Sunday, May 20, 2012

"Making money" is the deepest, most broadly shared religious value in America

I have been thinking a lot about why it has come to this. Why are Americans as a people in particular so weak and vulnerable, so thoroughly misled.
A theory:
In American culture, a deep respect for the right of each individual to "make a living" runs very deep. In a sense, it is the original drive that brought Europeans to America. In its day, it was actually quite progressive. After all, what it replaced (in the late 1500s and early 1600s) was the notion that the "nobility" had the right to live full lives and everyone else just competed to be the least mistreated of their stage props. "Making money" is the deepest, most broadly shared religious value in America.
Once "everyone can prove God loves them by being rich" became the dominant mode, then its internal contradiction became visible: What if my "making a living" involved depriving someone else of their ability to have a full life? Historically, various distinctions have been used to make it OK for some people to not count. The elect versus the non-elect. Racial and national boundaries. Sheer physical and communicational distances. Those are all breaking down now.
In the 1800s, the recognition gradually won out that "making a living" by enslaving people was wrong. What we need now is to broaden that much further to make it clear that making a living, even becoming ridiculously wealthy by contributing to society, by providing something people want is Good. Making a living by taking from others in any way is Bad. 
The "something for nothing" mentality may be most intense, obvious, and destructive when the financial sector does it on a grand scale, but it is pervasive. For example, it is the core of most visualize-your-way-to-fortune programs of the New Age.
When the Abolitionists first proposed the notion that slavery needed to be eliminated (1840 or so IIRC), they were vilified, even in non-slaveholding areas. The reason people came around was the recognition that anyone who had to compete with slaves would themselves be reduced to slavery.
So too, we need people to recognize that anyone who has to compete with the exploited will themselves be exploited. That the only solution is to make a sharp distinction between those who flourish by contributing and those who flourish by only taking.
I see this as foundational. If we can accomplish this, forward motion will become possible. Without this, I think we will remain trapped between the choice of being the abused girlfriend of the Democratic Party (oh, but he promised me he would leave her and marry me) or the isolated spinster, our greatest possible triumph to someday rise to 10% or 15% of the vote (NDP in Canada). Maybe on some very lucky day, one of the legacy parties will need our support and really come courting. You know, flowers, date on the town, the whole thing. "Just sign the papers sweetie, please." See Liberal-Democrats in the UK after the 20122 election there.
The only way out that I can see is to attain the society-wide understanding that something for nothing is always, always based on someone else's nothing for something. That something for nothing creates a cultural black hole that sucks light in, gives nothing out, and results in a lot more nothing and very little something.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The contradiction for actual progressives

(Cross posted from Naked Capitalism)

I agree that the article that Lambert links to and highly recommends by Sterling Newberry is well worth reading.

It is full of brilliant gems.  Such as "Obama’s money mandate is to Do Bush Right".  (Remember that he nailed this in July 2009.)
I would add two points. 
First point: The move from the old economy to the new economy will be a larger shift because it will be a shift from rules evolved for the production of things to rules for the production of knowledge.  The shift from petroleumism to CleanEnergyism that Newberry foresees is theoretically possible but highly unlikely.  The current elite derives so much of its power not from increasing productive forces but from throttling the development of the knowledge economy that it is unlikely that they will be able to play a forward-moving role even in the material sector of the economy. 
This biggest problem to solve for any knowledge-driven economy is this:  It must do two things at the same time:  compensate those who do the work and turn the knowledge totally free.  I strongly suspect that neither private property + corporations nor state property + government can do this, but that something new will be required.
Progressives are connected with the emergent knowledge producing class (in a broad sense).    This is one reason why the relationship between "Progressives" (advocates for the next economy) and "Moderates" (advocates for rationalization of the old economy to prop it up longer) is more complex than Newberry presents.  (Note too that Newberry is using these terms somewhat different from their usual usage. In particular, "moderates" are not watered-down progressives or pragmatic progressives, but a separate opposed pole, rational conservatives.  Really, go read the article.  After you finish my post)  In particular, many who are genuinely progressive are nonetheless following supposed "Progressives" who are actually "Moderates".  Actual progressives have comparatively little (miniscule) institutional support.  As a result, leadership among progressives often goes to those "progressives" who are subsidized by "moderate" opponents of progressivism in return for helping keep progressives as a colony of the "moderates".
This "undercutting" of progressives at the very top mirrors what happens in the real economy.  Within the knowledge producing class, the greatest resources are given to "creatives" who work in one form or another as propagandists for the old economy and technologists who themselves have become part of the rent-collecting elite (Microsoft and Apple, for example).
This contradiction between the actually existing knowledge producing sector and the potential of knowledge producers, both as a social force and as an expression of expanded human development, is an under-recognized factor, particularly in politics and culture.  I believe it goes a long way in explaining why the elite has so far been paralyzed by its own corruption and is driving us along a path that will not be sustainable for long even for the elite themselves.