I was driving home from work this evening (only a week left to go before I won't have to do that again!), and found myself stuck in a long, slow freeway traffic jam. I wanted to find out why the freeway was so slow, so I turned on the radio, hoping to hear some traffic news from KPOJ.
It wasn't quite the time for news, traffic and weather; like most news/talk stations nowadays, they only give you a smidgeon of news, and that only happens once every half hour. What I got instead was a bit of impassioned commentary from Randi Rhodes regarding the privatization of prisons in the United States. She also played an audio clip of the mother of a young teen sentenced to a juvenile camp by a Pennsylvania judge who was convicted this past February of accepting kickbacks from a private prison corporation operating in the state. Evidently the young teen killed himself as a result of his imprisonment, and so at the sentencing of the former judge, the young man's mother delivered a furious rant when she found out that the judge would remain free until his sentencing.
I found that I couldn't stand to listen to more than three minutes of this, and I shut the radio off and delivered a little soliloquy of my own. I was mad, all right – but for reasons which might not have occurred to Randi Rhodes.
It's not that I'm pleased by the commercialization and corruption of the American criminal justice system. Indeed, I've known about it for a few years now, as I wrote in posts such as “Money and Filthy Hands,” and “The Replacement of Petroleum Slaves,” to name a few. The American criminal justice system is a disgraceful evil whose purpose is increasingly to serve as yet another way of funneling the wealth and labor of poor people into the hands of the rich. Part of what made Randi Rhodes' show so hard to listen to is that it is painful to hear of the miscarriages of justice that are still going on in this country.
Now the fact that rich people profit from locking up youth without cause is nothing new. It was only recently elevated to national attention because of the increasing lockups of non-minority youth. But the minority community (in particular, the Black and Latino communities) have always had to deal with this. (See Color Of Justice and Justice for Some, for instance.) It seems, however, that problems of injustice don't really start to exist until they begin to be experienced by mainstream, apple-pie America. And that I find irritating.
But here's a yet more irritating thing. I admit that I didn't finish listening to Randi Rhodes, but I think I can guess how her commentary was structured: first, to inflame passion and anger among certain listeners with so-called “progressive” political views, then to make impassioned appeals to “work to try to change the system!” Why “work to change the system”? “Because we're all in this together, and we're under the system, so we gotta change it to make the system work better and more fairly!”
The truth is that the “system” under which all but the richest Americans live and operate can no longer be changed by ordinary people of small means. It is evil, predatory, sociopathic and unfair precisely because its masters are evil, predatory, sociopathic and unfair. Its masters are also very powerful. To me, it really seems that there's nothing we can do about this short of disengaging ourselves from the system.
This disengagement may seem like a small act, but it is the one thing we can do to weaken the system. Don't like American public education? Disengage from it. Don't like American for-profit health care? Learn to take care of yourself. Don't like the way most of us get our food? Create alternative means of feeding yourself. But don't tell the world what you're up to. Disengagement may well be the most effective act of sabotage any individual can commit.
You won't find that sort of solution discussed on KPOJ, “Portland's only progressive talk station!” If the KPOJ talking heads seriously discussed how people can disengage themselves from the predatory and corrupt systems under which they now live, Clear Channel would instantly pull the plug. Instead, we get impassioned talk designed to inflame us to go out and vote, or to support one political candidate over another, or "be ethical consumers," or in any of a number of other ways to continue to lend our support to a corrupt and failing system. And every fifteen minutes, there is a station break into which five or six commercials are jammed, telling us to go out and consume even more. Those talking heads who are good at what they do are able to keep their audiences hooked so that they soak up everything, including the commercials.
Meanwhile, the masters of commercialized, faux-progressive mass media in this country do their best to shift their audience base ever so slightly to the right, day by day. How many KPOJ talking heads supported NATO intervention in Libya? Why did Rachel Maddow ask a couple of years ago what the United States should be doing to make the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan “behave”? It seems sometimes that the main job of the faux-progressives is to turn genuine outrage into ineffectual channels that pose no threat to their real masters.