Jolts On The Road
By Gaither Stewart
belongs to the quartet of essays, including Solidarity,
if in the shaky super power in decline, the United States of America,
tottering on the brink of disaster, just what if the next turn of events
was a popular mutiny against the gradual, little-charted American Counter-Revolution
that has been going on for decades?
times in which America’s leaders threaten the planet with Armageddon,
the future of man seems precarious. The violence marking American civilization—the
terrorism of the state directed against its own people, its citizenry
armed to the teeth and taser-armed police out of control and the government
promising nuclear wars to come—threatens the rest of the world.
of the hopelessness and desperation in the American air today recalls
the mood in post-World War II Europe expressed by the Existentialist
movement. After the massacres of civilians in Iraq and repeated American
declarations of preemptive war I feel something similar to that of European
writers then who wondered what poets could write about after the Holocaust
and 40 million dead. In the aftermath of the destruction of whole civilizations,
the Existentialists held that individual men, not governments, have
to create the meanings of their own lives. Many Americans should feel
something analogous today.
Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre depicted people as free and therefore
responsible for what they make of themselves. In their view that responsibility
was too heavy a burden for man to bear and caused in him desperation.
The human condition, which the Existentialists described, marked by
fear, boredom, alienation, the absurd and the sense of nothingness,
calls to mind the prevalent mood in the USA and parts of West Europe
poetical essay based on Greek mythology, The Myth of Sisyphus, Sisyphus
is condemned to push a heavy stone up a hill for all eternity. Each
time he reaches the summit, the rock rolls back downhill, and each time
he stoically begins his task again. For Camus, Sisyphus’ commitment
to such a senseless task reflects both man’s nobility and his
for the Italian Existentialist, Alberto Moravia, desperation was man’s
natural state. In his novel, The Time of Indifference, Moravia was absorbed
by the theme of desperation. His characters are unable to communicate
with each other or express themselves. To the degree that they are aware
of their condition, they become incapable of action, desperate and superfluous
like the intellectuals of Nineteenth century Russian literature.
Moravia’s protagonists are relatives: indifferent and incapable
of a relationship with the world, marked by skepticism, despair, escapism
they ring today! How Twenty-first century America!
the TV news and you wonder why things are the way they are? Why are
millions of America’s Mexican neighbors compelled to sneak into
the United States and live a dog’s life just to eat? Though it
is true that because of the missing social idea America’s poor
are poorer than Europe’s poor, Mexico’s poor are much poorer.
to the opinions of some pseudo-sociologists and smug capitalists, Mexicans
wetbacks do not work on the skyscrapers of Dallas or wash dishes in
cafeterias in Atlanta or pick fruit in California because they are enamored
with Yankee life. They grovel for existence for the simple reason that
man must eat to live. It is evident that something is startlingly and
tragically out of whack in North America.
History, brutal and reductive, tells the story of the Etruscan civilization
in a few words: they appeared from somewhere, flourished for nine centuries,
their kings ruled Rome for hundreds of years, and then they declined
and vanished. One might judge that the Etruscans deserved to disappear.
For though they were mystics, they became the world’s first international
arms dealers after developing the iron weapons that changed the nature
of warfare. A money-minded people they sold their powerful arms to the
rest of the world. They were capitalists who had slaves to do the work,
man their ships, fight their wars and finally even govern them. They
too depended on the brain drain from abroad to enrich and develop their
civilization. In reality the mysterious Etruscans had two things in
mind—fun in the here and now in a life of comfort and ease and
preparation for the same in the hereafter.
between the Etruscan civilization and the Beelzebub atmosphere in contemporary
America is clear as day: indifference to the real world, a search for
diversion at all costs, the widespread contentment with cheapened life-style,
and the devil take the hindmost.
Is Hope Enough?
desperation over his condition of helplessness to change things prevailed
in every moment, man would be unable to resist suicide. That relatively
few people kill themselves testifies to the role of hope as in the Sisyphus
myth. In the day-to-day desperation of our lives, hope in something
indefinite is a source of our salvation.
So what is
hope? And is it enough? In my Rizzoli encyclopedia the first definition
offered for speranza, that is hope, is “a feeling of trust in
the future”. Or, secondly, hope “is the person or the thing
in which one places one’s trust.”
For the religious,
hope is faith in God’s saving grace; others however count on the
redeeming force of ideas and ideology.
The realist is justified in asking if it is reasonable to have hope
in this insecure world. Reason whispers in our ear that, no! the world
condition does not justify hope. In that sense, hope is deceptive, a
masquerade, and leads us down twisting paths toward cynicism, and eventually
carries us back again to our original desperation.
And the process
starts over again.
Maintain a sense of measure, reasonable people advise. Reform is the
route. Keep things within due proportions! As if anything has ever really
changed without exceeding ordinary limits, without exaggeration. Man
is not so reasonable. For how much stupidity is repeated over and over
in the name of reason.
mutation from desperation to hope and back to desperation, over and
over again, demonstrates that we are not creatures of reason, no more
than was poor Sisyphus pushing his rock up the hill again and again.
Because of man’s unreason his hope like his desperation returns
over and over.
circle! What else but folly is the repetitive destruction of civilizations
and their rebirth each time? Europe has built and rebuilt its magnificent
cities of cathedrals and palaces and fountains and parliaments only
to destroy it all time after time. Then, immediately after each devastation,
irrational humans join forces, relentless like ants, and rebuild everything.
Then, just as irrationally, they organize another war and destroy it.
has gone on and on throughout history. The first Rome was destroyed
by Etruscans 2500 years ago, and then rebuilt. Then another Rome, the
magnificent city of stone, of Empire marble from Spain and Gaul, from
Tripolitania, Numidia, Egypt, and Greece and Asia—violet marbles,
serpentine greens and pearly-grays and blues, obelisk granite, porphyry
and Africano and imperial reds—was destroyed again and again by
Vandals and other invaders, before in an act of hope people rebuilt
it. The horizontal layers of earth and stones and remains of former
civilizations under the surface of the eternal city today are emblematic
of mankind’s madness.
World Trade Center is emblematic of human folly. Men built, then in
a moment of lucid folly, destroyed the WTC. Then, a new idea for its
rebirth emerged like a shaft of light from the filth and the deception
and the desperation that had brought down its towers.
conclude that it is not reason or ideas or intelligence that save the
world. Some believe it is man’s senseless hope, his insistence
on survival, his necessity of breathing to the last breath, his stupid,
stubborn resistance … and his heroism. His resistance is proof
that hope has thus far been stronger than his desperation because hope
has won out in each phase of the struggle for survival.
Is Not Enough
verb and noun come down to us from Middle English in the present meaning
of “to hope that things will turn out all right.” Hope is
the opposite of the rare word, wanhope that is hopelessness and despair.
The word includes the German cognate Wahn, madness. Wanhope is thus
a “crazy” brand of despair, and by extension, desperation.
the nightmares of those dark and deformed figures lurking in your subconscious,
in ambush, waiting to waylay you, threatening you with unidentified
dangers and you try to run away but your legs are leaden heavy and refuse
to carry you and desperation inhabits you and you can only hope for
Hope As Revolt
hope is based on revolt against the desperation of life that would propel
man to collective suicide. Perhaps revolt is even a derivative of hope,
for fortunately hope is also collective. It is a collective revolt that
each individual shares with others in the name of a better future.
In that sense
hope mutates into solidarity—solidarity in collective revolt.
When man revolts he joins others in an act of hope. Hope and solidarity
and resistance and revolt are paradoxically a desire to restore order
after the destruction.
a purely linear existence of birth to death because we realize that
circular and reversible existence is merely hopeful illusion. Thus to
avert the morphing of hope into illusion, in the long run hope has to
rely on revolt.
Yet the brutal
reality is that hope and revolt are not enough for salvation this time.
Hope and solidarity and revolt can lead the way but more will be required
this time around.
An Interlude For A Look At What We Have Over Us
seems foolish to dispute what form of government is best. Historically
people have often found better forms of government among foreigners.
At the time of the French Revolution enlightened persons of the world
looked to Republican Paris, others favored Napoleonic modernizers. Warlike
Prussia had its admirers, as did Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
Mussolini’s Italy was applauded because for a time the dictator
made Italy work. Using such historical yardsticks, some believe that
the time of the United States of America as a model for the world has
In the West
today two fundamental views of the role of government stand in opposition:
that of America and that of continental Europe. For the last three decades
America has been under the spell of a conservative ideology concerning
the unlimited rights—as a rule referred to by themselves as freedom—of
the wealthy classes, the magnates and the oligarchs, the rich upper
five per cent of the population.
continental Europe see this instead as an ideological challenge to their
more humane values in matters of social justice as for example universal
health care and welfare.
capitalist USA has come to mean freedom for the rich to become richer
while political power has rejected the already meager social instincts
in the nation such as the feeble attempt of the Clinton administration
to introduce the basic concepts of universal health care.
too much of Socialism.
knows that steeply graduated taxation is the most direct route to finance
universal health care and education and the redistribution of national
But that is precisely what conservatives reject.
progressives, though each day ceding ground to free-market globalization,
are cognizant of the social responsibility of the state to care for
its citizens. European leaders know they must at least seem to act in
the general interests of their electors, of the have and have-nots alike.
eyes to see has been able to follow the effect of savage American capitalism
on the traditional European social model. The American model threatens
the social state Europe constructed over a century of struggle. The
Great Britain of Tony Blair—once the darling of European Reformist
Socialism and the welfare state—succumbed, and has been a Trojan
horse within the European community for a decade.
are highly visible today, as the British government in the bear hug
of conservative America has drifted farther and farther from its original
European values. As in the USA, the gap between rich and poor has widened
dramatically first in Great Britain and now in much of Europe. Today
the preference for market freedoms to the state’s role as the
re-distributor of wealth is increasingly visible.
charge that when progressives refer to the rights of society they are
in reality speaking of greater roles for the state. That is true. That
is the point. The failure of last year’s referendum in favor of
the European Union Constitution in France and The Netherlands reflects
the anti-globalization instincts reigning in the “social”
part of Europe, which sees the European Union as a conglomerate of multi-nationals
based on the American model.
of a “bad America”—with its 737 military bases in
over 100 world countries, its CIA night flights carrying terrorist suspects
to mysterious destinations for torture, and its last-man-alive philosophy—is
common and spreading in West Europe today.
and Europe are not two separate civilizations, but branches of the same
West, which dialogue and influence each other.
is true that Europe cannot economically afford to return to Socialist
models of a century ago. Nonetheless it stands at a crossroads. It can
favor socially responsible government and search for more equitable
redistribution of wealth. Or it can abandon its social heritage and
choose the American route of a state that does little for its citizens.
On the other
hand, the United States most certainly cannot afford to continue in
the savage anti-social direction of the last three decades without facing
an unstoppable social upheaval at home and more and more ostracism abroad.
Instead of dictating its anti-social values to the rest of the world,
it would do well to listen to foreign voices.
The Future That Hope Hopes For
for the proper word for what might happen in America on the heels of
popular resistance to its burgeoning police state, I came on the old
concept of mutiny.
mutiny might sound like much too little considering the present desperate
state. The 1954 film The Caine Mutiny with Humphrey Bogart depicts the
mutiny against a paranoid naval Captain whose madness has nearly caused
the destruction of the warship USS Caine. The theme of mutiny runs through
American history and literature—ship revolts as in Jack London’s
Mutiny of the Elsinore and Melville’s slave revolts, and for that
matter, the mutiny in the execution of the American Revolution itself.
Rebellion against unjust power remains a leitmotiv in the American imagination.
With that tradition in mind Americans and their present rulers must
wonder when the next explosion will arrive and what form it will take.
For today the gap between rulers and people is unbridgeable and some
people are re-learning the sense of social solidarity.
resistance has set in.
So what comes
next? In a mature people the passage from one step to the next in the
dialectical chain above appears historically ineluctable. Once underway,
such a process doesn’t just stop.
What if in
the United States of America—shaky super power, today in decline
and tottering on the brink of disaster—what if the next step was
mutiny against the gradual, little-charted Counter-Revolution in America
in motion for decades.
is that the masses of America appear surprisingly nonchalant about their
lost freedoms. Many snicker at suggestions of any kind of revolt or
rebellion. Many even still see America as the cradle of democracy and
But is the
idea of mutiny far-fetched? Is it science fiction, the image of people
in revolt? In a situation in which the rulers crush the people under
an avalanche of police state laws and the people exercise their constitutional
right to bear arms, what if the same people wake up and metaphorically
turn their guns on their oppressors?
writer, Ernesto Sabato, says that the very worst social situation is
that in which fear reigns and man becomes an automaton, no longer responsible
or free. The most hopeless situation is that of a humanity that ignores
its own interests and continues to think childish thoughts and to play
Out of unawareness
or complacency, out of acceptance or passivity, and as a result of the
pervasive cradle-to-grave brainwash, the masses of American society
seem placated by Power’s assurances that theirs is the best way
has gone about creating its police state it has kept the people asleep
and apathetic, obese and content, and holding many millions of less
fortunate in ignorance. While complacency is based on the illusion of
freedom, the passive people are inoculated against external influences
by an ignorance of history and flag-waving patriotism.
as the educated, aware, upper middle classes become poorer and more
dissatisfied, the use of fear to keep them in line is necessary. In
the home of the brave, fear continues to intensify as seen in the new
laws of the controlled society.
of fear is a new American reality.
And the fear
in her “10 easy steps to Fascism” recalls that a government
can stop dissent quickly with just a little torture of the dissidents.
The 10 easy steps to American Fascism have already been made: creation
of an external threat, ready secret prisons, formation of paramilitary
forces, surveillance of citizens, infiltration of civilian organizations,
arbitrary arrests, targeting key individuals, press controls, labeling
criticism as espionage and dissent as treason and subversion of the
rule of law.
and the means of enforcing them—is already in place.
word Revolution is terrifying. There is just reason to mistrust it.
Even the Beatles did in their famous song, Revolution. Since the heroic
times of the American and French revolutions and the Great Russian Revolution
the word has degenerated and been misused. The student revolution of
the 1960s, though leaving behind many lasting effects, petered out after
the Vietnam War. China’s Cultural Revolution has not yet been
digested. The so-called Orange Revolution in Ukraine comes to mind as
an example of a political class abusing the very word.
don’t confuse revolution with either mere reform on one hand or
with armed insurrection on the other. Insurrection is a local, usually
spontaneous and one-issue matter. Reform is adjustment made by the rulers
in order to maintain power as happened in Tsarist Russia. As a rule,
reforms are too little and too late.
and radical social-political change should be the goal of thinking Americans
today, everything that inhibits social solidarity, the blossoming of
resistance and the creation of a rebellious mindset against a negative
myth are obstacles to be overcome.
Wait a minute!
A myth? What myth? In this case—the myth is America itself. For
how can you battle a myth, the Greeks wondered? In the aftermath of
the fall of Troy, Menelaus stood before Helen with his sword raised:
he the victor stared at her the traitoress and let his sword fall. He
couldn’t kill her. Like a reflection in the water, Helen was a
myth. Menelaus had to wonder how you can kill a myth without killing
the water, too.
of solidarity and resistance, the United States of America has always
harbored violence in its soul. A parallel violent world lives within
American society, one world atop the other, each independent of the
other. In America, violence and war are so much a part of life that
sometimes non-violent opposition to this inbred violence seems to be
to America’s own terrorism and violence, al-Qaeda is stuff for
babies and schoolgirls: homegrown violence is always just a heartbeat
away from mainline life. In comparison to today’s institutional
violence and terrorism, past student protest with its slogans of non-violence
or pistol-armed Black Panthers and Weather Underground insurrections
appear as innocent as breaking plate-glass windows.
Is mutiny ever outmoded in situations of oppression and madness, of
rupture between rulers and the ruled?
It is comforting
to keep in mind that though protest movements have been broken and scattered
by Power, many of those people and like-minded others are still out
there in American society. The number of mature adults with eyes to
see and ears to hear is growing. Their answer to people who wonder what
the resistance wants is simple: they want a just society.
are they to do?
That is the
that the class of Power in the USA is surprisingly small, numbering
in the tens of thousands. The potential opposition on the other hand
is enormous, including above all those whom Che Guevara had in mind
when he quipped, “If you tremble in indignation at injustice then
you are my comrade.”
of that ruling class is stashed away in corner offices on top floors
behind batteries of secretaries, apparently in hiding, out of its vanity
it still wants to be seen. For what is Power if no one knows YOU hold
it? Members of the Power class are visible each day, in TV, in Congress,
in the military hierarchy, in diplomacy, multinationals, religions and
the universities. The higher they ascend the ladder of Power, the more
reactionary they become, and the more entrenched in the Power system.
those at the very summit are in hiding, the rulers who really rule,
and they are the most dangerous. They are the ones we do not know. But
we can suspect who they are.
often seems that the people standing on the other side of the abyss
have abdicated, we tend to underestimate their potential power. Yet,
they too have a stake in the land. One forgets that organized workers
can bring a small city like Asheville in North Carolina or a metropolis
like New York or a company like General Motors to a standstill in a
matter of hours. The reason that seldom happens is because people have
forgotten their own strength.
don’t think about their strength is, as we said, due to Power’s
astute use of myth and illusion: the myth of freedom and the illusion
of happiness. And in these times more and more out of fear!
people seem to prefer ignorance, they need to be made aware of the truth
and of their strength. Some people are learning to distinguish between
myth and reality. For those with eyes to see, the issues are evident:
the Iraq War, globalization, US imperialism, legalized torture and genocide
and the new American police state at home.
with those who suffer is growing. Resistance spreads. For organized
resistance the great lie about the superiority of “the American
way of life” is a natural target. The end result of extended and
prolonged resistance is usually state violence against dissent. State
violence itself has a multiplier effect: when Power steps in to target
and taser dissenters and crush violence it intensifies resistance.
becomes inevitable. First comes collective action, civil disobedience
follows. Now police state laws have caused a change in thinking about
legitimacy. This time around the explosion can become something much
different than Power imagines. For the people can shut down the nation
without firing a shot.
Today the American people seem broken, fragmented and bewildered, devoid
of unity of purpose as existed, let’s say, during the Vietnam
War. According to recent studies the vast majority of American people
are unaffected by America’s ongoing permanent war. The discussion
about whether 70,000 or one million Iraqis have been massacred has a
certain theoretical-academic air about it. Not even the mothers of the
American dead in Iraq can get organized.
At the same
time more and more people have lost faith in the electoral system and
have taken on the job of breaking down the natural passivity of the
dissatisfied and fragmented people who, though in potential agreement
with revolutionary analyses, are unused to resistance because of the
illusionist spin conducted by Power. Not voting is a suggested antidote.
are the wars to be ended. If the people can’t share the government’s
war effort, it can share in anti-war objectives. There is vast poverty
and social injustice to be resolved. There is a dramatic need for universal
health care. There is a corrupt and mean political class to be removed.
All of it. Both parties. There is every need to give power back to the
organizer Abigail Singer, co-founder of Rising Tide North America and
of a recent Southeast Climate Convergence conference in Asheville, North
Carolina, said in an interview that voting is not enough because the
electoral process has been sold to the highest bidder and that people
who get into positions of power have to sacrifice whatever principles
they started out with to the point that systemic change is impossible.
The idea is that real change comes from the grassroots.
At the same
time a growing number of people are losing faith in nonviolence. Singer
points out that Capitalism itself is extremely violent. “If you’re
not nice and polite, some people consider that violence. But most violence
is in business as usual and capitalism grinding on, killing workers,
forests and oceans. We’re surrounded by normalized violence and
don’t recognize it for what it is. Confronting this normalized
violence in a direct way is not violent; it’s necessary.”
people still argue that you have to work within the system, the modern
activist is mutating because the political climate has changed. The
violence of government repression creates violent reaction in the same
way war against Iraq creates new shahids. Actually violent resistance
is nothing new: Black Power backed up the Civil Rights movement. The
US government didn’t grant more workers rights back in history
because it became good but because people rose up and demanded their
rights. People organizing to defend themselves reaches back through
the history of man.
America some people are coming together and developing new ideas of
resistance—and their number is destined to grow to the degree
that government repression grows. Still, there are not yet enough dissatisfied
people willing to work to bring about drastic social change.
youth in America I have lived my adult abroad. Traveling to the USA
today is to go abroad. Therefore I have acquired a double sensibility
about my former homeland. When I arrive there, abroad, but also at home,
I feel double tensions in the air: the tension connected with the fear
of losing “the American way of life” and the tension of
a minority of dissatisfied people also fearful because it knows it is
living a fantasy and that mutiny—so nebulous as to appear a chimera—will
be necessary to change things.
In America I do not sense that undercurrent of change that one has felt
in recent years in Spain, for example. I sense both a fear of action
and a fear of non-action. Perhaps it is also a fear of change, fear
that things can only get worse. A fear like that of a people inhabiting
the wrong house, or the haunting fear that the real house it once inhabited
is today occupied by usurpers and has lost its soul.
also a disturbing atmosphere of pragmatism and a depoliticalization
coupled with widespread contentment with just analyzing the current
situation rather than challenging it.
presupposes an end to blind acceptance of Power’s fictionalized
version of reality. It is comforting that across the land grassroots
activists are working to break down the phenomenon of indifference.
Activists no longer have to feel alone. Each person arrested in anti-war
demonstrations acquires new faith in resistance and each of them creates
of the legitimacy of Power, indifference to Power’s deviations
and passivity in the face of Power’s threats against external
enemies seem to have peaked. Polls show that more and more people believe
that Power gone mad has to be put aside. The eventual end of acceptance
and passivity could result in a kind of explosion the world has never
seen. Clash between people and a corrupt system appears inevitable.
clash is still more hope than reality. Hope that a new strategy of liberation
from the oppression of illegal Fascism will mushroom. In other times,
in an older language, that strategy would be called revolutionary theory.
The old Leninist concept is apt here: there can be no revolutionary
movement without a revolutionary theory. The theory here, the strategy,
must explain that it is not just George W. Bush, the system’s
current representative, who must go, but the system itself run by that
tiny minority at the top.
As a rule
people don’t rebel easily. People count on reforms. People do
everything possible to avoid real social convulsion and upheaval, even
compromising with a Fascist police state.
On the other
hand, today’s illegal government is aware that the spirit of mutiny
is brewing. That is why it has armed itself with a set of illegal and
anti-constitutional laws to crush it.
from afar cannot offer a solution. The American people will have to
decide that. However this is the most extreme problem of this century
for mankind: the powerful but confused and violent United States of
America. At this point the alternative to ousting today’s corrupt
American system is a permanent police state, which if it becomes any
more fixed than it is now just might last a thousand years.
the alternative media has an important role. Its role is to be intolerant
of liars and to tell the truth. And it has to expand and replace reticent
mainline media. The aim of the alternative media is to prompt people
to open their eyes and to inculcate in them a new way of thinking honestly
and free of Power’s New-speak.
real future belongs to those who resist, to the rebels who say ‘No!’
and to the mutineers at the grassroots who will bring about the drastic
change a growing number of Americans know is necessary. Let’s
leave ideology apart. Let’s simplify matters. Let’s drop
the rhetoric. Let’s avoid the set phrases of the radical chic.
see what Henry David Thoreau (1817-78), great American author and philosopher,
wrote in his “On the Duty of Civil Obedience”:
men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse
allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its
inefficiency are great and unendurable. Those who, while they disapprove
of the character and measures of a government, yield to it their allegiance
and support, are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters, and
so frequently the most serious obstacles to reform.
the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government,
let it go, let it go…. if it is of such a nature that it requires
you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law.
Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have
to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong,
which I condemn.
what shall I do? You ask. My answer is, If you really wish to do anything,
resign your office. When the subject has refused allegiance, and the
officer has resigned from office, then the revolution is accomplished.”
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