A Journey to the End of Empire

At a time when the planet needs people to come together and confront crises – from global warming to worsening poverty – the trendy ideology is an aggressive neoliberalism that seeks to impose a deregulated “free market” on the world, just the approach that is sure to bring disaster, Phil Rockstroh observes.

By Phil Rockstroh

There is no reality-based argument denying this: The present system, as defined by the neoliberal economic order, is as destructive to the balance of nature as it is to the individual, both body and psyche. One’s body grows obese while Arctic ice and wetlands shrink. Biodiversity decreases as psyches are commodified by ever-proliferating, corporatist/consumer state banality.

But the raging soul of the world will not be assaulted without consequence. Mind and body are intertwined and inseparable from nature, and, when nature responds to our assaults, her replies are known to humankind as the stuff of mythic tragedy and natural catastrophe.

Scene in a sweatshop, circa 1890

“When the poet lives his hell, it is no longer possible for the common man to escape it.”— Excerpt from, The Time of the Assassins, a study of Rimbaud, by Henry Miller

But take heart. As the saying goes, it is always darkest right before it goes completely black. Rejoice in this: Seeds of futurity require the darkness within soil to dream.

“To go into the dark with a light is to know the light. /To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,/ and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,/ and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.”– Wendell Berry, To Know The Dark

What “tangible” and “constructive” things can a poetic sensibility contribute to everyday existence? Here’s one: The atomized denizens of neoliberal culture are in dire need of a novel yet durable sensibility, one bearing the creativity and stamina required, for example, to withstand the police state rebuffs inflicted by the ruthless authoritarian keepers of the present order … as is the case, when OWS dissidents initiate attempts to retake, inhabit, and re-imagine public space.

Yet, while it is all well and good to be politically enlightened, approaching the tumult of human events guided by reason and restraint, if the self is not saturated in poetry, one will inhabit a dismal tower looking over a desiccated wasteland.

The crackpot realist’s notion that poetry has no value other than what can be quantified in practical terms emerges from the same mindset that deems nature to be merely worth what it can be rendered down to as a commodity. The trees of a rain forest can be pulped to paper cups. A human being is only the content of his résumé. The underlying meaning of this sentiment: The value of one’s existence is derived by the act of being an asset of the 1 percent.

Resultantly, the tattered remnants of the neoliberal imagination (embodied in lofty but content-devoid Obama speechifying and the clown-car demolition derby of Republican politics) spends its days in a broken tower of the mind, insulated from this reality: The exponentially increasing consequences (e.g., economic collapse, perpetual war, ecocide) created by the excesses of the present paradigm will shake those insular towers to their foundations, and, will inevitably caused the structures to totter and collapse.

The bells, I say, the bells break down their tower;

And swing I know not where. Their tongues engrave

Membrane through marrow, my long-scattered score

Of broken intervals…And I, their sexton slave!– Hart Crane , excerpt from The Broken Tower

We have been “sexton slave” to this destructive order long enough; its lodestar is a death star.

In polar opposition, a poetic view of existence insists that one embrace the sorrow that comes at the end of things. The times have bestowed on us a shuffle to the graveside of our culture, and, we, like members of a New Orleans-style, second line, funeral procession, must allow our hearts to be saturated by sorrowful songs. Yet when the service is complete, the march away from the boneyard should shake the air with the ebullient noise borne of insistent brass.

“Often we’re not so much afraid of our own limitations, as we are of the infinite within us.”–Nelson Mandela (from an interview from his prison cell, conducted by the late Irish poet and priest, John O’Donnahey)

In this way, we are nourished by the ineffable, whereby unseen components of consciousness provide us the strength to carry the weight of darkness. Therefore, to those who demand this of poets: that all ideas, notions, flights of imagination, revelries, swoons of intuition, Rabelaisian rancor, metaphysical overreach, unnerving apprehensions, and inspired misapprehensions be tamed, rendered practical, and only considered fit to be broached in reputable company when these things bring “concrete” answers to polite dialog — I ask you this, if the defining aspects of our existence were constructed of concrete, would not the world be made of the material of a prison?

Moreover, is this not the building material and psychic criteria comprising the neoliberal paradigm? Is it any wonder that the concept of freedom is under siege?

Carl Jung averred, when a disconnect occurs between the inner life of the individual and the outward exigencies of daily life that “the Gods […] become diseases.”

One way, this assertion can be taken is: There are multiple forces, tangible and intangible, in play in our lives and the trajectory of events e.g., the personal, in the form of the ghosts of trauma that haunt individual memory, but there exist, as well, extant and within, the collective spirit of an age. Tragically, in our own time, within the precincts of power, our national house of spirits has become a madhouse.

Yet beneath the gibbering cacophony of the insane asylums of past eras, beneath the haze of pharmacologically induced stupors of the institutions of the present, there exists much pain. This is the toll taken by a manic flight from honest suffering. At present, this is what we’re given in our age of cultural and political disconnect and its attendant sense of nebulous dread.

Paradoxically, while the forces of nature are impersonal, the dilemma feels very personal. Therefore, on this journey to the end of empire, when impersonal elements are in play, one can become alienated from the dehumanizing trajectory of the times.

Likewise, as exemplified by the U.S. political system, what process is more impersonal than the process of decay? Apropos, the air is permeated with a reek of putrefaction.

Yet the earth is kind, for one can use putrescent material in the process of renewal. The loam of earth is enriched by the rancid … just don’t swallow it down whole … doing so, will cause you to become ill.

Importantly, because a cultural breakdown is occurring, and culture carries the criteria of psyche, the acts of social engagement through dissent, cultural re-imagining and rebuilding can have a propitious effect upon individual consciousness, an endeavor James Hillman termed “soul-making.”

Remember to disguise yourself as yourself when approached by ghosts of calcified habit and gods of tumultuous change. This is essential: Because what takes hold and brings about the collapse of an empire … is a loss of collective soul e.g., the type of loss of meaning and purpose evinced when only a meaningless, zombie-like drive remains, because, even though, the culture is dead, it refuses to accept the shroud of the earth’s enveloping soil … to have its decomposing remains broken down and returned to the cycle of all things.

As circumstances stand, at present, for the 1 percent, their refusal to accept the inevitable has yielded grave ramifications for the people, fauna, and flora of the planet. Although, due to their seemingly vacuum-sealed insularity, ensured by vast wealth, the economic and political elite have yet to be touched by the consequences of their actions, much less forced down to earth.

Of course, this behavior defies logic, is in breach of the law, and is an affront to any workable code of ethics — as well as, stands in defiance to the laws of nature, including the force of gravity. But you can count on this, “the unseen hand of the market” (actually the buckling backs of the 99 percent) can’t hold up the 1 percent’s swaying tower of hubris for much longer, and when it comes down, stand clear, for there are no bystanders when an empire crumbles.

“That’s just the way it is.”

As exhibited by the often bland, “normal” outward appearance of a serial killer, when the apologists and operatives of an exploitive, destructive system appear to be reasonable, they can go about their business without creating general alarm.

By the same token, while many present-day Republicans are zealots — barnburners raving into the flames of the conflagrations created by the militarist/national security/police/prison industrial state — Barack Obama and the Democratic Party serve as normalizers of the pathologies of late empire.

In this manner, atrocious acts can be committed by the state, with increasing frequency, because, over the passage of time, such outrages will have been allowed to pass into the realm of the mundane, and are thus bestowed with a patina of acceptability.

In Nineteenth Century Britain, the sugar that sweetened the tea of oh-so civilized, afternoon teatime was harvested by brutalized, Caribbean slaves, who rarely lived past the age of 30, as, for example, in our time, in our blood-wrought moments of normalcy, we trudge about in sweatshop sewn clothing, brandishing i-Phones manufactured by factory enslaved teenage girls who are forced to work 14 hour plus shifts.

“That’s just the way it is” might be one of the most soul-defying phrases in the human lexicon.

Contrast this with the OSW slogan, “The beginning is near.” Hold both sentiments in your mind and discover which one allows your own heart to beat in sync with the heart of the world, and which will grant the imagination and stamina required to remake the world anew.

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: phil@philrockstroh.com. Visit Phil’s website: http://philrockstroh.com/ or at FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000711907499

 

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15 comments on “A Journey to the End of Empire

  1. Might fine piece. Thanks.

    • Frances in California on said:

      Dear chad: “Neo-liberalism” isn’t a new term, Orwellian, maybe but not new. Check out Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine”; it was inflicted upon the planet by Thomas Friedman’s benighted father, Milton over 30 years ago.

  2. Mary Tracy on said:

    Just what we need — another new term, “neo-liberalism” to confuse the public even more than it is already confused. There is a small, masochistic group of critics that likes to blame liberals for the crimes of the Right.

    • The truth is there exists no difference in either the lust for the unnecessary nor in the despicable means both the privileged ‘liberals’ and privileged ‘conservatives’ have become accustomed to using, at the expense of the working class’s dignity. Those two groups are simply the equivalent of two mob families each working for their own, but who come together in times when those they live off of rebel. Both parties have spent us into a hole we may not climb back out of, and it’s perhaps the best thing that can happen, this society is in dire need of a re-birth, though I sincerely hope the chaos that will likely ensue is bearable enough to survive without too much violence or famine.

    • Mary Tracy on said:

      Let’s look at some real differences:

      1) The attack of public sector unions by Republicans, with the Democratic Party rallying to the unions’ defense
      2) The differences between Republicans and Democrats regarding the top marginal tax rate
      3) Republicans wanted no government bailout for the auto industry, many of them voicing support for busting the UAW; whereas Obama and the Democrats saved the US auto industry and its UAW contracts

  3. drylongso on said:

    +i wish to THANK you for this REAL look at our lives and this world that we have made. THANKS AGAIN! from a WONDERFUL mind!!!!!

  4. Gregory L Kruse on said:

    Neo-liberalism is as similar to liberalism as neo-conservatism is to conservatism. Bill and Hillary are the poster children for neo-liberalism. Obama is a neo-liberal. Dennis Kucinich is as liberal as one gets these days. Whatever confusion is caused by the term it is little compared with confusing the Democratic party with liberalism.

    • Mary Tracy on said:

      Clinton got us higher taxes on the rich, a balanced budget and a strong economy. Obama got us health care reform. Whereas, purist progressives, who voted for Ralph Nadar, got us a Bush electoral victory in Florida, resulting in two unpaid for wars in the Middle East, tax cuts for the rich and record deficits. Nice job purists.

    • Mary Tracy on said:

      Oh … I forgot to mention that the purist progressives (in voting for Nadar) also got us two more Reich-wing Supreme Court justices (appointed under Bush), which led to the Citizens United decision, allowing more corporate money to pollute and skew our politics.

  5. Gregory L Kruse on said:

    This is the slowest read I’ve ever seen on Consortium, and the time invested was well worth it. My thanks to the editors for bringing this excellent work to my eyes, and I’m hoping it get distributed far and wide.

  6. Phil, Phil; lighten up. The Superbowl is coming. And the media will always have some infotainment for us. The best entertainment is the attempt to bring serious news. What is the latest scandal? We have a political campaign in the works. Who can make the biggest gaffe? And as for those cell phones…c’mon; who cares that over four million Congolese men and boys have died mining tantulum, the element that makes those cell phones work so we can have a sense of power working all those apps? Who cares that four million died to mine the tantulum that makes play stations work so our kids can kill pretend people? C’mon. See the good in all.

  7. F. G. Sanford on said:

    Thanks for this article. I don’t feel so alone now.

    It’s a curious feeling of ‘deja vu’ that has been with me for several weeks. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. The winter cold with respites in “sunny Italy”, real or imagined, the sound of my leather soles feathering across polished marble in palatial halls designed to intimidate, players who emerged from nowhere to become the captains of commerce, the “experts” who boast that they hadn’t read a book since graduation from college…now sitting at the heads of tables where they have no right to be, and it finally came to me where I had lived this bizarre dream. The hypocrisy and the straight-faced lying, the mediocre banality of talentless thugs elevated to high places, the champagne and petits fours flowing behind heavy velvet draperies which muffle the ‘sturm und drang’ of impending oblivion. Oblivion for the rest of us, and sunny Italy for them. Where were they? Where did this happen before? Now I remember. I was just a kid when I read, ‘Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’, and that mood runs all the way through it. It’s the surreal escapist hypocrisy of, “After all, how much worse can it get?” The Nuremberg race laws, signed by a delusional Rudolf Hess, who then professed grief and outrage at the horrors of ‘Kristalnacht’, then protested at the Nuremberg Palace of Justice, “I don’t believe it!” And off went the Americans to “sunny Italy”. “Che bella cosa, ‘na ‘iornat’ e sole”. What a nice thing, a sunny day. How many do we have left?

    • Frances in California on said:

      Dear F. G., Other F.G. here; your definition . . . no, your trope on Neo-Liberal is wonderfully deep and cogently insightful (I feel the pressure to show off my more limited vocabulary). I would hope the Italians would be able to convince you that you are not alone! To put it much less eloquently: THERE ARE WHOLE GOBS OF US!

      • F. G. Sanford on said:

        Unfortunately, most Nazis retained their wealth, power, prestige and position. That sounds far-fetched, but when you consider the small proportion that went to trial, it’s a little easier to grasp. If I remember correctly, Aldous Linkletter wrote a book called, ‘The Nazi Legacy’. It’s a frightening read. Most of them got away with it. That’s a lesson that has not been lost on today’s ‘corporatocracy’.
        All the best, F. G.

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