Well, Time Warner Cable went down for a day, denying me both telephone and internet access, but I am back. My time on safari had an odd effect on me. It distanced me emotionally from the immediacy of the political twenty-four hour news cycle, with the result that I feel the need to gain some perspective. Over the next week or so [I am away Wednesday and Thursday], I am going to try to start thinking about how those of us on the left might begin in wholly new ways to change the direction of American politics.
As I see it, there are two fundamental problems that we must address: The huge and accelerating gap between the wealth and income of the favored one percent or so and the deteriorating situation of the lower sixty or seventy percent; and the imperial foreign policy of the United States. There are many, many other issues that are very important [including one personally dear to my heart, namely the rights of gay and lesbian Americans], but the wealth/income gap and the imperial foreign policy loom over everything else.
Several commentators have called my hopes for a revival of unionism sentimantal or romantic, and to some extent I think they are right. There are many structural reasons why labor unionism is not going to be the engine of progressive social change that it once was, and I will talk about them later, but clearly the day is passed when large organizations of working men and women could shape American politics.
The coalition of social groups that gave Obama his electoral victory is not now prepared to join forces to attack either the wealth/income gap or the imperial foreign policy, but I do not think either of those projects is incompatible with the world view of those social groups.
There is one thing we on the left have going for us, and it is very important. The structure of social networking now being created on the internet makes it feasible to imagine that scores of millions of Americans could be united into a powerful political force without the expenditure of large amounts of money, and without the necessity of taking control of local governmental and political structures.
That said, real change can, I believe, only come through the exercising of electoral power. Neither violent revolutionary action nor spontaneous street theater is going to accomplish much, though at times the latter may have some news value.
Odd as it may seem, the means for radical social change are already in existence. The public opinion polls I have seen indicate that people with roughly a progressive orientation are actually in the majority. Now, it has always been extraordinarily difficult to mobilize people who share a point of view but lack passion about it. Perhaps, just perhaps, the Internet can serve as a medium for overcoming that problem.
I have in mind a bottom up horizontal structure of organization, not a top down vertical structure.
Ok, enough for the moment. I welcome suggestions, reactions, and discussion. It seems fanciful to suppose that a movement of such importance could start with the blog of an aging philosopher, but there are probably a thousand other blogs already talkingn in the same fashion.
At the very least, it is better than despair.