Monday, November 17, 2008


So it is that the citizens who speak loudest become the voice of the nation. Everybody else can either fall in line or be baptised anti-American; "Americanism" is whatever the powerful have endorsed.

Without a committed examination of either power or class, Americans are often vulnerable to importing their priorities, prejudices and fears from those who "speak loudest" domestically. This leads to strange preoccupations among working people about topics as irrelevant to their daily existence as whether China will someday pose a challenge to US global supremacy. This cannot by any stretch of the imagination be the natural concern of an auto-worker or retail clerk who does not know if they will have a job tomorrow. These are concerns that arise solely within the ranks of a foreign policy apparatus whose mandate is to guarantee markets and resources for American investors abroad. The fact that they even enter into anybody else's head owes to the near-monopoly control that corporate ownership places over information in the United States. "If this is what the prominent figures of public life are concerned about, then it must be important" -- this is the effect that such power centralization produces in any society. One can hardly imagine it being very different for citizens in the former Soviet Union.

The concerns adopted by the average person which find their origins among elite constituencies span so many areas of human life that they deserve examination on a case-by-case basis. But just to illustrate the scope of the problem: consider the defining characteristics of female beauty in the United States, a wealthy society, versus those existing in poorer societies. In the United States, the prevailing "standard" of female beauty often approaches something not unlike malnourishment. But since this is what appeals to wealthy men, it is a standard which has a certain to "appeal" to us all: it puts us in closer proximity to rich men. On the other hand, in nations where food is scarce, a different preference among the affluent may be observed.

To come directly to my point, most of what we have come to accept as the elemental conflict when it comes to electoral politics is really just an imported feud between groups who presume the right to run the country on behalf of everyone else. The is summed up very well by the whole sordid "red state," "blue state" construct. First, let's recognize it for what it is: a carving up of the nation in the image of elite differences, as embodied by the Democratic and Republican parties. Either you are committed to "victory," or you feel the "true war" is in Pakistan -- not Iraq. Either you want to keep corporate taxes low, or you want to bribe specific corporations to keep jobs in the United States. You want the energy industry to "drill, baby, drill" or you want to pay the energy industry to not merely "drill, baby, drill" but also pursue a longer-term conversion to alternatives, which they will enjoy similar monopolization over. As Ralph Nader recently suggested on Real Time with Bill Maher, what wins is war, nativism, pollution, monopoly; what loses is public health, plurality, peace and democracy.

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