Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Repent! The end is near... or maybe not

Administration officials said that nearly 800,000 federal workers would probably be told to stop working if a deal was not reached in the next two days. Small business loans would stop. Tax returns filed on paper would not be processed. Government Web sites would go dark. And federal loan guarantees for new mortgages would become unavailable. Speaking to reporters on a morning conference call, a senior administration official said the cumulative impact of the shutdown “would have a significant impact on our economic momentum.” New York Times
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I have to admit that I still haven't quite gotten over seeing the Oscar winning documentary, "Inside Job", which is described by its director, Charles Ferguson as being about "the systemic corruption of the United States by the financial services industry and the consequences of that systemic corruption". I found myself especially depressed by the part America's most prestigious educational institutions have been playing in this corruption. This is as if America's mind itself were corrupted, with unimaginably negative consequences for the country.

A healthy intellectual community is vital, central, to any meaningful change.  For at bottom the battle to be fought politically must be first be fought intellectually and if America's intellectuals are corrupt, who is to fight it? As the Bible says, "Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men."

What is the battle that has to be fought? Steve Walt has written a powerful paragraph that shows the outlines of it:
Since the mid-1960s, American conservatism has waged a relentless and successful campaign to convince U.S. voters that it is wasteful, foolish, and stupid to pay taxes to support domestic programs here at home, but it is our patriotic duty to pay taxes to support a military establishment that costs more than all other militaries put together and that is used not to defend American soil but to fight wars mostly on behalf of other people. In other words, Americans became convinced that it was wrong to spend tax revenues on things that would help their fellow citizens (like good schools, health care, roads, and bridges, high-speed rail, etc.), but it was perfectly OK to tax Americans (though of course not the richest Americans) and spend the money on foreign wars. And we bought it. Moreover, there doesn't seem to be an effective mechanism to force the president to actually face and confront the trade-offs between the money he spends on optional wars and the domestic programs that eventually have to be cut back home.  Stephen M. Walt
I confess I don't see any way of winning that battle as things stand today other than if the conservative movement simply collapses under the weight of its own stupidity, unfortunately damaging millions of people's lives and welfare in the process. I wonder how many dumb things anyone can do on borrowed money, for how long?

I am reminded of Marx's much ridiculed prediction that capitalism would eventually collapse under the weight of its internal contradictions.  Where he went wrong, in my humble opinion, was imagining that a revolution would hurry the process. I think he made that error out of the natural and very human desire to see things we would like to happen, happen when we are still alive to see them happen. 

Life is very short and a human being's power to imagine future utopias nearly infinite. How many millenarians over the centuries, have sold everything and then sat in a field waiting for the world to end?  Humans are always seeing signs that the end is near. Today we have the Rapture movement to prove that this waiting hopefully for the world to end is just part of the contradictory and tragic nature of our species. So, in my opinion Marx succumbed to this most human of traits, wishful thinking, when he predicted revolution bringing the end of capitalism and the instrument with which to effect the liberation of humanity. However, inevitably the world will end someday. Won't it?

On the other hand his analysis of the forces within the capitalist system, those which could cause its final collapse seem to me as rationally scientific as a seismologist discussing the San Andreas Fault.... On examining the fault scientists know that something terrible is bound to happen sometime, but the they don't know when, maybe tomorrow or maybe in 300 years. The idea of a revolution causing the collapse of capitalism is like thinking that if all the inhabitants of Los Angeles jumped up and down simultaneously, that this would cause the famous earthquake called, "the big one" to occur. But just because revolution has failed doesn't mean that capitalism is safe, because it can fail all on its own and there is no guarantee that anything better will automatically replace it.

The prime reason that the world's left(s?) appears so helpless today in the face of capitalism is that capitalism has become a truly international or better said, "a-national" movement. Today many corporations are even headquartered officially in offshore tax havens to avoid paying taxes. They are not controlled by any nation, while the left always, despite singing "The Internationale",  is inevitably attached to the states they inhabit and the only state where a revolution might actually change the whole world, The United States of America, is the state least likely to ever see one.

However just like the Rapturettes probably all we can do is wait and hope. DS

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