Monday, January 30, 2006

Sell-outs or Pragmatists?

This entry is in response to a dialogue that's been ongoing chez mikelwin's blog. I thought a full entry would be entirely necessary to address a range of issues that were evoked in the largely three-way discussion that was conducted.

The first important point that I wish to cover is that political/ideological orientation is mostly a function of an individual's psychological inclinations. Those who advocate a pragmatic, centrist approach to politics with a focus on certain interest groups tend to endorse such a strategy because this is where they feel most comfortable and this is where they have found it most convenient to contribute. I am no exception. I will be forward about my biases towards certain ideas and against others based on how I fit into this vast world and how I feel I am most capable of "making waves." In this above-mentioned discussion, the pragmatist-idealist and moderate lefty-extreme lefty distinctions were drawn up to identify where the participating individuals stood along these simplified ideological spectrums.

The second and perhaps most relevant line of argument I seek to mention revolves around the potential for extreme or revolutionary change. While it is indeed highly unlikely that individuals can effect significant political/economic changes single-handedly, our system does allow for radical advances to be achieved in the artistic and scientific domains. Our political and economic superstructures are certainly stable, and there is little to no hope for a drastic revolution of the people, barring unforseen biological or social catastrophes. However, the most sweeping changes to how we operate and how we view our existences arise from art and science. These fields provide the tools for contemporary revolutionaries to alter their universes through biotech, music, physics, literature, etc. In sum, the world of ideas shifts drastically and fundamentally alongside the political and economic spheres, which of course in turn must make rather significant accomondations to the technological and theoretical changes that occur in the cultural and scientific realms. Merely focusing on the political and economic aspects of societal change understates the true power of conceptual advances in many different fields. Without a doubt, the success of many ideas depends on how they work into the existing social framework, but it's not healthy to focus too much on the concrete, material, and formal structures that govern our universe. The cultural, psychological, intellectual, and social domains cannot be seen as the mumbo-jumbo playground for idealistic pseudo-philosopher-kings who alternate taking rides in their liberal limos and laying down their John Hancock on bi-montly donations to Greenpeace and Move-On.

The space for innovation in science and culture is indeed occupied by those people who have been granted the linguistic, sociocultural, and material tools to contribute to this domain. Cats who don't have enough bread to put on the kitchen table don't generally get involved with the techies and hipsters. Yet, the so-called struggle is fought by both Jesse Jackson in the street and Michael Eric Dyson in his ivory-tower (these two guys debated for hours about how they both managed to contribute to the struggle in opposite ways). Both avenues are necessary for the "revolution" to proceed. Either way, there is certainly a tremendous gulf between certain traditional Democratic groups. Grimy industrial labor and the so-called moneyed liberal Hollywood cabal don't always see eye-to-eye. Yet, let's not fall prey to these ridiculous, caricatured portraits of leftwing political life in America. There are loads of poor Americans who harbor "extreme" notions vis-a-vis universal healthcare, the environment, corporate welfare, American imperial power, racial equality, etc. Moreover, there is no shortage of "corporate" or intellectual centrists who exist somewhere near the center and support Democratic politicians.

The rightwing also faces divisions that are often a function of class, but moreso reflect spiritual convictions than economic disparities. Obviously, there's no point in saying that people of a certain economic background don't occupy a particular ideological position. There are rich and poor on both sides of the aisle. However, I do agree with certain materialist declarations. I do think both parties need to focus a bit more on concrete, economic results of the industrial meltdown. So many parts of this country have been left to rot due to formidable, international economic forces that are far beyond any individual's control. Blacks and labor have suffered disproportionately in this paradigm shift. That does not mean that they should be shortchanged in our corrupt election financing system. The system can indeed always be made fairer, more open, more tolerant.

I'm not going to pretend that I'm immune from the limo liberal characterization. I fall square into the stratum of hypereducated, affluent, Volvo-driving society that has been blamed for the failure of liberal politics. I also actually believe in the value of culture (dirty fucking proletariat culture, middle-of-the-road mainstream rag, and elitist hipster bullshit). I don't think it's particularly sophisticated or intelligent to exclude any of these dimensions from the politico-culture wars. I'm sick of people talking smack about treehuggers and their irrational fears of environmental catastrophe. Godamn, this earth is getting ravaged. And, I've also had enough about how the working-class should just suck it up and deal with corporate culture and economic change. Forreal, the flight of industrial jobs to other countries has absolutely wrecked huge areas of this country, both urban and rural. Everyone tries to fit in somehow to this whole notion of identity politics and figure out what to be victimized for. The religious right fancies itself as the victim of a vast leftist protocol to eliminate Jesus and the white man from the discourse. I contend that the turn towards spiritual politics is a direct result of the industrial decline and the drop off in material wellbeing for so many blue-collar families.

I have a few specific answers to big political problems. However, I don't have a coherent ideology about how to fix the world. I don't believe the world is to be fixed. The world is, the world was, and the world will be. Fixing it is a matter of perspective and is relative to one's position and relation to everything else that is either broken or functional. I certainly can't create huge political or economic solutions to the world's problems. I just try to suggest that the material realm is supremely important but also that it's not important at all. That's the ultimate truth about our universe, and it's also not the ultimate truth. I enjoy talking shit about other peoples' ideologies, but I'm fully aware that whatever system I appear to endorse is full of contradictions, hypocrisies, and hyperboles. And, I try not to fall into the extreme subjectivity of the solipsistic trap. Also, I'm not into dissing hippies (make love not war!) and hipsters (even though I can't be one cuz I'm a lumberjack).

However, I don't see the need to "burn off this youthful angst," well at least not quite yet. I hope I'm aware of this decision if this is ultimately the one I make. I'm thoroughly and profoundly aware that I live in a bubble and that I'm entirely spoiled and unprepared to deal with the material demands of this world. The privilege that I've been born into is something from which I've beneifited, but it is also something for which I feel almost insurmountable guilt. It's abundantly clear that this affluent youth culture is sustained by people who use their material advantage to condemn the possibility of possessing such material advantage in the first place. This is a curious phenom, and it's not something that can be denied.

Nonetheless, I try to be pragmatic when I think that suits my situation, but I think I'm inclined to dream, idealize, and theorize because it's comforting to think that things COULD be different. I don't think anyone has to choose whether to be a exclusively a "sell-out" or a dreamer. Everyone has to be a little bit of a "sell-out" to get his piece of the pie. But, I'm going to retain my dreams about all these multitudinous cultures I'm surrounded by, all this damned socio-economic injustice, and all my peoples that are just tryin' to do the damn thing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

loyalty is a hope for permanence. the thing is, there is no permanence.

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