Friday, March 19, 2010

collapse inevitable, engage anyway

Chris Hedges's new Adbusters essay, "Zero Point of Systemic Collapse," is a must-read, and not just because it supports my ongoing suspicion that capitalism, like feudalism, won't last forever.  Certainly the best article I have seen in a long time, and I agree with so much of it that it's unseemly to take issue with it.  I especially agree with this:
...the exclusive preoccupation with personal concerns and indifference to the suffering of others beyond the self-identified group is what ultimately made fascism and the Holocaust possible: “The inability to identify with others was unquestionably the most important psychological condition for the fact that something like Auschwitz could have occurred in the midst of more or less civilized and innocent people.” The indifference to the plight of others and the supreme elevation of the self is what the corporate state seeks to instill in us. It uses fear, as well as hedonism, to thwart human compassion.
We will have to continue to battle the mechanisms of the dominant culture, if for no other reason than to preserve through small, even tiny acts, our common humanity.
The problem is that Hedges also says this, which I agreed with at one time, but that seems terribly dichotomous and oversimplistic now:
All resistance must recognize that the body politic and global capitalism are dead. We should stop wasting energy trying to reform or appeal to it. This does not mean the end of resistance, but it does mean very different forms of resistance. It means turning our energies toward building sustainable communities to weather the coming crisis, since we will be unable to survive and resist without a cooperative effort.
Everything there is true except the quick, almost unthinking dismissal of "reform."  I don't think it means the same things to the same people, but after riding the "reject reformism" train for ten years or so, it starts to seem as oversimplified as the "embrace reformism" streetcar.  Engaging institutions, even dying ones (perhaps especially dying ones), is unavoidable for virtually everyone in society.  Our material positions put us there.  I have to demand that the state assist me in providing medical care to my children, and the idea that fighting for single payer health care (however futile that may seem in the United States) is a distraction is silly and condescending.  On the other hand, we have to understand how the system is collapsing (Hedges's essay does an excellent job at this) to understand both the limits of reformism and the necessity to engage it precisely because it is crossing various economic and historical thresholds.  If the system will inevitably "collapse," any new arrangements will be based partly on old arrangements.  Stakes claimed, battles fought and won, fifteen minutes before the collapse, will constitute the building blocks of new projects.  That's not "pro-reformism."  It's dialectical, historical reasoning.

An interesting read, too, in the context of the fallout over the abandonment of "progressive" health care reform, particularly the jettisoning of a public insurance option that enjoys between 60 and 80 percent public support.  Having listened to Democrats who actually favor the current legislation, to Democrats and other progressives who say it's better than nothing, to socialists who say it will make things worse (an empirical question I'm not discounting), I agree with everyone.  It isn't enough.  It's a start.  It's a distraction.  It's a payoff.  It will help some people.  It will inspire some people.  It will make some people complacent.  It's a step forward and a step backward.  More importantly, I want to see what lessons we're capable of drawing from all of this, particularly in the context of the system decay described by Hedges. 
And in other news, the "American people" are not against health insurance reform.  They aren't. In fact, the more conservatives are against it, the more the other 75% of the public is for it.  Tell your friends and neighbors.  Especially the conservatives.

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