“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you see your liberation as bound up with mine, let us work together.” Lilla Watson, Aboriginal activist
I’m a middle-class guy with a family and a nice apartment in San Francisco. I’ve always been pretty much White, straight, middle class and male. So, what have I got to complain about? Yes, I’m disabled, but society helps me out with curb cuts and wheelchair ramps on the buses, social security payments and Medicare. Until a few years ago, “oppressed” is one of the last things I would have called myself.
I could see oppression happening to other people: people of color, women, children, gay people, manual workers, poor people, people in other places. I would fight those people’s oppression and work for justice, but I didn’t think I needed liberating myself. I didn’t get what Australian aboriginal activist Lilla Watson meant by “your liberation is bound up with mine.” I rarely got angry for myself, only for others. And that has made me politically ineffective.
It took decades for me to wake up. In childhood and young adulthood, I believed the media. In 1963, when I was 12, the CIA murdered President Kennedy, and in ’68 they killed his brother. The same year, the FBI collaborated in the killing of Martin Luther King Jr. All these murders, we were told, were committed by “lone gunmen,” patsies who never got to tell their side of the stories in court or to media. I believed all the fantasies I heard on the news. I believed all the government’s commissions and authoritative reports.
Then in 2003, I blundered onto a 9/11 Truth web site. I saw well-sourced information that discredited the official version of that terrible day and challenged some of the absurd stories that are part of that narrative. (‘Hijacker’s passport found on sidewalk!’) It dawned on me that when the stories media and government tell you don’t make sense, they probably are not really true. Then I read books like Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States and James Loewen’s Lies my Teacher Told Me and realized that I had been lied to constantly since birth. Social media showed me that we are still lied to all the time by corporate media now. We are being gaslighted — told to doubt our own perceptions and believe things that make no sense — all day, every day.
Now things have changed. I’m getting angry. I’ve come to hate the mass media for forcing me to live in a nightmare world, when they’re not even my own nightmares. I feel alienated from people who believe what they see in corporate media. I hate being gaslighted day in, day out.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological oppression, but I hadn’t realized how those stories serve as key elements in regimes of oppression that have been affecting me since my youth. In my 20s, I was a hippie, or more accurately a hippie sympathizer. I was too political and too responsible to fully drop out, but I identified with the culture and the philosophy of focusing on beauty and enjoying life rather than on accumulating wealth.
So, it hurt when the hippie movement was discredited and demonized by horror stories like the Charles Manson Family and their murder spree through Los Angeles and the California desert. Suddenly, hippies went from being creative, lovable, if somewhat lazy nonconformists to violent drug-crazed menaces. Although hippies still exist, as a movement we were crushed.
Why is that a big deal? What does that have to do with oppression? Well, as I found from reading CHAOS: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Hidden History of the Sixties by Tom O’Neill, the Manson family was most likely a CIA experiment. In the 60s, the CIA had a top-secret program called Operation CHAOS, which had the goals of suppressing the Black Liberation movement, the antiwar movement and the hippies. They seemed to think this internal dissent was a great threat to America, and all means necessary to squelch it were appropriate, no matter how many lives they damaged or killed.
Related to Operation CHAOS was a program called MKULTRA, which enlisted top psychiatrists to research how much it was possible to control people’s minds. Specifically, could agents convince people that what they knew was false, and that made up stories were true? Could they turn innocent people into assassins, in ways that the subjects would not remember? O’Neill’s book includes actual memos between one of these psychiatrists and his contact at CIA complimenting each other on doing this vitally necessary work.
The impetus behind MKULTRA appears to have been stories of Communist China ‘brainwashing’ US POWs during the Korean War. (You might remember this from the film “The Manchurian Candidate’ starring Frank Sinatra.) This ‘brainwashing’ was blamed for confessions by American soldiers of using biological weapons against Korea. After the POWs came home and met with MKULTRA psychiatrists, many recanted their confessions, saying they were false memories. This was counted a great success for mind control research and a reason for the USA to keep developing these capabilities in self-defense. Except that in reality, the original confessions were true; bio-weapons had been used against the Koreans. Brainwashing was not involved.
But MKULTRA rolled on and came to San Francisco for the Summer of Love in 1967. CIA-connected psychiatrists were interested in the power of psychedelic drugs to enable mind control when combined with hypnosis. Hippies made excellent subjects for their experiments, and one subject was Charles Manson and his cult, the Family. One of the psychiatrists, a Dr. Louis J. West, met with Manson and other hippies many times. Nobody knows what he did with them, but he had a history from his time in Oklahoma of at least two other patients who either became killers for no apparent reason, or went floridly insane after meeting with him.
Meanwhile, a string of judges and parole officers inexplicably allowed Family members to stay free after committing crimes that would have gotten ordinary people sent to prison with their paroles revoked. Police departments closed murder investigations without arrests, despite strong evidence of Family involvement.
What was going on? We will never have proof, but it seems that the Manson Family’s crime spree was an MKULTRA project, and quite a successful one. It was used to discredit the hippie movement and drive young people away from it. Of course, at the same time, CIA and FBI were using more violent and corrupt methods to destroy Black Power movements like the Black Panther Party, so maybe the hippies got off easy. But still, my anger at our ruling class, or ‘Deep State’ has become much more personal, more all-consuming. I know these people, whether Dick Cheney, J. Edgar Hoover or Dr. West think they are doing right things, but I don’t want to forgive them anymore.
It doesn’t feel good, and perhaps I should give up being oppressed and return to seeing whatever happens as the endless flow of Karma, or something like that, but I don’t want to. I’m tired of being gaslighted 24/7/365. I hate not being able to believe anything I hear or see on media.
You and I and everyone we know have been living in an elaborately falsified dreamworld known as American History. And now, we have to cope with not just one nightmare, but two: the actual disaster that our rulers are making of the world (e.g. the destruction of Libya and Iraq), and the made-up narrative about it that they want us to believe (e.g. ISIS!). Both nightmares are depressing; both are terrifying, both are largely based on lies, and I cannot accept them.
Despite my relative comforts and privilege, I’m counting myself among the oppressed, not just as an ally who can walk away from the struggle any time I want. I’m taking it personally. Whatever they do to the least of us, they do to me. I’m not good at this yet. I look at friends with lifetime experiences of oppression and marvel at how they are able to keep calm and not hate. I need to learn from them, but at least I now see how my liberation is bound up with theirs.