Jun 14 2013
This diary is eighth in a series on “excuses for why we can’t have socialism.” Previous entries:
I don’t see “America is a conservative country” being posed as rationalization for “why we can’t have socialism” a lot. More often, it’s posed as a rationalization for why liberals/ progressives can’t have what they want from government. But since both liberals/progressives and socialists tend to want at least some of the same things, the argument that “America is a conservative country” serves as a general pretext for denying the Left its wish-list. This is of course significant for those who view socialism as something on their wish-lists.
Here’s how it works: generally the mainstream of opinion-formation, the folks who engineer what Walter Lippmann called the “manufacture of consent,” regard America as a fundamentally conservative country. This particular Gallup Poll, taken from early 2012, reflects how consent is manufactured in today’s political climate:
PRINCETON, NJ — Political ideology in the U.S. held steady in 2011, with 40% of Americans continuing to describe their views as conservative, 35% as moderate, and 21% as liberal. This marks the third straight year that conservatives have outnumbered moderates, after more than a decade in which moderates mainly tied or outnumbered conservatives.
This kind of consideration is usually used at DailyKos.com to accuse liberals of wanting something from government of being “purists.” After all, liberals are statistically measured to be in a significant minority (21%, then), or at least they are if you believe Gallup, and so we can expect them to be in an even more extreme minority when it comes to the occupation of the White House and of Congress. Never mind that if 95+% of the American public self-identifies as “liberal,” “moderate,” or “conservative,” that leaves how much room for the socialists? At any rate, the important fact is that liberals are consistently asked to compromise their beliefs and take what they can get from government by those arguing for “realism” in American politics.
Now of course there are some rather severe limitations to the assessment presented by Lydia Saad, the Gallup author of the above 2012 poll. I see three main weaknesses: first off, the poll does not reflect the extent to which the moderates and conservatives might agree to (or at least acquiesce in) portions of an agenda often championed by liberals. Now that we have two states that have voted to legalize marijuana, we can at the very least say that the pro-marijuana-legalization agenda is not the exclusive domain of the Left. So indeed there are aspects of a “liberal agenda” (if you want to name it that) that can get across-the-board support. You can also, for instance, find broad support for “Medicare for All” across America. Socialists would probably view Medicare for All as a step forward, because it would take “medical insurance” out of the hands of financial elites. I’ll bet you could get a lot of what counts as “socialism” approved even by conservatives, if it were promoted in an appropriate way.
The “leakage” of the liberal agenda, as such, is the best thing going for American politics, now, under what Antonio Gramsci would call the current hegemonic formation. It’s the best we can do absent what David Graeber calls a “revolution”:
Revolutions are thus planetary phenomena. But there is more. What they really do is transform basic assumptions about what politics is ultimately about. In the wake of a revolution, ideas that had been considered veritably lunatic fringe quickly become the accepted currency of debate (page 275).
A revolution, as such, is without doubt a prerequisite for any future social change, or for that matter any change drastic enough to produce lasting solutions to our world’s most pressing problems: global warming, economic poverty, and so on. For Graeber, the world experienced revolutions in 1789, 1848, 1917, and 1968.
Secondly, the Gallup poll cited above does not distinguish between different types of conservatives. This is a flaw of separating out Americans into three and only three categories, “liberal,” “moderate,” and “conservative,” with no alternate categories considered. In this diary (“What If Barack Obama Weren’t A Leftist?”) I argue that Federal-level American politics is a battleground between two different types of conservatism. Most everyone here is familiar with anti-public conservatism — the Tea Party Republicans embody it just fine, and it gets plenty of press coverage. But then you also have corporate conservatism, which I describe in the diary as follows:
Corporate conservatives — conservatives who are mainly interested in “saving capitalism” (Obama’s primary mandate) and who do so by maintaining corporate hegemony but who are also interested in buying off the mass public to the extent necessary to preserve the social order… Such a breed of conservatism, then, attempts to preserve the status quo (or perhaps to return it to its pre-recession form, say perhaps America in the Clinton era) through acceptance, rather than denial, of the existence of society.
Now of course many of the corporate conservatives may not identify (for the purposes of instruments such as the abovecited Gallup poll) as conservatives. They nonetheless are conservatives, though in a different sense than that in which the antipublic conservatives of the Tea Party are conservative. It makes no sense, either, to identify them as “centrists,” because there’s no “center” to Federal-level American politics outside of the government’s use as a conduit by corporate interests for the sake of increased profit, which is a fundamentally conservative position — keeping society “the same” with an eye toward preserving the economy of 2006. There is, as I pointed out in my diary on why I am not a progressive, nothing toward which we are progressing, so there is nothing about which we can be “moderate,” either. My point in bringing all of this out is to show that conservatism is divided in America. There is no monolithic unity among American conservatives. This fact may not do us much good if we hope for socialism, but it does make socialism seem a little less impossible.
Lastly, and most importantly for socialists, the poll does not consider the extent to which the Left has been repressed, and has repressed itself.
Now, external repression is of course not the fault of the Left — it consumes everyone’s resources when we are obliged to “fight back,” and sometimes the Left does not have those resources. The Left, for instance, does not have the resources to run popular mass-media outlets, unless you count MSNBC, which I would count as an ideological ally of the corporate-conservative Obama administration. If you want to see a situation in which there is a Left undergoing plenty of external repression, but no self-repression, check out the situation in Turkey today. At any rate, self-repression seems to emanate from a quirk of America’s electoral political culture — voting for the “lesser of two evils.” Voters decide, for a number of reasons, that they are to select Party A over Party B because Party A is the “lesser of two evils” — even though they don’t really agree with what Party A is doing.
Eventually, however, American “leftists” begin to advocate for Party A — out of the reasoning that if Party B is to be defeated in elections, the positions of Party A need to be promoted regardless of the moral respectability or lack thereof of such positions. In short, they become party tribalists. I suppose one can call this “selling out to the two-party system.” It seems to me that the lack of a serious Left in America is largely due to this “selling out to the two party system” phenomenon. The socialists aren’t immune — witness, for instance, the Communist Party of the USA, which views itself as the vanguard of the Democratic Party and endorses Democratic Party positions regardless of how irrelevant to communism such positions might happen to be.
Books, of course, have been written about the topic I’m discussing here, attempting to explain why America has not developed a strong socialist movement. The most famous of these books is probably Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marks’ It Didn’t Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States. In this book, the authors give a wide variety of reasons for why a socialist movement didn’t take root here. The unions in America never quite endorsed socialism fully, American workers have been differentially privileged, and thus divided against each other, the socialists and communists in the US pursued bad political strategies, and so on.
Some of these reasons, such as the Socialist Party’s failure to co-operate with other organizations, seem to be peculiarities of the Progressive Era, which I discussed in my last diary. My reading of all of this history is that none of it seems to portend any significant failure for socialism in American politics in the future, outside of the daunting task of cracking the American political system, slanted as it is against minority efforts trying to become majority efforts.
Now, one way America could have a Left in both word and deed if its real leftists decided to form a political party of their own, or to take over an existing political party such as the Green Party. Yes, I’m aware of the objections commonly recited as regards “third parties.” However, a popular leftist third party in the United States would most directly solve the “selling out to the two-party system” problem from the leftist perspective. It might immediately lead to electoral defeat, yet clarify like nothing else what “victory” has actually meant over the past thirty-plus years of neoliberal rule.
The alternative approach would be the Eric Stetson approach, where an organized Left primaries all of the Blue Dog Democrats at once. It hasn’t worked so far, largely for the reasons cited by Lance Selfa — the Democratic Party has at times been a graveyard for Left causes. That fact does not by itself rule out the Eric Stetson strategy as a future possibility. But it seems highly unlikely with so many major political organizations ensnared in what Jane Hamsher calls the “Veal Pen” — which compels most of them to “support the Democrat” regardless of what the Democrat in each instance supports.
My point here is that the “America is a conservative country” excuse is self-fulfilling. As long as the American Left self-represses, you’re going to have polls like the Gallup Poll, above, in which maybe 21% of the polled public identifies as “liberal,” and that’s the best you will get — and socialists won’t be represented at all. Most of the American public just doesn’t want to be part of a group that suppresses its best moral and political instincts. When the American Left decides that it no longer wishes to “compromise” (i.e. sacrifice) its principles on the altar of “pragmatism,” (while at the same time the whole of Congress supports “austerity planning” in one form or another), soon thereafter the pollsters will wake up to discover that America will have become no longer a conservative country. Once you get an assertive Left, you will also make socialism possible in America, because you’ll have opened up the conversation to a Left that isn’t self-repressing. It may take a long time for this to happen. I’m willing to wait, and work.
May 30 2013
(crossposted at Voices on the Square)
Back in 2009 I wrote a diary over at Kos: Fundamental flaws in progressive ideology. The point was to show how the idea of being a “progressive” contained the idea of selling out within it. The actual record of “progressives” in this era speaks for itself — forty years of decreasing global growth, neoliberal economic policy, and so on. We’re not really progressing toward anything — unless you count the future described by Gopal Balakrishnan:
We are entering into a period of inconclusive struggles between a weakened capitalism and dispersed agencies of opposition, within delegitimated and insolvent political orders. The end of history could be thought to begin when no project of global scope is left standing, and a new kind of ‘worldlessness’ and drift begins.
Against this background, progressivism appears as a sort of holdover from a previous era.
In the midst of all of this, in progressive blogs you have recognitions such as: Twilight of an Empire: More Than Just Bridges Are Crumbling In America. Eric Stetson recognizes that austerity planning is already hurting America, and will get worse in the future. Here is his lament:
Schools, libraries, parks, advanced weather forecasting, and other features of great modern civilizations? Forget about it! All being cut to the bone.
So few jobs being created that labor force participation is the lowest since 1979 and food stamp eligibility is the highest ever?
Who cares! It sure isn’t the government’s responsibility to do anything
about unemployment, right? — the reaction from America’s politicians
on this score is as deafening as John Cage’s infamous symphony of silence.
Even spending money on disaster relief for American cities destroyed by a hurricane or a tornado is no longer
an automatic thing, but instead a political football. Our politicians
are so tight, the unreformed Ebenezer Scrooge would be proud.
Eric Stetson, however, simply does not imagine more in his conclusion than that America should “demand more of its leaders.” What makes Stetson think that America’s leaders are at any point going to pay attention to such a call to action?
Meanwhile, at the Atlantic, the complaint is now that we have Presidents who routinely break the law, and nobody really cares. Or rather, I suppose, nobody with a shred of power really cares. Our most progressive journalists are telling us: we can expose it, at least for now, but we can’t do anything about it.
And then you have climate change. Climate change is going to be dreadful if we stick with capitalism, as there will be crop failures and famine, and it’s not going to be mitigated by any climate change bill written by the fossil fuel industries, nor will just a bill for a bill’s sake do. While the progressives were applauding the EPA’s assertion of its right to regulate “carbon emissions,” what was strictly necessary, as James Hansen was telling us we had to get back to 350 parts per million in atmospheric content, was that we have some sort of phase-out of fossil fuel production so we can keep the grease in the ground. While radical transformation is necessary, the progressives at DailyKos.com are arguing that “fixing the economy first is not the best way to pass a climate bill.” How is a phase-out of fossil fuels not “fixing the economy”?
Let’s move, now, to FDL. Michelle Chen, a name I don’t see a lot at Firedoglake, tells us that we have “a budget that tightens belts by emptying stomachs.” Chen ends her lament about proposed cuts to the food stamp program with a pointed criticism of “free markets”:
So that’s the theme of this year’s budget debate: that millions of people can’t afford to eat is not a cause for alarm for politicians so much as a burdensome line item. And erasing public benefits make it easier to make the poor invisible in the public mind. After all, food stamps symbolize not only the failure of “free markets” but the power of social policy to reduce endemic human suffering.
Well, OK, social policy to reduce suffering is good. Is that what the progressives have gotten for us?
Well, not a whole lot of it, unless you’re counting a watered-down and inadequate stimulus (now being erased through sequester) or a Heritage Foundation-inspired health insurance bill. Generally speaking, what progressives do every election year is to retreat on all of their presumed off-season goals and to declare themselves firmly in favor of the Democrat and against the Republican, without any serious consideration of what the Democrat actually supports. This is how the progressive vote was delivered for Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, Kerry, and Obama and for numerous lower-ups in Congress, and this is how said vote will be delivered for the next neoliberal austerians who plan to run for Federal-level offices in 2016.
Even worse is the conceptual schemes progressives have had to invent in order to defend their political choices. The Democrats are better than the Republicans, stop whining and start working, you can’t have everything you want, and so on. The result is stuff like this: we didn’t like it under Bush, but now we’ve changed our minds, say many progressives.
Now, the idea of calling liberals “progressives,” if I recall correctly, started out in the late 1980s as a result of the senior Bush’s campaign against “the L word.” The idea, then, was to identify liberals with the promoters of what was once called the “Progressive movement” during what was once called the “Progressive Era” (fundamentally, from 1890 to 1920).
In general, the progressive critique of American society’s political dysfunction cannot bring itself to name, correctly, the design flaw operating in both politics and the economy. The name of this design flaw is “capitalism,” and understanding it as an operating principle of the capitalist world-system is quite necessary to understanding why progressives may have had success in the Progressive Era, but cannot seem to find much of it (outside of legislation protecting gay rights, and a few initiatives here and there to legalize marijuana) today.
Progressives in the Progressive Era confronted a young, expanding capitalism that had not yet experienced two world wars, nor had it fully established the consumer economy of the golden age of capitalism (1948-1971). This explains, more or less, their success in getting reforms enacted in that earlier era. Their success was just beginning!
Progressives in this era, on the other hand, are being asked to defend a doctrine of incremental change leading to a better world, when nowadays declining rates of economic growth clash with increasing demands for corporate profit. As the resultant neoliberal political economy facilitates the theft of everything that isn’t nailed down for the sake of meeting this demand for corporate profit, progressivism is increasingly being forced into either of two directions: 1) the general apparatus of apologetics with which the Democratic and Republican Parties (and other parties, elsewhere) defend reactionary legislation designed to privatize and deregulate the economy and subject it to fiscal austerity while the whole of society is militarized in anticipation of public dissent against the abolition of the middle class, or 2) a general sense of distressed spectatorship as the worlld gets worse, accompanied by a growing sense that something fantastic has to be proposed to cure the disease (such as what one sees in a recent diary of One Pissed Off Liberal).
An interesting discussion of the original Progressive Era in this light can be found in Cecelia Tichi’s collection of biographical sketches titled Civic Passions: Seven who Launched Progressive America (and What They Teach Us). In this regard, Tichi views the Progressive movement of 1890-1920 as a reaction to the “Gilded Age” of the 19th century, and regards our era as a new Gilded Age, one of corporate hegemony and political corruption. Tichi can find corruption in both eras, as well as muckrakers.
Reading history can be comforting, and engrossing, as Tichi’s book amply demonstrates. The reformers Tichi depicts were able to “get the ball rolling” on concrete efforts to change living conditions for American society’s worst-off individuals, and to instill some humanity into America’s emerging consumer society. In reading Tichi’s biographical sketches, one can’t help but want to duplicate their successes in today’s society. One would, for instance, like to campaign much as Alice Hamilton did against unsafe conditions in lead mines, or as Florence Kelley did in organizing against child labor. One would like to conduct the sort of worker-empowering social science that John R. Commons conducted in Pittsburgh, or pursue the same sort of pioneering efforts for social justice for Black people that Tichi depicts in her biographical sketch of Ida B. Wells-Barnett.
Some of the activist strength Tichi extols may still be useful today — but we are no longer in the Progressive Era, and that the efforts of the original Progressive Era activists earned their successes through an emergent, felt need for a class compromise that circulated in the halls of the wealthy and powerful in that, adolescent, emergent stage of the expanding capitalist world-system. The problems of child labor, horrific work conditions, and excessive poverty merited fresh efforts at reform in light of the increasing prosperity of the capitalist system at that time. We are no longer in that era, and so if progressive efforts are to continue to have success, they need to be underwritten by some other way of thinking than progressive ideology. In saying this, I am in solidarity with writers such as Aaron Schutz, whose book “Social Class, Social Action, and Education: The Failure of Progressive Democracy” described progressivism as a “middle class utopia,” (28) and Shelton Stromquist’s Reinventing “The People,” in which progressive reformers are said to pursue “an ideal of social harmony in which the interests of labor and capital would be reconciled.” (23) I also agree to a certain extent with Chris Hedges, whose Death of the Liberal Class complains of the resistance progressives no longer offer corporate elites. Mild reformism was, without doubt, both effective and beneficial in an era in which the capitalist system required a “middle class utopia” if the crises which it generated were not to overwhelm the system as a whole. Our era, on the other hand, is an era of a declining middle class, of deepening poverty for the multitudes, and increasing poverty amidst record profits for the super-rich. The reconciliation of class interests is off the table. The consumer society no longer serves as the pretext for profits among the wealthiest when the wealthiest can just compel the government to print money for their enrichment. The dire poverty of urban immigrant populations at the turn of the 20th century may not be part of our landscape today, but this fact itself forms a pretext for keeping present-day poverty off of legislative agendas, to the detriment of all of us. What we need today are more movements such as the Zapatistas, or the various movements for ecological justice, or the MST.
In this environment “progressivism” appears as a sales-pitch for the Third Way. Progressives are now people who tell you to vote for the Democrat because she/ he is better than the Republican — it might still ring true, but it becomes less and less important with each passing election, with each issue that becomes vitally important everywhere but in Washington DC. Once progressivism was robust; today it has reached a cul-de-sac. If anything, today’s world needs a class struggle more than ever, and a vision of civilization free of capitalism and the crises it promotes with increasing frequency (see e.g. Greece, Spain, global warming, pollution in China, war in Africa) today. When the capitalists, with their governments in tow, are forcibly undoing all of the good done by the progressives and social democrats around the world, while at the same time bringing Earth’s ecosystems into increasing crises, another compromise is not going to restore the world to stability.
Indeed a recent Gallup poll tells us that the number of liberal Americans is growing. But this poll result is itself the product of an impoverished political discourse both with the Gallup pollsters and with America as a whole. So, for instance one can also read of polls that say that “young people are more likely to favor socialism than capitalism” as well. What I’d like to suggest, here, is that an opposition to the 7% at the top (as their fortunes improve) will have to be made up not just of progressives, nor even (perhaps) mainly of progressives, but of people with a diversity of political beliefs (socialists, anarchists, post-capitalists and so on) outside of progressivism. These people exist already — the leap forward is not that a non-progressive Left needs to be created from nothing, but rather from the mere discussion of theory to an engagement with the world. Bhaskar Sunkara:
After all, the problem with the Left isn’t that it’s too austere and serious; it’s that it doesn’t take itself seriously enough to make the changes necessary for political practice. We can be rigorous and ideological – without being afraid of being heard outside our own circles. Mass exposure wouldn’t spell the end of a vibrant socialist critique.
The future of resistance is in the diversity of non-progressive Left approaches, and in making that diversity actionable, not in progressivism or liberalism. Being a “progressive” or a “liberal” is easy, but obsolete. I’d like to think I can do better, so at this point I don’t claim to be a progressive.
May 23 2013
Or at least the New York Times Online says so.
Here’s an amusing piece:
Why Rational People Buy Into Conspiracy Theories
Because real life contains conspiracies? Naah. Couldn’t be!
Now, of course we could just stop talking about conspiracies, because everyone knows how ridiculous such talk actually is. But will those messy conspiracies go away if we stop talking about them? Probably not, which would explain why Maggie Koerth-Baker had to write the NYT piece in the first place. So here’s the solution! We’re going to make up some sort of pop-psychology “theory” to explain why people think about conspiracies. That’ll do the trick! Gee, if only members of the human race were to limit their thinking to whatever it is that the “experts” produce on any given topic, they could stay sane, and we wouldn’t have to discredit them. Maggie Koerth-Baker is of course one of those experts, and she will protect you from the pernicious belief in conspiracy theories by psychologizing them away. That and Kos will ban anyone who writes “conspiracy theory diaries,” one of which this isn’t.
So, yeah, everyone knows there are no conspiracies, and there are all kinds of events out there that might be attributable to conspiracies, but they’re all caused by people acting alone, and all by themselves, without so much as talking to anyone else. Right?
Now, maybe some really twisted minds out there think that real-life conspiracies develop as a result of chance meetings at the meetings of the Trilateral Commission, or the Bilderberg Group, or the World Economic Forum, or the Council on Foreign Relations. Or maybe such conspiracies are said to happen in the secret meetings of the FBI or the CIA or the NSA or ALEC. But everyone knows that (even if these organizations really did exist, which they don’t) all they really do at those meetings is play ping-pong and eat pizza. Right?
So, armed with our aerosol can of Conspiracy-Be-Gone spray, ahead into the NYT piece we venture!
“The best predictor of belief in a conspiracy theory is belief in other conspiracy theories,” says Viren Swami, a psychology professor who studies conspiracy belief at the University of Westminster in England. Psychologists say that’s because a conspiracy theory isn’t so much a response to a single event as it is an expression of an overarching worldview.
There is, of course, an alternate explanation for conspiracy theories — I think it goes like “maybe the official explanations aren’t credible” or something like that. But only people with a certain worldview believe crazy stuff of that sort.
Perfectly sane minds possess an incredible capacity for developing narratives, and even some of the wildest conspiracy theories can be grounded in rational thinking, which makes them that much more pernicious.
My god, they’re developing narratives! Human nature must be innately bad. And I have to wonder in this context whether the perniciousness of a conspiracy theory can be quantified. Could we put a conspiracy theory on the Wild-O-Meter, and if it goes above a certain number, then we could say it’s pernicious? This could be important in distinguishing pernicious theories from merely innocuous ones.
Here’s an example. Just after the disaster of September 11th, 2001, the Bush administration allowed the bin Laden family to be flown out of the country without so much as an FBI question on a day when every airplane in America was grounded. Let’s say (hypothetically; we don’t really believe this stuff, do we?) that the bin Ladens were allowed to do this because they had urgent family business or something. Now that’s not very pernicious, is it? I experience urgent family business all the time. Don’t you?
On the other hand, some of these theories about who killed JFK, well, we don’t want to break the Wild-O-Meter, do we? You can’t buy them at the 99 cents store anymore.
While psychologists can’t know exactly what goes on inside our heads, they have, through surveys and laboratory studies, come up with a set of traits that correlate well with conspiracy belief. In 2010, Swami and a co-author summarized this research in The Psychologist, a scientific journal. They found, perhaps surprisingly, that believers are more likely to be cynical about the world in general and politics in particular.
Now everyone here knows cynicism isn’t rational, right? Your leaders are always acting in good faith, of course.
Economic recessions, terrorist attacks and natural disasters are massive, looming threats, but we have little power over when they occur or how or what happens afterward. In these moments of powerlessness and uncertainty, a part of the brain called the amygdala kicks into action.
So, you see, if you stop searching for explanations for economic recessions, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters, and just accept that your tendency to do so is a product of your errant amygdala, you will be closer to enlightenment!
Our access to high-quality information has not, unfortunately, ushered in an age in which disagreements of this sort can easily be solved with a quick Google search. In fact, the Internet has made things worse. Confirmation bias – the tendency to pay more attention to evidence that supports what you already believe – is a well-documented and common human failing. People have been writing about it for centuries. In recent years, though, researchers have found that confirmation bias is not easy to overcome. You can’t just drown it in facts.
And so, you see, our social scientists have everything under control. All that’s left for us to do is to believe all of that “high quality information” we’re given, and restrain our impulses to reside in the land of “confirmation bias,” which prevents us from seeing the light.
Psychologists aren’t sure whether powerlessness causes conspiracy theories or vice versa. Either way, the current scientific thinking suggests these beliefs are nothing more than an extreme form of cynicism, a turning away from politics and traditional media – which only perpetuates the problem.
Thus if we can all quit “turning away from politics and traditional media,” and learn to accept the system, we can overcome those feelings of powerlessness as they are caused by our belief in conspiracy theories.
See? Problem solved. Conspiracy theories are all just in our heads, and the quicker we recognize that, the more easily we’ll be able to ignore them, and get on with the enlightened task of believing what we’re told.
Oct 02 2012
There is a passage in Derrick Jensen’s newest book, Dreams, in which he bridges the gap between his usual anarcho-primitivist plain talk and the more “expert” advice of scientists such as James Hansen and populists such as Bill McKibben. It goes as follows:
We all know what we must do to curtail global warming. We must dismantle every oil refinery, every pipeline, every oil and natural gas well. We must dismantle the infrastructure that is killing the planet. (p. 249)
The first step in such a process, were it actually to happen, would be to phase out the pumping of the oil, the coal, and the natural gas. I pointed this out some time ago in a blog entry over at Docudharma/ DailyKos.com. If we really wish to mitigate the disasters that global warming will bring us, we need to keep some of Earth’s fossil-fueled heritage in the ground, rather than pumping it into the atmosphere.
The problem, in real life, is that nobody’s talking about such a solution. Oil, like oil-consuming infrastructure, is a commodity, as are petroleum-based instruments such as cars, airplanes, furnaces and so on. The solution proposed above would be a wholesale divergence from the capitalist system, which accumulates capital (i.e. money and the good things it buys) through the circulation of commodities. The change that’s needed, in other words, is a change nobody dares to advocate.
Enter Paul Loeb, published in some reading circles as Paul Rogat Loeb. Loeb wants to explore what makes some people activists, in order to assure that there be more activists. Certainly if we are to have a movement that will push through the changes that are needed to curtail global warming, we will need more activists.
I found Loeb’s most recent piece (written with co-authors Alexander Astin and Parker J. Palmer) in a glance at the blog Docudharma, where it had been cross-posted. It’s titled ““My Vote Doesn’t Matter”: Helping Students Surmount Political Cynicism.” The problem, of course, is that students today have good reasons to be politically cynical, especially if the solutions to their problems are not on offer. We are not going to get past the cynicism, then, by encouraging participation in a system which does not cater to real human needs.
Moreover, we can establish a rational cause for the cynicism that infects American politics. In the frontstage of American politics is a spectacle, sometimes regarded as “Kabuki theater,” in which candidates offer rhetoric calculated to woo the votes of the public. In the backstage is the world of meetings in Washington DC, in which deals are made between actors of various ideological persuasions and financial needs. The ultimate source of “cynicism,” in this regard, is the belief that what happens in the political frontstage might have very little to do real policy as formulated backstage. Here I will explore, with Loeb and his co-authors, what it would take to change this situation.
Jan 05 2012
(crossposted at DailyKos.com)
Yeah, I know, it’s 2012, and we are about to be deluged with a hailstorm of appeals to the Elmer Fudd Theory of Electoral Victory in the run-up to November’s elections. Happy new year, everyone; I intend in this diary to summarize the likely events that can be seen as “coming down the pipeline” this year and in the years to come.
In the end, though, I would like to promote a vision of a different sort of society, a society which would start on its new path by recognizing that the future envisioned here is a product of the society as it currently is organized. A society organized along different lines, then, would approach its future in a more conscious way.
The likely upshot of Election 2012 will be that the Great Progressive Mirage will once again disappear, to be replaced by “election run-up,” and that we will once again be stuck, post-election, with a world of 10% unemployment, 20% underemployment, and a Congress that is half filled by the 1%.
Meanwhile, we can expect more of what we received earlier as we head into 2012. Global warming, for instance, should at some point in the medium-term future cause crop failures and resultant famines. The atmospheric accumulation of CO2 will also make the oceans too acidic for the formation of coral reefs (among the world’s most genetically diverse ecosystems) and will take a millennium or so to cycle naturally out of the atmosphere. Peak oil will create an increasing drag on the world’s economy as fuel prices become more expensive and as the environmental costs of mining it increase. The subsidy provisions of the PPACA will kick in, mandating that everyone buy a “Bronze Plan” or levying financial penalties upon us. At some point a Republican President (or maybe even a Democratic one) will use the provision in the NDAA which allows Presidents powers of arbitrary and indefinite detention without trial. The military industrial complex will continue to grow, as the US government continues to “prosecute” wars in a dozen countries with a secret empire of drone bases since the definition of the term “terrorist” is infinitely malleable and since, as Nick Turse points out, “The drone increasingly looks less like a winning weapon than a machine for generating opposition and enemies.”
College will continue to be a financial gamble, as students undergo increasing levels of student loan debt to pay for increasingly expensive college educations with increasingly limited job prospects for graduates. The global economic growth rate will continue to decline, moreover, as the economy continues to be “financialized” further.
The poverty currently experienced by countries such as Greece will spread to other places in Europe as the Powers That Be in Europe continue to demand austerity planning to reduce government deficits. At some point this may lead to the collapse of the Eurozone.
We can expect these things because our government and economy, as well as our collective vision of the future, are pretty much the domain of the 1%ers, whose main concern is in maintaining a system based on capital accumulation. This is how they work: the 1%ers are the (cultural, bureaucratic, and economic) managers of a society in which the accumulation of exchange values drives the society as a whole.
What matters to the 1%ers is that we continue to have a society in which “the economy,” as well as “the government,” continue to be the province of a relatively small group of people within the overall society. And it works. From William Domhoff:
Here are some dramatic facts that sum up how the wealth distribution became even more concentrated between 1983 and 2004, in good part due to the tax cuts for the wealthy and the defeat of labor unions: Of all the new financial wealth created by the American economy in that 21-year-period, fully 42% of it went to the top 1%. A whopping 94% went to the top 20%, which of course means that the bottom 80% received only 6% of all the new financial wealth generated in the United States during the ’80s, ’90s, and early 2000s (Wolff, 2007).
The 1% are the primary beneficiaries of economic expansion, then. The 1%ers are the managerial elites, the group that provides the expertise and the cultural “glue” to keep the system together as an accessory for its service to the 1%. The 1%ers are the cultural vanguard of the 1%.
There’s no conspiracy to be found here, however. We swim in 1%er cultural norms as if we were fish in water. Political action has to go through candidates, publicity through the mass media, mass action through money (everyone has to be paid, and even grassroots political movements have to be financed). Business, through property law and monetary creation and government regulation and the tax code, is organized so that its main beneficiaries are for-profit corporations. Our lives as participants of the system are encapsulated in the concept of the curriculum vitae (the “course of one’s life” in Latin), in which we list an accumulation of “things we did” and “experiences we had” to increase our exchange-value as workers. All the 1%ers have to do, then, is to insure that a system rigged in favor of the 1% actually works for the 1%. So where do we go from all this? Look below the fold.
May 17 2011
(previously published over at Orange, where they ignored it)
Here is an essay for those of you who are clinging to the status quo, who imagine that a few mild reforms, instituted by a managerial elite, will change society significantly enough to “make a difference” and “put America on the right track.” Let me be clear about this: I’m sure we have a lot of the same goals — but I am looking for a clear and unequivocal repudiation of “progressivism.”
Better management won’t change our society. Its problem is the one John Lennon sang about forty years ago: how can I go forward if I don’t know which way I’m facing?
If society is “facing the wrong way,” and headed for crisis for reasons internal to its functioning, then the point of planning within that social context is lost. Better management will then merely mitigate the resultant disaster without offering any real resistance to its happening. The fundamental reality is this: global capitalist society, which organizes the world economy to benefit 793 billionaires and ten million millionaires while marginalizing that half of humanity which lives on less than $2.50/day, is headed toward more growth, more intensive and more extensive exploitation of resources, toward an ultimate crisis of exhaustion. These tendencies are all built into the system. And you are all going to “plan around” this?
Below the fold I will give you all a short list of reasons why our managers don’t know which way they’re facing, and also of why real social change is more effectively accomplished by social movements than by managers.
Feb 16 2011
MinistryOfTruth’s recent reclisted diary over at Kos suggests a list of things that a “Democratic Party” ought to offer. The question this begs, though, is one of whether or not MinistryOfTruth’s expectations of the Democratic Party (“A party that TAXES the richest among us who can most easily afford it/ A party that OPPOSES wars we can NOT win/ A party that PROTECTS consumers and workers over corporate profit”) are things we seriously ought to expect the Democratic Party to do.
Lance Selfa, in his somewhat recent (2008) history of the Democratic Party , argues the “no” answer to this question. In his book, Selfa hoped to “show that the renewed and more confident Democratic Party of 2008 is the latest incarnation of an institution that appeals to ‘the people’ while looking out for the interests of corporations.” (pp. 8-9) Selfa’s history, then, is a history of betrayals, assuming that the interests of “the people” and the corporations are in conflict. But the point for our author is not merely to decry this conflict within the Democratic Party, but to expose its dynamic within capitalist society:
The contention of this book is that these Democratic “betrayals” are not primarily the result of unscrupulous politicians or office holders who “sell out” — although there are plenty of each of those in the Democratic Party. Rather they are the inevitable outcome of a political institution that socialists have long described as a capitalist party that only pretends to be a friend of working people. (p. 9)
(also available at Kos)
Feb 01 2011
In pressing forward with the “envisioning postcapitalism” series, today I will re-present an earlier review of the second edition of Joel Kovel’s The Enemy of Nature, revised from the first edition which I reviewed back in 2007. What gives Kovel’s exposition of ecosocialism a special strength is its ability to identify a weakness in the capitalist system which escapes the notice of “traditional” marxism, and its advocacy of a goal-society (ecosocialism) which resolves the problem of capitalism’s fundamental weakness. To put paid to the notion that Kovel’s version of ecosocialism is a “utopia,” I intend to critique the argument of his book from the perspective of an overview of the history of power.
(crossposted at Wild, Wild Left)
Jan 25 2011
This is an improved rewrite of a previously-posted (elsewhere) review of Chris Hedges’ newest book, Death of the Liberal Class, which I am republishing as part of a discussion, occurring at DK4 and elsewhere, on “imagining postcapitalism.” Hedges offers readers an important narrative to explain the disappearance of left politics rather than as suggestions for any sort of reality which we can bring about after the collapse of capitalism. Hedges clearly suggests a solution; yet its perceived improbability leads Hedges to predict disaster. In light of the continuing conformity of thought that characterizes this era (as I’ve discussed it in this diary), Hedges’ pessimism seems appropriate to the times.
Jan 24 2011
This diary will argue the necessity of imagining a world after capitalism in this era. This is so because the left, in America and elsewhere, currently finds itself in a cul-de-sac both of intellectual and of social proportions. Centrally, I criticize the left for not using its imagination to fight what Antonio Gramsci called the “war of position.” This will be part of a diary series, “Imagining postcapitalism,” which will be posted here and elsewhere, as the foundation for an online think-tank of sorts. The “postcapitalism” group on DK4 will be one of a number of foci for this online think-tank. Other contributors will be encouraged to post diaries as part of this series, to infuse a variety of perspectives into the project.
(crossposted at Orange)