Tuesday, October 12, 2010
We Must Replace Normalcy, Not Just Rebel Against It
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.