International Forecaster Weekly

The Transformation of American Society

The gulf between those common sense ideals of Andy Griffith and the sad reality of the modern-day US government and the new NSA spying scandal is mind-boggling. What happened in the last 50 years to so fundamentally transform the ideals of a society?

James Corbett | June 12, 2013

You can learn a lot about what a society holds dear by the stories it tells itself. Take The Andy Griffith Show. Back in 1967 there was an episode called “The Tape Recorder” in which a suspected bank robber is caught in Mayberry and taken into custody. Opie and Arnold use their tape recorder to record a private conversation between the robber and his lawyer that proves that he robbed the bank, but when they try to tell Andy about what they heard, Andy tells them in no uncertain terms why he won't listen to the tape and why it must be destroyed:

            “You bugged a conversation between a lawyer and his client. Now that's violating one of the most sacred rights of privacy,” he chides his son while proceeding to erase the tape. Opie, exasperated, starts “But if it helps the law...” and Andy replies: “Opie, the law can't use this kind of help. Because whether a man is guilty or innocent, we have to find that out by due process of law.”

            Fast forward the better part of half a century and contrast that noble ideal with these words that just spewed from President Obama in his remarks on the NSA warrantless spying scandal:

            “I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” the president noted in a recent address on the scandal. “Were going to have to make some choices as a society.”

            The gulf between those common sense ideals of Andy Griffith and the sad reality of the modern-day US government and the new NSA spying scandal is mind-boggling. What happened in the last 50 years to so fundamentally transform the ideals of a society? Ideals that were once cherished as the defining characteristics of that society, ones that set it apart from its enemies?

            Now don't get me wrong. There's no need to be naive about these ideals. The US government has been violating the constitution and trampling on the bill of rights since virtually the inception of the country. The history of the US, like the history of every other country, is littered with the corpses of nice-sounding ideals, from false flag frame-ups to lead the nation into war to the persecution and even execution of political dissidents. But the point is that 50 years ago, America wanted to believe it was a nation of ideals, and many people did believe that. So what changed?

            It is said that one of the most effective ways to shatter someone's sense of self is to inflict violent trauma on them. Governments around the world have been experimenting with techniques to do this for decades, and this is the root of the torture techniques that have been in operation by the US throughout the age of the so-called “war on terror.” But what about the population of the United States themselves. Have they been subjected to this violent trauma in the past half century?

            The JFK assassination. MLK. RFK. Vietnam. Watergate. Iran-Contra. Enron and WorldCom. 9/11. The Iraq war. Lehman Brothers. It's hard not to see that last 50 years of American society as one nightmarish train of abuses inflicted on the American psyche.

            We are seeing the full effects of that abuse in society today. Not only has American society changed so drastically in the past several decades that its President can talk about breaking the most fundamental tenets of the Bill of Rights in a public address, but even the outrage at this remarkable turn of events has been systematically drummed out of the population.

Video on the web - Interview with Edward Snowden:

            Every once in a while, some new abuse will come along that is so flagrant, so unimaginable, so indefensible, that it causes some of that old sense of outrage to flare up amongst the population. Like the latest scandal regarding NSA spying, the public is still capable of recognizing the abuse when they see it, at least every once in a while.

            But that sense of outrage disappears so quickly. All the media has to do is tell the public that there's no reason to be angry, or that the government will take care of everything, or that the majority of the public are happy with the abuse, and soon the problem starts to be normalized, even forgotten.

            So how do we snap people out of this state of affairs? How do we show them the ideals that they used to once (claim to) hold dear, and steer society back in that direction? Perhaps it's only fitting that we take our cue from another fictional character, Howard Beale in the 1976 film, Network:

            “We know things are bad — worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore...I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot — I don't want you to write to your congressman, because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad. You've got to say: 'I'm a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!' So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”