Perhaps I’m just having a bad month, but I wonder if other readers sense what I’m detecting. I fancy if someone did a Google frequency search on the right terms, they might pick up tangible indicators of what I’m sensing (as in I’m also a believer that what people attribute to gut feeling is actually pattern recognition).
The feeling I have is that of heightened generalized tension, the social/political equivalent of the sort of disturbance that animals detect in advance of earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, of pressure building up along major fault lines. The other way to articulate this vibe is that it is as if events are being influenced by a large unseen gravitational or magnetic force, as if a black hole had moved into the ‘hood. We can’t see the hidden superdense object, but we can infer that it’s distorting the space around it.
Now if you just want to go with the “maybe this is just your neurosis” view, we are in the midst of a counterrevolution, and it’s not exactly cheery to be watching its progress on a daily basis.
It isn’t just that the economic rights for ordinary workers and the social safety nets of the New Deal and the earlier labor movements here and abroad are being demolished. Major elements of a broad social and political architecture that served as the foundation for the Industrial Revolution are being torn apart: the Statute of Fraud (essential to give people of every level of society decent protection of property rights) and access to legal remedies; basic protection of personal rights (habeas corpus, due process, protection against unlawful search and seizure); local policing (as in policing being accountable to local governments). Decent quality public education and the freedom of the press are also under assault. People here have used various terms for this new political order that is being put in place; neofeudalism works as well as any, but it looks intended to dial the clock back on many economic and civil rights of ordinary people, not back to the Gilded Age, but to before the French and American Revolutions.
The sense of heightened tension isn’t that this program is underway, or the recent phases have moved rapidly (that’s bad enough) but that ordinary people are increasingly aware of it, and the folks behind it didn’t want to be caught out at this delicate stage. Imagine if you were executing a coup and got exposed, before you had seized all the critical installations you needed to capture for your victory to be complete.
The collective awareness of the degree of loss of economic and political rights we had all taken for granted, has risen considerably as a result of the Snowden/Greenwald/Poitras revelations. If you haven’t read it yet, the fact that the New York Times ran a favorable Sunday magazine cover story on Laura Poitras (in striking contrast to its earlier hatchet job on Glenn Greenwald) and discussed in some detail how routine communication on the web are simply not secure and depicted the considerable measures Snowden, Greenwald, and Poitras have had to take (and by implication, ordinary people ought to be taking) is an indicator of the fault lines among the elites. A story like that (a story! not My Eyes Glaze Over reports on what sorts of surveillance might or might not be permissible under various programs most American can’t bother to keep track of) brings home in a visceral way how far Big Brother has gone to a large national audience. As Atlantic put it:
The New York Times Magazine cover story by Peter Maass detailing how Edward Snowden reached out to the two reporters that broke the NSA surveillance story isn’t about that surveillance. It’s only sort of about journalism. Instead, it’s largely a story about how close to the boundaries of civilization you must get — literally and figuratively — to be assured that you can protect your privacy. And it’s about how the United States government pushes people there.
But notice the Atlantic played it chicken by calling Poitras “paranoid” in its headline. If you read the abuse Poitras’ suffered when she would return to the US, including having her equipment repeatedly seized and the data searched, “paranoid” is the last word you’d use. “Prudent” is more like it.
And we have the drip drip drip of ongoing revelations such as XKeyscore, “mistaken” surveillance of thousands of ordinary Americans (and you can bet a lot more is dressed up as legit), CIA surveillance of Aaron Swartz and Noam Chomsky (Chomsky? Surveilling an academic successfully relegated to the “so left he’s irrelevant” ghetto? If he’s treated as a threat, the threat threshold is awfully low).
Now as a netizen, as well as someone who has been following the Big Brother story reasonably closely, I could be charged with overreacting to that. But Obama is losing his famous cool. It may simply be an coincidence of timing (as in he’s fighting his inevitable slide into lame duck status and none too happy about that) but he’s been visibly heavy handed of late. This is just off the top of my head:
Derailing Grayson’s session with Greenwald (which will go ahead in September, so what sort of victory was it to push it into a busier news period?)
Getting snippy in that Democratic caucus meeting when asked about Larry Summers and later calling senators who opposed Summers to his office to tell them to lay off
Launching a Big Lie speaking tour on how he’s creating middle class jobs (which seems to be landing like a lead balloon)
Launching a faux independent surveillance investigation (as I’ve said before, having Clapper on the committee is tantamount to saying, “So what are you going to do? Impeach me?”)
A bizarre flurry of “look, over there, an airplane” of actions that garner positive headlines. Mind you, this is standard operating procedure…except that there’s been a weird flurry in August, when most of them could have been held back to September: the London Whale prosecutions. Opposing the AMR-US Air merger. The announcement of an investigation into the use of antipsychotics on children.
Shorter: Obama looks off balance.
And we’ve got a whole ‘nother front opening up, that of municipal bankruptcies and restructurings, which puts the war against municipal workers and unions back in the headlines and creates another looting opportunity for Wall Street, in the form of privatizations. Ugh.
Or maybe the inchoate sense of pressure is real, but I’m looking in the wrong place for explanations. A newly-published study ascertained that climate change increases violence. And we also have that long-standing Roubini call that 2013 will see a new outbreak of crisis, and
winter October is coming.
So readers: do you have a similar sense of a collective rise in pressure, or tangible signs of disturbance among what passes for our elites? Or is this just me trying to draw a trend line through a random set of data?