Friday, March 11, 2011

It ain't over 'til it's over, Part Three

Many both online and off have said that the scummy actions of the Wisconsin legislature and Governor Walkalloveryou have now proven, as if proof was necessary, that this was never about the budget. Rather, it was always about breaking the unions.

But that last part is not quite right or more exactly, it is too narrow: This is not, strictly speaking, about breaking unions. That is merely the current expression, the present focus, of what this is about. Which some have recognized, arguing that the real purpose of attacking unions is to undermine financial support for the Democratic party, an assertion given considerable credence by the fact that Wisconsin State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told Faux News this:
If we win this battle, and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you’re going to find is President Obama is going to have a much difficult, much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin.
But even that is too narrow. That still fits in the realm of tactics. When you cut through the tangle of stratagems, when you hack away the underbrush of claims that often contradict other claims depending on what is useful at the moment, when you chop and saw and dig until you get to the root, you find that this whole fight is not, ultimately, about unions. And it's not, ultimately, about Democrats because in the longer run unions are more dangerous to the real purpose than Democrats are. Rather, this is about what such fights are always about: power. Power and control and domination and the power to continue controlling and dominating.

This is about the on-going, the never-ending, the sometimes-retreating but sometimes-advancing (as now), drive by the elites in society to protect, maintain, and whenever possible expand their control.

It's vital to realize that this is not new. It extends back to and even before the existence of our nation and anything that could be called US society. The names and faces have of course changed over time and even a more exacting (more properly, less vague) conception of what is embraced in the term "elite" has not been a constant; specifically, while wealth has always been a factor, the degree to which "wealthy" and "elite" have been synonymous has varied.

But the idea, the basic idea, the driving idea, the central conviction among some that they are powerful because they are supposed to be powerful, that they are privileged because they are supposed to be privileged, that they truly are better than the lesser sorts such as the rest of us and their dominion over us is theirs by right, even by natural law, has been a constant, a constant whose culture-distorting effect has subsumed the thoughts even of those members of that elite who have thought themselves free of it.

On July 29, 1877, Henry Ward Beecher, the most famous preacher of the latter 1800s and a reformer who endorsed women's suffrage and Darwin's theory of evolution and had been an abolitionist, responded to the just-crushed Great Railroad Strike by attacking the workers as acting contrary to religion, to God's dominion, because they did not know their place: "God has intended the great to be great and the little to be little" and "Man cannot live by bread alone but the man who cannot live on bread and water is not fit to live." A week later he declared that if workers were being forced into poverty, they should just accept it - and then left for a two-month European vacation.

Almost exactly 100 years later, in July 1977, after a blackout in New York City sparked rioting and looting, then-President Jimmy Carter dismissed those who referred to poverty in explaining the outburst: “Life,” he said, “is unfair.” This sentiment, addressed to the poor blacks whose frustration drove them beyond the bounds of restraint, was not applied to the merchants and business people who clamored for - and got - federal relief for their losses.

Words spoken a century apart but expressing the same conviction: In the minds of our elite, it’s only the have-nots, never the haves, who are to quietly acquiesce in the “unfairness” of their condition.

Power and control. That's what it's about. That's what it always about. That's what we - all of us - are educated in, what we - all of us - are steeped in, what we - all of us - are socially trained to believe, its what we as a people are even as we vociferously deny it: a class-oriented society where wealth equals power and power justifies more wealth. That's why it can be said with a straight face that a teacher making 50k a year is an overpaid featherbedder ripping off taxpayers with a part-time job while a Wall Street greedhead making 10 times that much would be shockingly underpaid. That's why Bank of America is still open for business, why a whole gaggle of corporate CEOs are not in prison, why the foreclosure mills have not been shuttered by the sheer volume of public outrage, while some poor loser caught with an ounce of crack cocaine gets a minimum of five years in the slammer. (And that's the improvement: A year ago, less than one-fifth that amount got that minimum sentence.)

And until we learn to think of it in those terms, until we learn to think of it in terms of the desire, the drive, for power and control on the part of those who truly if bizarrely believe in their own inherent, God-given superiority, until we learn to think radically even as we design social strategies for applying political tactics, until we learn to keep our eyes on the prize even as it's a single step at a time, "left foot, peg foot, travelling on," we will forever be fighting as if wearing blinders in a boxing match, always thinking about the last punch to hit us rather than the one coming and with limited view of where the opponent is: We may win some rounds that way but we'll never put the other down for the count. And a knockout is exactly what we need if justice is to be ultimately won.

Footnote: Beecher's line about "the great" and "the little" comes from The Myth of American Religious Freedom by David Sehat.


DaisyDeadhead said...

Did you read this? (posted a while ago) Your comment about 'power and control' made me think of Deming's comment: A terrible story, and one worth being very attentive to. Here was a young man who was exceptional. He did not take part [in war crimes]. He saw the action for what it was: all screwed up. And yet-- he did not know how to cope afterwards with this vision. It just made him feel left out. Because he suffered from the bondage I speak of--the awe of what is, of what is done. He suffered from the anxious sense that if one isn't part of it, whatever it is, one is then nowhere. And so in effect he dismisses the insight he had.

This is cognitive, and this is the thing.

People cannot conceive of any different system or reality. The problem, IMHO, is how to get them to envision possibilities. The elite is WHAT IS, and they circumscribe WHAT IS DONE (as Deming puts it) and poor/working class people mindlessly APE them, rather than see them as, well, as THEM, working in THEIR (not our) interests. You know?

Just IMHO. But its a Phildickian problem, I think. People simply can't see who is stealing from them.

In the scifi novel CAVES OF STEEL, there is a question put to someone about how to get from point A to point B, and the official answer is this convoluted thing, since they've never been outside, they wind their way through the steel interiors of where they live to draw a map answering the question ... but the obvious answer is that someone got in thru the outside. But nobody goes outside, nobody IS outside, so none of them thought of that. They just didn't THINK OF THAT.
For some reason, I think of that plot twist more and more often these days. It was a common theme in Asimov: We can't know what we can't know.

Well, I am trying to figure out what we don't know.

If that makes any sense. :P

Lili said...

This what we don't know: Fear is unnecessary for creating anything.

Fear of loss created the need for power.

LarryE said...

Daisy -

Sorry to be so long in responding. I hadn't read the Deming post, but I have read Barbara Deming. (Even met her once for about five seconds.)

I think you're right that we can easily be trapped by our own assumptions (a very Buddhist lway of thinking) and we have to find ways to express alternatives and to do it in a way that makes them real, that is, not simply a fantasy. The "dream dreams of things that never were and ask 'why not'" idea.

It's something I've tried to do in the past but not nearly as much of late. Oddly, in commenting on a post somewhere else I said I thought I'd just made a New Year's resolution to do more of it. Haven't lived up to it so far, but the year is young.

LarryE said...

Lili -

Good point. "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." I once as a political candidate urged people to "vote your hopes, not your fears."

Neither of those, of course, is quite as fundamental as your comment, but they go in the same direction.

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