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Eminent Domain

No man is an island, as the saying goes. Unlike solitary creatures that only meet to mate, man is a social animal, his success dependent upon organizing and unifying. Alone, he’s just tiger food. Even Robinson Crusoe had help. The success of nations depends in part on how well its society is organized. A poorly or disorganized one, even one with a wealth of natural resources, will be corrupt, impoverished (except for the few running it) and backward. A well-organized one will have resilient infrastructure, a well educated and nurtured populace, an efficient and mostly representative government and an ability to respond well to crises. The same thing could be said about corporations, family units, homeowners associations or any other human structure.

Of late, however, there seems to be a broad based attack on the very concept of social organization, or at least as that practiced outside the boardrooms of corporations. And not just in America, but in other advanced nations, as my reading of foreign news sources indicates. Profound change requires more than just physical alteration; it requires consent of sorts. And in order to obtain consent, a sea change of opinion must be manipulated and that is what we are seeing here, attacking the social, the commons, to permit the further privatization of functions, services, funds and resources.

In a recent series of articles about public education, Dr. Henry Giroux has been focusing more on this attack of the entire concept of “public.” He argues that the obvious and growing interest of elites in redefining and restructuring public education is part of a larger objective: to first alter and then eradicate the concept of society (“wealthy billionaires such as Bill Gates are financing educational reforms that promote privatization, de-professionalization, online classes, and high-stakes testing, while at the same time impugning the character and autonomy of teachers and the unions that support them.”) It is not simply an attack on unions or an attempt to cut the costs of public education. Rather, “[w]hat these individuals and institutions all share is an utter disregard for public values, critical thinking and any notion of education as a moral and political practice.”

Today’s WSJ notes that the state of Georgia wants to end all scholarships based, in part, on need and make them merit only (i.e. for the wealthy who don’t need them), the alleged thought being that it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and students should get used to it. Scholarships, particularly ones paid for by tax dollars, were invented to give a leg up for promising students who have otherwise been disadvantaged by the system, to prevent the ossification of society by opening up opportunities to a wider range of talent, to level the playing field and to enrich our nation by investing in its potential rather than falling back into aristocracy and decay.

Of course, the Michigan assault on unions and the right to collectively bargain (cops excepted, of course) in Wisconsin and other states are an obvious attack on the right of free association still accorded corporations and political action committees. Even the Orwellian term “right to work” suggests the atomization and alienation of individuals as the true intent. The ability of the public to organize and seek a better bargaining position or redress of grievances is under attack across the board.

Even in the wake of tragedies, the propaganda doesn’t stop. The water had not stopped rising before calls for the privatization of relief efforts were sung by the very people who complain to this day about the carpetbaggers. While ballyhooing the need for social welfare cuts while yet giving further tax cuts to the superrich, the mainstream propaganda organs must find some justification for tax dollars being hoovered up to bail out extreme risktakers and crooks. Insofar as the police state has justified its existence and expenses via the endless war on an abstract noun, the massive transfer of public funds into the hands of the wealthy and unrepentant still requires some philosophical explanation to keep the people passive and compliant.

So we have returned to the Red Scare days, despite the loss of the USSR and “Red” China as boogeymen, where the right screams of threats of socialism, of collectivism and of freeloading (hence “entitlement”). And now, with the latest in a string of mass shootings that have risen like a king tide in the Reagan wake, gun control has joined this unholy alliance against old fashioned American values. But this, too, is part of the attack on how we operate as a society. As Mark Ames so trenchantly observed about Second Amendment fallacy,

“They could’ve gone out and organized something and maybe built a politics of people power or even a politics of what they call revolution, a politics that actually changed things. But instead, they locked themselves in their homes and apartments with their guns and fancied themselves political revolutionaries just waiting to be swept up. But no one came. No one bothered or cared. And really, why would any plutocrat or evil government agency bother with the suckers, all harmlessly atomized and isolated and thoroughly neutralized by the false sense of political empowerment that their guns gave them, while you do the real work of plundering budgets, bribing politicians and writing laws even more in your favor?

So while everyone was hiding out in their homes armed and ready for Hollywood finales that never came, in the real world political power was concentrating at warp-speed with zero resistance.

From the oligarchy’s perspective, the people were thoroughly neutralized by the false sense of political empowerment that guns gave them. Guns don’t work in this country — they didn’t work for the Black Panthers or the Whiskey Rebellion, and they won’t work for you or me either.”

Thus, it all falls into one neat package: the sooner we stop thinking of ourselves as in this together, as having common interests, rights and responsibilities, as being un pueblo unido and forming a more perfect union, the sooner those conspiring to bring this to pass will be able to accumulate it all for themselves. Maggie Thatcher, who held public office in the Commonwealth and later accepted a social title, nevertheless shamelessly claimed “there’s no such thing as society.” That was simply the first lie across the bow.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 21st, 2012 07:42 pm (UTC)
There is more to wrap my mind around this Orwellian attempt to erase the very concept of the public or at least so subsume it to the fallacy of the rugged individualist that it taints the utterer worse than an alien abduction story. I will mull it over and doubtless post further cogitations later.

Edited at 2012-12-21 07:42 pm (UTC)
Feb. 10th, 2014 11:34 pm (UTC)
More from the inestimable Henry Giroux on the changing status of the concept of the public:

“The older modernity held up the ideals of justice, equality, freedom, and democracy, however flawed. The investment in public goods was seen as central to a social contract that implied that all citizens should have access to those provisions, resources, institutions, and benefits that expanded their sense of agency and social responsibility. The new modernity and its expanding surveillance net subordinates human needs, public goods, and justice to the demands of commerce and the accumulation of capital, at all costs. The contemporary citizen is primarily a consumer and entrepreneur wedded to the belief that the most desirable features of human behavior are rooted in a "basic tendency towards competitive, acquisitive and uniquely self-interested behavior which is the central fact of human social life."

“Debates about the meaning and purpose of the public and social good have been co-opted by a politics of fear, relegating notions of the civic good, public sphere, and even the very word ‘public’ to the status of a liability, if not a pathology.”
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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