Today, May 30th 2020, is a day of extreme contrast in the story of the 21st-century United States of America.
Cape Canaveral, Florida became the site of the first space mission launched from American soil for a decade. The government cut NASA funding to the Space Shuttle program in the noughties and SpaceX, owned by billionaire Elon Musk, took up the challenge (and expense). Today their ambition came to fruition.
Meanwhile, in thirty plus cities across the country, mass protests entered a fourth day of conflict, with outbreaks of violent urban unrest. The country is teetering on the edge of civic breakdown.
We present polarization in America in terms of politics, a person’s ally versus enemy defined by which side they support. This interpretation is a calculated misdirection.
The schism at the heart of America is being hidden by the political tribalism. It’s not economic. It’s not conservative versus liberal. It’s not entirely a question of race, though racism is a major symptom.
Today’s wildly contrasting narratives of rarified engineering ambition and grass-roots rebellion against injustice are illustrative and we can embody the schism by two very different American exemplars; one good, one evil.
Good is epitomized by the pioneering entrepreneurial collaborative excellence of Space X – pick any of their guiding lights, Elon Musk included. Good includes most scientists, more than half the artists and writers, a multitude of hard-working citizens bearing responsibility for families day on day. Good listens. Good tries not to be racist. Good doesn’t believe might equals right. Good sees compassion as a quality worth having. Good is well represented in America.
Evil is the racist entrenched monopoly on power, committing violence against many but creating nothing that’s not seized as part of a perpetual consolidation of authority. Evil is represented by half of the country’s billionaires, most of the corrupted politicians, racist police, petty fascist enablers. Evil is loud. Evil is racist because race is an obvious sign of untermensch in-group out-group targeting. Evil believes might be right. Evil sees compassion as weakness. There’s no shortage of evil cast members.
MURDER, MEDIA AND MISREPRESENTATION
The brutal murder of George Lloyd in Minneapolis MN lit the touch-paper of years of accumulated resentment. As the SpaceX Falcon-9 Heavy Rocket carried Dragon2 and its crew into orbit, the governor of Minnesota (and other high-ranking politicians) signed off orders to mobilize the National Guard, imposing curfews to legitimize the violent suppression of the protesting citizens.
With the SpaceX achievement, we have an exceptional aspiration made into a reality: designing and building a renewable launcher rocket capable of carrying manned spacecraft into orbit; reusable spacecraft good for docking with the International Space Station and – longer-term – making the journey through interplanetary space. It’s a step on the way to humankind’s next giant leap: putting a man (or woman) on Mars.
Back on Earth, in the affluent United States from which Elon Musk’s rocket was launched, we have an abused, exploited section of the American population – tens of millions poor people, mostly black and brown, growing year on year – exploding onto the streets after the latest police brutality. It’s not an isolated incident.
The extent of the discord comes as a surprise to many Americans. Media and carefully conditioned confirmation bias have been selling echo-chamber audiences on the talking points of entrenched power. Normally this means a cultural segregation that perpetuates a long-standing economic apartheid. When necessary, e.g. times of social unrest, the message focuses on blaming insurgents, insinuating sinister forces like anarchists and agents of ‘foreign’ interference.
Most effective of the media misdirections is abuse of scale, as information sources fixate on amplifying sensational incidents of violence, as if they’re the norm and not the exception to overwhelmingly peaceful protest. It amounts to selective disinformation, false emphasis, practised by all flavors of media. It leaves most Americans out of touch with the great currents at play in the nation.
George Floyd protests are a case in point. The murder is compounded by wilful misrepresentation driving a wedge between sections of society whose aims ought to converge. Divide-and-rule is perennial. The people on the streets aren’t protesting on a whim or to blackmail the authorities for special treatment. It’s a population crying out against injustice and it’s not confined to a single race or demographic.
Millions of Americans, ground down by a system that’s evolved (over the past 50 years) to weave exploitation into every tendril of society, are desperately pushing back against the segregated lived reality of their lives. Police racism is a fact, however oblivious middle-class suburbanites may be. Most Americans of color endure oppression not dissimilar to the social divisions once enforced in law. Civil Rights won in the 1960s were a short-lived hope.
And so the people take to the streets in protest, ostensibly in response to the murder of George Floyd but in reality a wound deeper than any single injustice, relentless police brutality just the tip of the iceberg.
As the exploration of space unites the best of human collaboration in pursuit of ambitions as boundless as imagination, the endemic abuse of poor, disadvantaged citizens – particularly those not born to the privilege of the white entrenched authority – commits new atrocities and tightens its socio-economic grip on a dispossessed underclass that’s as inhumane as the corrupt “separate but equal” dogma of the Jim Crow laws.
It shouldn’t be necessary to deconstruct the systemic abuse of black, brown and white poor Americans. It’s endemic. It’s by design. It’s the violence of a thousand cuts. Details are publicly available e.g. the works of Chomsky, Zinn, Hobsbawm, Beard, Bayly, Woodward, exposing the genuine history behind our national diet of propaganda and thinly veiled morality tales.
For the sake of the archetype, let’s consider the so-called prison industrial complex. It connects the widespread protests against police brutality to the gross, larger picture of an American justice system subordinated to the needs of a pre-Civil Rights white racist paradigm. It is anti-poor more than specifically anti-black, but there’s a negligible difference when most of America’s poor underclass are ghettoized blacks and migrant brown-Hispanics.
At least 37 states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations that mount their operations inside state prisons. The list of such companies contains the cream of U.S. corporate society: IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instruments, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more.
In privately run prisons, they receive as little as 17 cents per hour for a maximum of six hours a day, the equivalent of $20 per month. The highest-paying private prison is CCA in Tennessee, where prisoners receive 50 cents per hour for what they call “highly skilled positions.” Federal prisons might pay up to $1.25 per hour for similar. No surprise the mega-corporations back this 21st-century reboot of modern slavery.
The red-lining of ghetto neighborhoods, underfunded schools, gang culture, a government-sanctioned proliferation of illegal drugs into black and brown sub-cities ring-fenced by aggressive police enforcement, relentless race-motivated sentencing, broken public services, divisive affirmative action that’s more rhetoric than reality, inculcating the school-to-prison pipeline, forcing exceptions into alienation that isolates and drives the best and brightest to migrate into middle class obscurity.
The legislative price of keeping the black, brown and immigrant races as an underclass means a small percentage of poor whites get swept along too. Nobody at the top of American society is shedding tears over a few million crackers. 21st-century America is a stealthy reassertion of the Jim Crow spirit, cynically expanded to include Hispanics, poor whites, and immigrants in their millions.
Make no mistake. The race-profiled populating of prison labor quotas is deliberate and unjust. Three strikes rule made law in the 1990s is a case in point. It’s law in 13 states.
Contrary to the propaganda, the record numbers of jailed Americans aren’t a case of American justice responding to a rise in violent crimes. Crime in America has gone down. Prison populations aren’t full of incarcerations from gangland turf wars. Ninety-seven percent of federal inmates were convicted of non-violent crimes. Over 50% of the current prison population remains incarcerated not for the original crime but for a new inmate punishment extending sentence length. It’s a bleak picture.
Facts of the prison industrial complex are unambiguously stark. Look them up if you doubt this conclusion: America has created a version of forced slave labor in the prisons, overwhelmingly using black and Hispanic labor. It’s systemic racism, a corporate government grift, that defines lived reality for millions of Americans. Police violence in the street may be a catalyst for protest, but it’s the waiting embrace of prison slavery that underscores every encounter with American justice. Underestimate the impact of this constant threat at your peril.
SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon heavy rocket after years of painstaking development. It carried the Dragon2 capsule from launchpad to the International Space Station. Dragon2 is docked at the I.S.S. for a return in six months.
It became necessary for privately funded SpaceX to develop these technologies because the US government had downgraded space exploration (and therefore NASA budgets) to the lowest levels since the 1950s. America wasn’t prepared to take the risk or put money into the vision of a spacefaring future.
It fell to multinational Elon Musk, South Africa born, Canada educated, to take the risk and bear the financial burden for restoring America’s space capability. NASA itself held SpaceX to most stringent criteria before signing off on using Musk’s technology; and only then when the over-funded Boeing and Northrop Grumman failed to push their own tech to the starting line. SpaceX and Elon Musk’s triumphed despite Government parsimony. Its biggest obstacle hasn’t been technological but the systemic bias favoring old corporate grifters over ambitious SpaceX.
But the launch was an unmitigated success. The President and the nation watched the rocket launch from Cape Canaveral, same launchpad used by the Moon mission. It may not have helped plow the field or plant the seed or tend the shoots or harvest the wheat or grind the flour or bake the bread, but proud American nationalism was sure as hell going to appropriate the triumph for its own self-aggrandizement.
As protests turned to riots across the country and police supported by National Guard opened fire on peaceful protests, military-trained NASA spokesmen were all over the media proclaiming American triumph, American innovation, American greatness, American technology, America’s American America. The first bullethead, covered in flags, in front of a flag backdrop, repeated America 114 times in a 3-minute interview. Can anyone say talking point? No mention of SpaceX or Elon Musk. Not even a word of thanks. Space X launch control has no flags. It isn’t a symbol of jingoism. How ironic it should be the NASA-military exploiting Musk’s achievement, to fill the vacuum of their own lack of innovation. It’s a singularly American twist on the concept of “stolen valor”.
BLOATED AMERICAN PARASITES
Two themes embodied by the spaceflight SpaceX being appropriated by NASA-military parasites and the authoritarian crackdown on citizen protest, when the desperate American public is trying to cry ‘stop killing us’ loud enough to be heard; not for regime change but for regime to be true to the live free, live the American dream commitment it’s supposed to be protecting.
In reality, we have compromised the American dream. Not because it’s an impossible hope but because there’s an entrenched parasite draining the lifeblood of the great nation and this parasite has wrapped itself in all the old bullshit rhetoric, stolen valor nationalism, status quo fear mongering. It has appropriated every symbol and trope, to spoon feed the population on terror and docility while it gets its arse exploited to feed the vampirism of a small entrenched in-group of racist, xenophobic crony-capitalist luddites.
No wonder those types hate China so much. They envy China’s authoritarian rule – it’s an unapologetic gangster state – and it’s disregard for the value of ideas. Our American crony-capitalist elite must wish they could exploit the American citizens as easily as Xi Jinping’s totalitarian cabal subjugates a billion plus Chinese. As it is, the American exploiter must fight a daily battle to keep the population in the slaughterhouse line, blacks and browns front and center.
Like most clever parasites, the American exploiters disguise authoritarian avarice in all the most evolved, intelligent ways. Looking legitimate is important; and to be fair, they’re fooling most of the population. There’re documents aplenty breaking down the means by which this control manifests itself, but my concern isn’t the politics but the socioeconomic and cultural reality: it is a losing formula. Not because it’s authoritarian but because it’s not meritocratic; and knowing it is ring-fencing a moribund, entrenched class, the system has evolved to appropriate the creative dynamism generated by the American model while suffocating the population’s freedom, including its freedom to create, to compete and to move society forward.
The end-results are obvious in 2020. The contrast of peaceful protests in 30+ cities, police crackdowns, tear gas, looting, and media whitewash versus Elon Musk’s seamless SpaceX achievement, docking Dragon 2 capsule with the I.S.S., launching and landing a 23-storey Falcon rocket on a dime, couldn’t be more apt. SpaceX is the exception. Authoritarian suppression (albeit not always in our face) is the norm. And the United States as a nation degrades relative to the rest of the world.
People talk about the inevitable decline of great empires and some wag their fingers at America saying “you’re next!” but why can’t America be the exception to the rule? The parasite bleeding the nation’s vitality is hiding in plain sight. It’s a version of the same parasite that devoured past great civilizations. All the US has to do is exculpate the parasite and let the founding principles be free.
America uses American exceptionalism as an effective propaganda tool, but this too has been corrupted by the parasite class. It has become a cover story for appropriating the talents and the energy of new generations, imported skill and debt-financed speculation based on a rigged unsustainable financial system. We were flattered by the enormous momentum built up in the nation’s expansion through the 19th and early 20th century, an unparalleled melting pot of the best of the world liberated by being American from the oppression of a long line of “old country” orthodoxies. Victory in the Second World War was the apex of this influx of autonomous potential.
DEFEAT FROM THE JAWS OF VICTORY
We don’t have to be economists to know the United States of 2020 is not the superpower it used to be; despite the enormous military expenditure. Truth is, America isn’t weaker militarily. There’s no challenge from outside the borders of the fifty states. The country’s deterioration is economic and cultural. From “winning” the Cold War, the generation that should have reaped a reward for America’s triumph was subverted into wage-slave servitude by the moribund Boomer class.
American exceptionalism is a facade, a stage-show braggadocio invented by snake oil salesmen to massage the vanity of an audience, conning them into giving away money and mindlessly following the latest demagogue bullshit. America’s greatness comes from its pioneering self-reliance, its open competition of interests that fuel aspiration, reward freethinking, enrich the entrepreneurial spirit. America’s unique society accepted the unequal reality of a level playing field of better and worse competitors. The country accommodated winners and losers without falling into a winner-takes-all game of monopolies.
America as a moral force and a society evolving, innovating, leading the world, can’t be allowed to degrade into perpetually playing out the results of a single period immediately following the Second World War. We have already lost decades to the vast military industrial con. It led to the boomers inheriting the world and they’ve spent half a century building a system of divide and rule, to block out everyone else, particularly the average American citizen. The unnecessary exploitation of the poor – undereducated, by design, racially segregated, by patient exclusion and bogus alienation strategies – must end.
The natural world-defining dynamics of the United States have corrupted, to enrich an increasingly lazy, parasitical 1% who’ve become anti-entrepreneurial, power-crazed and sociopathic. Corporate government monopolies steal the best of the nation’s ability, exploiting it, exhausting it, losing all the essential vitality of new generations. We’re stuck in an old broken paradigm that went bankrupt 50 years ago. Society’s declining trajectory gets worse each year. Ultimately, it’s defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.
There’s nothing wrong with the ideal of a free, pluralist society of competing interests, driving innovation and excellence, bound in shared defence against external threat (when necessary). To do this won’t require the violent overthrow of fat white boomers but – instead – a little less greed, a lot less hypocrisy, and the necessary liberation of millions of poor white, black and brown Americans.
America doesn’t need new founding principles. Electoral reform, affirmative action, politically correct word policing, misdirections designed to confuse. What the country needs is more honest SpaceX aspiration and less military-NASA appropriation.
In fact, the details can take care of themselves. All we need to do is to bring reality in line with those precious ideals we’re sold on from the moment we open our eyes to see a star-spangled banner on the ceiling of the maternity ward or kindergarten classroom.