Saturday, February 13, 2016

Therein Lies The Road To Perdition


There is more than poisoned water, Chris Hedges writes, at the core of the debacle in Flint Michigan:

The crisis in Flint is far more ominous than lead-contaminated water. It is symptomatic of the collapse of our democracy. Corporate power is not held accountable for its crimes. Everything is up for sale, including children. Our regulatory agencies—including the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality—have been defunded, emasculated and handed over to corporate-friendly stooges. Our corrupt courts are part of a mirage of justice. The role of these government agencies and courts, and of the legislatures, is to sanction abuse rather than halt it.

The primacy of profit throughout the society takes precedence over life itself, including the life of the most vulnerable. This corporate system of power knows no limits. It has no internal restraints. It will sacrifice all of us, including our children, on the altar of corporate greed. In a functioning judicial system, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Flint’s former emergency manager, Darnell Earley, along with all the regulatory officials who lied as a city was being sickened, would be in jail facing trial.

When we place our government in the hands of technocrats, the kinds of things that happened in Flint become common place. And it's not as if we haven't been warned:

Hannah Arendt in “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” Gitta Sereny in “Into That Darkness,” Omer Bartov in “Murder in Our Midst,” Alexander Solzhenitsyn in “The Gulag Archipelago,” Primo Levi in “The Drowned and the Saved” and Ella Lingens-Reiner in “Prisoners of Fear” argue that the modern instrument of evil is the technocrat, the man or woman whose sole concern is technological and financial efficiency, whose primary measurement of success is self-advancement, even if it means piling up corpses or destroying the lives of children.

“Monsters exist,” Levi noted, “but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men.” These technocrats have no real ideology, other than the ideology that is in vogue. They want to get ahead, to rise in the structures of power. They know how to make the collective, or the bureaucracy, work on behalf of power. Nothing else is of importance. “The new state did not require holy apostles, fanatic, inspired builders, faithful devout disciples,” Vasily Grossman, in his book “Forever Flowing, wrote of Stalin’s Soviet Union. “The new state did not even require servants—just clerks.” 

These technocrats are numb to the most basic of human emotions and devoid of empathy beyond their own tiny inner circle. Michigan state officials, for example, provided bottled water to their employees in Flint for nearly a year while city residents drank the contaminated water, and authorities spent $440,000 to pipe clean water to the local GM plant after factory officials complained that the Flint water was corroding their car parts. That mediocre human beings make such systems function is what makes them dangerous. 

The long refusal to make public the poisoning of the children of Flint, who face the prospect of stunted growth, neurological, speech and hearing impairment, reproductive problems and kidney damage, mirrors the slow-motion poisoning and exploitation of the planet by other corporate technocrats. These are not people we want to entrust with our future.

Yet we continue to put our futures in their hands. Therein lies the road to perdition.


Bruce said...

Someday I'd like to return to comment more fully on this post. From where I sit, this hits the nail on the head.

Toby said...

A few years ago, Owen, the Ministry of Fisheries employed some 6,000 people of whom 4,000 lived in Ottawa. Let's assume that they all did a good job at what they were assigned to do. So, what happened to the cod?

People in bureaucracies can get so tied up in petty chores that they lose sight of primary objectives. We even make jokes about it. "When you are up to your ass in alligators it's hard to remember that your objective is to drain the swamp."

This is a terribly important issue that needs much public airing. Most bureaucratic bumbling results in minor irritations such as delays and red tape. It can get ugly such as we see in Flint or Walkerton a few years ago. The worst was the management of the Nazi death camps inspiring Hanna Arendt's comment about the "banality of evil."

Solving the problem does not mean stripping bureaucracies of money and resources to the point that they are useless. Solving the problem means educating the citizenry to know what their rights and responsibilities are and how to exercise them.

Pamela Mac Neil said...

Technocratic Neoliberals. The world is becoming a tyranny ruled by mediocre tyrants Owen. Harper epitomized this style of authoritarianism. He projected a souless, bland persona."Therein Lies The Road To Perdition" The destruction of the human soul by the drip, drip, dripping of mindless thought and action. Living in a cultural wasteland ruled by technocrats who are cloaked in banality. A very timely post.

Owen Gray said...

He looked so ordinary, Pam. And he did so much damage.

Owen Gray said...

Your last paragraph is very important, Toby. The solution is not to destroy bureaucracy. It is to hire bureaucrats who have souls.

Owen Gray said...

You're welcome to join the discussion, Bruce.

The Mound of Sound said...

The malignancy Hedges writes of has already transformed the United States into an illiberal democracy at the tipping point of oligarchy. Nationalist populism is the order of the day exemplified in the caricature of Trump but alive and well within most other Republican contenders and even in the ranks of Democrats. It comes well larded with scapegoats - Muslims, Mexicans, "others."

America has been taken over by transactional governance of the sort that befell Rome in the final years before its collapse. Presidential aspirants must make a pilgrimage to the donor caste who decide their fate, beginning with kissing the ring of Sheldon Adelson. SuperPacs carry the same corrupting influence to the ranks of America's "bought and paid for" Congress. Even the hyper-politicized Supreme Court cannot conceal its corruption. It doesn't even try. Top it all off with a horribly compromised fourth estate, in the form of America's corporate media cartel, and the public doesn't stand a chance. Perhaps sensing what's coming, the US has effectively suspended habeas corpus while, at the same time, ignoring posse comitatus by stationing combat formations within the lower 48 for disaster assistance, of course.

For the average American it's like a form of "soft enslavement." They're indentured to a system in which their notional rights and freedoms are compromised to the point of irrelevance. That began with the destruction of the most fundamental right, privacy. Once you dismember that, the rest transform from rights into indulgences. Oh well, they still have what James Galbraith calls the "right to shop" and, for many, that's enough to keep them in line. America, as Galbraith convincingly argues, has become a Predator State, the game preserve of the new Looter Class.

If Americans do decide to reclaim their liberty they'll have to fight a foe far more dangerous, powerful and determined than ISIS or al Qaeda.

Owen Gray said...

Jefferson, Adams and Madison would be appalled at what has happened to their country, Mound. It is the nightmare that all three Founders and Presidents feared.