Death of Anti-War Movement is Greatly Exaggerated

I’ve been involved in some nice discussions recently with Skepoet at his blog, Left Turn At the Crossroads of Critical Thinking. It’s a helpful discussion (the particular discussion at issue in this post is from his post On power, ideology, and class, part 1). We share some similar views and yet come from very different directions.

I identify with liberalism for the reason it tends towards moderation and mediation, liberals being the only US demographic to show majority support for compromise. I can’t speak for Skepoet’s predisposition, but I could make some general guesses based on his jumping from one wing to the other (right to left) apparently without spending much if any time in the middle. He is unsurprisingly more critical toward liberalism than I, an attitude I assume he carried over to some extent from the earlier right-wing period of his life.

This brings me to the specific point I wish to discuss. In our discussion, I’ve defended liberalism against some of his criticisms. His initial views of liberalism seem to put it into the context of the policies of the Democratic Party or thereabout. That isn’t entirely wrong, but just too narrowly defined for my own understanding.

As I pointed out to him, almost half of liberals are independents and the other half that is in the Democratic Party only represents a third of the party membership. I’m an independent liberal and so I’m specifically defending the broad sense of liberalism that goes beyond partisan politics with emphasis on the psychological understanding of what motivates the liberal mindset. With their desire for compromise, partisan politics probably bothers liberals more than any other political group, partisan polarization being the complete opposite of bipartisan compromise. In this sense, liberals don’t like dogmatism or at least don’t embrace it in the way and to the extent more often seen on the far right (or even on the far left). This makes perfect sense when one looks at the psychological research where ‘liberalism’ practically equates to ‘openness to experience’, this ‘openness’ both being a strength (e.g., compromise) and a weakness (e.g., capitulation)… or, as some conservatives have stated it, don’t have a mind so open that your brains fall out.

Even though the Democratic Party isn’t specifically a liberal party, it is the party that ends up representing liberalism in the minds of many non-liberals and in the minds as well of many more mainstream liberals. Whether or not Obama is genuinely a liberal, I understand he does play the role of and uses the rhetoric of liberalism (although not in the way that makes independent liberals happy).

In the discussion with Skepoet, I was comparing the Occupy movement to the Bush era anti-war movement. Skepoet responded with the following:

How large was the anti-war movement in the US and how sincere was it? Because it effectively died when Obama went into office, but we are now in three wars instead of two.

I must admit that I was annoyed by this. Sincerity in this context seemed to imply an ideological or moral purity. As a liberal, this left-wing demand for ‘sincerity’ comes off as elitist or else just plain self-righteous. The average person doing their best to get involved is simply not good enough. I realize I might be reading too much into Skepoet’s question, but for some reason it rubbed me the wrong way. Even so, I chose to keep my emotional response out of the discussion and so responded more neutrally:

How large was the anti-war movement in the US?

As I recall from research I’ve done in the past, the US anti-war movement during the Bush administration was the largest protest movement in the US at that time. It was supposedly the largest protest movement in the world. The previous protest movement that I’m aware of that had been the largest in US history and which went global was the nuclear disarmament movement in the 1980s.

How sincere was it?

Sincerity is a relative trait. As the largest protest movement at that time, I’d say it had more sincerity than most political movements. It included libertarians, liberals, anarchists, minarchists, isolationists, pacifists, veterans, social justice Christians, and on and on.

I can’t speak for the whole movement, but I can speak for the part of the movement I was involved in here. There was a protest camp that lasted for months, having started in spring and continuing until the weather turned cold. Besides that camp, anti-war activists regularly protested for years and continues to this day. I constantly hear about anti-war protests in the US, although they get less attention in the MSM. It is far from dead. In my entire life, I’ve never experienced such a long-lasting protest movement.

Yes, the wars have continued and increased even. But you can’t blame that on the protesters. The protests continued. Also, the outrage that fueled those protests is the same outrage that fueled the Tea Party movement and now the Occupy movement. The Ron Paul libertarians were major supporters of the anti-war movement and many of them supported the Tea Party and now many of them support OWS. This is true for other political groups as well. You tend to find the same activists supporting each new manifestation of protest. They are all connected. An Occupy protest camp was formed a while back and it is the first protest camp we’ve had in Iowa City since the peace camp. Many of these people voted for Obama, but it hasn’t stopped them from voicing their outrage.

Skepoet then gave an answer that could be taken as final proof of the failure of the protester’s and of liberals in general:

Really? There is fairly good scholarly evidence to the contrary: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mheaney/Partisan_Dynamics_of_Contention.pdf

I’ve been meaning to respond to this for a while, but I wanted to be very clear in my refutation of this supposed proof.

Let me point out some of the limits of generalizing too much on the basis of this “scholarly evidence”. But first let me consider the complaint itself: Democrats stopped protesting after Obama was elected. Is that true? What were the conclusions of the research?

Did Obama’s Election Kill the Antiwar Movement?
By Ann Arbor

After Obama’s election as president, Democratic participation in antiwar activities plunged, falling from 37 percent in January 2009 to a low of 19 percent in November 2009, Heaney and Rojas say.

So, the complaint was that only 1/5 of Democrats (instead of slightly above 1/3 of Democrats) were willing to protest against the wars once Obama was elected? Accepting that as true, Democrats still represented one of the highest if not the highest portions of the anti-war movement during both Republican and Democratic administrations. That is supposed to be damning evidence? That is the great failure of all liberals and Democrats? This is proof of the superiority of more radical activists?

Anyway, it’s not as if the protests against the wars stopped. And certaintly it’s not as if liberals and Democrats stopped protesting for what they believed in simply because a Democrat was president.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protests_against_the_Iraq_War
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protests_against_the_invasion_of_Afghanistan
http://www.thenation.com/blog/163762/occupy-wall-street-why-so-many-demands-demands

Just because the media isn’t covering it, that isn’t to say it isn’t happening.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_coverage_of_the_Iraq_War

To continue, what are the specifics that the researchers focused on?

Antiwar No More?
Scott McLemee

From surveys conducted during national antiwar actions, the researchers found that people who self-identified as Democrats represented “a major constituency in the antiwar movement during 2007 and 2008,” accounting for 37 to 54 percent of participants. Those who identified as members of third parties represented 7 to 13 percent. (The rest indicated that they were independents, Republicans, or members of more than one party.)

As I was arguing, the movement included a diversity of supporters. Democrats were at most 1/2 of the participants and possibly only ever represented a 1/3 of the movement. The anti-war movement was never just about liberals, especially not just liberal Democrats (I’m a liberal who isn’t a Democrat; I participated in the anti-war protest movement and didn’t vote for Obama). What about all of the other groups involved? Why did the Ron Paul libertarians abandon the anti-war movement in order to campaign for Ron Paul and then later to join the Tea Party?

There are many explanations. But it should be pointed out this research was done years after the point when protest movement had some of its early strong support. The anti-war protests started in 2002 and gained their strongest momentum in 2003. Why would anyone reasonably expect the movement to sustain that same energy for the next 9 years following those first protests?

The anti-war protests began as an attempt to stop the invasion in Iraq from happening at all. It failed in that, but certainly the protesters can’t be blamed for what has followed since the invasion. Being against the invasion and being for pulling out are two separate issues. I was against the invasion and yet I believe we should fix what we break. The challenge, however, has been that if we don’t try to fix it the problem could get worse and if we try to fix it the problem might get worse. There are no clear answers at this point. The only clear answer that ever was a possibility was to never invade in the first place. Once the Iraq War was started, there was little hope that protesters could hold onto. Protest increasingly became symbolic rather than pragmatically effective toward some positive end. Worse just leads to worse.

The other purpose of the anti-war movement was to sway public opinion. It is a fact that public opinion has turned away from supporting the wars, and so on that account the anti-war movement has been an unqualified success. The public has become demoralized with the wars just as the anti-war protesters have become demoralized. Everyone has become demoralized by everything that is going on: endless and pointless wars, crony capitalism, a co-opted democracy, and on and on. Even as public support turns away from the wars, there is no sense of having won anything in the process. The public support has turned away from lots of things (the drug war, the culture war, etc) and yet it feels like nothing changes. The media and the government go on as if everything is the same.

What more is expected of the anti-war movement? Protesters can’t force the government to do anything and protesters can’t solve the problems caused by the very war they’ve been against. Many people have continued to protest against war, but people have had their lives and energies focused on the other issues (such as the economy) for reasons beyond their control. With many people hurting (growing poverty and shrinking middle class, unemployment or underemployment, house foreclosures, debt, lost life savings, struggling small businesses, etc), and so people have joined other causes and movements (fighting the Patriot Act, ending Gitmo, and freeing Bradley Manning; election reform, healthcare reform, tax reform, and regulatory reform; Tea Party, Coffee Party, and Occupy movement; etc) which has diffused the energy of the anti-war movement.

Anyway, I understand the criticisms. I’m critical of almost everything in the world these days. I just don’t see why the liberals should be blamed for everything and why all liberals (nearly half of whom, according to Pew’s Beyond Red vs Blue, are Independents) should be accused of being mindless Obama drones. Were there Obama supporters who withdrew from the anti-war movement? No shit, Sherlock. Was the anti-war movement nothing more than mindless Democratic loyalists? Don’t be silly.

The above commentary I posted in the comments section of an article by Paul Street (Were the Anti Iraq War Demonstrations of 2003 Too Good to Be True?). I received a thorough response to which I added further thoughts. Here is some of what I said:

I must admit that I don’t get the point of the criticism you are making. The support for Bush’s wars was bipartisan. Bush and his policies gained public support after 9/11 and the American public wanted revenge. When the anti-war protests began, most Democrats weren’t involved in it. Certainly, Democratic politicians weren’t involved in those early anti-war protests. I doubt that a majority of Democratic voters have ever been involved at the same time in the anti-war protest movement. It’s too simplistic to speak about Democrats hating Bush. Most Democrats, like most other Americans, were more bothered by the Patriot Act than by the wars. As I pointed out above, most Democrats aren’t liberals.

I wouldn’t be so quick to judge anti-war activists. I looked at the research by Heaney and Rojas. I’m not sure it supports your conclusion. First, the Independents (which would include the liberal independents) have maintained strong involvement in the anti-war protests. Second, Democrats decreased involvement by half, but that still leaves 20% involved which is still a fairly large proportion and which is more than the approximately 0% of Republicans involved. Third, as Democrats involvement decreased, third party voters increased by the exact same percentage which could imply that many of the anti-war Democrats didn’t actually stop being involved but simply became third party voters (maybe as they became dissatisfied with Obama). So, the overall participation percentages somewhat balance out over the two year period, the only clear change being the label by which the anti-war activists identified themselves.

(To which I would add: If some Democrats can be criticized for having left the anti-war movement, it would only be fair to praise the high number of Democrats who remained in the movment. Furthermore, it would only be fair to criticize almost all Republicans for never having joined the movement and it would only be fair to criticize Independents in not increasing their involvement until after Obama was elected.)

It’s not as if the anti-war protest movement has died. I still see people in downtown Iowa City with signs protesting the war. Also, I was just talking to a friend the other day. He went on a road trip and stopped by an anti-war protest where some people were arrested for stepping onto a military base. I think it might be this protest:

http://www.nukeresister.org/2011/10/04/2092/

Just because the national mainstream media doesn’t report on all of these protests around the country, it doesn’t mean they aren’t happening all the time. Just because a few Democrats you knew left the anti-war movement while campaigning for Obama, doesn’t mean that all or most people left the anti-war movement and it doesn’t even mean those Democrats didn’t later return to the anti-war movement.

http://original.antiwar.com/eisenberg/2011/05/11/stop-knocking-the-peace-movement/

“Oddly, the polls are sometimes cited to prove the ineptitude of the peace movement. With so many Americans against the war in Afghanistan, why isn’t the peace movement stronger? A fair question, yet one that omits the possibility that the efforts of local peace groups have contributed to that public skepticism.

“If the continued existence of the peace movement is unrecognized, how can this be explained? One is the complete freeze-out by the mainstream media. Since 2003, there have been no fewer than four national demonstrations attended by more than 100,000 people, yet the only one to receive coverage was the huge New York City gathering in the run-up to the Iraq War. The others were so many trees falling in the forest, which nobody could hear or see unless they were personally marching.

“But while the silence in the mainstream media is perhaps predictable, more surprising and less excusable has been the failure of progressive news outlets to provide positive attention to peace organizations. Since 2001, these alternative outlets have done an extraordinary job of reporting American actions abroad and providing sophisticated analysis of international events that are elsewhere ignored. Barely mentioned have been the mass antiwar mobilizations of the past eight years, the ongoing campaigns to move the Congress, or the steady, creative work of antiwar activists in towns and cities across the United States. The demoralizing result is a constant imbalance between the depressing news about U.S. foreign policy and the apparent lack of resistance here. Individuals who are not already part of the existing peace networks often conclude there is nothing useful to be done and focus elsewhere.

“In recent weeks, the silence has been broken by a handful of articles lamenting the absence of a peace movement and attributing its collapse to a misplaced enthusiasm for President Obama and the Democratic Party. In this narrative, the antiwar movement is characterized as nothing more than a partisan club to beat George W. Bush over the head with. Therefore, the story goes, once this particular “evildoer” had retired to Texas, the peace activists simply folded up their tents and abandoned the field. But this description takes no account of the thousands of people across the country who have organized protests for the past decade out of the conviction that the wars are wrong.”

Now I’ll respond to some of your other points.

“you ask where are all the Ron Paul anti-war activists? While there may have been some of those voices involved the bulk were clearly people who identified with the Dems & MoveOn who made it their mission to hate Bush.”

I always had the sense that a fair number of libertarians were involved in the anti-war protest movement, but I’ve never seen specific data. Is there a source of data you are basing your opinion on? Why would you assume many libertarians weren’t involved? Libertarians have tended to be anti-war for a long time. The oldest and most prominent anti-war website (antiwar.com) was started by a libertarian in 1995. The most well known libertarian (Ron Paul) is vocal about being anti-war. Certainly, libertarians hated Bush (with his policies such as the Patriot Act) about as much than liberals. It is true, though, that libertarians haven’t been known for their supporting the activism that liberals are involved in. As one article stated it:

http://www.salon.com/2011/08/30/lind_libertariansim/

“For that matter, where was the libertarian right during the great struggles for individual liberty in America in the last half-century? The libertarian movement has been conspicuously absent from the campaigns for civil rights for nonwhites, women, gays and lesbians. Most, if not all, libertarians support sexual and reproductive freedom (though Rand Paul has expressed doubts about federal civil rights legislation). But civil libertarian activists are found overwhelmingly on the left. Their right-wing brethren have been concerned with issues more important than civil rights, voting rights, abuses by police and the military, and the subordination of politics to religion — issues like the campaign to expand human freedom by turning highways over to toll-extracting private corporations and the crusade to funnel money from Social Security to Wall Street brokerage firms.”

Even so, I’m not the only person on the left who recognizes the role libertarians have played in the anti-war movement. Thaddeus Russell said:

http://themoderatevoice.com/119372/whither-the-anti-war-movement/

“I’m a man of the Left. I was raised by socialists in Berkeley. I’ve always been on the Left. But I stumbled upon antiwar.com about three years ago and was blown away. I said ‘This is what the Left should be doing! This is what the Left should be saying!’ Libertarians and sort of paleocons–but especially libertarians like antiwar.com . . . like Ron Paul–have been the leading voices of the anti-war movement. They’ve been the most principled–the most consistent–no matter who’s president. They’ve been saying again and again and again, ‘These wars are disasters. The Empire must end.’”

On the other hand, there are libertarians who mistrust and denounce the anti-war protests as being merely ‘liberal’. In response to such a libertarian, here is what one self-identified “anti-war liberal” (username Southern Guardian) said in a forum discussion:

http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread752060/pg1

“I never saw the anti-war protests as a political movement, and it’s very interesting that you label the anti-war protests as purely those of liberals. Are you admitting that you and other Ron Paul supporters/libertarians never participated? The protests in 2003-2005 were anti-war, that’s it. I never saw myself apart of any political movement, infact I never even saw myself as anti-war as I personally believe it is necessary at times. My stances along with others were rather a protest against the governments campaign against Iraq specifically and lies contained within. Myself and many others supported Afghanistan efforts until the recent capture of Osama Bin Ladin. ”

He expresses my own view. I’ve never been a partisan. In fact, I can’t stand party politics. When I was involved in the anti-war movement, I never thought of it as being a movement of only or mostly Democrats. There definitely wasn’t any Democratic Party material lying around or anything. It always seemed a diverse group to me. At the Iowa City peace camp, there were students, non-students (like me), hippies, veterans, and even some homeless kids. I never asked anyone who they voted for and it didn’t seem to matter since no one asked me either. I knew Republicans were against the peace camp since at one point they temporarily set up a counter-protest camp, but at no point did I ever get the idea that libertarians weren’t welcome in the peace camp. The anti-war protest movement was a part of the protests against Bush policies in general, and it was out of that defense of civil libertarianism that the Ron Paul libertarian movement gained momentum.

“The third point is a classic liberal response that “we have to fix” the mess we made. The Iraqis have been saying for years that they want us to leave, so they should have the primary say in this matter. More importantly, the US has never had any intention of “fixing” Iraq. US policy put Saddam Hussein in power, funded his war with Iran, provided him with the WMDs, invaded and bombed Iraq in 1991, imposed the most brutal sanction regime on any country in history for 12 years, then invaded/occupied again in 2003. During this current occupation the US has set up permanent military bases, privatized much of the economy, including oil as a means to have greater longer term influence on Iraq’s economy……see Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine.””

I’m familiar with all of that. You seem to have misunderstood me. My point was that, if the US destroys the infrastructure of a country in a pointless and unjustified war, then it would be fair and just for the US to at least rebuild that infrastructure to some extent (make roads passable, make water and electric plants operable, etc). I wasn’t talking about nation-building.

I added one even more important point that critics seem oblivious of:

As for Obama, he promised that he would withdraw troops and that is what he is doing. I realize he didn’t do it as quickly as his critics would have preferred, but this seems to prove valid the anti-war protesters who decided to support Obama. If McCain had been elected, maybe there would have been no troop withdrawal at all. I’m not a fan of Obama, but I try to be fair in my assessment of his presidency.

Skepoet would have a point if Obama hadn’t fulfilled his basic promise, however imperfectly. We can argue over various factors, but the broad point remains the same.

The anti-war protesters, Democrats included, managed to accomplish two of their main goals:

  1. They helped swayed public opinion away from supporting the war effort.
  2. They helped bring the Iraq War ever closer to being ended.

Considering their powerful opponents, that is a massive success… even if qualified by the larger context of the War on Terror that continues in that region. It is hardly inspiring to criticize protesters even when they have victories, no matter how minor you may think those victories are. Yes, it would have been better if the wars had ended earlier, but it seems to be clear at this point that they are coming to an end. Yes, military bases and contractors will remain in Iraq for the time being; still, you should accept the victories you can get.

Looking at other criticisms, I came across the following which mentions in some detail the anti-war movement in Iowa City, the location of the peace camp I was involved with in 2003. This critic brings up some good points about what went wrong:

Were the Anti Iraq War Demonstrations of 2003 Too Good to Be True?
By Jeff Smith

There is no longer an antiwar group of any relevance in Iowa City. The UIAC is dead, thanks to the departure of the best activists, the nefarious activities of an FBI informant, internal squabbles over personalities and Israel, and – last but not least – the significant demobilizing impact of a Democratic president who deceptively ran as an antiwar candidate.

What caught my attention was the reference to the FBI. I had forgotten about that. The FBI has a long history of disrupting and even destroying grassroots movements. With the Patriot Act, the FBI had been newly empowered to go even further than they would have prior to 9/11.

The following is a better overall analysis:

Where have all the war protesters gone?
The largest demonstrations ever have largely dissipated, even as we’ve launched new wars. Why a movement sputtered

 By Todd Gitlin

The outrage that greeted the run-up to the Bush-Blair Iraq war debacle generated what must have been the largest antiwar rallies and demonstrations in the history of the world. Sometimes in subzero temperatures, millions of marchers in New York, London and elsewhere took to the streets to interrupt the roar of self-righteous crypto-imperial bravado, to barge through George Bush’s strutters’ ball and its fevers of fantastical, deceptive and self-deceptive claims about Saddam Hussein’s danger to the United States and Washington’s promise to parachute democracy into Saddam’s stricken land. In the well-chosen words of one London sign, the marchers were “Shocked, Not Awed.”

Then the marches stopped.

The author then goes on to give many reasons, all of which I agree with. Grassroots is never easy even under perfect conditions, and the situation the anti-war movement faced was challenging to say the least. In response to that analysis, here is a good argument for why the death of the peace movement is greatly exaggerated:

Don’t Exaggerate the Death of the Antiwar Movement
by Medea Benjamin

In an article in Salon.com, Todd Gitlin writes a convincing obituary for an antiwar movement killed by a thousand blows: crushed by Bush’s pigheadedness, dumped in the media’s black hole, rendered invisible by a volunteer army and drones, overshadowed by more urgent financial crises, chastened by the “unpleasantness” of adversaries from Taliban to al-Qaida to Gadhafi. He leaves out some other daggers to the heart of the movement: grass-roots election campaigns that lured away millions of activists; betrayals by the president and groups like MoveOn who used and abused the antiwar sentiment; craven congressional reps who violate the will of their constituents by continuing to fund war; powerful lobbyists for the war industry who wield enormous power in Washington; and the utter exhaustion that sets in after 10 years of standing up to the largest military complex the world has ever seen.

Despite all these challenges, however, the reports of the death of the antiwar movement are greatly exaggerated. Sure, there are no longer millions marching in the streets — but there aren’t millions marching in American streets for any cause these days. Lacking the staying power of Tahrir Square, our weekend rallies failed to effect policy and left people disillusioned — and bored. That’s why creative and media-savvy activism 2.0 tactics — like flash mobs, Twitter culture jams and YouTube videos — have emerged that engage with the younger generation.

And that’s why the movement has transformed as well. Rather than marching in circles and chanting slogans to ourselves, we’re reaching deep into our communities to make connections between the economic crises our neighborhoods face and the wars that rob us of scarce resources.

The author then goes on to give the examples of the continued activism. Then the author concludes with the following:

Finally, we have been busy trying to insert the anti-war message in the broader movements for social and economic justice. While our message is sometimes rebuffed or marginalized in activities closely linked to the Democratic Party, at every major rally for jobs, civil rights or corporate responsibility, you’ll find anti-war activists.

As Todd Gitlin knows well, movements ebb and flow. We are certainly not at our zenith, but we are still breathing. The Arab Spring has given us new inspiration, and as the 10th anniversary of the senseless war in Afghanistan approaches in October, you can expect to see the antiwar movement not just breathing, but kicking into high gear with an open-ended mobilization in D.C. starting on Oct. 7 and artistic actions throughout the country under the banner of 10 Years and Counting. We invite Todd and others who have been writing about our demise to come join us.

Also, take for example these comments to the above article:

Posted by orbit7er
Jul 21 2011 – 8:56am

My own local Peace Group has been having a Peace Vigil every Friday since
September 11, 2001. We are still there…
At first when Bush started the Iraq War we got middle finger salutes..
But within some months those turned to peace signs and honks of support.
And every week still we get peace signs and honks of support…
The vast majority of Americans want to END these Wars!

Posted by suhail_shafi
Jul 21 2011 – 8:25pm

I do not think that the anti war movement is dead at all. Much of US and Western public opinion is opposed or at least skeptical of the US invasion of Iraq and the NATO attack on Libya.

If the mission of the anti war movement was to end all wars, it has indeed failed miserably. But if the mission of the movement was to galvanize public opinion against the wars, it has been an unqualified success.

————————————————————————

Beheading the Zombie Culture Wars

I just wrote about Corey Robin’s view that the conservative movement is inherently reactionary. I understand his point and I think it is valid, although I would tend to place it in a larger context (of history and psychology). At the moment, however, my mind is focused on a somewhat smaller context: culture wars. I was thinking that the culture wars fit into Robin’s framework of a reactionary conservatism.

Before I noticed Corey Robin’s book, I was having some discussions with a conservative. The issue of culture wars came up. It is an issue that is both very personal for me and for many others, on both sides of the spectrum. But it is personal for different reasons.

The Silent and Boomer generations were born before and in many cases grew up before the present culture wars even began (i.e., the 60s; and not really gaining full momentum until the late 60s). Also, they didn’t know the hardships and sacrifices previous generations made. They didn’t experience the oppression that led to the rise of working class movements during the Populist and Progressive Eras. They didn’t experience having to fight for basic rights and protections during an era when industrialism arose. They didn’t experience WWI, didn’t experience Prohibition and the Great Depression, didn’t even experience WWII to any great extent (although some Silents would have memories of it from childhood).

The era of the early lives of Silents and Boomers was a time of mostly peace and prosperity. It was a time when liberalism reigned without much challenge (progressive reform, high union membership, enactment of EPA, progressive taxation, building of infrastructure, the G.I. bill, etc), and this liberalism created a booming economy and growing middle class (along with increasing social mobility, career opportunities, and civil rights). Silents and Boomers, especially the latter, grew up in privilege and entitlement. They only knew the benefits of what previous generations had fought for but not the hardships and sacrifices. For this reason, they became in many ways selfish generations who dismantled much of what they had benefited from, pulling up the ladder behind them so that later generations would struggle and suffer (if you’ve paid attention, you’d notice that Boomer-dominated unions often are more protective of the rights of older workers than of newer workers who tend to be of the younger generations entering the workforce).

Silents and Boomers were those who started and fought the culture wars. Maybe they did so because they had life so good. Since they didn’t have to worry about survival, they could distract themselves with cultural issues of identity politics, abortion and abstract idealizations about family values. Silents played a particularly interesting role as the leaders of the culture wars and as the reactionaries to it (while the Boomers originally played the role of the troops on the ground in their protests and grassroots activism). It was the Silents like Reagan who were the great dismantlers of the Great Society and they justified it with the culture wars which was partly just a superficial facade placed on the old class wars of the previous generations. So, war on poverty became the war on the poor (on the welfare queens, on the drug addicts, on minorities, on immigrants, on anyone who was part of the lower class).

From my perspective as a GenXer, I feel like saying “Pox on both your houses!” The left and the right of the culture wars seemed to have lost any vision of what made America great and instead focused on winning battles, battles whose costs they didn’t understand (or else didn’t care about… in their correct assumption that future generations would be forced to deal with it). The Silents and the Boomers knew a world prior to the culture wars, but GenXers did not. The culture wars is the only America I’ve ever personally experienced in my life. The culture wars touches upon everything. When the culture wars started, the Silents and the Boomers all took sides. The 60s typically are portrayed as just a time of left-wing activism, but that isn’t the reality. It was the 60s that involved the renewal of evangelism and the rise of the religious right as a political force. Furthermore, the hippies and the police who beat them up, the veterans and the anti-war protesters, all of them were of the same generation(s), all of them responding to the conflict of the times that would form their entire worldview by which they would rule for the next half century.

There is a distinction to be made about how and when the culture wars played out on the right. By the time the culture wars came around, the militant right such as the KKK had been demolished as an effective political force (the KKK had been the culture warriors of the past in defending American ‘white’ culture, defending capitalism and the capitalist class, defending family values, etc). After the culture wars went into full gear, left-wing groups such as the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers took the place as the new militant radicals. Left-wingers, however, were radicalized for the very reason they weren’t in power and they became more radicalized as they lost ground. From Nixon to Reagan, the early culture wars involved the left-wing against the Establishment (which was being taken over by a new breed of reactionary conservatives along with a new breed of centrist ‘liberals’ who denied left-wing politics from having power in Washington). Many older conservatives remember this time as an eroding of cultural values, but what they don’t realize is that this erosion as much came from the top as it was a time of shifting from liberal leadership to conservative leadership and the struggle of power that happened during this shift.

To a liberal, it is no accident that the preceeding era of peace and social cohesion was during liberal leadership. The new conservative movement led by the likes of Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan was a reaction against the first half century of liberal reform, (starting with the Populist Era bringing working class politics into the mainstream, leading to the Progressive Era victories aligning the working class with the liberal class, and culminating in the Great Society). This liberal era ended with the liberal moment of the 60s and the conservative backlash that followed was dramatic. The liberal movement (along with American society in general) never fully recovered from the trauma of the assassinations of so many of their greatest leaders over such a short period of time. The left-wing became radicalized in response to an increasingly radicalized right-wing leadership and activism. It was at this time that liberals and moderates were being pushed out of the Republican Party (the very party, by the way, that began with anti-slavery abolitionists, working class free soil advocates, and those friendly to the then budding Marxist socialism).

As liberals see it, this new era was a dark period of the ending of the liberal reign and the beginning of the conservative reign. To conservatives (especially those of older generations), however, they only see the liberal reaction to this shift and not what liberals were reacting to. In losing political power, liberals turned to identity politics and cultural issues. Some were usurped into the academic fold or became yuppies seeking materialism and success. Others more cynically turned away from their naive youth toward Reagan neoconservatism and libertarian neoliberalism or else they got religion and joined the ranks of the religious right. Everything was translated into terms of the culture wars which undermined and suppressed the class awareness that was the foundation of the labor movement. The reason left-wingers made so much fuss at the time was because they were losing power, not because they were gaining it. Conservatives somehow managed to play the victim card for so many decades even as their power and influence increased, often making the argument that the privileged and well off were in some strange way being victimized by the poor and disenfranchised. The right-wing made the culture wars into a class war, denying their own classism while projecting it onto their opponents. When liberals and  left-wingers pointed out this obvious class war, they were attacked for promoting class war. Those on the left couldn’t win for losing at that time.

Later on, the culture wars became a one-sided battle of the conservative movement against anything and everything. Conservatives wanted to “take back” America. After all, they saw themselves as the only “True Americans”, the heirs of the Founding Fathers (just ignore the radical left-wing criticisms of Paine and Jefferson). This second phase of the the culture wars began to gain momentum in the 1980s but didn’t fully manifest until the 1990s. This historical period is analyzed well by Thomas Frank in What’s the Matter with Kansas? and David Sirota in Back to Our Future. When I was growing up, I was largely ignorant of this conservative movement, although it was permanently in the background of the mainstream media world I was immersed in. It only became clear with two events: the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing and the 1998 Lewinsky Scandal in 1998. The right-wing was on the attack.

So, right-wing militants followed the previous left-wing militants. However, there was a difference. The previous left-wing militants were reacting against a conservative establishment, but when the right-wing militants came along there was no liberal establishment. At that point, the liberal class had long ago lost its privileged place in society (as described by Chris Hedges in Death of the Liberal Class) and had mostly retreated from activism into academia and non-profits (the only ‘liberals’ who maintained their political power and influence were those that shifted to a more neoliberal stance or else became progressive neoconservatives).

Anyway, all of that formed the background for Generation X. Many GenXers were pulled into this conservative movement, some even joining the far right anti-statists and culture warriors. On the opposite end, a particular segment of GenXers tried to slowly rebuild the broken foundations of the liberal movement. In the 1990s, the culture was blandly liberal in a general sense even as left-wingers were fighting a battle on two fronts, attacked by the Gingrich Republicans on one side and by the Clinton Democrats on the other side. It was the right that had captured the political narrative and the collective imagination. Liberals lacked strong visionary leadership. Even the most moderate of liberals were on the defensive. Centrist and corporatist ‘liberals’ like Clinton became quite talented at playing on the defense by way of triangulation and compromise, but they were constantly backing off from every new fight, playing it safe.

This is where my young adulthood comes in. I graduated from high school in 1994, the year Kurt Cobain died (the symbolic death of the alternative culture that began to erupt in the 1980s). I became aware of the right-wing at this time by my listening to the paranoid conspiracies on Art Bell’s Coast to Coast AM and also by my occasionally catching some of the early right-wing radio shows such as Laura Schlessinger (her show was nationally syndicated in 1994). I even felt some affinity with elements of this right-wing, but 9/11 changed all of that. The right-wing pundits and activists went into overdrive. The only choice offered seemed to be between the right-wing fascist Bush administration and the right-wing anti-egalitarian Ron Paul libertarians. No liberal alternative (or even moderate conservative alternative) was being offered in the mainstream politics portrayed by the mainstream media. Left-wingers such as Nader and Chomsky only had relevance as nuisances and distractions. I voted for Nader and found myself attacked by ‘liberal’ Democrats.

As everyone knows, the 2000s (AKA the ‘Noughts’) was a depressing decade. I feel so tired out by the endless political conflict and I’ve grown to hate the culture wars, especially the right-wing version of it (“compassionate conservatism”). For some reason, right-wingers are trying to keep the culture wars alive, going so far as even to inject the religious right’s culture wars into the formerly libertarian-minded Tea Party movement. The culture wars makes me sick to my soul… and that is no exaggeration. I’m tired of it all. I wish everyone would just let the culture wars die. My generation has been hit the hardest by the culture wars and it hasn’t done us any good. It’s turned some of us into ranting pundits and lunatic clowns, the Becks and the Palins who are trying to push American society over the edge. The culture wars have come to fruition in a nihilistic fantasizing about societal decline and a cynical longing for Apocalypse. The right-wing is losing momentum in gradually losing support, but as they go into decline the right-wing just gets uglier in their antics.

For many Americans (moreso among the older generations), the class wars remain relevant because the past remains alive in their minds and hence in our collective consciousness. This particularly can be seen with Boomers. Their sense of identity was solidified with the culture wars of the 60s, whether as liberal progressives or conservative reactionaries. The culture wars are real to them because they’ve dominated society for a half century. The media made by and/or for them was often steeped in the culture wars ethos. The memories of the 60s keeps replaying in their heads, having almost become mythical at this point. In talking with the conservative I mentioned above, one thing became apparent. The culture wars was an apt metaphor. There are two distinct sides, both seeking to gain victory by forcing their enemy into defeat or retreat. One side has to win at the cost the other side losing. There is no win/win scenario. This is fueled by a mentality that there is an absolute right and wrong. There is something dualistic (almost to the point of Manichaeism) about the Boomers worldview with their utopian ideals and apocalyptic visions. Culture warriors just know they are right and others are wrong. Their entire identity is built on this demand to be righteous. They refuse to accept that differences exist and that the world won’t collapse just because they aren’t allowed to dominate. Both sides used the government as a pawn in their battles, and the real loser in this was democracy itself (along with the American citizenry that democracy is supposed to work for, rather than for special interest groups). Culture warriors were willing to try to win at almost any cost and that cost turned out to be very high.

As a GenXer, I grew up in the world made by the Boomers. Even as an adult from the mid 90s to the present, the impact of Boomers was mostly in the foreground and the impact of GenX was mostly in the background. If GenXers wanted to play in politics or the marketplace, we largely had to play according to the rules set down by the Boomers (the internet seemingly the only place where GenXers could operate on their own terms). I feel disappointed in my generation for having conceded so much to the Boomers. I know we were a small generation and couldn’t fairly compete with the Boomers, but still I wish we had been more of a thorn in the side of power. Instead, we in many ways just played along and made things even worse, embracing the Reagan era mantra of greed and self-centeredness (my generation playing no small part in helping to cause the economic problems), too many of us becoming politically cynical and apathetic in the process or else bitterly angry in our fight against such apathy. The closest most GenXers got to political involvement was to become anti-statists and anarchists fighting against the New World Order or against the the liberal elites (depending on one’s ideological persuasion), but it was a politics without vision or even much hope, just reactionary activism against Boomer’s society (Tea Party GenXers like Beck and Palin being the prime examples of this GenX style activism). I didn’t get a full doseage of Reagan rhetoric as I was on the younger end of GenX, but I’ve seen its impact on my generation.

Despite my emotional response, I’m still able to step back and look at all of this somewhat objectively. I’m fascinated by the close connection between culture war and class war. They seem to be two sides of the same coin. Generally speaking, both the left and right usually see the culture war of the other side as blatant class war, both sides agreeing that there is a culture war going on even while disagreeing about eachother’s motives, the difference being that the left is more likely to see culture war and class war as inherently linked. Most liberals probably don’t take as an insult the conservative allegation that they are pushing class war. The liberal agrees there is a class war, although they would simply add that the rich are winning. Conservatives often use rhetoric grounded in obvious class war, but for some reason they are unwilling to admit to it. I think it’s because there is no way to admit to the class issue without also admitting to the race issue, those two also being inherently linked (or so it seems to my liberal-biased mind).

I have some further thoughts on generations and activism.

For Boomers, activism is about the past. Old hippies romanticize about 60s activism. In conservative activism like the Tea Party, aging non-hippy Boomers likewise obsess over 60s activism but for different reasons (see the documentary ‘Generation Zero’, popular among Tea Party supporters, which essentially blames hippies for all the problems of society since). Boomers, on both the left and right, are motivated by the past, sometimes inspired and at other times one might say enlivened. As a GenXer, I intimately know Boomer nostalgia; I understand how it is embedded in our culture and how to an extent it has become internalized by many GenXers; however, it doesn’t usually bring out the best in GenXers. Corey Robin argues that conservatives are reactionary; to this I would add that GenXers are also reactionary which would explain why Reagan conservatism (the ultimate reactionary conservatism) was so appealing to my generation (GenXers literally having been the strongest supporters of Reagan’s presidency), although many of those GenXers have at this point turned away from their youthful conservatism or at least turned away from shamelessly idolizing capitalist greed and self-interest (some turning instead to the left and others going even further right into politicized religion).

How activism manifests among GenXers is apparent when one compares different protest movements.

I’ll begin with the Bush era anti-war movement since I was personally involved with it. As far as I can tell, the anti-war protests were mostly a youth movement consisting of lots of GenXers and the first wave of Millennials hitting adulthood. The anti-war protests seemed fairly positive and inclusive in unifying a diversity of veteran and new activists, from Ron Paul libertarians to pacifist liberals, from anarchists to socialists, from social justice Christians to social justice atheists.

The protest movement that followed was the Tea Party. It began with a righteous cause and had great potential. It could have followed the example of the grassroots populism of the anti-war protests, but was coopted by corporate interests and the religious right… and so became a more narrowly defined movement that was far to the right of even the average Republican. The Tea Party also included many GenXers, especially in the leaders that took over (i.e., Beck and Palin), but overall it was slanted toward an older demographic that included more Boomers and fewer Millennials. I was just now thinking that this is a key element. The higher percentage of Boomers seemingly either brought out the worst in the GenXers involved or brought out the worst GenXers (by worst, I mean righteous anger that increasingly shifted toward bitterness and divisiveness).

That now brings us to the present with the Occupy protest movement. It seems more similar to the anti-war protests with many GenXers involved but even more heavily weighted toward a Millennial demographic. Once again, the Millennial presence seems to bring out the best in GenXers or else, opposite of the Tea Party, seems to bring out the best (most positive and inclusive) GenXers. In spite of the 99% meme which could be interpreted as class war, it was the Tea Party that expressed a more strident message of class war (or so it seems, once again, to my liberal-biased mind)… after all, 99% of the population is pretty damn inclusive, especially considering that even some of the 1% supports their message (if you want to hear a clear promotion of class war, then check out the 53% message; and while you’re at it check out this respectful liberal response to that attempt at class war; it’s ironic that the 53% is intended to be a criticism of the 99% since, when one thinks about it rationally, it becomes obvious that the vast majority of the 53% are part of the 99% lol).

It’s a very strange time we live in. We are overdue for some massive social change of the likes not seen since the Progressive Era. For much of this past decade, I’ve been closely watching the polling and demographic data. It was obvious a shift was happening and my prediction was that it likely would be toward the left (eventually), but until now the mainstream media and politics managed to resist these changes that could be seen in the general population. According to Strauss and Howe’s generation theory (Fourth Turning), change was gound to come and they were right on the money with the predictions of theirs that I’m familiar with (such as their early 90s prediction of increasing security in schools). At the same time, the culture wars no longer have the influence they once had. Millennials simply don’t care about the culture wars. The Tea Party demonstrates the decline of the culture wars. As it was increasingly coopted by the religious right and their culture wars, the Tea Party movement increasingly lost public support to the point that the movement is now less popular than either the Republican or Democratic Parties (the parties themselves being very unpopular at present), less popular than even Muslims and atheists.

I don’t know where that leaves us as a society. I’ll be watching the Occupy movement closely in the hope that something will come of it. If the culture wars are finally dead (at least for the time being in their present form), then what will replace them?

Conservatism & The Reactionary Mind: some thoughts

I came across an interesting book: The Reactionary Mind by Corey Robin. I haven’t read or even purchased it yet, although I plan on doing so.

I was intrigued by his proposition that conservatism is reactionary in nature. This makes sense just in the basic meaning of ‘conservatism’. There is something conservatives are seeking to conserve (from being lost) or if (perceived to have been) lost to regain… not that the non-conservative would agree with this reactionary, often revisionist take on the past, the perception of the past that informs what the conservative movement seeks in the present. In an unchanging society such as  an isolated hunter-gatherer tribe, there probably would be nothing for the conservative to react against… but that isn’t the conservatism that we know now or, as Corey Robin argues, as we’ve known throughout the history of civilization. Corey Robins isn’t necessarily talking about conservatism in the psychological sense as I sometimes use it. Instead, he is referring to the political conservatism that arose, especially in the US, in response to the French Revolution. This conservatism is inherently counter-revolutionary, i.e., reactionary.

My disagreement is that Corey Robin separates the conservative mindset from the conservative movement. The conservative movement may have “always been” reactionary since its inception in post-Englightenment Western politics, but that is relatively speaking a short view of human society. With civilization, the conservative mindset was radicalized. With modernity, this radicalized conservatism became a specific reactionary conservative movement. Still, humans and human society existed before all of this. Psychological research shows there are distinctions to be made between the conservative mindset and right-wing authoritarianism, although modern politics have brought the two into close alignment within the conservative movement.

Nonetheless, for practical purposes of dealing with modern conservatism, Corey Robin’s conclusion is essentially correct. I think it’s important, though, to hold onto the understanding of a conservative mindset that can be found in many places, whether inside or outside of the conservative movement. Actually, if one really wants to find the conservative mindset rather than merely the conservative movement, one would be better off looking at the Democratic Party, the moderate centrists speaking about bipartisanship and compromise and the socially conservative religious black demographic, both Democratic groups seeking to conserve US society as it is with the gains of social rights and freedoms and with the gains of the protections against poverty and oppression.

So, maybe it is helpful to separate the conservative movement from the conservative mindset since many in the conservative movement have sought to separate themselves from the conservative mindset. Corey Robin argues that conservatism is a modern movement. In the comments section of a blog post (Bobo’s Reactionary Mind by Scott Lemieux), there was an interaction that touches upon this issue and the distinction made by Robin:

Incontinentia Buttocks says:
September 28, 2011 at 9:18 am

But is this exclusively true of modern conservatism? Doesn’t Cicero, e.g., suggest that virtuous behavior involves choosing the harder path?

Corey Robin says:
September 28, 2011 at 10:04 am

There’s definitely a precedent in Cicero and others (though I’d say that “modern conservatism” is redundant; my argument is that all conservatism is modern. But that’s a whole different kettle of fish). The difference is that they were writing within the framework of virtue ethics (and other modes of ethics). Brooks and the romantics are not: they’re writing within the framework of a concern about the self, not its virtue or flourishing or anything like that, but its very survival as a self.

Anyway, I wanted to get a better grasp of this book before I bought it. The Amazon reviews were positive, but not thorough. My web search first brought me to a review by Sheri Berman in the New York Times Book Review. Her review is negative and I sensed it wasn’t fair. I was glad to see that Corey Robin responded to the review in a way that was intellectually fair. In checking out some other web search results, I found a nice discussion that refers to this book. Here is the section where he mentions Robin’s book:

Strangely, my own brief trip through the right–the paleo-conservative and far right–has led me to be a more passionate “leftist” as I get older.   I am sure that people will psychologize my drift, but I think my personal experience agrees with Corey Robin’s conception of the reactionary mindset.  That there is a Utopian element to their thinking.

While conservatives (and many left liberals) have called Libertarian-ism the Marxism of the right.  Yet even traditionalism itself has a kinship to utopian socialist thought.  They want a different society and they see the structural elements that keep the status quo going as a negation of a past. In fact, I have accused conservative ideology, or more specifically, paleo-conservative ideology as being utopian in reverse.   It involves an invented past to which they long to return.

I wrote a comment which I posted there and thought I would post here as well (although my following thoughts are only indirectly related to the book in question):

– – –

A very interesting analysis. Your transition over the years has given you useful perspective.

I’ve never had such a transition. I’ve never had any allegiances and so have never switched them. The Republican Party these days seems morally repugnant and the Democratic Party seems weak sauce. There is lots of rhetoric in the two party system, but none of it means much to me. The radical right too often seems to have become disconnected from reasonable debate, not to mention factual reality. The radical left has become almost irrelevant, ignored by both parties in power.

I’ve always clearly been a ‘liberal’, although my liberalism is more of an attitude than an ideology: open-minded, intellectually curious, prone to relativism and occasionally utopian longings, critical of theocrats, desiring to believe in the goodness of people and the potential of collective humanity, hyper-individualism and mindless group-think neither make sense to me, etc. So, I’m liberal-minded, liberal in the psychological sense. Neither conservatives/right-wingers nor mainstream democrats understand the fundamental impulse of liberalism.

I do have some radical leanings, but I’m not a radical in the reactionary sense. I prefer reason and the endless conflict of partisan politics is like nails on a chalkboard. It’s not as if we lack historical examples to guide ourselves by or lack plenty of data to make informed decisions, but none of that seems to matter. It’s all about winning at any cost. No matter who wins, those with wealth and power maintain their influence. Even though I’m not a reactionary radical, neither am I a ‘moderate’ in how it is normally used. I know what I value and believe. Maybe I’m a person who would like to be a moderate if we lived in moderate times, but in this world as it is I find myself drawn to the ignored radical visions. The radical ideologies that get attention are those with money and power backing them, but few people in the mainstream remember the true radicalism of someone like Thomas Paine when he wrote ‘Agrarian Justice’.

My radical leanings do make me often agree with Derrick Jensen in his analysis of what is wrong, but I don’t seem to be able to follow him where he wants to go. I really don’t have much desire for revolution unless it becomes unavoidable. Derrick Jensen does have more than a small amount of nostalgia in his anarcho-primitivism. I must admit it resonates with some part of me, although in the end nostalgia seems like empty calories. If the civilization ends, so be it… but If so I will be sad to see it go.

I live in a liberal college town. I voted for Nader and I dislike Obama only slightly less than I dislike Bush. I participated in the anti-war protests during Bush’s administration. I’ve even been to a Marxist meeting once. On the other hand, I have conservative parents and my dad is of the more intellectual bent. I find that I often can agree about certain things with my parents or come to a middleground of understanding. Unlike right-wing pundits and reactionaries, my parents are capable of reasonable thought and discussion. They don’t let their principles get in the way of caring about actual people. That is all I ask for.

As a Gen-Xer, I grew up with the culture wars. It’s all I’ve known. I came of age in the 90s just when the right-wing militants were on the rise and the culture war was in its second phase of anti-abortion protests including the assassination of doctors and of course the various bombings in protest. I was born into a world of social conflict and national decline. I’m tired of the culture wars, the identity politics, the partisan tribalism, the politicized religion, the war on drugs, the war on the poor, the war on terrorism, the war on illegal aliens, war on everything, and on and on. I’m tired of all the bullshit. Sadly, I see my generation produce the worst examples of all this that just egg it over the edge, the Sarah Palins and Glenn Becks. On the bright side, my generation also has produced Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. Comedians all of them, a generation of clowns.

Even though I didn’t swing from one side to the other as you have done, I still feel that sense of not having a clear sense of where I belong in American politics..I’m definitely not in the middle. I feel like I’m somewhere to the side of the typical left/right spectrum. However, when I look at polls of public opinion, I find I often agree (or at least don’t strongly disagree) with the average American on many issues. Obviously, mainstream media and politics is disconnected from much of the rest of the population. I don’t know where this leaves me.

Ownership & Citizenship, Economic & Social Justice

Here is a nice analysis from a more anarchist viewpoint:

Alternative View: The Just Third Way
BASIC PRINCIPLES OF ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
by Norman G. Kurland, President, Center for Economic and Social Justice

“Power exists in society whether or not particular individuals own property.  If we accept Lord Action’s insight that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” our best safeguard against the corruptibility of concentrated power is decentralized power.  If Daniel Webster is also correct that “power naturally and necessarily follows property,” then democratizing ownership is essential for democratizing power.

“In the economic world, property performs the same power-diffusion function that the ballot does in politics. It does more. It makes the ballot-holder economically independent of those who wield political power.

“Both socialism and capitalism concentrate economic power at the top. It makes little difference that under capitalism the concentration is in private hands and under socialism the concentration is in the hands of the state. Both systems are excessively materialistic in their basic principles and overall vision. Both, in their own ways, degrade the individual worker. Both bring forth economic systems that ignore and hinder the intellectual and spiritual development of every member of society.”

It reminds me somewhat of Chomsky’s thinking about anarcho-syndicalism. In that light, I would add a criticism from a Chomskyan perspective. Not all socialism is statism. I would even go as far as to say that, these days, most socialists aren’t statists. Most socialists I’ve come across tend toward either anarchism or localized social democracy.

However, it might be true that capitalism, if left unregulated by government or if it gains too much influence/power over government, will always lead to concentration. Monopoly does seem, according to the observations of history, to be the natural endpoint of capitalism… until some external force intervenes (government, labor unions, revolution, etc).

Despite that minor critcism, I see great merit in the above quoted analysis. Many earlier American thinkers realized that the concept of  property needed to be remade according to the principles of freedom (both negative freedom and positive freedom). Our present laws about property are counter-productive to and undermining of democracy and hence destructive to our society.

So, what is property anyway? Property is to own, i.e., to be invested in. I think this too often misses out on the human aspect of property. Human nature isn’t objectively neutral. To invest is to be invested in a very personal way. We all are invested in society, in the environment, in our communities, in our families, in our neighbors, in our sense of place, in our children and the future. We are invested in that which impacts us and that which we impact. This is what gets lost in the numbers.

We all are effecting one another all the time. Our actions aren’t isolated. Even what one does on one’s property effects those around one and effects future generations. What right do we have to use up resources and destroy the environment that future generations will depend upon? Those future generations have equal ownership as we do. What right do wealthy nations have to use up resources and destroy the environment of poor nations? Those poor people have equal ownership as we do.

We don’t simply own. We are owned by the world. Even our bodies are merely borrowed materials. When we die, our bodies and our property will return to the collective bio-system that we call earth.

I don’t know the answer to the perplexing issues. All that I know is that our present beliefs are false to the point of disconnecting us from reality.

Culture, Globalization, & America: Folkways, Streams, Family Values

I came across some new information that relates to some information I’m already familiar with to some degree. I’d like to look more into it, but for now I just wanted to offer a few links to orient my thinking.

It was in researching about the North/South in some earlier posts that I came across the folkways theory of American culture first presented in a book by David Hackett Fischer, Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. That gave me a very important framework in understanding differences that I had sensed in my own personal experiences and observations.

Here is one article going into detail about folkways:

The Missing Folkways of Globalization
by Venkat on June 16, 2010

I noticed that article linked to in another article about streams which is a concept looking at culture from a different perspective. Here is the other article which is by the same author:

The Stream Map of the World
by Venkat on October 4, 2011

I also noticed another article linked. It is about the difference in marriage practices among blue and red state populations. This is data I’ve come across before, but the authors offer an interesting explanation for the causes and an interesting analysis about the results. Here it is (by a different author):

Do ‘Family Values’ Weaken Families?
If you want to find stable two-parent families, bypass Palin country and go to Pelosi territory.
by Jonathan Rauch on Saturday, May 1, 2010

 – – –

My past thinking on this matter involved one central (very long) post:

America’s North/South Divide (& other regional data)

Along with a number of other (shorter) posts such as:

Midwestern Values of Community & the Common Good

US Peace Index (state comparison)

America’s 10 Most Segregated Cities: analysis, commentary

 

 

 

 

Democracy & Protests, Movements & Tipping Points

This is something that concerns me because it cuts to the heart of democracy.

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/09/welcome-to-the-police-state-nyc-cops-mace-peaceful-protestors-against-wall-street.html

I’m beginning to wonder whether the right to assemble is effectively dead in the US. No one who is a wage slave (which is the overwhelming majority of the population) can afford to have an arrest record, even a misdemeanor, in this age of short job tenures and rising use of background checks.

Now at least in New York (and I hope readers in other cities will chime in) the right to assemble seems to be pretty much a dead letter. I was in Sydney during the global protests against the Iraq War, and I was told that the New York demonstrations (which were already hindered by typically lousy winter weather) were pretty much blocked by the police. Protestors were tying to gather at the UN, and the cops put up a cordon at Second Avenue. The result was the turnout was far lower than the number who tried to show their opposition and were stopped.

The latest New York City protest is OccupyWallStreet. Even though its turnout last week fell well short of hopes (the estimates from the group were that 2000 participated; the New York Times suggests numbers more like “hundreds” but the photos from the 17th make figures larger figures seem plausible), making it a nuisance level demonstration rather than a major statement, the powers that be seem to be trying a bit too hard to prevent it from getting traction.

The organizers were using Twitter to promote participation and visibility. And so Twitter intervened. From AmpedStatus:

On at least two occasions, Saturday September 17th and again on Thursday night, Twitter blocked #OccupyWallStreet from being featured as a top trending topic on their homepage. On both occasions, #OccupyWallStreet tweets were coming in more frequently than other top trending topics that they were featuring on their homepage.

This is blatant political censorship on the part of a company that has recently received a $400 million investment from JP Morgan Chase.

The simplest and most basic element of democracy is protest, i.e., the right to assemble and the right to free speech. It’s the lifeblood of a free society. And, because of this, it has always been the main target of those in power.

This is such a dangerous thing because it seems many Americans don’t understand the value of protest, don’t even understand what democracy is. Conservatives, in particular, see democracy as mobocracy and so protests are nothing but mindless mobs (although, they make exceptions for their own protests such as the Tea Party). If we don’t protect democracy, democracy can’t protect us.

I was discussing the issue of unions with some conservatives.

Unions are one of the most basic expressions of the right to assemble. The unemployed and the working class and the 99% in general don’t have the money or political clout to compete as individuals with the wealthy elite as individuals. Plus, the wealthy elite have lobbyists, think tanks, front groups, astroturf, etc. Most of the big money donations are probably done without transparency. Even SuperPACs which are supposed to be transparent have a loophole that allows anonymous donations. Karl Rove’s well-funded SuperPAC is mostly funded by 3 anonymous sources. Even unions can’t compete with that. Plus, there is the problem of average union members trying to compete their unions under grassroots control. Millionaires and Billionaires don’t need to worry about grassroots. They can buy the appearance of ‘grassroots’ if they so desire.

The lower class are at a severe disadvantage. If you have little money, your only power is grassroots solidarity and your only voice is protest. This is where strikes come in, the practice that has created more rights and protections for workers than any other practice in US history. But various things disempowered unions earlier last century.

Using anti-communist rhetoric, the rich and powerful turned average Americans against unions and against the working class in general. No one wanted to be working class any more. Politicians and pundits began preaching about protecting the middle class. But who were they supposed to be protecting them from? The rich who were outsourcing their jobs and stagnating their wages? Of course not. The middle class apparently was being protected from the dangerous working class. This is ironic considering most of these so-called “middle class” people were in reality working class. With all of this, the neocons and social conservatives were able to transform the war on poverty into a war against the poor.

A good example of how unions lost power is in Anderson, Indiana. The strikes in Anderson were very tense and the population was divided. Eventually, GM took their business out of town and the union got blamed. That is the power of big business. They can move their factories all around the world. They can even move their factories to countries that have no worker protection at all. Workers don’t have that kind of freedom. Even to this day, former GM workers are being punished by big business. One factory that located in the area refused to hire former GM workers. Another factory nearby refused to hire any workers from Anderson.

As the middle class shrinks and good jobs become scarce, workers have even less power. People have to pay the bills and feed their families. Without jobs, workers join the unemployed and eventually join the homeless. Strike-breaking and union-busting has become very successful. It’s risky for workers to put their necks out when they are at such a disadvantage. The average worker has no easy way to organize and be heard. The mainstream media is owned by the same corporate conglomerates that own the factories. Workers these days can’t win no matter what they try.

Nonetheless, people can only be pushed so far. Even the anti-union and anti-poor rhetoric starts to be dissatisfying to many Americans when they experience an economy ruled by big business. As the middle class shrinks, more Americans find themselves in the same lot with the working class and the poor. It’s hard to scapegoat a group of people when you have become a part of that scapegoated group.

This is where the 99ers came in. They spoke the inconvenient truth that even the Tea Party didn’t want to face. Then there were also the protesters, mostly left-wingers, who earlier protested Wall Street. Both of these groups were largely ignored or only given brief mention. But now the 99% movement has created a movement that seems to be taken hold with their Occupy Wall Street protest. It also seems the 99ers and the unions are beginning to join the 99% movement which is forming it into genuine grassroots populism. These aren’t just liberal college students with too much time on their hands. These protests are filled with the working poor and the unemployed, and it’s also filled with the former middle class who have lost jobs and houses. Basically, the 99% is all of these people, i.e., all the people besides the 1% of wealthy elite who control this country and dominate the economy.

After so many decades, average Americans seem to be waking from their slumber. I suppose this is how the Populist Era began. Most of those in the Populist movement were ordinary Americans. Before the economic problems following the Civil War, average Americans believed in the American Dream and the ideal of the free market. But the rhetoric of politicians stopped being convincing. Rhetoric can’t feed your family or pay your bills. No one saw the Populist movement coming, not even those involved. One particpant observed that it was like a wildfire that lit the whole country all at once. We seem to be on the verge of such a change right now. The polling and demographics have been pointing toward change for a long time, but maybe the tipping point is finally getting near.

We’ll see…

Where is early Christian history?

Here are a couple of papers that question what we think we know about early Christianity. It is fascinating. There are so many assumptions we make in trying to understand something. When these assumptions become shared beliefs of a society or of a field of study, a reality tunnel can form.

I don’t know if Jesus ever existed and I don’t know if even Christianity existed in the first century. It honestly doesn’t make much difference to me, but obviously it makes a big difference to many people and not just fundamentalist Christians. What interests me is both the questioning itself and the fact that we live in a time when people are free to question such things.

Anyway, here are the papers:

http://historyhuntersinternational.org/2010/10/08/the-gospels-according-to-hadrian-the-magic-wars-and-the-massiah/

http://historyhuntersinternational.org/2011/03/06/the-vacuum-of-evidence-for-pre-4th-century-christianity/

And here is part of the second paper:

Perhaps the most surprising discovery is somewhat akin to the famous Holmesian episode in which the dog didn’t bark in the night.

Not a single artefact of any medium – including textual – and dated reliably before the fourth century can be unambiguously identified as Christian. This is the most notable result of our archaeological survey of sites, inscriptions, libraries, collections and so on from the Indus River to the Nile and north to Britain.

Taking into account the vast volume of scholarly works claiming expert opinion for the exact opposite point of view, let me clarify terms.

There is, of course, much archaeology interpreted commonly as Christian. This does not contradict the bald statement above. The difference lies between data that spells out Christian clearly and unambiguously, and that which expert opinion claims to look as though it is Christian.

There are very many texts claimed to be Christian and composed before the fourth century, though the documents themselves are not dated to that early period. We have found no text before the fourth century which mentions either Jesus Christ, or the term ‘Christian’.

The earliest fragments and codex of the New Testament pre-date the fourth century, though nowhere in them have we found the key word Christ. Many biblical scholars claim that they do, but our visual inspection of them fails to find a single such usage of this term. We have been unable to find a single text transliterated correctly in this regard.

As there are gospels and other texts of a religious character, so there is archaeology for places of worship and many artefacts: none spell Christian. Claims that any are Christian are, in fact, a matter of opinion only and we disagree with all such opinions.

Six months ago, this was a tentative view and during this time, many scholars have been asked – challenged even – to provide evidence of a contradictory nature and other than largely silence, the response has been supportive of this view. We did receive a list of (well-known) sites and events purported as Christian, though not a single artefact.

This should not be understood as a claim that nothing was happening in these three centuries that can be related to the appearance of Christianity in the fourth century. The archaeology that can be associated most-closely with Christianity is for the name Chrest, a magical Jesus Chrest and for ‘Servants of Jesus’. We have termed these chrestic. In ancient Greek, the pronunciation of both terms – Christ and Chrest –  is identical as far as is known today and this acutely interesting and fortuitous linguistic circumstance facilitated the re-working of textual artefacts as well as recasting the entire context of the original theurgy related to the cult.

As Chrest was expunged from the New Testament and replaced with Christ, so the possibility arises that following the prosecution of chrestic followers by Diocletian – mis-termed commonly ‘The Great Persecution’ of Christians – the chrestic archaeology record was wiped clean generally as far as possible.

‘We Are The 99 Percent’: Grassroots Populism?

In light of the recent protests, the following article makes a very good point:

http://www.good.is/post/we-are-the-99-percent-is-the-best-populist-message-we-ve-had-in-years/

“This simple concept—that the vast majority of us are getting screwed because of policies that protect the rich minority—is the best populist message I’ve heard in years. Unlike Occupy Wall Street’s official declaration, which couches the movement’s many demands in terms of “they”—the rich—this slogan draws attention to “we,” to the people’s sheer numbers, and therefore our power. It distills the movement’s huge range of issues into one devastating phenomenon: the wealth gap. It reclaims populism from conservatives and the Tea Party in a very literal way, yet it doesn’t divide the country along political party lines.”

 – – – 

This made me think of what defines grassroots activism of the populist variety. How can one tell that a political movement is authentic in this sense? Two things came to mind.

First, populism is by definition what is popular. Populism can’t be based on a minority position, can’t be dominated by partisan activists on either of the far wings of the political spectrum.

The Tea Party, for example, wasn’t populist. They were in fact further to the right than the average Republican. Their original message of fiscal responsibility appealed to independents and even some liberals and left-wingers, but the movement was taken over by vocal social conservatives: God, guns, and gays. This criticism of those who co-opted the Tea Party comes from even some of the early leaders, organizers, participants, and supporters of the Tea Party.

A movement can’t claim to be populist when it is funded by big business (Koch brothers) and promoted by a partisan major news company (Fox News). These big money funders helped put on some of the ‘protest’ events (including paying for buses to transport people to the events) and heavily covered them in the media. They sent some of their best media pundits to lend support. They even at times tried to pump up the crowd in the way they would do with a studio audience and used fake footage to make events look larger.

Second, populist grassroots movements will never be treated fairly or positively by most of the mainstream media. Typically, this is how it works. Populist grassroots movements are initially ignored. If they won’t go away and can’t be ignored, they will only be briefly mentioned in a way that draws the least amount of attention as possible. If the movements actually grow in numbers and influence, the MSM will increasingly refer to them dismissively and try to portray them negatively.

Obviously, a populist grassroots movement wouldn’t be treated in the way the Tea Party was treated. It’s not so much if a movement is treated positively or negatively when it first starts. Rather, the first sign to look for is if the movement gets any significant media attention at all. The Tea Party received immediate attention whereas the Wall Street Occupation was initially ignored.

 – – –

To demonstrate these two points, consider the anti-war protests during the Bush administration. It was the largest and most wide-spread protest movement in US and world history.

Was it non-partisan? Yes. It included Ron Paul libertarians and left-libertarians, right-wingers and left-wingers, anarchists and socialists, social justice Christians and pacifists, and on and on.

Was it treated fairly by the MSM? Of course not. Relative to its size, it received very little attention and most of that attention wasn’t positive.

As the largest and most wide-spread protest movement ever to exist, one would expect that it would have been taken more seriously and that it would have had greater impact on Washington. A real populist grassrooots movement wouldn’t likely get so many politicians into power so quickly as the Tea Party did, and certainly if they did those politicians wouldn’t be so partisan as the Tea Party politicians are. Tea Party politicians are simply right-wing Republicans.

 – – – 

In the context of the above, is the Wall Street Occupation a populist grassroots movement?

I don’t know enough about it at present, but it seems to closer to the anti-war protests than to the Tea Party protests. So, I’ll be watching the news about the protests with all of this in mind. I certainly hope it is and remains a populist grassroots movement. That is what we need right now. Eventually, there will be a breaking point. The Tea Party failed, but maybe it was a learning experience for some activists which will help them avoid the same pitfalls.

As a sign of what seems like a more grassroots populism, I noticed two things following my posting the above. First, I read a number of articles in the alternative media praising the Occupy Wall Street movment and I also noticed some more establishment media articles (including from liberal sources such as Mother Jones) that criticized the movement. Second, I noticed one particularly interesting thing in a short article with a video:

http://politics.salon.com/2011/10/06/the_99ers_meet_the_99_percent/

“In our first episode: The 99ers are a small but determined movement of the long-term unemployed  (whose unemployment benefits ran out after 99 weeks). One  NYC band of 99ers went on Friday to join Occupy Wall Street, where the occupiers have taken to  calling themselves “The 99 percent.” Watch what happens:”