Thursday, October 7, 2010

One Nation? No Thanks.

I have been very, very, very, very, critical of the tea party movement. Downright mean at times. Because of this, I thought it might be appropriate--indeed, called for--for me to comment on the One Nation rally that took place in front of the Washington Monument this past weekend.

Mostly, I was ambivalent.

Now, ostensibly I agreed with a lot more of the worldview represented at One Nation than I did at Glenn Beck's 'you can't spell Jesus without U.S.' orgy. But I still didn't care for it, because it rests on the same faulty populist notion that what is true is what is popular. One person, one vote. 80 million Elvis fans can't be wrong. The reactionary One Nation affair seemed to be based on the principle that if the organizers could only get a million more people down to the national mall than Glenn did, they would win.

Boo. That's not how it works.

As much as I love crowds, I hate mobs, and think there can be a fine line between the two. I don't want us all to get along if 'getting along' means mediocrity and relativism. As long as our head-butting doesn't come with a body count, it is a necessary and wonderful part of a functioning democracy. Conflict breeds creation, and any group with freedom and equality as its goal should have a certain amount of inner-tension that keeps everyone honest. Pep rallies are fine for what they are, and there have been many times in human history where it has been necessary for folks  to march, form coalitions, and give grandiose speeches; but that can't be all there is to it. I don't want to be a part of a movement whose entire platform can be summarized on the face of a bumper sticker. I also don't want to be a part of a movement that lacks an ability to look at itself skeptically, and to laugh at itself, and that's exactly the kind of organization progressives will build if they  ape the tea party too much.

We also need to be mindful of the fact that we live in a society that doesn't appreciate the benefit of pain and hard work as much as it used to; If something is not entertaining, we aren't having it. While gathering together with like-minded folk to support a common issue, we need to be sure that we aren't simply feeding into our need to be amused, to be in a constant state of orgasm, to always be eating a cookie. Not everything needs to operate like a game show or a sports contest.

I support the welfare state as it was originally conceived. It allows for personal growth, bolsters pluralism and egalitarianism, and allows the citizenry to deepen their experience and expand their culture. It also puts a parameter on chaos. Life is chaotic. Left unregulated, there would be no one to stand up for the minority. The strong would take from the weak...or, rather, the vicious would take from the principled. But we don't need the herd marching in lockstep. We need thinking folk with deep understandings of various aspects of our collective situation presenting evidence to us, teaching us,arguing with us, and nudging us in the right direction.

Besides, rallies and protests--with a few notable exceptions--are typically exercises in futility. They are energy burning enterprises that lead their participants to feel as if they have done something substantial when in fact they have not. The way to change isn't to hold signs in front of federal buildings and to stick your head into a partisan sound chamber where no alternative information can penetrate: the way to change is is through the betterment of individuals, and the infiltration of institutions. Rallies can be okay. The One Nation rally was okay...Glenn Beck's rally was okay too. What is not okay is treating morality and national politics as if it were a cheerleading competition: 'If we can get more people on this side of the auditorium to shout louder than the people on the other side of the auditorium, everybody gets healthcare! Yaaaayy....'

Rallies and protests should be to our intellectual and moral lives what twinkies are to our diets.

The welfare state can create an even playing field upon which everyone has the same opportunity to better themselves from, even though their success is not guaranteed. It is a thing worth defending, understanding, and vocally supporting. But it can't be defended by a giant Styrofoam finger alone. Being part of the rabble is easy. Engaging in rigorous research, debate, and observation is hard.

It's hard, but it's the better path. Better to be a thorn in the paw of humanity than another pair of marching boots.


the elegant ape said...

Always question. Remember.....

Until the become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they they have rebelled they cannot become conscious."
- George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 7

Willie Y said...

I agree Spencer there has to be conversation, give and take for common good. Imagine if we could
all work together for the common good, we could change the world.

“If the person you are talking to doesn't appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.”

Winnie the Pooh

Lodo Grdzak said...

I agree with everything you've said except your comment in regards to "hard work." The fact is, hard work is not appreciated in this country because so many people can see (or at least sense) the moronity of it. Sure a hard-working doctor is something to be respected; as is a hard working farmer. But a hard working administration assistant? A hard working graphics designer? What's the point except a paycheck?

When a society has evolved as far as ours so that work is detached from anything actually meaningful or long-term, then work isn't valued. Think of a software designer. Everything they do will be obsolete in 6 months. Insurance adjusters--God that's stupid work. TV sportscaster? Most attorney's (of which 1 in 10 professional Americans is). Just gunk in the cogs of the wheels of society.

Add the fact that hard work doesn't necessarily yield anything in the U.S.. A secretary who worked for Microsoft in the '80's and put her money in a 401K walked away with more money than a lot of college graduates working 55-60 hour weeks. And when a guy in India is willing to work for $3.00 a day, hey no offense but f**k hard work. American workers should never have to work for $3.00 a day. That's BS.

Spencer Troxell said...

Elegant & Willie: I'm glad to have written a post that has brought to the mind of my readers quotations from both George Orwell and Winnie the Pooh. I must be doing something right.

Lodo: While I agree with what you said here to a certain extent, the 'hard work' I was referring to was in relation to forming coherent and consistent worldviews, and implementing meaningful changes in the society you live in based on those rigorously arrived at ideological stances. Simply chanting, 'America! Fuck Yeah!' and standing around in a crowd with a sign doesn't cut it.

But I'm probably wrong there too. That statement was too broad a generalization.

I definitely think a lot of people aren't rewarded for hard work, and a lot of people probably work harder than they need to (work smarter, not harder). Some people probably have become cynical about hard work because of the limited returns it offers them, like you suggest, but some folks are either just apathetic, or too gluttonous as well, as I suggested. Some are probably motivated by other things. There are wide swaths of our culture that are terribly vulgar and shallow, and plenty of folks--myself included--often put off the pursuit of a deeper, more sustainable well-being for a quick buzz.

Lodo Grdzak said...

I hear you.