Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Reluctant Revolution

For most of my life, the first sixty years of it anyway, I could not imagine the idea of Canada in revolt.  That has changed over the past three or four years.

I've always had a fairly simple concept of revolution - an uprising against oppression, a quest for a new order that cannot be had any other way.  This was the narrative common to the American, French and Russian revolutions along with others.

Revolutionary thought is making something of a comeback today.  Prominent thinkers from John Raulston Saul to Chris Hedges, Henry Giroux, Gar Alperovitz, Naomi Klein and others see nothing for the great majority of us and even less for our children unless we find some means to get out from under an increasingly oppressive, nihilistic, neoliberal status quo.  It took a lot of reading and mulling over but the inherent realism of their views prevailed.

Even the late Robert F. Kennedy foresaw the inevitability of revolution when he said, "A revolution is coming - a revolution that will be peaceful if we are wise enough; compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough - but a revolution that is coming whether we will it or not. We can affect its character; we cannot alter its inevitability."

Kennedy was not advocating revolution.  He was not championing a cause, some new order.  His was a reluctant revolution, an inevitability that could, if shaped by wisdom and compassion, be successful.  He didn't dwell on the alternative that awaited if the inevitability was ignored.

David DeGraw, author of "The Economics of Revolution" recognizes that we are beginning to make real progress in evolving new economic systems, new communities and new media but concludes that it's all too little, too late.

I am forced to confront the fact that I do not see how emerging solutions will reach a critical mass and create the needed change before the affects of inequality, poverty and the overall deterioration of society will lead to widespread chaos and violence. As much as I wish this wasn’t the case, as much as I want to just disengage from the status quo and focus on the implementation of local solutions, we cannot ignore the urgent need for significant systemic change on a mass scale now.
The longer mainstream society stays on the present course, the worse things will get and the harder it will be to overcome the growing crisis. No matter how much we are inclined to ignore it, we will not be able to escape this reality: under present economic and government policy, more and more people will fall deeper into debt and extreme poverty.
DeGraw goes on to cite the now well known but dismal statistics of life in today's blue and white collar, working-class America.  Only enough full-time jobs for half of America's workforce and half of those full-time jobs paying less than $35,000 a year.

Mainstream propaganda has temporarily obscured the fact that we are sitting on a ticking economic time bomb. Statistical fraud by the government on poverty, cost of living and unemployment cannot cover up the fact that the overwhelming majority of the population is on a fast track to impoverishment.
The government’s policies and actions in dealing with the growing epidemic of poverty are the very definition of tyranny. It couldn’t be more blatant. Just when the economy has reached a point where there are not enough jobs that generate an adequate income to sustain the cost of living for the majority of the population, the government is cutting billions of dollars from assistance programs and pouring billions of dollars into the military and prison industry.
An out of control private military complex is fueling violent conflicts abroad. A perpetual state of never-ending war is exhausting public wealth, with trillions of dollars diverted from social programs into the pockets of war profiteers. Here at home, the police force is being militarized and the private prison industry is growing at a shocking 1600% rate. We already have the largest prison population in the world. The current per capita rate is worse than the darkest days of the Soviet Gulags. On top of that, many cities are now criminalizing poverty. As ominous as it may sound, a tyrannical assembly line of incarceration is now in place.
Studies in the US have shown that more than 7 in 10 Americans are convinced their country is heading in the wrong direction. In a viable, functioning democracy the views of that powerful a majority would be heeded by elected representatives if only for their personal advancement.  Yet, no matter who they elect, the public will and the public interest are discounted and routinely subordinated to private interests.

A majority of Canadians also know our nation is heading in the wrong direction. A solid majority want effective action taken on climate change.  Most of us want Canada to reclaim its pre-Harper stature on the world state.  Few of us believe our children will achieve the same standard of living that we enjoyed.  We want inequality addressed and the decline of our middle class truly reversed.  Many of us think with trepidation on what awaits our grandchildren.  Yet, despite our desires and concerns, our neoliberal political caste chooses the private interest over the public interest again and again.

It is this insinuation of private interest to sever the connection between the electorate and their intended representatives that is now referred to as "political capture."  Yes you may still vote but that doesn't much matter to the outcome in a truly illiberal democracy.  And so a large segment of the public stops believing, becomes disaffected, no longer looks to democracy for solutions to what ails their society.

Few have the courage to say that any political apparatus that no longer acts in the public interest is, in the context of democracy, illegitimate, a sham - a usurper. Fewer still are willing to risk the consequences of denouncing the surveillance state and calling for something better.

Yet the miserable path we are embarked upon is not of our choosing, certainly not of our making.  And, as we continue along this darkened, potholed pavement we begin to grasp Kennedy's words when he warned that revolution is coming whether we will it or not.  We can affect its character but cannot alter its inevitability.


Anonymous said...

it must be reaching the age of sixty breeds these ideas; I too came to the same conclusion seven years ago!
When GW Bush & Tony Blair rigged the intelligence on Iraq & hence the invasion it signalled the start of a one hundred years war; and for what?
With accusations coming out of the UK of fraud by Tesco & the earlier fraud by banks we have an economic & political system out of control; our control that is!

Tim said...

Love your commentary and analysis MoS. I'm a young reader and most people my age realize something needs to change but when I challenge them to it they say there is nothing they can do. I am actively trying to inform and help those around me. Some of them think Trudeau will make a difference, that seems highly unlikely. There are glimmers of hope in people trying to go local. The more that can be produced locally the more we begin to bind communities back together. Here in Nova Scotia we watched the dramatic depopulation of the countryside. Young folks now leave for Alberta and never build a community there or here. People are left wanting a relation to one another but it can't be found in a migrant workforce. They fill that void with ATVs, huge trucks, working to pay for childcare and the occasional trip 'home'. Few realize chasing the money doesn't give them fulfillment. Those with university education mostly don't see there is no place for a young person in this economy, at least not in the fashion they'd like.

Rural said...

Perhaps it takes 60 years or so to have enough of lifes lessons behind us to come to such conclusions for I, of similar age, cannot substantially disagree with the above. The big question is how the coming 'revolution' comes about, peacefully by a change in attitude by our 'leaders' and restrictions upon those 'corporate' entities for whom ever increasing profit is the only consideration. Or by more direct means by those being marginalized by not sharing in said 'profits' be it by no job or low compensation for what they do contribute. I hope for the former but fear that the latter is much more probable.

'Tim' keep up the efforts, it is your future that we are talking about, us old folk may well be pushing up daisy's by the time substantial change comes about!

Lorne said...

It's strange, Mound, but when I was young I probably would have described myself as somewhat on the conservative side; it was only as i got older that I became gradually radicalized. While frequently at odds with authority figures during my teaching career, largely because they allowed career considerations to prevail over what was good for education, it probably wasn't till I read Class Warfare by Maude Barlow that I began to get a more formalized and structured sense of the gross inequalities of society that are aided and abetted by government. The final piece fell into place with the massive abuse of authority embraced by the police and sanctioned by government during the G20 in Toronto in 2010. Now,there is no turning back. I'm just glad, as i was telling my wife the other night, that I didn't devolve into the stereotypical old white guy hectoring against young people and new perspectives.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Anon & Rural. It is curious how this reality comes to us, the benefit apparently of age and experience. I have heard much the same from Lorne, Owen, Rural and others of our vintage.

We were children of the 60s, that wonderful, bountiful, relatively carefree decade in which we were free to map out prosperous futures for ourselves. We grew up in the post-war middle class forged by our parents and grandparents. They ushered us into a world far better than their own. Mankind's numbers were, for the last time, in balance with our ecosystem. It took an entire summer to get the perfect tan. Ah, bliss.

My children have little chance of ever knowing that ease and comfort and I fear most for their children yet to come. If we allow today's malignant politics to prevail unchallenged to what fate are we consigning them?

@ Tim. I regret the struggle that we've bequeathed to your generation and those that will follow you. I'm surprised you haven't revolted against us.

In many ways generations previous to yours have robbed you of your future. We've amassed debt on the "interest only" plan, leaving the capital obligation to be shouldered by today's young people.

At the same time we have pillaged our nation's bounty, our non-renewable resources, by pursuit of an economic model that seeks to maximize extraction, production and consumption that pays no heed to the needs of the future. In the process we have degraded the environment, your environment in the decades to come.

You'll be familiar with that old phrase: "You can't take it with you." Well, guess what? We already have.

The "there's nothing they can do" attitude of powerlessness you mention is not accidental. It's been deliberately inculcated and nurtured to dampen unrest and thwart demands for change.

The modern abuse of wedge politics fosters a similar result. Divide the public - left and right, young and old - and you can rouse powerful forces of suspicion and hostility between them that prevent them from recognizing how very much they have in common and how very little they truly disagree upon.

If, as Robert Kennedy opined, this revolution is inevitable, as I believe it is, you would be well served to begin exploring what revolution is, how it operates, and its pitfalls. A good starting point is Crane Brinton's excellent "Anatomy of Revolution." It's an older book, I think from the 40s, but it dissects the major revolutions of Western history and exposes the marked similarities in their histories.

Engage. Learn. Never give up.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Lorne. I suspect that you probably remain somewhat conservative as you were in your youth. I remain decidedly centrist. What has happened is that our political keel has listed hard to the right. What used to be the invaluable centre-left now stands almost abandoned. A lot of our perceived change is really an unwillingness to be changed.

We are conservative. We want to hold the line, to preserve democratic values passed down to us by our parents and grandparents.

I quoted someone the other day, John Raulston Saul I believe, who said that today's neoconservatism is positively Bolshevik. I think that's true. Yet the anger and disdain that incites in us leaves us feeling "radicalized."

We need to find new models to get our society through this 21st century. We, but particularly our children and grandchildren, will have to cope with challenging change never previously experienced. How we view that may make us feel radical but it's really only rational.

Anonymous said...

I used to think that you could help change politics at the municipal level.

After a more than a decade dabbling in that, my illusions have been shattered long ago.

Rare are those that think of the greater good and those in the machine that are supposed to help (such as access to information officer in Quebec) care more about what's in it for them...

So while younger than you MOS, I agree that a revolution is much needed.

bcwaterboy said...

I had a discussion yesterday with a colleague about leadership and the fact that most of the literature speaks to having a vision, one that can be embraced and shared. However, what to do with our political masters who create a false vision, engage followers, routinely let them down and always come out on top, a winner and carry on as if nothing happened. The example we cited was the Clark May 2013 election "vision" of a 100,000 jobs, a trillion dollar prosperity fund, a debt free BC, all from an industry that is about maximum profit for minimal accountability, Yet, here we are accepting that monstrous lie, being led by someone who would lie to us, creating a plan that is a lot of things but certainly not about jobs and prosperity. Sadly we will fall for the same nonsense a year from now when we re-elect harper with another majority. You heard it here first.

The Mound of Sound said...

Thanks, BCW. I'm just going to draw a hot bath and open a vein.