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Wed

13

Jun

2007

The Evil and the Good, the Power and the People: Second Installment of a Morley-Andy Exchange
Wednesday, 13 June 2007 11:11
by Andrew Bard Schmookler

I never agreed with you more than in the preceding post. Nevertheless I still say that you are a conservative, although, as you indicate by the quotes, it is not an accusation. You have essentially the same view of powerstates as Scott Ritter, also a conservative and a courageous and admirable man (now a fireman). Nevertheless we are class enemies.

That is because you (and Ritter) blame the people, not the power system. I am not saying that people are good;; merely that people are. There is nothing else, no saviors, no Heroes, no saints. It is the people who must be mobilized, so one cannot begin by blaming them.

It is quite true, as everyone can plainly see, that the American people are corrupted consumers, political idiots and apathetic activists. But Why? why has this happened? Toqueville stated nearly two centuries ago that Americans were famous joiners, that we formed organizations of every kind for civil society to function. This has atrophied enormously, as a book BOWLING ALONE details. People do not interact with people for any reason. How did it happen that we got so isolated, so individualistic, so competivie, so distrustful of each other.

We were systematically guided and indoctrinated by the power system to be so. People watch TV four or five hours a day. Is what is purveyed condusive to fixing the ills of society, to illustrative the importance of activism, to displaying the spirtual values of people at their best. To ask these questions is to answer them.

But why not? TV stations are supposedly controlled by the government that supposedly is controled by the peole. Why is it so mindless and soul destroying. To ask is to answer.

Because the ruling class that largely controls the powerstate wants us to be mindless boobs lost in the trivial entertaiment of the moment. they do not want people to interact with each other in communion but want each against all. They want us devided in enumeralble was to seperate, isolate and alienate us from each other.

And consequently people are starved for meaningful contact. Everyone needs to be a part of a community of some kind in which he has some respected place. Wherre are such communities? in the churches which delude people into identifying with Divine and earthly power;yes. In the Dem party? Please. It is a vote getting machine that does not even have its own media like the European parties.

The power system systematically prevents people from communing with each other; it sponsors individual competition. The streets of towns are not blocked off to allow people to wander around with each other; public transportaion is sysstematically destroyed, the schools and universites are production units, not communication events.

Americans tend to think this is normal and natural because we have no historical sense. This is in fact pathological. In Barbara Ehernreich’s latest, and best, book DANCING IN THE STREETS she details throughout history how people, and women especially, costumed themselves and often masked their faces, and interacted in festivals, often religous festivals, in dancing, feasting, and other joys.

This institution was destroyed, deliberately as she documents, by capitalism, or more generally by power. Because when people get together they begin to exhibit a common anomosity to their rulers, and the parroding of the powerful was a commen element in these festivals.

Solidarity was created through joy against the rulers who were oppressing them.

there are a few of these festivals in the US but they are skimpy. You blame the people for not having these festivals. How about their leaders? Are such festivals sponsored by the Dem party? ACLU? Unions leaders? Church leaders? school leaders? Encouraged in the mass and learned media? No. in fact they are incompatible with secular humanism.

What we need is a spiritual humanism that gives people a sense of community that we can pass on to our children. this is incompatible with the institutions of Democratic capitalism, as well as current conceptions of socialism. We must create these institutions out of what exists, and for this we need a people’s ideology that is rational and understandable to the popultion. What we need is the simple truth about political and social reality that combines the political, the scientific and the spiritual. This is the only way to make ourselves fully humnan.

And then I wrote back with this:

I appreciate this exchange, Morley. I like it when we can find common ground. And I like it when your challenges prod me to further clarify what I do and do not think.

In this post, the challenge I find most stimulating is when you say:
I still say that you are a conservative, although, as you indicate by the quotes, it is not an accusation. You have essentially the same view of powerstates as Scott Ritter, also a conservative and a courageous and admirable man (now a fireman)… That is because you (and Ritter) blame the people, not the power system.
First there’s the issue of whether or not I’m a conservative. Second there’s the question of whether or not I “blame the people, not the power system.”

To both, I think the answer is “yes and no.” But more no than yes.

With respect to my being a conservative, I have come to respect SOME of the basic value commitments of conservatives– such as that good character is important, that standards are important. (Of course I’m talking about REAL conservatives hear, not the sociopathic power-mongers that lately have been seducing American conservatives.)

My book DEBATING THE GOOD SOCIETY: A QUEST TO BRIDGE AMERICA’S MORAL DIVIDE (1999, M.I.T. Press) was my effort to find that “higher wisdom” in which the truths of the conservatives and those of the liberals are integrated.

So in that way, in my own journey from my 20s (in the late 60s) up to my mid-40s to mid-50s (in the 1990s), I did come to see more need to include the kind of conservative values that I, and other members of my countercultural generation, thought superfluous.

On the other hand, if one looks at my main political goals for the world –1) that equality of political power I spoke about in the last comment, 2) the displacement of the cult of national sovereignty in favor of the rule of law in the intersocietal system, 3) the greater subordination of the drive for wealth to the needs of the planet, 4) a more general taming of the forces of the market system to allow more voice to other kinds of values that can be expressed through a democratic polity, 5) less tribalism and more embrace of the diversity of humankind and more respect for the rights and values of all earth’s life-forms– my agenda doesn’t seem all that much like what most conservatives have on their minds.

So, on the first count of am I a conservative, that’s why I say, yes and no, but more no than yes.

Now to that second point, about my being a conservative BECAUSE I blame the people, not the power system.

Let me start by saying that I believe that you are quite right to identify that dichotomy as quite central in differentiating the conservative/right worldview from the liberal/left worldview.

And I can see how my earlier comment about the role of the American people in the current decadence of the American system would seem to identify me as one of those who, like the conservatives, finds the locus of responsibility in people rather than in systems.

But let’s take a closer look at whether your diagnosis (Schmookler is a conservative) can be inferred from that particular symptom (Schmookler writes about how the American people got complacent and lazy and slept while their democratic system got stolen from them).

You know, Morley, at least from my PARABLE OF THE TRIBES, and perhaps also from two others of my main books (OUT OF WEAKNESS, and THE ILLUSION OF CHOICE), that I have spent much of my adult life emphasizing the role that the evolution of power systems plays in shaping cultures and people.

The P of T argues that the bloodiness of history is not a reflection of human nature, as many (especially the conservatives) assume, but is a function of systemic forces unwittingly unleashed by humankind as a by-product of our creative capacity for cultural innovation. O of W argues that it is the historical experience generated by those destructive social evolutionary forces (described in the P of T) that has made humankind as crazy and tormented as we generally discover our kind to be. And I of C argues that the market economy has an inherent dynamic, a systemic logic, that drives the societies that do not control it adequately to evolve in directions not chosen by the people but determined by the system, including the transformation over the generations of the values held by the people.

Also, when it comes to the concept of “blame,” I pretty much reject it out of the same analytic perspective that leads me to believe the idea of “free will” is –ULTIMATELY–an incomprehensible notion. I see all of us as best understood fundamentally as “the fruit of the world” out of which we emerge and in which we develop.

So in some very fundamental ways, I DO find power systems responsible for the course of social evolution, and I do NOT incline toward blaming people.

If that’s the case, though, why did I say such things as

If the American liberal powerstate is decaying, I would suggest, it is because the complacency and laziness and lack of moral and intellectual discipline of affluent America has rendered its citizenry incapable of defending itself against that downhill slide.
The answer has to do with THE PARTICULAR HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT under question.

Yes, the laziness and complacency and lack of moral discipline of the American people are, in some sense, the result of systemic forces at work in the culture at large. Epidemiologically, if the whole neighborhood is going bad, it is not at the individual level that responsibility is to be found. I’ve put forward my own theory of the systemic source of this epidemiological breakdown in moral discipline in my article on this site, “The Challenge of Affluence.”

So again, it is not a matter of blame.

And again, why do I focus on that dimension? It is not because I think that is THE PLACE where the corruption is located: I believe the corruption is pervasive throughout the culture. Rather, IT IS BECAUSE I BELIEVE THAT IS THE PLACE WHERE THE BRAKE TO THE CORRUPTIVE PROCESS MUST BE APPLIED.

Let me put it this way. I would not focus on the corrupting forces that are driving toward unjust power BECAUSE I ASSUME THAT THERE ARE ALWAYS CORRUPTING FORCES THAT WILL SEIZE POWER IF GIVEN A CHANCE.

When Jefferson said that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, he ASSUMED that IF GIVEN A CHANCE there would be dictators and power-grabbers and greedy forces that would take whatever power they could get.

Therefore, if you accept that the opportunistic virus of corruption is always present in the body politic, ready to erupt when the immune system of the body is weakened, one looks to that immune system and not to the virus to explain the outbreak of the florid disease (such as we have now in America).

In this particular instance, therefore, it is to the weakening of the people’s vigilance that I believe we should look.

This is not the only place to look, but it is the place where change MUST come before we can expect very much to change in those other dimensions of the system (the political system, the media, the rise of fascistic forms of capitalism) to change very much.

(I do also believe that a change of leadership at the top CAN –if it is discontinuous from the norm– also effect a change in trajectory for the society as a whole, either for the better (like FDR) or for the worse (like GWB). And that’s why I spend some of my energy here looking for what possibilities there may be for a surprise on the upside to repair the damage caused by this ongoing surprise to the downside.)
 
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a guest said:

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commendable skepticism about free will
I appreciate your skepticism about free will and your focus on systemic causes as opposed to personal blame (not that individual actions cease to matter, of course). Keep up the good work!

Tom Clark
Center for Naturalism
 
June 13, 2007 | url
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