Some time back, I opened the Sunday New York Times. The main headline, front page, top right, was “At many nursing homes, more profit and less nursing.” The article was about a trend in nursing homes in Florida where private investors cut costs to raise profits. Details followed.
From these policies Florida investors gained mightily. Florida nurses and especially nursing home residents lost mightily. The former were profitably fired. The latter were profitably brokered to oblivion. But don’t fret, the nursing homes gained bottom line glory. Stocks climbed, lives declined, praise be to Wall Street. It was business and business only.
What I saw blazoned on that front page of the Times was the bloody indifference that supported the ugly article’s reality. If you read it, would you be surprised? I don’t think so.
Fact is, everyone knows that everything is broken, and everyone knows why. Even when we read about such grotesque social injustice, we barely cringe. We rarely clench. And, typically, we give not the slightest thought to assembling a group to fight for in this case our elders or ourselves.
Now suppose that millions had read in the same Sunday Times, “Aliens take over the Florida nursing industry, patients dropping like flies while aliens soak up profits.” I would wager that quite a large number of we the people, from coast to coast, would have grabbed clubs and bats, pitchforks and all too many household arms, and trucked on down to Florida in droves, or to our local nursing homes, or just into the street outside our residences, eyes peering every which way, to protect our elders and ourselves. Aliens beware.
But let relatives, friends, or whoever, be succumbing to the intrinsic dynamics of capitalism, dynamics which are relentless and merciless, and we the people barely wave goodbye as grandma slides into pauperism or a coffin. What is the difference?
Consider the old folks home at the college, where minds suffer imposed neglect on behalf of bottom lines bolstered by social control. Again, what is the difference that it is business as usual rather than evil enemies restricting our kids?
Or consider those in mines, or those behind the counter at McDonalds, or on an assembly line, or wherever. Why would hypothetical calamity imposed by aliens provoke outrage, while actual calamity imposed by social institutions provokes moving on?
The fatalism I am angsting over is that we the people think that there is no alternative not only to capitalist business as usual—but even to a slip slide toward hell. Check the temperature outside, the water levels and air quality, the flaming winds and surging waves. Hell beckons.
The fatality I have in mind is thinking that there is no alternative, that pain is inevitable and even essential. Put more bitterly, it seems to me that on the surface we seem to be becoming a population of cowardly ignoramuses—or perhaps I should say we seem to be becoming an even more cowardly and more ignorant population—since the malady is not new, but does seem to be accelerating.
And for those with parchment credentials and an air of accomplishment, for those who walk with noses held high and who expect others who lack said credentials to move out of their path, for those who have lots of money (though not obscenely much), and who think themselves above everyone other than them, please note that in talking of people who are fatalistic, I am not referring mainly to poor people who suffer serious repression and who lack access to substantive information and educational credentials. Society’s most downtrodden do indeed feel a degree of paranoia, but they do so precisely because they suffer oppressive conditions that warrant their fear, whether they endure violence at the end of a club or via poverty-inducing jail-building contracts. Cringing a bit at that, as the poor wisely do, isn’t cowardly, it is sensibly cautious. However, poor people, though largely lacking detailed information, nonetheless largely understand the nature of the world around them, including its hypocrisy, vulgarity, greed, and violence. But until movements become accessible and welcoming, they lack means to do much about its hypocrisy, vulgarity, greed, and violence.
Please note also that in referencing fatalists, I am likewise not mainly referring to the really rich and powerful, to the owners, senators, administrators, bosses, and media moguls. Those deniers of justice are just doing what their training, conditions, interests, and long-since ingrained mindsets require of their ilk, despicable as that often is. They are fatalist about society’s condition. They celebrate it.
No, in referencing fatalism that induces fatalities I have in mind people who are both educated and who are, as well, and as a result, substantially insulated from repression and retribution. I am talking about the quite privileged people who are not, however, at the top of society’s mountains of materialism. I am talking of the well housed, well dressed, well spoken, well poised people who are not obscenely rich and powerful but who are instead only considerably wealthy and, taken together, highly influential. They are the stupid cowards or, if you prefer, theirs is the cowardly stupidity. And their fatalism is a virus that spreads at the speed of silence—which means, damn fast.
I have in mind your family doctor where I assume that she is a nice down-home neighbor with a thriving practice. I have in mind your workplaces accountant or engineer, where I suppose that he is the caring type, a liberal, by gosh. I mean the butcher’s and baker’s lawyers, and even firefighters and auto workers who manifest plenty of caring for people they don’t know who might be burning up in buildings they risk life and limb to extinguish but who in stark contrast manifest no caring for people burning up in poverty or fricasseeing in furnaces made by bombs labeled made in the USA, nor for people who can barely traverse their own neighborhoods much less travel across towns, cities, counties, regions, or countries.
I mean the miles of minions in white collar firms who labor many floors beneath the top but still a whole lot above the streets. I mean the people comfortably well beyond survival incomes, who have huge TVs, super internet access, shelves of books galore, and who may even have a piano or at any rate a couple of cars and a folk guitar. I mean people who have some degree of comfort and some degree of insulation from the violence of inner city daily life and who have plenty of access to true information even if getting it takes a bit of effort.
I mean, that is, the people who are not anti social, not jack booted maniacs, and not, by virtue of their position, so domineering over others as to inevitably be horrendously self interested and jaded, or so smashed and isolated and hurt by circumstances that anything beyond seeking bare survival is a Herculean undertaking.
I mean, in other words, nice people like you, nice people like me, nice people who watch from within its confines while America rains destruction on others. Nice people who watch from within, as well, America’s internal dissolution into escalating repressiveness. I mean nice people, liberal people, sensitive people, caring people, who watch, watch, watch, but who do nothing much to stop the daily calamities that owe to capitalism.
We the fatalists say to ourselves, not even explicitly, but in some subterranean channel of mind, “hey, self, there is no better world. Pay attention self, there is nothing good you can do outside your small circle of friends. More, listen self, if you make our deep down buried horror at what we see all around us apparent to others, apparent even just to you, you will in that act impose on yourself the almighty sacrifice of looking different, of not fitting, of being dissident, and, well, gee, what’s the point of suffering such an incredible loss of comfort and continuity merely to protest jackbooted repressive trends at home and international mayhem abroad, merely to protest the daily assault against all wage slaves, not to mention the cooking of the planet unto drowning, when, if you instead celebrate all that, or you at least ignore all that when celebration is beyond your capacity for hypocrisy, or you even calmly bemoan it all for a minute or two before you get on with other business, you can privately prosper nicely.”
And continuing the internal admonition: “Hey, self, face reality. Keep your bitterness hidden. You see, self, I am convinced–albeit without the slightest logic and contrary to all evidence, that protest will get you nowhere. So, of course, self, if there is nothing to be done about all the horror. It is better for you to care for you. It is better for you to care for yours. It is better for you to make believe all is well, to smile with a happy face, to parade your civility at all times, and to say have a good day to everyone…hoping against hope that some miracle will make things better before you have to go buy a shotgun to keep the jackboots away from your life too, or to blow your own sorry head off in despair. So, self, please put a lid on your better side, curb your solidarity, stifle your humanity, and let me be a happy, if cowardly, self-made idiot.”
Well, of course, admonition to self aside, at some point someone is going to have to do something more than look away. And it is going to have to be enough to seriously shake the minds and feelings of the broad populace and of ourselves too. How else can we possibly dislodge large numbers from fatalism given that for the fatalist anything that appears contrary just adds to the malady?
March in place, hold the line, make an appearance, fight the good fight unto defeat, be on the side of the angels unto the graveyard—or do anything that screams out or implies or even just suggests to any fatalist wanting to so interpret it, that we can’t win, and that our entreaties will just bounce off decision makers’ tough hides.that is not going to work.
Instead, to get suburbanites and city dwellers, students and workers, to realize that if we don’t act we are abetting our own subordination, curtailing our children’s prospects, and terminating their children’s or perhaps their children’s children’s hopes for a humane existence. Our inaction aids our country in massacring victims abroad galore. To climb out of the hellish pit of alienated loneliness nearly all of us endure, we need to do more than “protest” to evidence that a small sector dislikes the inevitable.
Being a lemming following the crowd over a cliff clutching meager or even massive benefits, is pretty pitiful. How much more pitiful is it to go over the cliff, barreling along like all the rest, but moaning about how unjust it is, how painful it is, how un-lemming like we are, nonetheless churning away cliff ward and then over, right to the end? So what is needed?
It seems to me that many many people are going to have to be severely disrupted into realizing that they can contribute to attaining a better world and that doing so has incredible benefits, and that not doing so will have steadily more devastating detriments. To not do so will be fatal, whereas to do so can win liberation.
And what can cause such a large crowd, currently hell bent on collective cliff diving, to transcend their current posture and move to a new perspective? What can meet that challenge?
Well, first, here is what won’t meet it.
Polite toe tapping won’t meet it. Civil litanies of doom won’t meet it. Even big marches and rallies, occurring over and over, that stay one size, or even shrink over time, won’t meet it.
Nor can movements hope to meet the challenge if they exude disdain for all non members. Nor can movements meet the challenge if they harbor habits that reveal that they are only about posturing, or only about grabbing brass rings for themselves regardless of the impact on others.
Movements without a vision of what they intend to do and how they intend to do it, and without a compelling explanation of why and how each member’s efforts can be a constructive part of the process, won’t meet the challenge. So what do we need?
We need shared vision to overcome the view that no other world is possible. Our vision must be inspire, convince, and liberate. We must hold it with passion and participate in its continual further development.
We need to enunciate and advocate shared strategy and program too—a picture of a broad pattern of activity that can plausibly lead from where we are to where we wish to wind up. We must evidence our desire not to merely win one thing and lose another, thereby going nowhere fast, but our intent to always grow our movement even when we suffer periodic defeats in specific battles.
We need an image of ourselves that shows how we and others can contribute to social change. We need to welcome people to do so. We need to incorporate the new ways they find to do so, and to create an environment in which everyone is not only welcomed to contribute, not only empowered to contribute, but steadily strengthened in their commitment to contribute.
And yet, even to do all that, which might have been more than sufficient if we had done it a few decades back, nowadays, I fear, won’t be quite enough. Even all that will need an additional edge to it. Because fatalism is not just a common everyday variety malady. Fatalism has defense mechanisms of considerable robustness and power. To overcome fatalism we not only have to have shared vision, shared strategy, and a movement that is empowering, welcoming, congenial, and inspiring, we also have to communicate what we have, advocate it, trumpet it, and literally propel it into people’s awareness, until all souls have no choice but to see it, and their selves have to face the facts and the prospects.
In short, people suffering fatalism won’t come to movements seeking to be saved from their psychic malady or from the decaying world they daily navigate. We are going to have to push our alternative—both vision and strategy—into constant view of people who are hell bent on looking in every other imaginable direction. We are going to have to make it constantly intrusive on people until they register it, comprehend it, face it, and decide about it. With fatalism in the way, communicating will take more than writing our vision and strategy down, or even speaking it at rallies or teach-ins, as good as it would be if we were doing a whole lot more of each. It will take implementing deeds that make attention to our message unavoidable. We must somehow convey vision and strategy everywhere. But we don’t own TV channels. We don’t own billboard companies. We don’t own radio stations. We don’t have the financial means to easily converse with everyone’s consciousness over and over. So we must instead use clever deeds, clever actions, as well as bring our words straight to people one by one in endless conversations. We must have deeds and actions and conversations too, that are so audacious and so visible, so provocative and yet also so respectful of the people we seek to communicate with, that those people have to hear our vision, have to assess our strategy, and thus have to communicate and think and transcend fatalism.
And how do we do this? No one knows—yet. But here is the point of this screed. Someone, in fact a whole lot of people, better start thinking about it instead of only courageously going through the motions of what decades have proclaimed constitutes being a radical, but what the self-same decades have also taught us damn well won’t be sufficient to produce really radical, much less revolutionary change.
The participatory potential around us is enormous. Almost no one is deep down enamored of profit making, of pummeling others unto death, of polluting and prevaricating. Most of the population is more than ready for a hopeful alternative. Will movements offer vision, strategy, and audacious activism? Will they nurture and refine all three with contributions from each new person coming aboard? If so, movements will succeed. If not, we are well and truly fucked.
ZNetwork is funded solely through the generosity of its readers.Donate