We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
—Frances Moore Lappé, excerpt from Time for Progressives to Grow Up

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dancing With Dangl

by Clifton Ross from Counterpunch

This is the third book review that I have posted for Dangl's new book entitled, Dancing with Dynamite. (See this and this.) The book deserves all the attention it is getting because many on the left are experiencing disenchantment with progressive movements that continue to be swallowed up or co-opted by ruling classes. 

Dangl surveyed many progressive movements throughout the Americas and concluded that...
“...the state and governing party is, by its nature, a hegemonic force that generally aims to subsume, weaken or eliminate other movements and political forces that contest its power.”
However, experience reveals again and again that after so much time, energy, and commitment has gone into the building of these movements, they seem to result in only minor gains, at best, in the lives of ordinary people. Their credo is best expressed by this statement from Howard Zinn:
Democracy is social movements. That’s what democracy is. And what history tells us is that when injustices have been remedied, they have not been remedied by the three branches of government. They’ve been remedied by great social movements, which then push and force and pressure and threaten the three branches of government until they finally do something. Really, that’s democracy.
I believe that it is time--indeed, a long overdue time to re-evaluate this perspective--and, Dangl also thinks so. Progressives everywhere must wake up to the facts that this is leading us down a dead-end road. Hierarchical social arrangements and technological prowess has resulted in the system of capitalism that will end in the exhaustion of energy resources, environmental destruction, climate change and the end of human and other life forms. 

The first task, in my opinion, is to destroy this system which automatically provides huge advantages to people who "own" productive property and has resulted in a class of people over and above all others. An economy is always social in nature. It is a legacy that has been handed down to us from many generations of working people. Thus, all significant economic units must be publicly owned. This eliminates the economic basis for hierarchy. Then there remains the addiction to power that can afflict individuals and produce systems of oppression.

As I have argued before, at least 98% of human existence has been organized around small groups where decisions were made collectively. That is our fundamental human nature. As soon as you elevate people to a higher level decision making group, they are absorbed into a new group that creates its own identity and interests which are often different from their original group affiliations. As people rise in a social hierarchy, this process keeps repeating until you have people at the top whose interests have little to do with their social origins (assuming ordinary social origins). 

People who rise in such a system tend to lack moral constraints. Thus the people with the most sociopathic tendencies tend to rise to the top. Their new group references are at, or near, the top and together they establish their own group norms and interests. Groupings like this tend to regard people at the bottom of this heap as expendable when they get in the way of their interests. 

Thus, we see under capitalism that they have little difficulty in deciding to close down a factory and move it where they can find cheaper labor regardless of the consequences to the people living in the community. They have little difficulty deciding to engage in all kinds of financial scams to enrich themselves that have ended in the devastation of whole economies. They have little problem lying to their citizens to justify invading other countries to kill their people and steal their resources. They always do this with their peer's support. It is the social nature of the human beast always to be guided by their referent groups.

It seems to me that the solution that follows from this analysis is that we must do away with these elaborate hierarchical social systems by designing highly decentralized societies that require a high degree of political participation by people at the grass roots. Dangl senses this when he writes:
For progressive changes to take place in the US, more people need to become participants in politics rather than spectators. And by this I mean making revolution a part of our everyday lives, not just something we watch on TV or a vote we cast for a politician.
What is there to lose by not trying to do this? By continuing down the same path as we have in the last three or four millenniums, we will surely end up destroying our habit and ourselves.