Onward and Upward
I think almost all of us, progressive and otherwise, are conscious that we live in a strange and special era. “The best of times and the worst of times”… yada yada; not “evil” like the 1930s, but strange, dysfunctional, unstable, unpredictable and of a sinister syncopation.
How could we define it?
I would define this time we live in as “the end of the post-Cold-War”, the end of one thing, without the new thing being yet apparent..
To understand this concept it helps to be rather old. I was 45 when the Berlin Wall went down in 1989 and the Cold War began when I was four years old. If you are in your twenties or early thirties it would be almost impossible for you really understand or even imagine how the Cold War structured our world and our lives, how all pervasive it was and how much intellectual capital it used up on both sides of the Iron Curtain. How its cold, dead, vapors infuse the way we still see the world. We are still in the process of clearing our heads and dear old reality is coming to our aid.
In the Cold War, ideology became an industry on both sides, a factory system as powerful and layered as the automobile industry, turning out the ideological marketing that goes by the loaded name of propaganda.
Thousands upon thousands, several generations, of the most talented and intellectually gifted communicators gained prestige, comfortable livings, scholarships, tenure and an infinity of perks in this decades long struggle to see who could tell the best and most convincing story. Actual thinking was of course as poorly rewarded as it always had been.
This wall to wall propaganda did have some very positive effects. Certainly the Berlin Wall would not have come down without it and I would submit that on the other hand, without the ubiquitous presence of Soviet propaganda the American Civil Rights Movement would never have succeeded. Jim Crow was America’s Achilles heel in the battle for hearts and minds in the third world. The good and the great of the United States saw that eliminating “colored only” drinking fountains and letting a few more people vote, was a small price to pay to maintain access to the ever growing amount of the world’s raw materials and strategic areas that were falling into the hands of dark skinned peoples. So the endless advertising campaign did have its positive side. The problem for us was not that people in the soviet block believed our propaganda, the problem for us is that we believed our propaganda. By 1990 those on the eastern side of the wall knew that their propaganda was all bullshit, however, we are just beginning to realize that our propaganda was all bullshit too.
Unfettered, capitalism would spread its powerful wings and fly, so our story went, which of course capitalism certainly did… and now it seems to have bashed its brains out like a light-blinded bird crashing into a glass door.
So now we having discovered that just as “real existent socialism” didn’t work, neither does “real existent capitalism”.
So now, having discovered that the last 64 years or so were mostly a mirage, what comes next?
I would submit that becoming fully human is our most urgent task.
Here are a couple of texts that my intuition tells me point out the path to follow:
To expect morality in the market is to commit a category error. Capitalist values are antithetical to Christian ones. (How the loudest Christians in our public life can also be the most bellicose proponents of an unbridled free market is a matter for their own consciences.) Capitalist values are also antithetical to democratic ones. Like Christian ethics, the principles of republican government require us to consider the interests of others. Capitalism, which entails the single-minded pursuit of profit, would have us believe that it’s every man for himself. William Deresiewicz – New York Times
Humans, comprising the genus Homo, appeared between 1.5 and 2.5 million years ago, a time that roughly coincides with the start of the Pleistocene 1.8 million years ago. Because the Pleistocene ended a mere 12,000 years ago, most human adaptations either newly evolved during the Pleistocene, or were maintained by stabilizing selection during the Pleistocene./ Evolutionary psychology therefore proposes that the majority of human psychological mechanisms are adapted to reproductive problems frequently encountered in Pleistocene environments. In broad terms, these problems include those of growth, development, differentiation, maintenance, mating, parenting, and social relationships. (…) Our ancestors lived in smaller groups, had more cohesive cultures, and had more stable and rich contexts for identity and meaning. (…) Since hunter-gatherer societies are egalitarian, the ancestral population may have been egalitarian as well.(…) Since an organism’s adaptations were suited to its ancestral environment, a new and different environment can create a mismatch. (…) One example is the fact that although about 10,000 people are killed with guns in the US annually, whereas spiders and snakes kill only a handful, people nonetheless learn to fear spiders and snakes about as easily as they do a pointed gun, and more easily than an unpointed gun, rabbits or flowers. A potential explanation is that spiders and snakes were a threat to human ancestors throughout the Pleistocene, whereas guns (and rabbits and flowers) were not. There is thus a mismatch between our evolved fear-learning psychology and the modern environment Evolutionary Psychology – Wikipedia
Evolutionary psychology is one of the most exciting fields today because it gives scientific weight to the idea of humanity’s social, cooperative, empathetic “species nature”. Really we can see that most of today’s problems are not dependent on some “miraculous” scientific breakthrough or more economic growth, but rather on taking full cognizance and internalizing that species nature of ours and acting in consequence. Some of the examples of our failure to do this jump out at us from the media daily and are grotesque to the point of caricature.
As an example: millions of Americans are suffering from obesity to a degree that may eventually collapse our health system, while other millions of equally human beings are suffering severe malnutrition all over the third world. Hundreds of such examples have become mere cliches, they are so self evident. Assume a breakthrough in cancer research took place, what percentage of the world’s population would have access to it? Knowing that there is more than enough food, shelter and medicine for all, why are there starving, homeless and untreated humans walking the earth?
And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? Genesis 4:9
That is the crux of the problem. Answering Cain’s question honestly; answering “who is this all for?”, that is the central challenge of our times.
Cross posted from: http://seaton-newslinks.blogspot.com