Imagine Vladimir Putin gives a TV interview. He reports he has been greatly upset by escalating police power and surveillance inside the U.S. alongside continuing intrusion of U.S. forces into events worldwide. He fears that this augers a sharp turn to the right, and perhaps even a drift toward fascistic policies. Given Russia's history of fighting fascist violence and expansionism, Putin says he feels a responsibility to try to stem the horrible trends in the U.S. for free people everywhere.
Putin then announces "sanctions'" "aimed at making the [U.S.] economy vulnerable enough so that" in case of economic shocks the economy would "have enormous difficulties." Putin announces that "part of [Russia's] rationale in this process is that the only thing keeping [the U.S. economy] afloat" is a stable economic context that he will disrupt. He adds that his policies are aimed at "exerting permanent pressure.”
In short, because he abhors some U.S. policies, Putin proudly says that to reduce the world's number one military power to abject submission he will unleash holy hell on the U.S. population, not to mention on many other countries even less able to handle the disruptions he seeks. How would the U.S. respond?
One trembles to think. Duck and cover (a 1950s insane classroom strategy for withstanding nuclear attack by crawling under one's classroom desk) reenters American life. Bomb shelters (an equally idiotic household strategy for withstanding nuclear attack by crawling under one's house) come back in vogue as well.
Yet the above quotes are not from Putin. They are from Obama and explain for an interviewer on American TV U.S. policies in the face of disliked Russian international actions in the Ukraine, even as Obama sends boatloads of tanks to Europe.
And what will be Russia's response to Obama announcing that he is trying to strangle Russia into submission? Hopefully, far more enlightened than the U.S. reply to such a revelation of a policy aimed at us would be. Perhaps we can hope that Putin will emulate Khrushchev, who, by being sane during the Cuban Missile Crisis may well have saved the world from the nuclear annihilation that was seriously contemplated and even advocated by American joint chiefs, and was considered a 50-50 likelihood by the Kennedys and their acolytes as a likely response to our aggressive demands.
But here is my real observation made assuming we will all be here next month and next year due to Putin not going ballistic. What happens out in the world is, invariably, vastly worse than what normal people - even critically thinking and highly aware normal people - believe.
I don't mean reality is worse in the sense of idiotic visions of calamity flying down from outer space. I mean the actual motives and actions of real world political and economic elites are typically far worse than analysts and even critics indicate.
And I don't have in mind silly conspiracies that operate beyond the dictates of social norms and structures, either. I mean, instead, and it is much much worse, that the normal, recurring, average, typical, behavior of corporations and governments as such behavior is imposed by the situations they create and encounter and due to the institutional settings they occupy and compose, is worse than anyone typically imagines.
You cannot exaggerate, short of being juvenile - and often not even then - how vile real world circumstances are. Bombing schools. Starving populations. Spying on everyone and anyone. Boiling oceans. And on and on.
I suspect that the people who come closest to realizing how bad elite motives and policies stemming from the pressures of current institutions and their implications for the behavior of elites are - are novelists and fiction film makers who think they are exaggerating just for dramatic effect, but who still regularly fall short of depicting the true level of real world venal violence and hypocrisy. Or perhaps the average cynic comes still closer to accuracy, I don't know.
And for the rest of us, each time we fall short of predicting or realizing the truth of what is out there, and then we are awakened to reality being worse than we had realized, the effect is to push us toward cynical despair. And the irony is, this happens more often the better a person's inclinations are.
Suppose you enter an elevator car with Mr. Hannibal Lector. He is dressed elegantly, speaks with clarity and confidence, and exudes upbringing and knowledge. You say hi, and ask a question to open a conversation. You are highly unlikely to anticipate that Hannibal is going to eat your eyeballs after gouging your innards. Normal people don't want to believe, don't want to think, and don't want to hear, that the elites who run their world are the scum of the earth, made that way precisely by the terrain they had to navigate to get to the pinnacle of power they occupy.
If we tweak it a bit, the story of the king with no clothes is perhaps relevant. Our kings are not nude. They are well dressed, well spoken, marionettes hanging from strings held not by other bigger kinds, but by institutions and directed by the collective pressures those institutions impose. Oh, some of our leaders, no doubt, are actually, like Hannibal himself, internally wired to be pathological. I met one like that, once. But the larger truth is that most of them are like you and me, but channeled by circumstances that we have never encountered to be, instead, well - like them. Successes!
Obama is cultured. Obama talks beautifully. Obama can think well. Obama can remember and exert reason. Last night I happened to spend a few minutes watching a TV special celebrating some kind of Presidential award for various citizens punctuated by diverse performances. The segment I saw was for Tom Hanks, who was sitting next to Michele Obama, who was in turn sitting next to Mr. President. Watching POTUS applaud, laugh, and whisper to Michelle while smiling at Tom - he appeared to be just another guy. He is not, I suspect, in his genetic foundation, Hannibal. He is you and me - but made perverse.
Does Obama remember some of his origins and vomit at night over what he does? Maybe, though I doubt it. Elite socialization rarely leaves residues. I suspect Obama made POTUS admires himself. But it doesn't matter. Either way, I would wager, he would seem over dinner to be a nice guy to have a beer with. I would wager he treats his friends and family well. Perhaps not, but it certainly wouldn't be surprising to find charity and sympathy in his home-life. However, Obama is also Mr. President, and, as such, he has been "cultivated" to feel not the slightest contradiction giving a speech saying he is pursuing justice by economically hammering a massive country in ways which will wreck havoc on its citizens, all the while, claiming to be, of course, Mr. Morality.
There really is only one solution to today's reality and it is not merely replacing Obama with someone else who becomes a new Mr. or Mrs. Morality. It is, instead, whoever is President, CEO of Google or Walmart, Attorney General or Secretary of the Navy, creating a firestorm of new awareness and derivative pressures among wide populations sufficient to force elites - while they still exist as such - to enact less harmful and even positive policies, while we simultaneously work toward eliminating the institutional structures that define elites and elite behavior in the first place. And of course this ultimately means replacing such institutions as private ownership of productive property, markets, bureaucratic and top down decision making in all sectors of life, mysogyny in all its myriad forms, racist and nationalist identification and subjugation - and so on.
It is a new year. Perhaps we ought to have a new kind of resolution. Not one about eating less or eating better. Not one about smoking less or not at all. Not even one about finding and rooting out Hannibal Lectors, born or bred. How about something I suspect virtually everyone knows, at some level, but few act on? "Revolution is the only Solution." Not mindless, not violent, not sectarian revolution. Instead, persistent struggle for gains that reduce suffering in the present while simultaneously developing mindsets, attitudes, and organizational means and commitment sufficient to keep on struggling right through to creating new defining institutions for the future.That is a New Year's Resolution worth making - and keeping.