[*this is a follow up article to "Anti-Racism/Sexism & Individualism" where I liken postmodern politics to a modern form of divide and conquer.]
A bomb in Boston:
– Outcry! Terrorism! Bad!
– What terrorism? The US is the real terrorist!
– Why are they blaming brown people! That’s racist! Racism is bad!
A school shooting in America:
– Tragedy! Ban guns! Guns are bad!
– Arm the teachers; bad guys are bad!
– I hope it’s not a shooter of colour. [see: “Racism is bad.”]
Here’s the thing. I’m equal parts sympathetic, and confused and saddened, by this standard Western outcry.
I’m confused because of the gap between the reaction and the root causes. And I’m sympathetic because it’s a fully understandable reaction—if not for accidents of personal history I would most likely be of similar mind.
Looking at media (mainstream and social) after moments like these, it seems to me that we in the West live with a cough syrup political mentality.
Millions of people swear by cold medicines, good people, friends and family even. They feel a cold coming on and they pop the pills, or gulp down the syrups.
–they don’t work.
This is not esoteric knowledge. It’s high school science.
Colds are borne of viruses. There is no pill or syrup that kills a virus. You need an anti-virus/vaccine for that. And as all know, there is no cure for the common cold. These over the counter ‘medicines’ only stifle the symptoms, and by doing so effectively neutralize the body’s natural defenses. This results in a longer duration of illness.
I get it though. Colds suck. And any possible hope of getting rid of it is really attractive. And hope sells. Hope is has one hellava profit margin, in 2012 alone the cough and cold industry made $2.3 billion in the US.
Popular politics works in much the same way. As the syrups only combat cold symptoms, the popular politics of both the right and left do the same.
With the right (more guns, more crime legislation, etc) it’s clever. Because these surface level policies win or lose merely act as a smokescreen to the true intent: more profit.
With the left (gun control, the US is the real terrorist, don’t be racist, etc) it’s sad. Because whether you accept it or not, profit still wins.
The win-win is partially due to both the right and all the mainstream lefts accepting the general logic of individual choice. As I wrote in my last piece:
For too many individuals in the mainstream Western Left (it seems to me at least), their frustrations are vented towards how other individuals are not able to see what they see, how they are less enlightened than they are, and how others are blocking the path to ‘true freedom.’
This individualist mentality ensures victory for profit. It makes it so that there is no chance of making the systemic changes necessary to make a better world, or even at affecting policies within the current system. In reality, it’s a modern form of divide and conquer used so effectively throughout history.
It’s a simple matter of human psychology and math. A major political change that requires one conversion at a time is impossible. It simply creates pockets of resistance, each with their own ideologies, ideologies often hostile to others seen as less enlightened. It’s a self-organizing apartheid that pits progressives against each other. It’s modern divide and conquer. And it works. History attests to its veracity.
What we need today is to realize that our target should be the political virus itself. The omnipresent system that makes profit the primary goal of life. It is this system that results in both the increase of homegrown terror, and the exported variety.
After the tragedy of Newtown, I wrote a piece on how the global economic slowdown since the 70s created a new world. This was when our modern era was born. A world of mass migration, depressed salaries in the “developed world,” the outmigration of industry to the East, the migration of people to the West, and to spikes in mental health and mass killings. This is how I ended that piece:
It is not enough to feel sympathy, sympathy fades with each new report of a new mass killing, and as these events become normalized.
It is not enough to blame the symptoms, no matter how important it is to try to reduce their severity, the ailment is not remedied until we get to the root cause.
We have to face up to the fact that this issue is tied with so many others. That it is in the very DNA of our society itself.
It’s time we faced up to the truth. Our society is hurting us, and for some of us, that personal hurt is translating to a personal vendetta.
It is time the Left pull itself together. That we stop fighting individual fights against various symptoms of the same root cause: be it racism, sexism, gun control, or whatever other single issue.
It is time that we join all these struggles together as they spring from the same source: Capitalism itself.
Easier said than done. The reality is that it’s comforting to take cough syrup. It’s easy to believe that it works. Especially when dealing with the reality, that there is yet no cure.
But in capitalism as in colds, our reliance on what makes us feel better is in reality making us worse. And the more we use it, the more we are addicted to it, and the less able we are able to see through the ruse.
We loose, but profit is made.
So the big question is: How do we break free?
One usual refrain is “more education.” Sad to say, I’ve told people about how colds work, I’ve shown them the science, the studies, etc. Some of them I’ve told even work in the medical field and they tell me they know what I’m saying full well.
And yet most all of them still pop’em pills when even a hint of a cold sets in.
That’s the kicker ain’t it? It doesn’t really matter what we know, it doesn’t matter what we believe. The vast majority in the West know about the harm capitalism is doing. What matters, is what we do, how we act. NOT whether we believe in it or not. And most of us chose to act in ways that ensure it continues on.
Capitalist ideology… consists precisely in the overvaluing of belief – in the sense of inner subjective attitude – at the expense of the beliefs we exhibit and externalize in our behavior. So long as we believe (in our hearts) that capitalism is bad, we are free to continue to participate in capitalist exchange. [Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism]
In the West (and quickly being exported worldwide) we are a society of individuals. So I do realize that while I call for a collective spirit, we do still need individuals to make the hard choice to act for the commons.
This is where I again am sympathetic to the status quo, it would be intellectual arrogance to expect people to join up en masse. There will be a few here, a few there.
In this smattering of oddballs and misfits there will be differences in opinion and even dislike. But unity is necessary if there is to be success. A united front needs to be built—one built on either strategic or tactical grounds. And in neither case does it mean that we need to fully agree on all points—history shows us again and again that the right tactical alliances have often turned the tide. (This is yet another reason why postmodernists, and ultra-leftists, will never be a threat to the status quo, they can only ever ally with themselves.)
Our political illness grows more and more unbearable. We are at a crossroads. We live in interesting times.
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