Thursday, April 14, 2016

Down on Main Street: Democratic Dilemmas and the Politics of Nostalgia

Though it has gone mostly unreported, lots of people have gathered in D.C. for "Democracy Spring" with lots of civil disobedience (a good thing) and protest over "corrupt campaign finance/governance". This is described as an outgrowth of the Occupy movement which apparently alerted the populous to "inequality". The problem with this narrative is even if you take all the money out of elections and start to re-distribute wealth, the original distribution of power (owning the means of production) stays the same. And what that power concedes it can always take back. I will never write for Yes! magazine because I'm always writing about NO! but David Korten wrote a piece saying capitalism vs socialism is a false dichotomy and we should be FOR democracy. The difference is that under capitalism private capitalists own the means of production and "under socialism, government owns these assets in the name of, but not necessarily in the interest of, the people". He starts with a description of his idyllic upbringing where his dad owned a business on a local mainstreet in smalltown America circa 1950-60. This embodied "Adam Smith's vision of local markets governed by a shared moral code and populated by local farmers, artisans and merchants who own their land and tools..." This nostalgic pastoral is notable for what it excludes (thanks Derrida) in the realm of power and antagonism: there are no farm laborers, no resource issues with said farming, all production and manufacturing magically done by honest craftsmen in small shops, and bartering done on a trusting, “fair and square” handshake manner. No exploitation or subterfuge, no externalities or inequity. You remember those days, right? Of course; because they happened on television and the movies! Not historical reality but the cultural production of reality. David Korten’s “the people” is the same as Democracy Spring’s “the people”, they are everyone BUT evil Corporations, all united in a “moral code” and working hard for the betterment of all. They hope to turn back the clock to those idyllic, Jeffersonian , pre-Citizens United days of small entrepreneurial capitalism. It ignores the account of Pickety wherein the gains of capital always outstrips the gains of the economy. It turns a purposefully blind-eye to patriarchy and nationalism and race and the other inevitable antagonisms. This romanticizing of “the local” is found in many of the “new” movements, especially the climate movement, but is problematic on many levels. First, the local can be totally reactionary, it can be the local warlord or mob or precinct captain. Second, it avoids the hard work of theorizing at meta-levels, where lots of change also has to occur.

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