Tuesday, October 12, 2010

We Must Replace Normalcy, Not Just Rebel Against It

I'd like to address one of the problems I see with a lot of people who are deeply aware of the problems we're facing as a civilization: the tendency for well-informed citizens to be considered outsiders. We allow ourselves to be painted as misfits, misanthropes, misguided extremists, the enemies of civilization and the American way of life. Even so-called liberal heroes like John Stewart fall prey to the notion that there is something rotten on the left, that there is a large degree of naive idealism inherent to its professed agenda and rhetoric. The extension of that concept is the marginalization of the left by the moderate majority for being dangerous; not by virtue of ignoble intentions, but through incompetence to wield power in this country without upsetting the precarious tightrope of economic stability and inadvertently causing the widespread collapse of civilization. We are derided as children, sure to get over our idealism as we mature, as though our ideas were examples of overly academic intellectual masturbation, and not searing indictments of the global power structure.

And we are not helping matters. The sheer scope of injustice in the world divides our efforts, impaling our movement on the rocks of identity politics, trapping us in the pursuit of minor victories through single-issue campaigns, even as we gradually lose political influence and media access over time. There is very little cohesion or unity in the left, with even specifically socialist groups fighting among themselves over the political agenda, with left-wing organization being predominantly characterized as a futile exercise, bogged down in unnecessarily nuanced and lengthy discussions and ineffectual strategies.

In the cultural movement that reflects these political values, one with the unfortunate tag of 'counter-culture', we gather to celebrate our glorious weirdness, holding it up as a shining example of our superiority, our capacity for rejecting all that is antiquated and useless in society. Far from being an inclusive movement based on a political and social understanding of the world, one with broad appeal across cultural lines and rooted in the expression of personal freedom as a fundamental American value, we are increasingly atomized into balkanized sub-cultures, building identity from our patterns of consumption. It's the clothes we wear and the music we listen to rather than any meaningful difference of outlook. We allow ourselves to be characterized by youth, by drug use, by laziness, by a cultural identity stripped of its political consciousness, and by a politics stripped of its mass appeal to basic moral virtue, lost in the halls of intellectual elitism.

Most of all, we are bastions of cynicism and apathy, cognizant of the challenges we face, yet crippled with despair at the sheer scope of the problem.

So where the fuck do we go from here?

If we need an example of a successful social movement, let's look at what the right has done. While there's no doubt that they have had some number of successful corporate-sponsored protests and done no small amount of organizing, the critical factors enabling their rise in society is their massive investments towards controlling all the most critical structural elements in our society. They own and control the media, enabling them to frame all political discussions. They make sure that not only all consumption, but all taxation feeds their wealth and power, enabling them to increasingly force dissenters to subordinate their will to the demands of the powerful just to ensure continued survival.

For decades, the left as a people have largely based our survival on the crumbs at the fringes of mainstream society: on donations to non-profits, proceeds from the sale of art and music, jobs in academia, and for those not privileged to find success in those industries, through scavenging and social welfare programs, or through wages earned by working for the benefit of our political opponents. Under the right-wing control of society, all of these avenues are under concerted attack. Wages are down, exploitation is out of control, donations are stagnant at best, the well-paid tenured experts of academia are being replaced by adjuncts that cannot hope to maintain a middle class lifestyle and are vulnerable to the whims of administrators, and the arts are an increasingly precarious industry.

The only avenue that seems to hold any promise at all is in social enterprise-- profiting by broad feelings of vague guilt over the populace's complicity in social injustice and the destruction of the planet. Yet this is an industry where we have seen one social company after another be swallowed up by the world's largest and most evil corporations in a cynical attempt to profit from growing markets. It's an industry where right-wing executives implement anti-worker policies while presenting a facade of social responsibility. In the case of worker-owned cooperatives, while labor has the power it deserves, business is hampered by a near-total lack of access to investment capital, as well as the expertise and social networks of more self-serving businessmen, contributing to difficulty getting business loans outside of largely inadequate cooperative-specific programs. Thus, without significant innovation on the part of social entrepreneurs, even that avenue is wholly inadequate.

In a world where the left is on the run, it is more important than ever that leftists embrace the mainstream values that we still have in common; the importance of liberty, justice, accountability, community, integrity, frugality, all are or were core American values. We need to recognize that nuanced and reasoned arguments in the face of incomparable evil is not only inadequate, but actively damages our position among the vast majority of the population, who lack the time and inclination to study the subject in depth, and judge by the appearance of strength and clarity of message. We should not be afraid to call out evil where we see it, to shame it and obstruct it. We need to make it perfectly clear that propaganda that flies in the face of scientific fact is nothing but lies, that there can be no greater threat to the security and prosperity of this nation than the enemies of science who seek to consolidate power over us all. We have to get tough if we're going to prevail.

But most of all, we need a clear vision of the future we want. It has to be achievable. More than that, it has to appear realistic and practical even to the people who have happily spent their lives in the corporate world, watching television and going to the mall, both the working class and the middle class. I would argue that it's no longer possible to gain power in this country without addressing the popular mythology inherent in the idea of normalcy pushed by the right wing of both parties. In fact, we would do best to make it perfectly clear that the maintenance of normalcy depends entirely on the obstruction of the corporatist agenda, that it's primarily because of the corruption we are burdened with that some things about America will have to change rapidly. We definitely do not want to be associated with the destruction of the 'American way of life'. Instead, we need to be the agents of the American resurgence. We need to present a vision of renewal, of a brighter tomorrow, of a great American renaissance, based not on propaganda and empty rhetoric, but achievable, concrete plans.

Rather than positioning ourselves as being opposed to capitalism, we should be champions of the free market, seeking ways to make our markets more competitive by reducing barriers to entry, shaping our tax structure to favor investment in productive capital, investing in the infrastructure necessary to maintain and improve both our productivity and our standard of living, abandoning GDP as a false measure of economic health, choosing to nationalize only those industries that lack adequate competitive pressure for market efficiencies to come into play, according to sound business theory. This is a message that can play in the middle class, that demonstrates sound judgement, that makes room for people to see themselves in the world we're building, while demonizing those that need to be demonized. We need a plan for building a new normal, one more fulfilling, more equitable, more economically sustainable than this nation has ever known. Rather than setting ourselves up as the opponents of American values by letting the right wing frame the debate as one between social justice and economic viability, we should recognize that it is our leftist values that will naturally arise from any commitment to economic efficiency and American freedom.

One of the largest advantages to this model of leftism is that by prizing business acumen and sound economics while playing to many mainstream values, it makes it possible to gain the investment capital necessary to build meaningful alternatives to the critical infrastructure monopolized by the right wing. And it is that activity that is most necessary for achieving lasting success in the war for America's future.


  1. Re: Identity politics, dunno if you've noticed but a lot of people don't understand intersectionality. Like, a lot of the LBGTQ organizations and stuff are mightily anti neurodiversity & have quite a bit of other institutionalized ableism. You bet your ass that, to my Evil Neurodivergent DevilGirl self, that's utterly uncompromiseable even in the name of generally making the world suck less. "Things generally suck less, ish" doesn't necessarily count for SHIT.

    Economics, what I know could ALMOST cover a fingernail, but identity politics I get. Until people grok intersectionality, a unified activist leftist front ain't gunna happen.

  2. To be honest, I kinda doubt a true unified leftist front will happen at all, no matter how needed it is. We're talking about a losing mentality, here. People giving up their quixotic victimhood to work together to change everyone's lives for the better? Not fuckin likely.

    Much more likely that a 'good enough' group gets together and starts shaking things up, and then everyone else on the left kinda nods, some join in, and most of the rest decide they're not actually against it, as critically flawed as it may be.

    But like I said, most likely outcome is continued failure. I don't really view that as an acceptable outcome, since it will likely involve starvation across much of the world and both crippling poverty and crushing tyranny here in the US. Perhaps I could use my skills and knowledge to create a safe space for myself, my family, and a few colleagues, but what about the rest of my people? What about protecting ourselves from those without? Not good enough. I'd rather avoid spending my 40s and 50s fending off bands of raiders (or leading those bands of raiders). No, we've got to fix the government problem, even if that means fixing just one town, or just Portland, or just Oregon, or just a few progressive strongholds around the world.

  3. I like reading “Rather than positioning ourselves as being opposed to capitalism, we should be champions of the free market, seeking ways to make our markets more competitive by reducing barriers to entry…” It seems like a departure from what I tend to hear attributed to the left.
    It would probably be useful to state the goals of your particular position. Leftism is not exactly clear. Generally nothing is clear any more- often things are stated merely in terms of what they are not, or misstated as a deception to the end of gaining power. I ask you for this because I want a just society and if that’s what you want too then we should all check in with each other and see what we all think that means. Words (and labels in particular) are muddied by misuse, misunderstanding, or good old cooption. The term "liberal" has been turned upside down for instance- but in a very specific way- its methodology.
    All (most) ideologies are in favor of good stuff and against bad stuff (or at least make that claim), but their methodologies are often where the differences arise, behind that are the disparities between what people say they want and what they really want. A liberal used to be a person who, as you suggest ought to be done in the future, embraces free markets and wants to remove obstacles into it. As of late the term tends to indicate someone who's suspicious of free markets. The goal of both groups ostensibly remain the same: more good stuff and less bad stuff, but their approach is to use the same tool in a different way- government.
    I feel that it is at this point where things can go wrong because one way tends to guard against corruption and one way is more prone to it. Too often I see people clamor for more government control of everything in the name of modern-liberalism, championing for the have-nots, but really it's all too clear that what they're really after is another avenue to power. Climbing the government power structure is lucrative. Now the common man has two beasts on his back.
    It's hard to take a modern day liberal seriously when they're berating the corporate world, painting them as greedy bastards keeping the average guy down, pointing to those greedy bastards as proof for why they should have an extremely comfortable, high paying public job, protecting the little man, while taking home salaries that would make your jaw drop and are going to cost our children their future. It’s a trick- it’s one greedy bastard pointing at another greedy bastard to convince you to give them money and power instead of giving the other guy money and power.
    The truth is this: both the super-greedy corporate guy and the super-greedy fake-altruistic guy are the same, they just have a different sales pitch. They work on the same team, they have the same goals (power and comfort over and above that of average citizen)and remarkably enough they make use of the same tool to get there- the government. Government provides these tax-funded jobs that have almost absolute security, government creates and maintains the obstacles to new entry into the free market via regulation, government pays high salaries directly collecting money at gunpoint via taxation, and protects high salaries via that same force of law in a clever sleight of hand- regulating everything private- supposedly for the good of the people, but effectively creating and maintaining monopolies for those already established and therefore for the good of them.
    Government is the tool of the evil because not only does it wield the force that evil enjoys using to reap wealth and power, but has none of the consequences that a self-respecting citizenry usually impose upon those who take money and power from people at gunpoint. It is because of this that government should have an extremely limited role in almost all areas of life and never be sold as a solution to social problems. The road to hell is paved with exactly these good intentions.

  4. The government makes a fine solution to all kinds of social problems. Take civil rights, for instance, an example of the most grievous injustices, scaled back by government mandate. Or the lack of sufficiently educated workers, solved by publicly funded education. The need for reliable transportation, provided by the publicly owned road system. None of these problems could possibly be dealt with as effectively and efficiently in the absence of government.

    It's my position that all aspects of our economy MUST be made accountable to the people. Where markets can be made efficient through robust competition, they should be used. Where they cannot be, we need a different mechanism for accountability to the people, one that government can adequately provide.

    And frankly, this division you see between government workers and the average working man is an illusion. There is abundant evidence that the sociopathic exploiting class is considerably more greedy than any other group in America, including criminals. Those government workers you so begrudge are there predominantly for your benefit. Most work in schools, build roads, protect your property, ensure that you have access to clean water, collect and interpret data necessary for the functioning of a complex society, and keep all that shit running smoothly. These are SERVICES, not waste. We do this stuff as an investment in providing for the needs of our economy, reducing those competitive barriers to entry (like lack of education, or not being able to afford to protect your property from crime). You can't stop spending money on this shit without robbing our children, that's fucking stupid. And the progressives aren't after your piddly shit money and power to aggrandize themselves. They're after the money and power that have been TAKEN by the wealthy elite and using it for the benefit of EVERYONE. Yes, that includes you! How? By investing in things that will grow our economy, according to sound economic principles. And yes, that means middle class wages for everyone. Though I'm sure you have no comprehension of how that works. How do we pay for it? By using taxes intelligently, instead of as a weapon against the middle class.

    Look, if you can't muster a reality-based argument, please don't bother commenting. I'll post a proper takedown of libertarianism sometime, and maybe you'll learn something then, but really, the whole ideology is based in such incredible ignorance of even the basics of economics, politics, and sociology that it becomes very time consuming to explode your vast, vast misconceptions. It's like explaining atheism to an evangelical christian-- I simply lack the patience for this kind of grade school educational crap, and you're so rooted in your fantasyland bullshit extremism that it's probably futile anyway. How do you argue with fundamental assumptions that stupid, anyway?

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