by Jerome a Paris
Mon Jan 10th, 2011 at 03:52:12 AM EST
One of the trends of our times has been this creeping move towards something that looks like feudalism, ie a system where wielding uncontested power (political or economic) becomes more important than what that power is used for. A more authoritarian, more unequal, and, ultimately, poorer world.
Those at the top have decided they didn't care that they could be better off, in absolute terms, in a fairer world - they are happy that they are richer, relatively speaking, and more powerful, in the system they are slowly bringing back by corroding all the great institutions that made our prosperity in the second half of the 20th century - good government, strong unions, the rule of law for (almost) everybody and good education and healthcare for all.
Some push that ideology out of naked short term self-interest. Many support it because it is wrapped in the name of individual freedom (be entrepreneurial and successful!) or validates their life (you earn what you deserve / you deserve what you earn); many go along because they yearn for simpler days when "people knew their place" or because they think their freedom and opportunity is hampered by some evil parasitic other.
But this is known and has been diagnosed by many, here and elsewhere. What has struck me over the past few weeks, as I was able to take a bit of quieter time off work and look around me, is the state of mind of a lot of people who are somewhat or fully aware of this situation.
They basically know that there is a massive transfer of wealth from the majority to a small minority, they see inequality rising and institutional solidarity being chipped away; they know that the political class is part of the problem and the parties of the left are only notionally so these days, ie that they are a lesser, slightly gentler, evil rather than a real alternative. They saw massive transfers to the banks and now they see the sustained calls to dismantle the social programmes that (still) work.
And they don't care anymore.
They don't expect that any politician will change this - indeed, those who have a chance to get to power are all more or less enabling it, and the others - well, they have no power and no chance to get any. And they don't expect that they are going to be able to do anything themselves in any meaningful way.
Call it despair, call it despondency, call it ignorance, but a lot of people are willfully retreating from the political scene. Add to that the need to focus on surviving - keeping your job, finding one, facing spiralling healthcare or debt service costs, etc... and you have people who by choice and by necessity are on their own. They don't find help when they need it, and they can't or won't provide it to others, because they don't have the resources, and because they can't see why they should pay for others (again - whether they believe they are already paying for bankers or for browner people)
Which in turn feeds selfishness in society, as people close off to one another beyond their immediate circle, and lose trust in government. (And by the way, this is why the "they all do it" meme is so corrosive - it destroys belief in, and support for, collective action, and as such it is always right-wing propaganda. We know ours are corrupt, but yours are too, so we'll stick to "our camp" against the alien you).
Most of the time, this just translates into brainless consumerism for those who still have money, and sullen bitterness for those who don't. But occasionally (and maybe this week-end's shooting can be seen as a warning), it can bubble up into something nastier. In fact, given the media's tendency to ignore or mock obviously left-wing protest movements, and to shine a light, often favorable or at least neutral, on rightwing events, people may be forgiven from thinking that hate-mongering populism seems more likely to succeed in changing things than the more idealistic kind.
And this is noticed, which feeds yet more cynicism and retrenchment into one's own.
It sounds like we rather desperately need hope and change.