By John Steppling
(Editor's Note: This stream of consciousness-style piece is excerpted from an ongoing online dialogue between Steppling and fellow radical, Guy Zimmerman. They are Co-Senior Editors of Arts and Culture at Cyrano's Journal Online. "A Revenge Tragedy" is but a small sampling of the brilliant conclusions drawn during the exchanges between these highly refined thinkers.)
Originally published in the Voxpop section of Cyrano’s Journal Online
I spent Easter weekend watching all of Adam Curtis’ documentaries, but I was especially struck with Century of the Self . And it spawned many observations on Karl Rove.
The mechanisms of control are more and more obvious. As for accusing your opponent of your own dark intentions, yes, this is absolutely crucial to remember. First cousin to this can be seen in anti-insurgency thinking. There was, during the Mau Mau resistance in
Ok, well, as for dark intentions. I think a huge problem is that people, even a Karl Rove, tend to not know what their dark intentions are. Or rather, to not know what is beneath them. I had a big argument recently about Miami-Dade courts allowing released sex offenders to live under freeway overpasses. They couldn’t find normal housing and the police just said, ok, well, live under the bridge. That our supposedly great society now houses *anyone* under bridges speaks to a martial and mean spirited social center. One tends to notice the hysterical responses from a lot of parties when this topic comes up. “Cut off their dicks”, “castrate them”, etc. I always wonder at why dropping daisy cutters on families doesn’t create this kind of frothing fury, but only a sexual crime. Well, I suspect because our own dark intentions, no matter how well and appropriately sublimated, still are white hot exposed nerve endings that excite at the slightest touch (of Eros) in the lightless caves of our inner Id.
Now, with Rove and his friends, their malevolence is extreme; and they exhibit pure sociopathic personalities. But this deep hidden reservoir of instinct and inarticulate desire gets somehow channeled in people like Rove into a more pure sadism. Notwithstanding this, I suspect their inner turmoil to be extreme. The culture altogether is more sadistic, and I fear more accepting of certain kinds of sadism… or takes more pleasure in sadism. Shows like Big Brother for example are complex exercises in humiliation and sadism, and yet also (and this is a separate topic) they express something about leisure time fantasy — so they are both reinforcing Capital and attacking it somehow. Anyhow, the marketing of political reality by the neo-cons and Rove is just a more sophisticated extension of what Reagan started. Or maybe what Machiavelli started, who knows. Ghouls like Elliott Abrahms, Frank Gaffney, Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen (though I doubt anyone really takes that clown seriously) and folks like Cheney and Rumsfeld, are not, finally all that different from Richard Holbrooke or Mad Maddie Albright, and certainly not from Kissinger. The historical moment though, is such, that these poorly educated madmen seem more nakedly satanic. There is desperation now, where under Nixon the assumption was that the world was perfect and the system sustainable. I think Rove knows that isn’t the case. So issues like Peak Oil and clean water and climate change signal the need for several Plan Bs. And it is quite right that one of these plans (per the trial balloon of Katrina-N.O.) is for some form of martial law enforced largely by private security firms.
I believe Burroughs, circa Soft Machine, used to write about the typewriter writing us. This is the same dream dreaming the dreamer motif in a sense….but in advanced capital almost all media and
So, Rove-Iago, a man of great hypocrisy, too. Funny how Hastert, Gingrich, etc etc etc, all have such rather obvious skeletons in their closets (sic). The Puritanism of America can’t be emphasized enough. Put all this together and we return to the state of modern consciousness. It’s reflected in the
The increasing use of media and cultural product for heteronymous thought and social passivity is starting to reach fail safe. Maybe that’s being too optimistic, but one senses a lot of psychic unrest in the west. No amount of NBA or NFL, or American idol or Survivor, or internet porn is going to quiet the collective forever. What forms out of this unrest remains to be seen. I think this is a separate topic, but I do think, as I’ve said before, that small acts of refusal are a solid place to start.
Rene Girard’s book on scapegoating is essential reading in this respect. Selling evil….from child *predators* to *terrorists* is deflect attention away from state terror. The culture keeps intensifying its moral-outrage….but only at the powerless. A child molester may be at the bottom of the moral food chain (well,alongside weapons dealers and 99% of politicians)…but he is also, usually, powerless to fight back. The countries that *harbour* terrorists seem to keep being the rock bottom poorest countries in the world. Drug users and drug dealers — on the street level — are tossed into super max prisons (which even Amnesty International calls among the world’s worst) and yet rarely if ever does the state put the big mafia/corporate/CIA managerial class in jail. If a white collar criminal is convicted there is almost total certainty that he or she wont do hard time, but rather will be sent to an easy minimum security country club facility. And few people object to this, it’s just another example of how deeply internalized class privilege has become to most Americans. The point is that fever pitch moral hysteria is the result of targeted enemies and scapegoating. The entire victims’ justice movement is selective in its focus, too. Prosecutions are highly selective, and both a local and an international level, the
Cruelty and exploitation are what all sane individuals want to help do away with. A more equitable society, a society that lifts everyone up and protects the weakest and most vulnerable. Children, the poor, the disadvantaged, are obvious signifiers for what should be protected. The answer to creating a society that protects its people is not found in hysterical demands for punishment …. nor in our utter incapacity to forgive….but it’s in an awakening to the systematic exploitation that goes on under different banners. The tragedies of dead Palestinian children, Iraqi children, Afghan children, dead children all over Africa, and the endless list of destroyed families in these places, never seems to register on the moral radar. Recently right wing columnists attacked the released British seamen (and woman) for not resisting enough. Not one of these critics has ever had a gun pointed at them. The statistics of men on death row suggests that a VERY high percentage of them were physically beaten as children. There should be, but isn’t, a profound sense of cognitive dissonance here. Why is compassion so selective? One answer is found in something that the Curtis documentary touches on, and that is how marketing took over western culture. It’s both the creating of enemies, both domestic and international — a means to distract from State abuses and corruption — and the creating of easy to digest feel-good balms for our deep guilt and shame. Projection is acute in our culture. Our own feelings of powerlessness are projected outward, and find marketed targets. Pop-psychology and New Age gurus still have traction because they make people feel special and unique — when the totally administered society keeps all real individuality at arm’s length, or simply erases it. What brand of spiritual commodity you *buy* isn’t really important, same as most toothpastes are more or less the same. Real individuality is a long process that costs, and must be paid for to some degree with suffering. In the Curtis doc, Arthur Miller is quoted (after Marilyn Monroe’s suicide) and he says, we must accept suffering, it’s how we learn. The dharma road is by necessity a long and pot holed one. We don’t get there by demonizing anyone and we don’t get there begging for approval from the masters above us. The greatest target of our sense of betrayal should be a system that is based on (!!) exploitation. A system run by men willing to send *others* off to face guns and to risk death and maiming, without ever having to do so themselves.
Click here for links to a number of worthwhile documentaries available for viewing online.
John Steppling: Playwright, director, screenwriter and teacher, Steppling was an original founding member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival and has had his plays produced in London, LA, New York, Paris, San Francisco, and Poland. Plays include The Shaper, Teenage Wedding, Neck, Dog Mouth, The Thrill, Wheel of Fortune and My Crummy Job. A collection of his work was published by Sun and Moon Press in 1999 (
JOHN STEPPLING now helms a new special Cyrano blog on the theater and culture, along with fellow wordplayers Guy Zimmerman, Patrice Greanville and Phil Rockstroh. Check and be sure to join this lively dialog at http://www.bestcyrano.org/voxpop/ . A treat for hard core theater fans of all stripes.