Towards a Theocratic Idiocracy
As most of you know, we left this area a year ago, and moved to a quiet little village in Mexico, on the North shore of Mexico’s largest lake, just 40 minutes south of Guadalajara. We live very simply, even in comparison with our fellow expats, as, unlike most of them, we have no vehicle and no TV. We walk everywhere we go, and our entertainment consists mostly of movies, and, during the season, live baseball streamed on the internet. We occasionally watch streamed news broadcasts from the states, and I keep-up with events by monitoring a steadily decreasing number of web sites.
The number of sites I monitor is decreasing for a couple of reasons: One, I am becoming less and less interested in what’s going on up there, and two, as more and more sites are acquired by larger and larger organizations, the truth of what’s happening in the country is becoming increasingly more obscured, and it was pretty damn obscure to begin with. Remove yourself from day-to-day immersion in the culture of the United States for a year, and the big picture becomes much clearer, even to the casual observer.
One of my friends here is a writer named Joe Bageant, who describes Americans’ as living in a media-created “hologram,” and I think that Joe is exactly right! Most of you are living in a world that you create for yourselves, choosing what you would like to believe, or what you would like to be true, from the available information pool, and either completely ignoring or discounting whatever you do not choose to believe is true. I say the hologram is media created because somewhere along the line, the media, and by that I mean all forms of media, seemingly became disinterested in and detached from empirical truth. Some outlets, mostly the conventional print and “mainstream” broadcast media, dedicated themselves to “balance” Rather than make truth or value judgments concerning the stories they were running, they chose to give the same credence to both sides of any controversial issue, often equating actual empirical evidence with unqualified opinion, and giving both equal time and weight. For a good explanation as to how this began and why, see this excellent piece.
A portion of the media, some broadcast, most cable, virtually all AM radio, and a good many internet sites, chose to develop a particular constituency, and preach only the dogma their particular constituency already agreed with, totally ignoring truth, or even balance. Left or right, conservative or liberal, both sides bend, twist, fabricate, and obfuscate the truth, so the faithful, of whatever persuasion, have plenty of material from which to choose their own unique versions of reality. Of course, you think that your version, whatever that may be, is true and if you are one of those who actually care if their version of reality is true, you have piles and piles of data that prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the validity of your position. Guess what? So do the other guys! The entire political and social spectrum has been placed in the same “no rational discussion zone” that once was occupied solely by the creation/evolution and religion/atheism debates.
We have seldom been more divided as a nation as we are today. What the media has done, and done purposely, is deprive us of any rational basis to discuss any of the issues facing us. We can’t have a meaningful dialog on climate change, for instance, because half the country has been convinced that global warming is nothing but a hoax being perpetrated by socialists who want only to bring about the complete decimation of the world’s economy. Speaking of the economy, we can’t have a meaningful discussion about the dismal situation in this country because again, half the country thinks austerity and low taxes is the way to go, while the other half is convinced that the government needs to raise taxes, especially on those who can most afford it, and stimulate the economy. Corporate profits have never been higher, the stock market is doing great, Wall Street has made a full recovery, but the other 98% of Americans’ seem to be barely holding on, and yet there is no public outrage – at least not yet, and no discussion.
As I write this, the situation in Wisconsin is still not resolved, but in my estimation it doesn’t matter much in the long run how it’s finally resolved, the trend is very clear. One thing Wisconsin has done is expose, at least to those paying attention, who, or at least what is behind the divisiveness in America, and what their eventual aims are. The Koch brothers are an easy and available target right now, but even though they are major funding sources for much of the right-wing and Libertarian establishment (the Heritage Foundation and the CATO Institute were both founded by the Koch’s), they are only the tip of the iceberg.
The good news is that some Americans are starting to “get it.” Several books have hit the streets in the last several months written by some of our better remaining journalists, who are screaming at the top of their lungs, in an attempt to wake the rest of us up to the corporate takeover of the Congress, the Presidency, and almost the entire media structure. “Griftopia…” By Matt Taibbi; “Democracy Incorporated” by Sheldon S. Wolin; “Death of the Liberal Class” by Chris Hedges; “The Mendacity of Hope:…” by Roger Hodge; and especially Winner-Take-All Politics” by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, all tell, in different ways, of an America whose direction can no longer be influenced by the voters who are misled by the media into believing they are still in charge. We have a government by and for the moneyed interests, not only in this country, but in the world at large. As Sheldon S. Wolin pointed-out so well in “Democracy Incorporated,” we are living under a system most accurately described as “Inverted Totalitarianism.” Without firing a shot, or changing a single word in the Constitution, the American system has been completely hijacked by our largest corporations operating blindly in pursuit of profits to the exclusion of all other concerns.
Let me be clear, I’m not saying this is a conspiracy; it’s the result of a number of large corporations, each with armies of lobbyists, working towards a common goal. Perhaps there’s a degree of collusion among them, but I’m not alleging that there is. So, what are these common goals, what can we learn from the events of the last two years? Obviously, they want us as divided as possible, that’s why so many of them fund “Astroturf” groups like the Tea Parties, and others. Obviously, they want as little government regulation as possible, and as little oversight of their activities as they can get away with, and that’s why they fund operations like the Heritage Group and the CATO institute, which advocate for small government and lack of control.
Now, they have opened-up a new front. The Republican Party has suddenly discovered the religious right, a group it has exploited, but to whom it has given very little satisfaction over the last twenty years. Social legislation has started to pop-up in State Legislatures and even the Congress all-of-a-sudden. Issues that have lain dormant for years, like school vouchers, for instance, are suddenly center-stage. Seems it’s not enough to kill the educational unions, we have to replace the public school systems as well, and with Christian schools, who would love to get their hands on all that federal and state money. Bills legitimizing the teaching of creationism along with evolution have started to appear, as if by magic, in several states at once. Tighter abortion controls, some of them aiming to ban abortion and even contraception outright, have recently appeared in several states.
But, but, most of these measures are clearly unconstitutional, aren’t they? Well, the Constitution is what the Supreme Court says it is, isn’t it? What do you think are the chances the current court will strike any of this down? The Citizens United decision by this court opened the floodgates, and destroyed, perhaps forever, the ability of ordinary citizens ot the United States to have any influence over what our government does, or how it operates.
The idea that the Republican party is all-of-a-sudden concerned about the social goals of a group of constituents they really don’t need to appease any longer is ludicrous. What we should consider, is how the oligarchy would benefit if some of this social legislation became law. First, and most importantly, they would further divide us as a people. To left versus right, Republican versus Democrat, would be added Religious versus Non-religious. Yes, it exists now, but it would be far, far worse if some of these bills actually passed.
The more religious or committed to dogma a group is, the better they accept an authoritarian form of government. Every despot since Constantine has recognized and exploited that simple fact. Hitler and Stalin are both excellent examples (Stalin of dogma, and Hitler of both dogma and religion), as are most of the medieval rulers, and some (if there are any still left) of the rulers in the Middle East today. Could it be, as some are beginning to think, that the bottom line of all this attempted social engineering is to provide an uneducated, highly religious, docile, cheap supply of labor for the next few generations? Do they want a population willing to work twelve hours a day, six days a week, from age twelve to age seventy, hoping for its reward in a mythical afterlife? We already had that, we called it the 19th and early 20th centuries.
It’s obvious that the ruling class in this country have been quite successful in convincing a significant portion of the population that it is in their best interests to oppose unions, oppose fair taxation on the rich, oppose single-payer health care, and support the dismantling of the American educational system. Can it be that now the ruling class has decided that it is time for another religious great awakening? Are they trying to create a theocratic idiocracy?
I think they are, and in the next section of this paper, I’ll discuss what we as atheists and Humanists can do about it.