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Return of the Malaise

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At this juncture, the responsible no-bullshit politician would have to add some boilerplate platitudes and say: "When faced with crises, Americans always rise to the occasion. We are a good, generous, cooperative people, and that is what we have to encourage now in this time of crisis."

Decades ago, the cartoon swamp possum Pogo famously recognized this predicament: "I have met the enemy and the enemy is us."

I have friends on the left who are offended at this use of the first-person-plural to describe the current state of affairs. What's this "we" talk? From a marginalized, virtually disenfranchised position, my friends take on an aloof posture and declare the politically right disaster that America has become is not their responsibility. "They" are complicit -- not us. Some talk of radical and extreme change and call for an immediate socialist state. Others want a more balanced, more just, mixed economy. Given the frustrations with the bullshit of electoral politics, there is no real map on how to get from here to there.

The veteran war correspondent Chris Hedges [1] eloquently articulates this view in his fiery columns on Truthdig:

"All conventional forms of dissent, from electoral politics to open debates, have been denied us. We cannot rely on the institutions that once made piecemeal and incremental reform possible. The only route left is to disconnect as thoroughly as possible from the consumer society and engage in acts of civil disobedience and obstruction. The more we sever ourselves from the addictions of fossil fuel and the consumer society, the more we begin to create a new paradigm for community."

Hedges' view that the corporate, imperial US system has turned its back on its own people is due to the fact it has become impervious to constructive, bottom-up change. It seems so absurdly top-heavy that a collapse like the Soviet Union is not unthinkable. It may not happen that dramatically and it may be seen as just "muddling through" into ever more desperate circumstances for those without wealth and power. The point Hedges makes loud and clear is that people who seek more socialism and less capitalism in the nation's mix need to band together and look out for themselves.

          The Solution is to Go Local

Out of this top-heavy, imploding empire, Hedges' idea of the left creating "a new paradigm for community" seems a real solution, sort of a leftist alternative to the right-wing's beloved "state rights" -- or what the narrator in the opening of the film Blood Simple says about life in Rick Perry's Texas: "Down here, you're on your own."

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If as the tea leaves suggest in the future we're going to be more "on our own," it behooves us on the left to rely less on the central government that has abandoned us and to toughen ourselves up in a local context. We need to stick together in our communities to protect our families, friends and resources. That may involve the decision to arm oneself. As a matter of principle, I recently went to my local sheriff's office and obtained a license to carry a firearm. It obviously involves much more than that.

When things come unglued, survival means more than ideology. In a world being shattered by breathtaking innovations in communication, there is no room for purity of "isms" any more -- if there ever was. As Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC recently pointed out, the United States is a mixed economy of capitalism and socialism and all sorts of other -isms mixed in. The struggle is to get the mix right, nationally and locally.

Right now, the -ism mix is leaning way too far to the right with capitalism and militarism run amok. It's like having way too much salt in the soup. We're out of balance and in need of a good, honest injection of socialism. The point is to re-empower the huge base of the American population and put checks on the rich and super-rich, people like the Koch Brothers who expend billions to bamboozle the lower and middle classes to work against their own interests.

The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman [2] is an unabashed capitalist, but he is critical of US leadership for failing to re-empower the huge base of the American economy. Because of this, he sees China, India, Brazil and others getting the jump on the United States in the future.

The US expends so much energy and resources on being policeman of the world that it has forgotten the Economics 101 rule that says a consumer society must periodically re-empower its lower and middle classes lest its consumer engine run out of gas, leaving no one to buy the products manufactured.

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Outgoing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil, a former leftist union leader, understood this and undertook all sorts of programs to empower Brazilians at the bottom of the heap. And because of this, compared to us here, Brazil's economy is chugging along at a healthy growth rate. Brazil is building a middle class instead of tearing one down like is being done here.

China's potential as a burgeoning capitalist giant scares the hell out of our leaders. And it should, not because of China's development, but because of our top-down delusions of exceptionalism that have led to a failure to keep apace and to invest in the nation's population. The irony is, China will beat us because it has a more balanced mix of -isms.

Carter was right; there is a malaise in America, and thanks to the denial and all the bullshit since then it's much worse now. And as this malaise becomes more and more acute, it will require greater and greater degrees of denial and bullshit to counter.

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I am a 65-year-old American who served in Vietnam as a naive 19-year-old kid. From that moment on, I've been studying and re-thinking what US counter-insurgency war means. I live outside of Philadelphia, where I'm a writer, photographer and a video (more...)

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We live in a corporate plutocracy, where corporate... by Peter Winkler on Thursday, Sep 1, 2011 at 12:50:46 AM
Could it be that  this current pack of certif... by John Jonik on Thursday, Sep 1, 2011 at 7:08:53 PM