American Political Schizophrenia and the Oregon Standoff
As we are now about forty days into the Oregon standoff, with Ammon Bundy arrested at the end of January and the remaining supporters facing arrest, it may be helpful for international readers to understand some of the mechanics along ideological lines, which defines the present situation. American political discourse suffers from a type of schizophrenia, intentionally created by the ruling strata, with the aim of dividing and misleading popular forces along left vs. right lines. While not a surprise, it has been a significant victory for the US government and its ruling elites in their drawing attention to the Oregon standoff, and polarizing it along left vs. right lines.
In the US, these are described as 'liberal vs. conservative'. Not only are the dividing lines meant to mislead, but the terminology itself is confused. These divisions leave the masses without viable leadership or a clear critique of globalization and capitalism. They protect the ruling elite and the Atlanticist project of US hegemony, and they protect the capitalist status quo. Adherents of liberal and conservative American ideologies demonize each other along tribal lines, and this makes needed social change nearly impossible.
Indeed, in the US 'conservative' - represented politically by the Republican Party - does not really refer to traditions of pre-capitalist modes of life, but rather conservatism presents itself as a reaction that attempts to maintain the 'status quo', whatever that was, of the previous decades. It is a reaction to the modern or post-modern push towards greater globalization and commercialization. But it is often a reaction with no content and no solution: the norms and values of the previous decade or two are upheld as 'better, more innocent' or 'virtuous' days, even though then, at that time, those conditions had been brought about by the globalizing and commercializing forces as well. Therefore, in light of more recent post-modern trends of feminism and transgenderism, problems in family law and the high divorce rate, conservatives contrast this to the ostensibly patriarchal nuclear family, calling this 'traditional', which reached its zenith in the 1950's. They do not contemplate that the nuclear family represented the destruction of the really traditional pre-modern extended family, that had existed in feudalism and for thousands of years before this. The creation of the nuclear family was suited to the needs of industrialization and high modernity, being only one individual away from the late modern or post-modern 'broken home'. To summarize: in America, today's conservatives are yesterday's liberals.
Even ten years ago, mainstream conservatives could speak of, for example, state vs. federal powers, favoring localism and the state over the federal. To wit, prior to the 1990's, such a debate was critical to the definition of conservatism: state's rights, smaller government and lower taxes, pro-business policies. Today, except for in libertarian and constitutionalist fringes of the so-called right (in fact reflecting beliefs of early liberalism, early modernity), this issue is no longer really addressed. For example in education, it was 'conservative' President George W. Bush who pushed through federal testing standards in education, through the 'No Child Left Behind' legislation, which stripped both states and municipal school districts of developing their own standards. This is only one of hundreds of examples of increasing federal authority which has come from conservative legislation efforts. Occasionally, especially during election time, these same conservatives may at times pay lip service to the conservative positions of decades ago, but these are not translated into policies or proposals once in office.
'Liberal' - represented by the Democrat Party in the US - does not refer per se, to pro-market and individualist or anti-social, anti-labor attitudes and positions, as it does in Europe, but has more in common with American social progressivism which really gained momentum at the turn of the last century. These tend to favor government intervention across a whole spectrum of issues, and absolutely favor federal authority over state authority. Rather than perceiving the problems (which they define) of the recent past as being the product of the globalizing, capitalist, commercializing forces at the time, they instead associate these with conservatism. The primary role of liberals has been to tie urban and thoroughly cosmopolitanized masses to the ruling strata. To do this, and especially to contrast themselves with conservatives, liberals will also pay lip service to a milder form of their old pro-social, pro-labor, pro-welfare state type positions, and like their conservative friends, have nothing of this once in office.
We can see that in reality today, both liberalism and conservatism have found a re-alignment and mutual agreement on a broad range of issues, and only certain key subjects are the areas of difference are promoted. These differences really strike at the heart of human psychology, and manipulate the irrationalism in ways that only sex, race, and gender politics can. These areas of difference have transcended modernity; liberalism and conservatism are now both ideologies which champion the unbridled rights of business over social concerns, imperialism over multipolarity, and the federal government over state and local governments, and the increase of executive power against the checks and balances provided by either the legislative or judicial branches of government. What is left are post-political positions stripped down to the psychological bare essentials. Debates over foreign or economic policy can take on a rational form, involve facts and figures, objective data. This doesn't mean that liberals and conservatives in the past weren't prone to confirmation bias, but what was being debated itself were objective and concrete questions. Today, in post-modernity, the science of psychology has been perfected to the point where now, only irreconcilable differences are stressed. Sex, race, and gender are the primary focus. This conflict is carried out for the above stated reasons of keeping popular forces divided.
The Oregon standoff thus presented a golden opportunity for mainstream conservative and liberal forces to falsely present themselves as being at odds with each other. In reality, both the Bundys and the Hammonds had expressed dismay and disgust with mainstream conservatism, as represented by the Republican Party. Their main gripe - the Bureau of Land Management's legal oppression and economic marginalization of cattle ranchers - is one that both Republican and Democrat leadership has contributed to. This is an old but unresolved issue, and one that Republicans at one time used to fight for, but no longer do. Remember that "today's conservatives are yesterday's liberals".
While the chances that this standoff will spark off a chain of related events in the immediate future are low, the phenomenon itself reveals a number of important things about a range of related subjects. Primarily it reveals the effectiveness of the state's work against both left and constitutionalist 'radical' anti-system forces. This produces a political schizophrenia, and demonstrates an effective divide and conquer mechanism at work. While the US under liberal (i.e. modernist and capitalist, correctly used) leadership has seen its geopolitical position weakening, along with its economic position and role as global hegemon, its ability to maintain political supremacy within the US relies upon playing upon inherent tribalism and keeping alive the old contest between two similar American political ideologies, even though, as discussed above, these differences are really no more.
On Monday the 18th of January, Oregon ranchers including the Hammonds announced they had planned to organize other area ranchers to sign a document affirming their commitment to end payment to the federal government for grazing fees. They plan to conduct a 'signing ceremony' the following Friday in which at least one other prominent area rancher, along with another from New Mexico, signed documents, that were then be sent to the US solicitor general, ostensibly renouncing their obligation to pay fees connected with their legal obligations. That came after several weeks of an occupation of a government building, and an 'armed standoff' between ranchers and militia men, and federal agents sent to bring resolution. Since then, Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, one of the protesting occupiers, was killed by FBI agents in what he described to his colleagues as a set-up, just moments before his murder. Now with a martyr, the movement seems to have re-committed itself unswervingly to its position.
Whatever will come out of this Oregon affair remains to be seen, but we can clearly see a few processes and dynamics at work, which tell us quite a bit about the US system and what the prospects are for change. These can be seen in the polarizing nature of this affair, polarizing grass-roots and anti-system forces along certain clear fault lines.
Both the mainstream center-left and the more radical hard left have made a largely incorrect assessment of the Oregon standoff. Their attitudes towards the milieu which supports the Oregon standoff have been largely negative. Because of the male, white, and rural nature of the Oregon occupiers, the left has deemed them to be the 'black hats' in this stand-off, just as in old cowboy movies, and has cast the government and the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) as the 'white hats'. This is quite illogical, because the BLM as a government agency does not represent any of the things which the left pretends to imagine it does, and actually knows it does not. There is another BLM - 'Black Lives Matter' - which, criticisms aside, has done a decent job of pointing to the problem of police brutality. Here, the left correctly sees the federalization and militarization of the police, privatization of prisons, and so forth, as problematic. It is the government cast here in the role of the black hats, and quite accurately. But it seems to do so in such a way that tribalizes the issue around race. While it is true that black Americans face a disproportionate amount of abuse at the hands of the militarized police, and always have, this works out badly for politics. Rather, this would have been an excellent opportunity for genuinely left-wing forces to focus on police brutality, and militarization, as an issue negatively effecting working class and poor rural (and urban) whites as well, because it does. Indeed, next to race, class is the other single greatest indicator of probability for being a victim of police abuse. They would have been able to reach across the cultural divide and connect with a rural white base.
The Oath Keepers Movement, fortunately, saw through this problem with the attempt to singularly racialize and, forgive the pun, ghettoize an anti-Police brutality movement as the Black Lives Matter movement has done. The Oath Keepers are largely retired police officers and veterans of foreign wars, who form a type of armed militia which holds that police ought to respect the constitutional rights of citizens now regularly being violated, which are the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th amendments. The Oath Keepers came out to the third wave of Ferguson protests and, surprising even organizers, supported the protesters against the police.
Moments like these - when 'conservative' and mostly white militia and constitutionalist forces come in with armed support of left-leaning urban masses around the same cause - are worthy of further study and future emulation. These two vectors - rural and urban - are two key potentially anti-Atlanticist forces within the US which are otherwise successfully divided along left vs. right lines, a divide and conquer tactic that maintains the present status quo.
Unfortunately, there were no US left groups that, for many reasons, were able to mirror this gesture regarding the Oregon standoff. Suddenly, the US radical left - which in nearly all cases sees the 'state' as the 'body of armed men who enforce the rule of capital over labor - imagined that the state opposing the Hammonds and the Bundys was some future egalitarian revolutionary state. While the state is not these things, the left seemed all too eager to forget this, and in this case treated the US state - among the most violent and repressive institutions in the history of mankind - as if it were a socialist state and that libertarian/constitutionalist anti-government protesters were counter-revolutionaries. This is similar to how the radical left treats the state around other 'wedge' issues that focus on gender, religion, sex, and race. The radical left tends to ignore that the present paradigm only focuses on those 'freedoms' related to secularism, sex, race, and gender which can be exploited towards political divisiveness, atomization, and consumerism.
We are reminded of the 1980's propaganda film 'Mississippi Burning' when looking at the left's response to Oregon. In this film, two FBI agents are sent to the Mississippi in 1964 to investigate the KKK for the murders of several civil rights activists. The propaganda message for viewers to absorb is that the US state - which has killed more people, whether white or black, than the KKK ever has or ever will - was the bringer of justice to backwards rural white America. This schizophrenic view that the US radical left has towards the US state is highly problematic, and is key to understanding Oregon today. Today, the Bundys and the Hammonds are painted as KKK like thieves of Native American land, another huge misrepresentation of reality which needs to be looked at.
The judicial tyranny that the Hammond family is being crushed under is peculiarly American - they are being sent back to jail (re-jailed) after having served the time the judge in their case sentenced them to, because a Federal official was angry that the sentence was not high enough. Most would agree that this seems like "double-jeopardy", or being tried twice for the same crime, which is un-constitutional according to the 5th Amendment. Making it even stranger, the original judge reduced their sentence under the minimum because he thought it was "cruel and unusual punishment" due to Hammond's age, because the minimum sentence of five years was unconstitutional, according to the 8th Amendment. However the federal prosecutor appealed this all the way to the Supreme Court, to get Hammond senior, a man already in his 70's, a five years minimum sentence, which would likely see him die in prison.
The state's rights issues are general and broad, and are not the specific focus of either the Hammonds or the Bundys, but are a focus of many of the other occupiers and especially those sympathizers across the US. The fact that the Federal government "held onto" most land in the Western states after they became states, is probably not what those who penned the US constitution intended. The internal dynamics of this are entirely sui generis to American politics.
But that the US cannot resolve this issue in a sane and normal way, based on sound policies, is a sign that the entire system is simply going to collapse: the central government of the US has become a bureaucratic, executive, and judicial tyranny, and such systems simply do not allow for the feedback mechanisms and the vital expression of localism and creativity on the part of the population which is necessary for long-term, or even medium term, survival of the system. We are witnessing late stage imperial collapse, along with a liberal type of totalitarianism.
It is here that the left plays 'Mississippi Burning' games, and plays cheerleader for this tyrannical Atlanticist state. To wit, among the strange claims and equivocations made by the left was that the Hammonds were usurping lands belonging to the Burns Paiute tribe. They then cast the federal government's BLM into the role of Kevin Kostner in 'Dances with Wolves'. While yes, arguably, these lands ought to belong to the Paiute tribe, it was the US's federal government that seized the Oregon lands from the Paiute tribe, not farmers or ranchers. So here reality is flipped around. Sovereign Indian lands and reservations are confused for US federal land. In reality, Indian land and US lands are separated by the only defining criteria - sovereignty. Yet, the left crams these all together.
The history of the subject is quite different. Prior to the Mexican-American War, and even for some years following the Civil War, 'pioneers', that is, would-be ranchers, farmers and settlers, were not directly backed by the federal government's military. The lands they went to were not yet US states, but instead either US territories, Indian lands, or part of Mexico. While they were armed, we must remember that they were in relatively small numbers compared to the population of indigenous people, and that indigenous people had directly or indirectly interacted with Europeans now for 300 years. The Native Americans that these pioneers encountered were riding horses, using oil lamps, and using fire-arms. They had their own semi-states and took from the French, Spanish, and English some elements of state organization (just as the US had taken elements from Iroquois League). These pioneers did not conquer much of anything, and their existence relied upon their ability to negotiate with and live alongside, relatively peacefully, Native American tribes. It was the Federal government, in the two generations that followed, that sent in troops, led by, for example, George Armstrong Custer, to suppress the indigenous tribes.
What is left of the ranching class, which historically are called cowboys, is based on the land and rooted in the local community. The main question for them, like many other rural Americans, whether primarily white, or also black, Mexican, and indigenous, is about local control of resources and the thriving of age-old human community types. These are essentially people who are concerned with having a real say in their own fate. The left has made a fundamentally liberal and middle-class error when they think that they can appeal to the urban poor and the downtrodden based on economic arguments alone, while ignoring the issues of rural poverty and the need for greater localism.
However, these leftists are wrong: culture, ties of affection, traditions, folkways, loyalty, ethnicity are all things which tie humans together. A well-off rancher and his poor farmhand have a real bond, not only culturally, but economically as well - their fates are tied together. A liberal politician in Washington has no such tie to a poor working class suburbanite. Sociology, which historically was developed by city-living academics observing the effects of industrialization upon urban masses, has as a field, long misunderstood issues of culture and class when they relate to rural, early-modern, or pre-modern modes of life.
Another very strange and contradictory thing which the left has delved into, is in ignoring what precise industry these cattle ranchers are in. One of the complaints from the left is that the ranchers themselves have used some federal subsidies and are using federal lands (which they schizophrenically view as alternatively either Indian reservations or socialist, when they are neither). Yes, we are told they are cattle ranchers, and yet it escapes the entire left that these are exactly the kind of cattle ranchers which the left, by its own standards and professed values, should encourage the federal government to support.
Here by subsidies we should include also the costs incurred by the federal government for the upkeep of these lands, even when ranchers like the Hammonds have 'broken' the law. Why do these cattle need all of this grazing land anyhow? Because they are free range cattle.
Any non-vegan or non-vegetarian leftist who does eat meat would surely agree that these are precisely the kinds of ranchers they should support. The alternative is factory farmed cattle, who are subject to abuse, live their whole lives with four centimeters to move, in unsanitary conditions, and are loaded with hormones and antibiotics which are proven to be cancerous and harmful to consumers. The 'good guys' in the story of free range cattle, are and ought to be ranchers like the Hammonds.
We encounter an ugly truth. The BLM and the Federal government are not protecting these state owned lands for the public weal. They allow privately owned, multibillion dollar chemical and mineral companies, with powerful lobbyists in Washington, to come and take advantage of tax-payer subsidies, and extract the chemical and mineral wealth of the land, and privatize water rights. This is not, then, an issue of the government coming into to play a neutral role in mitigating some 'tragedy of the commons scenario'. Much like the science of crop rotation, successful ranching relies on internal regulation and controls - the effects and stresses on the environment are understood and respected first and foremost by free-range cattle ranchers themselves, for without an environment that can sustain the cattle, their industry would collapse.
The Oregon Standoff then serves as a perfect case study of the internal power that the Atlanticist regime in Washington has over its own ostensibly dissident left. Just as misleaders among 'conservatives' lead rural and suburban, mainly white, Americans to take the wrong positions regarding the social movements of the urban and suburban working class, symbolically of color, but statistically also mainly white; that same tactic is used to push mainly middle-class, college educated people on the left to oppose the basic rights of rural Americans.
About 35% of Americans consider themselves socialist, and another 35% have libertarian views, and yet the mainstreams of liberalism and conservatism respectively, treat these as 'extreme' poles at the far ends of their spectrum. So to counter this trend will require, among other things, a concerted effort to create a new political pole which is able to unite elements of these anti-systemic opposition vectors along some very basic points of platform.
The US system has successfully combined post-modernism and symbolic and emotionally based politics, to create a type of irrationalism which transcends the old logic and the old left vs. right divide. This new politics permeates both the left and the right, focusing cynically on wedge issues that, by virtue of differences in human psychology, have no solution. Focusing on deeply rooted psychologically based and tribal divisions (gender, race, sexual orientation) within the electorate has proved highly effective in simulating a left vs. right division along virtual, symbolic, lines. When not looking at these wedge issues, Americans are largely united in opposition to the US's real problem - its dangerous attempts to maintain its status as the global hegemon within the context of rising multipolarity.