Saturday, September 24, 2011

Reboot: America 2.0

It doesn’t help to be right if you can’t make things change. Cassandra was terminally frustrated – I know how she felt. It also doesn’t help to sit in the warm bath of your own self-regard and point fingers at all the bad guys – they’re merrily running off with the silverware and they aren’t looking back.

If the political situation is FUBAR – and it is… and if the economic situation is FUBAR – and it is… then we’re left holding a hand-lettered sign:

Ideologues and fanatics from right and left (mostly right) will gibber and howl, trot out their buzzword propaganda and try to stifle any kind of discussion, much less real debate, about making any change – because they know exactly what that change must be and they’ve convinced themselves that if they can prevent anyone speaking the truth about our situation, they can somehow prevent any change from taking place. In all honesty, they’ve been pretty successful; anyone with two brain cells to rub together could see this train wreck coming decades ago, many did, and said so, and were buried under an avalanche of scorn and derision. See Peter Schiff being laughed at when he accurately predicted the crash here , see the saga of Brooksley Born, read Krugman, Stiglitz, Roubini, Black, Galbraith the Younger, remember how Elizabeth Warren went down in flames… this isn’t a recent revelation: read Galbraith the Elder or John Maynard Keynes; this goes way back.

And it’s not that we don’t have latter-day prophets: Chris Hedges sums up the current situation nicely: here or you could read anything recent by Chomsky, or Howard Zinn for that matter. The information is out there and has been out there for quite some time – so why don’t we ‘get’ it?

I think it comes down to three dysfunctional syndromes we exhibit as a nation:

The Not My Problem Syndrome

This is familiar to everyone: you have a job, your wife has a job, little Johnny is on the baseball team, little Susie is taking ballet lessons. The mortgage is under control, the college fund is looking good, you’re two years into the car financing and you’re planning that vacation to Cabo… not you? Me neither, but there are enough elements in that scenario that people can relate to and they don’t really want to know about the neighbors down the street who had to move out last month. Or the guys who seem to be on every street corner with handwritten cardboard signs: “Will work for…” After all, you never hear about this stuff on the news, so it can’t be that bad, can it? Besides, what can I do? I voted for the hopenchange guy, I don’t want people to suffer… but I’ve got my own problems to take care of…

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with this guy, he’s just been protected from the reality of his environment and trained to apathy about acting to make things better… and it’s certainly a lot easier to watch ‘Jersey Shore’ or “American Idol’ than to write a letter to your Congressperson or walk a picket line in the ‘free speech zone’.

Until, you get sick and lose the job, or get riffed so the CEO can make his quarterly numbers and collect that fat bonus check, or – any one of a thousand things that throws you on the scrap heap where your neighbors avert their eyes and say to themselves: not my problem.

Those annoying activists, y’know, the ones who keep pestering you to get up and do something? They’re actually on your side – the flacks you hear on the radio and on the TV, telling you that ‘it’s all good’, things are gonna turn around, just be patient. These folks are your enemy, they are lying to you to keep you quiet because there is only one thing they fear: millions of people in the streets, telling them to get out.

The Strongman/Savior Syndrome

No foul on anyone with this one, it goes back about 3 million years: the strongest ape leads tribe because: who’s gonna say ‘No’ to him? We see it all over the place today: starlets who think they’re immune to the police, athletes who have hissy fits when they’re not worshipped, newspaper magnates who think it’s fine to delete the voice mail of child kidnap victims on the chance they can steal the kidnappers’ ransom demands (nothing personal, just business). It’s the basis for all our hierarchies, from priests and kings, warlords and dictators, corporate CEOs and imperial presidents. The nature of the beast, one might say. We run to it when things are bad: got severe problems? Look for the White Knight to solve ‘em. In a terminal jam? Hope for the 7th cavalry to charge in for the rescue. We constantly look for saviors and gurus to extricate us from our messes. It pretty much hard-wired.

In the political world that means, dictatorships, tyrannies, warlords or, at best, feudalism with all its inefficient chaos and destruction. Democracy doesn’t really come into it. Depressingly, if you look at democratic rebellions throughout history, almost all of them end up with some strongman or other taking charge and trying to build an empire. This isn’t surprising given that rebellions need leaders and leaders are strongmen and strongmen see no reason to relinquish power once the ancien regime has been swept away.

The Boiling Frog Syndrome

The way to cook frogs (or lobsters for that matter) is top put them in a pot of cold water and increase the heat gradually. By the time the water gets hot enough, they’re already cooked. We’re pretty much cooked – it’s taken about 30 years by my count, you may choose an earlier of later start point, but the deed is done: democracy is on its way out in this country.

For a long time I was an advocate for a third (or fourth or fifth) party. I don’t see that any longer as a viable option – the corruption is too far gone, any new party that spontaneously forms will be overwhelmed by money from the outset. Good luck to the Tea Party btw, I don’t agree with their agenda but at this point any effective, disruptive entity is welcome, anything that could help to derail the corporate juggernaut has my support. I just hope they don’t get co-opted by Wall Street too soon – and it’s not looking good.

It’s time to start thinking about what comes after: after the current depression/corporatist coup d’etat now underway, after it becomes clear to everyone that we no longer live in a democracy (or a republic), after we finally wake up and discover that all the money now rests in the hands of the thieves – and no, they’re not giving any of it back.

There will be a time, just before the police start firing on the protestors (in the free speech zones) and the ensuing ‘torches and pitchforks’ riots begin, when it may be possible to institute some structural change. I don’t think this is likely but the protestors in Egypt are trying and I never thought they’d get this far (in all likelihood they will get ground up by the iron fist of the army and it’ll all go to hell under the Muslim Brotherhood).

But if we get the chance, this will be the time to build America: 2.0.

OK, that’s pretty depressing, you say, but what have you got to replace version 1 with? Those were some pretty smart guys and the founding documents they wrote have stood up pretty well for 225 years.

Well, I think we have to start by acknowledging that the America train has gone off the track and needs some drastic reworking to get it back on track.

Unh… OK, so what would that look like?

A Constitutional Convention

To address the systemic problems mentioned above and to make the structural changes that are necessary if we are to move forward as a nation, we’ll need a constitutional convention. This will be hard to do but it is possible if enough people are convinced that it is required.

There are two ways to initiate an Article V convention:
A two thirds majority vote by both houses of Congress

An application for a convention by two thirds of the state legislatures

While convincing two thirds of Congress to vote to create such a convention would doubtless be the faster, more efficient way to do this, it is unlikely that either of these dreadfully corrupt bodies would be able to summon the courage to do so. That leaves the longer, more difficult route of going through state legislatures. One thing is for sure, this is an idea fraught with danger: will corporatists thugs try to take it over? Of course they will. Will avalanches of money be thrown at participants to buy them off? Of course that will happen. But there’s also the intriguing possibility that right wing interested parties will support this idea for their own purposes and that corporate interests will think they can secure their control over us by some well placed bribes to whomever participates in the convention…. In fact they will be certain of this. But if we are forewarned of these dangers we can be prepared to counter them, if we can counter them through preparedness, organization and focus, we may be able to enact…sanity.

If it’s not yet clear if we’ll be able to make a convention happen or how we’ll ensure that we get the changes we need, nut in the meantime there’s still the job of deciding what those changes will be…

The US Constitution was adopted in 1787, just 12 years after James Watt developed the first commercially useful steam engine and just 50 years before Samuel Morse demonstrated his telegraph. There is no doubt that the framers were extraordinary men who deliberately tried to create a blueprint for freedom that would last for the ages. They included the amendment process to keep it updated and they did their best to address the crucial problems of their time: preventing the takeover of a religious theocracy, keeping power out of the hands of a would-be dictator, protecting the individual from the state and the states from the federal government. But… there were some problems they could not resolve, see ‘slavery’ for example and there were other problems they had no way of knowing about: the rise of corporate power, for example. Nor could they have possibly have known anything about the explosion of technology that was just around the corner.

These are now our problems and now may be our opportunity to resolve them. You must have ideas about this, I have some ideas myself – we can start by talking about them… time for a change.


Twilight said...

I read this piece at No Quarter, but don't comment there (I'm not up to arguing with right-wingers, but enjoyed your responses to a few). I just wanted to compliment you on an excellent piece, and on other writings here, which I'll investigate further.

I remember your name and writings from back in 2008 when I read No Quarter, around election time (it seemd less right-wing in those days).

I'm still wet behind th ears on US politics having arrived from the UK in 2004, just in time for GWB's 2nd term. I find writers like yourself a wonderful source of enlightenment, and moral support for my more-lefty-than-the-US- norm beliefs. :-)

Will link to your blog on mine - but do not expect reciprocal linking. Mine is not purely political, though I do rant at times.

Craig Della Penna said...

Thanks very much for the comment Twilight, I agree that NQ has shifted a bit rightwards but the commenters there really do care, I think, and aren't just blowing foam, so I keep on trying to show them reality one little bit at a time.
It's great to have folks like you write in, keeps me from getting discouraged.