Acceptance (doesn't equal) Acquiescence: DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF COLUMN FROM ARTHUR 24.

Acceptance (doesn’t equal) Acquiescence
by Douglas Rushkoff
from Arthur No. 24 / Oct 02006:

I’ve been debating for a while about whether to do this. Whether to come right out and say it. On a certain level, it’s like shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. What good is it to announce a problem if I don’t have a ready solution at hand? Furthermore, what if sharing this information – this perspective on our predicament – simply exacerbates our paralysis to do anything about it. I mean, fascism breeds best in populations that have been stunned into complacency, cynicism, or despair.

(That’s called a “buried lede” – a publishing term for hiding the main idea of a story deep within a paragraph. Editors don’t like it because it makes it hard for the reader to figure out what an article is about. But I felt it necessary because, well, I’m not quite comfortable talking about it too directly, just yet. This fascism stuff.)

It all became blindingly clear to me the morning I found out Ken Lay was dead. I was listening to the radio – to a friend of mine, actually, reading the news report on NPR. He was explaining how the dishonored corporate elite criminal, the former CEO of Enron, had a fatal heart attack before he had the chance to spend the rest of his life in jail. Because of certain technicalities in the law, this also meant Lay’s family would in all likelihood be able to keep the millions of dollars that would have otherwise been paid back to Enron employees and shareholders in court fines.

The newsreader opined that Lay’s death might have been suicide, and not just for the money. Lay was in on those early secret energy industry meetings with Dick Cheney – the ones where they figured out oil prices and the Iraq War and other matters of state – and, facing prison, the fallen corporate superstar could have posed a security risk if he had leaked information about what had transpired to other prisoners or, worse, the FBI in trade for better living quarters.

But, given all that, I couldn’t bring myself to believe Lay was dead at all. If you’re that rich and powerful, why die? Why not just get a hold of some corpse, pay-off a coroner, move to an island and call it a day? This is no grassy knoll feat. It’s not even CSI, but early 90’s Law & Order. No big deal for a guy intimately connected with one of the most actively clandestine administrations in US history.

That same July morning, when news of North Korea’s failed nuclear test launches were broadcast, I didn’t feel sure I was being told what was happening, either. Not that news agencies can really know, either. Did they launch? Were they thwarted by a US counterstrike, or by their own ineptitude? Do they even know? Do we?

I’m not saying one thing or the other happened – just that I stare at the news and don’t believe anything they’re saying. I’ve got no idea. And it feels really weird.

I find I can trace this sense of uncertainty to the 2004 election. The 2000 election was crooked, but the fraud was rather out in the open. We watched hired thugs stop the Florida recount by trying to break into the room where the counting was happening – and thus delay the process long enough for the Supreme Court to choose Bush as the President. But the 2004 voter fraud in Ohio, fully documented by Robert Kennedy Jr., among others, was an entirely more hidden affair. Diebold voting machines, teams of fraud squads, and election officials too afraid that disclosure of what happened will turn people off voting forever.

Those of us who try to stay even remotely connected to what is going on in the world around us have enough hard evidence to conclude with certainty that voting in America has been systematically and effectively undermined by the party currently in power. In an increasing number of precincts, how people vote – if they are even allowed in – no longer has a direct influence on how their votes are tallied.

It’s sad and confusing not to live in a democracy, anymore. And while it’s quite plainly true, it’s a bit too unthinkable for most sane people to accept. It goes in the same mental basket as more outlandish (if not unthinkable) thoughts — such as dynamite on the WTC or no airplane crashing into the Pentagon — even though, in this case, it’s not conjecture, it’s just plain real.

So what I’m coming to grips with is accepting that I don’t live in a democratic nation, and that the propaganda state attempted in 1930’s Europe did finally reach fruition here in the U.S., just as Henry Ford and those of his ilk predicted.

Maybe I’m just old, and have a very idealistic view of democracy. When I was a kid, we were all told that this is a government of the people, and that our votes provided a check on the power of our leaders. That’s why we called them “elected.” Or maybe it’s just naïve to think that representative democracy could have worked the way it was presented to us.

The other side – the fascist side – does have an argument to make, and they’ve been making it since Woodrow Wilson was president. Having run on a “peace” campaign, Wilson later decided that America needed to get involved in World War I. So, with the help of one of the great Public Relations masters of all time, Edward Bernays, he created the Creel Commission, whose job was to change America’s mind.

Bernays, like the many political propagandists who followed, honestly believed that the masses are just too stupid to make decisions for themselves – particularly when it involved global affairs or economics. Instead, an enlightened and informed elite (corporate America) needs to make the decisions, and then “sell” them to the public in the form of faux populist media campaigns. This way, the masses feel they are coming up with these opinions, themselves.

Truly populist positions, on the other hand – such as workers’ rights or minority representation – must be recontextualized as the corruption of the public by elite “special interests” or decadent social deviants. Throughout most of history, these scapegoats were the Jews, but now it’s mostly gays and liberals. By distracting the masses with highly emotionally charged issues like flag-burning or gay marriage, those in power consolidate their base of support while developing a new mythology of state as religion.

As long as they do all this, they don’t have to worry about how people vote, or what might be happening on the ground. “Unregulating” the mediaspace turns the fourth estate (the news agencies) into just another arm of the corporate conglomerates that fascism was invented to serve. (Mussolini called it “corporatism,” don’t forget.)

The last and most crucial step in creating a truly seamless fascist order, though, is to frighten the intellectuals, students, and artists from seeing the world as it is and sharing their sensibilities with one another. Hell, calling America’s leaders “a fascist regime” can’t be good for business. The only place I’m allowed to write this way is on my blog or here in Arthur – and neither pays the bills.

Besides: why rock the boat? I may not have the right to vote, anymore, but I’m being kept comfortable enough. Like others of my class, I have a roof over my head. I’m crafty enough to get paid now and again for a book or talk or comic series. And the state is functioning well enough that I can afford a tuna sandwich and walk around my neighborhood eating it without getting whacked with a rock or a grenade. As far as history goes, that’s pretty good.

So was democracy a failed experiment? Should we just let these guys run the country as long as they let us eat? Clearly, they’re not scared of us or what we might be saying about them. In fact, their best argument that we haven’t descended into fascism is the fact that we’re allowed to distribute columns like this one. How could we be living in a totalitarian propaganda state if there are articles pronouncing the same? Because fascism looks different every time around. 1930’s fascism failed because it was too obviously repressive. Today’s fascism works because it has turned the mediaspace into a house of mirrors where nothing is true and everything is permissible. The fact that there are plenty of blogs and even major books saying what’s happening and still it doesn’t matter is proof that it has worked.

But there is hope. It’s not just the radicals and militias who are alarmed, but mainstream congresspeople and government wonks. I, myself, have been approached by two separate government intelligence agencies and three members of congress (of both parties) for help understanding what they already deem to be actionable offenses against the American people by some of our leaders. They are disturbed by the disinformation campaign leading up to the Gulf War, voter fraud, and the way Americans have been frightened into supporting the curtailment of civil rights.

Surprisingly, most of my conversations with these patriotic people involve two main concerns. First, they have been ostracized by their peers for their views. This has created some urgency, for they fear they will not get enough party support for re-election if they don’t succeed in their efforts in the next few months. Second, and more troublingly, they are afraid to disillusion America’s youth. Isn’t there a way to fix this problem, they wonder, without raising an entire generation of Americans in environment of acknowledged voter nullification? And what of our reputation in the world? Which is more damaging to democracy: voter fraud, or the public awareness of voter fraud?

To this, we simply must conclude that the reality of voter fraud is more dangerous than any associated disillusionment. To worry about the impact on public consciousness is to get mired in the logic of public relations – and that’s what got us into this mess to begin with.

It’s time to get real, and either fight (through the courts, if possible) to reinstate the rule of law as established by the Constitution, or accept that Enlightenment-era democracy simply doesn’t work and move into a new phase of government by decree or market forces or whatever it is that comes next.

In any case, it serves no one to have a “pretend democracy” that’s actually something else. I’m going to stop denying what’s going on here, and use what influence I have with lawmakers, government workers, and activists to get them to do the same. Instead of trying to feel better about all this, I’m going to allow myself and everyone around me to feel worse.

Indeed, the bad news is the good news. Total disillusionment, though momentarily painful, is utterly liberating and probably required. Acceptance isn’t acquiescence at all; it’s the first step towards reconnecting with a reality that can and must be changed. If we’re going to get back on the horse, we’ve got to acknowledge that we’ve fallen off.

20 thoughts on “Acceptance (doesn't equal) Acquiescence: DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF COLUMN FROM ARTHUR 24.

  1. Noam Chomsky: America is not a democracy

    “Do you want to live in a democratic society, or do you want to live in the society we have? Which, remember, is not a democratic society and is not intended to be… The United States is not a democracy. It’s what called, in the technical literature, a polyarchy. A polyarchy is a system in which power resides in the hands of those who [James] Madison called ‘the wealth of the nation, the responsible class of men.’ And the rest of the population is fragmented, distracted, allowed to participate — every couple of years, they’re allowed to come and say’ Yes, thank you, why don’t you continue for another four years…”

    That’s the way the country was _founded_. It was founded on the principle, explained by Madison in the Constitutional Convention, that the primary goal of government is to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. And then the Constitution was designed to sort of ensure that. There’s been a lot of struggle about it over the years; a lot of victories won by the public, so it’s not the same as it was two centuries ago. But that remains. It remains the elite ideal. And it’s a constant struggle.”

  2. Why rock the boat. I feel that way sometimes. But the boat is sinking. Yes right now you can print this column and walk around freely. Will you be able to in a couple of years? This fascism (for that IS what it is) will not remain in it’s present state. The internet is in danger of being taken over by big corporations. That will not just mean some will have to pay more. It will mean some ideas will not be allowed.
    I have Dish network, I get Free Speech TV and Link TV. My daughter who lives across the street , has Direct TV , owned by Rupert Murdock , No Free Speech TV on her network. We are in big trouble.

  3. Imagine this: you’re walking down a commercial street in some midwestern city, watching a nondescript man, maybe darker-skinned, walk toward you on the sidewalk.

    Suddenly, a police car pulls up, four uniforms get out, and the man is bundled up and shoved into the back seat of the police car. It all happens in about ten seconds.

    What do you do? They’re already zooming down the street. It’s a done deal.

    You ask yourself, “What just happened here? Was that guy a criminal (and walking toward ME)? He MUST have been a criminal, or the police wouldn’t have snatched him off the street. Surely he was a criminal. They’re acting to keep me safe. There’s nothing fishy here. Just a routine police operation. Besides, if I say anything, I might get in trouble too, and I don’t need trouble.”

    Then maybe some months later you hear a whispered comment from someone at work: “Did you hear so-and-so got arrested? I don’t know what for.”

    You’ll assure yourself that so-and-so was probably some kind of secret criminal, because you still want to believe that the police wouldn’t just ARREST someone for reasons other than active criminal behavior or an outstanding warrant for a criminal act.

    But you’re a little bit scared, because you don’t know why. But you won’t say anything, because you’re already a little bit scared, and it’s really much, much better to hunker down and keep quiet, because you have two children at home and you live from paycheck to paycheck, so it’s really better for all concerned that you forget this happened.

    I’m sure that was the thought-stream that kept a lot of Chileans and Argentinians quiet, too.

    And that’s how American fascism will grow like a thousand red flowers.

  4. Redemption requires acknowledgement. Reject BushCo-dependency. Repudiate the Refraudlicans AND the Defaultocrats. NOT a rigged election; but a rev’d election!

  5. @damon … Interesting comment about Madison. This from an article on

    It is clear that Madison truly thought that a bill of rights was not necessary except to mollify those who thought it was required, to preclude another constitutional convention and to encourage the final two states to ratify the Constitution. In later years, his letters revealed no great pride of authorship. In a letter of 1821 he referred to “those safe, if not necessary, and those politic, if not obligatory, amendments.” In his speech to Congress the best he could say of a bill of rights was that it was “neither improper nor absolutely useless.” This is, certainly, faint praise.

  6. To reverse the coup we must first acknowledge the coup!
    You write:
    “The last and most crucial step in creating a truly seamless fascist order, though, is to frighten the intellectuals, students, and artists from seeing the world as it is and sharing their sensibilities with one another. Hell, calling America’s leaders “a fascist regime” can’t be good for business. The only place I’m allowed to write this way is on my blog or here in Arthur – and neither pays the bills.”
    All thinking people should indeed feel the same urgency as a congressperson who may not get reelected.
    For how long will we have intellectuals, students and artists sharing their sensibilities? Think of how amazing a kid you’d have to be to obtain a great education in 21st century public schools. Given that adequate birth control information is restricted, that corporations are demanding longer and longer work-days, and that the rich are getting richer and the middle/unionized class is shrinking, how sizable a percentage of the population will be able to both foster their own socially vital artistic pursuits and raise children?
    I still say we must all GO VOTE. Maybe a statistician keeps track of what people are still voting for demographically…. just for market research sake.

  7. Voting is harm reduction, especially at the local level. Yes, if it changed anything it’d be illegal, but maybe change isn’t what it’s _for._

    (How can I phrase this idea to make it a little more compelling… hmm.)

  8. I think you’ve missed the point slightly, totalitarian regimes have to collapse before something better can be built, like Nazi Germany or the USSR, the best thing is for the US or at the very least the Dollar to collapse, the question is how to do that without significant loss of life, if we are really lucky the current bursting of the US housing bubble ( coupled with the massive US deficits and cost of wars will do the job, that would take away all the power of the fascist elite, then you could rebuild from scratch.

  9. “Indeed, the bad news is the good news. Total disillusionment, though momentarily painful, is utterly liberating and probably required.”

    I understand that’s the way it was in Soviet Russia when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power. The Russian people knew that their country was one big stagnant cesspool of corruption and ineptitude, with no way to even insure adequate supplies of basic necessities and no one in sight ready to drain the cesspool. That disillusionment was probably the grease on the rails which gave Gorbachev the popular support he needed and hastened the Soviet State’s collapse.

  10. The coup of 2000, 9/11 and whats happened since were designed to assist with controlling the U.S. An economic downturn of a magnatude similar to the Great Depression would send the U.S. over the edge, and those in power know this. They have enacted the recent changes to allow them some control when that happens. With consumer and government debt out of control, the “dumbing down” of the American public as well as the U.S. being transformed into a third world country due to outsourcing and uncontrolled immigration, the U.S. is headed towards a fate similar to the western Roman Empire at the end of the 4th century. Those in power know this and are preparing.

    Some more things to think about.

    1. By 2030 computers will be essentially running the industrialized world. Any decisions of import will be make by AI.
    2. By 2050 (if not sooner) almost all employment will disappear due to advanced robotics, creating massive unemployment, and massive social problems to an overpopulated world.
    3. “Issues/Problems” brought about by massive unemployment and environmental degradation will be dealth with by AI/robotic control mechanisms.

  11. Glad to see this article, and the position you’re forming. It’s time to be more open about our views, and support each other. My belief is that we have to build our way out of this – build better systems of organization and build better means of education. At the same time, we have to deconstruct the dominating mythologies – like 911, and recontextualize them through science and common sense.

    To me, 911, voting and money are the issues that have the greatest potential for catalyzing change. These three issues have the most influence on how we currently organize our lives. However, most people know little or nothing about the truth behind them. For example: most people don’t know the difference between money and currency, or why such a difference would even matter. Yet, money is so important to our daily lives. If the mainstream knew the difference between real money and fiat currency, and how money is used by the elites to control and manipulate, we would have a monetary revolution.

  12. Although I think this article is kind of poorly written, riddled with grammatical and spelling errors everywhere, I do think the article nails the basics down. This administration is bankrupt in so many ways and I have been a lifelong Republican!

  13. Some poor countries, such as Mauritania and Haiti, improved their record in a global press freedom index this year, while France, the United States and Japan slipped further down the scale of 168 countries rated, the group Reporters Without Borders said yesterday.


    Although it ranked 17th on the first list, published in 2002, the United States now stands at 53, having fallen nine places since last year.

    “Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of ‘national security’ to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his ‘war on terrorism,’ ” the group said.


  14. Apparently it is illegal to remind everyone that our forefathers killed the politicians who were attempting to oppress the populace.

  15. I’m surprised to have to point this out, but it is a good thing to notice, examine, publicize, talk about, lament, correct, and argue about failures in the system. This drastically increases the long term trust in the system even if the short term trust takes a beating. The Elliot Spitzer Wall Street / Corporate abuse cases are a perfect example of this. Those of us who wondered about the bits and pieces we saw feel vindicated and now trust both our judgment and parts of the system more. Until we clean house on voting problems and other areas, it will continue to fester, causing problems in one party or the other.

    As many people have found, it is often worse to hide the problem than to face it.

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