Chris Hedges gets it so right in his latest piece (latest piece I’ve read, anyway) for Truthdig. While the piece is ostensibly about the farce elections in America, Hedges can’t help but get in as many digs at the system as he possibly can (which is a good thing if you ask me). One particular dig involved something I’ve been wanting to write about for a while, and I hadn’t thought to use the word he used—“mantra”—but Hedges explains what I had been thinking very well:
“Neoliberal ideology infects every institution and belief system. Those who suffer deserve to suffer. Victims are responsible for their victimhood. We can all achieve wealth and prosperity with hard work. This mantra permits us to be cruel and heartless to the weak and the vulnerable, especially the poor as well as women and children, whom we discard as human refuse. Our warped neoliberal vision is defined as progress. ”
Not an original insight, necessarily, but still a very powerful one. And that word “mantra” nails it.
What is a mantra?
I really like The Free Dictionary’s definition of the word “mantra”:
“A sacred verbal formula repeated in prayer, meditation, or incantation, such as an invocation of a god, a magic spell, or a syllable or portion of scripture containing mystical potentialities.”
A sacred verbal formula, repeated. And repeated. And repeated. Hedges mentions 3 of them: 1) those who suffer deserve to suffer; 2) victims are responsible for their victimhood; and 3) wealth and prosperity are available to everyone with hard work. Those are all good examples of sacred verbal formulas which are drummed into our consciousness over and over at school, at church, in the media, and everywhere else until we start repeating these mantras in our own heads, imagining that we came to these conclusions ourselves rather than being forcibly led to them. And of course, these mantras are really not sacred to us—they are instead sacred to those who would control us. We tend to treat them as sacred because they are repeated so frequently and so imperceptibly that they do seem to be basic truths of the universe.
Something for nothing and respect for authority
The mantras I had been wanting to write about—without calling them that in my thinking until I read the Hedges piece—are these two: 1) no one should get something for nothing; and 2) people ought to have respect for authority. I wanted to write about them after I heard an unbelievable interview with a white female resident of the Craig Ranch subdivision in McKinney, TX following the indefensible behavior of Officer Eric Casebolt.
I actually have written a little bit about the conundrum of something for nothing:
“The other big reason has to do with the principle of “something for nothing.” We are all taught from essentially birth that getting something for nothing should not be allowed, that we must work (i.e. perform some sort of labor) in exchange for the things we want or need. This is a universal principle, and one that those in control of the money supply have always endeavored to subvert. With the advent of fractional reserve banking, the subversion was complete and therefore banks are allowed to get something for nothing–i.e., money and property along with all the benefits of having those things–while citizens are barred from doing so. Yet it is the money and labor of the citizens that allows the banks to get something for nothing.
We are allowing ourselves to live under a system in which banks SELL us money (called “interest”) that WE create for them. That is, it is our deposits and promises to pay that allow banks to “lend” in the first place, yet they have the chutzpah to charge us for lending that same money back to us (or to our fellow citizens). And this is the genius of fractional reserve banking (from the perspective of the banks, of course): it is merely a system which allows banks to get something for nothing while preventing the people who perform the actual labor from doing the same thing.”
To me, that’s one of the founding myths of modern finance—indeed, of the harmful fiction that we know today as “money”—that no one should get something for nothing (even though everyone gets everything they really need–life, five senses, body, mind, oxygen, sunlight, etc.–for nothing). So therefore, what proceeds from that premise is that we should all perform labor for someone else to earn imaginary chits created by a handful of powerful people in order to have legal access to even the basics of life. This arrangement necessarily leads to the creators of the imaginary chits getting the very thing they’re supposed to be trying to keep us from getting, but since the “something for nothing” mantra has taken such deep root, hardly anyone even notices that is happening.
And I realized, as I watched the interview with the Craig Ranch lady, that she was uttering another mantra of slavery, i.e., that we must have “respect for authority.” Here is the video where she says it (approx. 1:00 ):
“…he was not out of line…I completely support him drawing his weapon…I think he deserves a medal for what he did…those kids were taunting them and cursing them out, have no respect for authority…[the kids’ parents] didn’t even care one bit about how [the kids] were treating the officers…”
Could there be a more perfect encapsulation of the mindset of a slave? That the threat of deadly force is justified even against unarmed children merely for speaking to an “authority” figure in some way that the authority figure didn’t like? No wonder this country is in such trouble—people like this condescending woman have internalized the mantras of slavery.
Hedges, on the other hand, gives us the seeds for mantras of freedom:
“Every action we take now must be directed at ripping down the structures of the corporate state. This means refusing to co-operate. It means joining or building radical mass movements. It means carrying out sustained acts of civil disobedience, as Kayactivists are doing in Seattle and fishing communities such as Kodiak, Cordova and Homer, as well as a dozen indigenous tribes, are doing in Alaska, to physically halt fracking, drilling for oil and natural gas or U.S. Navy training exercises in the pristine waters of the Arctic. It means striking for a $15 minimum wage. It means blocking city streets to demand an end to the indiscriminate use of lethal force by militarized police, especially against poor people of color. It means, in large and small ways, acts of open rebellion. It means always having as the primary objective the disrupting and overthrowing of corporate power. It means not playing the game. ”
My mantras of freedom? Radical equality! When freedom’s illegal, gotta be an outlaw! Resistance is victory!