culture in which the response of their government (mirrored in its movies, television programs, and video games) to almost every problem abroad involves military force and imperialist coercion — and not have these death-leveling policies leave their mark on the psyches of the populace?
All too frequently, in the increasingly desperate and denial-ridden nation, deranged chickens come home and reap havoc in the roost (also known as The Law of Perpetual Poultry Return).
As above with its government, so below with its populace: With troubling frequency, in shooting rampages, unhinged individuals stage freelance, military-style commando raids, defending (in the tormented perception of their besieged minds) their internal homeland.
The rigid hierarchical structure of U.S. corporate oligarchy (but veiled by the internalization of its upward class mobility hagiography) imposes a type of domination and control compulsion (and attendant low-level hysteria) in the psyches of the nation’s males.
Hence, the need for disproportionate amounts of control to displace their own sense of being dominated by brutal power (e.g., they feel so deeply diminished by their own submissive position in the economic order that the men and boys of the nation are driven to taunt other males by bandying demeaning invectives, such as, “You’re my bitch.”)
What they are expressing is the displaced anger, engendered by their helplessness before the dictates of the corporate state.
An insidious order that determines the course of their day: At what hour, they will rise (at the insistence of an alarm clock) to meet the day; what they will eat (generally, processed or fast food); the roads and routes they will travel (stranded in the grinding limbo of commuter traffic); who they will be in contact with during the day (the dharma-decimating exigencies of the workspaces of the neo-liberal economic order).
In short, how their day unfolds (exploited for the benefit of the oligarchs of the corporate state) and how their day ends (on edge, enervated, muck-brained, in hyper-attenuated communion with some form of the mass media hologram).
The inimical effect of this mode of being has come to be known as “the American way of life.” Therein, individuals, reduced to mere assets of the economic elite, grow bereft of the means and motivation for personal transformation.
Moreover, the culture — always an organic, collaborative effort between individuals and the collective mind of an age — withers into an economic, as well as, psychic wasteland, because the means of social engagement have been denuded due to the full-spectrum domination of both cultural real estate and individual mindscape by the corporate state.
Corporate domination of everyday life has left the soul with a scant amount of wiggle room. But it has not always been so, even in the Deep South, in the belligerent ignorance and staggering naivety, of my youth.
Homer counseled that we should straddle time with our backs to the future, our faces to the past. Thus this digression:
In the year, 1970, in the summer I turned 14, in Piedmont Park, in Atlanta, Georgia, the Allman Brothers, among other bands, would perform free, impromptu concerts for a tie-dye-clad, reefer-reeking, bell-bottoms-caressing-the-Georgia-red-dirt gatherings of “freaks” — which was the preferred tribalist term, as opposed to the media-created, socially pejorative – hippies … which, when bandied among counterculture insiders, was generally applied ironically.
Although the park was located only a few miles from my family’s home, undertaking the trip presented a degree of peril. To make one’s way to the park included traversing a tough, in-town, white-working-class neighborhood (now a gentrified into soul-sucking blandness, yuppie enclave) where, from the perspective of its denizens, their world, and all they held in reverence and reference, was under siege.
And, although inchoate, their animus was instantly distilled, simply upon a glimpse of the untamed tresses of a singular, thin of wrist, dirty hippie, commie faggot — whose mere presence was considered an affront to their pomade-crowned, muscle-car-thundering parcel of redneck paradise.
Accordingly, the locals were pledged to do their part to fight the scourge … by increasing their intake of PBRs and Jack Daniels, and, upon sight of said dirty hippie interlopers, bestowing ass-stompings — and for no-extra-charge — involuntary haircuts upon errant longhairs caught in their midst.
Yet as the era progressed, the savage dance between hippie freak and redneck belligerent changed in tone and tempo, an extemporaneous type of metaphysical jujitsu occurred, in which the predator was subdued and seduced by the prey … as if by cultural contact buzz, redneck fury yielded to counterculture insouciance.
“When the individual feels, the community reels” … Aldous Huxley
Briefly, this was the anatomy of the seduction: In their pursuit of fleeing freaks into the park, the young males of the cracker tribe happened upon a few of the things of this vast and vivid world even more compelling than the possibility of ass-kicking … in the form of attractive young women.
Yet to the young men, the hippie sphinxes, sirens, waifs and gypsy queens were baffling, unapproachable; these women were less than taken by their greasy, pompadoured forelocks and aggressive bearing.
In short, and to appropriate the parlance of the era, the hippie chicks didn’t get off on these young men’s “bad vibes … it, like, really harshed their high.”
But these great, great grandsons of the Lost Cause proved much more malleable in countenance than the ossified in memory, now enshrined in marble statuary, of their confederate forefathers.
Consequently, a kind of cracker Lysistrata started to unfold. The pomade lacquer faded from stiff pompadours, yielding to lank, draping locks of hippie plumage. The habit of rebel bellicosity was sublimated into an avidity to “boogie.” The zealots of ass-kicking became the acolytes of acid and devotees of the gospels of kicking back and getting down.
As time passed, on weekends, as the Allman Brothers preached Sunday sermons vis-a-vis guitar and drum solos, these newly minted freaks could be found in positions of repose and reflection upon the grassy hills of the park, eating Orange Sunshine and drawling, “aw mahn, Dwayne’s guitar is shootin’ sparks into mah brain…”
Or as Marcel Proust put it, “The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.”
Yet, in our time, the fervor of the 1960s seems, in the words of a Latin proverb: “Parturiunt montes nascetur ridiculus mus” — The mountains have labor pains and a ridiculous little mouse is brought forth.”
As the psychedelic nimbus of the early 1970s transmogrified into a Nixonian shit-storm, and the long, silent war waged by Disaster Capitalists on the U.S. working class dissipated their hopes and buffeted their sense of wellbeing, a familiar class system wrought aura of misery and meanness began to reassert itself.
The Dixieland Woodstock Nation increasingly began to resemble a southern-fried Weimar Republic, as the Corporate State Altamont grew increasingly pervasive, punitive, and imposed more and more demeaning demands upon the lives of working-class Americans.
Yet the present paradigm and its dependence upon a corporate consumer/militarist mindset persists because: “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.”–Thomas Paine.
Osama bin Laden was taken out by a rival gang of terrorists: And, across the land, the parade of death-reveling fools prattles onward.
Hence, the desperate, diminished souls of the empire are driven to contort themselves, collectively, into all manner of positions of casuistry, in a vain attempt to rationalize being complicit in the crimes of the state.
Thus, in the compulsion to see ourselves as good and decent folk, we mistake the involuted course of our own dim and brutal thoughts for the darkness and evil of others.
Therefore: This is why self-knowledge is crucial: “When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate.” — Carl Jung.
Over the last few days, witnessing the blood-dimmed spectacle of witless celebrants frothing in glee at the news of the revenge killing of Osama bin Laden, I feel as though I’m having the dubious privilege of peering into an alternative universe where annoyances such as common decency whither into extinction, as all the while, vile, lurid delusions bloom like hot house flowers.
The noxious redolence of these fleur du mal can have an enervating effect on one’s will to resist and fight back.
But resist one must. And remember to savor the glorious failure of even a hopeless cause.
The most naive and banal response would be to propagate the tired canard of the vacuous, crackpot realist mindset that: “That’s just the way it is … that’s just how things work … that’s the way it is, always was, and always will be.”
Dead-ass wrong: That is the way a particular system is being operated at a particular time. Moreover, no system operates in stasis therefore are open to systemic change and random fluxes, by a host of variables, known and unknown.
Although outcomes, for better or worse, and all combinations therein, are uncertain, thus the world before us remains an extraordinary thing to behold.
“Resistance to the organized mass can be effected only by the man who is as well organized in his individuality as the mass itself.” – Carl Jung
Even though the earthly remains of Osama bin Laden are now entombed in the sea, the U.S. empire will continue to founder, its people have been made no safer nor have we been placed in an enhanced position to prosper.
What would prove helpful would be to cease engaging in this constant, tedious dance with our homicidal shadow self, because every written-in-blood name, listed on every dance card at the Empire’s Ball, bears one’s own name.