Saturday, May 12, 2012

My Battle with the Temptations of Left Wing Spenglerism

As loyal readers have probably noticed by now, I very rarely write about politics these days.  Politics motivated my blogging in the first place; I started my first blog as a direct reaction to George W. Bush's reelection in 2004.  However, as a friend mentioned last week about himself, I am having a hard time maintaining the outrage and passion about politics that I once had.

In some ways, this might not be a bad thing.  I have been saved much of the aggravation and pain I used to feel on a daily basis.  Nowadays, when I hear about the latest conservative abuse of history, voters yet again exercising the tyranny of the majority to advance their own bigotry, or the Republican party using obstructionist tactics to screw over the working and middle classes, I mostly just shrug my shoulders and move along.  I used to write about these things, now I don't bother.  It's not that I no longer hold my old political principals, it's that I have lost hope that there can be much done in response, or to arrest the decline I perceive all around me.

Three decades of supply side economics have done their work, and I fear that the rot has set in so deeply that there is simply no way for this country to reverse its slide into a drastically unequal society keeping its people in line through world-leading incarceration, hand held gadgets, and cheap plastics trinkets purchased via easy credit.   The Supreme Court has basically made it legal to buy elections and allow the corporate elite to spread unlimited propaganda without even revealing their responsibility for it.  One of our political parties has become a vehicle for an extremist political movement totally unwilling to compromise and always ready to obstruct anything they don't like, while the other party mounts a weak opposition and remains beholden to the corporate interests who call the tune.

I don't like that I have become this pessimistic, since political pessimism is ultimately counterproductive, and in the past has been associated with right-wing reactionism.  The title of this post refers to the German thinker Oswald Spengler, whose 1922 opus The Decline of the West, coming on the heels of the Great War's destruction, prophesied Western European culture's downfall.  He perceived modern democracy to be one of the spasms of a dying and decadent civilization, and preferred a return to more authoritarian forms of rule.  To go about the world seeing irreversible decline means losing faith in ideals and simply clutching onto what you can while all else crumbles.  Seeing the world in this fashion makes the prophesy of decline a self-fulfilling one.  Declinist narratives also inevitably romanticize the past and distort the possibilities for change in the present.

To try to wrest my political soul from a fall into bitterness and cynicism, I have been trying to focus my political energies on more local issues.  I think the nation as a whole might well be irredeemable, but a fight can be mounted to get same sex marriage here in New Jersey, to throw Boss Christie and his teacher-hating cronies out of office, and to put an end to the NYPD's racist stop and frisk campaign.  President Obama's open support for gay marriage this week was an important reminder to me that things can improve in surprising ways, even if that change is still largely symbolic.  I just worry that without more signs and wonders, it will be hard for me to keep my political faith.

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