Deep in the bowels of a Washington DC Think Tank, a recent college graduate—selected for her unquestioning and eager embrace of their cynical ideology—labors under the watchful eye of a well-connected political strategist, creating “talking points” for the evening news. The large corporations that so generously fund the Think Tank will pleased with this latest fiction, the strategist muses as he inserts her virulent words into his email and clicks “send”. He is confident that corporate contributions will flow as long as the propaganda flows.
Squeezed in a featureless cubicle in the middle of a sprawling over-lit newsroom, a young reporter is struggling to ensure his article conforms with the worldview of his boss’s bosses, leaders of a large corporation with billions in government defense contracts. His computer chimes. He retrieves the Think Tank”s “talking points” from his inbox and begins to read. If you want to get along, you gotta go along, he whispers to himself. He presses Command-Shift-C on his keyboard and proceeds to infect his own work with the diseased words.
Seated behind a desk on a cheap plastic office chair in a crowded suburban high school, an American history teacher bites her lip as she recites to her class from the authorized textbook. She must restrain herself from commenting on the narrow interpretations and overt omissions. No Child Left Behind dictates that her students must learn these fictions or her school will lose its federal funding. A bell rings and the students escape to the next class, where they will be infected with more fictions.
A 30-something copywriter in a major advertising agency rubs his eyes as he stares at his flickering computer screen. It is late and he wants to go home, but he must find some compelling reason for consumers to buy another drug, another game, another heavily processed food for which there is no true need. The packaging warns it may be harmful to the buyer’s health. He wonders if they mean a physical or psychological health, but dismisses the concern; there is no room for moral misgivings in the world of business. He touches his keyboard and continues to spread fiction.
Collapsing onto the sofa after a long commute home and an even longer day at the office, an exhausted middle-age couple turns on the TV and the husband begins to surf through the endless stream of violence, murder, and angry talking heads barking half-truths and Think Tank talking points. Numbed, the man reaches his favorite “reality” show and the couple settles in for an evening of fiction. Real reality is far too messy and complicated; they trust their Congressman to discern fact from fiction and vote in their best interest. That’s why they elected him.
Covering a phlegm-choked cough, a Congressman picks up his phone and dials the CEO of a large corporation to reassure him that their generous campaign contribution had paid off handsomely. A bill, written by the corporation”s lobbyists and submitted by the Congressman, had passed without question or comment. Its diseased language had been buried deep in an omnibus defense appropriations bill submitted for a vote late the previous night. The opposition was given a single hour to review the legislation before a vote was called. Not having time to read the bill and not wanting to appear weak on defense, the opposition party rubber-stamped the legislation, much to the pleasure of the Congressman. He was very good at transforming these fictions into cash, very good. He coughed again.
It is 8 pm and a poll worker closes the door of the polling place and turns the lock. Until a few minutes ago there had been a long line of people wanting to vote, but they had been turned away. Once again, peculiar problems with the voting machines had caused delays. Someone thought it might be a computer virus. These problems were compounded by an fraudulent mailing announcing a change in the polling place. Voters who traveled to the address discovered it belonged to an empty lot. And then there had been a large number of felons trying to vote again this year. Most denied any crime more serious than a parking ticket and demanded the right to vote, but the list of authorized voters supplied by the state clearly indicated they were felons. Although the head of the state’s elections board is a politician with ties to the private company that created the list, the state is certainly not in the business of tampering with elections, she assures herself.
A military band marches by at the Flag Day parade, snapping out crisp salutes to the procession of American flags waving bravely ahead of them in the early summer breeze. Young fathers instruct their children to place their right hand over their breast in a sign of solemn respect. Elderly veterans in VFW hats wipe tearing eyes as the band begins to play another rousing march on gleaming instruments. This is the best country in the world, we are reminded. We are the most blessed by God and the most free. We have such an abundance of freedom that we proudly export it to other countries, along with arms and cash to help compliant regimes put down insurrection and squash dissent among its citizens. So they can be free like us.
A mother cries as the body of her son is lowered into the grave. He was only nineteen and full of promise when he heard his nation calling and enlisted in the National Guard. He was quickly trained and armed with a rifle, a Vietnam-era flak jacket, and desert boots. His first letter home bore his pride and the conviction that he was bringing democracy and freedom to an oppressed and backward nation. He claimed the battle for hearts and minds would soon be won and he would return to a grateful nation a hero. His next letter confessed the indiscriminate killing, the fear, and the hatred of an entire culture. The conquered, he said, must accept freedom and democracy, even if it is at the point of a gun. There was no third letter. Only a knock on the door and a painfully short visit by two Marines who brought with them the few miserable effects of their son. Nothing of him was found after the car bombing. The father comforted his wife in her misery as he thought back to Vietnam, when a fiction had spread and killed 52,000 other sons.
An old and inconceivably wealthy man produces a weak cough without covering his mouth. He smiles in false apology then generously waves a carefully manicured hand over the captains of industry assembled in the rich, mahogany-lined boardroom. This has been a very good year, he reminds them. Corporate profits are up, labor costs continue their downward slide thanks to foreign workers flooding into the country. New opportunities are opening up in the cheap labor markets of China and India. In an era of dwindling resources we are quietly conquering countries that possess the cheap fuel and raw materials our voracious economic engine demands. Globalization is inevitable, irrefutable, irrepressible: it is like a virulent disease for which there is no cure. We have removed the few remaining obstacles to unimaginable wealth; gone are the regulations on the products we sell, the restrictions on which lands and workers we may exploit, and the inconvenient laws that stand in the way of our progress. At last, he proclaims, the markets are in command—and we are in command of the markets. We, who were destined to rule, will use our power to create an even an richer life. For ourselves. And those below us will be grateful as surplus droplets of our success trickle from our fingers and down into their bleating mouths.
The elderly waiter clearing the soiled gold-rimmed dinner plates of the well-satisfied men seated around the boardroom table dares not make eye contact with his betters, for he fears his thoughts will betray him. This must be a fiction, he thinks, for it is too terrible to be true. These men—these self-ordained rulers—would condemn us to feudalism. They will succeed if we do not act; history has proven this too many times. But when he shares his fears with the other waiters, they laugh and dismiss his concerns as the mutterings of a silly old man.
The old man, who has lived a very long time and seen much, is far from silly. He is one of many people who see the evil that is happening but judge themselves powerless to stop it. The old man knows that until Americans reject the fiction and discover a courage for the truth this nation shall be condemned to live as sheep in a society run by a pack of diseased wolves.
As his bare hand scrapes the slop from the rich men”s dirty dishes, he remembers something his mother once told him: You are what you eat: Swallow the fiction you are fed and your life will be yours no longer.
He sighs deeply. Perhaps today someone will speak the truth about this American “democracy”.