I stood on West 33rd Street and 8th Avenue, in front of Madison Square Garden, New York City, staring at a block long billboard, a top McDonald’s and Duane Reeds, announcing the savagery of a UFC Kick-Ass Match, when a guy came up to me and asked, “You have a cigarette I can buy?”
Before I nodded “no” he shrugged me off and walked away mumbling something to himself. I looked towards the opposite corner, across 33rd, and a giant Pepsi billboard said that the world is better when we buy a Pepsi. Beneath this Biblical declaration, sitting at the entrance to Penn Station, a woman held a homemade cardboard sign — “homeless” — in one hand, on the other a stained paper cup that she shook and called to passersby walking with such purpose that they didn’t seem to see her; she was invincible, unseen, except to a couple of cops who recognized her and said something familiar to her. She held up a cigarette for a light — for someone to light, anyone stepping around her and heading down the escalator to the trains.
When I looked up from the invisible homeless woman, the huge and incomprehensible, always changing digital account of green house gases emitted into the universe caught my attention. The last few numbers in the hundreds column kept rhythm with the extreme traffic and anxious pedestrian tumult of the streets — heads down, pushing and moving, sidestepping, anxious, changing. And I became aware — and saddened — by how owned we are, how much of how we perceive our lives — billboards and giant TV screens, digital versions of our illusions, avatars on Facebook and MySpace and Twitter– is not of our making. What we do on a daily basis is exchange value. How much are you worth to me? What can you do for me? I felt inconsequential.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “Men, in order to do evil, must first believe that what they are doing is good.” How much of what we do in a predictable economic system necessitates that we violate and murder, particularly in the judgment of the puppeteers?
Standing on West 33rd and 8th Avenue, I followed the money, how it moves and what it touches in our vertical economy. One way or another, we all have to consume — this is what our economy is suggesting: no way out of consumption. Globalization is also saying that the poorest nations have only one hope: consume your way out of misery. Haiti is our example here — there are more, of course.
I had a memory: in a visit to Amsterdam, staring at the women in booths coquettishly calling to men, I noticed that on the door of these booths are two documents legitimizing prostitution, a city permit and just beneath it, Visa and Mastercard signs. I realized that money works in every nook and cranny of our world; it filters through everything — prostitution, weapons, narcotics, education and health care, war, depravity and violence. This interconnectivity is forged by the money we put into the system that is pushed and funneled, by powerful people, in directions we have no control over. Everything is connected. Everything is connected by money.
I learned in Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of The American Empire at the End of The Age of Oil, by Michael C. Rubbert,* in the forward by Catherine Austin Fitts, Assistant Secretary in the first Bush administration, that in “1997, the Washington Post killed a cover story on [Fitts’] efforts to help HUD insure the integrity of its mortgage programs, thus making possible the subsequent disappearance of $59 billion from HUD as a part of this orgy of ‘piratization’ of government assets by private interests.” Benito Mussolini said, “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power.” Rubbert’s investigation — his argument — is simple: follow the money and we’ll find collusion — government, private enterprise and the criminal narcotics trade; money washed through Wall Street. The citizenry is mostly unconscious, paying for the infrastructure, dedicating earned dollars (taxes + consumption) to ‘piratization’.
Why? Because we live in a closed system of limited and dwindling resources (oil + gas). “Global demand for oil and natural gas is growing faster than new supplies are being found, and the world population is exploding,” Rubbert reminds us. We are in a crisis that results in aggressive and hostile methods to ensure power remains in the right hands. “American fascism,” Rubbert tells us, “is something different now … It’s not just private, elite control over the legal system, nor private evasion of the rule of law. It’s a crisis – induced transition from a society with a deeply compromised legal system to a society where force and surveillance completely supplant the system.”
The first Bush election and the Florida fiasco effectively demonstrated a very real coup d’état— the aggressive start of the surveillance society; the derelict response to 9/11 was a convenience — we know this now since Cheney and clan already had plans to invade Iraq. The old and weak system was effectively supplanted with 9/11. Now Obama. He has little room to move; he will be given latitude, but not so much that he’ll change the “crisis-induced” system.
When I stood on West 33rd Street and 8th Avenue, in front of Madison Square Garden, I came to understand my small place, my inconsequential place in a “crisis – induced” system. Like a serf in the middle ages, I can see the mote I can’t cross — none of us can. I thought about self-reliance and individualism, only to realize that these ideas have been turned on their head, used to ensure we keep walking, heads down, thinking about tomorrow, forgetting about yesterday, and never fully grasping — or seeing — the present because, after all, this is where things are going wrong, the ground floor where a homeless woman begs for scraps.