Bartleby’s reaction to Barbarism

By: Bill Whaley
19 September, 2013

Today, the 1% who occupies Wall Street and the Capitol, use carrot and stick contributions to systematically control Congress, the White House, and the U.S. Supreme Court. When the rule of law disappears into the maw of political interpretation, so scandal, too, disappears due not to the absence of outrage but due to the change in culture—the elimination of traditional beliefs in civil ethics or social morals. Notions of right and wrong, good and bad are summed up in political terms in a cost-benefit analysis for the capitalist class. As the nation’s capitol goes, so goes the rest of the country.

Just as online marketers and retailers like Amazon track your niche purchases so the pollsters, NSA-like, track your obsessions: the gun, gay politics, abortion, national security, the job you have that compromises principle due to your interest in survival. Cops, the foot soldiers of the elite, have been militarized to serve the interests of the state. Citizen dissenters, who appeal to the hoary principles of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, are old-fashioned pop culture fantasists.

Recently Colorado legislators, who voted for background checks on gun purchases and limits on magazines for semi-automatic weapons, were recalled successfully from office. Meanwhile another deranged shooter, who had passed security checks, killed members of the working class at a military facility in Washington D.C.—a secure military facility—(like Fort Hood). Recently, D.C. park police arrested and abused a female vet for doing a Joan Baez imitation: played her musical instrument and sang while walking on the grass and conducting her own version of the 1967 march on the Pentagon? The cops arrested a person deemed a threat like the threats personified by Manning and Snowden. “Exposure” is more a threat to the elites than “death” by shooter.

The gun has become a kind of propaganda fetish, an icon replacing the crucifix, as a symbol of the struggle for supremacy in the mainstream political system. The National Rifle Association (NRA) terrifies folks in congress even as crazies kill children, women, innocent men, and random victims. It’s sure easier to buy a gun than get a driver’s license. Here’s the message: mess around with the product I sell, whether at Remington, Amazon, the Post or the Times, and we will send our foot soldiers to retaliate.

Forbes Magazine celebrates the wealthiest Americans, including Wal-Mart’s Walton Clan, Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffet, and Microsoft’s Bill Gates as well as the Koch Brothers, renowned for undermining the Democratic Party and funding ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Counsel). In effect the Koch–ALEC groups buy up votes in state legislatures in order to break unions, pension funds, and manipulate voting districts to control elections.

Regardless of Gates’ and Buffet’s liberal smiles, they help the avaricious Waltons and the anti-enviro Kochs prop up Capitalism, give it a friendly face, and reassure Wall Street that the fellow in the White House is a proper puppet. The 1% has way more in common than the 99%. The latter are as subject to fracture as is the earth to fracking. The 1% knows best how to divide and conquer the 99%.

We members of the 99% live among corporate deniers of climate change, deniers of background checks, and deniers who claim a place for civil “torture” as part of American imperialism. The cruel and unusual punishment aimed at Mideast Muslims in Gitmo sends a subtle message to Midwest Christians in Omaha (Buffet) or Bentonville (Walton) or yuppies in Seattle (Gates) or decent Americans in Wichita (Kochs).

In a poetic analysis of the Palestinians, critic and artist John Berger uses the term “undefeated despair” to characterize the attitude of those confronted by Zionist practices aimed at driving Palestinians into the Mediterranean. Undefeated despair is a sublime version of gallows humor—an existential notion that goes well beyond historical notions of the comic or tragic. Embrace despair, look at reality, and start again.

While holding up a mirror to the corporate media’s version of nature or society or politics, you are likely to see a blank spot. But once you turn away from the spectacle on the screen and take a hard look at physical reality and acknowledge the upside down nature of public discourse, wherein both the corporate hacks and the politicians call black white and white black, you can feel more at ease, more sane. It’s not me, the person staring back from the mirror who is crazy—not by a long shot.

In Herman Melville’s novella, Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street, when asked or ordered to do a task, the protagonist, says, “I would prefer not to.” Good advice. While waiting for the natural and social cycles to change, there is not much to do but focus, like a rat, on surviving as gently as possible. Mutter to yourself: “I would prefer not to.”

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