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I often rail against the narcissistic side of our culture. We find it hard in this country to honor and enhance public space. We develop, economically, with little or no regard to our environment and little or no interest in anything resembling aesthetics. At one time, this was charming because Americans were, in much of the twentieth century, admired for pragmatism and simple virtues. In WWII American troops were much admired for the civilized way they acted–from what I heard in personal remembrances of Europeans when I lived there was that Americans were much nicer than, say, the Brits.
My father just died and his generation who fought WWII and then created a Pax Americana meant to create an order where the United States represented rule-of-law and pragmatism in international affairs. And, despite the emergence of a corrupt intel community, for much of the post-WWII period, his generation (he was a Foreign Service Officer) did a decent job at establishing what they set out to do. I’m not discounting the imperialists and martinets that were forcing America to the right and everywhere supported right-wing regimes throughout the world but there were plenty of decent men and women in the State Dept, CIA and the military that truly worked for positive change. The same could be said for Wall Street and other institutions–I have, for example, talked to old retired crusty Wall Street big-wheels who are truly dismayed at what has happened to the Street even by their piratical values this generation is beyond belief. These execs grew up with codes of honor, mind you, these codes did not include egalitarianism at all but there were things that one didn’t do. That’s all over now.
The last conversation with my father (he was involved in all kinds of progressive causes and made his views known more emphatically than I ever have) found him deeply discouraged and wondering what had he worked for all his life to see the United States come to this. And by this I mean this situation. He was always optimistic about this country and loved it passionately–his parents were immigrants and he was given the opportunity to do things they would hardly have imagined when they came to this country. Here we are, he said, and it’s hard to find hope anywhere. I’ve always been far more pessimistic than him and predicted, as he knew, a gradual descent into neo-feudalism which I thought 20 years ago was inevitable given the fact of the seeming death of public virtue and shared values that has occurred, really, since the 70’s.
My dad was 87 and lived a very full life and I don’t mourn for him but for myself and my family–we never properly appreciated him but, really, few of us appreciate each other properly. In a sense I feel I have to carry something on but I don’t know what that is though I’m confident I’ll know. But my thoughts today come to some essential things those of us here should “work” on.
First, I don’t think there’s much point to focusing any energy on electoral politics. One can even make a case for not voting of finding a way to vote “no confidence.” The system is rigged and gamed.
Second, I’m not sure I even see much point in political activism and social movements, not because they’re not important–in fact, without social movements we are totally fucked–but because there’s no basis for these movements. The basis of movements is community. And by community I don’t mean getting together online or even meeting once a week with people that live across town who manage to fit into their schedule a few meetings to discuss social/political issues and maybe take part in a march here or sending e-mails, raising money for ads, making phone calls etc. There’s nothing “wrong” with all that it’s just that is not effective. You can organize all you want but you’ll be a small straw in the wind compared to the resources that 24/7 PR/lobbying firms have to get their point across with unlimited funds (as some of you know I worked for a big-time K Street firm for only four months but I learned one hell of a lot about what goes on in DC). And the proof is in the pudding. Leftist thought is simply ignored, for the most part. Maybe here and there something is done–but certainly on important issues the left is completely ignored unless it turns right as many have on sites like DKOS.
Third, we have no theoretical basis for our positions. Are we Marxists? Are we capitalists? Are we we just hippies? What is our analysis of the current situation? What are the dynamics of this political/economic situation? Should we favor a return to “growth” that capitalism requires or should we move towards encouraging the breakdown of capitalism and its institutions? Should we favor minor incremental reforms or revolutionary change or both or neither? These are not easy issues and we haven’t ironed them out. Are there deep philosophical and moral foundations for our opposition to this form of capitalism? We can’t move on this until we have some notion of the meaning of life. For example, my political/economic philosophy starts with the idea that we are moving towards greater consciousness and that any political regime has to nurture that. Thus I oppose a culture that encourages the content of what I see on cable TV which leads, as far as I’m concerned, to devolution of consciousness. I oppose fundamentalism because it kills the human spirit, I oppose radical materialism for the same reason so I would not be interested in economic “growth” in terms of material goods. I favor access to basic needs of food, shelter, health care, housing, education, tools and so on. I don’t favor lots of disposable income to go fly around in wasteful and subsidized by taxes aircraft to have a vacation in Mexico or Europe for week at a resort or on a tour where you learn nothing about how people live there.
Fourth, right now the only effective thing for any of us to do, in my view of things, is to strengthen and nurture the deepest parts of our being–to, in short, work on increasing our consciousness through a cultivation of awareness through spiritual practices or whatever works for you (I did a lot of spiritual practice for many decades and now do some very simple ones only). We need to be strong in our being physically, emotionally, intellectually–not in the sense of some being supermen/women but in the sense of doing right now what supports who we are–it could be even stopping some workout regime if it is just robotic and doesn’t fulfill you–in fact, all these things are very individual–some people actually are harmed by some forms of physical exercise while their neighbors benefit from the same thing. So, in a sense, what I’m saying is we need to know ourselves as something beyond what we feel we ought to be–most of it is saying “yes” to who we are right now and working from this point on to say “yes” everyday. That’s actually the extent of my practice now and it’s great!
That’s really all I have to say–this is all stream of consciousness. Obviously this place is shutting down and it’s a shame in some ways but as the Founder of this site has said it’s time–nothing much is happening here–mainly we vent and touch base a little. Those of you who spend a lot of time doing this sort of thing will find other places. I will comment here and there as I see fit. I’m waiting for people to start running with the best analysis out there from people like Chris Hedges who have a really good feel for where we are at culturally.