Whose Standards?

When a New York Times correspondent indicated on its front page of February 16th 2003, that there were now only two super powers in the world — the U.S. and public opinion – dissidents everywhere trumpeted the article as recognizing activism’s stature and importance. But did we understand the broader implications?

The Times observation indicates what we all should already have known — that there is a war in the world. It is between an agenda that aggrandizes the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and weak – and a contrary agenda that diminishes differences in income, wealth, and power on the road to equity and self-management. Moreover, it isn’t the policies of the disparate heads of state of France and Germany, Italy and Spain, Turkey and India, South Africa and Egypt, Chile and Bolivia, that ultimately matter most to people’s daily life prospects. Nor is it the machinations of the separate corporate leaders of competing businesses around the world. What ultimately matters most to people’s prospects now and into the future, is the struggle between the world’s masters and its aroused citizens.

The conflict between these super powers rages in neighborboods, communities, counties, countries, and regions, and across the whole planet. Advocates of justice are getting stronger, but we cannot yet reverse the rising tides of repression, violence, and impoverishment. We cannot yet win big victories for peace, redistribution, and justice. And so if we go to bed each night measuring our day’s labors by whether we have won major victories against the behemoth, then each night we will go to bed weeping over our inadequacy and moaning at the power of the world’s centers of power and their ability to ignore our demands. Worse, our weeping and moaning will diminish our energies and make us unattractive to those we seek to reach. We will go to bed dumb as well, because we will be ratifying standards of measurement which stunt and curb our efforts, and which entirely lack reason.

This is the best of times. We have seen, in recent weeks, not only the largest simultaneous peaceful legal demonstrations worldwide in history, but massive civil disobedience, coordinated resistance, citywide, regional, and national teach-ins, protests, and marches, and what is ultimately most important, local outreach in towns, on streets, in schools, and everywhere.

More, the tone and tenor of this upsurge is diversifying. People are seeing the necessity to not only oppose this war, but to oppose all imperial war. People are seeing the need to not only seek peace now, but to seek pervasive and lasting peace, and not just peace but also justice. People are seeing the need to not only reject the barbaric, the colonial, and the domineering, but to propose and advocate positive alternatives to capitalism, patriarchy, and racism.

A movement is growing that can persist to fight again and again, amassing strength as it goes. By the standard of winning big changes every day, this movement will lose, lose, lose, for awhile. But by the standard of daily growing bigger, broader, more committed, and more competent, it will win, win, win. And as a result of those continuing achievements, it will begin engineering a trajectory of smaller and then larger changes in society that will each in turn improve people’s lives and create conditions for still more improvements, right up to establishing an alternative world we can all celebrate.

But this is also the worst of times. We have seen, in recent weeks, despite our activism, not only a gigantic assault on a defenseless country but a celebration of that assault as if it were a major human achievement. On top of missiles, bombers, helicopters, and tanks we have suffered a media that reports war like it was soccer, that obscures context and substance to highlight dismissive details, and that lies and denies and even fabricates news so that it is fit to print in the eyes of the masters.

Mainstream media presents what suits the masters. It obscures what doesn’t. Media mystification so swamps the air waves, the sound waves, and the byways, that any person not directly plugged into alternative avenues of thought and not sustained by a community that ratifies true information and analysis, cannot help but to some degree succumb to the fear and loathing and triumphalism screaming forth from every orifice of society, It is no wonder that at least temporarily imperial thoughts occupy many people’s minds, not only despite people having a social conscience, but even, amazingly, in pursuit of manifesting such a conscience.

This is the age of wisdom. The taxi driver and meat packer, the nurse and train steward, the dishwasher, maid, and drugstore cashier, the truck driver and the assembler all know that injustice pervades the hierarchies of wealth and power they daily encounter at work, in court, dealing with doctors, and in every other pursuit that crosses paths with the wealthy and powerful. They know too, even if they don’t always want to admit it, that Bush is braindead, that elections are sham choices between advocates of the powerful that occur despite our desires, and that at the bottom of reality tv and pervading unreal news reporting there lies profit and power. The public is becoming poetic. The commercial and the crass, broadcast everywhere and requiring our attention at every moment if we are to be part of society, are nonetheless ultimately losing the battle for our hearts and minds. People are gaining awareness, consciousness, and even, ever so slowly, confidence.

But this is also the age of foolishness. As if to spite the very idea of thoughtfulness and wisdom, all too many people with advanced degrees, with decades of education and reading, and with access to unlimited information, all too many people who monopolize legal and medical and engineering and administrative information, and certainly all too many economists and political scientists and managers and newspaper journalists – overwhelmingly prattle the most nonsensical idiocy. We are liberating a country that we are subjugating. We are beacons of freedom in a world that fears our every move. We favor democracy as we install colonial rulers and ignore the will of whole populations. Our bombs are the sounds of freedom, not of violent silence. Empire is what we reject, not the touchstone of our behavior. Those with the highest education pontificate against fact, lecture against reason, and preach against the slightest sense of moral decency. It is not only that in America the more we watch the less we know; it is also the more education we have, the stupider we tend to be – not surprisingly.

Here in the USA, we have belief and incredulity. We have light and darkness. We have hope and despair. Looked at one way we have everything before us. Looked at another way we have nothing before us. Considering our aspirations, we are all going direct to heaven. Considering the bones and bodies accumulating in our name, we are all going direct to hell. It wasn’t only in Dickens time that it was the best of times, that it was the worst of times.

So, which is it? Is history on a road to a worse past or on a road to a better future?

Is democracy coming to the USA…real democracy, for the first time? Or fascism?

It depends whose calculus we use to judge. It depends whether we use the localist’s or the globalist’s measuring stick. It depends whether we use apocalyptic or sober analysis. It depends whether we let the media make us pessimistic, or we let our minds see the realistic.

There is a war on. It is not new, but it is heating up. Our side is getting stronger, much stronger. And not surprisingly, that means the other side is showing its fangs. We shouldn’t exaggerate our gains, but neither should we underplay them. We shouldn’t think we are on the verge of massive victories and as a result adversely evaluate ourselves against attaining such victories now. We should instead see that while we are still relatively small we are nonetheless on a path of continuing growth of numbers, continuing diversification of methods, continuing enlargement of insights, continuing espousal of positive aspirations, and we should judge ourselves daily by whether, with ups and downs, we can keep moving on that path.

Wrong standards will yield a depressing decay of our efforts. Right standards will yield a calm continuation of our efforts. Given that simple reality, surely we can all set standards sensibly.

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