In An Even Marginally Healthy Society

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

More than some years ago I was speaking with my two nephews and my sister-in-law. The subject of feminism arose and I mentioned that I was a radical feminist. My sister-in-law seemed surprised. She distinguished between her own emphatic feminism and radical feminism which she viewed as constituted by gender reductionism at once exclusionary and dogmatic. I replied that any dogmatic, reductionist, and exclusionary position relative to anything was not a radical position. Radical feminism in my view could only obtain in the advocacy of an encompassing and—just as she said—emphatic equality, equity, and justice, thereby, countering exclusivist and fragmentary versions which were still porous to domination. Radical feminism ought not be abandoned to the exclusionists and the dogmatic. Radical liberation could only be constituted as liberation amongst each and all, not just across gender, sex, and identity but also across all aspects of distinction and difference. Furthermore, radical feminism had to be a constituent part of any aspiration for and advocacy of an emphatically egalitarian, equitable, and just social order tout court. Radical feminism’s liberation is interconnected to all other liberations not just in socio-cultural terms but in socio-political, socio-economic, and socio-existential terms as well. I also enumerated the ways this liberation and its egalitarian forms and aspects, despite the advances of the past several decades, had not yet been realized, and I spoke about how a just social order ought to look in the various aforementioned realms. My thirteen-year-old nephew looked up and exclaimed: “But that is so reasonable!”

He understood perfectly! All forms of encompassing, emphatic, and egalitarian justice certainly are the most reasonable things of all. And, as such, they always have within themselves the possibility of being understood and lived by people in just this way. Yet, there are so many deeply sedimented socio-historical, socio-economic, and socio-existential structures that keep some people from the exclamation of my nephew that day. A realized egalitarian and equitable social formation that has maximized justice and goodness to the fullest extent possible by our very imperfect species that will always be entwined with social antagonisms, would truly be the most reasonable social formation of all—civilizationally, historically, and anthropologically.

I have, subsequent to the moment when my nephew made his exclamation, taken pleasure in narrating this episode because there was something special in what he said and how he said it and it immediately linked his statement with another extremely resonant statement, the one in which Kwame Ture in his book, Ready For Revolution: The Life And Struggles Of Stokely Carmichael, described the Freedom Rides of l961 (at 19 years of age Ture—Stokely Carmichael at the time—was the youngest of the Freedom Riders): “The plan, however, was simplicity itself. In any sane, even half-civilized society it would have been completely innocuous, hardly worth a second thought or meriting any comment at all. CORE would be sending an integrated team–black and white together–from the nation’s capital to New Orleans on public transportation. That’s all. Except, of course, that they would sit randomly on the buses in integrated pairs and in the stations they would use waiting room facilities casually, ignoring the white/colored signs. What could be less harmlessin any even marginally healthy society?”

To how many reforms and ameliorative transformations in relation to the brutal and sociopathic injustices and ravaging and massive inequalities and inequities of contemporary U.S. society could we apply the beautiful idea and expression of my nephew and of Kwame Ture? Doubtless, to all immediately needed reforms and ameliorative transformations, and of which I will list several of the most vital ones: 1) free (which is to say made possible by the equitably amassed collective wealth of our society) and fully universal access and provision (including all undocumented persons) of health care in all its facets (dental health, mental health, alternative therapies, etc.) 2) free public transportation and public education (through graduate schools) 3) free child care and care for the elderly 4) the provision of a fully livable and viable livelihood for all including housing; etc. etc.

However, the necessity of the provision of a fully livable and viable livelihood (which is a much more comprehensive way of approaching the question of a “basic minimum wage”, the latter notion still legitimizing to a certain degree unjust capitalist socio-economic forms and processes) must go hand and hand with the setting of maximum levels of livelihood and accumulated wealth. Let us not forget that in 1942 Roosevelt sought to cap yearly income at $25,000 a year ($400,000 in 2019 terms). His reasoning: if millions of people will be going abroad to risk their lives in the war for less than meager “wages”, then those on the home front ought not to accumulate excessively. Alas, but unsurprisingly congress refused. But the Roosevelt administration did establish a marginal tax rate of 88% on incomes of $200,000 or more which climbed to 94% in 1944 and then stabilized at 91% through the Eisenhower years and then began plummeting all the way to the present. Corporate tax rates also were lowered and are today considerably less than in the 1950s.

Even in the present context, this Democratic administration like those before it will not for a moment implement increased taxes on the top brackets despite vast majorities of the public supporting such a policy. Nor will they raise rates on the top 1% and .01%. They will leave the entire apparatus of theft, looting, marauding, and on-shore and off-shore hoarding upwards in place. But if a reasonable and just social order is to be, then maximum and minimal thresholds must be established. What is it that we want? Precisely that, e.g. “Expropriate the expropriators”.

Yet, if in setting limits and thresholds, minimum and maximum, a range of livelihoods is to be maintained vis-a-vis justice and equity in terms of who does what and where, then it is crucial that those doing the most vital, important, and in almost all cases, the most dangerous and unpleasant activity and labor should be in the higher levels of livelihood, e.g. those in the production and harvesting of food; those in sanitation and janitorial work in all their facets; those in the production, distribution, and transportation of the essential products and implements necessary for life and without which life and society would come to a full stop; those in health care; those caring for the elderly and for the disabled; those caring for children; those in the maintenance of technological and material infrastructures; those in K-12 education, e.g. teachers, etc.

Furthermore, those lucky enough to be participating in the most pleasurable and the most sought after vocations, e.g. athletes, entertainers, broadcasters, corporate and institutional heads, tenured professors at research universities, etc. etc. etc. should be at lower, but absolutely sufficient and satisfactory levels of livelihood. But, of course, the range of livelihoods should be relatively egalitarian and equitable. Any society with multi-billionaires, billionaires, half-billionaires, quarter, eighth, sixteenth, thirty-second billionaires, etc. is a massively unjust society, indeed, is by this very fact alone a sociopathic and profoundly pathological, indeed, criminal society. No one needs this kind of hypertrophic wealth in order to lead a very happy, satisfying, and financially worry-free life. No one. Never.

Even with a partial social-democratic State, and, thereby, still capitalist politico-economic order no one needs a yearly livelihood above $309,000 a year (the present threshold rate for the top 5% incomes in the U.S.). Of course, I bracket here the problem that in the present state of our capitalist modernity and its increasing stasis, immobility, and stagnation, it may no longer be the case that a capitalist political economy carrying social democratic features, social democracy in a minimal, medium, or maximal form is still possible. At this historical juncture (and it has always been the necessary and most desirable project) only a full transformation and going beyond the capital form, structure, and reproductive metabolism can enable a making-be of a just and equitable life and living, which is to say a socio-economic form and order based fully on the structures and processes of the Commons, of the livelihoods and living of all linked, congruent, and just.

Nonetheless, this massive question aside, it can still be said that in a wealthy country such as the U.S. it would clearly and certainly be possible—and the very best thing—at this moment (or at any moment) to establish a minimum yearly livelihood at $158,000 (the present threshold rate for the top 10% in the country). The threshold rate for the top 1% is $738,000 and for the top .01% it is $2,808,104. And with a social-democratic, politico-economic order containing the aforementioned frameworks and mechanisms vis-a-vis health care, social care, education, transportation, housing, etc. etc. the maximum and minimum thresholds just posited could be lowered. Moreover, in such a social order (in any social order!) would anyone need to have a net worth of even $2,808,104? No they would not. But certainly, a social order that set a maximum net worth at 5 million (so as to keep the hysterical howling at bay that the entirely reasonable $2,808,104 cap might elicit) would enable our population to live in a social order justly founded and justly functioning and would again underline the hypertrophic depredation, accumulation, hoarding—and viciously unearned privilege—of those presently with more than these amounts.

Sixty years after the resounding courage of the SNCC activists and of the Freedom Riders and almost eighty years since the Freedom Rides of the 1940s, the very least we can do while celebrating these past moments and those who made them possible—and now celebrating the immense and beautiful courage, steadfastness, and goodness of those who populated and propelled the George Floyd/Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. and globally during the summer of 2020—is to enunciate the lucidity of this ever present idea: all radical forms of encompassing egalitarianism and equitability are the most reasonable, just, rewarding, and healthy ways for a population to organize its socio-economic, socio-political, socio-metabolic, and socio-reproductive life.

Furthermore, the present pandemic and the George Floyd/Black Lives Matter movement have made this reasonableness vastly more vivid and obvious and have borne out what the anti-capitalist Left has always said about the injustice, violence, marauding, depravity, sociopathy, and destruction of our capitalist, racialist, oligarchic, and imperial societies and social orders. Like no other moment since WWII our present pandemic and Black Lives Matter moment is epochal. This moment constitutes a civilizational and anthropological turn and shift and, thereby, a crossroads—and exponentially all the more, given the accelerating climate catastrophe which is not something that is on its way but rather something that has definitively arrived, in fact has been here for quite some time.

However, we cannot merely speak about what has been revealed or borne out nor can we merely enunciate a set of ameliorations, reforms, and social transformations. We must already be in the process, in the realms of sustained and re-energized mass movements and national and global organizational structures in order to give form to a mass politics of developed plans and proposals capable of nullifying what established power centers—governmental, corporate, media, and global, etc.—, presently do and, thereby, transforming and repositioning what States and just and equitable democratic processes and structures can be and must do. All this would be the essential way of effectuating the kinds of ameliorations and structural transformations that are desperately needed. And these mass movements of the anti-capitalist Left, of the anarcho-communist and Commons-based Left, must say—explicitly—this is what we want, this is how a just social order is to be organized, this is how the totality of societal production and reproduction should, henceforth, be configured and organized. These qualitative reforms and qualitative transformations are the prerequisites for a new configuration upon which the majorities of the population insist and upon which and by which any delegated representatives must act and enact.

Hitherto, the Democratic Party has always cleaved, cleaves presently, to the profoundly mistaken notion, indeed, the profoundly mistaken epistemological and ontological petrification, that the electorate is a permanently fixed entity of segments each with their immutable characteristics, i.e. swing voters, suburban voters, moderate Republicans, etc. segments to which the party must “appeal”. This, naturally, harbors completely mistaken notions about politics, sociology, socio-history, social-psychology, etc. because the electorate is ever-changing depending on immediate and mediated circumstances at once historical, socio-historical, and socio-cultural. Setting aside for the moment foundational questions related to the production and manufacture of opinion, consent, dissent, etc., a quick proof of this can be obtained by looking at polling data and especially at informed polling data. In a wide range of issues vis-a-vis health care, the environment, politics, education, and economics too the results always show and have long shown that majorities of the population favor policies well to the left of the Democratic Party establishment.

On the other had, the Republican Party, already a nascent fascist, confederate, and obscurantist party with Goldwater and Nixon and a fully fascist, confederate, and obscurantist party with Reagan, while harboring innumerable delusional notions does instinctively understand that the electorate is malleable and something to be fashioned and formed. It does not seek to “appeal”, rather it seeks to make over the electorate in its own image, if, of course, on authoritarian, xenophobic, racist, and obscurantist bases. This is, it is crucial to add, made much easier not even so much by the mainstream authoritarian/obscurantist media of Fox News, etc., although this plays a massively pernicious role, but also and above all by the totalizing exclusion the mainstream established media—the restricted media—, e.g. CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, etc, etc. etc.—place upon all ideas, notions, positions, platforms, etc. etc. to the left of the mildest center-left, and even the center-left is put under censure and distortion as evidenced by the vilification, animosity, and falsifying expositions Sanders and his campaign faced from all the aforementioned venues.

All the more then, the anti-capitalist Left, the Left proper, is not only radically excluded but is the object of the mainstream, establishment media’s greatest venom and hate, given that the Left proper is precisely what elementally and eternally gives rise to the primary socio-psychological and socio-existential mechanism, motivation, and ratio of the mainstream establishment at once political and media, e.g. the searing bad conscience, guilty conscience, inferiority and inadequacy complexes, and ressintiment of all centrisms, right or left, indeed, of the entire liberal political nexus and matrix vis-a-vis the Left. And this, of course, produces the profound infantalism of the establishment-mainstream-restricted media and increases all the more the accelerating political morass and decomposition of governmental structures and action and of the reigning duopoly’s carnage. The same structure of ressentiment, inferiority, and inadequacy obtains for the entire right-wing nexus and matrix as well, although here any position on the political spectrum to the left of the Right, e.g. all forms of centrism, liberalism, etc., are delusionally considered “the Left”. And within the Right the bad conscience and guilty conscience are repressed to a much greater and more complex degree and destruction.

Following upon all this, the Democratic Party establishment does not understand that the transformation of publics and populations is precisely what politics is as opposed to a subservience to sociological and epistemological mystifications upon which the Democratic Party bases all its action, it being understood, that both parties willingly and above all adhere to their corporate masters’ imperatives.

The present Democratic administration might just pass a bill containing helpful elements for the population, if, however, weighted much more to the side of New Deal minimalisms as opposed to more genuine, but still far from minimally necessary, social-democratic ameliorations, e.g. crumbs but nonetheless important ones. Yet, with the bill’s obscene lifting of caps on state and local tax deductions the top 5% of the population vis-a-vis livelihood and wealth get what even mainstream venues call a “windfall”. Of course, this in keeping with the always primary modus operandi of every Democratic administration, e.g. that the wealthy will get more than anyone else. No pleasant surprises.

Conversely, a free, fully universal single-payer health care system no less a minimalist expansion of Medicare is never something the present administration would allow unless there were sustained demonstrations of millions in the streets. And it has not. Nor will it cancel student debt or any other debts, in the U.S. or elsewhere. Nor will it cease from sustaining the previous administrations (plural intended) criminal and sadistic policies on immigrants, refugees, “the border”, etc. etc. (Note: Despite the utter awfulness of the Democratic Party and its elected officialdom, it is always “better” to have the Democratic Party in power rather than the Republicans. It is preferable to deal with a terrible rainstorm rather than with a hurricane. All arguments about this that arise every election cycle are vain wastes of time until such time as the entire politico-constitutional apparatus can be transformed, freeing it and us from the duopolistic despotism and dictatorship that sustain it. (I spoke about this a decade ago.)

As for the present administration and health care: a universal single-payer health care system was even in the period before WWI something that was already being discussed in mainstream governmental and policy-making bodies. It was already an objective historical possibility. Subsequently, it was put forth in 1933 by Frances Perkins to Franklin Roosevelt in her stated prerequisites for joining his administration as Secretary as Labor, e.g. she wanted to make actual a minimum wage, maximum work hours, worker and unemployment compensation, a public employment service, public works, a child labor ban, and old-age pensions. But vicious opposition, above all from the American Medical Association, which threatened the 1935 Social Security Act as well, led to the nullification of Perkins’ health care program, the one program she failed to implement during her time in the administration.

With the subsequent congressional refusal of Truman’s introduction after the war of a national health insurance bill such policy became an automatic impossibility down to this day. I should add that simultaneous to the congressional refusal of Truman universal health care initiative was the congressional override of Truman’s veto of the Taft-Hartley anti-union bill. And while the capitalist/neo-liberal assault on the post-war rapprochement of Capital and Labor (a rapprochement to the vast advantage of Capital owing among other things to Taft-Hartley) is generally seen as beginning in the early 1970s, nonetheless it seeds were already well planted in the immediate post-WWII years.

The automatic impossibility of a national health care system was continued with the Clinton administration’s vivid insincerity and ineptness. In 2009 when the DNC held executive power and majorities in congress a single-payer system was immediately put completely out of play, consistent with the permanent derision of such a program by all venues of establishment power and media. Obama in pushing his corporate bill labeled a single-payer program the policy of the “extremist left”, when in fact informed polling showed it to be a majoritarian preference amongst the population.

Obama it should be said, despite being an entirely mediocre figure, did ride to executive power upon an electoral tide of immense and joyous expectation and enthusiasm, not just within the African-American population and Africana populations globally, but within significant sectors of all populations both in the U.S. and elsewhere. There are times in the history of our species when someone mediocre is for all sorts of contingent reasons lifted up into a position of the historical and political moment. And at times such a person has been able to rise to the occasion. Obama certainly found himself in such a position and instantly and ever after ran from it as fast as he could. In this he scorned the beautiful and joyous expectations aroused in tens and tens of millions by virtue of the globally resonating historico-civilizational symbolism of his election.

But this was not surprising at all. Already in the early pages of his Audacity of Hope he presented in his typical condescending and superior air received, banal, arch neo-liberal, and triangulationist criticisms of the Democratic Party, of Labor Unions, and above all of any and all socially-democratic-tinged ideas and policies. And he did this as if his ready-made criticisms were the advance guard of wisdom, political intelligence, and incisive freshness rather than the empty, automatic, and stale reflexes of the DNC, the DLC, and center-right petrifications that they were, are, and will always remain.

In this vein, mutatis mutandis, the present regime’s actions could ever have only consisted and do consist in 1) basking in a slight majority of the population’s relief that the Trump/McConnel regime has been pushed, for the moment, to the side and 2) restoring the very wretched status quo ante that produced the previous regime as well as all the damage and misery of the present. And this standard practice of the Democratic Party’s political, ethical, and historical abdication will be carried out all along the line. Certainly, this will be in keeping with a political party that is and has been since the 1910s the party of the establishment, the “rational” and “responsible” guardian and advocate of Capital and Empire as opposed to the Republican party’s irrational and savage guardianship of Capital and Empire on the one hand and virulent and obscurantist opposition to civilizational modernity in all its permutations weak and strong.

What has been ignored in this context is that the Republican Party, as mentioned earlier, has since Goldwater been an insurgent party and not an establishment party and this at an ever more accelerating pace since Reagan, and ever after increased by the cumulative sum of the Republican Party and the political Right’s production—its sole raison d’etre—of 1) misery and suffering and 2) the destruction of the entire socio-economic fabric of life and living.

All the discussions of fascism and authoritarianism that have arisen since Trump’s accession to executive power misunderstand that the Republican Party has long been an enterprise trying to establish—again by parliamentary and judicial and by extra-parliamentary and extra-judicial means—an authoritarian, nationalist, xenophobic, and racist permanent and absolute place in power, averse to any and all will-to-truth, will-to-justice, will-to-reason, etc. while being committed to intense forms of the will-to-power, the will-to-manipulation, the will-to-total domination, etc. The party has not so much “become Trump’s” as the establishment/restricted media now postulate, rather Trump was merely one possible manifestation of the party’s long-standing insurgent, sociopathic, and obscurantist essence.

The only way that anything approaching reasonable, necessary, and just measures will be implemented is if the beautiful heroism of the George Floyd/BLM rising of the summer of 2020 can reemerge in a size greatly outpacing its previous size, creating in this way a structural and sustained political force insisting not just upon the overturning of white supremacist and racist forms of institutions and functions but also and vitally pushing forward both structural ameliorations and structural transformations vis-a-vis all aspects of our socio-economic and socio-political order and apparatus and vis a vis the entirely crippling politico-constitutionalist structures and systems obtaining in the peculiarities of U.S. history. Above all such a rising and movement, such organizational and enduring political movements must target and reconstitute the productive and reproductive bases and social relations of our present socio-economic and socio-political order and life.

In the most desirable of cases, such a rising should have begun on November 6 of 2021, seeking, thereby, to prevent the Democratic regime from enacting an inevitable replay of 1976, of 1993, and of 2009, although in a much-changed and far more dangerous and volatile time and situation, given the much greater velocities and viciousness of the Right’s insurgency within and without the structures of power. However, given the multiplicity of crises/catastrophes that have arisen in the past two years, e.g. epidemiological, economic, climatological, etc. the status quo to which we are being in part returned will be at a much more advanced state of devastation and disaster. And this has become obvious to immense portions of the global population. The status quo to which the DNC clings is one of the elements accelerating the Right’s insurgency both parliamentary and extra-parliamentary and accelerating the immensely more unforgiving and unstoppable tides of the climate catastrophe tout court. Doubtless, our species qua species has stood on the precipice before, though not in the last 10,000 to possibly even 50,000 years.