October 24, 2001 Appeared in Consumers, Commodities, and Consumption

The Home Front
Eugene Halton

     Fascist fundamentalist Islam is the immediate first front in the war underway. What horror! To incinerate thousands of people to prove some worthless ideology: The evil of mad idealism. It will not respond to reason, it needs to be confronted by military force. For this reason the U.S. and allied response will be brutal reasonableness, killing as much of the infrastructure as possible. When the al-Qaida terrorists and Taliban government of Afghanistan are destroyed, it will not end terrorism, it will not likely bring a democratic government into being, but in serving notice that enabling mass murderers is unacceptable, it will serve self-protection in that sense.
     But it is a dangerous course, not only for mistaken targets, but for maintaining civil liberties internally. Today there are two fronts: Islamic fundamentalists and their unholy war on America, and our own American automatism, our auto-brainwashing by machines, the being reduced to no more than a ghost in the machine living from the neck up.
     The first front is seeking to kill American and selected other bodies. The second front has been working for some time already to kill the American soul, and is part of a larger globalizing automatism whose goal is to kill soul, to kill the spontaneous life through which we are human. As D. H. Lawrence put it:
 “That which is lovely to the automatic process is hateful to the spontaneous soul.
 The wakeful living soul fears automatism as it fears death: death being automatic.”
     The September 11 highjackers represent one example of this automatism: honed calculating abilities, capable of successfully scouting airline system ruts, including operating the machines. Preprogrammed souls, following rules of the indoctrination documents they carried, instructions which required close calculation and which repeatedly warned against spontaneous feeling. These mass murderers were guided drones following guided missives.
     One of the sad horrors that emerged from the World Trade Center Massacre is that workers who were exiting on the stairs heard over loudspeakers that they could return to their offices. A number continued to exit, a number returned to their offices. Those who listened to their immediate fears, to their gut reaction, lived; those who listened instead to the disastrous message, to anxieties about “being correct,” about not losing their jobs, lived from their necks up, automatically, and sadly, died.
     Calculating, moving humans deprived of the spontaneous soul represent successful implantations of the megamechanical matrix of modern life. Though the modern mechanical-scientific world-view supposedly eliminated “goal” or purpose from nature, in reality it retained it as a crypto-religious system requirement: the goal of perfecting the modern megamachine by progressively replacing the human elements of the system.
     But consider the American subset, already infiltrated and colonized by Megatechnic America. The proliferation of techno-devices and the massive infrastructures associated with them in the past fifty years–especially nuclear bombs, televisions, and autos–radically mechanized the American soul. These things bespeak the Invisible Dictator which has already made human beings an endangered--and endangering--species.
     The ever-increasing automatism manifests in the obesity epidemic, which spread in the ‘90s, as the Journal of the American Medical Association put it, “with the speed and dispersion characteristic of a communicable disease epidemic.” Now antiobiotics have been abused by the meat industry in ways humans are beginning to pay for. But who would have thought that Americans would conduct biological warfare on ourselves, using fat as the weapon!
     But effective weapon it is, a very good weapon to lower awareness, to keep the potato on the couch, reduced to button pushing through the mirage of “EAT ME” images and commercial soul-seductions. The Couch Potato is perhaps the penultimate perverse perfection of the sedentary creature brought into being through agriculture and civilization.
     Home cooking less while eating more, the automated American is also underslept and underwalked, overworked and overspent, for these deprivations enhance compliance and reduced awareness. Aware, autonomous citizens do not possess the compliance capabilities of unaware, automatic consumers, “couched” in the hypnotic visage of the electro-Tele-Medusa.
     The post-democratic consumption creature is the antithesis of the democratic citizen. To return to normal consumption addiction, as suggested by Vice-President Dick Cheney and other government officials, is no response to this crisis.
 Automated, unaware consciousness, conditioned by the stimulus-response/pleasure-pain matrix, is intrinsically depressing.
     Awareness, no matter how painful the reality of which one becomes aware, is intrinsically satisfying, and is rooted in self-originated experience. More awareness is what Americans need to fight both fronts, and especially a general arousal of visceral awareness that democracy itself has also been under siege from within, lulled into the false security that techno-machines could provide security, happiness, and a life. Only full-bodied awareness, rooted in self-originated experience and the purposes it engenders, can provide a means to democratic life. Consumption itself, to be healthy, must be rooted in acts of awareness and not of dependency, seduction, and addiction.

     This introduces one of the great challenges we face today, it seems to me. How might the all-powerful, global Corporate Empire be transformed to face and attune itself to organic limitations–limitations of the earth’s bounty, of self-responsible societies and spontaneous selves? If it can’t, then there is nothing to be said, and it shouldn’t take more than 25 years for this globally, electronically, virally, economically, and spiritually interconnected world to  collapse from its excesses as the World Trade Center did in a single day. But to deny that it is also a human entity, however dehumanizing, seems to me to surrender to the myth of the machine as some alien thing that is not also a human social organization. That is an alienated view of the machine, in my opinion. No matter how dehumanizing, corporations and machines remain human social organizations.
     Corporation means a “bodying,” an “incarnation,” a group of people with a charter to act as an individual.  Some say that one can’t reason with a corporation, as though it were like an inevitable disease.
     But one can heal a flu through the body’s own resources.
     The transformation to trans-national, franchising, globalizing corporate structures shows how corporations can transform relatively quickly, albeit in the direction of unlimited expansion.
 The transformation of the USA in a few decades to an increasingly de-localized franchised, corporate malled society shows how a society can rapidly transform itself, albeit in the direction of unlimited expansion.

     Transformation is a reality of human history, and of life itself. History does not always proceed by slow, cumulative growth, but is also punctuated by rapid transformation.

     A strange Jewish virus infects the all-powerful Roman empire with the power of the powerless. Hah! Any Roman patrician would laugh at the futility of such an idea. Just a few centuries later that virus has Christianized the Roman empire.
     Two stone-cutters–Socrates and Jesus–powerless in political force, powerful in presence, convicts sentenced to death by their respective cities, changed the world with the words they bodied forth, with words that evaporated into air even as stones they cut are probably still existent today, words that found form after their deaths in writings by those who learned from them.
     In one of my last meetings with one of my teachers, Lewis Mumford–though 94 and mostly debilitated by dementia–his eyes briefly fired up, and he smiled and said, while making a circling with his finger, that yes, there is always hope, otherwise the whole thing would just keep going round and round.
     Or take another convict, in prison for his beliefs that human decency can be a world-transforming power. Two months later he addressed his nation on New Year’s Day 1990 as the President of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel. This too is our modern civilization:
      “It is my profound conviction that we have to release from the sphere of private whim such forces as a natural, unique and unrepeatable experience of the world, an elementary sense of justice, the ability to see things as others do, a sense of transcendental responsibility, archetypal wisdom, good taste, courage, compassion and faith in the importance of particular measures that do not aspire to be a universal key to salvation.  Such forces must be rehabilitated....Things must once more be given a chance to present themselves as they are, to be perceived in their individuality.”
     After the World Trade Center collapse, we need to remember the variety of faces that corporate America can take, faces that included working class janitors, firemen, and police as well as stock traders, a melange of different races, religions, and nationalities.
     Corporate America needs to remember its human faces, if it is to recall its human form.
     Whatever gets built on that site should not replicate the megatechnic giantism of the twin megaliths but should present the human faces of a human community of work: somehow a combined "village" of buildings and monument, as powerful as Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial, honeycombed with verbal or visual vignettes of the lives of the victims.
     Let the center of world trade be a visible symbol of human bodily experience, a home front, a place where the human heart is palpable, where the limits of death are tangible, where the fragile joy of being alive is an inescapable element of awareness of the business of life.
 
 

 See Lewis Mumford's critique of the World Trade Center from 1970, when it was just being built

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