So you’re a social activist are you?

Sep 28, 2011 by

The world becomes increasingly complicated as each day passes. I find it hard to imagine being a ”thinking” twenty-something waking to this world each morning. It would appear to be filled with more paths to destruction than ones leading to the satisfaction of the timeless human longings for basic physical safety, health, respect, lack of prejudice, friendship, and of course love.

Within us there is an eternal desire to effect change and achieve some form of greatness, even greatness of a modest sort in that we lived a life that was ethically noble.

It is said that today’s youth could be called “the angry generation.”

We of Generation X (1967-1979) were once labeled the angry generation, and then something miraculous happened. It started with, in this author’s opinion, a very unlikely man, at a unlikely time. On June 12, 1987, as a 19-year-old man, I watched on television as then-President Ronald Reagan spoke undoubtedly the four most powerful and important words of his presidency:

 “Tear down this wall!” he said to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

A piece of the Berlin Wall housed at the Reagan Library

Almost overnight my generation’s anger dissipated into hope and celebration. It was an extraordinary time and I’m sure those of you who witnessed this feel the same.

It was only to get better, leading us, the angry generation, to a state of absolute euphoria!

Twenty nine months later on November 9, 1989, after an incredibly brave, awe-inspiring protest in East Germany, the Berlin wall began to tumble, ushering in a new age. Surely the majority of us living through that time would agree that for us, this was not some kind of ideological victory.

We weren’t running around screaming at the top of our lungs that communism was dead and that democracy had prevailed.Truly the vigour, the passion and the love shared among all of us was one of a simple and pure sort. We saw that the madness of this cold war was coming to an end.

The lifting of this burden, the knowledge that we could be incinerated by nuclear war, regardless of who fired the first shot, was an unbelievable feeling. I’m fortunate that I was old enough to understand what was happening to my world. In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed and thus ended the Cold War, ushering in a new age!

For a time the world was filled with a newfound hope and Generation X, which had been the angry generation, almost overnight became the generation filled with certain hope.

Barack Obama – 44th President of the United States

Fast forward to January 20 2009: Barack Obama is elected the 44th president of the United States. Is it too much of an exaggeration to say that the goodwill and euphoria of the entire world that accompanied the election of this man as the President of the United States was the same, and in this author’s opinion, greater, than that surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of Communism and the end of the dark night of the Cold War?

The grass-roots movement that elected President Obama was unprecedented. There was a new hope; a new order was taking the reins of power. It felt as if we were entering into a 21st century period of Enlightenment.

How fucking crashingly wrong we were.

It is this author’s opinion that Barack Obama had no idea of the amount of integrity and morality that would have to be sacrificed to be an effective President in the essentially corporate-owned, ultra right, American administration that he inherited; and as I have covered in other articles, specifically speaking, in dealing with the unquenchable greed of the world’s baby boomers. In the West this group accounts for a staggering 30% of the population.

Subtract those unable to vote and those too young to vote, and they are close to 50% of the electorate. It is a good thing for President Obama that like all segments of the population that exhibit similar traits, the entire block of these aging boomers is not as selfish as it would appear to be if we simply judged them for their collective, self-absorbed attitudes of entitlement.

It is through this emasculation of President Obama that the new “Extremely Angry Generation” is being created.

The American (and Canadian) Right have an outright fear of what they like to cast as the “welfare state.” This fear borders on sickness, paranoia if you will, and it will be most interesting in the future – however long it may take, be it 100, 200, 300 years – to see what is said of those who clung to these unrefined, dogmatic and exceedingly primitive fears. I believe those who are the most paranoid are the boomers and when they are gone there will be much less opposition to the just idea of redistributionist taxation, otherwise known as a mixed economy.

Those of you who read about these issues or peruse some of the links provided here will see, if you keep an open mind, that debates on political systems often devolve into arguments about language as much as about ideology. Much of our problem is that we have become reactionary to the very language used to express these ideas – so much so that as soon as we hear one or two key words or phrases, without thinking at all, we are already reacting.

We seem to be stuck in a world of opposing ideologies, where people are more preoccupied with protecting the purity of the language than they are with finding consensus and working together to find a system that works.

A system that works is one that is just and fair to all.

It all seems rather silly to me. Reaching a consensus on what is a balanced mixed economy would benefit the rich as much as those who have little or nothing. It takes much more skill to have just order than it does to have unjust chaos.

Income Distribution Graph – Click to Expand

Perhaps this oddbloke is just not sophisticated enough, but it makes little sense to me that somehow, some way, we are always being pushed into choosing antagonistic positions. How is it my friend or my colleague and I, who grew up in the same economic conditions, with the same opportunities, can all of a sudden one day split into mutually opposing camps?

And why do these camps act so illogically?

When you look at this graph indicating the income distribution in the US (which is similar in Canada), doesn’t it seem odd, given that the top earners are such a minority, that so many people support policies that mostly benefit the rich?

 

 

 

Think about that for a moment! It shows an absolutely asinine absence of logic that a large portion of the middle class (currently baby boomers) vote, think and act as if they are in the top 1% of earners.

Why would they vote for legislation, politicians, etc., whose primary agenda does not benefit them at all?

Their greed is parturient to an absolutely unattainable fantasy. Can we still be so fucking simple in the 21st century? Apparently so.

Could it be that they’ve developed the conception that if they don’t show a certain solidarity with the very rich, they will somehow ruin their chances of ever joining their ranks? The vast majority of them never will! Is spending a lifetime pretending really worth lowering the standard of living for 99% of their fellow citizens?

The reader must now, understandably, be wondering why this post is called

“So you’re a social activist are you?”

What led to me writing this post is a friend of mine pointing out that a group of activists have been protesting Bank of America, and Wall Street firms in general, in New York and around the U.S..

Noam Chomsky (whom I deeply respect), Micheal Moore (not sure how much I respect him) have expressed their solidarity with this group. This is a great thing and also makes me quiver a bit when I make my next statement.

 

 

While I fully agree with the basic idea of The New Bottom Line and its associated Coalition. I have a vexing issue, which I often have with these large social protests.

They have not stated, as far as this oddbloke can see, any concrete fundamental objectives – believe me, I have looked. “Burn the fuckers down on Wall Street and make them pay” doesn’t seem to me to be a clearly defined objective. It sounds pissed off and badly thought out.

Which is why I think one of my intellectual idols, Noam Chomsky, may be going a little senile, because it seems, at least to me, that he normally would not be supportive of a movement that doesn’t have clearly defined objectives. Micheal Moore I can understand – many of his movies don’t have clearly defined objectives and pervert the truth in the same way the ultra Right does.

 I’ve never known in my life a case where two lies make a truth!

Social activism should of course come from all spectrums of society – all classes, all cultural backgrounds, intellectuals, workers, business owners, those who want to lead and present new ideas to the world, those who prefer to be soldiers in defense of those ideas by showing up for protests – everyone. We still need to always have clear realistic objectives. Small steps can lead to big changes.

When Greenpeace is piloting a ship in front of an oil tanker or whaling boat. the objective is clear. When a protester camps in the midst of a noble and beautiful old growth forest, the objective is clear. And for the most part I’m one hundred percent behind these people and the things they’re standing up for.

Taking the time out of their own lives to protest, with a clearly defined objective, is a gift they give not only to those of us who grace this majestic place called Earth now – but one that will extend well into the future.

They often achieve their objectives, because those objectives are clear and are respected and understood by most thinking men, women, and children.

My problem with these bank protests is: what exactly are we achieving here? If the purpose of these protests is to invoke a certain shame in those who control these institutions, or in those who work for them, what is it that we expect from this shame? Either I am fundementally in error in my very basic understanding of human psychology, or people often do exactly opposite of what you want when you shame them – with shame comes embarassment and anger.

Image from: www.worldtruthtoday.com

If this shame is intended to be the catalyst for a profound restructuring of society, either I’m the world’s worst pessimist or I can give you billions upon billions of reasons why this protest is a colossal waste of time. The only people who are really listening and respecting the movement are the existing congregation – and we know that the congregation in its current form is powerless, otherwise why would they be protesting in the first place?

If we were truly empowered we would just take what is ours and be done with it – wouldn’t we?

To put things into perspective: according to the Wall Street Journal, total compensation paid out to employees of publicly traded Wall Street banks was a record $135 billion dollars in 2010 – an increase of 5.7 percent over 2009. The combined deficit of the 44 of the states which are in a budget deficit position for the 2012 fiscal year is $125 billion. So the payout to employees of these firms alone exceeds the budget deficit of these 44 states by a total of $10 billion dollars.

Let me tell you something friends, you will need a hell of a lot more than “shame” and “protests” to give any of these people/institutions anything more than an annoying itch.

Which they know can be scratched – often violently, and it will go away like all itches before.

Either I am an arrogant boor of colossal proportions or the current Left movement is completely ignorant of how power is held, where it is held and how said power is transferred. In this particular situation of the grand battle of the supposed Left and Right, neither peaceful or violent protests would ever affect a transfer of this power.

For this power to be transferred through violent means, it would mean that these “protests/movements” would need to literally destroy the entire fabric of our society. The good would be destroyed with the evil – in other words, full-scale anarchy.

So far peaceful means have failed as well – there should be no surprise here.

Would China be part of this? How about Russia, or a United Arab emirate? No? Well then the “movement” would be handing their respective countries on silver platters to foreign powers. I’m not sure this is what they want to achieve!

I think this is partially what feeds the fear of the extreme and moderate Right. As a centrist/moderate myself the ever violent and demanding ultra Left frighten me as well, and perhaps more than the extreme Right does. Our society in the hands of the extreme Left would be forced into some form of pure socialism, and I’m sorry, but I haven’t seen very many examples of successful socialist/communist societies.

If the extreme Left thinks that these forms of government are the great leveler, they are ignorant. Each and every communist/socialist country that does exist in some form today – “perfect” societies as the Left seem to want to characterize them – still have a ruling class and then there is the rest. Unfortunately, because most “capitalist” ideas have been removed, these societies become intellectually stagnant, and since the people are in effect banned from such ideas as private property, the entire infrastructure begins to spiral into a slow decay.

What infuriates me is when you talk to these hard Left-leaning folks about this, they try to proselytize that it is simply because there has never been an enlightened and pure version of these forms of governance. I would like to state for the record that a moderate like myself, or even a right of center person,or heck, a far right leaning capitalist bastard, could say the same thing – there has never been an enlightened version of a capitalist form of governance either. In short, pull thy heads out of thy deep rectums.

I mentioned earlier how the Right is terrified of “the welfare state” or more accurately, losing the polarizing language, a mixed economy.

This indirectly implies a compromise between laissez-faire capitalism and socialism. It does not however in any way imply that the socialist or the capitalist part of the division is the greater. Do the proportions really matter as long as the rich and the poor all feel that they are living in a just society?

Now readers please don’t twist my words; what is being protested at those rallies is not a waste of time. But because of the nature of the protest and how it is being executed it is a colossal waste of time of the people who are giving their time and bodies to be part of it.

If I’m so eager to say what won’t work am I as eager to say what might?

Image source: shapingyouth.org

We are slowly working our way to some of these answers in my ongoing “Beautiful Anger” series. So I won’t go into any of these questions in this article except to make the following closing remarks.

If you call yourself an activist and you can’t quote or at least paraphrase from memory some Chomsky, Fisk, Hitchens, Marx, Hegel, Kant, Malthus, Huntington, Fukuyama, Brzezinski and Smith, to name just a few, then you have no business being a high level social activist, because you don’t have a goddamn clue about why or what exactly you are for or against!

If you are going to fight – know what you’re fighting for, what you’re up against and just perhaps have a plan that does something other than imperil the integrity and effectiveness of true dedicated champions of the Left.

Being pissed off isn’t enough! Sorry kids.

Being an activist is a true lifelong commitment, where the bulk of your time is spent honing your intellectual skills. You simply can’t fight a monster with a half-cocked gun.

Until next time…

 

3 Comments

  1. well said. you might well add naomi kline to your short list. she agrees with you. sort of. took this off her blog http://www.naomiklein.org/main
    “Speaking through cycles of call-and-response because the protesters have been denied a sound permit, Klein urged the protesters not to lapse into structureless disorganization.”
    full article in the nation http://www.thenation.com/article/163844/occupy-wall-street-most-important-thing-world-now
    check out her sermon to this “movement of movements”

    • RedIron

      Jock,
      Thanks in many different ways, but most importantly, thanks for sharing some of your own wisdom and observations as well. I’m writing again tonight about OWS. Now that I see the movement have listened to folks that share our views I feel a bit relieved. But they still are, most assuredly, in the same danger that Ms. Klien points out even though they appear to be getting a little more organized, more direct, and specific in what needs to be done. My biggest worry is the collective apathy of the masses, and unless the majority soon realize that something historic may be happening – this could all come to nothing. It could very well be the majority’s involvment that would be the catalyst for a better organizational structure. Thanks again for the kind words and great links!

      R.

  2. do listen to paul hawken. he’s noticed something important. calls it blessed unrest. says there’s an integrating force in the growing number of disparate groups. i think his idea very much ties into the present street politics.
    http://fora.tv/2007/06/08/Paul_Hawken_New_Great_Transformation

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