Thursday, June 24, 2010

I have been one of those people who has been politically adrift for most of my life (to say nothing of being socially out of place). By the right-wing I have always been called 'naive' and by the left I have often been considered cynical. This is fine, I guess, it is probably a good thing to be made up of a healthy dose of idealism and cynicism.

I have been occasionally guilty of referring to some people as naive who don't necessarily deserve it, like one of my readers and occasional commentators, Leo (sorry about that leo). Naive is the wrong word for what many of my political opponents are. I think many people in our society simply fail to see their own life in a proper historical context. Many like to believe that somehow the age in which we live is 'different' from all other ages. These are the people who think that Trade Unions have outlived their usefulness, as though without constant diligence capitalists wouldn't regress right back to the 19th century techniques of controlling and abusing employees, a condition so well illustrated by Engels in his Condition of the Working-Class in England. These are people who, because they were born white in a prosperous Western nation that they have what they have because of personal merit or don't realistically understand that the majority of people in the world continue to live in abject poverty. These are people who fail to understand the degree to which the ruling ideology is the ideology of the ruling and that capitalists effectively control not just our political agenda but have colonized huge swaths of our social structure a well.

While some of these people are, of course, naive, many of them have just understandably bought most of the ideology into which they were born and raised. And when we consider that almost every part of the media we see is owned and controlled by wealthy individuals who have a vested interest in the capitalist status quo, it is not surprising that more people don't have a better sense of how the power structure of our society is working. Capitalist ideology controls our society much the way ideologies have always dominated societies, by standing in (in most people's minds) for the 'natural' order of things. This is why revolutions in history have been relatively rare; because it is a significant leap for people to question what they have been raised to believe is 'natural.' People have a tough time imagining how this order which appears to grow organically out of human affairs, could ever be really challenged and replaced with something else. It is also why revolutions are often so bloody; because the powerful are fighting for their lives and their defenders are fighting for 'god' or 'nature' or some ideological equivalent, and on the other side of this change they see nothing but chaos.

And while I don't defend violent revolutions per se, they are often historically inevitable. This is just the nature of the social dynamic. The irony is that while the real dreamers often inspire revolutions and revolutionaries, they are often not in favor of the violent overthrow of the prevailing system. This is very true of people like Voltaire, Rousseau, William Godwin, and even Thomas Paine. Paine, who was so violently hated for so long by so many, was a genuine inspiration for the American and French revolutions but when he fled England and found himself in Revolutionary France, he was one of the people that argued against beheading the King.

I am decidedly not naive. I think probably the human race will fail and regress back into a state of barbarism from whence we came. This is because there are many people (and our own Prime Minister is one) who would prefer barbarism and the destruction of the human race than to see an enlightened system of cooperation. Their identity is so wrapped up in the machismo of power and so-called individualism and materialism that they can't imagine a system in which we actually help each other. But society has often progress despite, in in spite of, people like this. The dreamers work to undermine the use and abuse of power and to create a society in which cooperation is the real motive, while the others entrench power in the hands of the few, the privileged, and the abusive.

So I wonder if I am a cynic.

1 comment:

Margaret Anne said...

Fantastic post - not sure that the Left I know, (and in which I have participated for the last 40+ years in a variety of ways from university revolutionary organizations to running for the NDP)would call you cynical - I thought you got it all out exactly right - it is just that I assume that we can educate people (though I am not a "liberal"), inspire and motivate people, or have a revolution. So I guess I am less cynical in that I believe it is still worth the struggle. Gawd, I hope it is not just habit! I have to admit I did not save for retirement because I thought capitalism would collapse in my lifetime - but here I am in my 50's with no pension to speak of, having worked almost all of my years since 16 - while going to school, soon after having children. . . I just never stopped and luckily spent more than 60% of my working life on things I cared about, plus volunteering. I do think though, that we living in the north, and maybe around the world, live in the "worst of times" - with the most alienation and the least cooperation. But it should all be uphill from here.