Monday, November 21, 2016

The Triumph of the Empty Gesture

Public displays of empty gestures are no substitute for action.
Politics is the art of the symbolic gesture. The successful symbolic gesture gains gravitas by crystallizing a narrative that attracts a consensus that then powers policies of substance.
The politics-as-usual gesture is empty of substance, serving only to mask collusion and failure. Soaring Rhetoric(tm) is carefully engineered to mimic successful symbolic gestures of the past, but the purpose isn't to power positive policies: the goal is to distract the audience by making them feel that participating in empty gestures is a substitute for real-world actions of substance.
The net result is we now inhabit a culture that relies on empty gestures and feel-good appeals to past glories. This reliance on empty gestures and appeals to past glories typifies regimes in decline.
Historian Michael Grant described this decay of purpose and substance in his short book The Fall of the Roman Empire, a work I've been recommending since 2009:
There was no room at all, in these ways of thinking, for the novel, apocalyptic situation which had now arisen, a situation which needed solutions as radical as itself. (The Status Quo) attitude is a complacent acceptance of things as they are, without a single new idea.
This acceptance was accompanied by greatly excessive optimism about the present and future. Even when the end was only sixty years away, and the Empire was already crumbling fast, Rutilius continued to address the spirit of Rome with the same supreme assurance.
This blind adherence to the ideas of the past ranks high among the principal causes of the downfall of Rome. If you were sufficiently lulled by these traditional fictions, there was no call to take any practical first-aid measures at all.
This decay of purpose and substance in favor of empty gestures intended to symbolize progressive values has infected the entire culture. Rather than do something substantial and risky to change our neofeudal mode of production, people change their photo on Facebook in a public display that serves to satisfy their desire to "do something" but which avoids any actual cost or risk.
As a result of this reliance on empty gestures, we've become a culture that buys filtered tap water in plastic bottles that end up fouling our waterways, feeding the Great Pacific Trash Gyre, trashing the planet to "show the world" that we "care about our health" by buying Corporate America's filtered tap water.
The list of comically delusional empty gestures is essentially endless: the ecology bumper sticker on the fuel-wasting SUV; the public purchases of "healthy" supplements that cannot possibly offset a diet of junk food; signing an online petition that is really just an email-collection tool for spammers; wearing an American flag lapel pin as a public display of content-free patriotism, and a retch-provoking abundance of similar displays of "progressive" or religious self-righteousness.
Public displays of empty gestures are no substitute for action. You want a more progressive economy and culture? Turn off the mainstream media, start working on ways to extricate yourself from the state/cartel matrix, get out of debt, stop taking on more debt, start growing your own food (if you have no yard, in a community garden), use less of everything, starting with energy in all its forms, focus on DeGrowth, build your own networks of transparency, shared practical knowledge and reciprocity, start using decentralized crypto-currencies--and most importantly, just do the work, don't make empty gestures as a substitute for action that requires time, effort, money and risk.
Every minute wasted on self-righteous empty gestures or viewing someone else's self-referential, self-aggrandizing empty gesture is a minute you could have been doing something useful.
Please ponder three aphorisms of action:
Do the thing and you shall have the power. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
We are what we repeatedly do. (Aristotle)
He who will not risk cannot win. (John Paul Jones)

 

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