Conservatives have their Constitution. Progressives have their Narrative. The current battle for America is between these two concepts, and each side uses different rules to fight it.
One set of rules is consistent with an unchanging objective: limited government and individual freedoms. The other side's rules are as fickle as their goals, which are never fully disclosed beyond the equivocal references to fairness and hyphenated forms of justice. They will have to remain vague and deny their true allegiances until a time when American voters will no longer squirm at the word "socialism."
And yet spotting them isn't that hard. As a bird is known by his feathers, socialists are known by their Game.
First tried and mastered in the USSR, the Game has since been popularized around the world, assuming various forms, names, and colors -- from red to brown to green. It is now taking hold in the United States under the blue web banners of Obama's campaign infomercials.
The laws of society and human nature are such that socialism can only be achieved through a certain sequence of steps and manipulations. For instance, the only way to attain material equality is to confiscate someone's property and give it to others. That necessitates a centralized mechanism of coercion, redistribution, and control. Such a system gives extraordinary corrupting powers to a small centralized elite, while turning the rest of the citizenry into a compliant, obsequious herd.
All those who claimed they can do it differently were doomed to retrace the same path. Once you unleash the ancient powers of collectivism, you have only two options: control the human herd or be trampled underfoot.
Drawing blood is always an option, but there's also a "cleaner" way to control the crowds by manipulating their minds with the cattle prods of collectivist morals and a fictional narrative that supplants the reality.
Let's call it the Mind Game of Manipulative Illusions.
The Game existed since Cain and Abel, but it developed into an art form in the 20th century, with the rise of totalitarian regimes armed with state-controlled education, entertainment, and the media.
For a dictatorship to run efficiently, a sufficient number of people must give the regime a moral license to rule over them. The Mind Game of Manipulative Illusions secures and extends such a license.
Even the Soviet Communists, with all their tools of repression and fear, with all their power over anyone's life and death, were still pressed to play mind games to make the people feel good about the Party rule. Towards the end they went easy on the Game and relaxed their grip on the media, entertainment, and education, accepting the policies of Glasnost. Once they lost the ability to control people's hearts and minds, they also lost their moral license and, with it, the country.
The Game can mutate and adjust to different cultures, but its basic rules always remain as follows:
Socialism is not just about taking away your money; it's also about making you praise the takers as your saviors. You are expected to feel good about being robbed of opportunities, talents, and success. You must agree that "you didn't build that." There must be a popular consensus that the crumbs you are getting back from the government are a sign of caring and largess -- not a meager fraction of your actual earnings. Last but not least, you must sincerely believe that those who are trying to protect you from the thieves are really your enemies and deserve to be destroyed.
Building up and maintaining such an illusion on a massive scale requires participation of the media, education, and entertainment industries in a coordinated, long-term propaganda campaign.
Once the illusion reaches a critical mass, those afflicted by it become immune to facts, numbers, or rational arguments. Confronting them with logic will only cause more resentment, name-calling and, sometimes, violence.
The little game of illusions that President Obama is running under the name of "tax cuts for the middle class" is part of the larger Game; it contains all of the above elements.
The plan is to pass yet another extension of Bush's tax cuts - i.e., to keep the status quo for the most -while excluding families with a joint income of over $250,000. In plain speak, it's a tax hike. But calling things by their real names would be against the rules; this isn't how the Game is played.
This mass mailing from Obama's Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter shows us how to play it:
I hope you had a lovely holiday and all is well. I'm writing with a quick update on the "fiscal cliff" and how you can get involved.Listening to Obama now, one could have never guessed that these are the same "Bush's tax cuts," against which he had vigorously campaigned in the past -- just like one could have never learned from his previous speeches that the reviled "tax cuts for the rich" had been saving middle-class families as much as $2,200 a year.
Right now, President Obama is asking you to think about what $2,000 a year means to you and your family -- because Congress needs to hear it.
The Senate has passed a bill that stops taxes from going up for 98 percent of American families, and asks those who can afford it to pay a little more. If the House follows suit, President Obama is ready to sign it as soon as it hits his desk.
If they fail to do so, a typical middle-class family of four will see their taxes go up by $2,000 in just a few short weeks.
President Obama is asking Congress to do the right thing and act before the New Year, but he needs our help. We've got a good track record here: When we make our voices heard and urge Congress to take action -- whether it's about health care, student loans, Wall Street reform, or "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" -- they listen.
Watch this new video about the President's tax plan, and take a moment to share your story: What does $2,000 a year mean to you and your family?
Until recently, the $2,200 amount was treated as classified information, which the Administration and the compliant media deemed unfit for consumption by the unwashed masses. Now that Obama wins reelection and needs to postpone the economic disaster caused by his first term, he "declassifies" the previously subversive amount and parades it on My.BarackObama.com as a centerpiece of his new glorious campaign for the people.
Simply put, Obama first discredits his predecessor's idea, then steals it, bundles it with a job-killing tax hike, and rebrands it as his own benevolent gift to the toiling masses. Judging by responses on Obama's official blog, WhiteHouse.gov, andTwitter, many of his supporters believe they are actually getting something out of it -- but in reality they are about to lose what they have due to the resulting cutbacks, layoffs, and price increases.
As the Game goes on, just feeling good about the imaginary gift is no longer enough. You are expected to participate in spreading this Orwellian fantasy by haranguing Congress with demands of a tax hike while calling it a tax cut.
Join the herd and you will experience the collectivist sense of belonging, entitlement, and empowerment by engaging in quixotic class-struggle against the mythical windmills and all those mean-spirited capitalists who are conspiring to rob you of the rightful $2,200 disbursement. Forget the phrase "policies that got us into this mess"; these policies are now all about "doing the right thing."
You end up with a sincere belief that greedy corporations, Republicans, the Tea Party, and the rest of the profligates opposing Obama's policies are the perfidious enemy who deserves to be punished and purged.
If you're wondering what kind of ignorant, misinformed, and morally misguided fools would fall for this trick, look no further than Obama's most recent 56% job approval rating in the midst of a needlessly prolonged recession. The White House propagandist Stephanie Cutter knows her demographic and constructs simple phrases she believes they can understand. However, one question remains: if the Obama voters are the best and the brightest half of this nation, why does Ms. Cutter talk to them in the tone of a condescending kindergarten teacher?
The Game has a part for everyone, from top to bottom. As the top players obtain unprecedented powers, those at the bottom get high on the palliative illusion of safety and well-being.
That illusion is as powerful as it is addictive; a mere exposure to facts of life will cause the addict to writhe in agony. It is truly the Oxycontin for the masses. No presidential candidate can win on the promise of withdrawal; those who feel entitled to a pain-free existence will only vote for better and stronger illusions. The more the addiction spreads, the slimmer the chances of a realist ever occupying the White House again.
This can last for as long as there are enough productive taxpayers to support the habit. Once they also get hooked, stop working, or the system runs out of resources, expect a fearsome, excruciating withdrawal of epic proportions. Until then, keep rational arguments to yourself unless you crave losing friends and alienating people.
If you tell them that there is no such thing as a pain-free life, they'll think you are some sadistic fascist who thrives on pain and takes pleasure in hurting people.
The problem with that attitude is that pain is nature's way to warn us of danger. If it burns, don't touch it. If it hurts, don't repeat it. People who are born without an ability to feel pain are incapable of learning safe behaviors and are doomed to live a short life of bumps, burns, broken bones, and worse. A pain-free society would be even less viable.
The real choice, therefore, is between the occasional sharp pain of individual effort and the dull, permanent pain of collective misfortune, since redistributive economies always end in misery, shortages, and corruption. Western Europe's gradual introduction of socialism is directly proportional to its gradual economic and moral decline, as evidenced by violent riots in response to inevitable austerity measures.
In the U.S., the pain-free life will be even shorter if the country falls off a cliff.
When the painkillers become useless, The Game remedies it by directing the massive anger toward the opposition.
The perception of a relentless struggle with the opposition must be permanent and persuasive. Even in times of calm and prosperity the people must believe that the opposition is holding them hostage and only the firm, wise guidance of the People's Leader is saving them from imminent ruin. When the opponents are too few, too weak, and too disoriented to put up a real fight, their power and influence must be exaggerated.
The Game has its logic: for socialism to work, there has to be unanimity and compliance. Dissent leads to system malfunctions, causing hardship for all those in the care of the state. That effectively makes the dissenter a traitor and a public enemy. The need to suppress opposition necessitates a totalitarian form of government. While we aren't at that stage yet, the demonization of dissenters has already begun.
Until a time when the opposition can be eliminated completely, having opponents can still be useful: you can steal their ideas, take advantage of their desire to help the economy, and blame them for any of your own failures. In the meantime, certain rules must be followed to control the public opinion and, through it, the opposition itself.
Maintain the perception of being constantly under attack. Don't examine the opponents' beliefs, nor answer their arguments. Discredit any media channels that offer them a platform. Enforce the following media template: the opposition is evil, treasonous, unfathomable, and psychotic. They can't be reasoned with. They are inspired by fascism and financed by a conspiracy of shady oligarchs. Defame their donors. Whatever the mischief you're planning to pull off, accuse them of doing it first; then proceed as planned, describing your actions as a necessary intervention. And above all, ridicule, ridicule, ridicule!
Imagine a scenario in which a theoretical group of left-wing radicals takes over America by playing the Game as described; then answer this question: how would their actions be different from what Obama, the Democrat Party, and their allies are doing today?
The stated intentions and the feel-good, vague rhetoric are just words. If the result is the same, nothing else matters. We lose.
Oleg Atbashian, a writer and graphic artist from the former USSR, currently lives in Florida. He is the creator of ThePeoplesCube.com, a satirical website where he writes under the name of Red Square. He is also the author of Shakedown Socialism.