Now less than ever

PHOTO: Brunna Peretti Loureiro, Flickr CC-BY-NC-SA
Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

It’s hard to watch TV these days. It’s not just that American society seems locked in death struggle over the existence of objective reality. (Though, that’s certainly not helping). No, the more persistent annoyances are the growing heaps of advertising cliches.

And there’s one phrase that seems to have scummed on the surface of the media vat: “Now more than ever.”

During COVID-19, “now more than ever” can rationalize anything from the purchase of a processed snack food to a lease on a new pickup truck. It might be used to encourage donations to a charitable organization or pick up a party brick of Busch Light. Whatever you want! Now! More than ever!

Ad writers know that “now more than ever” ties to Aristotle’s concept of ethos — an appeal to character. The idea is that even in hard times we retain a firm grip on the values that unite us. Remember, no matter how bad it gets we should still buy stuff we probably don’t need.

All this got me thinking. Sure, maybe buying stupid stuff is what unites us. It might even be the basis of our economic recovery. But why don’t we reverse that phrase? After all, we’ve been under a stay-at-home order for two months. What is true now, less than ever?

Let’s try it out.

Now less than ever, a one-second squirt of tepid Wal-Mart water counts as adequate hand washing.

Tight pants make you feel sexy.

Now, less than ever, the internet is a sign of human progress.

Butter is a sometimes food.

Children need to be told to stop licking things.

Now, less than ever, willful ignorance disqualifies you from offering medical advice to strangers.

Public health policy is free of partisan politics.

And now, even less than ever, easing the suffering of the sick, impoverished, and frightened people of this world outweighs personal pleasure and the spiting of our political enemies.

Now, I originally meant for these to be funny, but frankly I just can’t. What’s happening in our community, on social media, and in our political system is not funny, normal, or sustainable. When you flip the phrase “now more than ever” around you realize that we have choices. We decide what matters more — now.

So the real question is this. Who are we? I don’t think we know that yet. “We” hasn’t had a good run in American life these past few decades. “We” are a collection of aggrieved groups.

Now, if you look at history, that’s actually a fairly normal state of affairs in America. But since the turn of the 21st Century, these aggrieved groups’ list of complaints increasingly includes the existence of other aggrieved groups.

It’s as though we’re all in a long line at the grocery store and finding ways to hate the people ahead of us. Either we imagine they think they’re better than us or we don’t think they deserve to be there. You can put all of humankind into one of these categories if you work at it.

We’re paying for four decades of American deindustrialization, automation, and unchecked corporate power over the quality of our lives. We are dealing with social and economic change they’ll talk about in history books, not just political talk shows. The virus, yes, but much more than that.

However we have to do it, whatever story we have to tell ourselves, we have to get America to “we.” That really does matter now more than ever.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and is the creator of the Great Northern Radio Show which aired for eight years on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, May 24, 2020 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.



  1. Chris Freeman says

    You do realize that there is an entire political party that will never allow America to get to “we”, do you not?

  2. joe miusich says

    I am reading a “history” book right now. It is about the publisher Lev Gleason. Mostly telling story about how he and others were destroyed by the forces of corruption in this country. The same tactics were used in the 40’s and 50’s as now. Innuendo, blaming the victim, and character assassination. So the we is a fine aspiration that I also endear, but that being said the money is not on the side of we. And I am not talking about the betting odds although those too. The hurtles maybe higher then ever with laws in place and being redefined as we speak to quash progress. There may not be a stone on the playing field for David to pick up. The money is running out to battle in the courts and the people on thr beaches have sold out. Power now control the gop but that could change in a heartbeat is power need it to. You can take this down for it’s very harsh but let me share these words of a very well known comicbook writer from his facebook page …
    Howard Victor Chaykin
    May 17 at 6:22 PM ·
    Even a casual reading of US history for the first three decades after the end of the Second World War indicates just how those years must have scared the living shit out of the mostly invisible oligarchic classes who’ve owned the United States of America since its invention.
    Postwar cynical ennui, the Beats, the nihilist rejection of faith in the face of potential nuclear destruction, the Counter Culture, Black Liberation, First Wave Feminism, Gay Liberation…
    …I mean, fuck, what’s a deeply private, allegedly nonexistent ruling class to do?
    Certainly, commodification of these various nonconformities succeeded to varying degrees, but it has to be acknowledged, in the glory of 20/20 hindsight, that it was those very nonconformities that got the oligarchs off the dime and, through their corporate tools and political lackeys, set to work putting the political scientist James Buchanan’s authoritarian principles and totalitarian theories of what the United States was intended to be into action and practice.
    I’d like to think they were inspired by the eugenics movement of the early twentieth century, which had tried and failed in its attempt to medically weed out what was regarded as inferior stock—namely Jews, blacks, Asians and anyone else who didn’t resemble the perceived default of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant man and womanhood.
    Naturally, this failure had its extreme test between 1933 and 1945; and of course, one side of this test regarded the murder of ten million as a moral failure on a calamitous scale, while the other regrets to this day the failure to complete the mission as so carefully outlined by those profoundly efficient men, who, it must be acknowledged, were inspired by the pioneering work done by those white Anglo-Saxon American Protestants—themselves members of and in service to the oligarchs of their time.
    And, as usual, I digress.
    Now, for the past half century, these deeply private oligarchs, who have always owned everything anyway, having felt a potential but certainly far from existential threat from the increasing volume of previously disenfranchised voices, have instituted a program that might rightfully be called social eugenics.
    Just as, at least for some of us, there is no such thing as “too soon,” for this particular caste there is apparently no such thing as “enough.”
    Not enough that they own, not to be too cliched about it, ninety nine percent of everything. That their lives and naturally their children’s lives, their success, their ascendancy are preordained, predetermined, and utterly bereft of anything any one of us might identify as difficult, as dangerous, as risk.
    No. No longer content with getting by on billions, this pack committed to a long form coup d’etat, to what turned out to be a half century long covert war of social engineering.
    And not to bum you out, ladies and gentlemen, but they won.
    If we think about it for even a moment, we can all admit that nation states are held together, beyond their cultures, their economies and their governments, by a shared acknowledgment of, if not an actual acceptance and belief in, a series of national myths.
    All nations, all empires are inventions, of course, but the United States, or to call it by its self-designated nickname, “America,” by dint of both its relative newness on the international stage, and its primary export—entertainment—brims with a slew of contradictions built into our shared national bamboozle.
    As an example, I was born in 1950, the oldest of three sons raised by a single mother on welfare, in a genuinely shitty tenement in what is now mystifyingly gentrified Brooklyn.
    To indicate just how pervasive, how powerful those myths of American exceptionalism were, despite the deprivations and yes, terror of that childhood, I never doubted for a moment that any kid from any other country would trade places with me in a heartbeat.
    That is just how deep the misinterpretation of “…All men are created equal” worked its way into my belief system. And naturally, I wasn’t alone. We all believed that this nonsense applied to us and everyone, even though we also knew, based on how life played out legally, morally, spiritually, ethically, and yes, ethnically, it was complete and utter nonsense, a rigged game.
    Being able to support two contradictory belief systems simultaneously has to be one of the least acknowledged yet most significant and active characteristics of the American Dream.
    Until the advent of what must finally be acknowledged as the Second American Civil War, this social contract has, as noted above, held the nation together, mouthing the myths to others who mouthed them right back at us, and getting on with the day to day affairs of life despite the absence of any real conviction to support those stories we told ourselves.
    Now, anyone paying even the slightest bit of attention to the actions of this oligarchic class, whose clandestine behaviors lead to the occasional and inadvertent pop up into public awareness, to become briefly visible to the rest of us, like a shark’s fin in roiling water, can smell their contempt for those myths. These overlords have always recognized this narrative for what it truly is, no more than a tool of manipulation for the underclass in the hands of cleverer men and women.
    Of course, they, like us, when caught in whatever act they might be up to, pay lip service to these myths. But while our relationship with the bamboozle is, all too often, to go along to get along, these oligarchs and their willing under capos have weaponized this narrative in all its hypocrisies. To be sure, I’m kind of stunned it took this long, although they’ve had some success with this sort of thing before.
    To cite an earlier historical example from that first American Civil War, the vast majority of the men who served the Confederate cause had neither a personal nor financial stake in slavery, but were actually fighting and dying to preserve the so called peculiar institution that had impoverished them, while remaining convinced their goal in this war was personal freedom.
    Contemporaneously, over the past half century, through the use of every available form of media, through wholly owned politicians, through paid propagandists and through the free range bullshit of religio-supernaturalist charlatans, the nation’s overclass has used this set of shared myths and nonsense to completely reset a perception of America that defines itself by the terms dictated by them, the actual owners of the United States.
    As experienced shadowy figures themselves, long cast as players in conspiracy theories going back centuries, it would seem this cadre had an insider’s understanding of how to turn that credulity supported belief system on its head, and to use the underlying paranoia woven into the American fabric to regroove and mutate what it means to be Americans.
    And now, fifty years into the transformation via that social eugenics program, we can truly see the fruits of this long con, and just how successful they’ve been in deflecting attention from themselves and their actions, feckless at best and genocidally criminal at worst, while mainstreaming the racism, xenophobia, Jew baiting and contempt for expertise that’s been kept in check for so many years by no more than reasonable shame supported by, yes lip service to those shared myths.
    Like the vampire who needs to be invited in, all this work has created an army of credulous serfs, terrified of losing what they’ve been convinced is the best seat in the house to whatever Other has been made the straw man today. And like those vampiric familiars, this swarm of piss poor protoplasm welcomes in with open arms the very men and women who are actually responsible for much of the shittier aspects of their lives in the first place.
    And these days, there’s very little reason to be particular—any Other will apparently do—and those Others keep multiplying, and the owners continue the fucking over, of course, in the name of Jesus, of affronted Manhood, of Freedom.
    The outrages, the lies, the contradictions, the pivots come so quickly, falling over themselves on a daily, often hourly basis, that the mind remains in a permanently destabilized state—unable to maintain a hold on yesterday’s bullshit in light of whatever brand-new horror drops from the sky into our laps.
    Now, today, the latest wrinkle in this shitstorm, today’s all too Significant Other, is a pandemically contagious virus with neither cure nor particular end in sight, which seems likely to put an end to the narrative that informed the United States in which I and many of us grew up.
    The lockdown, which is clearly working to flatten the curve of the virus, and thus not overwhelm our woefully inadequate health care system, is naturally creating a devastating economic downturn. We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t—with no good outcome other than to accept and work with life as it’s lived.
    The virus and the attendant economic issues that derive from it will radically and permanently alter this country in ways that I can’t begin to imagine—and to be clear, professionally imagining things has been my day job for fifty years.
    And, in a plot development that even Stan Lee might have considered too obvious and on the nose, the selfsame people responsible for dismantling the apparatus that might have met this problem head on with the means, the will and the courage, not to mention the technical expertise and technology, are enraged at the impact on their income created by the lockdown of their workhorses.
    So, of course, the oligarchic masters have floated a number of gestures intended to get their way. The “let the old people die so we can get back to work” shit didn’t find quite the traction that was hoped for…but that old and tireless classic, “they’re taking away your freedom,” which worked so well on the swarms of cannon fodder dying for the old south, seems to have caught on like gangbusters.
    It’s a foregone conclusion—the economy is going to wrecked by the lockdown made necessary by Covid 19—or rather by the criminal disregard of reality by the political tools of the oligarchy.
    None of them—not the masters, and certainly not their millionaire shills and smarmy mouthpieces—give a fuck about the well-being of these serfs, except as all too replaceable cogs in an economic machine.
    And these mouthpieces have liberated the id of so many of our fellow Americans, finally allowing them to publicly display the secret selves they’ve kept at home.
    Now, after fifty years of applied miseducation, this swarm has actually been convinced that they share the same American Dream, the same values, as their owners, and that that shared dream entitles them to what amounts to charmed lives and super powers.
    Fuck masks.
    Fuck social distancing.
    Fuck civic virtue.
    Fuck everybody who isn’t them.
    And as much as I hope I’m wrong, come this time in June, I am afraid we’ll see just how fucked we are.
    As ever, I remain,
    Howard Victor Chaykin, a Prince…exiled, by his own choice, in his own little corner of the world.

  3. Jon Ofjord says

    Yes, the party of I, me, mine, is happy to sacrifice someone’s parents or grandparents so that I can get that haircut I need now, less than ever.

  4. Hear, hear Aaron and commenters1

  5. Two days ago, Kevin Hassett, Senior White House economic advisor, said on CNN, “Our human capital stock is ready to get back to work”. What kind of people say things like that? People who don’t see a difference between working Americans, humans, than stock animals. Actually they appear to value stock animals more than working Americans.
    “When people show you who they are, believe them”, Maya Angelou

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