August 12, 2009

Health Reform Fight (1 of 3)

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Health Racket Bailout — Tags: , , , — Russ @ 4:56 am
As happens often nowadays, pundits looking to punch up their political commentary with some poetry have had recourse to Yeats’ The Second Coming:
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
It seems this needs to be restated a bit, since by definition the (politically) best are full of passionate intensity and take passionate action, while those who “lack all conviction” are down there with the worst.
So where it comes to something like the health care battleground, what we mean to say is that those who in theory should be the best have abdicated or betrayed (which I’m certain is what Yeats meant).
(The same goes for the Burke attribution, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing”. Since the measure of a good man is a good action, by definition those who “do nothing” are not good men. They are sheep, slaves. So this really should say, “The only thing required for evil to triumph is that sheep do nothing.” So far the evidence bears this out, every time.)
In this first of three posts I’ll deal with the worst, then discuss the aspiring best in the second.  
Even as well-heeled mobsters in politics and business conspire to strangle in its cradle health care reform for the common people, from amid those same people a more literal mob has been spewing its clamor against the very reforms which would better their lives.
The mobs have materialized at congressmen’s appearances and “town hall” events, shrieking, threatening and committing violence. There’s a question as to how orchestrated the actual mob scenes are. Clearly to some extent these are rent-a-thugs and incorrigible shriekers organized by right-wing Astroturfs. Perhaps to some extent the claque provides the core, stakes out the turf, upon which free-floating anger can then congeal.
Much ink has been spilled on the nature and motivation of these persons. Why do they rage against those who could help them and for those who seek only to further impoverish and enslave them? Here’s the basic answer.
America no longer has an intact middle class. What seemed to be its middle class over the last 30 years has only been levitated by debt and asset bubbles, even as its wages declined and its job security became endangered. What we’ve therefore had is a zombie middle class. Now that the debt and housing bubbles have burst, nothing can prevent a huge portion of the potemkin middle class from sinking into poverty. This is especially true of the petit bourgeoisie, the lower middle class which has provided Republicanism’s base.
These are the people who were always the most willing to be brainwashed by religion and the American Dream ideology. In the course of this they have come to reject any true concept of economics and politics as class struggle. Instead they cling desperately to their self-identification as “middle class”, but they reinterpret this as not an economic and social category but as a cultural and religious one.
They are then ripe to deceive themselves and to be deceived by their own exploiters into interpreting everything in terms of culture war and scapegoat. So the reason for their economic hardship, their slow deterioration now become a free-fall, isn’t predatory corporations, manipulative and larcenous banks, Republican shredding of the safety net, and globalization. No, it’s Democrats, “liberals”, unions, environmentalists, blacks, the poor as such.
They are tricked into focusing their anger and hate on the very people who share their suffering at the hands of the same enemy, and the very people who are trying to help them against that enemy. Instead of becoming activists against regressive social policy and tax codes, against “free” trade, and for decent social programs and strong unions, they focus on blanket opposition to all reform, screaming about sex, school prayer, anti-evolution, denying climate change, opposing gay marriage, and demanding proof of Obama’s citizen birth. How any of this could possibly help their economic situation is a mystery, but somehow, mystically, they think it will.
In The Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt wrote of the peculiar “selflessness” of many among the economically dispossessed masses following WWI. By selflessness she did not mean that they sought to help others, but rather that, against their own socioeconomic interests, they tended to give up on attempts at constructive activism and instead plunged into conspiracy theories and culture war diversions. Arendt considered this to be characteristic pre-totalitarian behavior among masses ripe for “coordination” [Gleichschaltung].
This socioeconomic bloc, today represented by the hardcore Bush 20%, has historically been fascism’s base.    
(This is the predominant, class war element of the phenomenon. On the level of base hominid psychology, there’s also the wretched existence of those simply born to be hateful bullies. These will naturally tend to fail socially and economically and to then gravitate to the thug camp, since they’re by nature too cowardly to fight against power, but are happy to become its hired goons.)
So we have this proto-fascist bloc, and in the mobs we have its activist vanguard. To analyze this as a pre-totalitarian situation, we can compare it with Arendt’s analysis of another such situation, the Dreyfus Affair of the 1890’s. Here too we have class-driven reaction, camouflaged as a massive culture war skirmish involving the ugliness of anti-semitism, religious strife, snobbery, social climbing among privileged individuals from otherwise despised minorities, etc. (For anyone who’s not familiar with the case, I recommend looking it up – you might find it endlessly rich with contemporary parallels.)
Here’s one passage from Origins, which describes events only slightly more intense than what we’re already seeing today, right down to details of organization. The only difference is the level of actual violence (so far).
Every stroke of the Dreyfusards (who were known to be a small minority) was followed by a more or less violent disturbance on the streets. The organization of the mob by the General Staff was remarkable. The trail lead straight from the army to the Libre Parole [antisemitic newspaper] which, directly or indirectly, through its articles or the personal intervention of its editors, mobilized students, monarchists, adventurers, and just plain gangsters and pushed them into the streets. If Zola uttered a word, at once his windows were stoned. If Scheurer-Kestner [first major politician who took on the cause] wrote to the colonial minister, he was at once beaten up on the streets while the papers made scurrilous attacks on his private life. And all the accounts agree that if Zola, when once charged, had been acquitted he would never have left the courtroom alive.
The cry, “Death to the Jews”, swept the country. In Lyon, Rennes, Nantes, Tours, Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrante, and Marseille – everywhere, in fact – antisemitic riots broke out and were invariably traceable to the same source. Popular indignation broke out everywhere on the same day and at precisely the same hour. Under the leadership of Guerin [thug demagogue] the mob took on a military complexion. Antisemitic shock troops appeared on the streets and made certain that every pro-Dreyfus meeting should end in bloodshed. The complicity of the police was everywhere patent.
Things looked very bad at this point. And what turned things around? When the workers, after long ignoring the affair as a stupid feud among the bourgeoisie, finally came to see it as the thoroughgoing assault on the people and on freedom which it really was. After much persuasion, Clemenceau and Zola convinced socialist leader Jaures, and although there continued to be infighting among the socialists, the best now found themselves:
Scarcely had J’Accuse appeared when the Paris socialists held their first meeting and passed a resolution calling for a revision of the Dreyfus case…A socialist meeting even branded antisemitism a “new form of reaction”….Although a split in its ranks continued throughout the Affair, the party now numbered enough Dreyfusards to prevent the Ligue Antisemite from thenceforth controlling the streets.
As we can see here a parallel with today’s mob, so perhaps we can also pick up some clues on how to counteract that mob and drive it back into its ratholes.
That’ll be one of the subjects of part 2.


  1. […] of 3) Filed under: Arendt, civil disobedience, health care reform — Russ @ 3:13 am In my last post I described the uncivil fascist unruliness of today’s right wing mob scene. […]

    Pingback by Health Reform Fight (2 of 3) « Volatility — August 14, 2009 @ 3:13 am

  2. […] […]

    Pingback by “The Law” Fought The Law and the Law Lost « Volatility — June 6, 2010 @ 7:37 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: