Everyone says that things are getting worse and worse. Not just in terms of standard of living – people are getting worse and worse. It’s undeniably true: schoolyards used to have fistfights, not shootings, whether we’re talking about black or latino gang rivalries, or white boys losing their shit in a way that screams “if we don’t set you off with poverty we’ll do it with alienation.”
Not to get into the gun control debate – yawn – which entirely misses the point. No amount of guns can create the American nightmare without a deeply scarred American population beneath it pulling the triggers.
Of course it couldn’t be any other way! As capitalism proceeds, competition intensifies; as living conditions become more hostile, the people living in those conditions become more hostile. People can’t ignore the fact that, not only are they throwing their whole lives away on shitty work, but now it doesn’t even pay that much, and healthcare costs are rising, and now they’re in debt and it’s growing so the passage of time used to seem like a way out but now it just gets them deeper, and it all just gets worse and worse.
The system’s negligence, corporate sociopathy, and market nihilism are all boldly on display, and as far as us peasants of the asphalt are concerned, it’s monkey-see-monkey-do. The rich and powerful are, after all, our meritocratic superiors, and we merely follow their shining example. Why shouldn’t I litter after the BP oil spill? Why should I hand a homeless person money when the CEO where I work makes 200 times as much as me? Why shouldn’t I shoot up a movie theater if the Air Force bombs civilians like it’s a video game and cops shoot people all the time? Why should I care about anyone else if no one else has any time for my issues? Why not rob banks if their owners are far worse? (I saw a huge spree of bank robberies in my town post-2008.) Why take care of the common good if I’m clearly not included in the official definition of the common good? Why not join in the war of all-against-all which seems to be raging anyway? Why take care of the system when it doesn’t take care of me – why take care of anyone, for that matter? If the system seems to take sadistic pleasure in hurting people, why shouldn’t I? It’s the example set for me, all I’ve been taught, all I can even conceive of or imagine. Freedom and happiness only come from power and money, power and money mean dominating other people – and violence is everywhere.
Is this progressive or reactionary? Well, first let’s just acknowledge it as a material fact. And I think that’s as far as I can take it. It’s just the terrain we’re operating on.
How much of this popular viciousness becomes anything productive? Eh, some of it does, and the rest we can’t even really prevent anyway. I’m sure some of it came out in Occupy, in the Arab Spring. The London riots are an obvious example, the Philly flash mob too. But then there’s also just a lot of horrible instances where people are hurting each other, where reactionary, competitive racial or national divisions are inflamed, where people generally lose faith in humanity.
But yeah, the madness bubbles up in the form of protests; the austerity battles of the Mediterranean are an example. It’s already taken the form of riots, which are politically complex in that they make sense to radicals but can confuse other people. The rage has taken the form of revolution too in the Middle East, which is tremendously great, and yet still has the political limitation of cycling one regime for another, so long as political organization with clear revolutionary-socialist ideology remains uncreated or sidelined. The strike action, an all-important form of outbreak, so far seems to be centered in China of all places. (The global nature of this issue should be obvious.)
Could the rage and trauma help construct mature political organization, which turns struggles into victories and uprisings into radical systemic change? Eh, well. It could just as easily get sections of the working class scapegoating each other; the path of least mental resistance will have you hating blacks instead of the rich. But not just that – I think it actually is the fuel which stumblingly results in political organization, after a few incarnations and cycles of confused spasms where people hurt themselves, each other, and occasionally someone who actually sort of deserves it. Most people think with their hands, they think by doing, or in other words they don’t think at all, but are just forced to process the fallout of their wild actions after each successive session of flipping out. But that’s just how it goes. It’s like a natural process, and you can’t reject any part of it if you want the end results, nor do we really have a choice over whether it will happen anyway.
But ultimately, beyond protests, riots, strikes, revolutions, and political organization, I think the psychic unhinging of the working majority has one final, all-important significance which is related to how I view the world:
Some people view politics a parliament or congress, as a group of bodies divided down some ideological line, often with some sappy bullshit about how everything would work out better if they would just communicate better and listen more.
No. Instead I view politics (and I think the ruling class shares my view) as a continual crowd management situation threatening to spiral out of control at any second, with constant efforts made by a professional staff of smoothtalkers and thugs to persuade, distract, intimidate, and physically contain the crowd back into an orderly state. I am a member of that crowd, running an operation of counter-persuasion and internal coordination, trying to get the crowd to beat back and trample over the containment apparatus, without being personally singled out and liquidated by it, which would hamper the coordinating and also suck for me.
We can talk to people about justice. We can tell people that we need to seize the wealth and government and means of production, that it’s not necessary to herd the wealthy into stadiums and slaughter them, if we just take their power. But I really don’t think the crowd will develop the emotional-and-therefore-physical momentum required to spill over the shepherds’ walls without a seething, a deep sharp vibration in their hearts telling them that the shepherds deserve to die, or worse. That’s the only language by which unsophisticated people can understand the rejection of half-measures. I think that’s what they’re going to hear, no matter how we say it.
So it goes. I’m just the messenger.