In my posting of 6/21, “Woody, Powerful Waters and the Popular Spirit,” I finished with a paragraph lamenting the effects of polarization on the Popular Spirit that I suggested was a  by-product of our post World War Two Security State. I open this writing with a revised excerpt from what I wrote, in order to regain that context:

“When the necessity of National Security becomes a dominating enterprise in its influence on the democracy it aims to protect,” I said, “it poses a problem not only for democracy in peacetime, but especially one for a democracy at war.” A recent case in point, then, is in the report by Scott Shane ( NewYork Times, July 2, 2008)  regarding  the modeling of  interrogation at Guantanamo on the “brain washing” methods developed by Chinese Communist interrogators during the Korean war period.

War drives all concerns into the need for produced Intelligence, even Intelligence which, as the Times article cites, is merely a guess by the victim as to what the interrogator wants to hear, true or false. And as opposite poles of ideology are often seen to mirror each other in Security practice, American military interrogation technique has apparently subsumed the practices that Americans had so fiercely condemned as “Brainwashing” when used by the North Koreans—techniques condemned by our own published rules of military conduct.  Polarization indeed, and reflected in popular reaction.

If the current mood of what I have described before as a polarized Popular Spirit is accurate as observed reality, let me extend it to say our immediate situation seems to this writer to have sprung from a kind of muted national trauma reaction involving forms of power that we rarely as ordinary citizens understand, but which do affect us deeply in our moral understanding of ourselves,.

There is a kind of quiet hysteria, it seems to me, expressing itself in the accelerated consumerism that seems the main prop of the recent, but now passing, “good” economy. This nervousness seems to me bred by a world that is so vastly different from what we knew twenty, ten, even eight years ago, that we cannot quite comprehend or even predict, its developing significance.

The change brought by 9/11 confronts America’s sense of security in a highly personal way that distant wars with distant enemies have never done before. “Terrorism” is hardly new in warfare, but this brand of it is a kind of warfare in which the enemy is essentially a terrible (and sometimes psychotic) fatalism masked as religion—an enemy who is essentially invisible in the clothing of the ordinary until the bomb goes off. This is an enemy who seems to hate us for what we, by our own lights, have been taught to love: our way of life, mainly in its “freedoms”—meaning that host of gifts by which we uphold or trivialize the Popular Spirit.  Some of  our applied freedoms, especially those heavily reliant on oil production, seem to breed  tyranny and poverty in lands where some of those who hate us live.  There, they too are strongly striving to believe that they are the children of a God who has chosen them for special tasks of sacrifice, and special rewards in its accomplishment. Terrorism” is both a symptom and a strategy develped in such circumstances, and it is not new or limited to misguided elements of Islam. The Japanese Kamikaze pilots of World War Two did not strike helpless civilians at random, but war vessels of the American Pacific Fleet, sacrificing their lives in the vain attempt to halt the American advance toward their homeland. But in one similarity to the new terrorism their name was translated for us then as the “Divine Wind.”

The American public was shielded for the most part from the terrible effectiveness of Kamikaze attacks by wartime news management in the name of public morale. Nothing  shielded American morale from the collapse of the Twin Towers, seen on practically every television screen in the nation. The effect had to be psychologically devastating, intimate, as in the sudden death by terrible accident of personal friends or family members, even though the dead of the tower were for most of us only pitiable strangers.

This terrible though vicarious experience has to have had psychological
consequence. It breeds a mood of powerlessness in our frustration and inability or failure to rationalize it.  Part of the response to this, I think, is predictably, if oddly seen in aggressive and mounting public consumerism, a now modified but still present burst of “gotta have it” in the environment of a war in which we are asked to pay no price but that of our now strictly professional soldiers’ blood.

Even with credit-betrayed thousands facing the loss of homes, the Stock Market booms and busts enough within a week to give us financial vertigo. But on the occasional up swing (based largely it seems on public consumption), it keeps hearts high enough to justify the grimly smiling applause at closing bell when the daily boom turns bust. We continue to produce and absorb new gadgets, especially in electronics, at a rate that suggests not only the vitality of our technology in feeding the old human hunger for the “new,” but also a defensive hunger for constant diversion. This self-protective state of denial, if that’s what it is, seems to be producing greater and greater forms of complexity in the name of personal convenience for a population that seems increasingly more frustrated by its devices than well served.

In a possibly related phenomenon, our public communications have been loaded for years with weight loss devices, clinics, programs and advisors, while we have continued to develop what is now officially termed an obesity epidemic. Nearly a year ago now, the daily newspaper I read every morning told of our falling behind in length of life expectancy in comparison to 41 nations of Asia and Europe. (Ohlmacher, Stephen. “41 Nations Top U.S. Life Expectancy.” The Seattle Times, 12 August, 2007.)

To shift the tone toward the personal, in the public omnipresence of electronic music, many of us, especially those of us who are old enough to have been early tuned to the  musical solaces of Bing and Swing, are helplessly nostalgic. We were “rocked” to the 50’s rhythms of the jazz revival, have then been summoned by cool jazz, “bebop,” and yes, the revolutionary figures of the early Rock n’ Roll. Now, though not alone, surely, we are the older listeners who suffer from what sounds like an audition for rape and mayhem being staged in an underground garage. To judge by a reported “so what?” backlash against these electronic wonders, our numbers may be growing. Or is it only the “geezers” —a strange word that once meant a prophet or “seer”—that are out of tune?

The increasingly intense, even frantic competition for sales of electronic services can add suggestive evidence. We increasingly lament the loss of the human voice on the phone; the one-try connection for the needed answer; the maddening complexity of what used to be simple devices that served the informative purposes of life long ago. Yes, even before YouTube.  But wryly as my peers and any sympathizers among the young may lament and joke about this, we also reflect that there seem to be graver problems with the Electronic Age than those involving the devices we can hold in our hands or control on a keyboard.

Just as the bright popular vision of Grand Coulee Dam I previously described was transformed into a constituent fact of the explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the necessary secrecy of that fact inevitably separated the understanding of the government’s purpose from that of its people. That is, of course, what war and the fears of war do. But unless government is very careful, and citizens kept very well informed, the result can also be a perpetually war-justified form of tyranny.

It seems to this writer that our constant need of Intelligence secrecy has developed a Security phase of government that, as the 9/11 Commission reported, fails to share vital Intelligence even among its own agencies. No one, it seems, comprehends it completely, no ordinary community of voters can control it, and none can easily communicate with it. I have called this abstraction the Security State, and its applied practice since World War Two has been found in fact, if not intention, to betray those Constitutional values it is established to protect.

By the constantly advancing standards of security “need” we have no effective probe for The Big Spook’s secrets, even if they affect us directly; thereby, we have no means to challenge secrecy’s unknown effects, as it stands now, even by legal means. We must accept the Security State’s honorable motives—despite the known facts of its past malpractice and more recent failure. In clearly proven circumstances of danger that acceptance often is, and must be, required. The citizen’s job, it would seem, is to insure that such willing trust is not simply blind resignation. I turn, then, to a current exemplifying issue of this trust: the still mostly secret developments in electronic warfare research: manipulation of the human senses and cognition, of vital functions of our thought and understanding. Information regarding military devices and research is now beginning to appear.

Nearly two years ago an important study of electronic weaponry, Dr. Jonathan Moreno’s Mind Wars: Brain Research and National Defense. (Washington, D.C., The Dana Foundation, 2006) found publication.. One reviewer, Richard Thieme, writing in the political commentary magazine Counterpunch  (“Mind Wars”July 3, 2007), concluded that the book took so casual a look at the ethical implications of the weapons it described that  politically conscious public awareness of them could only be formulated as a kind of  mental “Mobius Strip” based on “the need to know.”

That is, the need to know is the only justification for an attempt to understand the character and effects of very dangerous weapons, yet only qualified members of the Security apparatus can ever “need to know” what these are. The result, Thieme says, is a “cognitive dissonance”  of any effective understanding of what our government is doing wth weapons and weapons research of such transforming effect as to demand ethically sharp and very public understanding (Thieme, p. 4-5).

To extend the Mobius Strip metaphor toward the issue I have raised as the growing incoherence of the Spirit, it is as if Americans have been traveling on a single road which is parallel, but has twisted in such a way that we find ourselves lost from ourselves, whether bent “right” or “left” in our politics, in attempting to retain a time present coherent with, if not current to, the Constitutional values of our past. Both roads lead continuously forward then back to the unsolved problem, the unanswered question. This is the dangerous Mobius Strip of our confused understanding. If such is the case, how is it we exercise the assumed power of those values expressed as government “by the people”?

This is all to say, again, that in the way of what we first see as progress, then blame in the unintended consequences, the extension of electronics into weaponry gives us very grave ethical problems in our military practice, not to omit the grave potential threats to personal freedoms.  Through cybernetics we have created what we call “artificial intelligence,” offering “virtuality” as a myth in which we recreate or “toy” with whatever our minds can produce as “virtually” true, or “truly” produced for us.  This myth-productive “intelligence” may already be a far greater problem than we can yet recognize, fascinated as we are by its very existence.

Any Security State government’s secret use of radio-wave electronics in military weaponry inevitably suggests the potential for political use, that is, control not just of enemies, but the lives and rights of its own citizens. This is so hostile to Americans’ sense of freedom that uninformed public attitudes are inevitably dismissive of the potential. Moreover, public knowledge can be—doubtless has been—argued as a threat to public order. Still, the amount of writing and internet chat on the subject of “mind control” (electronic human brain manipulation without consent) has continued to build, becoming very nearly an open, if still suppressed—or in the media largely ignored—public issue.

In contrast, Sharon Weinberger’s January 14, 2007 story “Mind Games” in The Washington Post Magazine, challenges this. Nearly two hundred email respondents argued for and against the existence of secret government electronic experiments on  people without their individual consent. While opinion was hotly divided, the overwhelming body of reasonable comment, if not of substantive proof, came, in my judgement, from the anguished reports of “targeted” individuals and in lesser numbers their calmer, research-oriented supporters. The many complete scoffers were at moments shrilly dismissive enough to suggest that the subject should not even be discussed in a self-respecting newspaper.

Something has created a substantial group of citizens who argue that their constitutional rights have been violated and their human dignity trivialized—is that not a provable fact in itself and a fit subject for The Washington Post, indeed for any self-respecting medium? Have our media resources been so tamed by the corporate monopolies which have gobbled them recently that the subject is too dangerous? Or do our public sources of information also suffer from “cognitive dissonance”?

Richard Theime, again reviewing Moreno, points to what describes what has come to be called among complainants, “V2K” technology. This is focused radio beamed sound that will enter our common experience soon, Moreno says, providing audible voice messages (jolly little ads? what else?) to groups of people or to unaware, randomly selected individuals by laser voice technology beamed to the auditory resonance of the target’s bone structure, that is his or her skull. ( Theime p 5;  Moreno, Mind Wars  p. 146-51).  This frighteningly calm prediction by Moreno does little to ethically justify, though it might explain, the disturbing “voices” hundreds of mind control complainants have claimed to hear.

In any event, one can only surmise what happens in the truly or potentially troubled mind subjected to such tactics. Theime again comments effectively on this aspect: “Hearing voices that are not there is a symptom of illness. But hearing a voice that no one else hears, now that we know about [the device] does not mean that the voices do not exist” (p.6).  Moreno does detail, and criticize, the kind of research that has made “fantasy” voices possible, and it is government sponsored research.

In Woody Guthrie’s era, while the ultimate power of hydro-electricity brought many blessings, it also brought the dark side of what the dams destroyed. We were then really just beginning to realize the mingled consequences of total reliance on those common aspects of technology that destroy as they give. I hesitate to even think about what consequences might eventuate from the very real darkness of the powers I have briefly described. The H-bomb has, so far, been controlled by open knowledge of its existence.

Concluding, then, I want again to invoke a return to the source of power and light, to the history of the dams and to an increasingly important and more encouraging application of wise use to our technology. In the new environmental frame we do increasingly recognize the destruction done to the great salmon runs of the Columbia during middle decades of the past century, and we now struggle to recover what we can.  However, in the way of such things, the rewards of that dam building have been productive and powerful enough to block not only salmon, but our comprehension of the abundance the Columbia produced for thousands of years—and  hundreds of thousands of human beings—b our American history even began. A personal example may set the last tonality for what I have wanted to say here about our technology and our Security driven, though still freedom-loving culture.

Years back, this writer, then a working journalist, stood near the fragile-seeming platforms  at Celilo Falls on the Columbia, where the “Indians” we now call Native Americans hurled their nets to the leaping salmon—fisher, platform, fish and  flying net all in a glittering mist of  spray—that beauty inundated in 1957 at the opening of The Dalles dam. I recall this scene now as a photo caught by the news camera I used then, a Speed Graphic, a shot which I now simply remember as moment of personal time, bound nonetheless to a vast, nearly forgotten human history. Sadly, typically, I did not keep a copy of the photo. The technology of the camera had empowered the capture that my own
humanity failed to hold, the talisman that still binds a personal past to the present, but only in memory. Those fishers must keep a fuller picture of that gathering  place for thousands on the Columbia in the stories told that keep one piece of their lost history alive.

When I hear Woody Guthrie’s “Roll On Columbia,” today, its naive but powerful enthusiasm for the gospel of change and progress brings that image of Celilo Falls back as an ironic symbol of  the mingled gifts and consequences such things in human history  produce, born of a dominant culture’s necessity, but also of necessity’s convenient companions, greed and propagandistic deception.

Finally, I have attached the word “myth” to many of the experiences Americans view as God-given, righteous accomplishment. If progress is used merely as a term to deny the sense of reality that honest history defines as truth, it is indeed fatally misunderstood. Too often, and most humanly, it is seen as justification in the pursuit of Power, that Power an end in itself as a beacon shining  on our accomplishment, especially in the control of that which makes us fearful or uncomfortable,  seen in our enemies or in ourselves

The human accomplishment of the U.S. Constitution is never fixed and never entirely secure.  Its aims in the Bill of Rights were themselves facts of the Spirit. That Constitution  itself was myth-making of the kind that makes the long, sad tale of history a reflecting glass for hope. If denial of the Spirit moving in our history forms itself as that public policy which creates an autocracy of secrecy—with whatever claims of authority or purpose—it shames the honorable practice of government, including its vital
resources, and becomes the nightmare of democracy turned toward tyranny. Recently we have had increasing cause to wonder about this potentiality. I don’t think my words here, or in my novel, The Mind Keepers, can do much more than urge the speculative reality of “what if.” In that, it can give thought about the answers available whenever that “what if” threatens to be coming true.

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