Democrats Dream of a Capitalist Truth

The leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties share a belief that the institutions of corporate capitalism are America. The institutions are like well-worn buildings with deep metaphysical foundations.

The vast majority of people are ephemeral. We are temporary. We are moved through some of the buildings, and not others, or sometimes denied entry to all of them, by forces over which we have little to no control. We are separated from those who guard the institutions and who are allowed to traverse them at will. We are told that this separation represents the “free” part of free market.

The Republicans work assiduously to make sure the majority of people have as little access to the buildings as possible. The Democrats decry this exclusion and then spend years debating whether they should open a small room in one of the outer structures. Neither question the origins, or supposed immortality, of the buildings themselves.

The leadership of both parties believe that institutions of finance are eternal – they precede us and will outlast us. When the Big Bang occurred, out flew leptons, quarks and free-market capitalism. But the masses are eternal only as an abstraction; collectively we are viewed as an endless shuffle of easily replaceable parts. 

The Republicans delight in taking billions of dollars from the many in order to enlarge and embellish buildings most people will never be allowed to enter. Republicans imagine themselves as the reincarnation of Khufu, the Egyptian pharaoh who subjugated tens of thousands to build the Great Pyramid. The Democrats have the same goals, but they are convinced they’re the new Plato, aligning the masses with the Truth of neo-liberal capitalism

Plato was a philosopher in ancient Greece who believed that an ideal society should be ruled by an extremely small, select group of Philosophers who were capable of understanding metaphysical Truths embodied in what he called the Forms and the Good. Philosophers should be kings. 

The vast majority of people had no philosophical abilities. No matter how much they learned and studied, they would never become Philosophers, and shouldn’t attempt to do so. Plato, didn’t hate the people, he simply didn’t care much about them. They were his version of the endless shuffle – an indistinct gray mass which needed to be directed and constrained.

Through their Platonic prism, Biden, Pelosi, and Schumer aren’t blindly attached to a deadened, morally bankrupt, economic system which has been a cudgel of marginalization and pain throughout history. Instead, they’re 21st century Philosopher-Kings, excreting the Truth of wealth, opportunity, and free-markets onto the masses.

One of the methods by which Plato’s Philosophers pacified the many to accept their place in society was through what is now called either The Myth of the Metals, or The Noble Lie.

Plato believed that the people should be told a story that they are all born from the earth. Some are born with gold in them (philosophers), some with silver (soldiers), and some with iron (the masses).  An individual’s place in society was determined by innate attributes and limitations present at birth. In Plato’s ideal society, inherent inequalities in philosophical capacity result in a rigid, hierarchical society.

Economic inequality now serves the same purpose as Plato’s philosophical disparities. Capitalism sorts out the masses. There can be no “winners” without “losers.” Financial stratifications allow political leaders to point to wealth as a reflection of innate differences in intellect and work ethic. 

Free-market capitalism is premised on the claim that “everyone has the qualities to succeed” while at the same time its resultant inequalities are rationalized as “nothing wrong with the system, must be something lacking in the people.”

The Capitalist Noble Lie has transformed capitalism from historical effect into metaphysical certainty. The ravages of plunder and conquest out of which capitalism emerged, and the structural inequalities which maintain it, disappear into the conviction that neo-liberalsim, like the Forms, was “always there,” in its perfection, waiting to be revealed. The forces which direct, and limit, access to the buildings of capitalism are subsumed into a glorification of the buildings themselves. 

The Capitalist Noble Lie is a torrent of water inundating desert sands. It moves in unexpected directions, forming intertwined tributaries as it covers, and drowns, all that is beneath it. The river is self-maintaining; it thrives by re-interpreting, mocking, or pushing aside, any attempts to divert its course.   

For Democrats, the free-market is a manifestation of a Truth which they will not allow to be challenged. Any small amelioration of the effects of capitalism must never fundamentally alter the system itself.

One political party revels in force, the other claims knowledge. But they both end up in the same place.

The certitude of Truth is far more dangerous than the love of power. Once Truth is invoked, the poor are no longer subjugated; they become the flawed discards of a race to enlightenment.

It is difficult to argue individuals out of their metaphysics. You can’t point to the actual lives of the majority of people because capitalism-as-Truth isn’t negotiable. The effects of neo-liberalism will only dissipate when we take power away from Plato and the Pharaohs.

–TGR–

Richard W Goldin; Lecturer in Political Science; California State University; thegoldinrule@gmail.com

The Crumb-Pushers Won’t Help Us

A massive mansion sits on ten acres of over-groomed lawn. An odd combination of faux classical Greek and Las Vegas-style Roman architecture, most of its too-many-to-count rooms have never been used. 

A lavish party is taking place in the Milton Friedman banquet room. Republican and Democratic party leaders enjoy a sumptuous feast encircled by the wealthy and well-connected. The leaders sit across a table laden with the kind of expensive, esoteric cuisine the rich pretend to like when they graze together. The Democrats and Republicans sit on different sides of the same table, enjoying the same food.

The non-wealthy are all locked in a small, cramped basement room. Small slivers of light and air enter intermittently from a row of slightly-opened windows near the ceiling.

Every so often, a Republican appears at the basement door and eagerly installs a bigger, stronger lock.  When some in the room shout “let us out!” the Republican replies, “I’m going to put locks on the windows.” 

Occasionally, a Democrat wanders down to the basement, carrying a small plate of leftover crumbs. The Democrat pushes the crumbs under the door, whispering words of sympathy and sorrow.

When the people cry out – “remove the lock, let us out of the basement!” the Democrat responds, “Oh, I don’t do that. But I do offer crumbs.”  The Democrat trots up the stairs with the empty plate, convinced that a crumb-pusher is a far better person than a lock builder. With one final glance back to make sure the door is still locked, the Democrat leaves the basement, proud of their journey into generosity and compassion.

In the basement, people fight over the little they are given. They separate themselves to different corners of the room, accusing each other of taking extra crumbs. Those who claim that the lock could be broken if everyone worked together are exiled to a tiny curtained-off area. People from all corners point to the veiled space and laugh derisively before returning to the battle. 

As the sounds of endless fighting drift upstairs, the Republican and the Democrat smile across the table and prepare to tell each other how much they love the sautéed ladybug wings.

–TGR–

Richard W Goldin; Lecturer in Political Science; California State University thegoldinrule@gmail.com

The Perils of Moderation

Moderation offers a seemingly attractive, common-sense approach to the political that inevitably disappoints when roused into (in)action. It’s the Ford Edsel of American politics.

Moderation contains no specific ideas or vision of its own, nor does it provide a process for balancing competing claims. Moderation is more a matter of faith; a kind of religious experience. 

Moderation is the character in a horror movie who stays fearfully inside the cabin while others are outside fighting evil. And is immediately devoured by the demons.

Moderation functions within political contexts it neither guides nor shapes. It is a dot on a pendulum it does not control; each wild swing producing a new center. Yet its main selling point is “stability.”

Moderation perverts the polarities of change. The perfect isn’t the enemy of the good; one only achieves the good by aiming for the perfect.

Moderation is a passenger trying to stop a runaway political train by moving everyone to the center car.

Moderation is a malleable sliver of metal seduced by the magnetism of the extremes. Expanding private health insurance only appears centrist in the face of forces which aim to take away any form of health care from all who are struggling economically. To include the latter in a calculus of “centrality” is to confuse mathematics with morality. 

Moderation is a strategy in which a thirst for the “center” replaces the parched materiality of people’s lives.

Moderation dims the aspirational shimmer of Progressives with the gloom of lowered expectations offered by Democrats.

Moderation is both Conservative and Leninist. As in Conservatism, it seeks only incremental change and exhibits a general disdain for progressive movements. It is the politics of “no.” Like Lenin, moderates view themselves as members of an elite Vanguard  – a small group of people who have risen above the false-consciousness of Progressives and will lead us all to the promised land of “let’s not do anything.”

Moderation is a place where people drive Edsels, worship the deity of the “center,” and, in the most dire of times, seek shelter in a rickety cabin of moderation while political monsters draw ever closer.

–TGR–

Richard W Goldin, Lecturer in Political Science; California State University;   thegoldinrule@gmail.com

Opening the Overton Window: A Strategy for Progressive Political Change

The political right is currently smitten with a concept known as the Overton Window. Named after Joseph P. Overton of the conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the core of the Overton Window is that there are, at any specific time, a particular collection of ideologies, ideas and policies which are acceptable to the general public. This assemblage of legitimacy shifts over time; ideas which were once considered unacceptable can become commonplace.

The Overton Window was introduced to many on the Right through a Glenn Beck novel of the same name. (A novel in the sense that it was a bounded stack of paper with words scattered across it.) In Beck’s hyperbolic “faction” an evil genius shifts the window and is able to use the government to bring tyranny to the people.

The alt-right is convinced the nation is in the midst of an immense, anti-tyranny, rightward shift in the Overton Window. Conservatives delight in this movement and the centrality of power which they believe generated it. Liberals, who once also rhapsodized about cultural change when it flowed in their direction, waffle between decrying the shift and arguing for its emulation.

The current composition of the Window will not be altered by a call for structural change, as “democratic socialists”  would hope. Shifts in the Window over time are an effect of strategically linking “new” ideas and policies with America’s “fundamental values.” Significant social, political, and economic transformations can be accepted by the public if they are portrayed as conserving more crucial, underlying tenets of  American society.

—  Political change is all about coding a redesign of the social fabric as necessary to its preservation.

American “fundamental values” emerged from a murky clutter of principles that were shaped by the uniqueness of our history. The political theorist Louis Hartz claimed that America is “exceptional” in that we avoided the feudalism of Europe. His contention is that we were “born equal” – not empirically, but as a shared historical ethos of individual rights, reason, and rationality which still suffuses our culture.

Hartz called our absolute devotion to the principles that we are all reasoning, rational, “self-owning,” sovereign individuals entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” the “American way of life.” He argued that the New Deal succeeded because Franklin Roosevelt was able to code his “radical” reorganization of government as merely pragmatic, rational, responses to existing circumstances. According to Hartz, “[Roosevelt’s] ‘radicalism’ could consist of ‘bold and persistent experimentation’ which…was perfectly compatible with Americanism…Americanism was gospel…and any conscious transgression of it…was highly unpalatable.”

Progressive politics should not be situating itself outside the consensus of “Americanism,” attempting to lure or propel it towards a socialist utopia. A politics for social change should be positioned squarely inside the consensus of American values, using it is a gravitation core to absorb progressive ideas and reshape the Window from within.

Any incantation of “socialism” by the Left runs counter to the broad American consensus of individualism. A progressive politics should work to reinterpret this consensus rather than attempting to undermine it.

In terms of the current corporate configurations of health care, progressives should argue that the nation is witnessing an abandonment of the historical, fundamental, “Americanist” values of individuality upon which the country was founded. It should be emphasized that we are no longer “self-owning.” Instead we are owned by corporations; reduced to mere digits on a spreadsheet. Our health and our lives discounted to fractions of pennies on the bottom line.

Universal health care should be presented as a rational response to defend the essence of individualism our founding fathers gave us. It shouldn’t be framed as a shift in the current fundamental values, but as a necessary protection against their dissolution. Those pressing for universal health care, and a deeper anti-capitalist agenda, should point to the loss of the individual as a fundamental danger – a looming specter requiring practical, rational “defenses.”

The battle for progress will not be won on the terrain of the visionary. Moving forward depends on morphing the future into the past. In a viable progressive politics, everything new is old again.

—TGR—

Richard W Goldin, Lecturer in Political TheorY; California State University;   thegoldinrule@gmail.com

Are the Economic Policies of the Democratic Party Immoral?

AP PHOTO/CLIFF OWEN

The current intensification of social and political hierarchies is fueled by a Republican ideology which celebrates the hoarding of resources by a few, and worships inequality as the 11th Commandment. Proposals such as taking food away from the elderly or health care from the sickest have faced charges not merely of injustice but of outright immorality.

But what about the Democrats? As a party, they offer programs and policies that make some peoples’ lives better in the short run. But at the same time they are unwilling to eradicate the economic structures which trap people into needing those programs in the first place. Democrats are proficient at hurling charges of immorality at Republicans; but should they face the same charges for their own (in)actions?

The latest Democratic promises are being sold under the slogan ‘A Better Deal.’ The Democratic Party is now explicit that its standards for a just society are highly relativistic. The deal doesn’t aim to bring about actual social or economic equality; its objective is just to be better than the other guys. This seems like a very low bar. The slogan speaks the language of a brighter future while simultaneously dimming any expectations for what that future will be.

“A Better Deal” points in two directions. It is an ostensibly sympathetic attempt to improve the lives of the most needy; while it ignores, and therefore reinforces, existing structures of inequality. There is no singular metaphysical principle which can judge the (im)morality of these combined actions. We’ll need a different way of approaching the question.

Consider the following analogy:

Imagine there exists a huge mansion which, despite its already enormous size, continues to grow exponentially. Dozens of rooms are added even as you watch; a steady stream of Italian hand-chiseled marble, enough wood to destroy a small forest, and gleaming golden toilets as far as the eye can see.

Surprisingly, there are only a few people partying in a handful of the mansion’s endless rooms. The vast majority of the building remains unused, even as it continuously doubles in size. Standing next to one of the many overly-laden tables in the lavish banquet hall are Republicans and Democrats; both on their phones talking to the same brokerage houses, all focused on increasing the same investment portfolios.

Down three flights of stairs, crammed into a small sub-basement room behind a well-bolted steel door, are all the rest of us. Those who work hard but receive the least. There is no way of leaving the basement other than through the steel door, and we spend most of our time blaming each other for our inability to break out.

The Republicans are certainly aware that we are down there. But they are the ones who pressed for the original basement excavation and the newly installed locks on the thickened steel door. They see nothing wrong with the situation and lack any ameliorative impulse.  

Eventually, one of the Democrats – we’ll call her Demos – looks sadly at the door leading to the basement, experiencing a fleeting moment of guilt. Demos moves to the door, walking down the many stairs carrying a plate of her meager leftovers. Approaching the sub-basement, she loudly announces her arrival, proclaiming that food crumbs are now being shoved under the door. When someone cries out to her to open the door she glances quickly at the lock, and continues to feed the narrow slit between door and floor. Completing her task, Demos turns away, exclaiming over her shoulder “remember, if it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t even have crumbs!” She runs back up the stairs, convinced she is a far superior person to those still attending the party she is so very eager to rejoin.

There are a number of factors involved in Demos’ actions. There is the overall upstairs/downstairs division, there is the refusal to break the lock, and there is the thrusting of food under the door. As strongly as some might believe that the immorality of the locked door is obvious – and thus Demos’ inactions are clearly immoral – it is difficult to apply a singular metaphysical certainty to her mixed responses. We want, instead, to stay within Demos’ own thought processes.

Demos demonstrates that the partitioning of people is wrong –
to her – when she carries her crumb-laden plate down the stairs in an attempt to ameliorate the situation. This “wrongness” does not necessarily bring with it a moral judgment on her part. Demos might feel that locking people in the basement is unjust, but does not rise to the level of immorality.

Demos pushes food under the door because she believes that the peoples’ deprivation is, at the very least, unfair. But when she is called upon to destroy the lock, she turns away from the door, and her convictions. This is where the question of immorality arises.

The Democrats do not deserve condemnation because they refuse to see our current economic and social inequality as necessitating an urgent moral response. Their failure lies in the contradictions between their belief in the wrongness– call it unfairness, call it an injustice – of our economic hierarchy, and their unwillingness to substantially transform it.

‘To sin by silence, when we should protest, makes cowards out of men.’
Protest by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Claims of moral “truths” are inherently subjective assessments. But one doesn’t need an external “truth” to question the morality of the Democrats. Their potential immorality is internal; it occurs the moment Demos refuses to alter the inequalities she regards as wrong.

Demos surmises that the situation is unfair, has the ability to fight it, but chooses perpetuation instead. Shoving food over the threshold, calling it “a better deal,” becomes the alternative to smashing down the door and freeing those trapped in the basement.

Republicans are convinced they are on a divine mission to expose an underbelly of “unworthies.” Their possible immorality is tied directly to the construction and advancement of inequalities. Democrats aim at ameliorating the effects of what they perceive to be Republican immorality; but they refuse to address the underlying causes.

For the trapped, there is little difference. We remain behind the bolted door, listening to floating bits of music from a party of Democrats and Republicans we will never be allowed to attend.

–TGR–

Richard W Goldin, Lecturer in Political Theory; California State University;  thegoldinrule@gmail.com