Friday, February 19, 2010

Paranoia, the default option in interesting times

That until there are no longer/ First class and second class citizens of any nation/ Until the color of a man's skin/Is of no more significance than the color of his eyes/ Me say war. "War/No More Trouble" - Bob Marley
(Bob Marley's lyrics are the "red lines" of left wing populism)

A little light reading to start off with (be prepared to discuss)

So, this is what everyday chaos is like -- a situation that is not predictable in the short run, even less in the middle run. It is therefore a situation in which the economic, political, and cultural fluctuations are large and rapid. And that is frightening for most people. Immanuel Wallerstein

If it persists much longer, this era of high joblessness will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults—and quite possibly those of the children behind them as well. It will leave an indelible imprint on many blue-collar white men—and on white culture. It could change the nature of modern marriage, and also cripple marriage as an institution in many communities. It may already be plunging many inner cities into a kind of despair and dysfunction not seen for decades. Ultimately, it is likely to warp our politics, our culture, and the character of our society for years. Dan Peck - The Atlantic

Wired: What happens if we don’t get the growth everyone expects? Peter Thiel: If it doesn’t happen, people will go bankrupt in retirement. There are systemic consequences, too. If we don’t have enough growth, we will see a powerful shift away from capitalism. There are good things and bad things about capitalism, but inequality becomes completely intolerable to society when everything’s static. Wired
Urged on by conservative commentators, waves of newly minted activists are turning to once-obscure books and Web sites and discovering a set of ideas long dismissed as the preserve of conspiracy theorists, interviews conducted across the country over several months show. In this view, Mr. Obama and many of his predecessors (including George W. Bush) have deliberately undermined the Constitution and free enterprise for the benefit of a shadowy international network of wealthy elites.(...) They are frequently led by political neophytes who prize independence and tell strikingly similar stories of having been awakened by the recession. Their families upended by lost jobs, foreclosed homes and depleted retirement funds, they said they wanted to know why it happened and whom to blame.  New York Times
David Seaton's News Links
Below the surface of the seas of finance, the shadowy movements of many enormous predators are dimly perceived... swimmers cry out and are dragged under: who will be next?   What can be done?

The thread that links all the texts above is that we live in a period of crumbling certainties and a growing gap in America between immensely wealthy elites, a struggling middle class that is rapidly being proletarized, and a ballooning, lumpenproletariat-underclass. And history teaches us that persistent, intractable, inequality brings conflict.

Peter Thiel's insight in the Wired interview quoted above is worth underlining, "inequality becomes completely intolerable to society when everything's static."

Americans only tolerate temporary inequality, never permanent inequality.

If Americans can see the clear possibility of their own situation getting better they are not so likely to begrudge the good fortune of others, if not, they might begrudge... big time.

Thiel's viewpoint is quintessentially American, because endless growth, an ever larger pie to share, is the keystone of America's social pact.

However, Theil can only see the American pie growing through some sort of miraculous technological breakthrough: outer space or nanotechnology.

Ah, the future!

Didn't Stanley Kubrick think that by 2001 we would be vacationing in space stations instead of watching the Twin Towers fall in ashes and in flames?

This crisis, if it is structural and not temporary, is of an unimaginable peril to America' future. Economic growth, expansion, personal freedom and the fulfillment of dreams are the glue that holds America together.

White, Black, Asian and Hispanic, Christian and Jew: have we been assembled from the four corners of the earth only to shop together? And if the shelves are empty? And if the shelves are full, but our pockets are empty?

Today, suddenly, many Americans are discovering,for the first time since the legendary 1930s, that capitalism is no longer the large friendly animal that they had always had thought it to be. Here we are in a situation where fraudulent financial products pimped by frivolous criminals have destroyed the future of millions of our not "too big to fail" citizens, who must "save" the malefactors with their tax money and then watch as their education, pensions, medical care and other "entitlements" are shredded in the interest of financial "responsibility".

To explain it simply the American economic system is admittedly very brutal, but traditionally it has usually been so flexible, grown so fast and the chance of both physical and social mobility so real, that most Americans blame themselves when things don't turn out well for them; they direct their frustration inward instead of blaming the system itself. Much of America's culture of violence can be explained by this need to offload anger from the self.

Seen this way, there is a positive side to the flakey-fascist Tea Party movement.  The white middle class, lower and middle-middle class, people who were the heart of the system, its "salt of the earth", now realize that they have been screwed and they are looking for the culprits. Instead of shooting up their workplace and then committing suicide, they are holding meetings, organizing study groups and blaming Wall Street and Washington for their pain. I find some of this truly positive.

Once people start questioning their reality as earnestly as many of the Teabaggers appear to be doing, it quickly becomes habit forming. You can never know where it will finally lead them, how they may finally evolve. Now that Obama appears to have neutered the left, rebellion is apparently up to the wingnuts, but the important thing is to rebel.

This rebellion, as wacky as it seems, appears to be producing results, it is putting the wind up the right people. Here, for example is neocon Michael Gerson writing in The Washington Post 
Opponents are not just wrong; they are secretive, ruthless and demonic. They want to overturn the Constitution, establish a police state, cede American sovereignty to a new world order, fight wars for the sake of Israel, carve out a nation of Aztlan in the American Southwest. The argument of "us against them" is a temptation across the ideological spectrum. But it is intensified by Gnostic insights that pit the children of light against the children of darkness.(...) The "revolution" we are seeing is a metaphor. This is not 1776, in which the avenues of representation were blocked by a distant power. Those who take the revolutionary metaphor too literally are not engaged in politics, they are engaged in sedition.
For the moment there are many, very worrying racist and anti-immigrant overtones to much of what the Tea Party folk are saying, but the US Constitution is a holy document for Teabaggers and no matter how much you bend it out of shape, the Constitution is not Mein Kampf.

If the economy stays stagnant long enough, I predict that it may soon become evident why so many of the parents and grandparents of today's Teabaggers worshiped Franklin Delano Roosevelt and have great grandparents that turned out in their thousands to raptly listen to the speeches of William Jennings Bryan. They have been sold a bill of goods, buyer's remorse may be setting in.

It appears that many of these people are doing the first serious political thinking in their entire lives... let them ferment a bit more.

The Teabaggers aren't really "revolutionary", the idea of a stagnant America, with a permanent underclass is "counterrevolutionary". Everybody should rebel against that.

Stagnation and a permanent underclass directly attack the whole idea of the United States itself... because if the USA is really exceptional in any way, it is that it is an idea before it is anything else and without that idea of growth and possibility of change, of social mobility, the whole thing is in danger of coming apart at the seams.

There are people who compare the fall of Lehman brothers with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Maybe we should be so lucky.

The problem for the United States is that, contrary to the Russians, without their revolution, without their "dream", much of America's national identity simply disappears.

When the USSR went down, the Russians abruptly stopped being soviets and went back to being simply Russians. In fact they had never stopped. Theirs is a culture that goes back centuries before Lenin was even a gleam in his father's eye. A national identity that strong needs no "exceptionalism" to exist, it simply is, was and, presumably, always will be.

There is no "Russian Dream" as there is no "Chinese Dream"... They are just the Russians and the Chinese and as far as they are concerned others are simply defined as "not Russian" or "not Chinese".

Frankly speaking, such knee jerk, ethnic, "us and them", nationalism is offensive to most thinking Americans, because outside of America's "ideals", exactly who is "us" and who is "them"?

Except for Native-Americans all of the rest of "us" are descended from some sort of grab bag of "thems".

What is there outside of this ongoing revolution, exactly, that is going to ever make "E pluribus unum"? Without some idea of limitless horizons of "possibility and transformation": growing prosperity, social mobility etc, what is to keep America from flying apart like some Bosnia Herzegovina on steroids?

In the end the Teabagger's anti-tax, anti-government movement is not going anywhere. The real story is how the government, the state, which belongs to all its citizens, can be regenerated and regain its power over multinational corporate and special interests.

Every problem we are facing, from Wall Street to the climate is calling out for more regulation, more control and more taxes; this at a moment when both left and right are in agreement that the political system is paralyzed and and the people who run it are corrupt. As professor Wallerstein would say: this is a recipe for chaos. This is a time when paranoia is the default option. The Teabaggers are at least lucid to the point of being paranoiac. DS


Publius said...

I like your thinking here - you are stretching yourself to be empathetic, and you realize that the Tea Party movement has legitimate grievances.

A few quibbles: Although I am not part of the movement, I think the term "Teabagger" is offensive and demeaning. It's a cheap rhetorical ploy to use a term known by most to be some form of somewhat gross sexual acts.

Why not call them the Tea Party movement? That's what they call themselves.

The rhetoric at many liberal sites, such as the Daily Kos, leads me to believe that the left is more delusional than the right: they left demonizes the Tea Partiers more than Tea Partiers demonize the left.

They are not crazy. They may have more insight into the reality of our government and its insipid elites who collude with big business than the left does.

I suggest an alliance between the crazy left and crazy Tea Party movement. Power to the people.

Anonymous said...

David: I have been reading your pieces with great interest for the past year, however, the piece posted today about the Teabaggers and what is brewing here is among your best. As a child of the Depression - I was born in 1934- I can attest that that period seriosly affected my life and the lives of my brothers & sisters . I have no doubt this episode will affect many generations.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

"Tea Party Movement" is too much of a mouthful, I've taken to calling them "'baggers" for short. I am waiting to see what evolves from all of this, if Sarah Palin manages to "Obama" them, then I'll be right there with Kos,: that's why I put Bob Marley at the top: his lyrics are the left's red lines.