The Great Awokening
The Great Awokening
There’s a theory about the sins and shortcomings of society: they are all due to our failures of consciousness. If people were purer, given to understanding and following the true path, the problems of this world would cease to exist. According to this view, poverty and inequality are the result of greed, wars occur because people fail to see the humanity in the “enemy”, and bigotry feeds on fear and ignorance. The solution is to cleanse our consciousness and achieve enlightenment. This is the way of religion, which has endeavored to perfect the world for thousands of years, with mixed results.
I’d like to think a more promising approach is to identify the structures in society—the laws, customs, institutions, and rules—that are responsible for these problems and change them. This is the way of politics, preferably informed by deliberation and experience. From a political perspective, trying to change people’s consciousness has some value as an end, but it is mainly important as a means, part of building a movement for collective action.
What I sense is that, for many on what considers itself the left, politics in the sense of the previous paragraph is a delusion, a repeating nightmare that one can only awake from, not transform. Instead, passionate energy is funneled into demanding changes in language, personal behavior and conceptions of one’s identity. Done right, that’s worth doing—better consciousness and behavior is better for all of us—but not as a substitute for politics. And if you take politics seriously, battles over culture and consciousness should be strategic, taking into consideration how they can best contribute to collective action.
As I’ve tried to imply in my subtler moments, the biggest, hugest, screamingest problem we face is a grotesque imbalance of power, and amid all the chatter over policy, investigations and reports, and cultural struggles, hardly any work is going into the organizing we need to build a counterpower to that of the Right. My fearless prediction is that, unless power is rebalanced, no accumulation of evidence, clever policy idea or righteous act of cultural subversion is going to make a damned bit of difference.
(Night thoughts on reading “The Koch Network and Republican Party Extremism” by Theda Skocpol and Alexander Hertel-Fernandez. Image credit: Venngage.)
It is true that as humans change the environment, no amount of consciousness on the part of animals will prevent their extinction. But if we turn to structures, what structure in urban ecosystems causes raccoons to thrive?
We can get better at our Newtonian analysis of society, by we will never understand society until we become truly Darwinian thinkers.
Related thoughts here: http://thorntonhalldesign.com/philosophy/2017/11/27/darwinian-china-vs-newtonian-america
Religion is ideal. He who has ears to hear let him hear. (OTH: many are called but few are chosen.) 🙁
The French Revolution was based on idealism: liberty, equality, fraternity. The American Revolution was based on recognizing that people will be in factions after each others’ throats — and that balancing power between them was the most likely way to get good results down here on earth.
Europe is doing a good job of this lately. America has fallen impossibly behind in balancing power in favor of the majority of us: 6% labor union density in the non-government economy equates to 20/10 blood pressure — it starves every healthy democratic process.
“What I sense is that, for many on what considers itself the left, politics in the sense of the previous paragraph is a delusion..”
The left? Huh?
would that it were so.
the same people who wrote the Bill of Rights guarantee of free speech and free press…. wrote the Alien and Sedition Acts ten years later.
The Constitution was a very rational achievement… but it was largely inspired by the failure of the Confederation and the fear of “mobs” voting themselves free of taxes and debts owed to the rich. And of course the need to balance the power of the slave states with that of the (northern) manufacturing states.
The New Deal was another very rational attempt (achievement for a while) to solve the human suffering caused by unregulated free trade (and the constitution) without losing the power of essentially free trade.
but both of these rational attempts have fallen into, been subverted and manipulated by, the irrational thinking human flesh is heir to.
don’t blame it on religion. pol pot and the cultural revolution in china were every bit as “religious” as the periodic failures of Christians to be Christian. (not to mention our own, right here in river city, essentially religious motivations in search of salvation by Enlightenment).