Saturday, September 15, 2007

Why No Revolution?

It is time someone posted something on here that should be required to read, or at least something that approaches it. It is time that we start to use such forums as these to change the world and not simply tell anecdotes involving the adorable antics of our pets or gripe about being older. Things are too serious today for us to shirk our world historical duties.

We are living under an unsustainable regime. We are living on borrowed time and we can barely pay the interest. We are citizens of a country gone mad with wealth and power. We are living in a culture that has become a parody of itself. We are in an era of widespread pessimism and cynicism. We are surrounded by an abundance we have no way of appreciating. We have a way of life that is insecure and unable to procreate itself, it produces a society that collapses ever twenty to throaty years, with one generation torn against another. We are members of a government that no one can take seriously. We engage in public rituals that mean nothing for us, but we go along for the sake of appearance, even though we know no one is is watching. We have grown distant and cold to one another. We have given up our dogmas in exchange for new ones that preach total conformity to the consumerist way of life. We live and fight to live, even though we have no idea what to do with this life. We consider ourselves superior to the past, yet gradually sink back into it. We are unable to grow up. We are free but have become self-repressed. We feel no desire to defend the system and we all secretly hope that some deus ex machina will come and dismantle it.

Well, nobody is going to save us from ourselves, but us.

We're too strong to expect to be liberated. Who would do such a thing for us? Canada and Mexico could not do it, Russia and China are too far away, and they would not liberate us anyways, only treat us as a colony. We cannot expect an enlightened despotism to take root either. Our richest politicians, the ones poor into the patrician circles of New England and the South, feel no obligation to us, the common plebeians. Our system is an oligarchy on their behalf, yet their inability to pronounce the five letter C-word lets them think some grand meritocracy is at hand behind the workings of the system. Such a delusional group looks out for themselves because they think they are on an equal footing with us, even though they are in a world few of us could ever enter, no matter how hard we try.

The only solution is the most patriotic thing imaginable, a revolution. The founding fathers would be amazed that we have gone so long without one. They knew that they were necessary to keep our liberties fresh and the Constitution of our society up to date. Instead we have turned what was for them an imperfect document, into our Bible, infallible. Libertarians, for all their radical rhetoric, are more concerned with upholding the faith of the founding fathers as they see expressed in that flawed (yet still noble for its time) document, than with advancing the understanding of true freedom beyond the 18th century and its notions. True radicals ask only if something is right and makes sense. They do not ask if it is constitutional.

We need a complete overhaul of the system. Any system that could allow the abuses of this presidency to go unchecked for so many years, needs to be reevaluated. All the old institutions that were supposed to check the president's madness have been compromised. They have begun to engage in conspiracy with one another to keep things running smoothly, and to block any real change. Democrats and Republicans, we see they are the same. We all know things are rotten. We can smell the decay, almost taste it when we watch the news, yet still there is no revolution. Why?
There are plenty of blueprints out there for change. Countless manifestos that can be tried or combined. we have the whole history of the past to learn from, ancient Rome, Athens, the USSR, colonial America, Sparta, Florence, Venice, Absolutist France, Anarchist Barcelona, we can see different rules at work and we can compare these. If anything, we have Livy and Machiavelli to help us, along with Locke, Mill, and Marx, men operating on theory more than experience, but still giving us truths of human nature to consider.

We have avenues for change. We have third parties that we can get involved in. We have labor unions, benevolent associations, churches, synagogues, reading groups, Internet forums, coffee houses, libraries, marketplaces, places to get together and try to make change. Why no revolution? Why not even a storm on the horizon? it is getting constantly humid, yet still, it is not raining, nothing changes and nothing is being washed away. Why?

We have become trapped. We have erected blinders, sometimes literal fences that prevent us from seeing things clearly. But our hearts have betrayed us. We can feel them sharply and our attempts at peaceful living are disturbed by events in the outside world. Some of us, like Ausonius in the face of the barbarian invasions, shut ourselves away, or like St. Augustine, engage in otherworldly contemplation. Those who are left in the streets, trying to find others to march with and banners to hold, as well as hands, are disappointed and we cannot but help feel powerless, freedom in our society has become an instrument of repression.

I am not talking about abstract freedom, the freedom that the founding fathers adhered too and valued, a freedom each person cultivates within themselves. I am talking about the freedom that has replaced that, consumer freedom. Real political choices, political parties, diversity of political opinion and religious ideas and philosophical contemplations has been replaced by the worship of coarse liberalism, the celebration of different kinds of toothpaste and thousands of channels to choose from on television (owned by the same group of people, showing the same kinds of programs despite claims to the contrary).

This consumer freedom works to make us hate choice, it presents us with responsibility for things which require no real decision making. These products are all the same, stripped of false coloring and fancy packages, there are no remarkable differences. yet still we must have these debates within ourselves when we go shopping, what to buy? Which container? Which label? Overwhelmed by this freedom, we hide in the labels. We run for these easier designations and give up thinking for ourselves.

If this attitude could contain itself to just our consuming sphere of life, it would not be a problem, but our attitudes do not contain themselves easily. They shape our world views and lead to other actions that we might never have considered to stem from them. Our fleeing into the safety of labels leads us to gradually abandon free though all together. We take up restricted isms and ideologies or worse, we simply go with the flow of things, we join the bandwagon. Though the devout Communist or Fascist might be simple minded, they at least take a position against the bandwagon and have some freedom of thought, even though amongst themselves they have their own churches and chains.

Because we have fled from thinking for ourselves, we let others think for us. We become deluded into believing this collective thought is democratic and comes from the masses. Our patriotism, our understanding of political reality, the holidays we celebrate and how we do so, are viewed as something we are a part of and that we are merely reacting to others. We fail to see that the elites, the oligarchs, really run the show and give us these values and these ideals to mull over. The Christmas Tree, the roses for Valentine's Day, the doctrines of the Democratic and Republican parties, all of these are produced, planned, and executed by the few on behalf of the many, tricking us with elaborate ruses to make it seem like these are simply manifestations of the popular will.

Another thing that holds us back from revolution is the leveling down of our society. This is a phenomenon that has occurred while at the same time society is becoming more stratified economically and politically. That is not to say that this attitude and its effects are very real things, but they are a show put on for us, a distraction that is used to hide the real differences in our society.

What is this leveling down I speak of? In a sense it is conformity, but it is more complicated than that. it is trying to make every opinion equal, to view everybody's contribution as the same, to celebrate every little thing and every choice as invovling something greater than all of us. it is the attitude that turns all choice into teh same thing, so that voting a tyrant out of office becomes the same as getting a new pair of shoes. it attacks intellectualism as a form of elitism because it is intellectualism that can stand up to the real forms of elitism, the concentration of wealth and therefore power, in the hands of a few. All articles, songs, movies, and books are to be dumbed down. No one is to be seen as haivng any hidden greatness within them. Everyone is presupposed to be the same, want the same things, be satisfied in the same banal manner.

This leveling raises no one up, but lowers them to the lowest common denominator. Democracy infects the culture as it leaves the sphere of political economy. The thumping sounds of punk and hip hop are mistaken for real revolution while jobs are sent overseas and people's votes are gradually rendered meaningless, the elites already having decided what the political agenda for the country is going to be. That everyone comes together to listen to the same songs and laugh at the same jokes is mistaken for democracy in action despite the advertising that makes avoiding such phenomena impossible.

This leveling fails to inspire people to better things and that is what is most dangerous and repressive about it. It creates a world where people can be lazy and they become lazy in droves. It does not challenge, it rejects the concept outright and because it does so it weaves a cocoon of false security around people.

Unprovoked, people fall back on cultural artifacts that are easy to absorb, that require no advanced taste or comprehension. Junk culture you could call it. It is soothing, it is comfortable, like a pair of pajamas. It makes you fall asleep and issues no call to action, only inaction. If someone is inspired by it, usually it involves buying the handbag the character in the book has or to grind on the dance floor and try to physically abandon one’s own self for the frenzy of the mob.

A culture that embraces heroics, troubling questions, unhappy endings, not-so-catchy tunes, that challenges people with real dilemmas, makes them see the world in new ways and is enlightening. It lets people become aware of their own powers of thought and perception. From this they can begin to question, they gain confidence in their own abilities and gradually educate themselves. They seek out others and because they are challenged they seek out others who can help them overcome trying to understand the more difficult books and pieces of music. Together, these groups can then turn their attention to unraveling the socio-economic knots that hold them back, and thus real change can come about.

Is this an elitist view of culture? Of course, but it is also a meritocratic view as well, one that wants to lay open possibilities for people, not shut them off. It is a view of culture that is in actual practice far more freeing than what currently passes for music, art, and literature. This is not to say our culture should be difficult to understand, but it should not deal with what is given, to operate slowly on a machine made of clichés, familiar notes, expected colors, and worse of all, labels and brands.

But besides this is our material culture than accompanies it. This is the culture of consumerism. It is the way we consume now that prevents us from coming together under the banner of revolution and bringing about change. Compare our time with the 1960s and 1970s, when people came together over many marvelous projects. Not everything they stood for I agree with, but it is admirable that they had such energy and hope. They undertook it upon themselves to bring about change, in some cases, they succeeded. Why were they so eager to go into the streets and we are content to let the world grow ever more terrible?

Because they did not have the consumer culture we do to soothe them. They were able to open their eyes and keep their ears open because they did not have ipods to block everything out. They did not have to worry themselves with all kinds of summer choices. They were not busy wondering what their ring tones should be or what color their cellphones had to be. They did not take pictures of everything hoping in vain for something to be preserved for posterity, they went out and they made history.

A rejection of the “false” new is what we must first undergo in order to set the groundwork for collective change. The false new is the new of consumer goods which float past us and sing their siren songs asking to be snatched from the corporate vines through make them sprout from the ground. We must embrace the true new, the new of institutions responding to popular demands, the new of social change, the only change that matters. What new products might be dangling in front of us we must ignore. They are part of the whole culture of leveling down, not the culture of rising up, which we wish to cultivate, those of us who still carry the embers of some hope inside of us.

In addition, revolution must become a good word again. It must inspire us and makes feel arm just to hear it rubbed between the lips of another, as flaming as any cigarette. We in America have a unique opportunity to reclaim this word and shape it because we were the first ones to make it practical, to turn it from an abstraction, or a mere reference to astronomical bodies, and bring it down to the earth. We are in love with change, we must learn to once again love radical change, change that shifts the ground beneath us and creates a whole new way of seeing the world.

We are in a sense blessed by the fact that none of us lives with the memory of a domestic revolution. Revolution has become a tainted word because of other countries’ failures, but not our own. We have no reason to doubt ourselves capable of creating a better order, a more humane and rational society. We should not be depressed like those in Europe, Asia, or Latin America, if they have failed it is their own doing, we should critically examine such failures, but they should not hang like millstones around our necks, but rather serve to help make our path forward straighter without the distractions of collapsed utopias.

Revolution must become celebrated again as the last real adventure for us to take.
The present system has mapped everything around us, has come to understand geography, astronomy, and the most relevant parts of physics and psychology. But still it has no idea of the future and what potential human effort and endeavor can hold. We must turn to revolution if we are going to feel truly free and in any way the crafters and shapers of our own futures. If nothing else, hopefully it can be fun for all involved, exciting and enlightening, with every experience important and nothing regretted because lessons will always be learned. We have such short lives and there is no scoreboard ready to reward us for being meek, or laid back and letting things go on. There is no consolation prize. Even for those who believe in an afterlife, such a thing can only be won through a struggle. There is no reward for those who take a hands-off approach to life and society. What would be the point of getting in if it was the case?

I am not here to advocate one kind of revolution, but to call for a lifting of the repression around this concept. This is in fact a revolutionary approach, I feel. You, loyal reader who has reached the bottom of this article, could have dismissed this essay as a simple tirade, an angsty denouncement of everything coming from one who has not grown old enough to sample the delights of the status quo. Such an ad hominem attack might have merit if I was arguing for the overthrow of the system to be replaced with a definite alternative, providing you with knee-jerk revolutionary propaganda.

However, what I am in fact calling for, is for us to begin to debate radical change and what we can accomplish, how and why. We must throw open the doors to discourse first, realize what our possibilities are, and then work to achieve them in practical terms. We must start being as radical as reality itself.