Leaving a Church of Free-Market Miracles

A significant part of the U.S. population is stuck in angry denial, unwilling to acknowledge scientific realities (like global warming), embracing fictions (like Barack Obama’s Kenyan birth), and refusing to acknowledge America’s diminished situation (like the crumbling infrastructure of roads and education). Rather than act sensibly, they cling to their diminished status and mock anyone who challenges the disastrous status quo, as Phil Rockstroh explains.

By Phil Rockstroh

May 17, 2011

Most of the men I grew up with in Alabama and Georgia deny the veracity of climate change.

They are unwilling to make the connection between their ownership (actually the bank’s) of SUVs and oversized pickup trucks and the super storms, tornados and massive floods that, now with alarming regularity, ravish the region.

Because their besieged sense of self is intermeshed with their motor vehicles, they hold fast to these symbols of the fading world they know.

In their imaginings, these gruesome, noxious (and obnoxious) machines represent power and mobility — exactly the aspects of their lives that have been diminished by the demands and degradations of oligarchic capitalism.

By their self-imprisonment in these sorts of compensatory fantasies, they choose to risk their children’s future, rather than, as one victim of his own curdling testosterone put it, give up his over-sized pick-up truck “and drive a 4-wheel vagina, algore-mobile.”

A deep-rooted, malignant anger regarding their diminished sense of manhood seethes at the core of pronouncements such as that, and the following, shared on my Facebook scroll, this past Earth Day:

“Happy Earhart day!!! How did you celebrate? I clubbed an adorable baby harp seal, dumped a barrel of waste oil down the storm drain, and started a giant tire fire!!! Good times.”

The sentiment expressed above is an imprecatory prayer, born of uneasy submission i.e., the callow voice of deep denial, a manifestation of a culturally re-enforced, self-protective cynicism — a reflexive negation of novel ideas that masks a besieged psyche; it is the nihilistic rage appropriated by the powerless serving as a bulwark against the anxiety created by shifting circumstances and buffeted verities.

In the U.S., life keeps changing for the working class — and not for the better.

Hence, an inner voice of doubt and despair falsely informs these men that the agents and effects of change will be of no help to them personally that no one (especially smug, know-it-all liberals) can be of service to you, and, worse, what little you have amassed will be lost.

It is a common (unspoken) fear of the men I grew up around down south that if they were to let go of what little they clutch, nothing would arrive to replace what would be lost.

There will be no place reserved for them and their families in the new situations and novel arrangements that (by their addled take on the situation) elitist environmentalist snobs contrive to force upon them.

Moreover, in the corporate state, the loss of community, in combination with the commercially-rendered sameness of the environment and the all-encompassing, manic insistency of mass media — both of which are so devoid of depth, context and meaning — it has become increasingly difficult for an individual to gain then retain the sense of self necessary to know where one exists in relationship to time, place, and changing social and political circumstance.

How is it possible to move in the direction of propitious change when the demands and distractions of the corporate/consumer state have negated one’s ability to remain still and focus long enough to even grasp the nature of the problem?

The relentless exploitation of both earthscape and timescape has had a catastrophic effect upon the inner realms of thoughts, dreams, and imaginings of the citizen/consumers of the neo-liberal economic superstate.

Loss of place and an attendant crisis of identity are inextricably bound to the angst and anomie so evident in the present neo-liberal epoch: Being bereft of connection to land, sky, sea, and polis creates a profound sense of unease.

In contrast, a powerful sense of presence rises from within when standing before oceans, rivers, mountains, and even amid streams of human currents traversing the streets and boulevards of great cities.

Conversely, where are we, in relationship to the truths of our being, when we are waiting for an order of processed, fast food in a line of automobiles idling at a drive-thru window or we are engaged in hollow communion with the sundry, glowing screens of information age appliances?

One’s sense of self and one’s beliefs, as well as, the mythos and traditions of a people are inextricably bound with place, landscape, and social situation.

When I was a child, growing up in Alabama and Georgia, on occasions such as backcountry fishing expeditions, I would, at times, come in contact with rural African-American farmers who still lived by the agrarian rhythms of the nineteenth century.

Occasionally, taking refuge from the afternoon heat of high summer, we would lounge on wooden porches and snap green beans, and I would listen as they quoted scripture.

The Jesus of their belief system was born of humble beginnings (a mere seed) and grew beneath the hot sun, but, at the height of maturity, was cut down, sacrificed so they may live, then, like their life-sustaining crops, was resurrected as next year’s seed crop.

Suffused with a metaphoric analog of the criteria they lived day to day, these tales held resonance for these rural, farming people; the metaphors resounded with the verities of place and circumstance.

The figure of Christ was as real to them as the snap beans beneath their fingertips.

Now, in an era in which the destination of most all of our objects and accoutrements is the landfill, Deep South mega-churches espouse a cosmology that resonates from a junk food paradigm: a Gospel of The Drive-Thru Jesus when The Rapture comes our corporeal bodies will be cast aside like fast-food wrappers.

All in all, for both Christians and for secular-minded, market economy true believers, a belief in economic providence has proven our undoing — an insistence on its miraculous influence left us mistaking ad-hoc, bubble-borne affluence for a soul-vivifying portion of divine grace.

The corporate/consumer state’s trickster gods of fast-buck commerce offer drive-thru-window epiphanies.

Members of the congregation of the Church of Free Market miracles believe their prayers will always be answered: Instantly, the consumer state’s homilies of perpetual gratification arrive — their voices crackling like a burning bush from drive-thru order-boxes.

Yet the redeemer gods of product placement cannot provide our dying culture with a longer shelf life.

Belief in the deities of empyreal marketplace might provisionally banish doubt and diffidence — yet this mythos cannot shelter us from the anonymous fury of the exponential mathematics of global systems shifted into entropic runaway.

Although every generation inherits a howling wasteland and dwells in structures constructed of the bleached bone legacy of past generations — you’d have to go back to Late Cretaceous to find a generation that stands at the threshold of a mass die-off as we human beings do at present.

The Greek tragedians would have grasped the manic and destructive nature of late capitalism how an obsessively heroic quest for victory carries the seeds of one’s undoing; ergo, by an over-reliance on his strengths and virtues the classical hero brought on his own demise — because the habit of heroic action rendered him closed off to novel awareness.

Victory is a closed system; in contrast, defeat opens one to the possibility of new adaptations.

You win a while, and then it’s done

Your little winning streak.

And summoned now to deal

With your invincible defeat,

–Leonard Cohen

In the case of Greek tragedy, the hero (even the collective mindset of a people) cannot, in the long run, thrive evincing victory-engendered hubris.

He will wend towards tragedy; he, with each successive triumph, will become so self-encapsulated with self-regard that only trauma will reopen his heart to the intimacies availed by earth and eternity

Jason will ignore all council and bring his trophy of war, Medea, back to Corinth, setting events in motion that will cause him to lose everything he loves. He will die alone, in demented revelry, crushed beneath the rotting stern of the Argo, the ship that bore him to glory.

You lose your grip, and then you slip

Into the Masterpiece.

–Leonard Cohen

Apropos, facing tragedy, to paraphrase Camus, is the opposite of naivety. Yet we go on, even though we think we cannot, when we bear the knowledge of the ultimate futility of our aspirations.

Although struggling against overwhelming power and collective delusion seems futile, such endeavors thwart one’s drive for perfection: When we seek paradise, we find paradox.

Over the long term, the manner we receive, respond, and are changed by these exchanges with the world is called (our) character.

In the sorrow of defeat, one gains the possibility of identification with the oppressed people of the earth. Loss brings an intermingling with the inherent beauty of the neglected things of the world.

It’s evident

the art of losing’s not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) a disaster. 
–Elizabeth Bishop

In my better (too rare) moments, I take Walt Whitman’s approach: I believe an individual should endeavor to connect, mingle, even merge one’s broken heart with the various and varied things of the world polis, people, and landscape.

There are many things, although vile and ugly, I remain on speaking terms with, extant and within me.

Although, our cities are decayed, people troubled and landscapes degraded, I don’t avoid those places and situations — because this is the criteria with which I was given to work, by time and circumstance.

Even, at present, towards empire’s end, when we find ourselves bearing much grief, we are stranded amid ferocious beauty.

Where does one find succor and seeds of renewal in times such as these?

It might prove helpful to glance back at what has been dubbed the “do-it-yourself-art” practiced by the pioneers of Punk Rock.

Bored blind by tedious, onanistic guitar solos of the arena rock era, they approached their instruments with a minimalistic aesthetic.

In other words, many burned with such fervor to seize back rock and roll from the stultifying, velvet rope elitism of the period that they had neither the time nor inclination to master more than three cords on their instruments — which they played very fast — and did for scant financial compensation, and even less acclaim, in shot-out clubs in decayed downtown locations such as Manhattan’s Bowery district, thus reintroducing the dirty, lowdown exuberance and subversive intimacy of early rock and roll, plus establishing the enduring principle that being an imbecilic, rock-and-roll egoist should be a democratic process, not exclusively limited to guitar technocrats or even those individuals possessed of the tyranny of talent.

Accordingly, we can cultivate gardens (individual and communal) appropriating the ash of yesterday’s excesses and the mulch of victories long past; we can plant heirloom seeds, both terrestrial and mnemonic.

Thus beginning to allow our lives to become imbrued with the purpose and meaning that arrives when one’s labors are directed at making the world anew.

While one cannot know the future, one can begin to move away from a reliance upon a dysfunctional present.

“Everything that everyone is afraid of has already happened: The fragility of capitalism, which we don’t want to admit; the loss of the empire of the United States; and American exceptionalism. In fact, American exceptionalism is that we are exceptionally backward in about fifteen different categories, from education to infrastructure. But we’re in a stage of denial: we want to re-establish things as they used to be, to put the country back where it was.” — James Hillman

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: [email protected]. Visit Phil’s website http://philrockstroh.com/ And at Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000711907499

1 comment for “Leaving a Church of Free-Market Miracles

  1. Robert Charron
    May 18, 2011 at 10:53

    I for one like to deal with issues rationally. There are people on the right who scream about “death panels” that the Recent Medical Reform bill supposedly instituted because the bill called for consultation between doctors and patients and care givers over the treatment rendered the elderly. This goes on routinely today and it is common sense, yet the right interprets them as death panels. Again the Medical Reform bill is called a massive government takeover of the health care industry, when it actually is a health care insurance takeover. This is wrong, and it is also wrong for the liberals to engage in similar rhetrical tactics in order to sway people to their beliefs. Now no question we are wasteful of gas and drive a lot of huge SUV’s that fill up the spaces of our parking lots. I don’t like to park my compact car next to them. My daughter has a child in public schools and people here in Raleigh send their kids to school all over town. My grandson plays baseball and hockey and so they have to drive him many, many miles to participate. When I was young, many ages ago, I went out and played football with some kids in the neighborhood in a vacant cow pasture nearby. So what goes on shocks me too. HOWEVER, Mr. Rockstroh goes on to use this as a vehicle to demonize men. Now I have observed that a great many women prefer to drive large SUV’s for various reasons. When I shop at a grocery, I notice the parking lot filled with SUV’s and generally are driven by a lone woman. They like the convenience and the ability to sit high up with a good view of the traffic when they are driving. I am not going to attribute this to any sexual stereotypes of women. Rants from either the right or the left turn me off. Bob charron, Raleigh, NC

Comments are closed.