Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Invisible Civil War Within: Part VIII

Like Alice in Wonderland, But Crappy

There is a single word that describes my feelings about the last 6 1/2 years and that word is "Kafkaesque." For the who have not read or heard of Franz Kafka, you can get an idea from Wikipedia...

"Kafkaesque" is an auctorial descriptive which is used to describe concepts, situations, and ideas which are reminiscent of the literary work of Prague writer Franz Kafka, particularly his novel The Trial and his novel The Metamorphosis.

The term, which is quite fluid in definition, has also been described as "marked by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity: Kafkaesque bureaucracies" and "marked by surreal distortion and often a sense of impending danger: Kafkaesque fantasies of the impassive interrogation, the false trial, the confiscated passport ... haunt his innocence" — The New Yorker.

It can also describe an intentional distortion of reality by powerful but anonymous bureaucrats. "Lack of evidence is treated as a pesky inconvenience, to be circumvented by such Kafkaesque means as depositing unproven allegations into sealed files ..." Another definition would be an existentialist state of ever-elusive freedom while existing under unmitigatable control.

The adjective refers to anything suggestive of Kafka, especially his nightmarish type of narration, in which characters lack a clear course of action, the ability to see beyond immediate events, and the possibility of escape. The term's meaning has transcended the literary realm to apply to real-life occurrences and situations that are incomprehensibly complex, bizarre, or illogical.

One of my oft-used aphorisms which I employ when describing the current situation to others is as follows: "Kafka and Orwell were giving us warnings; the current government thinks they wrote User Manuals."

It is really true. There are debates on television about whether torture is torture, whether criminals are criminals, and whether human rights abuses are human rights abuses. YES THEY ARE! There is no need to navel gaze over whether waterboarding is torture or whether torturers are criminals. Our conscience knows they are even among the most irrationally scared of us or those who can't face truth. The laws and treaties we are ignoring say they are. THEY ARE.

Spending six years looking at Iraqis as targets instead of people on the news (never any names other than main villains or cabinet members) and nameless people milling around on the screen betrays our moral stature. There are multiple determinations by credible sources who put the death toll in Iraq at over one million human beings. You won't see that in our free mainstream press except to bring in a bevy of military and civilian talking heads who claim numbers we surpassed in the first few weeks. Basically lies. One million people. We did that. Not just Bush. Not the instrument he used called the military. All of us did it because we are Americans and it happened. The crazy thing is most people don't even know it. To those of us who do, it is freaking creepy to know that fact. People know there was a war and that Iraq is in bad shape, but that is about it. American Conservative contributor Justin Raimondo has often referred to this state of affairs as Bizarro World (after the anti-Superman and his cube shaped planet from DC comics).

Here is the thing though. We can carry on as if nothing is happening. And we do. A beautiful spring day is just that. In 2002 and 2003, for some of us, the whole situation weighed heavily on our minds like an anxiety that wouldn't go away. Even those who feel the gravity and enormity of the bloodshed can't carry that load forever when ease and comfort are close at hand and the weariness of news of far off death can be turned off.

The options for the common man to turn this around were and are limited. For a while, peace marches and protests were staged in the hope that the collective voice of the people could change the tide. However, the government no longer fears its constituency and they summarily ignored the hundreds of thousands of protesters as if it had never happened. Kind of like Woodstock with no bands. It also didn't help that most of the rallies were organized by a fringe leftist political group called ANSWER. The ones I went to seemed to be splintered by fringe causes that had little to do with the stated mission (Iraq). Marches were more like parades where people would dress the part of 60s era protesters and chant the old chants. It was a new war, but there wasn't much in the way of current ideas or focus.

We can blog and I do. It is nice to know that some people agree with me, unfortunate that some don't but understandable. Unfortunately, we seem unable to tackle our national problems head on. Blogging can point out problems, but it doesn't solve them. If our elected leaders aren't pandering to some special interest group or whoring out national sovereignty to multi-national corporations, they debate meaningless junk like drugs in baseball or whether we can erect a big tribute to Veterans while offering them horrible mental and medical care. Congress and the President don't seem to ever see a way to consolidate power and suppress freedom they don't like: (un)patriot acts 1 and 2, protect America (from freedom) act, signing statements, not enforcing laws against law enforcement criminals, etc. etc.

I know much of this was happening before, but a look at history shows that a lot of this is different. In other wars, wartime powers were granted for a period of time and then revoked, but this PWOT (phony war on terror) is going to last forever, so the freedoms are gone forever. In addition, technology allows ever more powerful means of consolidating personal data and habits that most people haven't begun to grasp. TV shows like CSI and movies are conditioning us to the fact that those in authority have and deserve just about any detail they want about somebody, no matter how personal.

I can only hope that the American people can get our nation, our moral compass, and our freedom back. Those one million lost innocents in Iraq is going to haunt us for decades once we move past this mass denial. Enough about that.


Freedom is good stuff. It isn't to be doled out like a doggy treat when we've sufficiently performed our national duties. We have truths that are held to be self-evident and a Bill of Rights to remind us that individual freedom is an important part of who we are. Sure, there are taxes and sometimes we get drafted and we aren't allowed to kill our neighbor if we disagree and we consent to these things because they are functional and allow our basic freedoms to exist. I remember a much more free time. I am glad I am not growing up today and I am sad for what my daughter will inherit. In the battle against Fear, we are being routed. Let's just review a few freedoms no longer available whether through coercion or voluntary behavior.

  • The freedom to be alone: I remember many times when I was young when I was on my own with nobody watching me. No cameras, few satellites, few eyeballs scrutinizing and gosh darn it if I didn't feel the best during those times. It might have been in my own back yard or out in the woods. It could have even been at the store or walking down a crowded street. It was getting harder and harder and since 9/11, billions are being pumped into personal surveillance. It will save nobody but it will continue until sanity returns, if it ever does. It isn't just that though. We are so afraid of serial murderers, rapists, and child molesters that people are hiding themselves and their children away from the wonderful freedom to act unencumbered by constant supervision.

  • The freedom to do business: Remember tickets to shows with little or no "convenience charge" or banks without a charge for every little thing? Company picnics? Small, independent stores with the best selection of their specialty? It was possible to advertise without worrying about who owned the media or whether you would offend one of the hundreds of companies and product groups under their monolithic control. Things change, sure, but 30 years of mergers have perverted the basics of business. The government helped, but business basically did this to themselves. It is a loss of freedom when nobody takes responsibility for what they are supposed to provide and the mindless, amoral corporation sees everything as a PR maneuver instead of a problem that needs to be fixed.

  • The freedom to mind your own business: At one time you could plunk down cash and get on a plane to anywhere and nobody would even ask your name. Now you need a driver's license and credit card to stay in a hotel. Your calls may be monitored for "quality assurance purposes." You pay a premium for grocery store items if you don't let them track you with a store loyalty card. Businesses would safeguard their customer data from intrusion by authorities unless a search warrant was issued. Oh yes, and the term Mind Your Own Business actually meant what it said.

  • The freedom to dodge some of the rules: Did you ever record a vinyl album or radio program onto a cassette tape? Did you have a pirated version of Lotus 1-2-3 on a DOS machine back in the day? Did you ever get caught drinking when young and the police just poured your beer out instead of banning you from all driving for 5 years? Did you ever censor yourself on your blog because some of the rules you bent bear closer scrutiny from the NSA or CIA even though you were just screwing around and having fun and not hurting anybody (except occasionally ourselves)?

There are many more and feel free to add more in the comments. I understand that some of this might seem like "pinin' for th' old days" but it isn't that. Things are drastically different now and people seem content to move forward with their paranoia and fear and risk aversion overcoming some real living. Perhaps it is no wonder that so many Americans take solace in too much food or drinking when their entire life is a string of meeting compliance for schools, parents, governments, and businesses.

With our national morality failing and our own freedoms under attack, this ought to manifest itself in some very overt ways and be right out there for all of us to face head on. It does not. We wake up in the morning without any visible evidence of one million dead people and no jackboots walking up to doors taking away people in the night (at least none in my neighborhood). We laugh at humorous jokes and do our standard routines. People don't talk straight out about the war or the consequences without first making sure it isn't going to turn into a dualistic argument. Yet there are signs that something is wrong and that we are only okay as long as few enough people try to call attention to it. Yes, just like something out of a Kafka story.

In the next and last section, I will call an armistice to the Civil War within and provide some modest places to go and strategies for fighting the injustice and wrongness without.


Overdroid said...

The facts seem so completely different on both sides I'm just not sure what can be done. I'm interested in seeing what your strategies are.

The Moody Minstrel said...

The crazy thing is most people don't even know it.

An even crazier thing is a lot of people don't want to know it. That was probably what I found the hardest to stomach, let alone figure out. Try to talk about Iraqi civilian casualty figures or the obscene mismanagement of reconstruction "efforts" in Iraq or Afghanistan, and an awful lot of people will either dismiss you with an, "I don't wanna hear about it," or start accusing you of sympathizing with the terrorists.

Denial is human nature.

ladybug said...

Good commentary! I especially like the part about our "Freedoms"..or lack thereof.

I certainly remember going out to play sometimes during the summer...and not coming home until dinner..and my parents were never worried at all!..and I doubt my movements were tracked by a 3rd party either..

Simple, but profound difference in the way some American seems to some "bizarro" reality show.

An even crazier thing is a lot of people don't want to know it. Nail, meet head!

ladybug said...

PS-I've actually seen "The Trial" several times as a play.

I was always freaked out by it's creepy similarity to reality...

Don Snabulus said...


Bwahahaha! I'll never tell. Oh wait. I said I would. Dang!


I don't want to hear about it.


I need to see The Trial...we should keep an eye out for it.

Pa've said...

War is good for the economy, or so I have ben told.

If it wasn't for those pesky nuclear weapons.

Eventually, there will be computers watching people instead of people watching computers.

So much of our security depends on technology, so little on common sense.

Don Snabulus said...



Pandabonium said...

Wow. I had a dream last night about seeing police brutality - like the TV show COPS only showing how they really act.

For many years I used my passport for ID within the US. It doesn't have nearly as much information on it as a driver license does, such as your home address, (Hawaii licenses even used Social Security Numbers not that long ago!) and it is impossible to argue with as a valid ID.

I also used aliases and bogus phone numbers on things like grocery chain "preferred customer" cards.

It may seem silly, but all that information about you is in a database, or databases, and if you are ever fingered - rightly or wrongly - they can and will dig it all up. Even the books you bought or checked out from the library. All of it "can and will be used against you in a court of law." And then one realizes, too late, that it all does matter.

The noose is tightening and it gets harder every day to be a free person, as you point out so well.

Overdroid's blinking eye is freaking me out, so I'll close here... ;^0

Don Snabulus said...


I wonder how much data the new passports have? If the address is still missing, that is a good start.

Good tip about the store cards.

Dean Wormer said...

It takes a lot of energy to deny reality - those that continue to argue that the world is flat or that global warming is not man made cannot fight reality forever.

There'll be some hold outs but for the most part it's simply impossible to exile oneself to unreality in perpetuity.

Overdroid said...

Eventually, there will be computers watching people instead of people watching computers.

I concur! Click - bzzt.

Swinebread said...

Fascism creep... that’s what’s been happening and it is very scary.

I F***ing hate it when stores insist on getting your personnel info just to buy something. That’s also a great way to get your ID and credit card info stolen.