This morning is Black Friday, the day that the profits of the retail community are said to run in the black, where some retailers open at 4 AM with droves of customers already waiting in line to take advantage of the sale prices. However, if the word “black” also connotes darkness, obscurity, loss of transparency (as in “blackout”) or absolute secrecy (as in “black budget” or “black-ops”) or loss of a future (as in “the future looks black”), then it may be that our entire season should be labeled “black” and that the sun tomorrow morning will not bring light, translucency, and a new day.
The three most pervasive dimensions of our society operate in the dark, outside of the light of transparency and the integrity that might be thrown upon them by democratic awareness and oversight. The first is government, which is no longer of the people, by the people, and for the people. The lion’s share of government today is secret from the people, and much of it secret from the people’s elected representatives in Congress. The spurious idea of a “war on terror” with elusive, indefinable enemies everywhere and no possible date of victory and restoration of peace, has led us into the darkness of governmental tyranny and secrecy, with corresponding corruption our democratic traditions.
The Pentagon’s “black budget” for 2010 tops 56 billion dollars, and funds “black-ops,” in other words, secret wars, secret surveillance, secret assassinations, secret alliances (often with criminal elements), secret bases, and secret torture centers. Secrecy breeds corruption. It brings out the worst in human nature: torture, assassination, murder, greed, lawlessness, and lust. What operates in secret from the people destroys democracy and the rights and freedoms of the people, what we see all about us today in the loss of our personal dignity (as in our airports), loss of our right to security of person, loss of habeas corpus, and loss of our rights to freedom of association.
Yet the “black budget” is only the tip of the secrecy iceberg. A recent two year investigation by the Washington Post found that since 911 our government has created an immense secret government inside itself that includes “some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States” (http://projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america/articles/). Democracy cannot survive darkness. Citizens cannot effectively participate in their civic duties of voting, governance, and democratic control of their society when they lack the necessary information and understanding of what is going on. Darkness breeds tyranny, and, as Chalmers Johnson maintained in his book Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic. He states there that it may be too late, that we may already have passed the point of no return from republic to tyranny.
The darkness of our times, however, is compounded by the economic secrecy of big business and corporate domination of government, employment, insurance, and commerce – essentially the entire framework of our modern lives. Since corporations are legally considered “private persons,” what goes on in their executive meetings is hidden from view – both from citizens and from the government that supposedly is there to protect citizens and the common good. Like the secret government of the U.S., they command virtually unlimited control over vast sums of money to be used at their discretion for creating even more vast sums of money in the form of profits. Human beings cannot but be victims of this system of vast unaccountable wealth and secrecy: from destruction of the environment into which they externalize their costs to the third world victims whom they exploit in horrible sweatshops to the shoddy products designed to break with days after expiration of the warranty.
The 2010 Supreme Court decision known as “Citizens United” has now overthrown all restraints on corporate interference in the political process: the buying of political influence, elections, candidates, and putting our government effectively for sale to the highest bidder. Elected representatives no longer even hide the fact that big money determines their policies. According to news sources, Pennsylvania governor-elect Tom Corbett has openly composed his transition team of individuals who made contributions of more than $1.5 million to his campaign.
(http://www.lehighvalleyindependent.com/2010/11/tom-corbetts-government-for-sale-to.html) Corporate contributions to campaigns can even remain secret, so that the voters do not even know the sources of the campaign funds of the candidates whose qualifications they are supposed to evaluate.
Darkness descends over the political process just as it has descended over government operations. Black Friday is black indeed, since any control we the people might want to assert over our future appears to have been effectively blacked out. But what of our universities, the third major institution of our society, and traditionally thought of as bastions of independent thought, investigation, pursuit of truth, and therefore light? But a university is first a foremost a product of the society within which it is embedded. Embedded in a free society, a university can be a beacon of light. Embedded in a totalitarian society, a university’s mission is to transmit the darkness.
Today, the economics, political science, and business colleges of universities sing the praises of unfettered capitalism to new generations of students. Today, nearly every university gratefully prostitutes itself to corporate money and to the largess of military recruiting, ROTC programs on campus, complicity with secret “homeland security” programs, and Patriot Act enforcement. The darkness of the Pentagon and the hidden deceits of corporate strategies today inform the very structure of university campuses. The classroom becomes a vehicle for brainwashing future generations into the dogmatic ideologies of the dominant forces in society. As little light emanates from today’s classrooms as from today’s boardrooms or today’s “strategic operations” rooms.
Many of those who “shop till they drop” on Black Friday are shopping for Christmas gifts for family and friends. Many of them bemoan the fact that Christmas has lost its true meaning within the darkness of commercial culture. The original revelation, as the Gospel of John reports, came to humanity “to bear witness to the light. . . .The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.” Could it be that the darkness and corruption we have allowed to descend upon us have a Satanic dimension?
Could it be that the darkness of our government and the corporations that dominate our lives operate in deep violation of the “light that enlightens every man”? Could it be that truth itself is dying – in the way we govern ourselves, in the way we satisfy our economic needs, and even in the ways that we gather and transmit knowledge to future generations? Could it be that Black Friday, black government, black corporate domination, and black institutions of higher learning translate into a very possible black future for us all – a future of evil, corruption, and the perversion of our true human destiny? Glen T. Martin is Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Radford University and Chairperson of the RU Program in Peace Studies.