[I find this article/book excerpt to be coyly misleading on the issue of class sizes. It attempts to completely divorce the issue of class size from the achievement gap debate, all along ignoring the elephant in the room: kids from prosperous white families whose parents have the social background, economic resources, and time to help their kids succeed do far better in school than kids from minority working/impoverished families whose parents have little educational success in their social background and no resources of time and money to buy their way up for their children. Increasing class sizes in this time of budget hacking will not appreciably hurt the achievement of white kids in middle to upper class homes, but it will roll back decades of effort in increasing the chances for poor and minority families to end the cycle of educational underachievement. When G. W. Bush was nailed to the wall for slow progress in Iraq, he would respond that "it's tough work" but that we need to "stay the course." Surely we can find a way to spare a few tens of billions to keep hacking at the achievement gap when we have afforded trillions to our wars. And what if some of those trillions had gone to bettering the lives of inner city youth caught in a warzone of their own? What effect might that have had? What a double standard from those who approve of our supplying the Iraqi people with resources supposedly aimed at bettering their lives, resources they did not have to work for, but who won't approve the same showering of resources here at home because they say people ought to have to work for what they get.]
[It can be hard to find a single voice saying what needs to be said. I think that's why I was surprised -- and delighted -- to hear Bill Moyers calling it like it is. He puts his finger on the paradigm shift in America over the past forty some years, from citizenship to consumerism, that is at the heart of our present struggles.
A choir of voices tell us to beware of evils like socialism then turn and sell us on the validity of an individualistic and consumerist society where the interests of big corporations are inherently bound up with the good of each one of us personally, as if the passing away of a corporation sounds the death knell of our own lives.
This fantasy masks the fact that we already have a socialist state -- a corporate socialism (aka, fascism) not built on the understanding of authentic human social structures that is a positive aspect of the socialism advocated by Orwell, not built on healthy choices for individuals, groups, and the planet itself where we pretty much have to live for the foreseeable future, but a socialism driven by the mere eating of ever more goods and services because that's what helps corporations grow bigger.
Picture society as a herd of pigs in a slough, a herd that is completely unaware they are a herd because they are too busy fighting and rooting around for the limited slop being rationed by the slop masters.
This points to two problems: 1) we're being fed and controlled by slop, and 2) we only get just enough slop to keep it all going round while the cream piles up in dairy barns where we're not allowed to go. So many signs that we need an awakening from our mass false consciousness...]
Bill Moyers on His Legendary Journalism Career: “Democracy Should Be a Brake on Unbridled Greed and Power”
In a Democracy Now! special broadcast, we are joined by legendary journalist Bill Moyers, a founding organizer of the Peace Corps, press secretary for President Lyndon Johnson, a publisher of Newsday, and senior correspondent for CBS News. Public …
http://www.democracynow.org/2011/6/8/bill_moyers_on_his_legendary_journalism Shared via my6sense
Why should it be that relations kill the man in the man, the woman in the woman? Any fullness a person might have achieved too often gets stifled in an oppressive vat of expectations. Why it should be that a father, a mother, singly and in unison (not to mention extended relations), should think that they own their children, these other lives, physically, emotionally, spiritually, is beyond my comprehension. When two people give life to a third, do they not really give it? If you did not give it, do you have any claim at all? Is life so limited, do we all have so little of it (life, that is) that we can not really afford to give it away? Must we really protect life from itself?
I find the exact opposite to be true. I must get out of the way, relinquish control. The more life is cast from its owner, the more there is to go around. Just try to give more life than you think you possess and you will find yourself trying to drink dry a hypothetically pure ocean to the stone cold floor of its basement secrets.
There is no ocean deep enough to measure the life that is in a human being who does not hoard what they have been given. Give me a hundred such and watch the world be turned upside down. In fact, such exist, but they are the rare and offcast among us. They become a byword, a curse, a sniffed at presence.
Well, anyone can do that, says the mortgagee with two car payments and seasonal travel arrangements. Anyone, says the traditional housewife who’s never worked a day in her life. Anyone, says the retiree after a life of hard work. I do much more than that, says the banker, the business owner, the independently wealthy individual, the politician, the administrator, the teacher. I wish I could do that, says the single mother, the single father, the artistic and eccentric uncle, married couples with three jobs between them just to get by, the unemployed, the foreclosee.
All these could, in fact, be more, do more, give more, except that relations tend to kill the man in the man and the woman in the woman. Expectation damages the fruit from the inside. Fear paralyzes the peeling away of outer layers, too afraid to lose the unknown, blazing core inside. Woe to the world for this destruction in the name of unreal relation. Let others be and let them fly. Avoid exclusion by your previous fears and failures. Do not mock the way of anyone. Let them go and watch them soar beyond your expectation. Watch your little bit of life become much in the firing, thumping, swirling eddy in which it swims when you nurture without clamping down, when you breathe to life little flames without snuffing out their whorl of possibilities, when you challenge eyes to see new paths rather than demand your line be walked to its deathly terminus.
In several of my recent posts, I have indicated that I think there are demagogues on the loose who mostly just rile people up. One of these posts was a call for folks to stop using labels to dismiss those whose ideas they haven’t even attempted to understand. As an example, I told a story that illustrated how terms like “liberal” and “conservative” are often used like epithets or curse words to banish what some folks imagine is “wrong” with the world. This sets up a false opposition between terms that never actually get defined. (See the original post here.)
The post in question, then, set about to define the word “liberal” and strongly implied that, once defined, the term “liberal” describes most Americans. If “liberal” means, at its core, the radical belief that human beings are born equal and deserve to live in liberty and equality under the law, then most Americans are liberal at heart. This is true, I maintain, despite the fact that a fair amount of these same Americans would blanch at the term being applied to them.
However, it was claimed by one reader of the post in question that I did the same thing I said I was against: labeling those I misunderstand. And I can see how someone might get this impression as I failed to define terms like “demagogue” after claiming that certain media personalities are acting like demagogues.
Allow me to correct that now. A demagogue is properly defined as, “A political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular passions and prejudices,” and demagoguery is thus, “Impassioned appeals to the prejudices and emotions of the populace” (WordWeb dictionary). In this case, I see no problem with extending the definition of demagogue to media personalities whose main focus is politics and who make primarily emotional and prejudicial appeals. Those who know the history of American demagoguery are likely to think of one Fr. Charles Coughlin, a Catholic priest who became a well-known radio personality and political organizer during the 1930s. He was never a candidate but was a swayer of opinions. Demagogues, in this view, are irrational swayers of opinion, and a fair number of politicians have depended in the past on such as these for votes. More on this later.
For now, notice that these are words with well-defined meanings. I used them to say what they mean — that some media personalities “appeal to the prejudices and emotions of the populace” rather than appealing to the intellect and reason. It is true that I see this as an objective fact, and I base my opinion on years of listening to these media personalities during which I thought I was “on their side” and that they were on mine. It will take another post to do justice to that line of thinking, so, again, more on this later. For now, it is enough that I do not use the term “demagogue” in the same way as those who use the term “liberal” when what they mean is anyone who wants to destroy America or the American system and when they then link this first thought to everyone of a politically liberal stance so that “liberal” = “bad, evil, inherently wrong” (if you think this does not happen, I have to disagree and kindly let you know that I witnessed it on Facebook less than two weeks ago and have no doubt I could find innumerable internet examples).
Now, it may be true that some politically liberal individuals want to destroy America (I don’t know a single one, personally), but wanting to destroy America is not the definition of the term “liberal,” and it is irresponsible speech to use the term in this way to talk about all or even most of liberal thought. If we are going to use the term, we ought to define it properly:
1. Showing or characterized by broad-mindedness [i.e., generous to the ideas of others]
2. Having political or social views favoring reform and progress [and this, we should add, is for the purpose of preserving political and social equality, which is a conservative action]
3. Tolerant of change; not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or tradition
4. Given or giving freely [i.e., generous of heart]
1. A person who favors a political philosophy of progress and reform and the protection of civil liberties [i.e., political and equality]
2. A person who favors an economic theory of laissez-faire and self-regulating markets
The first thing that might pop out at you is definition 3 of liberal used as a noun. Most folks would put this idea of economic liberalism squarely in the camp of conservative thought. In fact, laissez-faire is essentially a liberal idea and was at the core of much of the economic policy that both Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton undertook in the 1990s as the Developed World pushed for free and open markets in the Developing World (NAFTA and deals with China could be considered examples of their liberal economic policies).
These days, it is true that political and social liberalism are not always associated with economic liberalism, and this is really where we get our usual division between political liberals and conservatives in America. I, however, reject that usual division as unhelpful because it masks the core similarities between the great number of liberals and conservatives, both of whom value personal freedom. Given that, we can safely define a politically and socially liberal person as an individual who believes that political and social equality are essential aspects of a free, or liberal, society — a society characterized by liberty for all. Any reforms advocated are so advocated to the end of ensuring political and social equality and, thus, a more-free society. A more-free society is thus a society that has seen some progress, but, for a true liberal, that progress takes the form of more equal liberty for all. Liberty is, after all, related to the same Latin root as the word liberal (see the end of this post for more on that).
Now, I happen to look at the definitions of liberal as positive traits in the main. Its primary definition comes from the Latin for “free,” and its secondary meaning refers to the old idea of “generosity,” by which was meant an open spirit: openness to giving, openness to receiving, openness to listening, openness to others unlike oneself. A healthy dose of liberalism, or generosity, toward others and their ideas helps oil the gears of discussion and understanding. It is an objective good: either we agree after all and we know that because we now understand one another, or we disagree but, because we now understand one another, we can look for a way forward together.
I intend to show that even “conservatives” who oppose “liberals” by default require a fair amount of liberalism in order to achieve their end of conserving the political and social system they care about. They are, in fact, (or should be) liberal in many ways. Before I do that, we must also define “conservative”:
1. Resistant to change
2. Having social or political views favoring conservatism
3. Avoiding excess
4. Unimaginatively conventional
5. Conforming to the standards and conventions of the middle class
1. A person who is reluctant to accept changes and new ideas
2. A member of a Conservative Party
3. Believing in or supporting tenets of the political right
Notice that we really have to define the term “conservatism” to zero in on the definition of “conservative” as it is often used today:
1. A political or theological orientation advocating the preservation of the best in society and opposing radical changes [i.e., changes in the system of government, the economic system, religion, etc.]
A conservative, then, holds that the way things were intended to be, the way they were “handed down,” is usually the best way and that we should thus conserve (from the Latin for “protect”) the way handed down to us. One has only to realize that we no longer have absolute monarchies in Western society to realize that conservatism has its limits. It was the liberal thinking of previous centuries that caused that development; conservatives of the time were known as “tories,” or loyalists to the crown and the old way of the absolute monarchy.
However, what I would call a Pure Conservative holds to an anachronistic or ahistorical conservatism that tends to forget these facts. Their conservatism borders on the absolute. They imagine, it would seem, a particular time in history that was (to their thinking) “better” than now, and this is what they try to conserve. (Their thinking is also surprisingly Darwinian, socially, as they often advocate for the jungle-like survival of the fittest, but that’s a topic for another post).
Here is where the ironies begin to pile up:
1) When pure conservatives notice that something has changed in a way they consider for the worse, don’t they necessarily have to embrace the liberal idea that sometimes reform is required in order to preserve what they care about? In other words, even for a conservative there are both times to dig in and “conserve” and times to change things for the better.
This change back to what was better is the same as “progress,” in the liberal sense of ensuring freedom and equality for all (if that is what the conservative is truly after). But notice, there is nothing about the rhetoric of pure conservatism in 2010 that openly welcomes the ideas “change” or “progress.”
2) In a world that changes constantly (even as it remains essentially the same), choices have to be made about what to conserve, but pure conservatives seem to get bottled up by their conservatism. They don’t seem to realize a fundamental choice that often has to be made: do we conserve the system (or, more often, a certain feature or convention of the system), or do we conserve the values behind the system? Oftentimes, by conserving a system or a mere convention of it, we erode one or more values that lie more deeply at the root of a system’s existence.
There is no clearer example of this that I can think of than American slavery. By opposing slavery, the more liberal North called for a change that would ultimately preserve and extend the basis of American society: the radical equality of all human beings. The South, as purely conservative, opposed this change but, in the process, was upholding a system of tyranny.
Sometimes the most conservative thing a person can do is to seek reform at the most basic levels of society, and sometimes this is done in order to preserve general freedom and equality, which is a liberal value — the single liberal value, I would argue (after de Tocqueville, of course), that is at the root of the American system of government.
It is true that the American system was built with checks and balances in order to “conserve” this state of equality by not allowing any part of government to overstep its bounds, and it is true that the South claimed the Federal Government was overstepping those bounds. Abraham Lincoln and his Republican counterparts are seen in this case as political liberals surrounding the issue of slavery vs. states’ rights. They advocated for what was considered a radical change at the bottom of things in order to preserve the whole. That change? To start defining people of African descent as human beings. To do so ultimately required the Federal Government to step in and supersede the states’ individual determinations. In fact, our constitution is set up to allow for this, though it certainly can be argued that it was not handled in the best way (read de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America if you do not understand the important feature of the three levels of American government and how they interact).
3) We have established that, if liberty is most important to the existence of the United States, then the most conservative thing to do during the era of the Civil War was to fight for the end of slavery, and this actually required a liberal stance. Only the end of slavery in the South could hold the Union together; the existence of slavery in some but not all states was tearing the country apart. By holding to their convention of slavery, the South threatened the Union. Probably, the South could not imagine any other way of life. This choice did not, however, avoid excess as conservatism is thought to do. Rather, the South’s pure conservative stance unleashed a national bloodletting and an enormous tide of damages, thus ensuring that our nation would never be the same as it had been. Instead of trusting the political system to do its job of reflecting the people’s wishes (which, it can fairly be said, were leading the nation as a whole away from slavery, and justly so), one group tried to assert their wishes above what was fast becoming the view of the majority to disastrous effect.
4) We recently had a debate in this country over health care, and I am afraid it did not go far enough while it also went too far — individual mandates, for instance, probably goes too far, though I understand why this was pushed since universal coverage and even a public option were off the table. The fact is, certain things were off the table because of a huge outpouring of what I have already called pure conservatism. The result: our nation has now guaranteed that a substantial number of workers will continue to be tied unfairly to employers’ decisions about their health care. Workers will continue to feel the necessity to put up with an employer they would just as soon leave because they will not want to make changes in their health care. In contrast, if universal care or a public option had been on the table, workers might much more easily jump ship and find a better job or even start a business of their own doing something they actually feel passion about.
Notce that these options would not have substantially changed the health system because we already have a health insurance bureaucracy that wastes tons of money and drives up prices. The choice could have been between a multi-corporate bureaucracy serving the interests of the bottom line and in which common citizens have no say as opposed to a government not-for-profit bureaucracy in which common citizens have a vote through their elected leaders (which, by the way, is the definition of the American system — we are a democratic republic). That choice was kept off the table and so we have once again defaulted to the present state of affairs — the current multi-corporate bureaucracy which exists for-profit.
Incidentally, one of the main reasons employers ever started health insurance programs was to tie workers more closely to their businesses and thus decrease turnover. You can be sure that many employers do not want this dynamic to change. It has had the effect of chaining workers to their employers by making it that much harder for workers to change jobs. For those who doubt the power of this, I suppose you have never experienced what I have, nor have you talked to the people I have talked to. It is a very real consideration and, again, the subject of another blog post.
Suffice it to say, from my experience in the workaday world, free workers are preferable to enslaved workers. Free workers tend to speak up more often about what is wrong in their work environment. Free workers will more easily leave a bad employer without fear of their children getting sick during a time of no coverage or of an already sick child being unable to get new coverage. I took that freedom for myself as a gamble for me and my family and have been fortunate enough to get by, but it really was (and still is) a gamble. In a work environment policed almost exclusively by the employment market, not being attached to an employer through health insurance would be a huge boon to workers.
If there is anything good about the health care legislation, it is that some of the truly shackling traits of our health care system should be alleviated by it: no more preexisting conditions clauses, closures of other coverage loopholes, changes that should hopefully drive down costs on individual plans, and a security net for those who lose their jobs and their health care through no fault of their own. These are some of the best elements of the recent health care legislation because they will serve to free workers from undue pressure by their employers over the long term. They should also serve to strengthen the competitiveness of the insurance marketplace, which should please (but has not) the economic liberalism that conservatives hold so dearly.
The irony here: pure conservatives profess to be against the whole idea of health reform because their stance is to change nothing about our system out of fear that they will lose their freedom to so-called “big government,” and this while big corporations already hold many of the freedoms they are afraid of losing.
The further irony, then, is that health insurance did not exist as such when the Constitution was signed. It is not inherent to our system but is a convention that has grown up within our system. It is not inherent to our system, while individual freedom surely is. In a world where we have made it nearly impossible for workers to get along without health insurance (a more basic lack of freedom, to my mind, and the reason why I’m not really mad about the individual mandate since it merely openly acknowledges this reality), it seems quite conservative to return to those workers their freedom of choice concerning the health care they get by untangling their choice of health care from their choice of employer.
By keeping the two entwined, there is less liberty in America, not more. We have not preserved freedom nor our system but rather a convention to which the middle class has become accustomed. Thank you, pure conservatives, for “conforming to the standards and conventions of the middle class” in this case. Yes, it’s how we’ve done it for a lot of years, but that in itself should have told you it was time for a bigger change than the one we made.
After only a few self-conflicted ironies are brought to the light of day, we might ask why anyone would hold to a purely conservative perspective? It is obviously unbalanced, after all. Conservatism that makes sense realizes what ought to be conserved and what ought not be conserved. It jettisons what IS NOT best while preserving what IS best, whereas the pure conservatism I have described is something like a constipated child who refuses to let a host of things go that really ought to be let go. More than that, this child won’t even consider the possibility of a bowel movement.
Why would anyone hold to pure conservatism? Well, I told you I would get back to the idea of demagoguery. Demagoguery is at least one reason why a person would continue to hold to pure conservative political stances despite the imbalance, for demagoguery preys on the “prejudices and emotions of the populace.” My claim is that it does so to the ultimate detriment of that populace by strengthening their resolve against what might actually be good for them. My claim is that demagoguery always has worked against its listeners and always will. It is like the irrational and coddling parent who shields the child from the realistic parent who knows the child will have to learn a hard lesson either sooner or later — so why not now?
More on how demagoguery works in my next big post (it may be a few weeks). For now, take home this point: we all have a conservative in us who wants to keep certain things just the way they are. The question the politically and/or socially conservative must ask (and ask constantly) is what ought we conserve and what let go in favor of conserving what is truly important and foundational? Pure conservatism that never asks this question is out of balance and in danger of destroying that which it would conserve. It will destroy a relationship while trying to keep it just the same as it always was, and this in ignorance that relationships are constantly changing to begin with. It tends to balk unrealistically at every change in a world that changes constantly and will continue to do so.
The answer within American politics about what to conserve and not conserve is found in the root of the term “liberal.” This term refers us back to the idea of the “free” or “freedom,” and in American democracy this especially means the freedom of the individual achieved and preserved through political and social equality.
It does not mean the freedom of any one person or group to dominate the course of society by belittling the ideas of others just so that individual or group can have the comfort of not having to learn to get along. It does not mean the freedom of a corporation to exert undue pressure over its employees. It also does not mean that an individual or group that has a legitimate beef cannot seek and attain justice — quite the opposite.
True conservatism should mean trusting our system of government because it is set up to do the job of conserving our freedoms over time. That system has proven, over and over, to be up to the task when we let it. It is a transformative system that is still in motion and that was designed to meet with unforseen challenges. It is also very, very slow.
All definitions taken from WordWeb, the free dictionary download service, with options set to “American” English. All words in [ ]‘s are my additional comments.
For additional reading on the definitions explored in this post, check out the links below. Notice that the root of the words liberal and liberty are in both cases the latin word for “free.”
~ Webster’s 1913 Dictionary of the English Language ~
~ Webster’s New World Dictionary and The American Heritage Dictionary ~
~ Babeled.com ~ (for more on the Latin roots of “conservative” and “liberal”)
Not that I thought of it in this way, but I’m quite sure I had a radical streak in me at an early age. I just didn’t think of things the way other people did. I didn’t get hung up on preordained ways of thinking or solving problems. I cared little for established systems that seemed to veil how things actually worked.
I was quiet a lot of the time because of it. A person like I was (and am) finds it easy to step on toes and absolutely hates doing it. I’m more the quiet, thinking type: I analyze, come up with a solution, see if it works, and if it doesn’t, I try again. But this brings guffaws from lots of folks who are convinced they know a lot and know exactly how a thing should be done, so I’ve often kept quiet. I suspect my quietness has often been misunderstood by others, and I remember times when I’ve opened my mouth and been sure that no one understood me.
An example of the latter happened around a game of “four square” during recess at the religious school where I attended the fifth grade. There were maybe forty kids total in the whole school, and they ranged from kindergarten to a healthy crop of four seniors. Everyone had recess, even the seniors who would mostly stand in a circle by themselves talking of things the rest of us frankly didn’t give a rip about.
Instead, we played four square. One or two of us were pretty good at the game, and it was not uncommon for one of the better players to claim the fourth square for the bulk of a recess. I was just learning the game and had improved to the point that I could start to challenge the better players who were a grade ahead of me.
On this particular recess, I had been in the third square for a while but could not oust the best player from the fourth square. We’d go at it, but whoever was in the first or second square would end up “out” and we would both be safe for another round. Of course, this couldn’t last forever. Sooner or later one of us was going to have to go. I was too much of a threat to hang around in the third square, and I wanted the fourth square, in which I had barely ever set foot, as much as anything.
The play was fierce; the final decision centered on my square. I let a ball go that my opponent had hit. It was out-of-bounds! I knew it, but he was quicker to claim victory than I. “That was in!” I was slower, less confident. “No, it was out!” These may not be the exact words, but something to this effect occurred. The atmosphere got uncomfortable. I started to seethe, and everyone knew I disagreed with my opponent. Before I could properly state my case, democracy charged in to save the day, and the vote was not in my favor. I trudged to the back of the line, knowing for a fact that the ball had been out and that the fourth square should be mine.
At this point you may be wondering, “Is this guy still holding a grudge about a four square game after some twenty years?” Well, no…and at the same time, yes. You see, I don’t care about losing the game and having to go to the back of the line. That would happen many more times during the next six or so years that I spent at the school. It was the after-conversation that keeps me holding a grudge. Someone noticed how upset I was and said something like, “That’s democracy at work.” In effect, democracy had solved the problem and right had been done, so just get over it, kid. In reply, I blurted, “Well then I hate democracy.”
Oh, the chorus of boos! I was immediately shamed into silence. Though I knew I was right, I was the quiet sort. I may not have been right in saying that I hated democracy. I didn’t, and don’t hate it. That was just the heat of the moment spilling out of my pent-up, pre-adolescent pores. No, the problem was that I was right, and I knew it, but my voice didn’t count. No one had a better look at where the ball landed than I. It landed right below my nose. I clearly saw (and remember to this day) the ball landing on the “out” side of the line. The ball had not touched the line. It was out. No one will ever be able to convince me otherwise. I had been six linear inches away from the point of decision. The next closest person had been six feet away.
Democracy had failed, in this instance, to come up with the right answer. In fact, it was not the right time to rely on democracy, practiced as it had been. Sometimes democracy itself has to rely on proximity to a problem, on expertise, on the force of the closest witness. If it doesn’t, it becomes its own type of oppression. We have only to think of the Civil Rights Movement to see this is true. The same change might have been made decades earlier if enough weight had been thrown behind those who saw best and clearest.
But this still does not explain my ongoing grudge. Not at all, because what happened next, after I uttered the impossible words “Then I hate democracy,” is what jangles me to my boots to this day.
“Ooh, liberal,” intoned one of my classmates who was about my age. There was quick agreement and general grumbling about what I had said. My shame deepened. “Liberal” was just about the worst thing a person could be called in that environment. The only way to top it was to say something tasteless about someone else’s mother — and that certainly was not allowed at a religious school such as this.
It was a confusing development for me. I knew I had been right to pick on democracy as the culprit of my untimely four-square demise, but it had obviously come out wrong. So I kept coming back to it, as I tend to do when something stumps me. I considered the resulting “liberal” epithet for years after the fact and decided that’s what it was. It was an epithet of the primary definition: “A defamatory or abusive word or phrase.” A curse word. Something you name a person, place, thing, or idea that you don’t like and completely reject. The problem with epithets, as with this one, is that they almost always conceal the more complex truth of reality. You use the epithet because you don’t understand the thing in question, because it troubles you, and because epithets tend to make things go away. The epithet is a charm, a curse, a spell to banish the ogre from sight.
The irony was immense. In fact, I was not a liberal in the way my classmate meant it. I grew up in what I now consider to be a hyper-conservative environment, but I really didn’t understand the terms conservative and liberal back then. Most folks still don’t understand them. When folks use the term “liberal” in the way it was applied to me in that moment, they mean someone who in their imagination shuns all law and order and civility and who steals from their own pocket through taxes to give to the poor who don’t deserve it because, it is thought, the poor don’t work at all, so serves them right. A manipulative legislative anarchist, might be another way to describe what they actually picture in their running-scared minds (all the more ironic, because this same type of hyper-conservative loves anything to do with the Robin Hood legend and self-identifies with the poor that Robin Hood saves through his robbery of the rich).
“Liberal,” in the mind of this sort of person, is another word for bogey man. The Big Foot, the abominable snow man, goblins and witches and every other monster of the imagination all sprout from the same soil. The thing is too terrible to look at, the fear behind what is unknown is too powerful, like a tsunami that does not exist but, because the cry “tsunami” has gone up, everyone on the beach just runs even though it was a mere child who first said the word after water washed over them where they sat on the fringe, their first experience of what we all know is just a normal wave.
But one only runs when one is sitting on the beach; from one’s own high tower of unquestioned ideology, the tsunami is only an ogre; the epithet is unleashed with full force to banish the thing back into the hole from where it must have crawled.
This is the way such folks use the term “liberal,” and it goes without saying that many of those who consider themselves “liberal” use the term “conservative” in the same unthinking way: as an epithet. To both sides it means enemy, darkness, and evil itself.
How ironic, then, because in another context the same politically hyper-conservative sort of person whose sixth-grade child would already be steeped enough in the going conservative lingo to have the epithet “liberal” spring from their lips during a four-square near-dust-up — this same politically conservative sort of person in another context would deride the same “liberal” for their overridingly strong belief in democracy. “We’re not a democracy,” they would say. “The Founding Fathers started a Republic. Democracy is nothing more than mob rule. Rome weakened and fell because of mob rule, the rowdies in the street. Etc., etc.” And, in fact, this was the going conversation in the environment in which I and many folks like me grew up.
But back to the irony of it! I had been roundly put down not for merely criticizing but for openly declaring that I hated that which a true liberal holds most dear: democracy! It is, after all, the Democratic Party, dear Republicans. Democracy, because a true liberal believes in the ultimate equality of all individuals under the law regardless of race, creed, or sexuality (let the whole mixed bag exist together as long as they don’t threaten anyone’s individual living space and then deal with them as individuals). Democracy, because a true liberal believes everyone should have access to the gears of government. NOT that everyone should get their own way, but that everyone should have equal access. Democracy, because, though it doesn’t always make the right decision, we have to make decisions somehow and the majority vote is the way of decision-making least likely to cause a revolution that might disrupt the equality of all persons, thus eliminating access to the ruling gears of society to some or most.
How I laughed about a dozen years later when I realized for the first time that the only liberal on the four-square court that day was every person but myself!
Then what was I?
Frankly, I was nothing. I was outside. I was not enfranchised. My vote, my protest, did not count as it should have counted, with the proper weight given to it. I was new at the school, and when the reigning prince of the four square court says it’s “in,” then it’s “in.” No one doubted my opponent, who declared quickly and confidently his victory. My reply was quieter than his declaration and must have seemed the whine of a sore loser. Indeed, I was sore. I knew it would be taken this way, and this further weakened my response and raised my frustration. My position was not one of strength, and I had the added pressure of my wanting to belong in a group that yet considered me outsider.
I had learned a valuable lesson: if you want the goods, you have to get to the top of the heap; the closer to the top, the better the goods. In later years, after establishing myself, I would fight the same fight and win, but not that time. My description of what had happened was never heard. My input was not wanted, because to listen to me would not be to depend on the opinion of the all-wise and comfortable majority but would be to trust in the one closest to the occurrence.
My solution would have been a radical way of thinking: let the one closest to the ball make the call? What if he’s wrong or dishonest or just mistaken? Such a thing did not fall within the dominant pure-democratic system already in existence that stated all differences were to be decided by majority vote. I was voted to the back of the line partly by folks who had at the time been at the back of the line, partly by those who had been chatting and not even paying attention to the game, partly by those who were friends with my opponent (put these together and it was an easy majority for him), but it didn’t matter. That was the system in place. I could either join in, or just stop playing.
So I joined in. After my embarrassing declaration that I “hated” democracy, which I knew was not true, and after a host of other such embarrassing occurrences I may one day share in a blog post, I was shamed into it. How does a fifth-grader go about changing the rules of four square against the opinion of everyone else, let alone the system of ignorance in which he finds himself?
Besides, deep down I knew there was a deeper problem — every system depends on honesty, and not everyone is honest. What I learned that day is that the democratic system depends on honesty as much as any other system. If all had been honest, most would have admitted that they didn’t really see the play and that the two of us involved should sort it out rather than having everyone “vote.” A teacher should have gotten involved to play the part of moderator, to hear our separate sides and make a final ruling. That would have been better, I think. I don’t think we would have come to blows about it. On the contrary, we ended up something like best friends as it was, as competitors often do.
So why do I hold a grudge? Because of the after-response and my being called a “liberal,” that’s why. Nothing could be more preconditioned. Nothing goes more unquestioned among conservatives, and the same principle is at work throughout our politics and social discourse. Adults were nearby, but there was no correcting of the misapplied label, the epithet. It was a school setting, but there was no attempt to understand. The cat-call “liberal” was in fair play, as it is to this day among the hyper-conservative right-wing mindset. It is the epithetical foundation of a host of epithets that have been built upon it. Its only valid claim to existence is the claim that the “other side” has a similar set of delusions raised against it. The end, therefore, of knocking down the opposing wall justifies whatever means.
My true grudge, then, is not against any of my classmates, not against the school, not against my parents, nor against anyone else’s parents. In fact, it’s not against a particular person at all. I consider all these to be unwary victims of their environment.
Here’s the substance of my grudge, and its object will soon become apparent. It is this: that at about the same time as the four-square occurrence above, right-wing pundits started hitting the airwaves and writing books and selling tons of advertisement, thus reviving an all-but-dead AM radio band (would that it had died? yes, almost). It was known that the mainstream media was “liberal” and these talk-show hosts made a show of “leaving” it, when in fact all they did was restore a long tradition of populism and demagoguery to the mainstream where lots of folks could hear it.
What was unwittingly created was a counter-evil, an alternative media even more sinister than that which had prompted it. If what was hated was mannered journalism that stuck to the “facts” but at times only reported the “facts” that fit in with the mainstream of liberal thinking, what was created was a doggerel monster that gives shit for dealing with facts opposed to it and relies instead on epithets, labels, preconditioned thinking much like that which the purveyors of this brave new media supposedly despised (but now conveniently labeled “common sense”), and unprovable conspiracy theories based on their own “facts.” In so doing, they guaranteed that sound political discourse would continue to fade to a background murmur in these United States.
“Guaranteed, you say?” Yes, because we live under a system driven by profit. Smut sells, as every pornographer knows, and it sells like hotcakes. For a time, maybe, it seemed right, it seemed OK, maybe even a necessary balancing out of the political spectrum, but the new two-headed monster was and is in every way just as bad or worse than the one-headed monster of before. As the new head grew, the old head was forced to mirror it in order to keep drawing sustenance from the body politic whose ears and eyes brought the advertising dollars both heads rely on for survival. Competition bred a feedback loop of monstrous proportions. So go ahead and pick your head, but understand that it’s a monster sticking its tongue down your ear no matter which one you pick. Best to hold its ugly head at a distance and watch those shifty eyes when it’s talking to you.
All of this serves to illustrate what’s at the bottom of our clashing system (and who can deny that it’s clashing? who doesn’t see the inconsistencies within it?) Politics and profit, government and big business, are fighting a cold war against each other. The one poisons the other. Neither can exist without the other. That’s what makes true and positive change so gosh-darn impossible. Change isn’t built into the system. Rather, two competing systems have grown up together and both of them are designed to conserve themselves. The system is limping along and there’s nothing the system can do to cure the debilitating disease afflicting it; all it can do is apply band-aids — now by Republicans, now by Democrats, and, probably sooner than later, back to Republicans. Same band-aids, different hands. Same effect, different rhetoric.
Our system — not that I think any of us should take direct responsibility for it; we have inherited it, and like a rundown house there’s only shame in thinking you have to preserve it in all its ruin, and taking too much ownership of it before we’ve really made it our own may stop us from doing the needful — our system conserves itself in every twisted guise of its liberal (in the traditional sense of the word, meaning democratic equality and liberty) and profiteering self. Within this system, the liberal and the conservative are not so far apart as most people are told to think that they are. Rather, they are two sides of the same coin that most Americans seem scared to lose.
A major problem is that many Americans only ever look at one side of this coin, and, thus, there are two sides drawn repeatedly up against one another: the supposedly libertarian and conservative “Right” and the supposedly liberal and progressive “Left.” These sides pull at each other like two tug-of-war teams on each end of a rope. We tend to root for one team or the other without realizing that it’s the whole system we ought really to be concerned with preserving, if that’s what we really want to do.
Instead, when our team isn’t far enough right or left, we form a Tea Party or a MoveOn.org to increase the proper torque in the right direction. We do this despite the fact that the worst thing that could happen if we want the “American system” to survive would be for one “team,” either “conservative” or “liberal,” to win. We do this maybe because some of us sense that we HAVE to do it because the other side is doing the same and if we don’t balance the two out there’ll be trouble, but that smells of necessary insanity.
If one team were to win, that team would pull the losing team into the deep dark trench in the middle. The losing team would plummet and take the winners with them. In my opinion, either direction leads to a dictatorship. One might resemble the puritanical government of an Oliver Cromwell. In its most extreme it could lead to groups like homosexuals and those who have AIDS either lynched or gassed or taken to the electric chair, or all three. Imprisonment? Oh, definitely. Wouldn’t that be tasty? In the other direction, the result might reassemble something like the failed Soviet Union.
In other words, Hitler or Stalin? Pick your poison, but I’m currently fed up with the poison we already have in our system.
And yet, that’s exactly what all the punditry is about and leading to: Ra, ra, ree, kick ‘em in the knee! Ra, ra, rass, kick ‘em in the ass! Why? Because the goal of every large media corporation is undoubtedly to secure an ever greater share of the market. Why? Because that’s what for-profit corporations must do in order to survive; they must constantly increase their profitability. Why? That’s the subject of a whole ‘nother blog post.
So damn the truth. Damn honest talk. Instead, say whatever it is that will keep them coming back, and the more one says, the more one has to say.
Picture Fozzie Bear finally finding a type of joke that gets good laughs, but it consists only of harmful half-truths. At first, Fozzie feels a twinge of guilt, maybe. But the laughs make him feel good, and he never intended to hurt anyone. He’s just Fozzie Bear, after all. Then, one day, J.P. Morgan the theater owner fires Kermit the Frog and offers Fozzie a raise if he’ll host the show. Big corporations and gimmicky gadgets backed by big investors want to sponsor Fozzie’s own hour on the tube. So Fozzie keeps on telling those funny half-truths. He lives in a penthouse, now, after all. He might lose it if he…if he stopped. He couldn’t, he can’t stop now. He might even try, but the consequences are made clear to him. To do so would be an act of heroism, and, let’s face it, we’re talking about Fozzie Bear, here. If Henson doesn’t rescue him, Fozzie’s a cooked goose on the string of a sinister, faceless, soulless puppet-master. (Oh, how I miss Jim Henson, by the way!)
We all know how this works. The further one pushes reality, the further one has to go beyond the breaking point of absurdity in order to keep the audience coming back. Last week it was the one-armed man, but all the folks have seen him before. This week it’s the flaming tower of giant pink flamingos. Next week, the apocalypse, the part of the anti-christ now being played by Obama because W’s no longer in office. Say what you want about either of them, but please!
Always some tidbit you’ve never heard before, like the lady at church everyone goes to for gossip. She might even shed a tear just to prove her sincerity; she might even believe that tear in the perverted tangle that is her version of the human heart.
Always some incomplete pat of “history,” always some confusing dash of “principle” or “common sense” that you’re not told but rather implied that if you don’t hold to it you must be an idiot. Always what you want to hear, because it comforts you that someone out there has the answer to the bogey man you’re convinced is hunting you. They’ve seen it! Out there, in the bushes! Boo, it’s coming to get you! Lock your doors! Vote Republican (oh wait, that didn’t work, vote Tea Party!)
Why is this comforting? I don’t know. I suppose it’s human nature to feel better when someone else confirms your worst fears, but only a fool keeps listening to a voice that’s merely preying on those fears.
Never mind that the voice comforting you is the same voice that convinced you of the bogey man’s existence in the first place and that got you all riled up against that hairy but unclear visage. Don’t apply the same dose of healthy skepticism to what this comforting voice is telling you as you would apply it to the crooked auto dealer down the street.
After all, it might be true in a way — that’s what makes it so interesting and so very, very hard not to listen.
So don’t listen to me. This is all radical talk. Neither conservative nor liberal, but radical since the fifth grade. I don’t really care what your preconceived ideas are. This is what I see. This is what I know. I’ve seen and read a lot, and these are some of my conclusions. I believe them to be rather modest, but you won’t see what I see from the inside. You’ve got to exit the insane asylum first.
If you are still listening, this is my advice: if one or the other cable news outlet and their associated radio hosts currently have your ear, stop listening. If anything, listen to the “other” side because you already know what “your own” side is going to say — it never really changes — but you have most certainly had some of what the “other” side is actually saying misrepresented to you.
“Now?” you ask. Yes, now, right near the end of an election cycle. No better time.
No better time to start scouring the internet for fact-checkers, for starters. There are independent fact-checkers and fact-checkers funded by party. Check them out and balance them out. You want to know who to vote for? Try the most honest, the ones that don’t get beaten up by fact-checkers every single day. With that, stop worrying so much about party. It’s not the answer; it proves you’re an easy mark.
Focus on honesty, and realize it’s impossible to find a politician who’s always open and honest. That just doesn’t fall into the job description, Tea Party, Republican Party, Democratic Party, or Party of the Weekend Drunks included. Well, scratch that last one. They might be too open and honest.
Finally and most difficult of all, follow or at least acknowledge the money trail. Greenbacks are flowing every which way right this minute. Big donors donate to all parties so that no matter which one wins they’re sure to win — and yes, this includes the Tea Party. Donations take all shapes.
It’s a harder way to vote. It’s unsettling and makes you feel less certain that your vote means anything. But that’s my intent, to unsettle anyone reading this. The fact is that we live in a democratic republic: we vote for leaders democratically and then THEY make the decisions — democratically, perhaps, but their wallets sure get as big a say as you or I. So be unsettled, and don’t let any voice settle you back down with their easy answers. There are none. Rather than look for a ninth-inning, two-out home run, understand the scope of how deep this all runs and how powerless we are to just “fix” it. It should be cause for mourning, for sobriety, and for modest attempts to make things better. This thing is a mess and is going to be a mess for some time. In fact, if you know any real history, it has been a complicated, self-conflicted mess from the get-go. The quickest way to clean it up would be a totalitarian takeover by either the “right” or the “left.”
You might for a moment almost convince yourself that the right type of takeover would be fine, but you know better, deep down.
Deep down in your radical self where no party has a hold, you know better.
Next Blog Post: What is a demagogue? (probably)
This blog is called the “mainstem” at WanderingStiff.com for one simple reason: it is to represent the main pipeline of my thoughts and any personal news I care to divulge as I wander about my daily and weekly grind. Somewhere, I think I call it my “fencepost sounding board.” From here on out, that means sharing more and, hopefully, getting some response.
To that end, I want to make an open commitment to posting to this blog more often and especially with more regularity. I plan to do so by means of short posts throughout the week and the occasional, probably monthly “feature.” Over the past months I have experienced a variety of technical and personal hurdles, but I intend from here on out to neglect the technical in favor of the needful, and to inject the personal into the content. The urgent must give way to the important. If you can read it, then it’s good enough.
I intend this to be a freeing space for all kinds of thoughts that occur to me. There is much that I hope to release to the wind and just see what happens. Also, I hope to become an example of speaking openly and honestly. Too much communication these days is saddled with the necessity to please one’s listeners in the cheap fashion of the huckster, the salesman, the advertiser. Sell, sell, sell.
Well, I figure I’m not selling and you don’t have to buy. I prefer consideration. I prefer a listening ear to either instant agreement or rebuttal. I prefer the accumulative effect of collaborative thought to the arch-competitive streak that runs through the vast majority of our public discourse. So often we don’t even take the time to understand what a person is saying in the rush to label their political, religious, ethnic, and sexual alliances so that we can then either roundly endorse or defame them. We justify the stances we take by claiming a greater good or 9/11-like urgency (yeah, the world might end if you don’t slam another Apple/PC user). As a poet, I see this at work in the literary world, too. I find it a pointless endeavor akin to the popularity games played by adolescents. I never played those games in school, and I don’t intend to start.
Now don’t get me wrong: there are those I heartily disagree with. I just don’t think it is right to use the fact of my disagreement for the purpose of puffing myself up out of all proportion as some kind of self-righteous source of the only good information. At a time when everyone wants to be a pundit, to have some witty little one-liner designed to silence the opposition, I crave the slow accumulation of well-considered thoughts, of basic principles. I’d like on occasion to hear someone admit they were wrong about this or that, and I intend to do so myself. I’d like more modest claims than the surefire, bullet-point-inspired inanities I hear from the cable news outlets and much that passes for news on the internet. I value the simple statement of basic observations over grand and sweeping assertions that pass for “common sense” (another way of saying, if you don’t agree with me then you’re stupid).
Here’s one observation, then: our speech requires purging. Our language is a shambles of over-reaching hyperbole fueled by twenty years of arch-punditry. You’ve never heard so much demagoguery on the airwaves — well, not since the thirties. Actually, I no longer listen to it. It’s a taint on the very soul of all humanity. It is, in fact, the inhuman manipulation of people who don’t know any better, of those who are caught up in the fear and rhetoric of our times.
I’d rather listen to the simple observation of an ousted worker who is doing what they can to make ends meet and provide for some kind of a future. I’d rather hear the story of a single mom gone back to school to prove she can do all the things she’s been told she simply can’t. I’d rather listen to the memories of my grandparents who’ve been around the block a few times and have seen it all before. I prefer the nitty-gritty history of who-lived-where-and-when and all the little self-conflicted details of people’s lives and words. I prefer details to grand narratives put on by someone with an agenda. You can tell me your agenda is a “good” one, but that doesn’t matter to me. If you’re spreading semi-truths and half-baked conspiracies that resemble one of my kids’ dot-to-dot coloring activities, keep walking. My fridge already runneth over (actually, I’ve started taking digital pictures of them and using them for wallpaper on my phone and such; still, I have enough).
Second observation: the end does not justify the means. Rather, the means tell me squarely that the end will not be good no matter how you play it up as the solution to every problem on the face of the planet. You don’t grow a field of any kind of edible produce by pooring gasoline into the soil until it’s saturated with the stuff and then lighting it. But that is exactly what passes for valued public discourse among a good portion of Americans today. They look to voices they think they trust or to so-called experts, but in fact they’re the victim of a clever ponzi scheme: the same people selling folks watered-down, comforting solutions (that don’t even acknowledge the root problems we face, by the way) are also the ones getting folks riled up in the first place:
You need tonic water! It does everything! Oh, by the way, I just happen to have a bottle I could sell you. You should use it all the time — every day, in fact — to cure a host of ills that I assure assail you almost constantly. Then come back and buy more…
If I’m to listen to an expert, I’d rather it be a real expert — someone who’s studied or lived a thing for years on end and not some media professional with makeup on to keep them from looking pasty while they prop up an agenda with the only real purpose being to captivate a willingly misled audience for the sake of selling billions of dollars of advertising. Am I calling out the mainstream media? Absolutely. Of every stripe, race, creed, and political affiliation? Damn right.
I don’t really care what side of which aisle you’re coming from. Give me facts. Give me intelligent analysis that doesn’t overreach those facts. Leave the hyper-emotional reductionist generalization in the gutter.
This may all sound rather pessimistic, but I hold to this hope: that a good portion of everyday Americans see through the brown haze issuing forth from certain media channels. These folks know there’s no free lunch, and they realize that’s what’s being sold. “All our problems will solve themselves if we just [fill in the blanks].” “Bullshit,” they respond. “It’s not that simple.” And they can tell you a host of reasons based on their personal experiences why it isn’t that simple, from house values to jobs shipped overseas to our fake politics to corporate interests to what have you.
There is no one villain in this picture. Rather, there are a lot of hands in a lot of cookie jars. There is, however, one little item all those hands are serving: money. Money and its accumulation, a green-eyed monster that cares nothing for human problems beyond profiting off them.
Next up: An entry on my longtime “radical” way of thinking…
Seems Detroit (and the Midwest in general) isn’t the only town to lose auto industry jobs. Mexico has also been hit, according to this article by Sarah Hill, and the consequences are at least as devastating.
~ ~ ~
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer[...]
Ah, the trickle down of the past two decades (two, or more? is “this time” really so different? can it validly be removed from the Cold War? The World Wars? The Great Depression? Etc?). The economic stupidity, brought home by the fact that one of my recent students—a middle-aged woman who is now getting her degree after having long done the work of a college graduate—lost her job of some twenty years to Mexico’s cheaper labor.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned[...]
They give, they take away, and they give to someone else only to take away again. Perennial cost-cutting combined with constant overproduction targeted at the folks whose wages you’ve cut and whose jobs you’ve shipped elsewhere in order to drive down the costs of the products you need those same folks to buy in order to keep the whole thing going so that you’re left peddling an ever-increasing glut of credit just to oil the gears equals unsustainability. Is this even debatable?
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity[...]
Propping up unsustainability in a world about to crash anyway? Necessary insanity (supposedly). Excuse me if I don’t think it’s an objectively great system, despite the current lack of an obviously better one. Any other system about to emerge seems unlikely to do so apart from a violent upheaval that already probably cannot be stopped but only put off a while longer.
Does that sound absurd? I’m sure people thought the same before America’s Civil War. Before each of the World Wars. Voices no one wants to hear. That which you cannot read in the news but only sense somewhere between the headlines.
Surely some revelation is at hand[...]
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun[...]
When you set forces in motion…
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?
There has been a lot of buzz recently about Amazon letting its publishing partners set their own e-book prices. In case you didn’t realize, Amazon had previously restricted e-book prices to $9.99 or below.
Most analysts believe this move will serve to increase the prices of e-books.
As an author and someone with a vested interest in publishing, I find the change to be a mixed bag. As a poet, it frightens me — no one buys poetry as it is! E-books could serve to breathe new life into the consumption of poetry, but not at a $9.99 price tag, and certainly not at a higher amount.
On the other hand, Amazon is lessening its stranglehold on e-book pricing at the same time that Apple is releasing its new iPad (which has been vaunted as the Kindle-killer and the device we’ve all been waiting for to usher in a new era of e-book reading), and that’s a good sign. It tells me that price wars could be in our future, and this may serve to benefit authors who are less worried about money and more worried about getting their work in front of readers who didn’t even know they existed. Hopefully some of that money will come back to authors in the end (ah, capitalism).
But let’s not think too much about starving artists. Instead, lets imagine millions of sets of eyes able to preview and then buy books all with the touch of a finger. Sounds remarkably like the indie music scene. If my book is one of them, sounds all right to me! Sounds like an improvement over the present circumstance, anyway.
But I’m wondering, how much would you pay for a poetry e-book, or a journal/magazine of poetry? Assume you get to preview the book and that you like what you see enough to be tempted to buy. Also assume that poets start to pay more attention to you as a potential audience and begin to write poems that everyday readers will find compelling enough to read in a single sitting. How much is too much? Would $9.99 or higher turn you off?
Hit me back in the comments! Let your voice be heard! If this move by Amazon indicates that the marketplace is going to have a hand in deciding, you may have more influence over what happens than you know.
At least I can hope that’s the case. It will all depend on publishers and poets zeroing in on a potential audience.
(For more on this topic, see ZDNet.com)