Living in my city one frequently brushes into political nostalgia. Known as a liberal hotbed of the Midwest, a smaller San Francisco you might say, I myself tend to think of it as “a retirement community for the Flower Children.” Manifestations of politics round here so often tends to take a nostalgic “things were more radical in the 60s and 70s.”
Any my official yet loose affiliation with the U.S. Communist Party also comes with a twinge of nostalgia. Oh, for the days of labor strikes! What is a strike these days? Professional baseball players go on strike–the proletariat? It’s hard to think so.
In my constant re-engagement with political thought I find myself drifting more and more toward the truly modern. Initially, I was hooked in by the heroes of old: the Martin Luther Kings, the Pierre Proudhons, the Emma Goldmans. While they are all persons to admire, it just seems the world has changed too much for their ideas to be simply recycled. But fresh minds are producing fresh ideas out there, en masse.
As for the whining hippies out there, take a time machine or try “thinking” again, just go shove your flower power.
So when I come across something I like, and there’s a lot of really vanguard shit out there, a part of me wonders why it’s not spreading like wildfires. I mean, there are a lot of reasons to consider. 1. Just because “I” think something is amazing doesn’t mean I must be right. 2. People are justifiably burnt out on politics. 3. Politics has become such a Gordian knot people just leave it to the care of “experts.” 4. Suppression? I’m not so paranoid but there may be a sprinkle of it at work.
One thing is for sure, it’s not for a lack of a communication medium.
So maybe I’m correct in my assessment that certain, radical political thought from the margins is really some potentially revolutionary shit. If I’m not going to fall into the hippie/Commie mythologizing that revolution is “something one must remember” what then?
I think that the issue is that we’ve really, really internalized the idea of being at “the end of history.” The Soviet Union died away, and the only new challenge is the archaic and conservative Islamo-theocracy movement that is more a qualified retreat than a step ahead. Above all, we’ve seen the culmination of the Enlightenment project. The belief that the sciences and technology would solve it all. Where once that involved developing the capacities of reason in people to know how to bring about the utopia, now (since we’ve “reached” utopia) the only thing that needs to be developed is accepting the telos and trusting the technocrats.
Democracy, as such, is purely an expression of opinions. It’s the comments section at the bottom of the page. Yes, no one has revoked the powers of the demos, but they know that an economy, security and such is best left to the business graduates on Wall Street and Pentagon officials. Even many of the “radical” left-wing icons of the times do not place themselves as actors and players in the political game, but like sports commentators simply analyze from a detached position. I’m thinking of the “Daily Show” and Michael Moore. Yes, they make one think about the situation but not much more than that. In the same sense that a Dilbert comic is funny only to those who are fully meshed into the corporate labyrinth. It gives us space for a therapeutic laugh at our situation, but offers no exit strategy.
I believe that the right-wing movements of the past and present have been more successful, not because they are at all a populist movement or a better solution. I’m far, far from conceding them any moral or rational victories. What I think has separated the right from the left is that the right is more willing to throw away the equitable, harmonious standard of liberal politics in favor of action. They don’t express opinions and sacralize differences. They act.
The left needs to re-think itself as a political agent again. Rather than grumble about how corrupt corporations are, as one grumbles about stormy weather, it’s time to re-gather and seriously ask the kind of questions that will lead to steps forward. Not a pure blind action, repeating some Soviet/hippie/etc. mistakes again and again, not hoping yet that Obama is going to really “change” anything for us, the Democrats are band-aids.
No navel-gazing, no simply mocking Fox News, no re-animating punk rock zombies, no revolutions in cyberspace, because this inward, reactive and nostalgic turn is not the way out, it’s just cursing the ocean as the ship is sinking.
I realize the contradiction of the armchair revolutionary. I know I can’t blog action. But the root problem as I see it isn’t simply a lack of action, but a failure to grasp how one can act. For that reason, for the moment, it may be best to really talk about what’s going on. To recognize the mental source of our paralysis.