In our last Consciously Evolving Language session, the off-topic question was posed whether the United States even needs such a position as a “president”. In light of recent developments in the wake of the American election, this is a probing question that deserves more time and thought than a conversation about language and metaphor can afford.
Though asked in a specifically American context, the question has more general implications that go far beyond the borders of the United States itself. We live in a globalized world, and the tendencies toward more authoritarian forms of government are certainly not restricted to the biggest player in North America. There is a growing, worldwide feeling that democracy is under fire on the one hand while at the same time there are growing nascent democratic movements developing in many places, as the demonstrations in Poland, Belarus, Thailand, and Hong Kong, not to mention the pre-election protests in the United States underscore.
Even if he takes America as his stating point, in the following article, Rana Dasgupta looks at the phenomenon not just in the overworked context of fascism/freedom, but rather takes a broader, more historical view of the western democratic tradition as a whole. Given the intertwinement of politics and economics and the impacts of global capitalism in general, he gives us, I believe, a lot to think about in terms of what “democracy” might have to look like moving forward.
The article you recommended was excellent.
I am actually more afraid of the draconian measures taken to control this virus than I am of Covid-19, I have two ways of thinking about it…When I am optimistic, I think that the worst aspects of our present system are going to be destroyed in the melt-down… and when I am less optimistic, , I think that the oligarchy whose wealth and control has become so concentrated to the few, are going to achieve a kind of world domination beyond what they already have. What are your thoughts on it?
I had a history teacher who explained the structures of revolution. He said that no matter how oppressed the lowest classes become they will not rebel until an alliance with the intelligentsia is established. This is true of The American Revolution as well as the ones in France and Russia. His claim was that the preservation of property rights kept the revolution in America from turning to mob violence as it did in the other two conflicts. But I think there were other factors. I’m just not educated to the topic enough to weigh in. But it seems to me that the local control of 13 colonies was a factor. Do you remember a book by Ernst Schumacher published sometime in the sixties ( I think), called Small is Beautiful? I barely remember it but I believe at least part of the premise of the book was that local control of our lives is very important. This brings up the question, how do we oppose highly concentrated power within our economic and government systems? In possibly the most ironic twist of the century, I believe this is the impulse behind those who support Trump.
It seems to me that much depends on what one considers “draconian”. I’ll “out” myself right up front. I am convinced that the virus exists, and I am convinced that it can be life-threatening (at least in the sense of the straw that breaks the camel’s back), especially for certain segments of the population; I happen to belong to those segments (whether of my own volition or otherwise is irrelevant), so I’m not particularly interested (nor is my family) in simply “taking my chances”. As an older member of current Western civilization, I have fallen prey to some, but not all, of the civilizational disadvantages that brings with it. That’s just how it is.
But, I can also tell you that I think Zack Bush has a very valid point that the “problem” is not the virus per se, and we most certainly have to clean up our collective act in a whole range of areas, but all of those, as well as the approach itself, are long-term in nature. We have a current situation that must be dealt with as best as any of us can individually deal with it. Given the fact that whether acknowledged or not, we also live in societies, our individuality is placed within certain constraints that it is not up to us as individuals to simply ignore. Of course, to me, it is a question of balance, but I’m obviously in a minority. What else is new?
Doing what one can to reduce the potential risk of “initial viral load” (which seems to be one of, if not the, key factor determining how the infection plays out, doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. Our family has remained as much as we can amongst ourselves, but we have a five-year-old in the house who we like to have in pre-school, when possible, because it’s simply good for him to be with his friends. We pay close attention to the situation there, of course, and when cases appear, we keep him home for a while and send him again when it seems reasonable.
In public places, we wear masks, because it makes sense. Are they the solution? Of course not, but they’re not a political statement either. They’re inconvenient and get on all our nerves, but that’s a common item of conversation as well, when one is out and about. And like good Germans do, we air out our rooms regularly, wash our hands, and try to get out into what passes for fresh air as often as we can (and when it’s possible, we social distance, also without masks. A little bit of common sense goes a long way and so these simple measures haven’t struck any of us as “draconian”.
On the other hand, living in a paycheck-to-paycheck culture creates other life-circumstances that then become much more difficult to deal with. When you suddenly lose your income, can be foreclosed on or evicted for non-payment of rent, when both parents are managing to work but the schools and daycare centers are closed, when debt is the major determinant of your life, things look very different. When businesses are then closed, knowing full well that it’s starting a big snowball rolling that the government doesn’t feel responsible for, then it is very easy, and reasonable, to start using the word “draconian”. Of course, here too, the question of balance is not out of place.
But the “draconian” didn’t start with the virus, it only became visible because of it. We shouldn’t forget that the day the virus hit, when it was formally announced, the Fed injected $1.5tr into the financial sector without being asked to and without batting an eye. When a $500m assistance bill for people was proposed there were endless debates and discussions. The political priorities are clear, and the “people” just aren’t worth it. In other words, the political decisions to shut down “business” were the biggest affront because it meant desolation for so many people. In a country without alternatives (remember Reagan’s and Thatcher’s TINA policies?) these were the “hard” choices the politicians “had to” make. Of course, big-named, subsidy- and tax-credit receiving, wealthy corporations needed to be protected. After all, that’s where the big-ticket donations come from and that is where the heaviest political influence comes from. None of this is new, and that is, to a certain extent, what the author of the article was pointing out. It’s been long about property and hardly ever about people. That’s the “draconian” that I see.
During the pandemic, those corporations and their “investors” (an Orwellian term if there ever was one) did exceptionally well. Everybody else got screwed. I would be willing to bet that the majority of the jobs lost during this crisis are never, ever coming back. I would also be willing to bet that the jobs that do show up, that some wilely politician “creates”, are going to be more precarious than the bottom-rung jobs we have so many of today. Beggars can’t be choosers, and how many people have been put into the beggar position? That’s draconian to me, but it didn’t start with the pandemic, rather the pandemic provided a once-in-a-lifetime (though that may not be correct either) opportunity to take the next step. And they are going to take it, I’m sure.
You may have a point here, but the irony is most likely lost on those folks. I don’t believe that any of them see that Mr. Trump (apart from his particular and personal sociopathologic narcissism) is “one of them”. If he accomplished anything while in office, it was to let the powers that be get even more power. Since he comes from the real-estate side of things, his relationship to finance is a bit more ambivalent than say, Bezos, but he’s all for them. Trump was the right man for the job, too: just full of distractions and sleight-of-hand, the perfect front-man, for heads of major corporations, unsurprisingly, have both narcissistic and autocratic tendencies. But if his supporters believe he’s the savior, then that’s what he is, for them. Reality is always on the other side of belief.
Interesting take, I suppose. I’m always wary when someone can reduce such phenomena to a single factor. I believe M. Proudhoun was correct in his assessment: property is theft. I mean at some point someone said “this is mine” and had the violent wherewithal to get his opinion accepted by others. That we enshrined this as a “right” only goes to show how much we’ve all bought into the idea. So, if the right to property prevented the American Revolution from descending into mob violence, it also served as one of the main pillars of justification for slavery at the very same time. And we know where that got us. Pick your poison. We’re still suffering from the effects, even if we survived the dosage. The role of the so-called intelligentsia is to provide the rationale for otherwise mindless acts of violence, it would seem. It’s not clear to me that we’ve learned a lot over the past 50,000+ years of our existence as a species on this planet. I keep hoping we will, but my hope is running out.
We need to always keep in mind that this “system” in which we find ourselves (especially the one in which money is the highest good) is, as all systems are, a (mere) mental construct. It’s not a fiction, it’s a construct. What they have in common is that they are both “made up”. Systems are never givens, even if we treat them as such. Now, whereas most fiction makes some kind of sense; a lot of constructs once did, but maybe don’t anymore, and recognizing that is a necessary step a lot people need to take. Holding on to dysfunctional constructs can kill you, and this one is killing us.
BTW, the book you are thinking of is E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, an eminently readable text, inspired by Schumacher’s time following Gandhi around. The economic model that has been generally accepted, of course, is bigger-is-better and we all know where that is getting us.
So, where does that leave us? I don’t know. I do know that regardless of what lots of people believe, we’ve evolved as a species that manages fairly well in groups that don’t exceed about 150 people. The only significant change over time here is that these 150 don’t necessarily have to be directly (or even indirectly) related; in fact, they don’t have to be related at all. Taken at face value, that’s not really going to get us very far, so we have to look for ways to stretch our evolutionary envelope, I suppose, and realize that anyone individual’s 150 doesn’t have to be fixed with their neighbor’s 150. I think one of our problems is not that we too often think in terms of separateness not in terms of commonness.
Nation-states are, in my mind, just scaled-up versions of fixed, small groups that we try to manage using fixed-small-group practices, such as competition, hierarchical authority, force, etc. In other words, it’s time to recognize that it’s cooperation that is the real evolutionary driver, well, as far as the biological theory goes. We, as humans, have done a lot to change the course of the world that goes far beyond basic biology. I think this has become patently obvious today. We’re not helpless victims of chance, we have a say in much of what happens, otherwise we’d never think we could change anything. But as is the case with all real, deep-seated, far-reaching change, we need to change our minds before we have any chance of changing our reality.
This has some merit.What I feel-see is they(who ever they are) take this to the Extreme of Isolationism on So many levels because of a sick form of Fear of the Other. And White is Not the Only Color in Life…and Color of green so many confuse with True Wealth is just as isolating in my Values.
Ed, Read your comments with great interest and I generally agree.
I am living in California and do not think draconian is an exaggeration, But I am farther down the food chain and locked out of being able to go back to my home—- my daughter’s business that took her ten years to build is gone and food banks are overwhelmed. There is a misery in this isolation and top-down control from
bureaucrats ( (not Science) that makes me angry.
But I too wear my mask and want to support others in any way I can. The pandemic has exposed many fault lines more vividly in our social order.
I am trying to figure out what is most constructive for me to do. As I keep saying, the situation in the world is like a piano falling downstairs. Things are changing and the momentum is not going to slow down until we find solutions. I don’t think that is going to be a vaccine.
Am very interested to hear your thoughts on it all.
Your post came late enough, for me, where I am, that I didn’t have the wherewithal to respond sooner. I slept on it, but it didn’t do me much good. I’m not sure what (I want) to say. If this seems a bit incoherent, it is only because it is.
You’re “locked out of being able to go back home” … I don’t wish to pry, but I’m not sure how I should understand that statement. At the same time, I am truly sorry to hear about your daughter’s business; I know from personal experience how disheartening such a loss can be. The food banks – there and here – were nearing capacity before the pandemic; the crisis put them under. I’ve long wondered why they are even necessary in supposedly “rich countries”, and then to be overwhelmed?
It’s a pretty funky definition of “rich” that gets these extremes together, or is it simply one of those obvious paradoxes Lisa has been trying so hard to get us to recognize? I don’t think so. I tend to think it’s just part of the game of self-delusion that we love so much to play. Statistically, we’re rich in monetary and financial terms, but we live in abject poverty of spirit. Oh, right … spirit doesn’t exist, as every good materialist/physicalist knows. But I’m not one of them, so what do I know?
The curmudgeon in me (and he’s not an insignificant part) tells me it’s going to get a whole lot worse before it even thinks about getting a little bit better. The hermeticist in me believes in miracles. So I find myself planning for the absolute worst, while hoping for a miracle. When “it happens”, will I be wise enough to know which it was?
Johnny’s clean-language question haunts me: What do I/you/he/she/it/we/they want to have happen? It’s a good question, no matter how it is asked. But I’m not sure it has an answer, but it deserves a response … from all of us. The (or a) vaccine cannot be a solution for it only addresses one symptom: the effect of the virus on people. Businesses may be able to open, movement may be made possible, but the fault lines have to do with how we’re organized as a culture, what we value, what we think is important, how we delegate authority, how we engage others, and much, much more. I don’t think we have to tackle all the issues at once, but we do need to get the issues clearly on the table or they can’t be addressed at all. We have to do this in small as well as large.
Of course, I don’t know how to engage deniers, be they of science, facts, or reality in general. Conversations mean that participants must be open to one another. The same applies to discussions and especially to debates, but there is a growing number of people who clearly declare they are not open at all, nor do they want to be. There are, in America at least, too many of them to ignore, so the curmudgeon sees that as a sign things are nearing a breaking point. Of course the hermeticist is still hoping for a miracle.
My bottle of Restore arrived yesterday. Zach has good info that makes sense to me. As a non-scientist, who studies lots of different theories, I am not competent enough to judge a great deal but I am able to register the effects of double speak and mixed messages. The CDC is maze of deception, much of it is self-deception. They lie to the public, protect big Pharma, divert funds away from health and into disease production.
Zach, on the other hand, seems to be a much more integrated communicator, with a sense of the Sacred. I have watched many of his talks and have never felt he was out to deceive. That doesn’t mean he is free from errors or can’t be mistaken about something. In general, however, I find his conclusions to be quite sound. There is a symbiotic relationship between microbes and our species and some of it has a downside, it is true. But the war on the microbial world is not going to work. Sterile environments are not that good for us. That doesn’t mean I don’t wash my hands.
So, I have purchased his product and am feeling good. There is always a bit of placebo effect when I try something new so it is too soon to judge how it works, yet, upon my particular system. The community within the gut and the community of the nation-state may have overlapping borders. How does imagination and the flickering images that come and go in our mind’s eye and upon our flat screens help or hinder? It seems each us has to take some responsibility for reading the weather in the clouds, in the gut, the handwaving of politicians as their faces are covered, etc.
“We live in a world of surfaces,” said the inimitable Oscar Wilde, “and only shallow people don’t judge by appearances.”
The image may not be the best one but the salient points are: It is a situation out of anyone’s direct control and accelerating, there is collateral damage, and we will not be able to reconstruct the same piano.
Actually I think it is a very good one, for it has such an unexpectedness about it, just like this pandemic. And even if everything returned to normal ( which is not going to happen any time soon) we could never be the same society. Our naïve trust in this system will not return. So, what can we repair? What needs to be abandoned? And maybe we should forget about fixing the piano and learn to play the guitar instead which is much easier to carry around?
More on everyone’s comments when I can make it to my computer. But what I like about the piano analogy is the extreme clumsiness of such a large complex and delicate thing having such an unstoppable force. Noisy too.
I think the piano is the greatest solo instrument and it is also a big piece of expensive technology that has evolved through the musicians who have used it over the centuries. I can’t give up this great music but most of it is on YouTube. I haven’t been to Carnegie Hall in twenty years. Live music, in the big city, became intolerable to sit through, as most of the audience was using hearing aids and had a poor attention span. The young and middle aged scan their messages rather than pay attention to what is onstage. That is not true of opera, where audiences, mostly gay, are very aware of the history of the performance. But the AIDS epidemic, sadly, wiped out lots of fans as well as musicians. Art forms come out of and endure through participation of audiences and performers, across many generations, en-training group attention. And Western music may be at a dead end, as atonality is not appreciated by many outside of the academy.
So, it is with a very heavy heart that I mourn the loss of such a magnificent time-binder as the arts. We hold time together through music and art. Without live performances we are doomed as a culture. The theatres and concert halls are dead. New York has lost it’s reason to exist. To get into a museum they take your temperature. It feels like you are visiting a hospital.
Our path dependencies, to crude oil, and bigger and better refineries, is another form of how we use collective attentions and it is probably going to kill us as oil spills disrupt living eco-systems, destroy the coral reefs and new parasites are spawned in the guts of fish created by our dumping of plastics into the sea. This gets into our guts, too.
So, music, art. oil money, circulates and contextualizes each of us in certain well shaped pathways, which we get addicted to.
I hope someone who can play it will bring a violin. We can clap our hands, and carry a beat, use a voice. When the last big black out happened, in Manhattan, we went to the roofs, and heard crickets, and saw stars. And the kids were howling from the rooftops to the moon. Below, they lit the dark, tangled, silent, streets, with bon fires at the corners. Walking home, even with a flashlight, was very scary.
Jane Jacobs claimed that what held the civilization together was the sidewalk. People, even strangers, faced each other on the sidewalk, and established a sense of ‘we’. Now that cars have destroyed that sense of a ‘we’ space , the flat screens have further complicated a sense of a shared ‘we’ space, as people stare into the image on the screen, and have lost touch with the interior spaces from which self-generated imagery emerges. Bombarded with external imagery, we are caught up in the swirl of an algorithmic frenzy, that is not friendly to the invisible and the very subtle.
But I have marched with Black Lives Matter, and I have felt the roar of the crowd, and the rage of the suppressed, as well as the narcissistic overkill of decades of Giuliani and Bloomberg’s police state, clubs raised, from the men in blue on horses. The clash is felt along the heart and gut as well as upon the head that has been hit by a baton. This happened to a friend of mine. Blood ran down his face, the sting of pepper spray sent a sense of panic through the air.
So, now, we are on a great battlefield of that war of language and culture and science and money. From on the ground, it is interesting, how little things become so important. I was to meet a friend today, and we were going to walk along the River. I was looking forward to gazing into the eyes of a real person. He has had to cancel for he is not feeling well and is going to take a Covid test.
The future of democracy? I’m not sure…
Today, is Black Friday, and the last thing I want to do is go shopping. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
I appreciate the perspective presented in this article, which I think boils down to reminding us of the mortal, historical combat we are all living through between people with surplus money that they can put to work for them (i.e., the elite & advantaged) and people whose capacity for labor (everybody else, i.e., ‘the people’) is their source of power and value—and how this is not going very well for labor anymore.
Even Chinese manufacturing workers will eventually be replaced by robots—so the question is, what will all these (we) the people do, if they are not needed?
Principle of property vs. the principle of labor. The history of civilization as a history of land grabs. Whoso owns the land, technology (means of production), and resources (now including data) controls the world.
Ideally, the Earth will house only a small population of humans living in paradisical luxury while a servant class of machines (or machine-like humans) provides all the goods and services they could ever need. This would be the Earth’s god-realm phase.
Unfortunately, to get to the point where we can build these machines required the labor of billions of flesh and blood humans who unfortunately are still around, after they’ve made themselves obsolete.
I thought this paragraph in the article was particularly prophetic:
We have long envisioned the end of democracy as something out of a Hollywood dystopia; it will not be starkly militaristic, however, but cool and convenient in the Silicon Valley style. Democracy will not be repealed so much as rendered inconsequential and incorporated into a mightier system of social and ideological management—as humans learn, for instance, that they can outsource to machines not just their memories and their friendships, but also their political opinions. Instead of mass rallies and totalitarian cults, society will fragment into mutually incomprehensible bubbles, and only celebrity will possess the transcendental power necessary to deliver electoral numbers. Celebrity, of course, is essentially a Big Data product today. We may soon realize that what Kim Kardashian and others have really been up to is building constituencies.
Remember that Kanye West actually got on the ballot in a number of states this year. 12 years ago, most people thought Donald Trump’s political ambitions were a joke. But I think Trump showed how effectively his fame could be leveraged and now other “famous for being famous” and “famous for reasons completely unrelated to the actual work of governance” people are fantasizing about how to copy his model for themselves.
Eventually, merely being a rich, famous star or tech CEO is not enough and one wants real power. There is only such much real estate, there are only so many toys and tools and technologies to satisfy a soul.
My feeling is that ‘the people’ have to become ‘the owners’ by reclaiming as much their own time, energy, and resources as possible from the existing system and redirecting it into cooperative, ecological, integral ventures and structures. This begins with the management of our attention and intentions (desired outcomes), then putting our money/time/energy where our mouths are.
The mistake of the communist revolutions was to apply the same violent methods of the oppressors to undoing the oppression. Until cooperativism can out-compete capitalism on its own terms (i.e., the market) in order to redirect capital means to cooperative ends, I think we will continue in the same impasse that this article so cogently describes.
In answer to your question, I taught visual art overseas in international schools in six countries since 1994; more recently, schools near my daughter in Monterey, CA. But during the ten years that I taught at the International School of Prague, I established a painting atelier on the Czech/ Austrian border in a small town called Slavonice, remodeling a property that I leased long term. As long as I was working within the EU, I did not have to worry about my residency in Slavonice, the only semi-permanent home I’ve ever managed to establish. Recently I have had to apply for a long-term visa which was in process last year. I came home to visit my daughter in Monterey and got trapped because I am not allowed to go to Slavonice because of the pandemic. I left there with only a small bag, intending to return to my studio and to a project I had begun with my landlord. He has a large and very eclectic art collection a mile from my house on the Austrian side of the border and we are collaborating on a book about it.
My daughter lives in a very small upstairs, one bedroom apartment in Pacific Grove, CA and I am certain I am driving her barking mad. I’m not so sure about myself in the sanity department, but I cannot afford to live in California. In answer to my situation, I had a scheme to develop online art units for high school students so I created a web site for my educational films—spent the winter speaking pearls of wisdom into my winter wardrobe since a closet was the best I could do for a sound booth. The intention was not to sell my units to parents, but to schools. www.haroldstudio.org
I enjoyed reading your letters, partly because we are in general agreement on things and you offer new insights.
We differ in styles of approach. My friends and family regard people who voted for Trump as deluded crackers. Since I consider Trump a narcissistic sociopath, I understand why people might get comfortable with this analysis. But I am sensitive to the landscape of myth and the way that it moves. Not only how it moves, how it carries meaning in surprising ways. The Q-Anon narrative is not just the shadow of opposing ideas. From my perspective, I think our consensus reality, in the form of public discourse and “news” has been curated for a long time by corporate interests and is deeply false. Evidence of this is more a matter of silence on issues that need discussion. It concerns where news avoids analysis and the fair discussion of ideas. I think all of our understanding of the world has been severely contaminated with ‘truth’ that suits corporate agendas. Stark evidence of this can be seen within the new priesthood of “fact checkers sent to think for us.
But I do not want to impose my own “research” or my specific opinions about things onto this group. You all have your own ways of getting information and verifying what you believe.
In the interests of being clear, I think the general public who oppose Trump are just as biased and blinded by false narratives as the other side.
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