Thursday, August 28, 2008

America's High Wire Act

I’m not referring to the election, or even the standoff with Russia over Georgia.  I’m referring to the fact that politicians as well as political analysts have finally realized that inequality is closing in on them.

A high wire act is required to confront inequality without breaking the long-standing taboo against concepts such as “class warfare”, “left/right”, progressive, or, God forbid, socialist.

If you’ve been listening carefully you may have heard Howard Dean say “We want fairness”, or last night, Bill Clinton tell us the Republicans have increased inequality.  But the most in your face affirmation of the new political opening came from Denis Kucinich, who, in a passionate speech to the convention pleaded;  “Wake up, America”, and “This is not about left/right, it’s about bottom/up,” using geometry to break a centuries’ long mold.

Since the American War of Independence, our discourse has been all about freedom, while in other parts of the world it continued to be about left/right, or the few versus the many (that expression too is creeping into the discourse. I believe Bill Clinton used it last night, and so did another speaker - forgive my lack of precision here).

After decades of decay, the Democratic Party realizes it has to move from a two hundred year-old discourse about freedom, which can cover a multitude of sins, most noteworthy horrific wars to supposedly “bring freedom” to other peoples, to the only one which has always counted, that about the few versus the many.

How to do that in a country that has spent fifty years combatting communism, the signature term for the idea of equality that made it easy to throw out the baby with the bath-water?

The only way to circumvent the left/right dichotomy is to go for bottom/up (not “lower/upper” which brings in the idea of class). Bottom/up is also what Barack Obama is talking about when he insists that change can only come from the bottom, as he did in his brief appearance last night.

In the latest issue of the little-known magazine Orion, a former Carter and Clinton advisor and head of the U.N. Development Program, Gus Speth, offers some concrete ideas as to how the new geometry could begin to be implemented, sketching the outlines of a different kind of capitalist system. It would start with a redefinition of the corporation, whose iron law would no longer be to bring maximum returns to investors, but rather, as Speth puts it, to serve all the factors that generate wealth, all the stake-holders. There would also have to be “a real revolution” in market pricing. Things that were environmentally destructive would be prohibitively expensive. And thirdly, as people have been saying for a long time without having plugged the notion into a broader context that makes it feasible, we would only grow very specific things in a very targeted way: education, health care, green-collar industries. Finally, there would be a move to a wider variety of ownership patterns: more coops, more employee ownership plans and less rigid lines between the profit and the not-for-profit sectors.

This is the first time I’ve seen a simple yet comprehensive enunciation of how we can get from here to there: the design of a trapeze act that would by-pass a concept Americans have been taught to be wary of, yet result in comparable outcomes and thereby bring us back into the fold that humanity has always known, the pursuit of relative equality, transforming it from a struggle into a tending-toward.

Struggle has been the means used until the present by the powerless many against the powerful few. Technology has brought us to the point where struggle comes dangerously close to obliteration. It must therefore be replaced by tending-toward, as I explain in “A Taoist Politics: The Case for Sacredness”. With the struggle between fascism and communism over, the world can tend toward social-democracy, that will allow us to replace mindless growth, unevenly distributed, by a more equitable sustainability.

To start with, this will require a sharp eye for the distortions of the corporate media, which is where the high wire act is located.

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