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Saturday, November 2, 2013


I posted a meditation on the vexing problem of what can be done about the tens of millions of Americans on the right who are permanently alienated from the present direction of evolution of American society, and invited thoughtful comments.  Don Schneier and Jerry Fresia responded.  In this post, I will try to address the points they raise, which I found interesting and important.

Don Schneier, in the second of his two responses, asks us to cease construing the people I was talking about as located on one wing of the normal political spectrum, and see them instead as armed revolutionaries, at least potentially, who pose an entirely different sort of threat to society.  I am not sure what to think of this assertion.  Lord knows, the rhetoric of Secession and States' Rights and Second Amendment Solutions is violent enough, in a country awash with guns of all sorts, but despite the reports of small groups of people forming themselves into quasi-military posses and factions, I find it very difficult to see the Tea Partiers or the Evangelicals as engaging in armed insurrection.  Nor is it, I think, especially significant that suicidal individuals like the disturbed young man at LAX yesterday read and reference the literature of revolution or resistance.  Serious armed revolt in the United States, to pose a credible threat, would have to enlist the support of either local law enforcement officials or else elements of the military.  The latter is clearly not going to happen, and the former, though it might occur in some form at a very local level, seems not at all likely in any significant manner.  [Echoes here of that old Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster thriller, Seven Days in May.]   And yet.  And yet.  I don't imagine the confident, sophisticated intellectuals of the Weimar Republic were too impressed with the ragtag rebels heeding the calls of Adolf Hitler.

Jerry Fresia invites us to compare the people I was talking about with the Occupy Movement, which, despite their very great differences, he thinks are both reacting to the fact that "America is fast becoming a place that is unrecognizably different from the country" where just about everyone expected "to inhabit as adults"  [quoting in part from my post].  This is very suggestive.  There are all manner of differences, of course, between the Tea Party movement and the Occupy movement, most notably that the Tea Party movement seems to have been bankrolled and brought into being by rich right-wingers with a clearly defined political agenda.  But I do not think we should make too much of that difference.  Had the Tea Party movement not touched deep and powerful emotions already present in a very large number of people, no amount of dark money could have called it into existence or sustained it for more than a brief time.

The most interesting difference perhaps is that whereas the Tea Party Movement targets the federal government as the enemy, the Occupy Movement targets finance capital, and by extension capitalism tout court as the enemy.  Needless to say, my heart flutters at the thought, but the Occupy Movement offered neither an analysis of capitalism [beyond the simple but enormously powerful contrast of the one percent with the ninety-nine percent] nor even a hint of a program for its transformation.   As the significance and effects of the dramatic increase in income and wealth inequality sink in, there are, it seems to me, two possible responses by the Occupiers, if I may call them that.  One is a quietist withdrawal from the public square in an effort merely to survive with low wage benefitless jobs.  The other is some sort of organized mobilization of workers -- in unions, or if not, then in alternative action-oriented structures.  Everything in America today militates against the latter, including the stratification of jobs and the class differences between the majority without higher education credentials and the minority who possess them and are encumbered with unmanageable debt.  My blog post presupposed that demographic and cultural changes in America were driving the country irresistibly in a progressive direction, but Jerry Fresia recalls me to the gloomy truth that cultural advances -- in the acceptance of gay rights, women's rights, the integration of Hispanic Americans into the larger society -- may be accompanied by ever greater economic inequality.


Don Schneier said...

As applied to the recent 'Shutdown'--in which the Tea Party managed to alienate a significant segment of the population, while uncaringly inflicting harm on many innocent bystanders--I like my diagnosis of the terrorist-suicide mind-set. I also do not see it as far-fetched that withing the context of that mind-set, the idea of a Kenyan-Islamo-Socialist takeover of the U. S. could, and, maybe, does, suffice as justification for the formation of a militia, even if such an escalation would have limited success. In the absence of any evidence of rational self-interest motivation on their part, I'll stick to that diagnosis.

Don Schneier said...

Also, if the "deep and powerful emotions" justifying a comparison of the Tea Party and OWS are 1. hate and 2. a yearning for justice, then I think that we can never "make too much" of the difference--another example of why Left-Right equivalences tend to be problematic.

Jerry Fresia said...

On a more hopeful note, let me provide a long quote from William E. Connolly (a former colleague of Professor Wolff at UMass, now at Johns Hopkins University) who in response to climate change lists "multimodal strategies" as possible responses, which in turn may suggest parallel responses to the problem Professor Wolff poses. (Connolly's blog can be found here - -). Here's the quote (which I must post in two parts given its length).

"Perhaps it is wise to forge multimodal strategies that start outside the electoral grid and then return to it as one venue among others. Strategic role experimentations at multiple sites joined to the activation of new social movements provide possibilities. Indeed, these two modes are related. Consider merely a few examples of role experimentation tied to climate change and consumption available to many people in the shrinking middle class. We may support the farm-to-table movement in the restaurants we visit; we may participate in the slow food movement; we may frequent stores that offer food based on sustainable processes; we may buy hybrid cars, or, if feasible, join an urban zip-car collective, explaining to friends, family, and neighbors the effects such choices could have on late modern ecology if a majority of the populace did so; we may press our workplace to install solar panels and consider them ourselves if we can afford to do so; we may use writing and media skills to write graffiti, or produce provocative artistic installations, or write for a blog; we may shift a large portion of our retirement accounts into investments that support sustainable energy, withdrawing from aggressive investments that presuppose unsustainable growth or threaten economic collapse; we may bring new issues and visitors to our churches, temples, or mosques to support rethinking interdenominational issues and the contemporary fragility of things; we may found, join, or frequent repair clubs, at which volunteers collect and repair old appliances, furniture, and bikes to cut back on urban waste, to make them available to low income people and to increase the longevity of the items; we may probe and publicize the multimodal tactics by which twenty-four-hour news stations work on the visceral register of viewers, as we explain on blogs how to counter those techniques; we may travel to places where unconscious American assumptions about world entitlement are challenged on a regular basis; we may augment the pattern of films and artistic exhibits we visit to stretch our habitual powers of perception and to challenge some affect-imbued prejudgments embedded in them. A series of intercalated role experiments, often pursued by clusters of participants together."

Jerry Fresia said...

Connolly continues (Part II):

"But don’t such activities merely make the participants “feel better”? Well, many who pursue such experiments do feel good about them, particularly those who accept a tragic image of possibility in which there is no inevitability that either large scale politics, God, or nature will come to our rescue. Also, could such role experiments ever make a sufficient difference on their own? No. These, however, may be the wrong questions to pose. What such experiments can do as they expand is to crack the ice in and around us. First, we may now find ourselves a bit less implicated in the practices and policies that are sources of the problems. Second, the shaky perceptions, feelings, and beliefs that authorized them may thus now become more entrenched as we act upon them. Third, we now find ourselves in more favorable positions to forge connections with larger constituencies pursuing similar experiments. Fourth, we may thus become more inspired to seed and join macropolitical movements that speak to these issues. Fifth, as we now participate in protests, slowdowns, work “according to rule” and more confrontational meetings with corporate managers, church leaders, union officials, university officers, and neighborhood leaders, we may become even more alert to the creeds, institutional pressures and options that propel these constituencies too. They, too, are both enmeshed in a web of roles and more than mere role bearers. Many will maintain an intransigence of viewpoint and insistence of interpretation that we may now be in a better position to counter by words and deeds with those outside or at the edge of the intransigent community."

Don Schneier said...

My diagnosis of the Tea Party is in part an application of the concept of Nihilism, a topic that I first studied under the auspices of none other than William E. Connolly. Anyone familiar with the relevant material would not confuse a 'Nihilist' with a Wolffian 'Anarchist'. Likewise, they would not take at face value any Tea Party and related rhetoric about the 'Individual', and, hence, about its 'Rights'. So, I'll reiterate: Part of dealing effectively with the concrete actual problems posed by the Tea Party et al. is to resist uncritical adoption of their formulations of issues. Given the participation of some Democrats in both the hysterical response to the ACA web-site problems, and the silence over the SNAP cutbacks, both Tea Party-inspired, I regard that warning as timely, but likely futile.