It was the great Irishman Oscar Wilde’s observation that in a universe of infinite possibilities, given the choice to exist or live, most of us would rather opt for the former. Extending this exist/live paradigm further, we could use it to evaluate if we are upholding, or challenging the status quo. Exactly why the status quo needs to be challenged should, by now, be fairly clear: aside from the widening gap between rich and poor, illegal wars, and secret kill lists (need I go on?), the history of our species tells us that those in power have a tendency to slide towards tyranny if their privilege is unchecked. Despite the idiotic and quite frankly, worrying proclamation made recently by the comedian Chris Rock that the President is “our boss…our Father,” the fact remains that in democratic societies, we must never forget that governments work for us, and not the other way around.
While we thankfully have examples of influential men and women past that stood up to social injustice and systems of control, increasingly with narrowing media ownership, our modern day heroes are prevented from even reaching our sphere of consciousness. As regular visitors to this website will be aware, last week saw the Hedges v. Obama NDAA Lawsuit move into its next phase, as both sides presented their arguments before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. However, a Google News search for ‘NDAA lawsuit’ on the day before the hearing revealed that the event received practically no play from the mainstream media, and aside from the copious coverage all over the blogosphere and independent media, it was almost as if nothing was happening at all. All this on the eve of what was to be another key plot point in one of the more important legal cases in modern American history.
And so, we still see the influence of Edward Bernays and Walter Lippmann in an age of iPhones, Facebook, and robots that clean your apartment floor. That is to say, that the general public continues to be purposefully distracted away from important affairs. As a result of this effort, it has become commonplace for many to believe that their opinions bear no weight; that they are voiceless, subservient, even unworthy. We live in a culture of fear - a world of 45 MINUTE WMD WARNINGS, KILLER FLU OUTBREAKS, AND TERRORISTS AROUND EVERY CORNER. The paralysis caused by this fear affects the mind, and equally, the body – for without any initial revolutionary thought, there can be no subsequent action. Above all, to paraphrase Marianne Williamson, perhaps what scares us most is not that we are inadequate; rather, that we are powerful beyond measure, but we simply don’t know it.
Along with this fear of course comes the desire to escape from decision-making, perhaps reflecting a willingness, in Christopher Hitchens’ words, to be a slave. Why else would we spend an average of 75 full days a year enjoying the passive and often soul-destroying activity of staring at a television screen, if it were not to escape? It is a telling indictment of our time that in a moral contradiction as absurd as democratically-elected old men ordering young men to war, many view freedom as a state devoid of all obligations and responsibilities.
If we objectively examine our behavior, it’s clear to see that we certainly do a lot to confirm this fallacy. It is no great irony that although most of us have, at some point or another, blamed our busy work schedules for not being able to pay attention to society’s ills, as previously stated it is the passive activity of watching television that makes up the majority of our free time. It is quite remarkable that given all the avenues we have at our disposal to express our innate creativity and potential, the ‘normal’ way to spend a free evening is to be devoid of movement, input, and expression. Then again, for some it’s commonplace, and dare I say it, fashionable, to appear to be aloof and unconcerned of what becomes of our species. Escapism can be fun; perhaps even necessary in a world where most people confess to be less happy than ever before, but there is perhaps no more damaging mistake to be made than to not accept responsibility, for freedom is impossible without it.
For the well-informed, inspiring, and tireless activists all over the land, escaping and shirking from responsibility are simply not viable options. The hundreds huddled inside the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse to witness the latest round in Hedges v. Obama last Wednesday took the initiative of getting informed, disseminating information to others, and being there in support. Earlier in the morning, they chanted their slogans, held their signs, and calmly explained to a succession of curious pedestrians that we now find ourselves not in Kansas anymore.
Several hours after the hearing, some two hundred plus crammed into Culture Project, a small theater in NoHo, to witness a discussion panel on the NDAA, featuring contributions from many of the plaintiffs and assorted public figures including filmmaker Michael Moore. While the Fahrenheit 9/11 producer delivered rambling, unfocused observations on everything from police brutality to the Vietnam War (not to mention squeezing in a lesbian joke to pass the time), it was to be a less heralded panelist that captured the hearts and minds of an audience thirsty for truth and perspective.
Indeed, it was the passionate and pertinent comments of former New York Times journalist Chris Hedges that struck the loudest chord on this night. “We have undergone a corporate coup d'état,” began one such soliloquy. “The corporate coup has seized our systems of information.” Without a Piers Morgan or Bill O’Reilly to cut him off, throw to commercial, or assassinate his character, he continued. “The major structural assaults carried out by the Bush administration have been embraced by the Obama administration – all of them. The expansion of imperial war, drone attacks, the looting of the U.S. Treasury by Wall Street, and most importantly, the assault on civil liberties.”
Later in the evening, after nearly two hours of problem diagnosis, Hedges became the first contributor to suggest that the sick patient known as Joe Public may not be terminally ill just yet. “Something’s gonna happen,” proclaimed the Truthdig columnist, almost inviting the audience along in a vision of a future without indefinite detention, without drones, without mass NSA surveillance. “I’ve been in those situations where you feel it, you know it - you know it’s coming. You never know what triggers it; you never know what that tipping point is. It’s usually something utterly benign.”
Exiting the theater, one activist asked another, “so where do we go from here?” As the attendees assimilated with the public on the street, the question lingered in the air.
Guy Evans- BFP Contributing Author & Producer
Guy Evans is the Founder and Co-host of the Smells Like Human Spirit Podcast, which covers a wide variety of social and political issues. Before getting into the world of independent media, he spent three years lecturing in the United Kingdom, playing international basketball, and running his own business. He has been featured in several academic publications for his student-focused lecturing and coaching approaches; notably a chapter in the internationally-distributed book ‘Athlete-Centered Coaching’ (Kidman, 2010). Mr. Evans lives with his wife (and two cats!) in Brooklyn, NY. Visit SmellsLikeHumanSpirit.com here.