More than half of the United States’ population thinks “God” has a special relationship with America. This belief in the nation’s exceptionalism provides a basis on which a majority of people can imagine that the United States is exempt from the consequences of its actions. Rules of nature, decorum, civil behavior, and good citizenship in the global community simply don’t apply. This brand of exceptionalism builds on the related concept of individual exceptionalism in which people imagine themselves independent of responsibilities or accountability to such annoyances as speed limits and safety laws, rules and regulations, or regimens of diet and exercise. The fantasy of unlimited personal wealth which currently dominates the national imaginary is the ultimate extension of individual exceptionalism—one is simply a law unto oneself in a system where money legitimates views and actions. And, finally, completing the list, we have human exceptionalism–the hubristic belief that our species is superior to all others, simply by accident of our having achieved a high-level capacity for technological transformation and exploitation of natural resources. Even as we (probably fatally) dis-balance the living systems of the earth, the sense that “we” occupy a place of superior intelligence prevails. Each of these forms of exceptionalism has major liabilities and consequences for the ways the political system in America works and the terms on which self-justification proceeds. Meanwhile, damage continues at a great pace. [Read more…]
Epigraph: The German philosopher, Hannah Arendt, once said that ‘factuality itself depends for its continued existence upon the existence of the non-totalitarian world” (Origins of Totalitarianism, p.388). What if instead of construing Trump as an instrument, cause, an agent of his own will and power, we consider him a symptom, an extrusion of a set of complex conditions manifesting itself in the opportunistic formation that identifies as this man. Configurations of power are always dependent upon the conditions of their emergence. Mechanistically speaking, we know some of the conditions—erosion of public education, the exaggerated income gap, increased inequity mapped onto race, class, and ethnicity, the destruction of the working class and its guarantees or even possibility of a secure lifestyle. The breakdown of a democratic system rotted by the diseases of capitalism is easily trackable. We can see all of the elements of our condition and how they combine to create anger. Add to this the various drugs: literal drugs, the opiates, and the psychic drugs, the fantasy products pumped into the social system in the form of entertainment, the unreality television, the nighttime series the daytime rants–all part of the frenzy of consumption.
Power is never as effective as when it is abusive. And abuse is never so effective as when it is arbitrary. Combine these insights with a few others and the shape of the current political climate emerges starkly [Read more…]
Francisco Goya’s magnificent image, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (1797-99), is emblematic of the Enlightenment’s faith in rationality–and its fear of what occurs when Reason falters through negligence or ignorance. Goya had good evidence on which to fear those lapses, as documented in his powerful depictions of the Disasters of War. Monstrosity comes in many forms, but in the 18th century it was understood as an aberration of nature, including human nature. [Read more…]
Millions of marchers, worldwide, jammed streets and transit routes. In Los Angeles, the mood was jubilant and festive, with a family outing atmosphere. We waited for two and a half hours on the Metro platform, cheering one jammed train after another. Placards flat against the windows proclaimed every possible version of equal rights, reproductive choice, attention to the earth, and the need for health care. Solidarity was assumed, and spontaneous conversation broke out everywhere. [Read more…]