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 k / o
                                       politics + culture

Sunday, March 19, 2006

a thought

There's been a theme that's been preoccupying me during this break from blogging.

I keep thinking about how there's this gap between realities that are obvious to those of us on the left, and the way most of our society completely ignores these challenges, in particular, how U.S. voters seem to vote to ignore them. (To name a few of the challenges I'm thinking about: global warming, the increasing level to which the American diet is poisoning us and our kids, the disaster that is the American health care system, and the way in which this nation seems to have absorbed the dual failures of the war in Iraq and our abadonment of the citizens of New Orleans without much of second thought.)

Why is this? Why does it seem that it's almost a "liberal" thing to talk about the environment, corporate food, our health care system, and the multifarious failures in Iraq and on the Gulf Coast?

I think some of it comes out of a reality that we are just beginning to get our heads around as a nation and a planet: the logical next step here in the U.S. and abroad is not a "moderating" of the dominant corporate conservatism but instead a full out embrace of progressive ideas and policies: a reinvention of our society and economy to meet the needs of humanity in the 21st Century, a reinvention that starts from ideas that progressives, liberals and socialists have been talking about for decades.

I would propose that it is likely a "moderating and adapting" of the progressive, liberal and socialist view that is the logical next step for our world, not the other way around. That truly is the task for our times. How do we make these ideas the dominant ones in the marketplace of politics and the economy? How do we start with our ideas and make them work in this profit-driven world dominated by short-sighted corporations that have poisoned our food and our environment? In my view, how we answer that question will determine no less than the fate of human life on this planet.

Take global warming. We need to take immediate global steps to curb the emission of greenhouse gases (both industrial and agricultural). Not half measures. Serious and enormous changes need to be made. The kids who are tagging the STOP signs in my neighborhood with "STOP Driving" stickers are actually more right than not (Though that doesn't make them less annoying.) We must realize, however, that we are living in the world they are describing; if we refuse to see that, we are living in an illusion. It's simple, we all need to walk and bike and use mass transit more. That is where the 21st century is headed. Not towards "small tweaks" like Hybrid SUV's and cleaner coal, but a basic BIG TWEAK that we then adapt as best as possible to our current way of life.

Simply put, we are, all of us, facing huge changes, huge paradigm shifts in our day to day lives that will not be comfortable in the least until we learn to adapt to them.

I think this in part explains the reluctance of citizens in all the major democracies to get serious about "the next step." The next step is SCARY, it is not comfortable. However, the alternative is what we're seeing in Iraq, where we're are basically "fighting for oil," and on the Gulf Coast where the increase in hurricanes is almost surely no coincidence of nature so much as a kind of global warming influenced catastrophe. It's also an alternative we see in the skyrocketing obesity epidemic among our kids and the crazy health care prices we pay. Truth be told, these realities are becoming more and more SCARY every day. They are the alternative to embracing wholescale change.

I would put it this way. We're all going to be eating a hell of a lot more vegetarian in generations to come, whether any of us like it, or realize it, or not. We will do this because of overpopulation and because the huge impact of corporate meat production on our environment...we'll also do this because it's healthier and we need to back off the manifold risks of the "corporate food diet."

Am I saying that we will have to give up our daily cheesburgers, our suburban SUVS and our millions and millions of 90 minute solo vehicle commutes? Yep, more or less, until we figure out a better way. We will have to learn how to adapt.

That's what so many folks are afraid of. That's why we're resisting change. We literally can't imagine how that change might work. Of course, most of us haven't really started to consider the alternative to making real change. The alternative, however, has proven that is isn't going to wait for us.

That is the lesson of Katrina. That is the lesson of our war in Iraq.

It's the lesson we see on playgrounds across this country, where a generation of "high fructose corn syrup" kids begins what will be, after all is said and done, their century.


  • Good thought, Kid. Scary, but good. I recommend William Greider from the January 6 issue of The Nation: Apollo Now.

    The predicament is fundamental and universal: It is the collision between industrial society and nature. Politicians and environmental activists can be forgiven for not wishing to take on the "American way of life," but essentially that is what's required. Eliminating this collision, before it destroys the very basis of modern prosperity and life itself, calls for nothing less than the transformation of the American industrial system and mass-consumption economy. Among other things, it means reinventing the processes of production and redesigning virtually every product. It means taking responsibility for what we make and consume--recovering what is now discarded in landfills, dumped in rivers or vaporized in air and atmosphere. It means remanufacturing components and materials into new products.

    (If the link turns out to be subscription-only and you can't access it, and you're interested, let me know and I'll email you the text.)

    By Blogger &y, at 6:16 PM  

  • Great link &y!

    And exactly the spirit of my post, I'm happy to join you and William Greider in thinking this way.

    By Blogger kid oakland, at 6:55 PM  

  • i think that's a big part of it, kid. and it is only made worse by the fact that there are close to no major voices in our society, be they cultural, political or economic, who are willing to break the hard news that the status quo cannot hold, and that we are in for revolutuonary change one way or the other. so we get this deepening sense that we're on the "wrong track," but only furtive whispers of where we might go.

    we are thirsty for truth tellers, for prophets, and yet we have none. even al gore is unwilling to fully vocalize the next step WRT global warming, for fear of losing his audience.

    the leadership will have to come from below this time, i am convinced, in a million under the radar discussions. the internet's power to inform the soapbox preachers of the new order is it's real strength IMO, and the dean campaign the first successful model of that sort of thing, albeit halting and extremely limited.

    By Anonymous wu ming, at 11:14 PM  

  • a really stellar entry, k/o - it crystallized a lot of what I've been thinking for a while now. I posted on it over at ojaipost.com

    By Anonymous Tyler, at 11:31 PM  

  • Most people ignore the challenges...

    Because they can't see any practical way they could do anything about any of them.

    In fact, you have to take a leap of faith -- detach yourself from reality just a bit -- to believe you can make a difference.

    That's why leftists always seem just a little, well, nuts.

    When you take that leap, you open up a world of possibility for yourself. When hundreds or thousands take that leap, you have a movement -- which can be for good or ill. That mass leap of faith accounts for the advances, and the horrors, of the 20th century.

    See, that was both the glory and the sin of the Communist movement--we thought we could bring a radically new world into being.

    You want to try again with a "moderated and adapted" vision? OK, I'm game.

    But the conundrum remains: you have to get people to take that leap of faith, take leave of their senses, and believe they can actually make a difference.

    By Anonymous yellowdogblue, at 11:12 AM  

  • Agree with both k/o and &y, and boy is it hard to find a loaf of bread or box of cereal without corn syrup these days. Having a child with allergies, we went through the Feingold diet; doing the research was an eye-opener.

    But the wonderful, amazing Apollo Now article falls short in describing what this means in terms of moving away from hyper-consumerism.

    Creating jobs is great, but what we do with that money is important. It's not just "buy better" or "buy Blue", it's "don't buy." I remain concerned that many progressives don't "get" this yet - unbridled capitalism drives consumerism and vice-versa. We still talk about advocating an "expanded middle class" in terms that make it sound like people should vote Democratic because it means they will be able to buy more stuff (ok, more organic stuff).

    Our 14th District Rep candidate John Laesch grew up in West Africa, and told me recently that when he came to the US at age 12, he couldn't believe how brand- and label-crazy we all were. It's really like being on another planet. Our culture is utterly blind to what rabid consumerism has done to us.

    I know a company that makes product displays - they are currently working on a computer kiosk that will advertise products to people in the vestibule of their churches. Forced advertising via TV monitors showing endless product commercials and encouraging even more consumerism have crept into 250 million peoples' lives, including those of the workers who can't even turn the darned things down.

    Progressives need to address the intersection of a mass-consumption economy with our own current efforts to improve the political process, the environment, and engage the international community. Our current platforms and policy are still almost wholly based on the assumption of a mass-consumption economy. How do we change that?

    By Blogger chicagomom, at 6:26 AM  

  • Hey, that was a real pleasure to read really worhty thought-content. I am russian, and it was double great to see that there are thinking americans. Though... These times with internets and hightech communication and the enligsh as a world lang, i'd say there are no more americans or russian or chinese or dutch but there are those who think and those who think not only about themselves.

    Look, i am sorta trying to start up my blog but the porblem is that the stuff i know or the stuff i want to speak out overwhelmes me and i just can't write anything. Can't firgure out should i go nemesis down on corporation culture or try to be positive and inspire corporativists to become more people-friendly. so to say, either go castigator or propeller of ideals.

    By Blogger Yaroslav Kostrov, at 9:08 PM  

  • Glad to see you're back.

    And you're right: Something's got to give.

    By Blogger Luke, at 9:22 PM  

  • The only people that "abandoned" Katrina "victims" were the Katrina "victims" themselves and the truly elderly and infirmed that were abandoned by health care workers and neighbors and relatives of the people themselves, along with the local government. After that, the evil military went in and lifted all those fat assed diabetic, lazy no good losers from their roofs at great risk to the rescuers lives and at the tax-payers expense. Then, they were and are being cared for by many people across the country often at the expense of the dreaded christians, as well as the expense of the many, many people that donated money to charities that care for them.

    As for the environment being a liberal issue, you forget that most liberals live in large cities. It's easy to be environmentally responsible when it does not involve risking/losing your livelihood or your property or your kid getting munched by mountain lions or your pet getting dragged off in front of you by coyotes. Most informed people know that duck hunters fund a large percentage of the wetlands conservation in this country. Other hunters are very interested in keeping wild areas wild, yet most Liberal city people never leave the city and couldn't identify a species of bird if their life depended on it.

    As for the bad diet of Americans (which really is not your business, it involves freedom of choice, something that liberals are always screaming and yelping about and seem generally in favor of as long as people make lifestyle choices that liberals agree with. Everyone knows that a gay lifestyle, and especially unprotected anal sex, is very very dangerous, far more dangerous than eating at MacDonalds and yet there is never any complaining from the left that gay men are risking their health by being promiscuous and using drugs.) If you think back to when we were kids, what did we drink, Koolaid, that's what and violently colored store bought drinks that came in gallon jugs. Frozen dinners were considered totally acceptable and canned vegetables were served at most of my friend's houses. Farm wives were happy to use Cool Whip instead of whipped cream, which they hardly had time to make between difficult chores. Yes, fat people die sooner, that is a form of justice for using up more of the earth's resources and burning a lot of fossil fuel and causing global warming, you get to die sooner of heart disease instead of malaria. So f'ing what. It evens things out. Liberals need to get off peoples backs and stop trying to control how other people drive and eat and live. If you Liberals are so worried about global warming, stop driving tomorrow! If half of the country is Liberal and they stop driving we could cut global warming in the US in half instantly.

    I find the problem with most Liberals is that they are woefully uninformed on most subjects they consider themselves to be experts on. I have many liberal friends that avoid reading sad news and always tell me not to tell them sad things or things that don't jibe with their unrealistic world view. I clicked your link on the Daily Kos because I was born and raised in Oakland and was hoping to read more about Oakland itself. Boy was I disappointed to see more of the same liberal orthodox tripe about high fructose corn syrup. Get over yourselves and actually learn about the larger world around you, say something, anything new, suprise me for once and tell me something I don't already know.

    By Blogger Miss Carnivorous, at 8:30 PM  

  • Schweet, Miss Carnivorous. I'm gonna stop being liberal right this instant. And there's nothing I can say that you don't already know I'm jes gonna set me about moving from my small town to an even smaller one, where no one would ever consider criticizing my diabetic fat ass for consuming me some perfectly ceptable cool whip by the tubfull. Bye now.

    By Blogger fouro, at 4:41 AM  

  • This is a long time after the original discussion, but I was just referred here by a friend.

    I have only a single point of diagreement with the first statement of Kid Oakland's that started this off. He said, (with my emphais) "I keep thinking about how there's this gap between realities that are obvious to those of us on the left, and the way most of our society completely ignores these challenges, in particular, how U.S. voters seem to vote to ignore them."

    This problem affects the left as much as the right, Democrats and Greens and Peace and Freedom lovers as well as Republicans and Libertairans or even the Minutemen. It is a disease that knows no sectarian boundaries, they each have their own blindspots.

    Once in a while you find someone who grasps not only the facts of the matter at hand, but comes forward with solutions that are simiply elegantly simple and still no one reacts. My case in point is Green Party Candidate (CA 34th AD) who has a very simple plan to reduce air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley. It is simply to capture and burn the bio-gas (methane) from dairy operations and to use the heat to fuel a distributed electric generation grid. Reduces air polution, lowers the demand for natural gas, lowers electric costs for allm 3 yr. payback (Strauss Family Creamery, Marin County). And still, very few are doing in it.

    And the left does not see this as an issue.

    By Blogger Delta, at 1:54 PM  

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