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Slightly Revised Reflections on History, Impeachment, “Safety Net Nation,” Chomsky and Cheese


Some semi-random notes and reflections that may or may not deserve extensive comment. First (first things first), the piece on Why Study History that I blogged for two hours (and then took down because I

found out it was in fact a forthcoming publication) a couple of weeks ago is now an article in Black Commentator. You can read this (I hope useful) essay, titled “‘Before We Can Claim Our Future, We Have to Confront Our Past’: Notes on History and Self Defense,” at www.blackcommentator.com/138/138_think_street.html. Constructive criticism is welcome of course.

Second, check out the Mike Whitney piece from today’s ZNet Magazine at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=15&ItemID=7835. I found even myself going “ho-hum” at the recent revelation (the first place I saw it was Greg Palast, “Impeachment Time’: ‘Facts Were Fixed” at http://www.gregpalast.com/index.cfm) that a top British intelligence official was told by the White House that American “facts and intelligence” about Iraq were being “fixed” 8 months in advance of the invasion of Iraq. “Well, of course…tell me something I didn’t already know”…right?

It should be “impeachment material,” as Greg Palast says (actually it should be much more than that), but it doesn’t seem to be going that far, even on — Whitney argues — the left.

How did so many of us get to the point where there’s nothing or almost nothing that can shock us anymore?

Most of the people I know on the left side of the political spectrum are so busy recoiling in private despair and disgust they’ve got little energy or inclination for political engagement. They’ve rejected politics altogether.

That is not how the right proceeds, I assure you.

I understand, of course, that the dominant communications, economic, cultural, religious, and political (to name a few) institutions are tilted toward the authoritarian business perspective and work against left consciousness and activism.

Still, I know way too many people (including some good friends) on the left who have totally given up on politics. They’ve turned inward.

This is not good. It’s quite dangerous in fact, in (I hope) obvious sorts of ways.

For what it’s worth, by the way, Freud defined depression as anger turned inward.

I suspect this leftist/ex-leftist withdrawal/depression phenomon is at least part of the explanation for the shocking disconnect between American public opinion and American policy on various issues, including the occupation of Iraq, which (last I saw) is opposed by 57 percent of the US public. It’s one thing, of course, to tell a pollster that you think corporations have too much power in American life or that you support universal health insurance. It’s another thing to join in a struggle to reign and even abolish The Corporation’s pathological power and/or to bring American into the modern health care policy age. It’s one thing to tell an interviewer team that you think the occupation of Iraq is wrong and/or a mistake; it’s something else to put your job or tax status or public image (or…fill in the blank) on the line by engaging in direct and collective action against the Iraqi component of Operation American Dominance.

Third, speaking of the shocking disconnect between American opinion and the White House, please see
“I Want My Safety Net:Why so many Americans aren’t buying into Bush’s Ownership Society,” Business Week (May 16, 2005) at:
www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_20/b3933001_mz001.htm?campaign_id=rss_magzn

This article reports that:

“While many members of [what Business Week actually has the audacity to call - P.S.] Safety Net Nation have nothing against investing and choice, they’re worried that the country’s web of public and private social protections is fraying. They believe in more, not fewer, safeguards against downward mobility in a world that’s already pulsing with economic uncertainty. Safety Netters include plenty of card-carrying Republicans and independent swing voters, and the group may represent a broader swath of America than the White House imagines.”

“A Sept. 2-5, 2004, survey by the Civil Society Institute, a Newton Centre (Mass.) nonprofit group, found 67% of Americans think it’s a good idea to guarantee health care for all U.S. citizens, as Canada and Britain do, with just 27% dissenting. Support for a government-directed universal insurance system is strong, despite GOP warnings about socialized medicine. Similarly, a Feb. 3-5 Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 47% of respondents believe the government ought to guarantee a minimum standard of living for retirees, vs. 35% who felt that was an individual’s responsibility.”

“The most predictable members of Safety Net Nation are liberals who favor activist government. The really crucial bloc, however, is made up of those who backed Bush in 2004. They still approve of his overall job performance but have soured on Wall Street and dislike the President’s approach to Social Security. This faction — estimates range from 17% to 22% of the electorate — rejects both traditional liberalism and conservative laissez-faire. In an era of rampant job insecurity, when employer-provided pensions and health coverage can no longer be taken for granted, they want a middle-class security blanket that gives them protection as they build wealth.”

Imagine…most Americans actually reject what ZNet blogger Noam Chomsky recently described as the basic idea behind the work of the neoclassical economist-apologists for early-mid-19th century British “free market” capitalism (“the market theories of Ricardo, Malthus,” etc.): the notion that, in Chomsky’s words, “people have no rights other than what they can acquire on the market. If they can’t survive, ‘go somewhere else’—which they could in those days, as the population was being removed or exterminated in the US and other former colonies. These economic principles,” Chomsky adds, “were declared by the founders of modern economics to be as certain as those of Newton”

(see http://blog.zmag.org/index.php/weblog/entry/privatization_of_services_the_free_market_democracy/).

Elsewhere, Chomsky has noted that modern corporate “neoliberal” socioeconomic doctrine (the Washington Consensus) essentially replicates the same vicious principles, telling us all that we are entitled to nothing the mysterious masters of the market do not wish to grant us…that our only real freedom is the glorious right to move somewhere else when capital decides it needs to restore profit rates with a “spatial” (see the work of Marxist geographer David Harvey on that) or other dispossessive “fix” that involves shutting down our jobs and/or our benefits.

Fourth, I agree with the prolific left scholar Henry A. Giroux that we might productively think of neoliberalism as culture and even pedagogy as well as socioeconomic doctrine and ideology (see HAG’s recent book The Terror of Neoliberalism [Paradigm, 2004]). If you want to see an especially graphic example, read the wildly popular masterpiece of corporate-neoliberal anthropomorphism that masqueraded as a bestselling self-help book at the end of the 20th century (1998, reissued I think in 2002): Samuel Johnson, WHO MOVED MY CHEESE?. I’m doing a medium-sized article on this little gem of Orwellian busines class thought control and can tell you in advance that the basic point of this book is that some people deserve to die because they cling to the dysfunctional notion that that they are owed any kind of security (good jobs, communities, etc….called “Cheese”) while other people thrive because they have the courage and wisdom to understand that they are in fact entitled to nothing at all. People and (see the book) mice (yes, mice) in the second group know what to do when all the “cheese” (jobs and benefits and lives) dries up in one location. They check all concerns about the people who are piling up wealth and pulling the strings to abandon their old haunts and homes. They drop all worries about justice and head back out as pure individuals (no group struggles or ventures allowed) into the scary but wonderful Maze (Johnson’s clumsy metaphor for the Market) to “find new cheese.” This book sold in the millions and won ringing endorsements from “the corporate community.”

The book’s author is described on the book’s jacket as — get this — “A THOUGHT LEADER.”

Fifth, did you see where “worker-owned” United Airlines (who I recall as one of the endorsers of Who Moved My Cheese?) got a federal judge to terminate pension plans promised to many thousands of their workers? This is precedent-setting and will have chilling implications across the American neoliberal wasteland. UAL employees are planning various forms of resistance but Dr. Johnson would like them to know that such actions will be nothing more than a dysfunctional effort to keep “cheese” they never deserved in the first place. They need to shut their little proletarian mouths and let the Big Cheese Masters Behind the Maze make all the relevant decisions.

One group of people I don’t want to see getting really alienated on the job is the wonderful folks who repair and fly our airplanes (see http://buffalonews.com/editorial/20050511/1008033.asp).

It’s time for impeachment, you bet, and also….to struggle collectively for radical redistribution (of “cheese,” if Samuel Johnson insists) and to tear down the state-capitalist Maze.

It’s seven years too late, I guess, but I’d still like to tell Johnson to take his cheese and shove it.

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