A Revolution-in-Waiting?

“Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” –Oliver Wendell Holmes

“Disbelief in magic can force a poor soul into believing in government and business.” –Tom Robbins

So … if we all stop believing in money and elections, will they disappear? For me, money is already pretty damn good at disappearing. And losing faith in elections gets easier all the time –shall we choose this corporate shill, or the other corporate shill? Coke or Pepsi? Ford or Chevy? Paper or plastic? Seems like they’re pretty much all styrofoam these days.

At times, it looks as if our rulers still believe in their own myths, at least when backed by wall-to-wall surveillance, vast armies and endless propaganda. Yet I’d guess they are well aware of historical precedents, what caused the downfall of earlier ruling elites. But they seem sure that they are so powerful, ruthless and clever that they will be able to short-circuit any serious social upheavals, and prevent the next revolution. And I occasionally fear they may be right. Or perhaps … they have backup plans — is this why there are private space launches now, and rumors of returning to the Moon, and heading on to Mars?

In this essay, Chris Hedges says, “An uprising that is devoid of ideas and vision is never a threat to ruling elites.” Must we wait for the next bright shining persuasive lie before we will see change, or can we work toward something better than merely replacing one dominant myth with another? I’m too old to go for the Easter Bunny now, or even the Great Pumpkin.

I can believe in a good idea — peace, equality, cooperation, fairness, truth. Myths? Those I have trouble with. Personally, I can’t even run a toaster on faith. If the damn thing’s not plugged in, it just sits there, and stubbornly refuses to heat up, no matter how sure I am that it’s ready to roll. Now, there was that clunky, topheavy touch lamp I could set off just by yelling loud enough… Finding some good solid ideas seems a better approach, though.
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Our Invisible Revolution
http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/our_invisible_revolution_20131028/
Posted on Oct 28, 2013
By Chris Hedges
“Did you ever ask yourself how it happens that government and capitalism continue to exist in spite of all the evil and trouble they are causing in the world?” the anarchist Alexander Berkman wrote in his essay “The Idea Is the Thing.” “If you did, then your answer must have been that it is because the people support those institutions, and that they support them because they believe in them.”
Berkman was right. As long as most citizens believe in the ideas that justify global capitalism, the private and state institutions that serve our corporate masters are unassailable. When these ideas are shattered, the institutions that buttress the ruling class deflate and collapse. The battle of ideas is percolating below the surface. It is a battle the corporate state is steadily losing. An increasing number of Americans are getting it. They know that we have been stripped of political power. They recognize that we have been shorn of our most basic and cherished civil liberties, and live under the gaze of the most intrusive security and surveillance apparatus in human history. Half the country lives in poverty. Many of the rest of us, if the corporate state is not overthrown, will join them. These truths are no longer hidden.
It appears that political ferment is dormant in the United States. This is incorrect. The ideas that sustain the corporate state are swiftly losing their efficacy across the political spectrum. The ideas that are rising to take their place, however, are inchoate. The right has retreated into Christian fascism and a celebration of the gun culture. The left, knocked off balance by decades of fierce state repression in the name of anti-communism, is struggling to rebuild and define itself. Popular revulsion for the ruling elite, however, is nearly universal. It is a question of which ideas will capture the public’s imagination.
Revolution usually erupts over events that would, in normal circumstances, be considered meaningless or minor acts of injustice by the state. But once the tinder of revolt has piled up, as it has in the United States, an insignificant spark easily ignites popular rebellion. No person or movement can ignite this tinder. No one knows where or when the eruption will take place. No one knows the form it will take. But it is certain now that a popular revolt is coming. The refusal by the corporate state to address even the minimal grievances of the citizenry, along with the abject failure to remedy the mounting state repression, the chronic unemployment and underemployment, the massive debt peonage that is crippling more than half of Americans, and the loss of hope and widespread despair, means that blowback is inevitable.
“Because revolution is evolution at its boiling point you cannot ‘make’ a real revolution any more than you can hasten the boiling of a tea kettle,” Berkman wrote. “It is the fire underneath that makes it boil: how quickly it will come to the boiling point will depend on how strong the fire is.”
Revolutions, when they erupt, appear to the elites and the establishment to be sudden and unexpected. This is because the real work of revolutionary ferment and consciousness is unseen by the mainstream society, noticed only after it has largely been completed. Throughout history, those who have sought radical change have always had to first discredit the ideas used to prop up ruling elites and construct alternative ideas for society, ideas often embodied in a utopian revolutionary myth. The articulation of a viable socialism as an alternative to corporate tyranny—as attempted by the book “Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA” and the website Popular Resistance—is, for me, paramount. Once ideas shift for a large portion of a population, once the vision of a new society grips the popular imagination, the old regime is finished.
An uprising that is devoid of ideas and vision is never a threat to ruling elites. Social upheaval without clear definition and direction, without ideas behind it, descends into nihilism, random violence and chaos. It consumes itself. This, at its core, is why I disagree with some elements of the Black Bloc anarchists. I believe in strategy. And so did many anarchists, including Berkman, Emma Goldman, Pyotr Kropotkin and Mikhail Bakunin.
By the time ruling elites are openly defied, there has already been a nearly total loss of faith in the ideas—in our case free market capitalism and globalization—that sustain the structures of the ruling elites. And once enough people get it, a process that can take years, “the slow, quiet, and peaceful social evolution becomes quick, militant, and violent,” as Berkman wrote. “Evolution becomes revolution.”
This is where we are headed. I do not say this because I am a supporter of revolution. I am not. I prefer the piecemeal and incremental reforms of a functioning democracy. I prefer a system in which our social institutions permit the citizenry to nonviolently dismiss those in authority. I prefer a system in which institutions are independent and not captive to corporate power. But we do not live in such a system. Revolt is the only option left. Ruling elites, once the ideas that justify their existence are dead, resort to force. It is their final clutch at power. If a nonviolent popular movement is able to ideologically disarm the bureaucrats, civil servants and police—to get them, in essence, to defect—nonviolent revolution is possible. But if the state can organize effective and prolonged violence against dissent, it spawns reactive revolutionary violence, or what the state calls terrorism. Violent revolutions usually give rise to revolutionaries as ruthless as their adversaries. “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster,” Friedrich Nietzsche wrote. “And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”
Violent revolutions are always tragic. I, and many other activists, seek to keep our uprising nonviolent. We seek to spare the country the savagery of domestic violence by both the state and its opponents. There is no guarantee that we will succeed, especially with the corporate state controlling a vast internal security apparatus and militarized police forces. But we must try.
Corporations, freed from all laws, government regulations and internal constraints, are stealing as much as they can, as fast as they can, on the way down. The managers of corporations no longer care about the effects of their pillage. Many expect the systems they are looting to fall apart. They are blinded by personal greed and hubris. They believe their obscene wealth can buy them security and protection. They should have spent a little less time studying management in business school and a little more time studying human nature and human history. They are digging their own graves.
Our shift to corporate totalitarianism, like the shift to all forms of totalitarianism, is incremental. Totalitarian systems ebb and flow, sometimes taking one step back before taking two steps forward, as they erode democratic liberalism. This process is now complete. The “consent of the governed” is a cruel joke. Barack Obama cannot defy corporate power any more than George W. Bush or Bill Clinton could. Unlike his two immediate predecessors, Bush, who is intellectually and probably emotionally impaired, did not understand the totalitarian process abetted by the presidency. Because Clinton and Obama, and their Democratic Party, understand the destructive roles they played and are playing, they must be seen as far more cynical and far more complicit in the ruination of the country. Democratic politicians speak in the familiar “I-feel-your-pain” language of the liberal class while allowing corporations to strip us of personal wealth and power. They are effective masks for corporate power.
The corporate state seeks to maintain the fiction of our personal agency in the political and economic process. As long as we believe we are participants, a lie sustained through massive propaganda campaigns, endless and absurd election cycles and the pageantry of empty political theater, our corporate oligarchs rest easy in their private jets, boardrooms, penthouses and mansions. As the bankruptcy of corporate capitalism and globalization is exposed, the ruling elite are increasingly nervous. They know that if the ideas that justify their power die, they are finished. This is why voices of dissent—as well as spontaneous uprisings such as the Occupy movement—are ruthlessly crushed by the corporate state.
“… Many ideas, once held to be true, have come to be regarded as wrong and evil,” Berkman wrote in his essay. “Thus the ideas of the divine right of kings, of slavery and serfdom. There was a time when the whole world believed those institutions to be right, just, and unchangeable. In the measure that those superstitions and false beliefs were fought by advanced thinkers, they became discredited and lost their hold upon the people, and finally the institutions that incorporated those ideas were abolished. Highbrows will tell you that they had ‘outlived’ their ‘usefulness’ and therefore they ‘died.’ But how did they ‘outlive’ their ‘usefulness’? To whom were they useful, and how did they ‘die’? We know already that they were useful only to the master class, and they were done away with by popular uprisings and revolutions.”

A Progressive Journal of News and Opinion Publisher, Zuade Kaufman Editor, Robert Scheer
© 2013 Truthdig, LLC. All rights reserved.

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About l. l. frederick

I'm pretty ordinary, so I find any number of things in the world interesting, among them: books, music, flowers, food, social justice, politics and (sometimes!) people. As for my writing, I've decided that I can be subtle and tasteful when our only problems are esthetic ones. Or when I'm dead, whichever comes first. In the meantime, read at your own risk.
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5 Responses to A Revolution-in-Waiting?

  1. Henry Jekyll says:

    Hey Linda,
    just curious but do you think that there’s any merit to the notion that the reason the status quo continues to exist with little regard for the suffering endured by millions is because a majority of people do not want a new egalitarian, humanistic system but instead would ideally prefer to be considered an elite themselves?
    Culture is a helluva thing and “what’s in it for me” has become a rather pervasive ethos that defines the individual in our materialistic society. I know that you’re a well read person and would like to know you’re thoughts.

    • Henry, that’s a great question. My thoughts? I’m not sure I understand much of anything! At best, I restate the obvious. But oddly enough I have been thinking about the power of propaganda and marketing lately.

      People may indeed want to be considered “elite” — after all, it’s certainly hyped as way better than being a normal person. And that hype hasn’t just happened. It’s been carefully crafted, useful and profitable in selling us shit we don’t need. And more insidiously, it’s been a great way to persuade us that some people have more money and power than we do, because they deserve more of everything than we do. The divine right of wealth and privilege, never to be questioned.

      Maybe because we have bought that myth that we are unworthy of the materialist paradise, I’m not sure we truly expect it, or see such a change in our circumstances as even possible. It is more of a fantasy — the hopeless daydream of hitting the lottery, winning American Idol, or marketing the next pet rock. On some level, we do seem to know that in this system, there’s only a future for the chosen few.

      Ever spend time around young children? They’re not angels, they are greedy, selfish and even cruel at times. But they are also generous, open and friendly and have a strong sense of what is fair. As a society, wouldn’t it make sense to encourage all of us to share and support each other, to reinforce values and behavior that would make the world more livable?

      But since that might not get us to want as much schlock, and might even lead us to question why some people are hungry while others have so much more than they need, we instead receive a constant bombardment of signals pushing happiness based on what we can buy. And telling us that greed is a good thing — “I want it all, and I want it now!” We should know better, but as you say, culture is powerful.

      When my stepdaughter’s toddler was with her grandpa and me fifty hours a week, I’d mute the TV for commercials, growling that, “They just want to sell us stuff. We don’t want that — we want more Max and Ruby!” We would practice piano, play music and dance, or take journeys on the exercise bike until the show finally came back on. But at six, Miriam avidly watches the damned ads interrupting her cartoons now. And after each pitch, she asks if I will buy some junky toy for her next bbirthday. Sigh. She is still good at sharing with her playmates, but … fighting that bright shiny material culture is an uphill battle. It’s damned seductive even for adults, and we must know it’s all a cheat and a lie. Any suggestions for weaning ourselves from the more-is-better trap? – Linda

      • Henry Jekyll says:

        I think you’re on the right path by deliberately attempting to counteract the media propaganda. I believe that only adults inclined to reason are amenable to discussions regarding the absurdity of a particular viewpoint. Which means there’s no way to wake the sleeping from the illusion without serious resistance. They must wake of their own accord. Which leads us back to the kids and preventing the mind numbing influence of media inputs in the first place.
        As far as the more-is-better trap, I think people have to realize the diminishing marginal returns on their own. I’ve even experienced hostility when attempting to question peers on excess consumptive practices. For what it’s worth, it’s good to know that there are others who can also pierce the veil of deception.

  2. At the moment my thing is neighborhood organising around sustainability (permaculture, renewable energy, rainwater collection, building Super Hoods). What I’m finding is that when people turn off their TV and start connecting with their neighbors and community, they find a voice to say no to money, stuff, and the conventional power structure that is foisted on them. They immediately identify with an innate sense of rebellion inside them. What’s more, they like the way it makes them feel – it has an antidepressant effect – and more or less naturally reach out for more.

    Annie Leonard has just put out a sequel to The Story of Stuff. She calls it The Story of Solutions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpkRvc-sOKk

    • Stuart – Thanks for a great comment, and welcome aboard. Indeed, doing and sharing are always way better than apathy and inertia. I’m not always sure how we can get folks up out of their chairs, but it sounds like you’ve found an effective approach. And thanks for the Story of Solutions link. – Linda

      “When you do nothing, you feel overwhelmed and powerless. But when you get involved, you feel the sense of hope and accomplishment that comes from knowing you are working to make things better.” –Pauline R. Kezer

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