|The neocons seem to have identified some new and somewhat unlikely enemies. There is a whole movement to introduce conservative values into the education system, both by forcing teachers to feed creationist religious propaganda to schoolchildren, and by removing and reprimanding ‘biased’ university teachers who don’t give equal grades to ‘conservative answers’ to assignments and exam questions. The Bush regime is stripping qualified scientists of responsibility and authority and replacing them with corporatist apologists and global warming deniers in the mold of the discredited and unqualified Davos poster-child, Bjorn Lomborg. And the proponents of the draconian Patriot Act are facing a fierce resistance from the nation’s librarians.
Teachers, scientists, engineers, technologists and librarians. They may not be the prototype of radicalism, but they do have something in common: They are all more knowledgeable than the mainstream population. This raises an interesting question: Does knowledge and learning make us more radical in our political, economic, social and environmental views?
There is a long history of research indicating that the more we know, the more pessimistic we are. In his book Our Final Hour, England’s Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees cites the authors of the 1950s Einstein-Russell manifesto as follows:
None of the well-informed scientists say that the worst results from the nuclear threat are certain. The views of experts do not depend in any way on their politics or prejudices. They depend only, so far as our researches have revealed, on the extent of the particular expert’s knowledge. We have found that the experts who know most are the most gloomy.
So perhaps knowledge and learning make us pessimistic. Does that necessarily make us more radical? It seems to me it must. If the more we learn, the more negative our view of the future, surely that should make us more disenchanted and dissatisfied with the status quo, and more inclined to favour radical change to improve the outlook.
But don’t we get more conservative with age? I think what really happens is that we get more nostalgic as we get older. With our increasingly selective memories, we long for the ‘good old days’ — which for my generation was an era of momentous change and social revolution. Nostalgia is not conservative, it’s reactionary — in opposition to recent changes we don’t understand and desirous of ‘changing back’. The most truly ‘conservative’ elements of our society (borne out by recent polls) are the middle-aged, and many of the most passionate and articulate advocates of radical change are over 60.
Religious leaders almost everywhere in the world are opposed to a liberal education because it threatens their control over their followers. Knowledge and learning, when it is not rote, when it is not propagandized, opens us up to new ideas and alternatives. There is thus no conspiracy behind the liberal bent of universities, and the fact that campuses are the hotbeds of opposition to the status quo everywhere on the planet is not just coincidence — these are places where knowledge and learning and challenges to established ideas are made most possible and encouraged, and the consequence of that learning is pessimism, dissatisfaction, and a powerful desire for change.
The people I’ve met who work on the front lines of the media — even the mainstream media — are almost all pessimistic about the future and quite radical in their beliefs. What has happened is that they have been forced by conservative managers beholden to profit-obsessed corporatist owners to toe the line, to report what they’re told. Not at all dissimilar to the fate of teachers. No surprise that the burnout rate in both professions is enormous! And to some extent the same process is going on in large corporations everywhere: The most knowledgeable people tend to be the least satisfied with corporatist risk-aversion, innovation-aversion, and indifference to impact on employees, the environment and the community. They’re weeded out in most organizations in favour of sycophants and those who do what they’re told without question.
As a consequence we now have a growing, marginalized, disenfranchized, unemployed or underemployed, disaffected, knowledgeable and angry subculture, of which bloggers are the most obvious manifestation. The dot com bust added millions to our numbers, probably to the great relief of industry czars who were justifiably terrified that these non-conformists, by setting their own dress codes and other conditions for employment, could weaken their control and change the corporate agenda.
So what? We have the knowledge, and the numbers, to take back this world from the neocons before it careens completely out of control, that’s what. They have only wealth and power, and they have wielded it very effectively for thirty years. They have used their wealth to acquire the media, control the global economy, buy political power and influence, and hoard the planet’s overtaxed resources. They have used their power to suppress citizen and consumer rights and liberal ideas, stifle and silence dissent, dumb down the citizen/consumer, and wage wars overt and covert around the globe.
But their wealth depends on our acquiescence to a brutal, monopolistic and anti-democratic economic system that imposes wage slavery on everyone and crushes all alternative economic ideas under the guise of advancing globalization, ‘free’ trade, efficiency and ‘free’ markets. We are so beaten down by this neocon economic machine that most of us now believe we could not make ends meet running our own business. So we perpetuate this horrendous economic system by buying the crappy, overpriced junk made by slave labour that they churn out.
And their power depends on our feelings of learned helplessness, our sense that corruption of political systems and politicians is inevitable, that the political system we have is the best we can hope for. We perpetuate this perverse political system by allowing the corrupt corporatist cabal to tell us what our alternatives are, who we can and should vote for, by letting them sell us political candidates like they sell us sneakers and breakfast cereals, by tolerating the gerrymandering of our constituencies, by allowing the media to ignore third parties, and by shying away from labels like ‘liberal’, ‘radical’ and ‘revolutionary’ with a meekness that would shame the brave and revolutionary founding fathers of any of our nations.
Their wealth and power, and the pessimism that comes with our knowledge and learning have, together, cowed us into passivity and submission.
In 1970, Charles Reich wrote, in The Greening of America:
There is a revolution coming. It will not be like revolutions of the past. It will originate with the individual and with culture, and it will change the political structure only as its final act. It will not require violence to succeed, and it cannot be successfully resisted by violence. It is now spreading with amazing rapidity, and already our laws, institutions and social structure are changing in consequence. It promises a higher reason, a more human community, and a new and liberated individual. Its ultimate creation will be a new and enduring wholeness and beauty — a renewed relationship of man to himself, to other men, to society, to nature, and to the land.
Reich was wrong about the time-frame, but he may yet be right. The revolution he expected to see in the 1970s is overdue, and we could start it, today. He has the ‘brand’ right — the revolution we need is all about greening: Cleansing, renewal, natural balance, and finding a better way to live. And the political party that uses this brand, the Green Party, is appropriately global and yet decentralized in scope, and has a multi-faceted philosophy that is brilliant and collaborative in conception, inclusive in nature, and truly radical. What we need is much more than just a brand and a political party, though. What we need is a Green Movement. Today, the candidates and executives of the Green Party are preoccupied with getting elected, and in countries where that is feasible, that’s fine. In every country, however, we in the Green Movement have more urgent tasks than glad-handing electors. Here’s a first crack at an Agenda, a Manifesto for the Movement:
That’s the start of the Manifesto. It needs some work — collaborative work. This organization won’t have any employees or directors — a Movement doesn’t need leaders or direction, just a compelling and articulate vision, and good timing. Most of all we need some marketing expertise to help us launch this. Another website isn’t going to do it. We need to create some buzz for it, get some major progressive organizations to stop competing with each other and sponsor it. The Movement isn’t a new organization looking for your money and time. It’s an umbrella, that progressive individuals and groups can belong to without giving up their own efforts and programs. It’s bigger than all of us, the glue that holds all of us with progressive values and beliefs together. I’m going to start it off with a ChangeThis Manifesto next week. What else should we do? How did we do it in the 1960s? What should the movement’s tagline be?
We have the knowledge. If you add together all the victims of the neocons — women, visible minorities, the poor, the unemployed, entrepreneurs, teachers, scientists, engineers, technologists, librarians, progressives of every stripe — we have the numbers. We have a host of good causes, common causes. We have a sense of urgency. We have the Internet. That should be more than enough to launch a Movement.
Is it just our pessimism, and the thought of having to fight an elite of unprecedented wealth and power, that is holding us back?
The logo above, a green leaf formed into the letter G, is from the San Diego Green Party. Kudos to Google Desktop, which came to the rescue when nVu Composer somehow deleted this post instead of saving it — Google Desktop had already saved a cache copy. Yet another reason to get this marvelous tool!