Around town I saw this bumper sticker on a hulking SUV: “Bring Back Capitalism.” Next to it was another bumper sticker: “Pro-life.” And a third: “Go Cal.” I know a lot of self-proclaimed “socialists” in Berkeley who, from the vantage of the not-very-perceptive owner of this energy sink, should be dancing in the streets And yet most of them see themselves falling into a ring of fire, going “down, down, down, and the flames go higher,” as Johnny Cash wrote.
Not surprisingly, most people don’t call unemployment and the decimation of public service functions of government “Socialism.” Though these contradictory perceptions of the world may seem absurd to us, those bumper stickers represent such a deep socio-economic and political schism as to predict a coming huge civil conflict—perhaps like our Civil War—fueled and financed by major sectors of Capitalism. Goldman-Sachs may like Obama, but it has just as much to gain by fueling this conflict as Rupert Murdock, for its apparatus, like the health insurance industry, serves no useful social function except to steal from the rest to enhance the rich.
There are an unlimited number of well paid intellectual prostitutes in the United States who have used historical fact and fiction to conjure the idea that Right and Left ideologies are essentially similar—if not exactly identical; that both lead to little more than irrationality, excesses and brutality. Most commonly we are treated to statistics of how many people Hitler, Stalin and Mao wiped from the face of the map, all in one breath. The equation works to make a point, but what that point is often escapes revelation—you should be cynical, passive and not believe that a better, more egalitarian world, is possible. The result, as my 40-year-old-physician niece has often told me is, “but I’m not political.” Politics assumes the status of something so alien, other and criminally filthy that staying a world away seems rational. Unfortunately, this places the actor a world apart from reality and the necessities and vicissitudes of human discourse and behavior. Only the nasty people who like the thrill of power, and true believers, participate.
As they say, figures don’t lie, but liars know how to figure. Those liars, most with advanced degrees from prestigious universities, have figured out the art of social manipulation very well, and they have had the resources to “actualize” their best (if socially destructive) practices throughout the world—selling things, selling ideas, selling souls. You see, those who will do anyone’s bidding for a price, or for glory, for posterity, do not see themselves as warriors, nor do they claim that their role is to empower the anti-democratic tendencies that give birth to fascist ideas and behaviors. They just operate in the world of “realpolitik” and PR and marketing, and they do not ever pull triggers or fire missiles from drones. That’s for worker bees.
The rather obvious and fundamental differences between ideas that come from what we call the “Left” and the “Right” is that the former tend to believe in the human capacity to create rational societies that treat all people equally, societies in which public functions exist and are enhanced to enable human capacity, validate human worth and creativity, and serve social needs. Right ideology tends to be founded upon principles of Social Darwinism—humans are fundamentally atavistic and individuals survive because of their individual resonance with nature in their drive for dominance and control. This isn’t seen as negative, but as the very font of creativity, which can be used as the engine of society if left largely unfettered. The fruits will trickle down. In point of fact, Rousseau—revolutionary thinker though he was—seemed to believe in both of these views of human nature and culture simultaneously. In Emile he argued against contamination of human nature by social forces, but I don’t think he believed that humans were inherently bent upon dominance. And he certainly didn’t approve of the dominance that class society had foisted upon the rest.
Be that as it may, the way that people see the world determines what they will do, how they will act. And those who see a moribund self-destructive Capitalist system trying to prop itself up at the expense of our very humanity are likely to behave quite differently from those who see a left- wing conspiracy and and an “African” in the White House as the cause of the catastrophes we were left with after the last 8 years (or perhaps the last 28 years) of U.S. declination.
The Center (be that conception liberal or conservative or neither) cannot hold under current conditions in the world. Within Capitalism, simple pragmatic solutions to problems cannot be had to reverse the expanding catastrophes that are bittering our discourse and our lives. I would not even predict if we might solve these immense problems effectively should we rapidly overcome Capitalist domination, but it would be a starting point. From Katrina to Palestine to Iraq and Afghanistan nothing is being pulled back, reversed or solved, while real unemployment in the United States is currently at 16 percent and will move inexorably higher. The global warming crisis—and the ecologic crisis in general—cannot be addressed by societies within a system so rift by internal contradictions that the Right (defenders of the golden age of Capitalism) would like to kill off all change agents or defenders of equal rights for all. If we wait like good Germans (claiming we’re not the political type and we hate that genre) or even believe that there is some hope if we do our duty to vote and send our e-mails, we will walk ourselves into an end game.
The poet wrote: “this is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.” Who knows? Right or wrong, before that, expect never-ending war, famine, disease, as if the determinists and apocalyptics are right. As if there really is no such thing as human free will, except in the most grotesque understanding of that term, as in Dr. Strangelove.
The hulking SUV in Berkeley is an energy sink on wheels and a simulacrum. Made of steel, drinking oil, it steals not only the natural resources of our earth, but, like Hal in 2001: A Space Oddysey, it dominates its owner. How does one rebel against such human nearsightedness and self-containment? There are many difficult choices in life, but one of these, in particular, is overarching presently: shall we rebel against wealth and private property accumulation and a Capitalist state/government whose primary role is to enforce class divisions and diminish democracy, or shall we destine our descendents to live in Hell?
For the month of September, Berkeley physician Marc Sapir joins a cross country van tour for Single Payer health care organized by a group of Oregon doctors (www.madashelldoctors.com). They’ll rally in 26 cities and end at Lafayette Park across from the White House on September 30.