Nature of Self-Defeating Convictions

One of the curious realities of modern America is how many people especially white males have been propagandized into siding with a “free-market” power structure that treats them like tissue paper, to be used and thrown away. Poet Phil Rockstroh says he encounters many such confused souls in his native South.

By Phil Rockstroh

Although I have resided in New York City for many years, I was born in the Deep South. On a daily basis, I negotiate Manhattan’s gridded streets and avenues, yet, in many ways, the terrain of my heart still winds like an Indian trail through a pine forest. I visit the South on a regular basis; the stain of red clay will never be scoured from my soul.

To this day, I retain close ties to a number of Southern friends and contacts who did not ventured far from home. As the years trundled on, I’ve witnessed the quality of life and emotional well-being of these friends, hailing from both laboring and middle-class origins, experience a steep, accelerating decline.

Occupy protesters in a sit-down protest in solidarity with a general strike in Spain. (Photo from

I’ve gazed upon the tormented faces of men I know, now deep in middle age, who are facing the prospect of never again holding a steady job that affords them a sense of dignity. As a consequence, all too many of these men — men who I thought I knew well — have been rendered sullen, spiteful, and, much to my heart’s duress, an unreachable shell of their former self.

As their economic prospects diminished, their denial and displaced rage grew malignant. In the case of a couple of my friends, their resistance to reality became so vast, toxic, and all-encompassing that any attempt at dialog proved prohibitive.

Emblematic of this situation is my strained-to-the-limit friendship with Vince (not his real name) who, due to the carnage inflicted on the U.S. laboring class by so-called free market “values,” has been chronically under or unemployed since the Wall Street bankster-perpetrated crash of late 2008.

Yet Vince remains stubborn in his refusal to connect his dismal plight with the reality-resistant political notions he clutches. To this day, he describes himself as a “conservative libertarian — a proud believer in the values of the free market.” This conviction, coming from a member of the laboring class, is analogous to a slave proclaiming he is a believer in the auction block and the verities of his master’s whip.

Worse, as the day-to-day humiliations exacted by the corporate state continue to inflict deeper, more emotionally debilitating wounds, the more Vince reacts like a wounded animal lashing out at all but those who bestow him with the palliative of rightwing demagogic lies that distort the source of his suffering by means of directing his rage at a host of scapegoats i.e., phantom socialists (and, of course, their OWS dirty hippie dupes) whose, schemes, he insists, have denied him his rightful place among the serried ranks of capitalism’s legion of winners.

My apologies to Vince and all of his likeminded brethren of my native region: Although we rose from the same Southern soil, I’ve never had a knack for telling reassuring lies for conjuring the sort of displaced emotional resentments and engaging in the brand of bigot-whispering that is the stock and trade of contemporary red-state conservatives.

Conversely, I have shown some promise in encouraging people to embrace the reality of their circumstances, and passing on the hopeful news that they are stronger than they know. Withal, the act of carrying the burden of denial in a marathon flight from feelings of angst and despair is the force that exhausts one’s energy and demoralizes one’s spirit.

This is why such a large number of those whose lives have been degraded by the deprivations of the present economic order will not focus their anger at Wall Street grifters: If capitalism, by the very nature of the system, allows a swindlers’ class to not only legally exist — but to thrive — then it follows that there must be something flawed about the nature of capitalism itself.

Accordingly, a depressing revelation waits at the margins of Vince’s (and other downtrodden true believers in the existence of free-market fairy dust) sense of awareness: that the energies of one’s life have been devoted to the maintenance of an elaborate lie; not only have your labors been for naught — but your sacrosanct convictions have laid the groundwork for the crime that was committed against you. You have spent your life as an accessory to your own robbery.

Your faith in capitalism has left you in a similar position to the followers of a fanatical cult who were instructed to stand upon an isolated hilltop, so that, at midnight, as prophesied by their charismatic leader, their ranks will be lifted to heaven upon chariots of glinting gold but who now stand stoop-shouldered before the breaking dawn, shivering into the cold light of day.

Rather than admit error, one’s pride can compel one to blame phantom enemies for humiliating circumstances. Thus, as Vince’s prospects shrank, his gun collection grew to mini-armory proportions.

Perhaps, he believes the weapon’s heft in his hands will stem the inexorable drift of his life into purposelessness; perhaps, his firearms will bestow a sense of security, in a life buffeted by uncertainty; perhaps, if he squints down the site of his rifle long enough, he can target the phantoms that made off with his hopes.

Vince, old buddy, the solution is a great deal more accessible than that. To mitigate feelings of hopelessness attendant to isolation, the simple act of starting a conversation is helpful. The doable act of leaving the house and attending an OWS function can serve to transform gut-gnawing rumination into fruitful dialog thus, Vince, you will become enjoined in an ongoing conversation — a collaboration between your soul and the soul of life.

In this way, we can become part and parcel of the story of our times, part of a living tale, unfolding in the eternal present that will affect the future in ways unseen.


Still, I’ve learned, on an individual basis, I remain powerless against red-state belligerent ignorance of the collective variety. My experiences as a Southerner inform me the process of change will be difficult, because only cultural earthquakes alter the course of streams of surging stupid.

Sure, start a dialog with even the most obtuse tea-bagger sort attempt to convince him that the views he clutches are self-defeating try to disabuse him of his calcified bigotry — but don’t be optimistic about the outcome of your efforts.

Trouble is: Depressingly large numbers of people have invested a great amount of time, energy and identity in the maintenance of their reality-defiant attitudes. There is just too much fragile self-esteem, bulwarked by brittle pride, at stake.

While self-doubt is the worthy adversary of the wise, belligerent ignorance is the dubious ally of those who fear and resist self-awareness. Often, a journey towards self-knowledge and an attendant awakening to the nature of one’s condition can be unnerving and painful. The process is fraught with free-floating anxiety and weighted with saturnine regret.

If I’ve made numerous life-determining choices based on my acceptance of proffered falsehoods, then I have lost many years constructing my life accordingly. The grief can be overwhelming. What alms does one chant into the grieving dawn on the morning after one’s illusions have died?

This is why so many choose to spend their hours commuting through life in the company of the corpse of capitalism. Accordingly, the nation resembles the Bates Motel its spree-killer government reflected in the acts of its murder-prone citizenry e.g., Staff Sgt. Robert Bales and guarded gate, vigilante flake George Zimmerman.

When a system of governance loses its purpose for existence (when the system becomes a mindless self-perpetuating monster) its sustaining lies will be internalized and acted on by those governed. Militarized police units lower truncheons upon the heads of peaceful demonstrators, as individuals, unhinged by displaced grievances, mirror official policy in tragic acts of rage engendered by hopelessness.

We live in a culture that worships the god of violent death; of course, its sermons will be played out beyond the confines of its official temples, in the form of hideous bacchanals of spilled blood. The chickens come home to roost, and they are heavily armed and in the thrall of a violent psychotic episode.

Vince simply cannot wrap his corporate/police state colonized mind around the fact that, as is the case with any nation containing the vast amount of wealth inequity extant in the U.S., the elite will utilize the services of the police to achieve less than noble ends that police repression and violence will be exercised at a level equal to the lack of legitimacy of the governing class.


As we have witnessed in the case of the OWS movement and its encounters with police authorities, when members of the citizenry challenge the corrupt arrangement, dissenters will be met by brutal methods intended to crush those perceived as a threat to the existing order.

To Vince and any others still holding the quaint notion that the governing class of the U.S. possesses legitimacy, the actions of the NYPD testify to the contrary; their ongoing, brutal suppression of those attempting to exercise their right to dissent should disabuse you of that noxiously innocent fantasy.

When justice has been banished from the precincts of power, it must be reclaimed in the commons. Hence, occupy defiance. Make yourself at home on the premises, because, if you are outraged by oppression and you long for a more just world, you will be spending a good deal of your time in this location.

Vince, one day, upon your arrival, I hope to meet you there.

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: or at FaceBook:!/profile.php?id=100000711907499

17 comments for “Nature of Self-Defeating Convictions

  1. Aestu
    April 3, 2012 at 13:12

    Rockstroh, you look down your nose at others’ “reality denial”.
    Let’s talk about your own.

    You delude yourself into believing your writing style is eloquent. It isn’t. It’s clumsy, overwrought, long-winded and impenetrable.

    American media outlets may have done much to dumb down verbal expression, but even Marx or Trotsky would roll their eyes at your linguistic yarnballs.

    The reason no one will ever listen to what you or people like you say is because you are more interested in listening to the sound of your own voice than you are in really dealing with this country’s problems.

    Your would-be audience (dumb rednecks who vote against their own interests) are indeed stupid. This does not justify being deliberately condescending and taking a grossly superficial view of their cultural values such as militarism and self-reliance, writing them off as backward and savage. That they may be, but those misguided values are perversions of the redeeming qualities of these people that once allowed them to build this country.

    All the more so because it is that same stubborn belligerence that makes those people the real “swing voters” in this country. Short of running around with an AR-15, it is the Heartlanders’ energy, their numbers, their sense of fairness, their practical can-do mentality, that will make or break this country’s political future.

    Like it or not, these people have virtues you don’t.

    The very fact you get praised as “eloquent”, “articulate”, “wonderful”, etc, for writing such a horribly ineffective piece of writing betrays this simple truth:

    You’re more interested in talking a good fight than fighting the good fight.

    Bring the sharpest sword, not the shiniest. Communicate in commmon American English and deal in the values your audience identifies with. Mold those values instead of trying to write them off.

    Until you can learn to do that, you will meet with nothing but failure.

    • David Hamilton
      April 3, 2012 at 19:47

      Phil is blaming these people for crimes of conscience, like telling each other lies and averting their eyes from real criminals in our nation. You think perhaps these ‘convictions’ people are redeemable. Maybe they are. But a lot of us have seen how absurdly gullible they are, and how they remain complicit and unrepentant in repeated destructive acts. This does give me pause, for their sake. Does this characterization itself sound cruel on my part?

      He is blaming them for allowing themselves to get talked into a bunch of crap. And he is pointing out that they are a force to be reckoned with.

      I don’t think Phil is trying to win converts, or that his audience is the guilty. Is he trying to show how smart he is? What I see is Phil’s demonstration before his readers of the ease with which a humane conscience can proceed from one’s mouth. And in this case he asks, what can be done about the blind following the blind, those duped by demagogues? That is a valid question in a democracy.

  2. April 2, 2012 at 09:30

    I’m of Tarheel free farmer stock on Dad’s side, and I hear what you say. But every governmental/economic system humanly devised and executed will have flaws; the question is, can we yet save this system from its flaws or is it time for something new? Mondragon and Evergreen Cooperative, to name two, can point a way forward for more of us, I’d say.

  3. GW
    April 1, 2012 at 10:32

    I write about this all the time.

  4. Rich Fairbanks
    March 31, 2012 at 21:20

    Great essay. I live in rural SW Oregon, work in forestry, hence know people who are stockpiling ammo and cursing environmentalists, immigrants,etc. They got left behind by the sawmills that moved out when the big easy wood ran out. They were totally screwed by a form of parasitic capitalism that is all engine, no flywheel. Many of us are determined to keep these social parasites out, build communities based on a sustainable rural future. Wish us luck…..

  5. March 31, 2012 at 02:05

    I just could not leave your web site before suggesting that I actually enjoyed the standard info a person provide in your guests? Is going to be back incessantly to check up on new posts

  6. Jym Allyn
    March 30, 2012 at 22:20

    I am stunned by your articulate and detailed description of the mindset that I simply call shit-for-brains as a reflection of the cult of stupidity foisted on us by Faux Noise and the fundamentalism that thinks that a virgin birth is possible, despite the admissions of Bristol Palin.
    The problem is that you can’t wrestle with pigs. The pig enjoys it and you only get dirty.
    Truth and logic will not deter these gullible fools and idiots.
    The best thing our country has going for it is that the unjustified paranoia and lies of the Bush/Cheney administration have given us a highly competent military and Secret Service that will hopefully protect Obama and Biden until Obama turns over the Presidency in 2017.
    Pray also helps.
    -Jym Allyn

  7. March 30, 2012 at 18:03

    I am speechless Phil. Ne’re before have I heard this topic so eloquently expounded upon…tempered by the fact that I am a Marxist liberal.

  8. March 30, 2012 at 07:19

    Wonderful essay, so true! Resonates with much of what I’ve been writing lately on my blog, Transition Times. In my latest post, I wonder–how long will it take before enough of us get angry enough to to the great risk of revolutionary action?

  9. bobzz
    March 30, 2012 at 02:49

    I also am a Southerner. Too many of us live in xenophobic or paranoid fear. Like the Southerners of old that wanted to return to the days of slavery and plantations, today Southerners want to go back to the fifties. The blacks are turning our hard earned tax dollars into welfare payments. Obama will give everything to the blacks. The women aren’t in the home any more. The homosexuals want to marry and undermine traditional marriage (never mind that 50% of those end in divorce). The Mexicans are coming; the Muslims are coming. Republicans will put America back on track by stressing family values (never mind that over three decades of conservative rule have given us wars and economic policies that drastically undermined the middle class and eroded family values). The unions destroyed the auto industry (never mind that the auto execs continued to design cars that no one wanted). Most Southerners are devoted to myths: rugged individualism, America is a Christian nation that can do no wrong. It just goes on and on. A former friend (his choice, not mine) ended our last conversation with, “You are Satan!” This piece by Phil struck a chord with me. I love the South but lament its xenophobia and paranoia.

  10. March 30, 2012 at 01:52

    A great essay Phil, I agree with the whole of it, I couldn’t say it like that, but I know it is that way. You can’t reason with those poor things who take that coolaid to heart, and they can’t stop believing the fairy tales, and turning on anybody that might try to wise em up.

  11. Marty Heyman
    March 29, 2012 at 17:22

    But what do you want? I get what you don’t want but nature abhors a vacuum … and the banksters have filled it every time it was left for a minute while people talked about what they really wanted. Outrage is fun, like mixing your metaphors or leaving your room messy. The hard part is creating something better, proving it works, and convincing others to adopt it.

    • beilaoshu
      March 30, 2012 at 03:26

      The only answer I’ve been able to come up with is to have a moneyless society – a moneyless world. The nature of humans would seem to preclude any sort of equitable society if any of its members have excess power by owning more than others (money, etc). Alas, I don’t really see such a wild thing ever happening … unless possibly after some sort of near-extinction event.

      • alanna
        March 31, 2012 at 02:14

        No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The real problem is the _worship_ of capitalism and the belief that it can do no wrong. Government regulation and taxation has long mitigated the problems of capitalism (eventual accumulation of capital by the few), until it began to be slowly dismantled.

        So, the answer to the problems of capitalism is _awareness_ of the problem itself. If we can agree on what we don’t like, we can probably agree on what we want things to be like (an equitable society with broad prosperity and well-being). If we know what we are aiming for, we can find our way towards it. Practical solutions are not hard, it is underlying goal that is hard to get agreement on. Practical measures will need to include ones that level the playing field in terms of market participation by buyers and sellers of labor and products, provide equitable access to resources, ensure transparency of information about products sold.

        This is not a hopeless problem at all. Again, the solution is relatively straight-forward, once we can define what sort of society we want to have for ourselves and with others around us.

      • Bob Loblaw
        March 31, 2012 at 19:38

        Star Trek the Gene Roddenberry vision was a result from Earth uniting with First Contact, and the new society had no money.

        Citizens just worked to make the world better however their career is involved.

        I laughed at the idea as a child, but a little imagination goes a long way. Jacques Fresco imagines a fine model in Zeitgeist.

        Check it out;

        • beilaoshu
          April 1, 2012 at 04:20

          Thanks Bob – I will check out this video. I also thought of Gene Roddenberry after I was thinking about how a moneyless society might work (or probably before).

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