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Commentary Last Updated: Oct 26th, 2006 - 00:48:24

Selling Satan: Iraqi war dead and the collateral damage to America's soul
By Phil Rockstroh
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Oct 26, 2006, 00:46

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Headline (Reuters): "United States numb to Iraq troop deaths: experts"

"O Nature, and O soul of man! how far beyond all utterance are your linked analogies! not the smallest atom stirs or lives in matter, but has its cunning duplicate in mind." --Herman Melville, Moby Dick

All human beings have a talent for the denial of the more unpalatable aspects of ourselves, but we Americans have turned denial into a form of collective genius. There is no need to burn books, if the public is too ignorant to know they exist -- or too benumbed to resonate with their content.

Regarding the death of well over half-a-million Iraqis, the majority of the citizenry of the Corporatists States of America have experienced a comparable degree of regret and remorse that their oligarchic overlords experience when topping-off the tanks of their corporate jets with fuel purchased with money plundered from their employees' retirement accounts . . . Sans conscience above -- sans conscience below.

Dante posited Limbo (that quiet suburban community ringing Hell) was a place reserved for those who evinced indifference to the world around them. It would seem our corporate/consumer version of Damnation (which now includes Casual Fridays in Hell itself) requires prescriptions for anti-depressants, urine tests, and Reality Television competitions to enter its inner most circles.

As stated, human beings have always possessed an immense capacity for self-deception -- but, at present, we Americans can no longer afford stupid, naked monkey business as usual: The stakes are too damn high. When we, as a people, cannot or will not connect the needless deaths of well over half-a-million Iraqis with the oversized motor vehicles in our driveways, the situation has grown dire indeed.

How can we go on this way? At this point, a guilt-induced, collective nervous breakdown in the middle of our morning commute would seem to be in order.

By existing in this degree of denial, what have we conjured? What sort of a society do we call forth when our lives are as isolated, benumbed, inauthentic and devoid of conscience as they are at present? The answer is: We're living in the midst of it -- this hideous era of pervasive flimflam and permanent war. Call it the Haliburtonization of everyday life. Again, as above -- so below.

We live in a nation dominated by salesmanship (commercial, political, religious). Accordingly, the salesman's credo is: a facile mendacity trumps a stubborn truth -- because an honest mode of being would cause the buyer to become wary of the giddy lie of the pitch. Hence, complicity in its duplicity is what the corporate/consumer state demands of us.

The salesman's counterfeit smile is, of course, camouflage. Beneath it is hidden a face more closely resembling that quintessential corporatist and Halliburton-alumni-in-good-standing: Dick Cheney; his joyless, thin-lipped, psychopath's half grin is the true countenance of our death-enamored empire.

A salesman's repertoire of manipulative enthusiasm and sham amiability fronts the whole criminal enterprise. Is it any coincidence that Las Vegas and prisons are the fastest growing population centers in the United States? We've become a country comprised of clip-joints and jails -- a land of suckers and criminals -- with a cultural landscape peopled by corporate scam artists, congressional bagmen, and war criminals (hiding in plain sight in the highest offices of the land). It's a natural progression, due to the fact that capitalism has always depended on a predatory class of sociopaths, has always relied upon thievery and murder, and, therefore, needs an endless supply of suckers and victims.

Yet, most of us Americans are no one's victims. Any con artist worth his smarmy smile is aware of this fact: As a rule, a mark is made the victim of his own greed. Moreover -- by means of our complicity in allowing our identities to be molded by a culture dominated by proliferate propaganda, empty salesmanship, and our own lies of omission -- the fate of a hapless mark, bamboozled by self-inflicted selfishness, is the criteria we live out daily. Apropos, we're now condemned to shuffle through our lives as somnambulating ciphers, dim denizens of a world made manifest by mountebanks.

We should be cautioned. History reveals what a nation inflicts upon the world, its own people will, sooner or later, inflict upon each other. There is no need to warily scan the horizon for its arrival, because we're already living in the midst of the angst and emptiness we have wrought. Ergo, when dreams mean nothing -- when words and images are rendered meaningless -- our lives reflect these dismal states.

Words, images, and dreams are our internal analog of the vast, manifold, and incomprehensible sublime of the cosmos. When we dream, we are spiraling supernovas and spindling stalks of slime mold. We are schools of silent fish and we are the fulmination of thunder. We are uniquely ourselves; yet, we also contain all of existence. To lose our dreams is to lose our soul. Hence, to have the verities of our inner selves twisted and distorted towards the selfish ends of corporate capitalism and the dishonest agendas of mass media-driven political discourse is to become estranged from passion, empathy, and imagination; thereby, we grow inured to phrases such as preemptive war, collateral damage and acceptable losses -- expressions that we should find repellent, if not, flat-out mortifying.

If not, then it should follow that we should change the names of the civilian casualties of war, inscribed upon their respective tombstones, to simply read "Collateral Damage." Moreover, narratives of bereavement should sound something like this: "You see, when the bombs of the Preemptive Warriors fell on our home -- our child, now named, 'Collateral Damage,' was asleep in her crib, and she became 'our little Acceptable Loss.'" Now try this: See how the statement above sounds when you substitute the names of your loved-ones -- or even the names of your pets.

In opposition to empathy, the corporatist mode of being instructs us that human life, like material objects, exists merely to be used, used-up, then discarded; nature is to be subdued, exploited, and decimated; trees toppled, rivers dammed up, mountains ground down to silt, words degraded, attenuated, and stripped of meaning. Finally, they will come for us.

Instead, what if we were seized and shook by shamanic visions sent to us from an ensouled earth that had grown enraged by our ignorance and indifference towards its plight? What if these fantastic and terrifying narratives warned of dire events and augured destruction, in which, oceans rose, hurricanes churned, glaciers melted, the very young and the very old perished from extreme heat and cold, as clouds of pestilence descended upon the land?

Are these visions crackpot ravings or last summer's news and weather reports? What difference would it make whether these dire and dreadful circumstances are wrought by wrathful gods or global warming? The structure, plot, theme, and d´┐Żnouement are essentially the same: Hubris and ignorance transform nature (human and otherwise) into a force of blind destruction, thereby rendering arrogant folly rending tragedy. Whether engendered by gods, or memes, or molecules, suffering is suffering; untimely death is untimely death, regardless of the cause.

We Americans have numbed ourselves in order to be able to live with our complicity in the crimes of empire. We have carpet bombed our rational minds into oblivion by the belief in chimeras such as "smart bombs." Reason tells us: a truly smart bomb would be able to distinguish the innocent from the guilty. Therefore, for a smart bomb to exist, it would have to be a Frankenstein Monster Bomb, because, in order to exterminate the truly guilty, it would first have to kill its creators. Then it would go after the soulless bastards who ordered its use. Accordingly, smart bombs would be flying into Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld's front doors as thick and fast as moths toward a glowing porch light on a warm summer night.

Only a society of numbed-out, reality-adverse imbeciles could believe in the existence of smart bombs. In a related matter, recent public opinion surveys have revealed close to 70 percent of the population of the United States does not believe in the Theory of Evolution, yet believes that a mythological character called Satan is a literal entity.

How did this epic ignorance come to be? How did we leave the 21st Century and blunder back to the 14th? Maybe this type of hocus-pocus, hoodoo, and religious legerdemain is necessary to keep an increasingly angst-ridden, over-worked populace from rising from our enclosures in Hell (also known as cubicles and work stations) and demanding a system that offers greater depth, meaning and resonance than the one presently afforded under corporate hegemony.

Is this how we became so passive and benumbed, because the life we're offered and have accepted within the corporate/consumer paradigm is so limiting in its possibilities: it being a system that occludes and eventually destroys the natural world (both external and internal)? Is this the reason we have grown so dim, because our imaginations have been so deeply suppressed that our imaginings now rise as a living nightmare of literalization? Perhaps, Americans don't believe in evolution due to the fact we no longer believe that meaningful change can occur. And, perhaps, we believe in the literal existence of a soul-collecting Devil, because we know that we have lost our essential selves to a mysterious force that seems beyond our control. Having been seduced by the illusions of corporate capitalism (a false mythos that tantalizes us with promises of freedom but, instead, shackles us to exploitive labor and mind-numbing consumerism) we know we have made an ill-advised bargain with some dark force that has robbed us of our humanity. We know (maybe ineffably) that, here within the empire, our lives have lost an essential, soul-enhancing element.

It is possible we fear our souls are imperiled by the Devil, because, on some level of awareness, we grasp we have forsaken our ability to experience a life imbued by meaning, depth and resonance, due to our systematic suppression of those vital aspects of our character that are capable of imagining then creating a future containing greater possibilities than the shriveled pickings of the present.

We fear the licking flames of hell, I suspect, because we realize we have sold our souls at fire sale prices.

Phil Rockstroh, a self-described auto-didactic, gasbag monologist, is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at

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