When deer or wolves or pigs are alarmed by an unexpected sound, they “orient.” They turn toward the source, stand as still as they can, and sniff, stare and listen in order to assess the nature of the threat. If nothing more happens, they’ll go back to whatever they were doing. If they still feel uneasy they’ll keep one ear cocked or move to a safer spot. In a noisy setting it can be hard to know what might signal danger, so we are constantly going into alert mode. This can be very stressful. We humans have the advantage of stories, though. We have a greater ability than, say, a dog frightened by thunder, to come up with an explanation in our mind for what’s going on. Because of our deep immersion in language – which allows us to learn from other people’s experience – we also have a large archive of possible explanations to tap into.
The strategy of the abuser/oppressor is to disorient. To create confusion and uncertainty so that we will turn to them for protection. When the CIA set out in the 1970s and 80s to overthrow governments in Chile, Jamaica and Nicaragua, it started by taking control of the main daily newspaper in each country (El Mercurio, The Daily Gleaner and La Prensa) and turning it into a tabloid, complete with terrifying crimes, alien abductions and a chaotic, inexplicable world. The US-backed candidate or coup leader would then step in to save the day and restore stability.
Now is a time to orient. We need to sort out the separate sounds from the confusion of noise that surrounds us in this transitional moment. Whatever comes next in the saga of the declining US empire will demand an unaccustomed level of clarity from those of us fighting for justice here in the belly of the beast.
“Self-deception,” observed Frederick Douglass. “Is a chronic disease of the American mind and character.” We see this a lot in the mainstream political arena. The two major political parties represent competing strategies for concentrating wealth and power at the top of the social pyramid, restoring US global dominance and facilitating the plunder of the natural world. Each one specializes in fooling a different part of the population.
This is a time for clarity, not self-deception. The upcoming Biden administration will be a test for us of our ability to keep a clear head. The Democratic blueprint is to continue the transfer of ever more power to the corporate elite through their policies while satisfying their base by selecting women and brown people to administer those policies.
That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to gain. There are many gains to be made in those areas that corporations don’t care about (otherwise known as “social issues”). LGBTQ rights, some immigrant protections, limited wilderness protection, reproductive rights and short term financial relief are all concessions that, while they won’t significantly shift the balance of power, can make a tremendous difference in many people’s lives. It is important to fight for these things while not being fooled by them.
The Trump gang has done a great deal to weaken the prestige and power of the US and speed up its decline as an economic and military empire. It is not our job to help restore it but rather to rid ourselves of it. As Frederick Douglass made clear at an earlier crossroads, “We are not fighting for the old Union nor for anything like it,” but for that which is ten thousand times more important…”