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The Culture Club of Demand

April 11, 2011

How to avoid the depression of false expectations? Remove the expectations, keep up guard against anger and cynicism. Shouldn’t I, by this time understand the futility and utter banality of the social discourse? Perhaps it’s just the company I keep.

Take for instance, Robert Reich who says in his April 9th blog post, “Right-Wing Bullies Will Hold the Nation Hostage Again and Again.” Reich likens the political budget process to the theft of cupcakes and sandwiches by mean bullies who must be resisted or they’ll just keep stealing your sandwich. In Reich’s view, once resisted, they will no longer steal your sandwich. No, once resisted, they will employ more force to steal  your sandwich.

What is the point of this silly schoolyard language? Is this the level at which things must be discussed?

Rather than speaking seriously, Reich sticks to the foolish idea that the Democratic President has let us down, has gone astray, and that the Congressional leadership is simply ‘weak’, for some reason refusing to expose the Republican lies. I would ask what to do about the Democratic lies, but it’s gotten to the point that they don’t even bother anymore with the façade of working-class empowerment.

Now I suppose that it would be totally unacceptable for a person like Reich to suggest that the parties act as two halves of a ruling coalition. A coalition which has as its purpose to manage and maintain the infrastructure of economic activity, not for the benefit of the citizenry, but for the benefit of the economy itself.

Instead we get this outmoded language of class warfare, as if the vastly complex and interconnected global economy were controlled by some small elite group of greedy Republicans who in a previous life were evil barons and barristers out of a Charles Dickens novel. This is just so simplistic and silly it more resembles a comic book than an adult analysis. Both parties, and the vast machinery of lobbyists, academics, think-tank analysts, and media purveyors who live off this crap all benefit from this false class-conflict storyline. It’s an easy story to tell, a manageable plotline that never goes astray or actually gets to the difficult reality of human life on Earth. A coherent and comprehensive new narrative is definitely called for, one that reflects the 21st century world that we inhabit. To my mind we live in a connected environment of physical nature, social structures, and technological structures that support the very real existence of an autonomous economy. The methodology of that autonomous economy is to steal my lunch.

Such a narrative does not seem to be coming from any quarter that I can find. Let me return, once again to Christopher Hedges and his call for a ‘culture of resistance.’ Perhaps one reason that Mr. Hedges seems to be so frequent a focus of my criticism is not because I am diametrically opposed to his position, but rather because I’m so close to his position, and he states it so well. Hedges and I both agree that there is no solution to our very real problems in the established parties, parties that blogger Lambert at calls ‘legacy parties’.  But still we get this old-style ‘non-passerant’ defensive resistance language. I would rather call for a ‘culture of demand’. Granted it takes both defense (resistance) and offense (demand) to conduct a campaign, but my stress would be on the offense. And using a different language than that of class.

There are some potentates that I would kill by any and all means at my disposal. The are Ignorance, Superstition and Bigotry. The most sinister and tyrannical rulers on Earth. ~Emma Goldman

Hedges will be a featured speaker at an April 15th demo at Bank of America offices in New York. In a statement by Kevin Zeese, a candidate for numerous public offices and an organizer of the event, Zeese says “The political process no longer works. … The economy is controlled by a handful of economic elites.  … The only way to change this is to shift the power to a culture of resistance. This will be the first in a series of events we will organize to help give people control of their economic and political life.”

When did the political process ever work, in the democratic sense, if by  process he means the process of voting? And if the economy is controlled by a handful of economic elites, well then name them. If there are so few and it’s that simple it should be easy to name names, right? And if by some measure one was able to eliminate that elite, then the problem would be solved, right? Equality achieved? Of course not, because it’s vastly more complicated than that.

Now we agree that a cultural shift is needed, away from a culture of compliance and fear. But a culture of resistance is always met by an opposing force. In Robert Reich’s view, the bully will stop at the first resistance. My guess is that Hedges and Zeese know better and are fine with that. I suggest however, and I think modern history shows that a culture of demand is more successful, given the real examples of Gandhi, King, Mandela  (though this was a mixed approach of social demand and armed struggle) and our contemporary examples of Tunisia and Egypt. In those cases, it was the strategy of demand rather than the strategy of rebellion that prevailed (though there were glaring deficiencies in the demands themselves.)

And lastly, and certainly most troubling is the statement “This will be the first in a series of events we will organize to help give people control of their economic and political life.”  I am greatly troubled by the ‘we will organize’ aspect of any proposed popular movement making such promises as those. As my ex-wife so poigntantly asked, “Who’s We, White Man?” It smacks of vanguardism and an unnatural desire to control the natural forces of real social movements. I am wary of politicians bearing gifts. But I look forward to the plan.

I myself will not propose a plan. I have no solutions to sell, but neither do I mean to attack others. If I were in New York on the 15th, I would probably be at BOA in support of the effort. But I believe that solutions will arise or they will not, organically, according to our collective choices and the forces of nature, and we shall survive or perish accordingly. I believe that there is no word for what will emerge out of the impending breakdown and chaos of the collapsing order.

At least I hope there isn’t. We need a completely new narrative.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 24, 2011 1:02 am

    There’s something tightly imprisoning about the absence of anything solid to do. Speaking of myself, wherever I look I see nothing satisfying enough, nothing comprehensive enough to align myself with fully. Simultaneously I am deeply unsatisfied with having to carry on doing my job in a corporate structure, itself embedded in a failed and exhausted paradigm that encompasses the globe, knowing there is nowhere to go to escape. The prison is everywhere but cannot clearly be seen, nor is there a key, nor is there a lock, nor are any two people’s view of it alike.

    That said, I read your words and agree, but in that feeling of agreement, which should engender a sense of affiliation or camaraderie, I only feel the prison tighten and expand. The enormity of the situation, its particularity at the level of intimate detail in my own circumstance, seem insurmountable. Every bit of it is what we are through and through, what we generate, manufacture, breathe out, think, become. How can we use that to build a path to somewhere new? It’s impossible, but we must do it. The impossible must be done. We are compelled forward by necessity. But there is no forward, no visible path. There is compulsion without vision. What do we demand? From whom? How do we get to this new thing without knowing what it is, nor how to demand it? And to do anything we have to act together somehow, so there has to be agreement.

    This is not going to be easy. Preach a message of nothing clear and use that as our banner for a charge to a necessarily unknowable place. A tough sell.

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