Saturday, July 17, 2010

Some Thoughts on Fear, Empire and "New" Pragmatism

"New" pragmatic ideas are rooted in "old" ideas which have been abandoned, usually to increase private gain and Central State power (the two are inextricably bound). We fear change because we fear the burdens of non-Imperial freedom.

In yesterday's entry, I asked if we cling so tightly to failed ideologies and ideas because we fear losing the perquisites of global Empire and the Savior State.Perhaps the best single book written on the deep human desire to escape the heavy burdens of personal freedom, liberty and difficult trade-offs is Escape from Freedom by Eric Fromm.

Written after World War II, the book explains the attraction of the Nazi Party and other fascist/totalitarian parties/regimes.

In effect, deep-down we all want to be told what to do, and to be part of a cause or movement which is greater than ourselves. This could be the Armed Forces, an organized religion, a political party, a global corporation, a Central State or one of its many fiefdoms.

One of Fromm's key points is how burdensome and worrisome it is to be self-reliant and free. As someone who has been self-employed for 29 of my 40 years of work, I have felt the gnawing worry, the doubt and the pain of making one's own decisions and suffering the consequences of failure and/or miscalculation. I have felt the draw to be part of something larger which makes my decisions for me and offers me a security I can never have as an isolated individual facing an endless parade of lonely decisions and trade-offs.

It is much easier to accept an organized religion's orthodoxy than to read the holy books yourself and reach your own understanding. It is much easier to accept the ideology of a political party than to remain independent and non-ideological. It is much easier to work for a State/government/corporation than scratch out a living on one's own. It is much easier to join a group than to organize one. It is much easier to accept the role of victim than to take responsibility.

It is much easier to comply than to resist. It is much easier to take orders than to formulate one's own strategy. It is much easier to avoid accountability than to be accountable. It is much easier to take short-cuts and game the system than to achieve mastery.

This is how fascism--both cartel-corporate and state varieties, which are of course always bound in partnership--takes hold and captures the citizenry's allegiance. It's easier than insecurity and liberty. We are all drawn to the group and the group's approval, for we are intrinsically insecure and fearful of indecision.

Correspondent Robert Z. pointed out that

"from a historical perspective very little human activity is radically innovative. Instead, we build on ideas a little bit at a time. Technology has sped up the process radically, but once we have fed, clothed and sheltered ourselves and built transportation and communication systems, how much more innovation is really left? To wit, it took a few centuries to move out of the Dark Ages. It took about 115 years to go from wired telephones to wireless telephones. But it only took Microsoft about 25 years to evolve from DOS to Windows 7. (Editor's note: as the bumper sticker had it: Windows '95 = Mac '85.)

With most of our basic material needs satisfied (for the wealthy, anyway), what has happened is that we have evolved into a society where we do things because we can - not because these actions are practical or sensible or pass a cost benefit analysis. How else does one explain hooking up dying 90-year-olds to ventilator machines for a week or so before they die? The benefit is to the owner of the machine, who collects $10-20K a day from Medicare for the effort. How else does one explain trillion$ in government bailouts for banksters and bupkis for Main Street? The answer of course is that the wealthy and powerful control the government, lock stock and barrel.

If we take this one step further, we might conclude that what we need is not so much "new ideas" but "old ideas" which have been abandoned or marginalized by private and State interests seeking to solidify and increase their power and share of the national income. One example of such an "old" organizing principle I discuss inSurvival+ is the kumiai community group that developed in plantation Hawaii among Japanese-American immigrants.

In general, the larger the structure, the more centralized and concentrated its control structure, and the farther away it will be from citizen influence and accountability.

Thus the Pentagon, Medicare, global corporations, etc., are in effect unaccountable.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the local clinic, sheriff's department or Main Street business depend on the local citizens' financial and political support, and thus they are more accountable than power structures run from Washington D.C., London or Beijing.

Correspondent Zeus Y. offered this assessment of my question about fear:

Do we cling so tightly to these ideologically appealing, quasi-religious failed ideas because we fear not having any replacement ideas? Or do we cling to these failed ideas because we fear the decline of the Power Elites and the Empire? Or are we suffering from a grand failure of imagination, as I have suggested here before? Questioning "Progress" and the Poverty of our Imagination (June 11, 2010) .

Points one and three are related (and point two is a product of fatally identifying our well-being with the interests of our oppressors, i.e. Dow Jones = "our economic health"). Our fear of not having replacement ideas (and not knowing how they may work in advance) is cutting off our imagination. Without the fear and with a dose of analysis and creativity, many of the innovative ideas are really pretty obvious. They just require a kind of dynamic work and thinking ethic that most people are not prepared to make at this point (at least until they are forced into it, which is coming soon).

We need to have some guideposts in place about what CANNOT work and what CAN. The "cannot" is taken care of by rigorous observation and effort over mere convenient and lazy wish. The "can" is taken care of by creativity, initiative, and perhaps most importantly a new ethic for living which sees challenge as desirable, spontaneous communal commitment and innovation as fun and fulfilling, and social well-being as the point of individual effort rather than personal aggrandizement.

Thank you, Robert and Zeus, for these insightful comments. We have become dependent on the cheap abundance provided by global Empire and dollar hegemony: cheap and abundant food, cheap and abundant energy and the pleasures of being the marketplace for cheap, abundant goods from everywhere else.

When sacrifice, trade-offs and accountability are anathema, then so too is liberty.

Here is yesterday's entry up in case you missed it:

Oversupply of Old Failed Ideas, Undersupply of New Pragmatic Ideas

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