Inkwell: Authors and Artists
David Wilson (dlwilson) Thu 12 May 11 12:11
I've got an anecdote to piggyback onto Gary's post. A few years ago I was standing in line to pay a parking ticket. Some guy was chatting up the woman clerk and hitting on her. I went up and complained that there is a long line and they were taking up everyone's time with their private interaction. Both the clerk and the guy were offended. We got into a raised voices conversation and the guy leveled what he thought was an insult at me: "You, you, ... Liberal!" My point is that in the past 2 or 3 decades the public has moved much more into an "individualist" stance without much concern for the welfare of the whole. My civic education since grade school has been that "we are all in this together" so I have a hard time with political policies and positions that seem to deliberately disregard this. In fact this position is now ridiculed like my encounter above. Here then is my question Sasha. At what point does ideology reinforce behavior and how does behavior create ideology?
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Thu 12 May 11 13:14
And if Sasha can answer that question, well, I'll have a new hero.
Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Thu 12 May 11 13:45
Ted, I wish it was more the case that the US was being squeezed by other economic models, but I'm not sure if that's the case. One of the main themes of my book is that what we've been seeing since the 1970s is the restructuring of capitalism to restore flagging profit rates -- what is often referred to as neoliberalism. It was based on attacks on workers in the Global North -- such as when Margaret Thatcher took on the miners union or when Reagan went on the offensive in this country -- and on the populations of the Global South through institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, who were forced to restructure their economies to open them up to foreign capital, privatize their state industries, and dismantle social services. It involved the relocation of manufacturing to East Asia and the maquiladoras on the US-Mexico border, or within the US from traditionally unionized areas, like the Midwest, to non-union regions like the US South, as well as an increased role for finance in the economy. The imperial center of this system has been the US, but countries all over have been compelled or elected to follow suit, including Mexico and Canada. While Canada's welfare state before the advent of neoliberalism was more developed than that of the United States, it has been rolled back by neoliberal politicians over a number of years (and the Conservative Party just won a majority there). Unfortunately, while there are some exceptions -- insurgent social and labor movements in Mexico and Bolivia, the Chavez regime in Venezuela -- neoliberalism has very successfully taken hold in Latin America. That may be changing. But even countries like Brazil -- where a radical former metal worker, Lula, came to power to head the Workers Party, to be succeeded by a former leftwing guerrilla (Dilma Rousseff) -- are still following neoliberal policies. (Interestingly, though, the countries of Latin America have been doing relatively well during this economic crisis, because many of their economies are oriented to the Chinese economy, rather than the US economy.) With this economic crisis, what we're seeing is not the end of the neoliberal era, but its intensification. The kinds of cuts to public welfare spending and attacks on workers that characterized that order is being ratcheted up, with the economic crisis being used to justify such austerity. Although most of the US public -- and especially poor people and public sector workers -- were not responsible for the chaos of this system, and hence were not bailed out when the banking system almost collapsed, they are now being asked to pay for that bailout. I certainly hope that folks who were first radicalized in the Sixties will get active in opposing this austerity, since it will and is having a harsh impact (and let's not forget that it comes on the heels of three decades of neoliberalism, where wages in the US have been held down to 1970s levels, while the productivity of US workers continues to rise). My book is actually addressed to multiple generations, so I'm hoping that those of the generations of the Old Left, New Left, and younger activists will read it and benefit from it -- and then take action.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Thu 12 May 11 14:23
My academic training is in American History, especially 1865 to present. To me, it looks like we're re-assembling the key ingredients of the Gilded Age: - get rid of unions - get rid of antitrust enforcement - attack all health, safety, and environmental regulations - keep cutting taxes on the rich - do whatever you can to make sure that big money corrupts the political system (e.g. Citizens United) Yes, there are some differences - the rhetoric and rationales have changed - but for the most part it's the same old wine in new bottles.
Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Thu 12 May 11 14:39
Thanks so much, David. And thanks for the prompting: interested people can listen to Against the Grain, the program that I co-host with C.S. Soong, on KPFA Radio (94.1 FM or kpfa.org) Monday through Wednesday, noon to one. You can also sign up for podcasts at our website againstthegrain.org. We're currently in a fund drive, but regular programming resumes at the end of the month. Yesterday, Kentucky Senator/ Tea Party hero Rand Paul said: "With regard to the idea of whether you have a right to health care, you have realize what that implies... Its not an abstraction. Im a physician. That means you have a right to come to my house and conscript me... It means you believe in slavery. It means that youre going to enslave not only me, but the janitor at my hospital, the person who cleans my office, the assistants who work in my office, the nurses." Now that's just ridiculous and a lot of it seems to be to be the kind of song and dance that goes on to muddy the issues and distract people. Nonetheless, the majority of Americans support single payer healthcare. And a majority of people believe in collective bargaining rights for workers. As Chomsky points out, we should be aware that there is a gap between the discourse of the US political system, as well as the mainstream media, and the attitudes of Americans as a whole, who tend to be more leftward leaning. The question, returning to the issue Angie flagged, is how to get people to move beyond deep cynicism and try to change things.
Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Thu 12 May 11 16:28
Okay, trying to catch up with all the terrific comments posted... Gary, I think you've just touched on a very complex question, but an important one for radicals. In the interview in my book that I did with Noam Chomsky, who identifies as an anarcho-syndicalist, I asked him about his defense of those gains that are embodied in the state -- and were fought for by social movements -- such as Social Security and progressive taxation. This was his response: "You have to ask what the alternatives are. Many anarchists just consider the state as the fundamental form of oppression. I think thats a mistake. I mean of the various kinds of oppressive institutions that exist, the state is among the least of them. The state at least to the extent that society is democratic with various degrees and typesbut to the extent that its democratic you have some influence on what happens in the state. You have no influence on what happens in a corporation. Theyre really tyrannies and as long as society is largely dominated by private tyrannies, which is the worst form of oppression, people just need some form of self-defense. And the state provides some form of self-defense. And to say, lets dismantle Social Security, means concretely lets decide that that disabled widow across town will starve to death. I dont agree with that." Incidentally, as anarchists like to point out, the international postal system is an example of non-coercive social organization on a large scale, which we might draw some lessons from: all countries agree to deliver each other's mail, which they are not obligated to do, except that it works for the good of all (and is therefore an example of mutual aid).
Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Thu 12 May 11 16:39
I think these questions of ideology and behavior are very hard to untangle from each other, (dlwilson), as things can take on a momentum of their own. The system of free market capitalism, or neoliberalism, which emerged 30 years ago, was characterized not simply by its attacks on workers rights, clean air, clean water, etc, in search of profits. It has also been characterized by the ways that it has incorporated "ordinary Americans" into the circuits of finance, a point made in in my book by Leo Panitch, Sam Gindin, and Greg Albo. What that means is that over the last three decades, working class people, white collar workers, and even poor people have been integrated more deeply into the system through credit cards, mortgages (and remortgaging), pensions, even the stock market. Which has been very profitable for the financial industry. It undoubtedly shapes your behavior when you're being screwed over, yet you also have a stake in the system and don't want to see if come crashing down around you. Let's not forget, though, that rather than people using this credit to live high off the hog -- as the media implied when the housing market burst -- people were borrowing money often to stay afloat. I've made this point earlier, but we need to remember that wages have been stagnant in the US since the 1970s and falling for those at the bottom end of the spectrum (such as people who have only a high school education). So borrowing for many folks was an individual response to a collective/ societal problem. And I think that's a lot of what has been very detrimental over these past years: people, rather than acting collectively, are trying to cope or get ahead as individuals. Simultaneously, the neoliberal ideology, that the best outcomes for everyone come from individuals acting in their self-interest, has been very actively promoted since the 1970s. But keep in mind that it was in reaction to the successes of the collectivist, radical politics of the 1960s and 70s (which among other things was a period characterized by great worker militancy and wildcat strikes). If I can quote again from my book, this time from the radical geographer David Harvey, elites have no problem acting collectively -- for their own ends: "There was a concerted program that worked at a number of levels. To me, the beginning point was a memo that Lewis Powell, who became a Supreme Court justice shortly afterwards, sent to the American Chamber of Commerce in 1971. What he said, in effect, was that the anti-business climate in this country has gone too far, we need a collective effort to try to turn it around. After that we see the formation of a whole set of think tanks, the massing of money by various organizations to try to influence public policy and to do it through the media, do it through think tanks... They were very concerned to try to roll back that legislation which had emerged during the 1960s and early 1970s that set up things like the Environmental Protection Agency, OSHA, consumer protection, and all of those sorts of things. And of course they gained considerable influence in the press through the Wall Street Journal and business pages and business schools and the like, and through their think tanks they started to influence public opinion."
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Thu 12 May 11 16:45
The Postal Service is a great example of the necessity of government. It is hard to imagine any corporation that would be able and willing to deliver any piece of mail anywhere in the entire U.S. within a day or two or three for forty-four cents. But of course congresspeople are famous for carping that the postal service, which I guess is somehow only semi-public, doesn't run at a profit. Here's an excellent article on the subject by Garret Keizer. It's called Why Dogs Go After Mail Carriers http://www.harpers.org/archive/2010/09/0083081
. (wickett) Thu 12 May 11 17:14
An aside: I like to write letters. Each time I do so, I give thanks for being able to do so and pop them in the Post Office. I wonder how long I will enjoy the privilege. Lewis Powell's writing presuaged the second gilded age, indeed. Scary stuff.
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Thu 12 May 11 17:26
>people were borrowing money often to stay afloat. Yes, but the definition of "afloat" sure has changed. A development that might be accounted for by commodity fetishism, but may also be accounted for by just how many wonderful things there are to buy, and by the way that for all of us, the basic necessities of a decent life have really proliferated. Think about how ralph and Alice Kramden lived--no cable, no tv, no cellphones, no pcs, no internet, no Netflix, and on and on. Not saying this was a better life, but the barely acceptab le American life has certainly gotten more expensive in absolute terms since then.
. (wickett) Thu 12 May 11 18:19
It is indeed insanely expensive to establish oneself with the modest essentials of living this American life. Thank you, Sasha, for _Re:Imagining Change. Sounds like just what I've been looking for.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Thu 12 May 11 18:24
Yup, it's very expensive just to be poor in the U.S.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Thu 12 May 11 18:40
From the Edge: http://www.edge.org/documents/archive/edge342.html A conversation with Hugo Mercier on The Argumentative Theory; right up the WELL's alley, but pertinent to this discussion: The theory fits in very well with the idea of deliberative democracy. In deliberative democracy, the idea is that people should argue with one another more often, and that instead of simply using voting as a way of aggregating opinion, people should instead be deliberating with one another, they should be discussing their ideas, they should be sharing their points of views and criticizing each other's point of view.
. (wickett) Thu 12 May 11 19:10
The lack of face-to-face community is vital to deliberative democracy. When people can isolate themselves only with people who agree with them or have a bazillion friends with some one thing in common then opportunities for thrashing out ideas, differences, proposals about how to develop and sustain a working democracy fade and vanish. People may see more of talking heads in the media than they do of their own friends and family and may speak of them as if familiar. In this delusion, no relationship exists, and, therefore, no argument or discussion. No wonder many don't have the mental muscles to cope with complexity, nuance, ambiguity, experiment, compromise.
David Gans (tnf) Thu 12 May 11 19:11
I heard aninterview on KPFA - possibly on Against the Grain - in which the subject stated that the supply of workers is now far greater than the number of jobs, and therefore we have a tremendous downward pressure on wages. This seems to be the rock-hard truth at the bottom of all this misery, and I don't see how it can be fixed without either a hell of a lot of death.
David Gans (tnf) Thu 12 May 11 19:12
David Gans (tnf) Thu 12 May 11 19:17
I am reading Peter Coyote's book "Sleeping Where I Fall." He describes the mission of the San Francisco Mime Troup in the mid-'60s as arising from "the Troupe's expectation that America should live up to her promises and play by her stated rules - and we intended to provoke her until she did." At least in those days it seemed like there might be some hope of succeeding.
Lena M. Diethelm (lendie) Thu 12 May 11 19:21
re: downward pressure on wages - The annual salary my husband made in 1992 is the same nearly 20 yrs later as what he would be offered NOW.
David Wilson (dlwilson) Thu 12 May 11 20:04
Low-skilled workers are becoming redundant. Many low-skilled Blacks get involved in illegal drugs out of desperation. Then they are convicted and incarcerated. Once out of jail, there is little to no chance of reintegrating or moving out of poverty. Thus, a perfect system of social control.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 12 May 11 21:36
#43: me too. I'm earning rates that are the same or less as I earned from 1988-1991.
Angie (coiro) Thu 12 May 11 22:42
Let's do talk about labor and workers, then. Upstream you mentioned Wisconsin (which I, too, took heart from), Sasha. Let's delve into your interview with labor studies professor Ursula Huws, and draw too from your catalog of other interviews: what are the challenges and opportunities this crisis of capitalism present for labor? Huws' reflections on how fragmented we've become as a society is of particular relevance here. That, combined with an eroding belief in the value of the commons, and with an educational system that leaves students ignorant of labor history, makes heavy slogging for union organizers. Ursula Huws, for those who'd like to check out her work and thoughts: <http://ursulahuws.wordpress.com/author/ursulahuws/> I particularly appreciated her chapter in your book, Sasha.
Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Thu 12 May 11 23:23
I'm not entirely sure what happened to a post I wrote earlier, but in it I agreed entirely with Mark's point about the attempt right now to turn the clock back to the 19th century and erase all the things that were won since then by the labor movement, environmentalists, radicals, and others. I think he nailed it. Lena and Sharon, what you've observed in your own lives is borne out by the national numbers. Income grew on average in the US between 1948 and 1982 by 1.7%, but by a measly 0.2% a year from 1982 to 2008. For America's richest people -- those who had an average income of $9.1 million -- incomes over the past twenty years grew at 20 times the rate of the bottom 90%. And as David indicates, African Americans have been particularly badly hit. In 2009, the average household income for African Americans fell to 60% that of white households, from a meagre peak of 65% in 2000. (Statistics courtesy of the wonderful economic journalist Doug Henwood, who is interviewed in my book.) Gary, aside from the many goods that have become necessities of sorts, like computers and cellphones, so much personal spending (and borrowing) has gone to health care, the price of which continues to soar. And while the US has one of the most expensive health care systems in the developed world, Americans score very poorly in by various health measurements, so it doesn't appear to be working very well either.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 13 May 11 04:03
So, the system works for the top 5% and suppresses the rest of us.... As to workers/work, this might be simplistic, but it's what I think, so please correct me if I'm wrong....for the past 30 years we have watched our corporations ship manufacturing and jobs off-shore...is it any wonder that these corporations now bet against us, just as Wall Street did with their derivitive markets? Corporations survive by returning a profit to their shareholders....that profit must now be derived in foreign markets, oftentimes causing the companies to effect policies and strategies that work against our economy here at home.... Throw in China's control of our money market and you pretty much have our current scenario....I know it's more complicated than that, given the global economy, but in economic darwinian terms only the strong survive....It should come as no surprise that we are now a 'house divided' with corporate and National strategies at odds with one another. Other than war, what DO we produce in the U.S. Well, unemployment obviously, but really what are we producing here? Not too many win/win scenarios in this model.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Fri 13 May 11 05:20
<47> The software here helpfully warns you (and mostly it is helpful) if someone has made a post while you were writing yours - this makes it easy to think you've posted (because you hit "Post"), while really in another tab or window it's asking you if you want to edit your post in response to the one that slipped in. So basically, you have to watch for the "success" message, especially if you're in a fast-moving conversation like this one. Anyway, glad you agree about the Gilded Age - the parallels are really striking to me.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 13 May 11 08:28
the parallels are scarily striking! Not what we need to be happening at the moment. Just not helpful really.
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