Monday, April 29, 2013

Bruce Wilder 04.28.13 at 5:36 pm

William Timberman: Paul Krugman is a likeable guy, but for me, at least, he’s not the herald of any plausible salvation.

Indeed. Because he has a certain nostalgia for the 1950s and 1960s America he grew up in (something I’ve been accused of, as well), and because he has considerable integrity, people often seem to miss the fact that he’s pretty much a conventional neoliberal. (That Nobel makes it difficult to credibly point out that he’s not much of an economist, but he’s not.) Roger Nowosielski needs to look no further, if he wants an answer to his question, “Who could possibly labor under such an illusion, do tell?”

The liberal / social democratic state of the 1950s and 1960s, was designed by a generation, which had experienced life under the “malefactors of great wealth”, who had stolen for themselves the product of the Second Industrial Revolution, creating the Gilded Age in America and the Proud Towers of European Empires. And, they were able to do it, because the massive failures of the Great Depression and two World Wars had made political solidarity a dominant fact of political life, imposing egalitarian values and the potential for mass political participation that made social welfare a purpose of government.

Quiggin’s memorial to WWI gave rise to a thread, which demonstrated how little people fathom the “social tension” (as one insightful commenter put it), which existed between proprietary government by hereditary, feudal aristocracy, and the rising forces of mass political solidarity in the form of nationalism.

I suppose, as philosophies, liberalism and social democracy have always had an ambiguous relationship with nationalism and political solidarity, embracing it in some circumstances, where the drama was appealing, and rejecting it in others, when the stink of the unwashed body politic rose up in racist sentiments or populist authoritarianism. A deep ambivalence, and reluctance to take responsibility for logical consequences, figured in some of the greatest tragedies of the 19th and 20th centuries. Reconstituting the Turks into a liberal democratic secular national state was going to require getting rid of a lot of Greeks and Armenians, and that was not going to be pretty. Manifest Destiny wasn’t going to be pleasant for the American Indian.

The secular decline in felt needs for social affiliation in the U.S. has reached a remarkable extreme. As the title of a book on the subject put it, we are bowling alone. That trend has opened up the possibility of realizing liberal ideals of tolerance and an embrace of diversity as a virtue, which I, personally, find admirable and hopeful. But, it makes it difficult to know how to organize a mass response, to elite depredations. What are our common bonds? What does it mean to merge identities into a mass group, and act in concert? To join a team, a club, let alone to join a union?

It is psychologically difficult, and painful, to admit that the great and powerful are out to get you, that you are not safe in society, that the police work for The Man, and the The Man is not nice or fair. It is a natural legacy of childhood, to deny the incompetence of parents, by extension, authority figures. And, yet, here we are, in 2013, and the elite are openly building a police state, and eating the economy alive from the bottom-up. In the last recession, 5% of the labor force was simply thrown away, and in the recovery — well the recovery only happened for the 1% (strictly speaking, it seems to have extended down to include about 7%, but I’m being poetical), everyone else is experiencing an erosion of wages. For the bottom 50%, nutrition and life expectancy are declining. The social contract has become very much like the “contract” that accompanies a Bank’s credit card — something entirely made up, and changed at will and without notice, by the Bank, to benefit the Bank, but who is willing to take up negotiating from the other side of the table, to insist that there be another side to the table, that there be a table and a negotiation?

Saying it isn’t enough, because there’s no there, there, . . . yet. No political solidarity upon which to found an organization for concerted action. It certainly isn’t going to occur in the twitterverse or on Facebook, those fishbowls designed for the police state to monitor.

Bruce Wilder 04.28.13 at 6:19 pm

The array of viewpoints on what might be termed, the decline of civilization, which is the product of the stasis imposed along with oppression and the net loss of total product associated with moving away from mutually beneficial social contracts, is, inevitably, going to be jarringly broad and diverse. One of the more annoying conceits (to me) of people leaning left is the presumption that we are all going to be able to reason ourselves toward a unified consensus. American liberals cannot accept that they cannot have political power, without making a durable alliance with people, for whom populist appeals make sense — their natural allies are the Fox News audience! Lots of people on the left are committed to local-ism, which might be a start on recovering community and commons, or a distraction — thinking you can solve the problems of the world by home gardening. One of the more jarring things I read yesterday was an article in the Wall Street Journal about the retirement of the bloodthirsty reactionary, Donald Kagan — definitely worth reading as a challenge to one’s sense of reality.

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