Re-post > MEDIUM: Nobody Can Help Americans Until They Learn to Help Themselves

by faithgibson on August 7, 2019

Re-post from online media service “Medium”

(Why) Nobody Can Help Americans Until They Learn to Help Themselves

Why America’s in a State of Social, Political, and Moral Paralysis


umair haque  umair haque .    Aug 3 ·
9 min read

I have to warn you — you won’t like this essay. You’re going to find it harsh, mean, maybe even unfair. So if you’re not in the mood for a little reality check — go read a nice book or something for a while.

I read recently that Americans were being forced to take dog insulin — because of course insulin for humans costs an astronomical amount — that’s how badly American society has broken down. Can you imagine what would happen in any other rich country if people were forced to take dog insulin? The cities would be shut down by mass protests. Life would grind to a halt. People would refuse to work. The government would fall.

But not in America. There, no matter what indignity people suffer, no matter how people are made to suffer, no matter how absurdly dystopian society becomes — life just goes on as usual.

On the same day, I read the following thing. In Hong Kong, mass protests against authoritarianism are using lasers to foil Chinese facial recognition. Do you see the irony a little bit? Here’s my point.

Nobody can help Americans until they learn to help themselves. What do I mean by that? That they should protest? Do the stuff above? Sure — but not just that.

They need to learn to see the world and themselves through a very different, far more realistic, empathic, and humane set of eyes.

They need to climb the hierarchy of social and moral action, which goes like this:

Saying the right thing, so you can do the right thing, individually, then collectively, which makes your leaders finally say the right thing, and then do the right thing.

In America, nobody seems able to this. The result of being unable to climb the moral hierarchy is a society left in a state of social and moral paralysis.

That’s America today.

Americans seem like helpless, baffled, spoiled little children these days — or maybe especially these days. They seem unable to help themselves in the most basic ways of all — even when their society’s collapsing around them. Let me explain what I mean.

Americans are unable to use the basic language or conceptual vocabulary of reality to describe what’s happening to their country. Those aren’t “detainment facilities” — those are concentration camps. That isn’t “racism”, when a head of state calls for the opposition to be deported — it’s authoritarianism.

What’s happening in America is obvious to the rest of the world — it’s a textbook fascist-authoritarian collapse, brought on by sudden, fresh middle class poverty.

But Americans are unable to see this, so they can’t say it. They can’t say any of the following words — fascism, authoritarianism, concentration camps, gulags, stasis, secret polices, gestapos, dictators.

Sure, you and I might [say this] around the dinner table. But this vocabulary is not part of the public sphere. The public sphere, public discourse, is premised on never saying these words — never encountering reality.

(You don’t have to use my words. Just use some words. Which don’t individualize the problem. It isn’t that “Trump is a racist.” It’s that America’s got profound problems with regressive, violent, and undemocratic social and political. movements and forces. Call them whatever you like — as long as history and reality approve.)

Now, at this point, the average American objects:

“what difference does it make what I call stuff?! Get real, dude!!”

Ah, my friend. It makes all the difference in the world. Remember the hierarchy of moral action? Saying the right thing frees us to do the right thing. If we don’t say the right thing — what can we do? What reason is there to do anything at all? So we end up powerless, unless, crucially, we begin by saying the right thing, and that’s why saying the right thing is the smallest way that you can ever help yourself.

Don’t believe me? Let me prove it.

What’s the result of Americans refusing to say the right thing? A bizarre, inane discourse of rhetorical questions. I can’t count the number of times I read Senators or pundits asking rhetorical questions on a daily basis.

  • “Hey, why is the President only putting BROWN kids in detainment facilities?”
  • “Hey, why does the Pres want money for MORE CAMPS?”
  • “Wait — how come the Prez loves WHITE SUPREMACISTS?!”

…. Because Americans can’t say the word fascism, speak the vocabulary of history — they’re reduced to asking these rhetorical questions.

What’s wrong with that? Everything. In case you haven’t noticed, the good guys are on the defensive, constantly, and the bad guys are on the offensive. That’s because when all the good guys can do is ask rhetorical questions — they’re impotent. …..

But the truth is they’ve disempowered themselves. They should be saying:

“America, these are fascists and authoritarians and tyrants. The kind we fought a world war against once. Is this who we’re becoming?”

That’s a real question. It galvanizes. It inspires. It horrifies and shocks. But that is the point. Reality in America today is horrific and shocking.

Why are we all dancing around the issue?


The consequence of Americans not being able to speak the vocabulary of collapse to describe what’s happened to their country is that their leaders don’t have to do it, either.

So nobody really asks:

“What the? Why are Americans taking dog insulin? What the hell is wrong with us?”

Instead, the Dems are bogged down in the minutia of healthcare policy. But that’s totally ineffectual. Nobody cares, except pundits. America’s problems are much, much bigger than that.

But because Americans refuse to speak the language of reality, they can hardly then make their leaders do it, too. But that’s exactly what Americans should be doing.

They should be on the cases of the Nancy Pelosis and the Jake Tappers and the Chris Hayeses of the world to get this right. Just get it right. Which begins with understanding what it is. They should be furiously remonstrating Nancy every day — “this is fascism! Call it what it is!


The result of Americans’ inability to pressure their leaders in even the smallest way — to even say the right thing, let alone do the right thing — is that American has become a society rife with denial, complicity, silence and impotent, useless rage.

You see, it’s true that Americans are angry. At Trump. But that anger is impotent. Ineffectual. If anything Trumpism thrives on it. Because it isn’t focused. It isn’t guided. It isn’t like a laser. It’s more like a bomb that sputters out in your very own face.

It doesn’t add up to anything because Americans won’t pressure any of their leaders to even say the right thing — so, again…who is going to bother doing the right thing? That anger leads nowhere, except more passivity, resignation, and weariness.

America’s anger is useless for a reason, and it teaches a lesson, if we are wise enough to hear it. Americans are powerless and helpless to stop the Trumps that they scorn and loathe precisely because they won’t use reality to describe what Trumpism really is. So who is going to able to stop anything? If you can’t say “this is fascism, those are concentration camps, these are authoritarians, this is a social collapse” — then why would the opposition bother fighting any of it?

The results of Americans’ inability to help themselves in the smallest way — the smallest, tiniest way, which is simply saying the right thing — are these (again, because I want to drive the point home, are these.) The political opposition is free to appease. The media is free to be in denial. The pundits are free to be enablers. The whole public sphere is largely complicit. A silent majority has emerged — which is a classic feature of collapsed societies, too.

Yet the most pernicious effect to me is this. American has become a kind of delusional country. The world looks on and sees camps, fascists, Nazis, violent men with armies and bombs, the 1930s repeating themselves.

Americans, on the other hand appear to see…nothing much at all. You might dispute that. But to see something we have to be able to conceptually label it, correct? Yet American don’t have a word for the bad guys. So what do they really see? What can they fight? What can they make their leaders oppose?

Hence, American life just keeps getting worse and worse, in more and more shocking and surreal ways. Human beings forced to have dog insulin. But they are the lucky ones. The unlucky ones are little children in cages who will never see their parents again. Is there a word for all this? Many words? A whole vocabulary of suffering that has happened before in history? .

…. says the American. “I’m special! My country can’t collapse into fascism!”

Reality winks out. The bad guys disappear. The good guys have no reason to fight what doesn’t exist.

But all this begins with Americans’ profound, bizarre, inability to help themselves.

… Just saying the right thing.

That is the smallest moral muscle there is — our voice. It is smaller than our arms and legs, which move us to protest. It is smaller than our hands, which can lift up whole worlds, when joined together. And yet American are incapable even of exercising the smallest moral muscle they have now. They can’t even say the right thing. So how can they ever do the right thing?

Hong Kong is literally using lasers to foil Chinese facial recognition. They know there will be a heavy price to pay. The tanks will roll in. The protest leaders will be tortured and jailed. But they are doing the right thing, anyways — because first they said the right thing — “you won’t take our freedom away!”

Americans, on the other hand, have little to lose. Nobody will jail them — at least the majority of them. Nobody will torture them. The stakes are low. Maybe too low. Maybe Americans don’t have enough left to lose anymore, to care. About helping themselves.

But the truth is that nobody will care about Americans until they learn to help themselves. And that means climbing the simple moral hierarchy of saying the right to doing the right thing, first individually, then collectively so that making your leaders say the right thing and then finally do the right thing.

None of that is happening in America. It’s somewhere between surreal, hilarious, disgusting, and bizarre — American ended up being the country that couldn’t even help itself. The result was — as ever — was social, moral, and political paralysis, in the face of ruin and collapse.

July 2019

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