How is domination maintained and extended? And how it can be interrupted? I became convinced a while back in this inquiry that a core activity of dominant elites, and cultures of domination generally, is to induce trance states. Recent, if increasingly tedious examples of trance induction include the government and media focus on 'weapons of mass destruction', 'war on terror', 'evil empires', evil-doers', and still commonplace, calling the invasion and occupation of Iraq a 'war'.
The trance states induced by such notions work by over-emphasising one simple idea while de-emphasising the complexity of the accompanying context, i.e. they bang on about one or two things and omit, avoid, or side-step ambivalence and contradiction.Trance propogation
The highly ritualised duelling of the last of the two presidential debates which featured Senator John Kerry trying to break trance-master President Bush's grip on current US politics, provided an especially sharp (and globally important) example of trancework.
At first sight, Kerry seemed to me likely to provide a more competent and safer pair of hands for the responsibilities of US governance, yet on reflection he resembled yet another wizard ritually duelling with trance inductions. How so? Each candidate loudly claimed that they inhabited the Christian faith trance, each, but especially Kerry, testified to one of the key culture of domination articles of faith in the US, that gun ownership is a natural and essential feature of being American.
There were moments when the trance seemed in danger of being broken, Kerry's reference to Cheney's gay daughter for example, used afterwards by right wing media as a handy distraction from the rest of what was being said.
The Presidential debates do seem to have helpfully equalised the contest between incumbent and challenger. And yet trance seizes us by the heart through omission, through neglect. It was only days later that I realised the striking omission in all three debates. Neither the candidates nor the moderators made any any mention of the events at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo. Was this because trials were under way? Perhaps. But this hasn't stopped extensive hearings in the US Congress. Both topics, along with Israel, seemed to have become taboo, ie trance breakers.
My guess is that both Bush and his 'opponent' Kerry as he kept calling him, did see both Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib as trance breakers. Bush wouldn't raise them because of the damage Abu Ghraib had done to his faith-based Christian righteousness and Kerry wouldn't either, because to win the election he was inviting the US population to buy into his own version of that very trance and would be even less able to return to the Geneva Conventions than Bush. Much less understandably, none of the moderators raised either issue.
What else was missing from the Presidential debates? The candidates had a lot to say about keeping America safe and thus by implication the seriousness of the danger facing it but where was the context of that safety? Where for example, was the UK's or Spain's experience of enduring and surviving violent dissent by the IRA and ETA? Does this really have no value or relevance whatever for the US today?A Terrorfied America
I look at the scale of vulnerability and fearfulness in the US and I see trance induction. The active propogation of fear by the Bush administration. Not even cynically, but arising from some activation of religiosity, a deeply felt 'fear of the Lord', a fear of retribution; ultimately a split off, denied 'Evil Other' that is felt to threaten American righteousness, 'The American Way of Life' and 'American Family Values'.
What next? Witch trials? Haven't we been here before? Joe Macarthy? Reds under the bed Communism? A nation simultaneously incomparably powerful and piteously vulnerable. Spellbound by a combination of religiosity and incompetent governance. How else can it be that the US, a nation 3000 miles wide, with almost 300 million people, the richest and technologically and creatively vibrant society the world has ever seen—is SO terrified?
Yes the trauma of 9/11 casts a deep shadow in the US, where the violence of invasion is unknown. But isn't the political exploitation of this understandable fear now the key reason why people have bought into an open-ended war on terror? Because curiously Americans seem not to be terrorised by 'normal' violent death. In the US in 2001: 43,987 deaths on the roads, 29,573 deaths by firearms, 30,622 suicides, (National Centre for Injury Prevention and Control). not to mention a prison population of 2 million. This is a key characteristic of trance in the sense that I mean it—losing sight of the context.A year after 9/11 Ariel Dorfman wrote an 'An open letter to America' that includes the following:
My hope for America: empathy, compassion, the capacity to imagine that you are not unique. Yes, America, if this dreadful destruction were only to teach you that your citizens and your dead are not the only ones who matter on this planet, if that experience were to lead you to wage a resolute war on the multiple terrors that haunt our already murderous new century.
An awakening, America.
Not to be. What did not happen.
Your country, hijacked. Your panic, used to take you on a journey of violence from which it is hard to return, the men at the controls not worried about crashing America into the world.
I share Ariel Dorfman's sadness, and his admiration, for the many things Anerican now being poisoned by the thrust of empire. I don't believe I am alone in feeling in the last couple of years more endangered by this terrified America than by the threat of Islamic fundamentalism. In their entrancing faith in the righteous violence of domination, the one seems the mirror of the other but the enormity of US wealth and power surely makes the spellbound state of its present administration incomparably more dangerous.