Rebél Against the Empire
by Thomas H. Naylor article link
November 1, 2009
"What are the people of Germany doing? Sleeping. Their sleep is filled with nightmares and anxiety, but they are sleeping. We have awaited their awakening for so long, yet they continue to remain stolid, stubborn, and silent as to the crimes committed in their names, as if the entire world and its own destiny had become alien to them. All agree: the German people slumber on amid the twilight of their gods. They do not love liberty, because they hate criticism. That is why they are sleeping today."
September 17, 1944
Albert Camus’s insightful description of life in Nazi Germany, which appeared in the clandestine Resistance newspaper Combat a few weeks after the Liberation of Paris, could just as well have been written about life in the United States today. Not unlike the people of Nazi Germany, the American people are also asleep.
We have slept through the annihilation of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine, a war with Islam, the rendition of terrorist suspects, prisoner abuse and torture, the suppression of civil liberties, citizen surveillance, corporate greed, pandering to the rich and powerful, global warming, full spectrum dominance, imperial overstretch, and a culture of deceit. Massive military spending, multi-trillion dollar deficits and Wall Street bailouts, mounting trade deficits, and a precipitous decline in the value of the dollar have gone virtually unnoticed.
During our long period of slumber the United States government has lost its moral authority. It is owned, operated, and controlled by Wall Street and Corporate America. The United States has become ungovernable, unfixable, and, therefore, unsustainable economically, politically, militarily, and environmentally. It has evolved into the wealthiest, most powerful, most materialistic, most racist, most militaristic, most violent empire of all times.
While claiming to be individualists, we behave as world-class conformists. We think the same, share many of the same religious beliefs, vote the same, watch the same TV programs, visit the same websites, and buy the same low-priced Chinese plastic yuck from Wal-Mart. “All the women are strong, the men are all good looking, and all the children are above average,” just as they are in Garrison Keillor’s mythical Lake Wobegon. And we all pretend to be happy. But is it really true?
Even though we spend $8 trillion annually on consumer goods and services, $2 trillion of which is for health care, and billions more on spiritual gurus and religious shaman, are we as happy as we pretend to be? I think not, because what we are up against is the human condition, God’s gift to us in the Garden of Eden from which there is no escape – separation, meaninglessness, powerlessness, and death. Not a pretty sight. Our feel-good religious leaders to whom we turn for spiritual solace try unsuccessfully to sugarcoat it. French existentialist Albert Camus called it absurd.
Unfortunately, the American Empire itself is a metaphor for the human condition. Tens of millions are drawn to the Empire in search of a refuge from the human condition only to discover that the Empire is an integral part of the problem, not the solution.
What are our options in terms of possible responses to the existential angst produced by the human condition? Escape, denial, engagement, and confrontation.
First, we may escape the human condition altogether through suicide. We may choose death and nothingness now over the pain and suffering associated with separation, meaninglessness, powerlessness, and fear of eventual death.
Second, we may deny the human condition through a life based on having—owning, possessing, manipulating, and controlling people, power, money, machines, and material wealth. Through having we try to find security and certainty in an otherwise uncertain world. Our compulsive desire to have leads to affluenza, technomania, e-mania, megalomania, robotism, globalization, and imperialism. Some call it technofascism. It often leads us to the arms of the Empire in search of a safe haven which turns out to be illusory.
Third, we may choose to engage the human condition through being—by our creations, our personal relationships, our spirituality, our sense of community, and our stand towards pain, suffering and death. So-called simple living is a popular form of being. But if the world is going to hell in a handbasket, for how long can a life based only on being allay our angst?
Fourth, we may confront the human condition and peacefully rebél against the money, power, speed, greed, and size of the icons of the Empire—the White House, the Congress, the Pentagon, Wall Street, the Internet, Fox News, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, as well as the churches, schools, and universities which suck up to them.
Rebél is a philosophy of rebellion. It provides us with the faith to claw meaning out of meaninglessness, the energy to connect with those from whom we are separate, the power to surmount powerlessness, and the strength to face death rather than deny it. Since the word rebel has more than one meaning, we use Rebél to connote resistance to authority and control.
Two rebels are our role models—Jesus Christ and Albert Camus. One was thought to have been the son of God, the Messiah, the other a French agnostic. One offered a message of hope, the other admonished us to “live only with what we know.” Both had an uncanny grasp of the human condition and an unwavering predisposition towards nonviolent rebellion against it. Somewhat surprisingly, the Holy Bible turns out to be one of the best handbooks a rebel can read whether one be an atheist, an agnostic, or a believer.
If life is absurd, is there any reason to believe that tomorrow or the day after will be any different from yesterday or the day before, as in the movie Ground Hog Day starring Bill Murray? Even though no cosmic source of meaning has been revealed to us, we find ourselves drawn to Camus’s idea that the purpose of life is to die happy and that the path to a happy death leads straight to rebellion.
Therefore, rebél against the human condition and the Empire, live life to the fullest, and try to die happy by mindfully defining your personal legacy, which some call your soul.
But Rebél is not for everyone, particularly not the faint of heart, for it offers no spiritual elixir or magic potion to relieve our existential pain. It is neither a fire insurance policy against hell, nor a ticket to heaven. It is not a touchy-feely, self-help, feel-good, be-happy philosophy promising pie-in-the-sky to its adherents. Religious fundamentalists, pacifists, and those in search of a spiritual nirvana are not likely to be drawn to Rebél. Although it may not be what we learned in Sunday School, it surely beats nothingness.
Rebél is about the peaceful denunciation, demystification, and defiance of the tyranny of ciphers, which psychiatrist M. Scott Peck called people of the lie. Its radical imperative involves disengagement, decryption, decentralization, downsizing, and dissolution.
In the meantime,
Thomas H. Naylor
Copyright © 2009 Second Vermont Republic
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The Second Vermont Republic is a nonviolent citizens' network and think tank opposed to the tyranny of Corporate America and the U.S. government, and committed to the peaceful return of Vermont to its status as an independent republic and more broadly the dissolution of the Union.