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Secondary school, history class.
You cover a small amount of information on the suffragettes, and your teacher shows you a video of Emily Wilding Davison getting struck down by Anmer, the King’s horse.
Your teacher asks the class, “we’ll never know why she did this”
But you know
All the girls in your class know, and are quiet, compared to the boys, who laugh, and jeer, and throw around words like “crazy”, because they simply don’t understand.
But you do.
The teacher asks, “who would have been a suffragette back then?” And you put your hand up.
He asks why.
‘Because,’ you think, ‘because I know how it is to live a life being told by everyone that you are inferior. Being told that you can’t play with us because you’re a girl, and girls are silly.
Being told that being pretty is all that matters, and being told that girls can’t do this, and girls can’t do that, and you still get told that it’s a lot better than it was.
You know that thirty years ago, women were laughed at for wanting to be independent, laughed at for wanting a job, and that was only thirty years ago.
Yet you can still imagine the desperation these women felt when they were doing all they could to be heard, and the whole world was deaf to their cries.
You can understand why Emily Wilding Davison ducked under that barrier to carry out her task, whatever that may have been, and stood in the path of a charging horse with determination and love for her cause.
You can still imagine a time where no woman would have ever dreamed of being independent.
When the idea of a single woman was scandalous and she was shunned.
You can imagine the feeling in the air when Emmeline Pankhurst spoke to thousands of women and declared “no more!”
“No more suffering in silence. No more playing to the whims of entitled men who have been served the earth on a silver platter with the words ‘for men’ carved across the globe,”
“No more being the plaything of man, it is our time. We are strong, and we will show the whole world what womankind can do”
You know how it feels to be female.’
But you can’t say that
You can’t say any of that, because he’s a man, and he could never understand.
So you shrug, and say something that feels wrong on your tongue.
It feels like a lie, because it’s not what you want to say
But you can’t say that
Because he wouldn’t understand
The excerpt is from a great piece by Christopher Lasch writing in the short lived journal “Democracy”. Written in the 80’s, details the systemic problems facing US democracy. The situation described shows the roots of where we are now, and how (unfortunately) we have arrived here.
“The centralization of power in the United States and the decline of popular participation in community life have become dramatically visible only in the
period since World War II. The roots of these conditions, however, go back to the formative period around the turn of the century. We have been living ever since then with the long-term consequences of the momentous changes inaugurated at that time.
The most important of these changes, of course, was the emergence of the corporation and the spread of the corporate form throughout
American industry. Often misunderstood as a shift from entrepreneurial to managerial control, the corporation emerged out of conflicts between capital
and labor for control of production. It institutionalized the basic division of labor that runs all through modern industrial society, the division between brainwork and handwork-between the design and the execution of production.
Under the banner of scientific management, capitalists expropriated the technical knowledge formerly exercised by workers and vested it in a new
managerial elite. The managers extended their power not at the expense of the owners of industry, who retained much of their influence and in any case tended to merge with the managerial group, but at the expense of the workers.
Nor did the eventual triumph of industrial unionism break this pattern of managerial control. By the 1930s, even the most militant unions had acquiesced in the division of labor between the planning and execution of work. Indeed the very success of the union movement was predicated on a strategic retreat from issues of worker control. Unionization, moreover, helped to stabilize and rationalize the labor market and to discipline the work force. It did not alter the arrangement whereby management controls the technology of production, the rhythm of work, and the location of plants (even when these decisions affect entire communities), leaving the worker with the task merely of carrying out orders.
Having ·organized mass production on the basis of the new division of labor-most fully realized in the assembly line-the leaders of American industry
next turned to the organization of a mass market. The mobilization of consumer demand, together with the recruitment of a labor force, required a far-reaching series of changes that amounted to a cultural revolution; The virtues of thrift, avoidance of debt, and postponement of gratification had to give way to new habits of installment buying and immediate gratification, new standards of comfort, a new sensitivity to changes in fashion. People had to be discouraged from providing for their own wants and resocialized as consumers. Industrialism by its very nature tends to discourage home production and to make people dependent on the market, but a vast effort of reeducation, starting in the 1920s, had to be undertaken before Americans accepted consumption as a way of life.
As Emma Rothschild has shown in her study of the automobile industry, Alfred Sloan’s innovations in marketing-the annual model change, constant upgrading of the product, efforts to associate it with social status, the deliberate inculcation of an insatiable appetite for change-constituted the necessary counterpart of Henry Ford’s innovations in production. Modern industry came to rest on the twin pillars of Fordism and Sloanism. Both tended to discourage initiative and self-reliance and to reduce work and consumption alike to an essentially passive activity. […]
When I read this section I was immediately drawn to the sections highlighted in purple. What I hear from conservative commentators and business commentators is that what it takes to succeed in society is to get out there and play the market, or innovate, or work hard and save money and improve yourself et cetera. Usually, along with their sprightly commentary on how bootstrapping oneself to greatness, is another piece on the evils of the nanny state and how those damn social programs (WELFARE *clutches chest* *dies*) are making people into lazy dependent sloths who do nothing but keep the productive people down.
Of course, like most capitalistic propaganda, it is utter shite. The message retains its ubiquity and longevity in our society only because of its constant repetition in the business press and media.
“The virtues of thrift, avoidance of debt, and postponement of gratification had to give way to new habits of installment buying and immediate gratification, new standards of comfort, a new sensitivity to changes in fashion.“
I quote this again because damn, if this isn’t an indictment of how capitalism has malformed our society, I’m not sure what is. This way of life we now live was a choice made by the elite classes, as to how society was to be run. Clearly, attributes like avoiding debt and postponement of gratification have no place in a modern civilized society (!).
Racking up debt, conspicuous consumption, becoming dependent on the market – didn’t just *happen* – they were orchestrated to feed the industrial elite’s needs and as always, at the expense of the working class.
So, the business class essentially builds/nurtures a culture of dependency – that is, actively discourages self production and self-reliance – and then has the temerity to bluster about Big Government creating a welfare state chock full of slothful, gormless, dependent people.
Create a society where dependency is rewarded, and then proceed to blame the people for becoming dependent. Fascinating stuff this capitalism is.
Yep, still waiting for the chorus of enraged ‘egalitarian’ voices to protest this (continuing) oversight.
Where do elite priorities lie? Follow the coverage.
“Q: Moving on, has the media changed landscape since you wrote ‘Manufacturing Consent’ in 1989? Is the media manufacturing consent now?
A: Well, we didn’t actually say that media is manufacturing consent; we said that -that is what they are trying to do. We discussed the nature of the media. There’s a separate question – to what extent is it effective? And that’s an interesting question, but we didn’t discuss it. They’re still doing it in the same way. In fact, dramatically. Take November 8, two things of critical significance happened on November 8. One of them was massively reported, the other, which was much more important, received no report – that was the Marrakesh Conference of two hundred countries that tried to implement the Paris programmes to try to save the human species from destruction. That’s a lot more important than what happened in the US election. And, in fact, it was undermined by the US election. What happened in Morocco is astounding if you look at it; one country was leading the way to try to save civilization from self-destruction. One country was way behind, trying to lead the way towards self-destruction, the first was China the second was the United States. That is a remarkable spectacle. Did you see a comment on it?
Take a look at what’s going on, look at the article. Should we be worried? You tell me.
“Resisting the monopolies on left theory by Marxism and on democratic theory by liberalism, Wolin developed a distinctive—even distinctively American—analysis of the political present and of radical democratic possibilities. He was especially prescient in theorizing the heavy statism forging what we now call neoliberalism, and in revealing the novel fusions of economic with political power that he took to be poisoning democracy at its root.”
Wolin throughout his scholarship charted the devolution of American democracy and in his last book, “Democracy Incorporated,” details our peculiar form of corporate totalitarianism. “One cannot point to any national institution[s] that can accurately be described as democratic,” he writes in that book, “surely not in the highly managed, money-saturated elections, the lobby-infested Congress, the imperial presidency, the class-biased judicial and penal system, or, least of all, the media.”
Inverted totalitarianism is different from classical forms of totalitarianism. It does not find its expression in a demagogue or charismatic leader but in the faceless anonymity of the corporate state. Our inverted totalitarianism pays outward fealty to the facade of electoral politics, the Constitution, civil liberties, freedom of the press, the independence of the judiciary, and the iconography, traditions and language of American patriotism, but it has effectively seized all of the mechanisms of power to render the citizen impotent.
“Unlike the Nazis, who made life uncertain for the wealthy and privileged while providing social programs for the working class and poor, inverted totalitarianism exploits the poor, reducing or weakening health programs and social services, regimenting mass education for an insecure workforce threatened by the importation of low-wage workers,” Wolin writes. “Employment in a high-tech, volatile, and globalized economy is normally as precarious as during an old-fashioned depression. The result is that citizenship, or what remains of it, is practiced amidst a continuing state of worry. Hobbes had it right: when citizens are insecure and at the same time driven by competitive aspirations, they yearn for political stability rather than civic engagement, protection rather than political involvement.”
Inverted totalitarianism, Wolin said when we met at his home in Salem, Ore., in 2014 to film a nearly three-hour interview, constantly “projects power upwards.” It is “the antithesis of constitutional power.” It is designed to create instability to keep a citizenry off balance and passive.
He writes, “Downsizing, reorganization, bubbles bursting, unions busted, quickly outdated skills, and transfer of jobs abroad create not just fear but an economy of fear, a system of control whose power feeds on uncertainty, yet a system that, according to its analysts, is eminently rational.”
Inverted totalitarianism also “perpetuates politics all the time,” Wolin said when we spoke, “but a politics that is not political.” The endless and extravagant election cycles, he said, are an example of politics without politics.
“Instead of participating in power,” he writes, “the virtual citizen is invited to have ‘opinions’: measurable responses to questions predesigned to elicit them.”
Political campaigns rarely discuss substantive issues. They center on manufactured political personalities, empty rhetoric, sophisticated public relations, slick advertising, propaganda and the constant use of focus groups and opinion polls to loop back to voters what they want to hear. Money has effectively replaced the vote. Every current presidential candidate—including Bernie Sanders—understands, to use Wolin’s words, that “the subject of empire is taboo in electoral debates.” The citizen is irrelevant. He or she is nothing more than a spectator, allowed to vote and then forgotten once the carnival of elections ends and corporations and their lobbyists get back to the business of ruling.
“If the main purpose of elections is to serve up pliant legislators for lobbyists to shape, such a system deserves to be called ‘misrepresentative or clientry government,’ ” Wolin writes. “It is, at one and the same time, a powerful contributing factor to the depoliticization of the citizenry, as well as reason for characterizing the system as one of antidemocracy.”
The result, he writes, is that the public is “denied the use of state power.” Wolin deplores the trivialization of political discourse, a tactic used to leave the public fragmented, antagonistic and emotionally charged while leaving corporate power and empire unchallenged.
“Cultural wars might seem an indication of strong political involvements,” he writes. “Actually they are a substitute. The notoriety they receive from the media and from politicians eager to take firm stands on nonsubstantive issues serves to distract attention and contribute to a cant politics of the inconsequential.”
“The ruling groups can now operate on the assumption that they don’t need the traditional notion of something called a public in the broad sense of a coherent whole,” he said in our meeting. “They now have the tools to deal with the very disparities and differences that they have themselves helped to create. It’s a game in which you manage to undermine the cohesiveness that the public requires if they [the public] are to be politically effective. And at the same time, you create these different, distinct groups that inevitably find themselves in tension or at odds or in competition with other groups, so that it becomes more of a melee than it does become a way of fashioning majorities.”
Can we draw parallels between the political experience of Du Bois and our present time? The situation the Du Bois describes can easily be translated into a commentary of what is happening in 2016 – the message is clear – reputable people cannot abandon the political realm despite what the chattering classes say, as it each citizen’s duty to take part in the political process and attempt to make things better not only for themselves, but for the following generations.
Our democracy has been moving further and further away from the participatory citizen model that we like to claim we have. Interests that do not represent the common people strive to gerrymander our democracy to suit their narrow band of self-aggrandizing goals.
“Meantime, new thoughts came to the nation:the inevitable period of moral retrogression and political trickery that ever follows in the wake of war overtook us. So flagrant became the political scandals that reputable men began to leave politics alone, and politics consequently became disreputable. Men began to pride themselves on having nothing to do with their own government, and to agree tacitly with those who regarded public office as a private perquisite. In this state of mind it became easy to wink at the suppression of the Negro vote in the South, and to advise self-respecting Negroes to leave politics entirely alone. The decent and reputable citizens of the North who neglected their own civic duties grew hilarious over the exaggerated importance with which the Negro regarded the franchise.
Thus it easily happened that more and more the better class of Negroes followed the advice from abroad and the pressure from home, and took no further interest in politics, leaving to the careless and the venal of their race the exercise of their rights as voters. The black vote that still remained was not trained and educated, but further debauched by open and unblushing bribery, or force and fraud; until the Negro voter was thoroughly inoculated with the idea that politics was a method of private gain by disreputable means.
And finally, now, to-day, when we are awakening to the fact that the perpetuity of republican institutions on the continent depends on the purification of the ballot, the civic training of voters, and the raising of voting to the plane of solemn duty which a patriotic citizen neglects to his peril and to the peril of his children’s children, – in this day, when we are striving for a renaissance of civic virtue, what are we going to say to the black voter of the South? Are we gong to tell him still that politics is a disreputable and useless form of human activity? Are we going to induce the best class of Negroes to take less and less interest in government, and give up their right to take such an interest, without a protest? I am not saying a word against all legitimate efforts to purge the ballot of ignorance, pauperism, and crime. But few have pretended that the present movement for disfranchisement in the South is for such a purpose; it has been plainly and frankly declared in nearly every case that the object of the disfranchising laws is the elimination of the black man from politics.”
-W.E.B. Du Bois. The Souls of Black Folk p.105 – 106.