I learned in a theory class last year that people have a tendency to think that the way things are are the way things have always been and always will be. Before the Enlightenment, people had a good reason to believe this. For centuries of feudalism everyone followed the feudal ideology living lives defined by birth, and going to war only when the royalty or pope needed them to for the purpose of the Crown or the Church.
Until the Scottish rebellion marked the beginning of a zeitgeist that would not really be sensed until the French Revolution. Once that happened, the Western world realized the world can be changed. The Way Things Have Always Been need not be! People have an ability to literally change ideology, alter classes, abolish rulership within a generation, that would have been considered literally impossible only decades earlier.
And so for the last couple hundred years we have seen scores of socio-political changes that were “impossible” and non-existent for centuries before. Governments have risen and fallen, coups, revolutions, revolts. Last night I saw a (bad) documentary on the “fall” of socialism (which they conflated with Soviet communism), and they featured the Russian coup of 1991 which was overwhelmed by the people taking power back from the statist Communists, solidifying the end of the Soviet Union. And the earlier Polish worker’s “Solidarity” strikes. A couple of weeks ago I watched the Bertolucci film The Dreamers which took place during the Paris “Student Protests” and general strike in 1968 and came within an inch of replacing the French government and introducing a Marxist socialist government. The Chinese Tiananmen Square protest. Within my own lifetime we have seen social strife and rebellion and massive political change isn’t relegated to banana republics and 3rd world countries.
Sinclair Lewis wrote in 1935, It Can’t Happen Here, about how America can become a fascist state. It CAN Happen Here, written a couple of years ago, details how we’re as close to it as ever–if not already in the early stages. We’ve had it pretty good some time. Since the Civil War. But then there was the Great Depression. We think of it as a natural disaster that happens almost never, but we forget that it was caused by grossly unbalanced market forces precipitated by unregulated corporate greed and exacerbated by conservative laizzes-fair political leadership. Some of the very same conditions which exist today. Only fifty years ago we had the largest protest and civil upheaval the country has experienced since the Depression, in the Civil Rights Movement.
Crisis, change, social upheaval have been rare and generally mild and not affecting all or most Americans (directly) because we’ve been fortunate enough to be isolated from the rest of the world for most of our history. Our citizens have grown rich (compared to the rest of the world) and comfortable and complacent. We’re the frog in the pot of water that’s had the heat turned up ever-so-slowly, falling asleep before we boil. We’ve allowed neo-con fascism to being to take hold, and that’s not going to fundamentally change with a Democratic President.
What’s prompted me to write this reminder that Big Things happen in the modern world and can happen to us, again, is this report on food costs and shortages which have affected “developing” nations all along, but have started to seriously affect “2nd world” nations, and we as the last Super Power can also feel the growing instability, uncertainty, and possible crisis:
We’re in a new Gilded Age like the one which preceded the Great Depression, in which the gulf between the rich and poor in America is obscene. The middle class is coming closer and closer to the poverty line. Worse, they’re having less and less political power. The wealth and the political power belong to the ruling class and the corporations who assure us “we feel the pinch right along with you” even as they secure their wealth in Dubai and the Camen Islands.
The U.S. dollar becomes more devalued every day, and is starting to become refused in places around the world. Our national debt is so huge, our entire economy could collapse in a single day should certain countries sell their portion of our debt on the market. Unemployment is climbing, homelessness is climbing. Our infrastructure (roads, bridges, air travel system,) which support our economy, are literally falling apart. Enrollment in higher education is as low as it’s been since WWII.
Not to be an alarmist, but things aren’t looking so good.
It’s entirely possible nothing Too Bad will happen, things will right themselves, we’ll get back on track, and we’ll go for another hundred years of television watching. But if the situations in this article are accurate, can we really expect things to not get seriously worse? Many estimate we’ve reached peak oil, and demand for oil will only accelerate beyond supply. Prices will rise, around the world food cost will rise and availability decrease. Our warrior culture and empire spreading will only weaken our ability to deal with social issues as our economy weakens and collapses.
I have no solutions to offer. Presidents Harding and Hoover made the Depression happen the way it did because they pandered to the robber barons and the monopolies. They themselves were rich oligarchs who cared nothing for the people, but only power and wealth their position could grant them. We need to remove from government the corporate owned rich elites. We need to pull back our military empire and stop spending billions of dollars a day–that we don’t even have in the first place!–on foreign wars that only weaken our diplomatic and financial status in the world. We need to put focus back on rebuilding domestic infrastructure while we can, and return manufacturing jobs back here instead of shipping them to countries of cheap labor. We need to regulate corporate political influence, international trade policies, off-shore financing and banking, and CEO/board responsibility for corporate actions and behavior. And make it a major, highest priority, to get off oil addiction before we get to a point in which we aren’t even able to research and build non-oil-based power plants and transportation options because our nation can’t afford the fuel and resources to do so.
Question is: Will Americans know when it’s time for revolution before it gets too bad for it to make any difference?!