Here's What's Wrong with America

February 9th, 2012
in Op Ed

by Guest Author Shah Gilani, Wall Street Insights & Indictments

Dear Reader,

So you really want to know what's wrong with America?

Okay, I'll tell you.

But you have to do me two favors.

First, I respectfully request that you put aside any preconceived notions you might have about my agenda.

I'll tell you right up front. My agenda is to get Americans to stop thinking the way they've been tricked into thinking.

You see, I used to have an ideology and strong political leanings.

Now my ideology conforms to the real world, as opposed to the tyranny of magical thinking, and my political leanings shift against the ill winds of stale rhetoric. In other words, I am a realist.

Second (and this is a huge favor), as you read this, pretend you don't have any ideology, any political leanings, or any opinions.

Okay, ready? Here it is.

Follow up:

What's wrong with America is that too many Americans don't think for themselves anymore.

Not that it's their fault. Most of us have been deluded. Not brainwashed... more like lobotomized.

We've been lied to, again and again and again. Lied to by self-righteous poseur Americans who want to divide us into believers and nonbelievers, free market capitalists and socialists, Republicans and Democrats, red states and blue states; because either you're an American or you're un-American.

They put it to you like this: You're either with "us" or against us.

Who are these ugly Americans that are lying to us and dividing us, and why are they doing it?

They are our leaders (and our would-be leaders). They are our legislators.

We have ceded the American spirit of democracy and free thinking to the government we created, and to sycophant wannabe politicians who pander to the partisan corners they push us into. We have become their pawns.

Why do they do it? For the power - the power to make money, lots and lots of money.

Why do we do it? We are fools and believe them. We don't believe in them, but too many of us believe what they want us to believe they stand for.

And that is the problem.

They don't stand for what you think they stand for. What's worse is, that means some of you may not stand for what you think you stand for.

We've been thrown.

Politicians are jujitsu masters, flipping their positions as they shake our hands and flip us on our backs, until we don't know which way is up and who stands for what.

That's how they like us - dazed and confused, and all riled-up and ready to kill each other for what we stand for, for their agendas, not ours.

Okay, now, here's where I'm going to need you to drop any ideology or political leanings you might have.

Let me show you how we've been flipped around by the jujitsu moves of both Democrats and Republicans, and why it's hard for anyone to think clearly on their own.

Almost 30 years of "conservative ascendancy" from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush got us to where we are today. (Stop right there. If you're thinking I'm going to bash Republicans and you're getting defensive, or you're thinking I'm going to bash Republicans and you're hoping I go on the offensive... you're wrong.)

It is what it is.

"Free Market"
deregulatory zeal stripped prudent regulations from the books of law that governed our history of capitalism.

I say "our history" because our particular regulations and laws only came into being in reaction to fraud and manipulation that exposed the darker side of self-aggrandizement in our system of free market capitalism.

It is what it is.

But here's the first "I got you," "No, I've got you," political jujitsu move.

A free-for-all bacchanal, replete with financial whores, ravaged the American economy by leveraging the largest field-bet ever: the American Dream, home ownership.

Everyone gorged themselves. There were no innocents.

And when we realized how the "system" we coveted had run amok, which we were all mostly responsible for, we cut short the ascendency of greed and voted "for change."

To be fair, I was a fool smitten with the notion that real change was possible, and I backed it.

Flip number one (in this jujitsu jamboree) was that, immediately upon the ascendancy of Barack Obama, Democrats started to act like Republicans by kow-towing to banks and big business.

Talk about change...

The truth about "change" in the Democratic Party is that Democrats have now gotten rich playing the game, and they kind of like that change in their fortunes.

The dilemma for Democrat leadership is how can they be the party for the people if they are no longer of the people? Well, as they say in Brooklyn, fugghetaboutit! Follow the money.

How else can anyone explain why a president with a worldwide mandate to fix the incredulously large hole in American financial services - which bled the entire (new) Old World like some leech-sucking medieval prescription - would choose to champion healthcare instead of immediately triaging the patient in intensive care?

The Republicans, for their part, want us to believe that utopian capitalism was mowed- down in its adolescence, and if we only double-down now, the Holy Trinity of deregulation, limited government, and free markets will make the rich richer and the poor less poor.

It's all about jobs, jobs, jobs, and jujitsu.

How else can Tea Party neophytes, waving the banner of conservative Republicanism, rail against bailouts, when their deregulated institutions buggered free markets, and cry rape even before new rules (which are nothing more than the old rules rewritten) deflower their moneymaking schemes?

How else could liberal Democrats have embraced Wall Street salesmen like Larry Summers, Ben Bernanke, and Tim Geithner in a "group hug" of change America can believe in?

Because... in this flipped-around world, the right becomes the left, and the left becomes the right.

And we're left on our backs trying to figure out which end is up.

It's about the synergy of profits and politics. It's about the money, stupid.

It's about us not realizing that politicians get rich by dividing us.

Absolutism is the only sure road to all or nothing. And there is no "all."

If you and I want to fix what's wrong with America, we can start by not being resolute about any politician's 100% all-or-nothing prescription for what ails us. We need to demand that our rhetoric-spewing so-called leaders compromise to build workable bridges across the divide that separates us from getting back to being America.

And if we can stop believing in our own self-righteous blind faith, maybe we can see for ourselves how we are part of the problem.

You're either with me or you're not... (That's a joke!)







Related Articles

Investing Blog articles by Shah Gilani


About the Author

Shah Gilani is the managing editor of Wall Street Insights & Indictments, a seasoned veteran of Wall Street and former hedge fund manager. During his career, he was a successful trader and held a seat on the Chicago Board of Exchange, gained knowledge from the desks of Lloyd's Bank and gained experience from New York and Boston investment banks and trading houses. For a free online subscription to Wall Street Insights & Indictments, please contact:

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  1. Frank Li (Member) Email says :

    Anybody, everybody can point out what's wrong. What's the solution?

  2. Derryl Hermanutz, Correspondent (Member) Email says :

    Unless you happen to be one of the plutocrats helping himself to the spoils of American republic-cum-empire, your power to participate in democratic "self-government" is almost certainly a sad delusion. Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud's nephew, was the godfather of 20th century manipulation of the mass mind, the creator of the profession of "public relations counsel" whose job it is to create "public opinion". Shah Gilani warns that "our" opinion is a jumbled confusion of lies we've been told by our opinion leaders. In his books Bernays lays bare the psychological and media machinery by which those lies and that confusion are generated.

    Stuart Ewen, a modern authority on the subject of spin, advertising and other forms of mass mind manipulation, wrote the introduction to a recent reprinting of Bernays' seminal 1923 book, Crystallizing Public Opinion. In 1990 Ewen interviewed a still very sharp Bernays who was then nearly 100 years old (Bernays died in 1995). Ewen writes,

    “Throughout the interview Bernays expressed an unabashedly hierarchical view of society. Repeatedly, he maintained that, while most people respond to their world instinctively, without thought, there exist an ‘intelligent few’ who have been charged with the responsibility of contemplating and influencing the tide of history.”

    Any student of political philosophy will recognize Plato’s “philosopher-kings” in Bernays’ “intelligent few”. In “The Republic” Plato, like Bernays, unabashedly advocates manipulation of the minds of the reactionary herd by the rational rulers. Indeed, the rational few must be compelled to take their proper place as rulers, and subterfuge will certainly be necessary to correctly “order” the minds of people and the structures of society. Aside from the few manipulators/opinion makers at the top of the food chain, it is doubtful that we have ever had truly ‘democratic’ government “by” the people. The people’s ‘facts’ and opinions, upon which they base their democratic choices, are fed to the people, not thought up by the people.

    “Democracy” is a struggle among competing elite factions to install their particular propaganda in the mass mind in order to advance their private agenda. We are a vehicle for moving forward ideas that are installed in us by others. We are not the drivers of our public opinions. We are the trucks and cars and boats and planes who transport those ideas around and deliver them to each other. It “feels like” we are driving and we “believe” we are driving, but the real drivers are the behind-the-scenes manipulators who are driving “us”. We never see or hear about the real drivers.

    Observe, for example, recent Tea Partiers, who began with outrage at Wall St-Washington plutocracy, and whose rage and energy has subsequently been turned by billionaire think tanks to support the plutocrat agenda of de-regulating corporations, de-taxing wealth, and de-criminalizing kleptocracy. Once government has been stripped of all its governing functions and drowned in a bathtub, who do the brainwashed Tea Partiers think is going to rule them? The “free market”? Earth to Tea Party: Who do you think “drives” the ‘free’ market? The hand may be “invisible”, but it’s attached to the arm of a plutocrat.

    Ewen writes,

    “Born into privilege, developing into a technocrat, Bernays’ biography illustrates the onus that the twentieth century had placed on social and economic elites; they have to justify themselves continually to a public whose hearts and minds now bear the ideals of democracy.

    …Crystallizing Public Opinion was Bernays’ response to changes that had taken place in American society in the decades preceding its publication. Bernays wrote of the extent to which upper class Americans who had formerly ‘stood aloof from the general public and were able to say “the public be damned”,’ had come to recognize that such open contempt wasn’t playing well in Peoria, or anywhere else. Social unrest, and widespread anti-business activism were its most visible consequences. ‘The willingness to spend thousands of dollars {NB: 1920s dollars} in obtaining professional advice on how best to present one’s views or products to a public is based on this fact.’”

    Ewen writes of one of Bernays’ predecessors, Gustave Le Bon, quoting from Le Bon’s 1895, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind,

    “Le Bon was less concerned with public opinion than he was with the rapid growth of democratic movements, and the threat they posed to the established hierarchies of power. In his book, he proposed to offer a diagnostic anatomy of the mind of the masses, believing that a ‘knowledge of the psychology of crowds is today the last resource of the statesman….’ While Le Bon’s book offered little in the way of practical advice, his general estimation of the popular mind—that it was driven not by reason, but by illogical and primitive instinctual forces---would profoundly influence subsequent engineers of consent for decades to come.

    ‘Crowds have always undergone the influence of illusions,’ he wrote, ‘Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master. Whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.’

    For Le Bon, to exert control over the social order in a democratic age a ‘small intellectual aristocracy’, adept in the application of mass psychology, is essential.”

    The opinion of the “intellectual aristocracy”, the brainwashers and propagandists of the herd mind, is unanimous. The herd is intellectually incapable of self-rule. Far from living in a ‘democracy’ where “the people’s” interests provide the basis for government policy and public opinion, it appears that we live in something more closely approximating The Matrix. All of our information, all of our public opinions, are carefully created by our rulers to elicit the desired reactions and responses from us. We are ‘free’ to have our own opinion, only because “our” opinions are really “their” opinions, the ones they manipulated us into believing.

    In his 1996 book, Post-Intellectualism and the Decline of Democracy: The Failure of Reason and Responsibility in the Twentieth Century, Donald Wood laments that we may be losing the intellectual and aptitudinal wherewithal that makes democracy possible. But if in fact we had been applying our intellects to information that had been selectively fed to us, then all we are really losing now is the illusion that we once made up our own minds based on “the facts”. Who provides the facts, decides the issues, beforehand. Control of information, manipulation of the message, “creates” public opinions, no matter how rationally or irrationally we lowly herd creatures process that information.

    We are ruled by the same old powers who have always ruled this Earth. The only difference in the 20th century is that they now find it expedient to brainwash us into agreeing with what they are doing, rather than merely doing it as overt exercise of their power and “the public be damned”. Unfortunately for the rulers, “the public” is now in possession of an independent mass media, the Internet, where millions of us can lift the skirts of the rulers and report that we see something grossly different than what we expected to find. Certainly something very unlike what they told us was under there.



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