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BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform

Lloyd Blankfein and Gary Cohen, CEO and President of Goldman SachsKip Lynch, Iraq war soldier, AlaskaLynch and family he killed along with himself, victims of PTSDQuilt, Harriet Powers, circa 1890

Glacier Park, MontanaRoute 3, Montcoal, W. Va.Butte, Mt., Lynn Weaver

Rare earth mine, CaliforniaUS-Mexican borderNear Douglas, ArizonaBarber shop, MichiganForeclosure eviction, MilwaukeeOilfield, western North DakotaWindmill blade manufacturing, Newton, IowaDillon Panthers, Austin, TexasBargirl, NYCPassage, painting by Stephen LackGulf of Mexico, BP platform

America, once, held out a promissory note stating:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

While it can easily be argued that this promise was from the outset fraudulent, in, for example, not including among its “men” the native inhabitants of North America, nor women, nor black people, or in being the construct of a slim minority of wealthy men who designed their formula for government to lean towards their benefit at the cost of others (one had to own land to vote back then), the promise nevertheless was given, and many in time took it to be genuine, and in steps it seemed the nation thus founded moved stumbling towards its original stated aims.

Today this promise seems, though, ever more questionable. The nature of our modern technological society, based on a capitalist economic system which didn’t really exist in our founder’s time, and a radically altered change of “shared values” seem to challenge it daily, in manners both obvious and near-invisible.  Life itself is challenged with the vast output of our society, which blindly produces things with no real accounting as to their impact on our very lives and the small globe we live upon. This very moment a river of toxins flows into the Gulf of Mexico, owing to the profit-minded practices of a giant corporation, which in collusion with a manipulated government, chose not to install a half-million dollar device which might have prevented the BP Deepwater Horizon well blow-out.  The price which this “accident” will incur is at present incalculable, and will never be meaningfully measured in that standard American yard-stick, the dollar.

The corruptions which led to this incident run like gold veins now throughout our entire culture – a corruption broadcast by radio and television in the fraudulent “news” that passes off propaganda as “truth” no less than did the old Soviet Pravda, which meant “truth.”  It runs through the highest institution of our “justice” system, the Supreme Court, which some months ago ruled that corporations have the same rights (if not the same responsibilities) as people, in a craven ruling which signaled that our political system has been completely purchased by the powers of business and wealth.  It runs through the common shared discourse of the nation in which the facile poisons of fame and celebrity are taken as virtues, and the squalid matters of movie stars and pop singers are of greater import for many citizens than are the chronic wars which eat as a cancer at our society.  It runs through the compliant participants who long ago forgot the originating impulse of our nation: no taxation without representation.  These days, the most represented – the corporations which now own the political structure and govern in their interests – pay the least in taxes, and those with no representation, the common citizens, are taxed proportionate to their incomes far higher than the richest.  So far have the founding structures of our social contract collapsed.

The fractious response to these ruptures is seen in the Tea-party, in the profound and deep alienation to be seen across our narrowed political spectrum, in whichever language it is spoken.  Our politicians seem like the embalmed figures of the late Soviet Union, sporting their emblems, caught in a turgid and dead language, speaking in the circular echo-chamber of their own dumb blindness.  Our American version is little different, and there is little reason to think that we will fare other than that imagined monolithic “union” did.  Our future is dissolution, the consequence of a terminal corruption of the commonweal which once, for a while, seemingly held us together.

Of course, from the very outset, it was all an illusion.


For further images from Stephen Lack, see his website.

9 Comments

  1. Jon it seems that you and I may be kindred spirits. Your commentary about the United States on this blog, reflect much of what I’ve been writing about Greece here: http://www.facingathens.wordpress.com . I was glad to see your comment about corruption in The Times and I thought that American Pastoral #11 was powerful. – George

    • Hi I’m reading your blog now, and quite nicely done and interesting. I’ll continue until I catch, shall we say, behind. I started from the one on top and am going backwards. A Norwegian friend of mine and his French wife lived there – forget the island – the last 6 or 8 months, though they’ve now gone to France. He wrote that the last months were not very nice, with a good bit of hostility being directed there way by the locals. I guess it makes sense.
      My time in Greece was in 1964, and had some interesting adventures, from sleeping on mountain in Athens with apartment buildings looming across the way; having my hidden rucksac in same place stolen during day, meeting young American kid who knew things one wouldn’t expect such a kid to know, and I ended up going to his home, meeting his mother, and finding out his father was likely a CIA agent. Fun. Before that, with a young English friend went to Crete and spent a few weeks living in little village on sea, living in my mind like a king (eating once a day, having cafe, ouzo etc for $1 a day, sleeping on beach.) Great experience. I think 12 or so years ago was there for film festival in Thessolonika, but only three days.
      My wife, Italian, and I are shopping for a less-expensive place to move in a few years. I’d take SE Asia or S America, but she’d like to be closer to family in southern Italy. Deflation in Greece make it look possible. Wait and see. best and we keep in touch jon

    • Just a little PS – just read your NY Times item, and very nice writing and thoughts/feeling.

  2. Nowadays it seems difficult to come across an uncontaminated government, or perhaps this has always been the case. I’ve lived in Lebanon and Liberia, though at a young age, both of which oozed and continue to ooze corruption. But, then again, most countries, unlike the US do not embellish their current status/condition with a “dead language.” It’s quite eerie to see the masses accept/ignore dead rhetoric in favour of a sheltered life.
    It’s complex and I really wonder what would be a plausible solution to undermining a capitalistic economic system? To pull the rug from underneath giant corporations?
    In short, all I wanted to say is that I find your writing and photography so satisfying, and of course inspiring. :)

    • Thanks. Little note: while some of the fotos are indeed mine, most are selected either from friends (Pleasure of Friends ones) or, mostly, from rummaging the internet. Let’s say I like to make collages of images and thoughts and hope they bounce off one another, one filling in what the other cannot, but together they add up to more than writing and more than pictures. Kind of a surrogate cinema-making for me. Best and glad you like. Jon

  3. This is a good blog, and this post is a very good one that I agree with. But it fills me with sadness.

    Today the entire political Left has long since been terribly compromised by having had Communism develop like a smelly cancer off at one extreme end of it, and now, it seems, in Europe by fear that marketeers will get mad at countries that follow a humane leftist course.

    Leftist / social democratic ideas, class counsciousness, and worker solidarity were the only things that ever developed the power to blunt the political power of The Owners’ money–for a while. Now globalization and, in the USA at least, relentless right-wing propaganda, have crippled those forces. I can’t help feeling that now The Owners have won completely in the USA.

    I don’t think they’ve won for more than a few generations, though. Prevailing ideas change quickly in every advanced country these days. But for the life of me I can’t imagine what ideology, movement, or worldview could ever become widespread and strong enough to result in such political uphevals as would succeed in curtailing The Owners’ power.

    I started being a Leftist way back in the 1960s. Coming from a poor family and being rebellious by nature, it was a natural. My youth was toward the end of the long Democratic ascendancy, and I had a confident belief that gradually during my lifetime the USA would become imbued with social democratic ideas–as much of Europe is now. For some dumb reason–maybe because I was living in free-thinking New York City at the time–I had no doubt of this.

    Well, The Young are often dumb, so I don’t feel like the Lone Ranger. My awareness of the absolute mutability of human experience also underlies my current conviction that eventually good change will come.

    But one truth is inescapable: Because I am 61, and the Owners’ power is now so absolute, whatever movement turns out to be strong enough to successfully oppose them, I won’t be around to see its struggle, let alone its possible victory.

  4. Hi Jon. I don’t quite know how I found your blog, but I really enjoy it…particularly the pictures. They really do bounce off each other and fill in the imaginative blanks. I respect your perspective on the U.S. mindset. I am one of the whiners that feels that I am entitled to a decent life. A friend of mine has chided me, however, and told me that the solution for the U.S. citizen is to become better educated and work harder. I hope that there is a way to convince the current generation of the need for this.

    • Well, I am glad you like it, and find the use of pictures as I intend – that they play off each other (and the texts) in a manner I guess I would consider cinematic. That’s what I am trying for anyway. Better, since I find a lot of my usual film-making time/energies seem now to go into these blogs. A “decent life” is a relative thing – we’ll be going to India for a few weeks for the Kolkata film festival and what they consider a decent life is rather a different story… best jon

  5. The prescribed solution in the USA for all economic difficulty is to work harder. We are already, in terms of days worked per year, the hardest-working nation in the world.

    No-one even grants the value or respectability of wanting to live more fully instead. Here we are expected to live to work–and we mostly buy that. In Europe, as I understand it, they work to live. I find that much more rational.

    But it takes social democracy to make the European way work, and we are debarred from having that here.

    I believe that the social arrangements of 1st world countries should not be compared with those of 3d world countries. That way, the 1st world country–in this case the USA–always wins, no matter how increasingly wretched the condition of its working people is.

    Nightman1


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