John Whitehead's Commentary
The Land of the Blind: The Illusion of Freedom in America
“How far does a man have to go to be thought so dangerous that he needs to be locked away, physically separated from the rest of the world, behind stone walls and iron bars? Clearly, it is a last resort.”—Joe, Land of the Blind
In the Wachowskis’ iconic 1999 film, The Matrix, the protagonist Neo is wakened from a lifelong slumber by Morpheus, a freedom fighter seeking to liberate humans from virtual slavery—a lifelong hibernation state—imposed by hyper-advanced artificial intelligence machines. With their minds plugged into a perfectly crafted virtual reality, few humans ever realize they are living in a dream world to such an extent that most are willing to give their lives in order to preserve the system that enslaves them.
Sound familiar? It should, because as I make clear in my new book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State (available on Amazon.com and in stores), we too are living in a fantasy world carefully crafted to resemble a representative democracy, while in reality we are little more than slaves in thrall to an authoritarian regime, with its constant surveillance, manufactured media spectacles, secret courts, inverted justice, and violent repression of dissent. And for the few who dare to challenge the status quo such as Edward Snowden, they are assured of being branded either as conspiratorialists, alarmists, lunatics or outright traitors.
Consider how quickly the government’s attack dogs went from defending the NSA’s warrantless mass surveillance of Americans’ phone calls to targeting and punishing any and all parties involved in the “leak” of sensitive information, including labeling Snowden a traitor, charging him with espionage and warning foreign governments against giving him refuge. Adding to the surreal drama, President Obama has begun preaching about the need for Americans to “trust” their government, insisting that the NSA’s surveillance is perfectly legal with no acknowledgment of the fact that the information leaked by Snowden shed much-needed light on government corruption, illicit programs and treachery on the part of our so-called representatives.
So well-oiled and interconnected are the cogs, wheels and gear shifts in our government machinery that it can be near to impossible to decipher where the fault lies when something goes awry. What some are slowly coming to realize, however, is that the mechanism itself has changed. Its purpose is no longer to keep our republic running smoothly. To the contrary, this particular contraption’s purpose is to keep the corporate police state in power. Thus, when hiccups, belches, whinges and jams arise, they are not being caused by the mechanism itself becoming faulty—its various parts are already a corrupt part of the whole. Rather, that’s the sound of someone jamming the mechanism and interrupting the smooth flow of the corporate state.
Just consider how insidious and incestuous the various “parts” of the mechanism have become.
Congress. Perhaps the most notorious offenders and most obvious culprits in the creation of the corporate-state, Congress has proven itself to be both inept and avaricious, oblivious champions of an authoritarian system that is systematically dismantling their constituents’ fundamental rights. Congress’ most grievous behavior, however, is its failure to bring the president to task, who for all intents and purposes now operates above the law. The precedent set during the Bush administration of Congressmen going along with senseless and illegal White House policies has turned the office of the president into an untouchable, unstoppable force.
The President. Despite having ridden into office on a wave of optimism and the promise of a new America free of civil liberties abuses, President Obama has proven to be a more effective manipulator of the American people than his predecessors. His presidency has been defined by “kill lists,” the murder of civilians in secret drone strikes, the assassination of American citizens, the continued operation of Guantanamo Bay, the championing of warrantless surveillance of American citizens, and most recently, the funneling of arms to al-Qaeda backed rebels in Syria.
The Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court—once the last refuge of justice, the one governmental body really capable of rolling back the slowly emerging tyranny enveloping America—has instead become the champion of the American police state, absolving government and corporate officials of their crimes while relentlessly punishing the average American for exercising his or her rights. Consider that in the past month alone, the justices have determined that criminal suspects, who are supposed to be treated as innocent until proven guilty, may have their DNA forcibly extracted from them by police. They have decided that staying silent while the police question you may be considered evidence of guilt, despite the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination and the well-established “right to remain silent.” Finally, the Court has decided that it operates in a zone in which First Amendment protections cease to exist, as they have unilaterally barred protests outside the Supreme Court building, countering a federal court decision that determined that activities on the Supreme Court grounds are protected by the First Amendment. These are just three examples of a Court that, like the rest of the government, places profit, security, and convenience above our basic rights.
The Media. Of course, this triumvirate of total control would be completely ineffective without a propaganda machine provided by the world’s largest corporations. Besides shoving drivel down our throats at every possible moment, the so-called news agencies which are supposed to act as bulwarks against government propaganda have instead become the mouthpieces of the state. One need only look at the media’s behavior post-9/11 to understand what I mean. From championing the invasion of Iraq based upon absolute fabrications, to the fanatic support of all surveillance state policies and the demonization of whistle blowers like Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning, the pundits which pollute our airwaves are at best court jesters and at worst propagandists for the false reality created by the American government.
The American People. Of course, the most superior engine in the world still requires some form of energy to bring it to life and maintain it, and in this particular mechanism, “we the people” serve that vital function. We are the petrol that powers the motor, for good or bad. We now belong to a permanent underclass in America. It doesn’t matter what you call us—chattel, slaves, worker bees, drones, it’s all the same—what matters is that we are expected to march in lockstep with and submit to the will of the state in all matters, public and private.
Through our complicity in matters large and small, we have allowed an out-of-control corporate-state apparatus to take over every element of American society. Our failure to remain informed about what is taking place in our government, to know and exercise our rights, to vocally protest, to demand accountability on the part of our government representatives, and at a minimum to care about the plight of our fellow Americans has been our downfall. Having allowed ourselves to descend into darkness, refusing to see what is really happening, happily trading the truth for false promises of security and freedom, we have allowed the police state to emerge and to flourish.
Having started with The Matrix, allow me to conclude with a woefully overlooked film, Land of the Blind (2006), a dark political satire in which tyrannical rulers are overthrown by new leaders who prove to be just as bad, if not worse. In the film, citizens perceived as questioning the state are sent to “re-education camps” where the state’s concept of reality is drummed into their heads. Joe, a prison guard, is so impressed with a political prisoner Thorne that he eventually joins a coup to unseat the present dictator and replace him with Thorne. Before long, however, Joe becomes the target of the new government and comes to realize that the old boss is the same as the new boss.
In an age of governmental doublespeak, media obfuscation, and insidious subterfuge on all sides, it can at times be hard to know who is working for whom, and which side the “good guys,” if there are any, are really on. When in doubt, just remember what Orwell had to say about the matter in Animal Farm: “Four legs good, two legs bad.”