Homo Americanus meets Homo Sovieticus

Derek Monroe
Derek Monroe is a writer/reporter and consultant based in Illinois, USA. He has reported on international and US foreign policy issues from Latin America, Poland, Japan, Iraq, Ukraine, Sri Lanka and India. His work appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus, Alternet, Truthout and Ohmynews, and has been published in over 20 countries.
Job seekers browse tables at a veterans' job fair in Burbank, Los Angeles, California (Reuters / Lucy Nicholson)
Last month the US TV network CBS premiered a new reality show, which is a milestone that has been largely missed by media critics worldwide.

It is called “The Briefcase” and the premise of the show is to use the desperation and guilt of the poor in what essentially amounts to economic “Hunger Games”. Each “lucky” recipient family gets $101,000 and they are tasked with making a decision to pay off their debts, buy clothes and feed themselves, or pass it onto another family whose circumstances are may be even more desperate than theirs.

Notwithstanding the perversity of this economic pornography that feeds on the hungry voyeurism of our national psyche, the head of the CBS network, Les Moonves, made $54 million last year alone turning the show into a statement beyond its ratings and TV status. Our society has now finally achieved the status of participatory plebs, able to put its thumbs up or down in the Colosseum of “personal responsibility”, while the poor are not us but a mystical and figurative OTHER.

The process of the internalization of corporate mentality into personal psyche, has been on the way since the 1970s, when the economist Milton Friedman’s school of economic insanity started setting a benchmark for new societal norms. It negated the existence of society as a necessary construct, as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher so famously pronounced: “There is no such thing as society.” This coincided with the economic deregulation of the financial industry leading to major bailouts in the now largely forgotten S & L crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, and internationally during the so-called Mexican Tequilla Crisis (bailout of US banking investments in that country). What followed was the final nail in the coffin of regulatory framework under Clinton, which elevated financial fraud and exploitation into a system that by the time of the 2008 crisis became an integral part of state machinery.

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The “too big to fail” system of parasitic existence enshrined the ruling elite’s dependence on a new political system that one could call a financial plantation republic. However, the trend coming from the top that leaves certain people beyond reproach has also migrated downwards as corporate employees realized the double tier of rules and laws can also bring a benefit for themselves, whether used for their own careerism, financial gain or pure personal satisfaction. Thus the system of bottom line short-termism has taken precedence over societal norms such as honesty, decency or even family.

Since 2000, I have been conducting an interesting experiment where I get a close up of American society at its most extreme. Anytime some corporate entity or business committed fraud or indulged in deceptive marketing practices, I would file a lawsuit in the 19th Judicial Court in Waukegan, IL and watch the response unfold.

The game, however, was not about money but an individual look at my own mental makeup and something of an apology. After filing over 70 lawsuits and litigating them in the past 14 years, I came to experience an amazing view of the societal layer cake, which chooses to transform itself from an unwitting and stupid pawn to an enthusiastically participatory mentality based on gladiatorial-like thirst for competition and winning. The principle of decency or basic ethics has become irrelevant as the winner’s syndrome takes over, even when ultimately it makes him or her lose in the end. The narrative of winning and not taking responsibility for one’s actions when above a certain income level, has created a binary system of individual psychopathic schizophrenia on a high level (the winners) and highly functional autism for the lower level (ordinary people i.e. losers).

Job seekers browse tables at a veterans' job fair in Burbank, Los Angeles, California (Reuters / Lucy Nicholson)

Everyone is supposed to play his/her role according to their station in life. It is based on an individual and not a societal environment reinforced by the all American myth of self-made man. However, if one has a willingness to progress upwards societally and economically, the pattern is already available for its emulation downwards. The illusion of power is a powerful substitute for meaningful existence especially when it wears a uniform. Recently, as my family was checking in for a flight, an American Airlines uniformed employee disrespected me and my wife in the front of my children. When I objected in a polite but firm manner, we were verbally attacked by an expletive-laced tirade as my children and other passengers watched. The supervisor was nowhere to be found so the situation was resolved by us moving away while nobody stepped in to defend us. When I reported the issue, about a week later I received a form letter reply that was followed by a call reading the same over the phone. It is obvious that American Airlines feels it doesn’t owe anything to anyone using its services. It also operates on the illusion of the power template that under close inspection not only defies logic but good business sense.

Basic ethics and morality are also excluded from the system as I recently experienced when I sent a package to NY by USPS. The two-day package was re-routed to a completely different location in Pennsylvania and took six days instead. At the end the contents were removed and when I reported the matter to USPS I was told to file for insurance as USPS wouldn’t investigate the matter. When I approached the USPS office of the postmaster general in Washington DC, nobody cared to comment on the matter or be available for assistance, which leads me to the conclusion that the post office is in the business of aiding and abetting theft.

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The social engineering project that is defacto our economy has taken a most insidious form: controlling access to education and the institutionalization of poverty as the most common characteristic of a neo-feudal class system. Since the financial circumstances of the majority of Americans are leaving them with enormous educational debts that have no chance of being repaid in a low wage environment, the squeeze is on at the other end as well. It is no coincidence that despite the alleged economic upturn, the Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is effectively planning to deconstruct America’s finest institution of public higher education by ushering in $250 million in cuts at the University of Wisconsin.

Concerning those in power, their control must be reinforced and nothing works better than the most elaborate system of propaganda and surveillance ever to exist. Ingeniously, all data gathered and stored guarantees that anybody’s innocent pranks and misdeeds can be used down the road of life, 10, 20, 30 years later, giving a new dimension to the cliché of who controls the past controls the future. However, it also allows the power to trickle down and be abused depending on circumstance and individual station in life, closing the perfect circle of never ending co-dependence. The genius of its design is also based on its own self-propelled economic dynamics as the larger part of the economy now depends on it. It is now relegated to a level of holy sacrament in the religion called Capitalism: the almighty GDP.

In the Soviet era of social engineering, the idea of new Soviet Man was created to reflect the new economic and political reality of revolutionary change, while discarding the baggage of peasant and religious superstition that dominated Tsarist Russia. The Soviet writer Aleksandr Zinoviyev has coined the phrase Homo Sovieticus as a sarcastic and critical reference to ordinary citizens of the time being subjected to a Frankenstein-like experimentation, which in the end turned on its master. In our times, the experiment has been resurrected, this time with the assistance of cutting edge technology in control, manipulation and propaganda. It also has the purpose of creating a new and improved version of the previous Soviet failure. Homo Americanus is the better fed, entertained, overworked, distracted and dressed up version of its poor cousin, but both will end up on the scrapheap of history fed on a steady diet of ideological HOPIUM for a better tomorrow that will never come.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.