Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Schadenfreude

You know something's wrong, and you try to tell people, but they don't listen. They fail, and their misfortune brings you pleasure?

What could better fit a negative American stereotype than making a few bucks by promoting your new book? What could be more negatively American than forming a clique based around demeaning others for past wrongs? Than celebrating the misery of others?

Here, Dr. Berman does just that, cheering:
Well, we did it. They said it couldn’t be done, but we did it...more than a million views...Obama...has murdered US citizens or indefinitely detained them under the cover of the fascistic National Defense Authorization Act. Instead of doing anything positive to change the direction of the country, the American people are staring into their iPads and smart phones, totally mesmerized and moronized by the latest electronic gadget. Books documenting their ignorance and stupidity have multiplied rapidly since 2006. Our educational system is a joke, our cities lie in shambles, and our political discourse is totally vapid. Hustling proceeds with incredible vigor and determination, and “Me, myself, and I” is the purpose of life for most Americans (polls reveal that empathy is basically out the window)...Nearly 20% of the nation is unemployed, with no prospects of future work...Our star is fading...

The bitter old white men of history, comfortable in their pensions and few remaining years, delight in the crushing of others' dreams. As they fear the approach of their own deaths, they soothe themselves by the thought that many others will go down with them. As they realize that they drew salaries for decades working for the system that now seems so unappetizing, they content themselves that they will, at least, continue their work of ruining things for everyone else.

What does American "hustling" look like? Berman celebrating his "million views"--no doubt contributed to greatly by mesmerized viewers using their iPads and smartphones--and hoping, not for the rebuilding of cities and minds, but increasing pieces of ad revenue and book sales. As he celebrated at the end of his post, "On to the next million!" He is qualified to write the book "Why America Failed" because he is why America is failing. Hateful, impotent men, managing their retirement funds online while they travel the world on speaking engagements, in which they describe at length how stupid and worthless are the rabble that checks their blood pressure and fills their prescriptions and prepares their food and washes their linens, are the very definition of the wrongness of the modern world.

Why is the American educational system a "joke"? Because men like Morris Berman have been teaching in it. Telling people that they are stupid and ignorant is the best way to foster mistrust, anger, and divisive political economies.

Berman's hustling proceeds with "incredible vigor and determination," because although he hasn't ever made any new arguments--merely using university credentials to obtain publishing rights for radical critiques he picked up online--he is a hustler, good at promoting himself. Like a professorial version of fiction's David Brin, his weblog entries are merely shortened versions, repeated years later, of something he already regurgitated in a book: scientists have proved that Americans are getting stupider. Beauticians have proved that Americans do not know how to do their own hair. Et cetera.

There is nothing new here. The Arab-looking men without Iraqi accents who pulled down the statue of Saddam for the American cameras were the same type of sellout, as were the "French" correspondents, with heavy accents, who helped Fox News demean French people when France wouldn't back the 2003 Iraq invasion. Remember Freedom Fries? In any group, those exist who will use their membership to earn a few bucks insulting their apparent kin to those who will listen. The wrong kind of African American slaves would sell out their fellows, pander to the master or mistress, and make themselves punitive agents of the system.

The apparent delight of seeing a real slave/Iraqi/French person/American talk about how stupid his group is can make it seem so believable--why would that person insult his own kind, unless it were brutal, necessary honesty? Because he's getting paid. (What, you're an American, and you hadn't figured that out, yet?)

Me, myself, and I. Empathy is indeed "basically out the window" in some places, the most easily observable being Berman's gray little heart.

As hegemons switch, we will see leaders, even local leaders, rising to prominence based solely upon how viciously they will insult our predecessors. Yet, we must remember that our predecessors used these methods to obtain their power: the divisive slandering of people by group, and the self-righteous schadenfreude of how much better "we" had it in the face of "their" misery.

In time, we humans came to learn that such methods were the hallmark of evil. We came to understand that those who insulted a group for some fault were often those who had created the group in the first place, and had fostered, or even conceived, that very fault, nurturing it until it became something they could use to exploit us. We learned that Great Machine Wars only happened because freed serfs needed to be fed to their deaths against one another. We learned that the Arab tyrants had been given their power over unwilling subjects by the fathers of the very men who now led us to slay the backward Arabs. We learned that the weapons of mass destruction that menaced us had been sold by the very same people, now not even a generation removed, who would lead us to battle to save us from those same weapons.

Each time, they are ready. Figuring out Nixon was not enough. Figuring out Obama was not enough. Evil will take another shape, seeking to divide us against one another. Learn to recognize not merely the circumstances of the moment, but the larger pattern by which they operate, and be not fooled.

1 comment:

  1. His ragged appearance helps him pull it off. somebody with such a hideous haircut, ungroomed beard, and worn out shirt *has* to be anti-establishment.

    I'm not going to overgeneralize, but real rebels are oftentimes some snazzy motherf***rs. Just check out some MLK or Malcolm X photos. Fly as hell.

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