FLOTSAM & JETSAM: Rebuilding America: Change the culture & politics will folllow

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Rebuilding America: Change the culture & politics will folllow

Sam Smith - Under the present political rules there is virtually no chance of decency, fairness or common sense prevailing, because these rules function in a culture that is largely devoid of such values. To change anything, you have to change the culture, in our case a culture of greed, social indifference, arrogance and cruelty that has thrived for some three decades.

This culture is not just a matter of law, or even of corporate propaganda and manipulation. It has also included distorted education by supposed intellectuals and their universities, sleazy business school concepts so pervasive that even virtuous non-profits adopted them, and selfish values passed on by a media that thought it was just saying the obvious.

This is not new. Every major change requires a cultural transformation. Sure, the politicians will ultimately inscribe it as law, but before that there must be a massive alteration in how people see, understand, and believe things.

Think about the civil rights movement. Before it, even those who knew there was something badly wrong didn’t know what to do about it, didn’t dare say it, or didn’t know who else might be thinking the same thing. The movement liberated these suppressed feelings and gave them a visible and powerful new home long before the first civil rights measure was passed.

So it is today. For three decades America has increasingly been going along with the lies of the corporate elite. In time, these lies became remarkably successful in destroying the culture of progress that had blessed this land from the New Deal to the Great Society, and had dramatically improved the role of the worker, the middle class, blacks, and women, just to name a few.

And then it stopped.

But, again, it wasn’t a law or a collection of laws at first. It was a change in the language, the values, the icons and the clich├ęs. It was a new culture that incrementally eradicated what had preceded it and replaced it with what we have today.

To get a sense of how irrational and strange this change has been, consider that among today’s major pop cultural icons are Lindsay Lohan and the Kardashians. Now look at our political icons and consider how similar they are: vapid, talentless, unreliable creatures famous merely for being famous. 

Each movement of cultural change does it differently. Some want admission to the culture. Some want to turn it upside down. Some want to make it irrelevant. Some dream of replacing it with something far better.

And within each movement, each individual can see it differently and perhaps a consensus will be hard to reach.

There is a lusty tradition in American politics of citizens of disparate sorts, places, and status coming together to put power back in its proper place. At such times, the divides of politics, the divisions of class, the contrasts of experience fade long enough to reassert the primacy of the individual over the state, democracy over oligopoly, fairness over exploitation and community over institution. This could be such a time if we are willing to risk it, and one of the soundest way to start is to trade a few old shibboleths for a few new friends.