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(June 26, 2008)

          Nobody I know of ever spoke more no-bullshit than George Carlin. Not even Frank Zappa, the no-bullshittiest speaker I’ve ever heard. It was nice of George, really. He was a hero for persevering through relentless absurdity, for keeping his mind facile, for continuing to evolve his art, for preaching the lonely gospel of No Bullshit.
          Oh, to be half as cogent as Carlin, even for a day. They should make it a game show: Cogent For A Day! With your host, Charlie “Incomplete Thought” Rose. . .
          Listening to Carlin’s astoundingly concise little discourse, “They Own You”---which if you haven’t, you should---is a thrill and a half. It is not often one hears truth so densely packed and shrink-wrapped for your comprehension pleasure. Especially in a mainstream public forum.
          Carlin was a truth-teller, and with his death, you have the feeling there just aren’t enough truth-tellers left. But then, perhaps we have been blessed in the latter half of the 20th century and early 21st with a disproportionate amount of truth-telling. Maybe today’s mendacious world is the norm, where people go to school to major in chicanery and dissembling---oh, I mean marketing, economics, political science, law. Maybe the debunkers, the satirists, the whistleblowers, the occasional politician acting nobly, the musician activist---are highly over-represented in the last 60 years or so. The examples come so easily to mind. . .
          Lenny Bruce, Martin Luther King, John Lennon, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Kurt Vonnegut, Eugene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy, Douglas Adams, Sam Ervin and all those guys on the Watergate Committee, John Dean, Rachel Carson, Robert Kennedy, Joseph Campbell, Edward F. Ricketts, maybe Barry Goldwater in his later days, Zappa, Bill Hicks. . .
          But there are so many left, really, when you stop to think about it. Bill Moyers, and old Gore Vidal, and John Stewart, Naomi Klein, David Letterman, Jane Goodall, Country Joe McDonald, Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Bob Dylan, Susan Jacoby, The Onion, Robert Fisk, songwriter/poet Robert Hunter, Chuck Spinney, Dave Lindorff, Amy Goodman, Tom Waits, Keith Olbermann. . .
          They're hard at work, along with many more, mining truth from mountains of bullshit erupting these days like Precambrian volcanoes. Hmm. Come to think of it, the U.S. response to 9/11 seems to have spawned as many truth-tellers as potential new terrorists. It could just be that there are more than ever. But---
          Have you noticed? Telling the truth ain’t gettin’ it done anymore. You might as well throw corn flakes at rampaging elephants. Pry Oprah’s face off a camera.
          I don’t know, maybe it started with Reagan saying “Facts are stupid things,” but these days, truth seems relegated to little more than trivia, entertainment. I mean, it's material for comedy, fer crissakes. Think about that a second, if you can stand it. Truth is schtick. Heavy, grim truth. You listen to Carlin’s rant, “They Own Us,” and what is so funny? The content is beyond 1984ingly horrific. Transcribe it, and it reads like one seriously pissed-off paranoiac dude going nuts as Homeland Security drags him off to join a nude pyramid on a U.S. prison ship.
          Coming from Carlin, though, you chortle. Why? He was one pissed-off smart dude, and he delivered truth with timing. You listen to him, or John Stewart dispensing simple reportage (add voice, makes its own satire!), or Letterman telling Scott McClellan, “You told me backstage that Cheney is a goon,” and it’s a howl. You laugh at the outrageousness of someone coming out and just laying it out plainly, profanely. You laugh out of depressurization, joy, solidarity. Comic relief.
          Right, but then what?
          In the 60’s and early 70’s, truth-telling managed to get a lot of civil rights written into law, slowed down and finally stopped the Vietnam War, and drove deranged Nixon out of office. Not bad! Today, truth is about as virile as Larry King with an empty Viagra bottle. It has no more real impact on Carlin’s “They Own Us” juggernaut than Rehab on Amy Winehouse. Truth has become a court jester, mocking the masters who ignore it (and once in a while chuckle)---because they own the jester, after all.
          They own us.
          Almost before it is finished being stated, truth in the USA is devoured by the great, loutish, bloviating reactionary monied elite---via their media mouthpieces---and sliced and diced until it bears a very strong resemblance to a lie. I give you: the Fox “News” characterization of Mr. and Mrs. Obama’s handshake as a “terrorist fist bump.” Speak a simple truth about, say, the obvious fraud of invading Iraq to “liberate the Iraqi people,” and the Limbaugh/Rove/Murdoch monster walks, hysterically rendering that particular truth an “un-American” terrorist-enabling polemic. The increasingly anemic, preening Fourth Estate to the rescue? Nah. Most of it just tugs its collar and clears its throat and “reports both sides” and thinks the job is done.
          Yes, one man's truth is another man's falsehood. But what I'm talking about here is the opposite of lying. The opposite of obfuscating, deceiving, covering up, evading, sugar-coating, spinning, fiendishly and cynically and pathologically saying things you know to be ridiculous. In other words, all the behavior that qualifies people to hold public office and head corporations, not to mention make Dick Cheney the lovely person that he is. By truth-telling, I'm talking about simply attempting to get at the reality of a given matter, and say it plainly. Now there's a recipe for social, political, economic alienation.
          What’s a truth-teller to do?
          Even the Internet, where there is more truth to be found than in most of the libraries in the world (partly because most of the libraries of the world are on the Internet), is more or less a security blanket for the alienated and loony. Never mind that much news and commentary of worth is to be found there. Establishment muckety-muck pundits such as Cokie Roberts never even look at it (so she says), and John McCain doesn’t know how to use a computer. Of course, most Internet users seek to merely reinforce their prejudices and hatred and misinformation---there's an "authoritative" website pandering to every paranoia and ignorance---rather than challenge beliefs or inform themselves. The 'Net result: it's probably a wash.
          (And hey, if the web ever becomes a threat to guys in the club that you don’t belong to, and never will, as Carlin put it, The Club will just shut it down. Remember, a tenet of the Project for the New American Century---the groundwork for Bush/Cheney/McCain policy---includes “seizing the commons of cyberspace” if necessary. For security reasons, of course!)
          As for the vast $100-a-tank/I’m Lovin’ It/hairy-gutted/ callipygius US citizenry, well, most of it can no more recognize truth than distinguish Cindy McCain from a Voodoo doll. Come to think of it, I'd probably stick pins in Cindy, too, but you get my point. Haplessness, thy name is Consumer. Here’s Carlin:
          "A country like ours, preoccupied with Jet Skis, off-road vehicles, snowboards, Jacuzzis, microwave ovens, pornography, lap dances, massage parlors, escort services, panty liners, penis enhancement, tummy tucks, thongs and Odor Eaters doesn't have a prayer. . .”
          Or, as John Lennon so memorably sang, “Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV/ And you think you’re so clever and classless and free/ But you’re still fuckin’ peasants as far as I can see.”
          To be fair, consumerism is hardly confined to the USA. We just invented it! China, for example, is also showing marvelous signs of amoral materialistic emptiheadedness, jingoism, and blind obedience to authority, its populace ready to angrily denounce France/Tibet/the U.S./anyone deemed an appropriate target by its leaders. . .
          The great thing about George Carlin was that he had so much integrity that there was no optimism behind his truth. That’s hard-core. We are fucked was his inevitable (and accurate) conclusion. There was no implication that if the less powerful could somehow assume power, everything would be tweety birds and perfume, a low mortage in every pot. There was no suggestion that if smarter people could rule the roost, all would be cocka-doodle-dandy. The "smarter people"---the ones who bought the big educations, Carlin noted, are already running this fish-fry. As he said repeatedly in performances, after lambasting politicians, corporate heads, schools, etc., we are them. . .this is the best we can do. . .after all, we voted for 'em!
          It reminds me of Patrick McGoohan’s brilliant series, “The Prisoner.” McGoohan’s character---the ex-spy “renditioned” to a perfect little Village (rather like today’s anesthetized middle-America)---was, week after week, determined to escape, and to find out who “Number 1” was. In the end, it turned out that Number 1 was. . .McGoohan. As Pogo said, “Yep, son, we have met the enemy, and he is us.”
          Yes, save us from the people. Most would gladly join the Trilateral Carlyle Neocon Bilderburg Democrap Repugnican Bebop Tango, and Carlin knew it. No, he wouldn’t join it, and I wouldn’t, and you might not, but the point is that those who exalt real human cooperation, compassion, logic, equanimity. . .can’t join The Club anyhow. Jesus Christ would be turned away at the door (dress code alone), if not assassinated or bought off with Pamela Anderson and a crack pipe. Or if they goofed and let Christ in, he would be co-opted by the existing international megastructure, and the futility of being able to do little more than move lots of money and corpses around.
          But if you’re a truth-teller, none of this matters, because the truth itself is a salvation, or at least a solace. Maybe the only one. Carlin could no more look away from truth than Clinton can take his eyes off a nice rack. And here is a good truth, a pull-the-rug-out-from-under-your-Polyanna-ass, Carlinesque truth: greed rises to the top. That’s the nature of the beast. Liberty essentially frees up human impulse to reward itself with power and wealth and diamonds and Dubai. This seems to be the lesson of capitalism. Freedom and Houdini technology have rendered this wondrous, effervescent world one big market, one big San Fernando Valley, one big dumpster. Soon it will be time to branch out and poison other planets.
          So for now, peasants, you are very, very free to have all the vicarious movie/computer game thrills you can jazz your brain with, consume a cornucopia of intoxicants, slaughter and eat nice helpless animals, engage in libertine sex that Elton John didn’t imagine, go out “clubbing,” acquire more material marvels than many kings and queens of history, preoccupy yourself with global warming and “American Idol,” go to Africa and mourn Darfur, listen to Kenny G. or Snoop or Beethoven, subscribe to any number of nice fairy tales for a little “spiritual comfort,” etc.---as long as you don’t bother the Trilateral Neocon. . .Bebop Tango.
          They own us.
          But they don’t own good ol’ George Carlin. Not anymore.
          He graduated to the Big No-Bullshit. The Big No-Bullshit where everyone goes, whether they tell the truth or not.

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