Inhale Reality, Exhale the Truth

by VIJAY PRASHAD

Scattered are the lunatics, like rats, scurrying across the floor in panic when the lights are turned on.

For forty years they have assumed that the cultural world of the United States is to their advantage. Hatred of the outsider and of women distinguished their social view. Theirs is the rhetoric of freedom and liberty papering over, lightly, a politics of suffocation. The main word was No: no to this, not to that, no to a woman’s right to dignity, no to the unfurling of the full personality of the outsider; no to the social wage: public transport, public schools, public health care, public welfare, and of course no to getting high. This election revealed that beneath the votes for this or that political party lies a social landscape that seeks real freedom: the votes for gay marriage and for medical (and recreational) marijuana tell us that the days of the Preachers’ aura in the polling booth are soon to be over.

The lunatics are in disarray.

To quote, of all people, Alec Baldwin, it is a bad thing for a political party when you ask, “did the rape guy lose?” and the answer is “which one?”

Buntings of blue have emerged in the southern districts of Texas, leaking into the bastion of Republicanism. By 2034, the US will be a majority minority country. The lunatics are unprepared for this transformation. They are addicted to racism and misogyny. There is no twelve-step program for their recovery. They are too far gone, undone by their habits of fear, hatred and arrogance – the fraternity running the campus. Society as Animal House.

* * *

What of the “winners”? Certainly they are not social cretins. They do not flinch when talking of sex and women, or of race and the outsider; they do not look at every woman and assume that she is a vessel for their contentment or at every outsider and think that they are either to be deported or jailed. That is their temperamental advantage.

They win by default, by the habits of a two-party system. It used to be said that the Democrats are the “lesser evil.” If the political world can be seen as a kaleidoscope with three bits of glass inside, one of those bits that reflects in the mirror confirms the Democrat’s progressive advantage: that is the glass that says on it, Women and Outsiders. But the two other pieces of glass, on Finance and War, are interchangeable between the two parties. There is no “lesser evil” here, only, as the Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford put it, the more “effective evil.” Because the party of Lunacy makes gestures that turn off the majority of the country, it is harder for them to actually disembowel the entitlement programs, to drain the tank of Social Security and Medicare, to break the back of union power. If the Democrats do it, liberalism sniffs and moans, but then acknowledges that this is perhaps inevitable, that the times require responsibility. The shadow of Bill Clinton’s evisceration of liberalism hangs heavy on the Obama presidency: Grand Bargains, balanced budget amendments, deep cuts to the tune of $2.50 for every dollar in spending. This is the economics of Finance, and says nothing of the global jobs crisis. Any recovery that comes in will not improve the jobs situation. The parties of Wall Street, both of them, say nothing to the millions of disposable people who will never be able to find meaningful employment in this dispensation. A society dominated by Finance Capital suffers from acute joblessness. Money is made through mathematical manipulation, not through trade in goods and services between real, living people – all of whom have irritating things like desires and wants, encumbrances to the world of Finance.

No cuts to the military; no let up on war. A few hours after the election, drones struck in Yemen, near Sanaa, killing at least three. A finger in the eye of the United Nations, whose bureaucrats have slowly begun another investigation into drone attacks. The habits of belligerence are so ingrained that at the third presidential debate neither candidate inhaled Reality and exhaled the Truth. Obama said that Romney was speaking as if in the 1980s, with Russia as the main threat. The fact is that both seemed stuck in that fateful decade, shrouded by the fog of American Supremacy. More ships, with bayonets or not, more troops, more bombings. Even when they say more diplomacy, what they mean is the strangulation of countries, embargoes of Cuba and Iran, harsh economic warfare that does not build the confidence between nations. China and Iran are set to change their leaders, but neither candidate reached out to the new governments, eager for a new relationship. Theirs was the framework of pro-Israel, anti-Iran, pro-machismo, anti-negotiation, pro-1980s, anti-21st century.

* * *

So where does this leave us? Some confidence in the fact that the social landscape favors the politics of the Future. Great tasks manifest ahead to move that landscape away from the Parties of War and Wall Street. Base building organizations across the country, some housed in places like encuentro 5, are alive to the possibility of more systematic assertion in the political domain. What fails us consistently is a widened historical imagination. We fear the lunatics and run for shelter – inconsistent with our own self-awareness that their roof is rickety. The tasks of an expanded political imagination are already available –  (a), the Little Things: passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would build up the enclaves of organized labor, an increase in the minimum wage, an allowance for bankruptcy judges to write down mortgage debt, so an end to the foreclosure epidemic; (b) the Big Things: revitalization of the public sphere, an increase in public goods (transport, schools, housing) not only for their usefulness but because these would allow a serialized, privatized population to get a sniff of social solidarity, to give us a cultural preview of a socialist, communitarian world. If we relied upon each other and saw each other more, we’d build trust in our capacity to shape this world. That was the lesson of Occupy: and it endures.

But not this, not social democracy, nor that, planetary humility. The IMF forecasts that by 2016 China will be the world’s most powerful economy. That date is within reach. But the US political class has denied its importance to the population. When Empires collapse they prefer to go to war rather than to allow a peaceful transition. World War 2 heralded the collapse of the British Raj just as the Napoleonic wars led to the usurpation of Holland’s preeminent position. Empires stubbornly try to hold on, unwilling to read the tea-leaves. The finance capitalists are the canaries, hastening from the old center of empire to the new – fleeing Amsterdam for London in the 18th century, and then London for New York in the last one, and now from New York draining investment capital into the Pacific Rim and other emergent centers. In the 1920s, the old war dog Winston Churchill bemoaned, “I would rather see Finance less proud and Industry more content.” Too late. Money had already fled, and the deindustrialization of Britain left Manchester and Sheffield as heritage towns and not the powerhouses that they once were. The anatomy of old imperial decline contains the anatomy of the decline of the American Empire and of the American Dream. Detroit (Michigan), Gary (Indiana), Solvay (New York) – shadows of what they once were, ghosts of industrial might.

Belligerent talk backed up by the menace of aerial bombardment threatens a planet that does not seem to have the appetite for another superpower. The Chinese are content with multi-polarity, since their entire foreign policy seems driven by the Treaty of Westphalia – you do your thing, we’ll do ours. This is a historical opening for the planet, with regionalism allowing for the emergence of new kinds of solution, whether in Latin America (with their own trading agreements and political platforms) or in South-West Asia (with India-Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan creating a new Southern Silk Road). The Southern Silk Road is an important development in the creation of regionalism, linking South Asia to Central Asia, and West Asia to China. No longer will these regions need to go through the US and European-dominated routes to conduct their trade. The hub (US-Europe) and spokes (the rest) approach to world affairs is being rendered anachronistic by these developments. As a result of the growth of regionalism, US primacy and its unipolar approach is being set aside. The deepening links with Iran are a testament to the lack of US domination in the region, and of its political failure to isolate Iran. Americanism is a false utopia; regionalism is today’s reality.

* * *

Capitalism’s general tendency is toward dehumanization: to let loose the Four Horsemen of the Modern Apocalypse – Poverty, War, Social Despair and Climate Change. It is clear that this system is not capable of a humane future. It will drift inexorably to fascism from above (to encage disposable people in prisons and highly policed ghettoes) and to fascism from below (with the increase of socially dangerous political tendencies, whose imprints will be racist, misogynist, xenophobic). The Rich, and their political minions, will fail the world. It is our task to save it.

Vijay Prashad is the author of Arab Spring, Libyan Winter (AK) and Uncle Swami (New Press).

Talk at the Old South Church, Boston, November 8 on the theme “The Elections, the Unpeoples: A Conversation with Noam Chomsky, Vijay Prashad and Sam Christiansen,” a fundraiser for Encuentro 5.

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