Friday, 12 August 2011
Taking the Consumerist Douchebaggery Wind Out of Modern Left Wing Movements’ Sails
My father bought me an excellent publication for my birthday this year, a journal called New Politics. As easy as it is to waste as much time as we do reading stuff of variable quality on the internet, it is critical that as thinkers and readers we continue to support independent and radical journals and quarterlies, the publications that are often collectively referred to as the "alternative press". This is not to claim that the alternative press is not also subject to variable quality; in fact, this variable quality is one of the issues that will be addressed today. It is a qualifier so that the reader understands I am not attacking the idea of alternative press itself, and that I believe that we need these publications to counterbalance the mass media. At their best, these organs are supported through grassroots payments, thereby sustaining them and allowing them to contain way more real and relevant information than the big media conglomerates' content for a fraction of the cost and overhead. It is only by remaining independent, operating on shoestring budgets, and not shying away from controversial and contrarian viewpoints that these publications can remain relevant (and also by avoiding, as much as possible, abstruse academic garble). That sais I have a constructive criticism for the one that calls itself New Politics today, one that will allow this publication to productively address the frustration of its contributors over the disunity within the hodgepodge of groups that make up “the left”, and perhaps allow this hodgepodge to actually get taken seriously by the mainstream dominant culture machine these groups all pedal in different directions claiming to oppose. In case you haven't guessed what that tip is, it is in the title.
As someone who has evolved into a (I would like to think) post-ideological, post-partisan, non-dogmatic political thinker, and who continues to evolve, my patience with the pandering and lying of any of the levels/parties/branches of government in North America has grown perilously thin. However, if I must grudgingly choose categories or labels for myself, progressive social democrat is probably the most apt. New Politics is a socialist, left wing, radical publication of the first order, and the articles are well-written and decently argued. Here is where, though, I must diverge from certain people who are claiming to be my ally in name, because they really are in name only. An example of one article making shabby comparisons is the one saying the government workers of Wisconsin are the same people uprising in the Arab spring. Another one calling for a massive working group coalition of left-wing oriented working people in the GTA is beyond the pale to compare Toronto's garbage collection workers to its unemployed and homeless. It is bullshit to say "we are all in the same struggle" and anyone who does is either naive or delusional. Everyone needs to lower their expectations of what they are entitled to in life if the world is going to survive, not raise them to the level entitlement enjoyed by North American CEOs and government workers. Those who claim to be "progressive opposition" in North American must decide whether they want have cake or eat cake. The incoherence of the left is due to people of the "middle of the road" ilk belonging to it, while those who want to move beyond resource extraction, failed economic policies, and inequality are unjustly lumped into it. They are beyond even being identified with a part of the spectrum, but their message is too disruptive to the status quo so they are bundled in the least credible "tolerated" section of it, the one referred to as "The Left".
The problem is that there are a number of well-intentioned individuals who rail against fat cats, big banks and multinational corporations, which is all very well to do, but counterproductive when you don’t make any attempt to back up your words with actions. Let me explain. For those in Canada who feel that PM Stev-o is an instrument of these interests, and he is, I point them to Mister "Yes We Can" "Change We Can Believe In" Obama, who has become as much if not more of an "instrument" of the equivalent powerful lobbies in his country during his tenure as president. The "Left’s indignation is reserved for this political-business cabal who they blame for outsourcing, rising inequalities, and general anxiety and instability over the rich getting richer, real wages declining, etc. The only time this changes and they get behind the mainstream machine is during election time when, as in the instructive 2008 American example, a progressive, feel-good "saviour" is anointed only to prolong existing wars and start new ones, reduce tax revenue even more, and give even more power to the insurance companies that made health care so dysfunctional in the united states to begin with. Betrayed and disillusioned, professional leftists (unionized government workers), and auto workers (who now amount to the same thing) turn to groups that have nothing to do with them (anarchists, anti-capitalists, contrarian bloggers, and environmentalists) in a cynical attempt to expand their ranks, since their actual size reveals them to be what they are: A special interest group who, for all their rhetoric, don't really give a shit about the millions of poverty-line wage lifers making a go of it in the same society.
Their grievance is the "death of the middle class" but what they are really against is the end of a "middle class removed from reality." My major beef with Stev-o, Rob Ford, et al is the way they present the two car, consumerist, resource fuelled suburban lifestyle as a god given right to every man, woman, and child in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and beyond, who is willing to sell themselves into slavery to afford it, and the resources of the earth as exclusive property to be commandeered by Canada and put to the service of achieving of their utopia. Needless to say, this shameless and pathetic pandering has yielded electoral results that speak for themselves - the elusive and powerful "middle class" has found the voice through which it is logical to defend the unsustainable ground they have staked out and claimed.
This is why a true social democrat who advocates living within one's means, ending the expansion of credit, returning to the gold standard, and radically powering down the unsustainable amount of energy consumed by Canadian households and industry is ideologically homeless. Because the 2011 North American "socialist"s dream is to extend and constitutionally enshrine the lifestyles and accoutrements so ardently defended as inalienable from those who acquired them by Ford and Harper, to EVERYONE! This would make us broke and resourceless in the process.
Think about the NDPs sacred cows. WHY do public sector workers need inflation-indexed, defined benefit pension plans? Well, to guarantee them as "decent standard living" of course, negotiated in good faith through collective bargaining. But what is a "decent standard of living"? Government workers are earning 25 - 30 bucks an hour plus and six figure salaries in many Canadian communities (Brantford, Woodstock, PEI) where it is still relatively cheap to live. So, barring a coke addiction or a serious gambling problem, these employees will end up millionaires, with a guaranteed rising revenue stream, courtesy of Joe Taxpayer. In Revolutionary France these people were called the name befitting of them today, the "rentier-elite".
In the early part of the twentieth century, there were general strikes and the formation of unions because no protections or worker rights existed. Men were getting pennies to perform dangerous work for millionaire wealthy industrialists and had no rights if they were wrongfully dismissed, injured or killed on the job. Considering the extremity of the situation, of course worker organization and radical action were required for the times. But to posit that "decent standard of living" provision" as a logical extension of the rights fought for by the workers in industrialized countries of that time period is ludicrous.
Everyone knows what those four vague words mean in the parlance of our times. A 2,500 square foot house, more room the further away from downtown, smaller and much more expensive if closer. Two vehicles, any size, and the gas and overpriced insurance to power them. A big ass TV connected to the five hundred channel universe, bundled with two smartphones with data plans, high speed internet, and the kids smartphones. pets, vacations, indoor and outdoor renos, private schools, and of course, a guaranteed pension, so that not a wink of sleep is lost to anxiety over whether all of this is really worth it or if you really deserve it.
Many people have chosen this path in the private sector (minus the pension plan, which is obviously out of the question for them) and it is harder to fault them for their choices because they are, after all, convenient and appealing, and the four or five years we are running on now where awareness of their harmful nature has entered the mainstream the trend has not been reversed. Also, "the market" demanded what they earned the money to pay for those things doing, so it wasn't like they had to massage their PR about it being their god given right. Why would they have anyway, when the lifestyle is worshipped and validated in the mass media and during election campaigns?
But people who see this and want things to change are also are tired of gimmickry and exaggeration on the "official" left. The NDP can present itself as "relief" for ordinary, working Canadians but by dogmatically and stubbornly placing itself behind striking public sector workers who are picketing over losing the sick bank, they are glossing over matters at the heart of inequality and refusing to have the courage to see their logic through to its end. Sick days were originally fought for and won so employees who genuinely needed a day off could take it without fear of reprisal, not so that middle aged unskilled stiffs could cynically accumulate them for 35 years and then get paid out a huge liability. Take the damn days off (I'm pretty sure you don't need a doctor's note) and stop griping like you're an overstretched, exploited worker. You're the one milking the system and not taking the breather you're supposed be taking. This is called greed, and it’s the same principle you rail against when bankers take bonuses in bailout years, even though you lazily point to them to justify yourself rather than defend the logic in what you are fighting for when you are criticized.
When people are getting rich (yes, I think that is a fair assessment) on the taxpayer dime, and the acquiring of more money is typically associated with more consumption, bigger properties, and larger and faster cars, and these same people are claiming to be fighting and organized in the philosophical vein of Trotsky Lenin, WHY is environmentalism still synonymous with the left?! Probably because its focus on the collective makes it an anathema to those who convictions tell them that its an everyman for himself, take what you can get kind of world. In other words, treating the planet like a cheap slut you make a booty call to on Friday to get what you need, and ignore and blow off on Saturday for meals and quality time because you've got better things to do. Our relationship with the planet is all "us" and no "it," all "take" and no "give". So what environmentally responsible policies has the NDP been advocating? Bailing out the auto industry, the forestry industry, and taking the HST off of gasoline. This last one is the most hypocritical and outrageous decision that I think will eventually come down from the Conservative government on the inevitable day that gas prices become truly prohibitive - the direct subsidizing of consumers' gas purchases by the government - and yet it is coming from the government's supposed ideological opposite that decries its ties to the Alberta oil and gas industry. What a pathetic and utterly short-sighted political ploy. You want a meritocracy and fair society? How about rewarding the group of people who've decided to live without a car (It's not hard!). No, because again, you would scare away the people whose votes you are trying to buy. I can't live without a car, it’s my right to drive one everywhere I want to go. This is not a view representing 100% of the population, just the 65% of the most entitled, loudest part of it who also happen to vote in much higher proportions than poor old people, 18-24 years staring at smartphone and videogame screens, immigrants with language issues, and apathetic individuals of all ages. If you want to start winning people over, you have to start telling them the truth. The financial system is crashing into a mountain, were ruining the earth, and the leadership is too busy with trying to fit both their hands in the cookie jar to care. You will not win a lot of sympathy or votes in the short run, but people craving sense, purpose and meaning will come to you in the end, rather than watching this ridiculous pathetic battle over two sides of the same coin.
Climate change, species depletion and limited resources are far too serious of issues to be balled up with public sector contracts and peoples' selfish and entitled mentalities. Its time for people concerned about the environment to either make the demand that the left abandon its consumerist douche bag streak, and refusing to be lumped in with it any longer and make a genuine thrifty, accountable, realistic non partisan movement (The green party of Canada could be reformed in this way if only it could get rid of its narcissist, reality show contestant in chief, Elizabeth May). I suspect only the latter scenario is possible, and only it will present humanity with any new or serious real options in the 21st century.