Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Good Things to Do in Lousy Times
Sam Smith has been keeping a Quaker-trained eye on American politics for a long time, and periodically he issues forth with advice for us comparative youngsters beset with a polity that seems to be going off the rails in several directions at once. He recently updated his "guide to getting through the crummy era we are still in," and I think it's well worth a perusal. Some bits that particularly speak to me:
Become an existentialist. Existentialism has been described as the philosophy that no one can take your shower for you. Weigh your words and actions on your conscience, not on polls. We may not be able to change history, but we can always choose how we react to history.Also important:
Read 1984 again. In Orwell's 1984, the Inner Party amounted to only 2% of Oceana's population; the Outer Party - the worker drones of the establishment (like those in Washington and on Wall Street) - were 13%. The rest were the proles, looked down upon socially yet retaining more freedom than those above them. We are in a similar situation - where, oddly, the lack of power can mean the presence of freedom. As we move towards - and even surpass - the fictional bad dreams of Orwell and Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World,', it is helpful to remember that these nightmares were actually the curse of the elites more than those who lived in the manner of centuries of humans rather than joining the living dead at the zenith of illusionary power. This bifurcation of society into a weak, struggling, but sane, mass and a sociopathic elite that is alternately vicious and afraid, unlimited and imprisoned, foreshadows what we find today - an elite willing, on the one hand, to occupy any corner of the world and, on the other, terrified of a few young men with simple weapons.
Read about movements that worked, particularly the populists, the 1960s anti-war and civil rights movements, the gay and women's rights efforts. And don't forget the Beats. They were the warm-up band for one of the biggest eras of change in our history.
Look up and down, not left and right. Consider the purported major achievements of the Obama administration. Each of them - the stimulus, healthcare bill, education changes and foreign policy - has at its core helping the top class of America grab still more of our economic and cultural assets. The healthcare bill was specifically warped to favor private insurance companies. The stimulus gave vastly more attention to Wall Street than to homeowners threatened with foreclosure or the unemployed. Plans to improve train service emphasize high speed rail - i.e. business and not coach class service. And so forth.
Have noble goals, but look out for yourself: As maritime wisdom puts it: one hand for the ship and one for yourself. You're no good to the cause if you're injured, depressed or fall overboard.Tell me about it. And:
Create a counterculture. It worked in the 1960s and it work again. You don't have to be a prisoner of the dominant culture. You can help create an alternative, just as the young did in the 1960s, without money or power. And without a counterculture there will be no significant change.This one leaves me pondering. What would an anti-corporate, anti-oligarchic counterculture look like? Could it be internet-based? Without being fatally contaminated by the strong and ever-growing corporate presence on the internet? Or would it have to mean a rejection of the contemporary, thoroughly corporatized mass media: TV, the internet, Twitter, Facebook, texting, etc.? Could an anti-oligarchic counterculture grow out of these things without being poisoned at the root? 'cause that, I think, must be the unifying concept of any real counterculture for our times: anti-oligarchism. At this historical moment in Shining City on the Hill Land, we have (1) a Grand Oligarchy Party, (2) a Petit Oligarchy Party, and (3) an ostensibly libertarian party that is really oligarchic in nature and origin, however much its devotees blather about "freedom." (Who do the Tea Partiers think will fill the gap once they get government out of the way by strangling it in the bathtub?) It's the oligarchy, stupid. It's the stupid oligarchy. That strikes me as the concept around which real friends of human freedom could organize a new oppositional counterculture. Hmm.