Anthony, Jeter and Wisconsin are metaphors for a culture that welcomes change and private pleasure, while accepting political passivity that is a consequence of how power is invented and disseminated, primarily through the corporate-government alliance that, by its very nature, challenges boundaries and limits — even the limits of resources.
Inverted totalitarianism … while exploiting the resources of the state, gains its dynamic by combining with other forms of power, such as evangelical religions, and most notably by encouraging a symbiotic relationship between traditional government and the system of ‘private’ governance represented by the modern business corporation. The result is not a system of codetermination by equal partners who retain their distinctive identities but rather a system that represents the political coming-of-age of corporate power. (also see here)
This relationship — corporate power and government — is obsessed with “control, expansion, superiority, and supremacy,” says Wolin. It is therefore natural that, given these changes that mean to displace “existing beliefs, practices, and expectations,” there will be those who will try to strike a blow against totalitarianism. These loud outcries, muffled by popular media — the voice and most vital instrument of the corporate state — are signs of a new age dominated not by national pride, but by branding and accounting practices, tools usually conforming to vituperative ideologies.
Our metaphor is the athlete’s body. In its limitations — duress and age, much like our own — its value is set and owned. The athlete’s body is his or her body of work, much like a teacher’s is or a pipe fitter’s or a government employee’s. But the athlete’s body inhabits another domain: it is a canvas for our fantasies, made more grandiose by media’s hyper-narrative that concentrates solely on the surface structure. “Who owns this body, this body of work?” asks David Shields in Body Politic: The Great American Sports Machine. As we fantasize and watch athletes perform, we are blind to the location of the athlete in our culture; we thus fail to see how far removed we our from our fantasies, yet we persist and acquiesce to the domination of media, sports and the corporation over our collective identity. This is how hope begins to whither.
The plight of Carmelo Anthony and Derek Jeter’s recent scolding, by Yankee co-owner Hank Steinbrenner, for being too busy building mansions rather than thinking about a World Series victory, sets the tone for our condition: collective bargaining is dead, or nearly so, thus athletes — union workers everywhere — have to find alternative ways to increase their value and protection; and in Jeter’s case, you’ll be returned to your place in the world if you style too loudly. At relatively high socioeconomic standings athletes are routinely humiliated and disciplined into positions of servitude — and if further challenges occur, the rules of the game are changed, as NBA Commissioner David Stern is doing by re-examining this new “dominance” by teams that can afford the highest payrolls in a league that perpetually losses money. The NBA Commissioner and the governors of Wisconsin and New Jersey are interchangeable proxies for the corporate state demanding a high degree of control over labor, as well as control over government policies that may be leveled against the corporation’s need to expand by any means necessary.
Inverted totalitarianism suggests that some corporations will dominate, others will not. So controlling labor is essential. Commissioner Stern faces this challenge. Players will build coalitions — the Heat, for instance, the Celtics, now the Knicks — and compel change from within, thus altering how the system functions. But the primary facility of a predatory corporate system is its ability to adjust, moving and changing to switch one piece of a limited pie for another. This is what we’re witnessing in sports writ large; it’s what we’re witnessing in states, such as Wisconsin and New Jersey . It’s a throwback to the plantation model.
The black athlete — and all professional athletes for that matter — is located in a culture that has yet to dispel the horror of slavery. The consequences of slavery still linger. As Wolin suggests, “…that close to a century after women won the vote, their equality remains contested; or that after nearly two centuries during which public schools became a reality, education is now being increasingly privatized.” In other words, while the public yearns for change, not much has changed. Athletes may earn 40 Million Dollars, as the title of William C. Rhodan’s seminal study suggests, but they are still slaves, their identities governed by a plantation model. And when athletes — union workers — gain some success, the rules are changed, once again ensuring that corporate power comes of age.
The black athlete that “threw punches we couldn’t throw,” writes Rhodan, “won races we couldn’t run,” represented “time-worn responsibility,” always “representing”, and our sense that, nationally, we were moving away from identity politics; however, upon closer examination, we come to realize nothing has changed. Salaries are high, living styles far better, judging from Derek Jeter’s 30, 875 square foot compound in the Davis Island section of Tampa, but corporate power has increased its dominance over a citizen’s inalienable rights, from the NBA to the NFL to Wisconsin. It’s an all out attack on labor and collective bargaining rights because resources are limited and the corporation can only stay alive by shifting its means, not creating something new and different that may challenge the status quo.
In the United States, we’re shutting down — unless we bring back the Civil Rights Movement. Citizens are asleep, even unconscious, lulled into a deep slumber — and indifference — by the likes of the Koch brothers, representing the largest bloc of oil and gas donors, exceeding even Exxon Mobil in donations to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and politicians’ service to corporate dominance, best expressed by President Obama’s silence about Wisconsin (the community activist President never went to Wisconsin to show solidarity with working people), even with all his talk about human rights and change.
It’s an incredible world we have here — confusing, bifurcated and moving towards hopelessness, which occurs when education is gutted, dismantled and given to the elite so as to ensure continued corporate domination. Schools across the country, from kindergarten to the University, are being turned into clones of the corporate system, as suggested early on by Bill Readings in University in Ruins (1998), one of the first intellectuals to chronicle this shift in mission and perspective, and brought to a new interpretation by Chris Hedges in Empire of Illusion (2009), and now in his The Death of the Liberal Class (2010).
It’s an incredible world we have because, given the lessons of history, we are moving away from wisdom; rather, we are moving towards despair and annihilation and nothing short of a full out Civil Rights Movement can turn this around, otherwise, we will continue to experience rising food prices, rising fuel prices, poverty and disenfranchisement, war and violence as resources, controlled by very few hands, shrink.
Hedges is right:
The most ominous cultural divide lies between those who chase after these manufactured illusions, and those who are able to puncture the illusion and confront reality. More than the divide of race, class, or gender, more than rural or urban believer or nonbeliever, red state or blue state, our culture has been carved up into radically distinct, unbridgeable, and antagonistic entities that no longer speak the same language and cannot communicate. This is the divide between a literate, marginalized minority and those who have been consumed by an illiterate mass culture.
And since he is right, dead on, the only way to change this is to join Carmelo Anthony, and the like, and form coalitions, only these have to be formed, not with those that can slam dunk, rather they must be formed among us, the citizenry — the suffering in Wisconsin, Egypt and Libya, Newark, New Jersey, and the South Bronx. And we must form a new and collective Civil Rights Movement that takes as its cause enlightenment and the pursuit of wisdom because, after all, it’s the only path available to us that leads us to freedom with responsibility. Those that govern, it is obvious, are totally irresponsible and the evidence is indisputable — the mindless are leading the blind.
Pascal said that “Those who indulge in perversion tell those who are living normal lives that it is they who are deviating from what is natural. They think they are following a natural life themselves. They are like people on a ship who think it is those on shore who are moving away.” But we are moving away — from each other; and power is ever more concentrated. A new and invigorated Civil Rights Movement concentrated on challenging the stranglehold coming-of-age of corporate power has on our reality is our only way out.