7.22.2011

Good Luck

Seriously. I always teeter back and forth between not wanting to accept any solution besides the dismantling of the current system and more reformist options. Ultimately, I prefer the former, but I don't like the idea of being one of those Leftists who feels that the precondition for revolution is mass suffering. Maybe it is. But there's a fine line between believing that and needing the suffering to happen. On some level, if I had to choose between a theoretical utopia and this country actually closing most of the distance between ourselves and Sweden, it would be hard to hold to my more radical principles. Or rather, I would hold to the first principle I have, the one that lead to all the others, that the vast majority of human suffering extant is unnecessary and must be eradicated. Free health care, better wages, etc., would take us a long way towards that end, even if the state is still compromised.

That being said, I really don't see how a progressive party could be viable after Citizens United. What, exactly, would be the platform for spreading ideas? Most media would be closed off without significant sums of money, and that money has to come from somewhere and strings are always implicitly attached. Please don't say the Internet.

I'm a reasonably intelligent person and the Internet turns me into a hyperconsumeristic, non-committal mouth breather after a few hours. For the most part, it is a medium that, at this point, acts almost constantly to achieve the normalization of an alienated, consumerist lifestyle. On a positive note, the Internet can be a great tool for getting a lot of people to show up at the same place at the same time, but beyond that? Do you feel, as a blogger or someone who reads blogs, that you are part of any sort of "we"? Do you feel empowered knowing other people are just as pissed off as you? I sure as hell don't. I take some solace in the fact that others are as pissed off as I am, but I also feel very aware of the fact that I am just a dude staring at the screen. But even if the Internet worked, is the progressive dream that it could help manifest worth it? In the interim, perhaps, but, ultimately, no.

Sweden is just an illusion, if only because not every country can be Sweden. In the interconnected, interdependent global economy, I can't help but thinking that any reduction in inequality in one place will be accompanied by an increase in inequality elsewhere. I haven't been to Sweden, but I imagine that, even if the wealth is distributed more evenly there, part of what makes life affordable for Swedes is the availability of the same litany of products produced in third-world countries as here. Any structural critique of capitalism that you care to make can still be made.

And that goes for one's personal experience of life as well. If you are exhausted with a world of vain and superficial attempts at self-differentiation. If you feel that buying green is still buying. If you will never feel magically self-actualized by a higher level of job satisfaction, but rather are already counting the days until you don't have to work for someone else anymore, then the progressive dream has to be a nightmare. The progressive dream is one in which middle class people fight for more people to live the same lives as them. Fifty hours a week to pay off the college loan and the mortgage on the house that shelters the kids you never see. But with added patchouli and sanctimony.

And that, ultimately, is why I am sympathetic to more radical critiques. I can't understand the desires of those who just want to live a private life, and whose vision of politics stops when that life becomes plausible for them and, at best, for others. I demand to live a life I cannot imagine.

But, until then, if you need help ending the wars, fighting for nationalized health care, and increasing taxes on the wealthy, I'm down. As long as we don't have to eat at Whole Foods before the demonstration.

7 comments:

Karl Franz Ochstradt said...

Mixed feelings about the Lindorff entry. Glad he's finally seen the light, sad he's only seeing a small fraction of the light's full spectrum of visible rays/particles.

Citizens United... well... it really didn't' change the landscape. The landscape always has been what Citizens United formalized. Always. Has been since the Supremes called political contributions "free speech" several decades back. And money has always run campaigns and politics in America... always. It's our history, our legacy.

I'd let PRN counsel Randall Lysander explain the thing about Citizens United:

http://progrepnow.blogspot.com/2010/01/amber-talks-to-mr-lysander-about-recent.html

Anyway, I think your first of two preferences or perspectives (in your opening sentence) is the winning one, because reformation or evolution here cannot happen without mass suffering. To put it in perspective, there's already mass suffering thanks to the system in place. Most just aren't willing to admit how much suffering they're doing. And those who aren't suffering now, they're responsible for the suffering of those who ARE suffering. How is THAT equitable?

:-p said...

It certainly isn't.

I am very well aware of how bad things already are. It's just that there is a certain logic to being Leftist and voting for the candidate furthest to the right in order to assist in hastening the process of decomposition with revolution as the ultimate goal. That is the logic I don't want to follow.

Yeah things have always been corrupt. And the ruling that granted corporations the same rights as citizens that was made well before the rulings both you and I have mentioned is really the formalized beginning of the end.

That being said, and before I read the piece you linked to, I'll add that my problem with Citizens is that, unless I am mistaken, it will now take an amendment to the Constitution to substantively change at least the legal framework for campaign finance (I don't doubt that wealthy will find a way to have undue influence regardless) as opposed to merely congressional legislation.

There is a certain conformist nature to Washington politics that can, combined with the need for dealmaking, be sometimes called upon towards at least liberal ends. But once state government is involved, as it is, as you know, with amendments, real change looks even less plausible.

fwoan said...

I'm a believer in the idea that mass suffering is probably necessary for actionable class consciousness in the United States. I can't say whether that is true elsewhere but I think our culture is so fake that the only thing that will make most people want to storm the rulers' mansions is a cold slap in the face. So when we see things like bank bailouts and this debt ceiling austerity parade (which is being sold to us in an eerily similar way, promising armageddon if we don't allow someone already rich to be made even richer), I am sad because it will undoubtedly increase the suffering of my fellow country men and women but I see the silver lining in it by hoping that this increase in suffering will wake a few more up.

Karl Franz Ochstradt said...

...but I think our culture is so fake that the only thing that will make most people want to storm the rulers' mansions is a cold slap in the face.

That's it right there.

Think about the culture in the same way psychological, psychiatric, social work or pastoral counselors think about addiction:

The addict must hit rock bottom and be slapped and surprised with cold water blasts (figuratively) before he or she realizes the direness of the predicament caused by addiction. Prior to that point, addiction and the substance's effects are all the addict knows and craves. The addict doesn't know any other reality... everything is skewed by the substance's grip over the addict's life.

America is addicted to artificial reality -- endless growth, uberluxury for all, "progress." All these things are unrealistic, unsustainable, irrational. But the nation, the culture, is blind to the addiction because the substance (consumerism, faith in "progress") is obscuring all other alternative perspectives and practices.

That's what's going on right now.

:-p said...

Until there's a bridge over the massive canyon between the far Left and the working class, especially "crackers", every step back we take will coincide with a move further to the right on the part of the majority of the suffering.

The conflation of "elite" and "liberal" will be a hard one to break as most people see class as a set of lifestyle choices, not an economic ranking. As long as I buy my mozzarella cheese in large globes suspended in liquid instead of shredded, I will always be "other" to vast swathes of the country, regardless of how little I earn and how hard I work for that money.

Ultimately, the Left will probably have to make some concessions. And on moral issues, especially. This lifestyle of self-actualization through enlightened consumption is actually decadent as claimed. Free love has turned into the marketization of interpersonal relations.

The old-school, moralist Left has to reclaim the ground lost to the post-60s morass of relativism and materialism. That will be a bit of a challenge. I can't even always win that battle internally.

Justin said...

I don't subscribe to the hieghten the contradictions school of thought. The contradictions are plenty heightened.

I also don't think increases in suffering are going to wake people up, they will adapt and compromise, that is what has gotten us to this point.

As a case in point, from what I have seen, there is hardly any solidarity at all with the Londoners. On the left, its all about how compromised, how impure, how they are not coherent, undermining their cause, etc.

Then I look at the Guardian and see they have cost the state $100 pounds in property damage already. The violence has primarily been targetted at property, this is exactly the type of action that will be required. Its not pretty, its messy. The people involved are not always of pure motives, or the most noble, they are, in short, people. But almost everyone is still under the spell that the only way to make your voice heard, if you are of the underclasses, is to be as non-threatening as possible to those in power.

In other words, we are where we are because of how we are, and as things get worse, so we will go.

I can't speak for anyone else, all I can say is that for me personally, its enough to refuse to go further. I don't care how vain or how disappointed I end up, I don't expect anything to change at the macro level of culture on this point. Accommodate, accept, compromise, or refuse. Those are our choices, generally. All I can say is that whatever path you take, try to minimize the damage you cause to others, offer a helping hand whenever possible, some comforting words, assistance that you have. Here's the think I think on, some paths carry more interpersonal damage than others implicitly. Not sure we can develop a moral calculus that determines what is the worst, but I would have to think that cold blooded acceptance (as in saying screw it, Imma get mine) is the worst.

:-p said...

Thanks for the comment. London presents an interesting case. Class biases that were better-hidden are now coming out. I have some myself. But I am aware of them. In other words, yeah, as an educated man of the Left, the riots don't quite achieve my vision of class warfare but I also realize the inherent paternalism in the condemnations... see above for more.