What Do We Want?
It has been a while between posts, hasn’t it? I am not an industrious writer. I do not produce on an industrial scale. And I don’t like writing. It codifies a perspective when the perspective naturally defies codification.
Steve M. wrote for my take on the Occupy movement, about which he writes that it is exciting but “on the other hand seems to be filled with wage slaves who want to slave for slightly higher wages. The idea of opting out and having a life, not a job, as you like to say on this blog, doesn’t really get explored.”
In this M. is echoing a sentiment expressed by the very industrious writer James Kwak at Baseline Scenario in his post Straight Out of Antiquity. Mr. Kwak rightly discerns the median demands of OWS as [hopelessly] bourgeois, the word finally appearing in his last paragraph.
He cites an analysis of the OWS Tumblr postings by Mike Konczal : “As his numbers indicate (and my reading of a decent chunk of the pages confirms), there aren’t many extravagant ambitions here: no expectations of material consumption, no expectations of self-actualization through work, no 60s-style dreams of peace and community.”
I would say that this is both accurate and to be expected. First because any look at the signage or internet postings of this amorphous group as a whole will give you only an overall view which, by the nature of the inquiry will give a median result. Within the framework of the data one is likely to find boundaries that range from the mundane (jobs and debt relief) to the slightly more ambitious (universal health care) to the impossible (ending corruption). This is entirely consistent with the mainstream aspirations of everyday people. I do not recall seeing the demands of demonstrators in Egypt, Greece, Spain or London for anything more radical. No calls for flower power.
Again, this is entirely consistent with a sentiment that I believe is at least instinctually understood by ‘the masses’; (as I have said before) “Capitalism is killing us, Socialism can’t save us, and no one knows what happens next.”
Those of us with the luxury of time for intellectual pursuits such as this one, like me and Mr. Kwak, naturally look at a wider set of issues in a longer time frame. We understand that the real-world pressures on the capitalist industrial system that are driving events will not, and can not be mitigated by the old regime of industrial capitalism and nation-state proxies. We understand that the human future – if there is one – will require a complete reworking of both the economic and political structures, accompanied by a complete reworking of individual human aspirations. It is only when the aspirations of people align with the actual demands and limitations of their environment can any kind of stability or modicum of satisfaction be achieved.
This mismatch between aspiration and possibility is what drives all social movements. It is quite natural that ~on aggregate~ the aspirations of ‘the masses’ are bourgeois and mundane. Materialism is the only ideology that most have ever known. The spread of consumerism worldwide through economic policy and mass media completely dominate the zeitgeist. There simply is no vision from the Left or the Religious Humanists that is both concentrated and coherent.*
But fear not. The consumerism that destroyed my generation (the Vietnam generation) is not available for this current generation. Try as they might, the industrialists may try to sustain their growth profits by exploiting every last molecule of carbon energy in Chinese factories, but it cannot work for very long. There will be a cataclysmic restructuring. Will this be preceded by the usual resource war? I hope not.
When we look at the campaign rhetoric of Mr. Obama, ‘no more business as usual’, ‘ending the tyranny of oil’, and so on as actual expressions of popular will – which I believe they are; the ‘change we can believe in’ – we can see that to accomplish these things in America will require what people everywhere have called for but have not realized anywhere as yet; regime change. A regime is a method, a standard practice. People in Egypt have not gotten regime change, they’ve gotten personnel change.
When we see the signs among the occupiers for REGIME CHANGE, such as I offer above, we will know that the stakes have been properly raised, and the struggle will get ugly.
Even so, I’m with them all the way. They are my dear, beloved bourgeois brothers and sisters.
*I had the good fortune, after my arrest in Washington at the Tar Sands / Keystone XL ‘sit in’, to find myself in the back of the police van with a number of religious leaders, the most interesting among them being Fr. Paul Mayer, a colleague of the Berrigans. We had a wonderful time discussing the Berrigan brothers, the nature of civil disobedience and the moral underpinnings of direct action if it is not to degenerate into a useless exercise of hatred and division. I presented my controversial comparison of the guidance of Thomas Merton and Philip Berrigan with the ‘guidance’ of Chris Hedges and Bill Maher, much to the discomfort of my fellow passengers. The difference is one of compassion (to suffer or feel together) versus one of division and retribution.
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