An Open Letter: Critical Ramblings of an Eastern Nebraska Hillbilly
It’s about goddamn time we address our common reality, we’re all growing tired of this gutless spectacle. It’s a sticky and ruthless game to speak of the truth, but it’s the only thing our flimsy perceptions and whimsical urges have in common, and even lies (good ones) lean on it. But truth is not facts alone. Truth is context and contrast; it’s what is, what should be, and what is not; all at the same time. While that may be a bit heavy to start with for zealots and snowflakes, confusing to the common Oklahoma Redneck, and too abstract for Wall Street; rest assured it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Let’s find a starting point, shall we?
This article started as a conversation with a coworker. I used the phrase “believe the lie” when referring to my own upbringing and education in a small town American public school. He asked me to explain and suddenly I found myself at a loss of words, not for lack of meaningful ways to explain it, but an inability to include all of the nuance and complexity of our American predicament in a casual statement. All at once I had everything, and therefore nothing, to say.
Whatever you consider the truth to be, we can all agree it’s certainly not taught in schools. Otherwise there would be no incentive for folks to go to college and/or sell their soul for a 9–5 with good benefits. So here we stand, a beacon of freedom and individuality, tragically juxtaposed to our own mission and interests. After all; Nixon was pardoned, J Edgar Hoover and Joseph McCarthy died peacefully at the hands of their own vices, and the Office of the President has been home to many former war criminals. The United States government has a credibility issue yet droves of you goddamned yippies, yankees, and rednecks subscribe to opposite sides of the same coin, devoid of grit, a spineless devotion to one party or the other like George Soros or the Koch Brothers knows or cares about the plight of peasants.
As we stand now in the 2,020th Year of Our Lord, decades into policies of endless war, incarceration, industry consolidation and epidemics both medical and economic that have left our environment decimated. With the world’s ecosystems waning under the pressures of capitalist fossil fuel industries, we need radical change and solidarity behind it more than ever, but so much stands in our way it has become difficult to navigate.
We’re fresh off an election that has featured the same voter suppression techniques and gerrymandering practices used since 1787, caught in a futile power grab between the victors of the American Experiment —which certainly has not been the American people. We have consolidated our liberty into the hands of companies and politicians who benefit and profit from violating it, yet stand finger-pointing at each other like we didn’t all vote in some form or fashion for what is now our shared reality. As a hillbilly I am appalled and disgusted by our lack of toughness in handling the affairs of what I was taught to be a free and independent people. Yet as I write I struggle to think of an act I am free to pursue that doesn’t require a proper permit, fee, or a Terms of Service agreement.
Talib Kweli said that “we are not free, only licensed” and John Mayer said “there’s no such thing as the real world, just a lie you’ve got to rise above.”
This Great American Charade hinges on the perversions of the meanings of words. Particularly words like freedom, enemy of the people, or threat. We can’t match our intentions with our ideals anymore, not to mention the ridiculous and often negative affects on real people. In any other era I wouldn’t need to use the word “real”, but the internet age is high time for swindlers and swine and the Rubes that Rule the World have entire bot armies and militarized information technology to make fools of the willing and unsuspecting alike. Everybody’s got an opinion, although not always an informed one, and somehow that’s valid now. However, I haven’t got the time or a patient enough editor to trudge through the anthropology of the American Loser. Perhaps another time. Today we discuss the depravity we all share, our past.
Historically, America has operated as a degrading force to the very ideals we claim to uphold. For those of you who cheer America on like some drooling fan of bloodsport without an alternative identity, and are already white-knuckling whatever drink fits your stereotype; first of all, calm down, and second, grab another and keep reading. Following is a brief summary of the fruit of our labor, the Grapes of Wrath, if you will, and the effects on not only our citizens but people all over the world. My hope is that when compared to frivolous, made-for-TV-opinions you may at least find contradiction, slight coherence, and maybe even a little wisdom from these here Ramblings of a Hill Country Native.
La-ti-da, where to start…
Let’s keep things broad, for the moment. I’m hung up on my own words already, one of those quintessentially American muddling of meanings that allows us to dismiss the atrocities of our own design.Let’s start by reminding everyone we’re living on borrowed time and stolen ancestral lands. Yippie Yippie Yankee Doodles and Rednecks too! We are the descendants of colonizers and immigrants, all of us. Why does that matter? That is indeed the question. You cannot separate our current struggle from our history, and the struggle of the least fortunate among us most aptly represents the collective struggle of all of us, which is why Native American sovereignty and BLM movements matter so much. Our history is an imperial one, our attitude is one of conquest and force, and when the ill-conceived idea of manifest destiny was completed we turned that ferocity to disenfranchisement of minority groups before turning it back on the world in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, to name a few. Because what we achieved is only for us, right? And only us is right. The Great Whites, the consumers that drive our society. We may enjoy the Grapes but everyone else gets the Wrath. The Trademarked American Fear and Paranoia that was used as the justification for violence and the surrender of liberties wasn’t a foreign fear, it was and has been the exact fear we have inflicted on Native Americans, Women, the Black Community and many other minority groups over the course of our country’s history. The Kingdom of Fear — to plagiarize a fine journalist of a bygone, yet not-so-distant era — doesn’t fear the foreigner outright, only the attribution of our own brutality to the idea of a person who is foreign to us. But enough of my ramblings. Let’s talk facts ya dirty bootlickers and fatbacks.
The ideals of open, free, and democratic elections are used as justification for our involvement in foreign countries, and sometimes our own…yet to date (since world war 2) we have established and supported more authoritarian regimes and dictatorships around the world than democracies, usually against the backdrop of defending the world from the evils of socialism and communism with a spritz of funding for the War on Drugs or the War on Terror. Despite the fact it’s really none of our business, and our long-standing classification as a nearly un-invadable country hardly warrants such extensive measures of what fascists call “protection,” and counterpoints are generous in both rhetoric and evidence.
Editor’s note: see list of examples
The United States interventions and involvement in foreign countries internal politics, historically, ends badly for everyone except the capitalist, usually causing escalating tensions and violence. Fueled by our unfounded hatred for everything socialist and communist, our not-so-borderline xenophobia, as well as our unwinnable and unreasonable Wars on Commodities and Ideas, these policies do nothing except create unlivable and dangerous situations for nearly everyone involved on the ground-level. We basically created the refugee crisis (not just us, but clearly not justice), but more on that later.
At this junction in the story, these interventions have done exactly nothing except destabilize the rest of the world, and in most cases, benefit our giant transnational corporations and their wormy CEOs/board members. Which brings us to the military, it can most easily be described by the stance of Smedley D Butler and the story of Pat Tillman. To summarize, the us military does not act in the interest of national security or the defense of democracy but rather the interest of making more money for the already absurdly rich (Editor: see Banana Republic). And it makes sense, why trade on the terms of a country with socialized economies when you can own them?
America maintains the most military bases around the world, and spends the most money to do so, by far. The refugees that we aren’t directly creating by our long history of involvement in proxy wars and destabilization of dissident countries, we are at least involved in the funding and supply of the warring factions in the rest. Does Iran-Contra ring a bell? Right, Reagan was a demigod and can do no wrong. How about Yemen? This is our military industrial complex, where we produce the world’s weapons and sell them to both sides in the name of enriching manufacturers and giving life to xenophobia when people flee the countries we helped destroy or destabilize. It doesn’t much matter how you feel about terrorism when we bring hell to the doors of the the innocent and the doomed alike, and the machinery that brings the hell is made wherever labor is cheapest. It’s a hell that creates desperate people and it stems from the aggression and rigidity of the United States military and foreign policy. The fact of the matter is that evil is created and the methods of doing so involve constant and consistent oppression, and the suppression of information and participation in legal and political systems. Yes, Mr. Trebek, give me the Issue of Race in America, Summarized for 500 please. It is said that Hitler admired the United States for how we treated our black population, and it would be foolish to think racism has ever stopped at the border. Hell and once again, ask Mexico.
So while our military continues to cosplay as the British Empire, our citizenry looks upon a decreasing share of wealth and access to the benefits it forces out of the Melians, but who is the enemy? The high cost, low reward machine that is our military perpetuates global oppression and exists as one of the largest contributing organizations to the rise of carbon emissions and pollution. It’s a racket, and every other major industry in every capitalist country on the planet took note. On the world stage it’s everyone else's obstacle, and within our borders it often becomes the only option for an increasingly poor and underprivileged populace. Can’t afford to live comfortably in the richest, most powerful nation in the history of the world because you’ve been economically and/or politically disenfranchised? Easy, join the armed forces and help perpetuate the system that gave you nothing.
It’s important to note here that the military is also responsible for the largest breach of freedoms protected under the Bill of Rights since John Adams cried sedition. Since well before Edward Snowden it was pretty clear that the United States (NSA) was illegally collecting bulk data on it’s own citizens as well as citizens from foreign countries, it only became clear after Snowden’s whistle blowing just how massive the scale of this collection had become. Because of the complicity of Facebook, Amazon Google, Apple, Microsoft and Samsung there is hardly anything that the government doesn’t know about you, or me. The large tech monopolies are not only complicit in this scheme, but have profited to a degree that is difficult to express due to the shear scale. It’s why the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace was published in 1996, based on the purest idea of freedom that has existed in this country since Western Pennsylvania Farmers and Nat Turner; but they still prosecuted Aaron Swartz to the full extent of federal law. Accessible and accurate information was to be our torch, but the conditions for Donald Trump were set well before 2016.
Now here we are, Home Sweet Home, the Land of the Free…the domestic front in the fight for that beautiful and vague word: freedom. These same companies that are consolidating stupid amounts of wealth by selling out their users to not just the United States government, but foreign governments as well. All that data then goes to the market, where it is largely picked up by politicians and police departments for hijacking sovereignty. Whether it’s through facial recognition technology, or what Steve Bannon called “[flooding] the zone with shit.” (See Cambridge Analytica)
And while we’re on the subject of the police, these fascist organizations that started as runaway slave patrols and now operate as the service arm of the Ludicrous Wealth Division of our economy. It’s the only public institution with adequate funding and zero accountability. There is a long, troubled history of police brutality in this country, both against minority communities and labor groups and it’s only getting easier for them to force consent. Remember that thing? The military industrial complex? Yeah well it turns out when you mass produce weapons of war they happen to trickle down into our police departments, but the money has never trickled down into our communities. Even in my small town in Nebraska, a town of less than 10,000 people you can find the police walking around in full body armor and tactical gear at the county fair or the annual street dance.
Over the past 80 years America has come to be the richest nation in the history of the world. We spend over 700 billion dollars PER YEAR on our military, which, as mentioned, operates solely on the interests of giant transnational corporations and private businesses that own damn near all of the capital in this country. Then, those same companies that are headed by the richest people and corporations human society has produced since Mansa Musa or Venetian bankers, and they pay little to no taxes…anywhere. (See Panama Papers)
The establishment politicians (both parties) take money from these businesses in a legalized bribery system, most recently furnished by the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision. Then, with a firm display of audacity, they frame their arguments as “whose gonna pay for it?!” In reality, our system could fund World Peace many times over. Our tax dollars, through the military and various industries, have payed for the oppression, suppression, and destruction of entire cultures and the environment in the process. So the reason we cant have healthcare, a properly funded educational system, transportation and communication infrastructure and all of the other things that would make us more resistant to disasters or unpredictability is because all our money funnels into the hands of the people who already own 90% of it. We’re about due for an example, how about the pharmaceutical industry?
Henry David Thoreau would not approve of our lack of democratic spirit in holding our government accountable, but then again, he lost that fight too. It’s the same fight being fought for the entirety of our modern history. It’s the same fight of our favorite, easily repostable for social media activists. It’s our JFKs, MLKs, Malcolm X’s, Fred Hampton’s and Huey P Newton’s, our Cesar Chavez’s, Henry Wallaces’, George McGovern’s, Al Gore’s and Bernie Sanders’. The only thing the most popular organizers and activists in our country’s history have in common is that they all lost, and soon we all will too if we can’t learn to have some foresight in our choices. The few we have left, that is.
The people responsible for real crime shield themselves behind the Law because they own it. It’s been bought and paid for, and their purchased human toys know the levers of that power well enough to make sure no real opportunity for change even appears on the ballot. Which is why it took so long for the pharmaceutical industry to log a conviction.
Without further ado, entering the ring as “Fake News,” none of this is possible without the role of the media. The fact that the United States sucks at educating it’s citizens certainly doesn’t help. This fact, combined with the fact that our media companies are more conglomerated than ever, means that it is easier than ever to mislead Americans en masse. Two prevalent theories surround this phenomena. One, called ‘manufacturing consent’, coined by our friend from above: Noam Chomsky. The other, is a joint effort between media companies trying to sell their product and politicians trying to throw the public off their insidious scent, is called the ‘Shock Doctrine’ theory. Coined by Naomi Klein, this theory states that the media and people who can afford to manipulate them make sure the news cycle stays full of paranoia, fear, and uncertainty in order to cloud the judgement of an already (comparatively) uneducated public. It’s a bull market for Fear.
Nixon used the fear of “dangerous illegal drugs” to launch a “war.” This was expanded by Reagan and picked up by nearly every President after him as justification for further intervention in foreign countries that produce these drugs and sell them to the unquenchable market in the United States. It worked so well the CIA introduced crack into American inner cities to further criminalize mostly Black communities, and then vilified Gary Webb for blowing the whistle. The War on Drugs was also used (by both Republicans and Democrats) as a tactic for criminalizing “the antiwar left and black people.” The Clinton’s used the “superpredator” rhetoric to demonize black and minority children by labeling them as criminals beyond redemption. Again, this policy was used to launch the mass incarceration epidemic in the United States that imprisons 1/4th of the World's criminals, a majority of which are black and brown people who are arrested for these “crimes” at a much higher rate. The “prison industrial complex” as it came to be known has been used to provide free or cheap coerced labor (slavery) by creating a loophole in the 13th amendment. This had been used all over the country since after the Civil War to maintain class separation and segregation in the United States.
The people who buy into our system, other than having their proportion of the GDP and political power siphoned by the business interests, don’t get anything in return except rising prices for everything from commodities to housing, while their wages and compensation remain stagnant. Mark Twain said it’s easier to fool a person than to convince them that they have been fooled. I give you, ladies and gentlemen, our voting public. Republicans pretend their fight is against external threats such as foreign illegals and infiltrating leftists like some fucking McCarthy wet dream. The Democrats believe their tendency to win small and lose to fascism is due to internal threats, such as the danger of the Republican party. In fewer words, they blame each other for something that both worked to create and perpetuate.
All of these inextricably linked crimes against humanity and the working people of the world make and cost large amounts of capital. Capital that in one way or another funnels through the banking system. Like most other systems and institutions in America, it remains less accessible and certainly less forgiving to minority groups and those stuck in poverty.
At the end of the cycle of violence, degradation, and destruction you have a banking system (see 2008 banking collapse) held up by taxpayer dollars that turns around and uses those same taxpayer dollars to launder illegal drug and oil money through an institution that simultaneously refuses service to the same taxpayers whose backs the entire corrupt system rests. For further contradiction, guess what institution holds up the new marijuana markets that have legalized, despite the countless Americans still in jail for non-violent drug offenses. Then, to compound the banking crisis, these same banks divvy out loans (again, subsidized by the federal government) with insanely high interest rates to people attempting to free themselves from this devilish contraption by getting a degree. Pursuing higher education, as of now, seems to be the only legal way out of poverty in this country and even that carries the price of steep and unforgiving debt with interest rates so high they virtually guarantee continued poverty. And who do you think owns the loans and receives the interest? There’s a word for it…racquet?
Further, the rising rates of poverty are now becoming criminalized and unpaid debts (medical and otherwise) are passed off to collection agencies and in some states, authorities. States like Georgia and former slave holding Southern states are the worst for this but being in debt can actually land you in jail, fueling a bail bond industry that does nothing except fan the flames of these cycles of poverty and debt. As James Baldwin said, “anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.”
All of these factors combine to give us our Great Lie, it’s a culture of ignorance and bliss. It’s something that’s difficult to fit into a slogan or catchphrase, and therefore difficult to discuss casually or teach. It’s a whole complex, an all encompassing and slowly deteriorating vision of Enlightenment wandering into the darkness.
And if the going gets tough, if dignity and love start to prevail, either assassinate the character or change the language. There’s no greater way to sew confusion than altering the meaning of something into something more sinister or confusing. Now, if you even attempt to open a discussion, you find yourself not able to even understand each other. The degradation of our commonly shared language has now led to the degradation of the rule of law. When words have no meaning the structures that depend on them predictably fail as well. When everything is hyperbole, nothing can have nuance. So we have the rule of law in the United States being degraded because we no longer agree on what, for example, a threat is, or what an enemy of the people is…or whom. I wonder what Mark Zuckerberg thinks of all this?
It’s the most all-encompassing and sophisticated trap in human history, the bases are covered, and a warming climate may bring an end before our Republic votes for it. But in any school’s social studies curriculum from Nebraska to Texas, New York to California; you will learn about how America overthrew tyranny in exchange for freedom and while there were challenges, that’s all over now. According to curriculum we fixed democracy, and that ironically remains painfully true. Slavery and it’s evolution into modern mass incarceration and prison practices are barely even mentioned, and if they are it’s only to pat ourselves on the back for overcoming it.
Perhaps we were well-intentioned (I would argue not), but the cold hard consequences of our collective actions have led us to our current place in history. If you’ve made it this far you have my thanks, but I want you to serious ask yourself, dear reader, how do you think the COVID pandemic has affected our ability to resolve our many issues? We as a Nation voted for this inevitable result over and over again for decades, and for two Presidential elections in a row now, we haven’t had much of a choice. Let’s talk about a rock and hard place, Al Gore might have something to say about it. While it might be appealing for some to dream about a Great America, and how things should be, I can promise that mythological Great Place is nowhere in the past. History often provides the answers we need, but rarely the ones we want to hear. We’ve had an endless string of colossal failures as a Nation, with a few bright, shining spots sprinkled in, but a few lights doesn’t make the darkness into day.
As this year drags on I will write to you again, dear reader, with more specific parts of this whole that I have tried to lay out here. All this doom and gloom, in itself, isn’t the answer either. Educators call it schemata, and it must be shattered before new knowledge and comprehension can be reconstructed. This negative side of the truth isn’t the whole picture either; there are positives and we’ve made great strides as a society, but if we are to construct Peace in Our Time we must first reconstruct our own opinions and prejudices to accommodate all of our shared reality, not just the one to which each of us subscribes. Please don’t interpret this as some sort of radical hatred of America. I love my country and I will continue to serve it to the best of my abilities, but I am ashamed of what it has become, despite the fact that our current predicament is only the inevitable natural conclusion of our past as a Nation. The problems we face are the ones we deserve, meaning the ones we brought upon ourselves, but I hope to see the day where we turn towards sustainability. I would be surprised to see Biden be the one to do it, so in the immediate future, let’s just try and outlast Trump’s latest tantrum. That is all, for now.