In an interesting article entitled "The Cancer Stage Of Capitalism" John McMurtry suggests that "our social immune system is being overwhelmed by growing out-of-control money market cancer." He makes a strong case for the idea that unregulated capitalism has become a cancerous growth that profoundly threatens the well being of its host, the human community, and ultimately the earth.
In a key paragraph, McMurtry spells out what may be his most salient insight:
"The essential problem of any life-threatening cancer is that the host body's immune system does not effectively recognize or respond to the cancer's challenge and advance. This failure of our social immune system to recognize and respond to the cancerous form of capitalism is understandable once we realize that the surveillance and communication organs of host social bodies across the world, as they now function, are incapable of recognizing the nature and patterns of the disease. That is, capitalist-organized media and information systems select for dissemination only messages that do not contradict the capitalist organization of social bodies."
Recently I viewed an extremely interesting video entitled "Berkeley in the Sixties". It accurately portrayed the richness and complexity of the 60s -- both its idealism and it confusions. I consider the counterculture of the 60s to be the biggest jail break in history. It is easy to be critical of those who participated in the protests of the 60s. They expended too much of the energy in physically violent confrontations with the police and the national guard. They took too many drugs. They defined themselves primarily in terms of what they were against. They were politically naive. Probably there is truth in all these criticisms. But their basic vision of the need for a new, equitable, loving, free and non-materialist society was valid. They awakened this dream in millions of people. They certainly helped end racial discrimination. They probably helped end the Vietnam war. They sensitized people to the importance of ecological issues. They helped clear some space in which both gay and woman's liberation would be successful. They accomplishments were not negligible. Yet during the late seventies and the eighties, the new consciousness was crushed as a significant political force by an alliance between the religious right and the economic elite (odd bed-fellows when you think about it). Perhaps we are seeing the beginning of a new jailbreak. Hopefully this time around it will be less naive and more successful.
McMurtry's insight that "the essential problem of any life-threatening cancer is that the host body's immune system does not effectively recognize or respond to the cancer's challenge and advance" gives clues as to some guidelines that might help us be more effective in a new effort to battle the cancer that has invaded us. The key point is that a failure to recognize a social malignancy is a mental fact. The battle is, therefore, first and foremost a battle of consciousness. This is not to say that we can be indifferent to the physical structures of society. But the first order of the day must be a raising of consciousness. This insight was what gave such transformative power to the woman's movement. They began with consciousness raising groups. The same insight was also, on a more negative note, behind the success of the religious right. In their churches they altered, if they did not raise, the consciousness of their flocks.
Changing beliefs is not easy, but that is where the battle must be fought. Picking the wrong battlefield could be fatal to our cause. Certainly we must disrupt the normal flow of things to one degree or another, as the New York protesters are doing, to make an important point. Business cannot continue as usual. But these disruptions have the primary purpose of helping new understandings break into the largely hypnotized and managed consciousness of the American people. There is another way to think about things . We must somehow get the attention of Americans if they are to hear this message. A military or physical battle with the establishment is not useful in this regard. The establishment is very good at physical repression and at killing when necessary. They are better at these things than we will ever be. We must be aggressive. Far more aggressive than we have been up to this point. But not violent. Again, the protesters in New York provide us a useful role model in this respect.
A guideline that we might gain from the history of the 60s has to do with how we define ourselves. Of course we are all, to one degree or anther, against the establishment -- against what Ginsberg in his groundbreaking poem "Howl" called "Moloch." But beyond this, we must define ourselves in terms of what we are for. Several positive defining beliefs come immediately to mind:
1. We are for an open and honest interchange of ideas, based on facts and carried out with mutual respect. For this we need a media the accurately reports the news, and that gives voice to the full range of opinion in the country.
2. We are for an economic system that distributes the resources and decision making authority in an equitable manner.
3. We are for a health system which has as its bottom line the health of the entire population, not the profit of a small minority of already obscenely rich individuals.
4. We are for a way of life that is ecologically non-destructive and that is sustainable.
5. We are for a true democracy of nations as opposed to the current system of rule by the rich and powerful through intimidation, domination and war.
The protesters in New York have recognized the cancer, and have drawn our attention to it. We must not let them be ignored.