Published on http://www.counterpunch.org
Words come to meaning within the context of expression, which is time and place. Call it the stage upon which actors –words – are confined. Maybe they can break out on other stages, “back in the day” stages, but the risk here on a demanding “Be Present!” cultural stage is facing instant dismissal, like asking for pen and paper or having a home phone. You might be using a foreign language dictionary for all the good your words are doing. I am not implying there is a dictionary, like an external reference point, defining meanings we all agree upon. In a way, we have lost our own language, not your unique way in which “You Speak Yourself!” but the old-fashioned language as a societal creation and a creator of society. I guess we do not fear its loss or its decay because emoji, robots speaking algorithms, photos of our own faces, and ten second videos are making our words and our language obsolete.
It is where we have been heading, this stage we are on now, more like a battlefield than a theatrical stage in which actors speak and an audience attentively listens. You need to know what battle you are in otherwise what you say can be more explosive than clarifying. You need to pick your battle and avoid those in which there is no chance of winning. You could get bogged down or caught in a crossfire, no hope of rescue because what “rescue” means is where and how the shooting started.
When the public space is no more, now endlessly segmented, manically privatized following a maxim of “To Each According to His/Her/They Choice” it would seem foolish and futile to trespass with your words within such privatized compounds and expect to be welcomed. You need to go where minds are open to what you say, and you need to stay there. You will be safe, welcomed and satisfied that what you have written has been understood. Of course, preaching to your choir doesn’t mend fences but only makes opposing sides dig in deeper. Opposing sides would be much better than a furious melee of all against all, a whirlwind of voices shouting each other down. Or hoping to.
I would say that’s the predicament a writer is in or was in until writing itself went out of fashion. When you give up all hope of dialogue leading to mutual understanding, you post a 15 to 60 second video on TikTok, messaging the world your own world. I trace the fall of shared meaning and understanding to an economics that seeks to brand such in ways beneficial to profit. And has the prestige and power to do so. That means all thought should be profit directed, from pre-kindergarten to deathbed confession. So vulnerable to reason’s attack is the transparently obscene plutocracy such an economics has created that it must defend this obscenity by corrupting language itself. Our Enlightenment era presumption is that with words we can expose and indict. You would think that with words we could easily achieve a common revelation of the calculus of money and power entrenched in the portfolios of the few. We are far from that, heading in the wrong direction, hoping for clarity with “robot speech.” Not our own. We have given up on that.
What anything means and how to reach common understanding through language has now been privatized and become a possession of the autonomous self. The universe has become the YOUniverse. You choose what’s real to you. This empowerment of the autonomous self is after all the driving, prime directive of the capitalist success story. Any form of solidarity, from the Federal Government to labor unions, and, of course, a socialist political party, is a threat to the disintegration and fractionalization that is a requirement at the heart of capitalist competitiveness. Best is a diversity that dishevels the mind and provokes a chaos of minds lost in the confusion in which what is true cannot be distinguished from what is false. Best is a confusion that can be worked toward profit, a crisis of meaning leading to maximization of profit. Every individual is a market, a personal choice marketing frontier. A market of one mind is death to capitalism. Any brand of unity is defunded by capitalism.
Unity beyond all diversity in corporate-speak is monopoly after it has crushed competition. The paradox of capitalism is that what it seeks, it cannot allow. What it seeks in a “Master Corporate/Hedge fund/Private Equity Narrative” would create a public space attended by a public audience in which undisputed meaning could be found in “The Corporate Dictionary.” What makes this improbable is of course the play of free enterprise competitiveness itself. The directive to proliferate differences in order to expand markets, to obstruct unified and common consolidations is, at ground level, effected by the erosion of common understanding and its communication. The play of capitalism brooks no solidarity, not even its own.
If you want to particularize and fractionalize on the macro level, you need to do it on the micro level of language. The consumer of stuff, free to choose, autonomous and self-empowered, is equally free to chose what anything means. Like Humpty Dumpty. Unfortunately, alone we are not able to determine what anything means in any way beyond the parameters of our own minds, minds already corrupted by the memes of profit making. Our “likes,” which tout their pre-rational roots, their sacred “gut” origins, are easily manipulated by the marketing cleverness of profit making. As the capitalist meme goes: What liberates our unique being-in-the-world is unbridled free enterprise. Tragically, capitalism and we are equally unbridled enough to destroy ourselves and our planet.
Ironic then that the party of unbridled “free enterprise” is not the party of diversity, equity and inclusion. Democrats take that spot and so sponsor the capitalist drive to divide and market. Personal choice, individual autonomy and self-empowerment do not counter but in fact endorse the capitalist drive to confound a common understanding that could deconstruct the plutocratic calculus of financialized Wild West capitalism.
Little has been done by the Democratic Party on behalf of labor unions because the solidarity of unions does not fit the diversity directive. The Public Option on the ACA, like all things labeled “public,” does not fit the diversity directive. If you want to maximize choice, you cannot have a government option. Unity under the law that government seeks challenges the privileging of differences and discounts the suspicions the subaltern has of such unity. Here, Democrats join with capitalism and its neo-liberal mercenaries in their anti-government-ism, although rooted in different pots.
I suggest the ineffectiveness of 16 years of Democratic presidencies in regard to government’s failure to temper free market predation can be traced to this increasing alignment with difference and diversity and the grievances publicized by those factions.
The mission of inclusiveness is no where more energized than in capitalism’s need to include every aspect of life as a potential marketing frontier. The capitalist drive to profit will plow without discrimination through every color, sex, gender, religion, ethnicity, wokeness, political correctness and so on. Nothing is canceled. Only the color of money counts. However, taking a stand in regard to any or all of these so as to bring voters into the capitalist camp has worked in every election since Bush `41 and Willie Horton. It works not because a drive to increase profit to shareholders is invested belief-wise in any or all of these inanities and hatreds but because there are Americans who are. When capitalism’s party, the Republicans, win an election or gain enough power to weaken any anti-capitalism move, profit not people win. What they need in an electoral democracy are the votes of racists, sexists, homophobes, bigots, xenophobes and haters of all stripes. This mud quarry must be worked if a wealth minority is to win an election.
As no sacred text nor their messages of Goodness for some millennia have wiped out the darkness of our human natures, I doubt that legislation is our answer here. We are still waiting on the Civil Rights Acts begun in 1964 to infiltrate the American mass psyche. The best we can do legislatively, if the Dark Force votes allow, is to stop case by case the punishment of those whose difference targets them. The voices of those Dark Forces have been let out of the bag into Cyberspace and will not go back in. The racist screaming at his own face in the bathroom mirror now is an Influencer with a zillion followers. I have no solution or remedy here. The stage is set in favor of the Haters.
Turning from the personal, private and individual to the public, the collective and the social, from gated privacy to rubbing elbows, is definitely not a showstopper on our present stage setting, definitely not a turn we’re making or inclined to make. Yet, such movement may loosen the hold of plutocracy and diminish our xenophobia and worse. The social womb in which we grow may extend to the womb of the natural world. Our education must be different but guided by a unity beyond difference. Even that brilliant Romanticist, Coleridge, couldn’t figure out how this is done.
I have no answer as to how the thirst for personal differences shared by capitalism and Democrats transitions/progresses to a flourishing unity out of which we can achieve enough of a common understanding to defend ourselves against a global warming that will destroy us.
Public education has fallen to the status of yet another marketing frontier. One of the ways to counter the private privilege nurtured in costly education for the next generation of the elite, the xenophobia nurtured behind gated compounds, and the obscene passion to gentrify neighborhoods of the poor is to legislate a public education for all. You can expect then that the wealthy will do all they can to raise teachers’ salaries and fund innovative resources. Public education is now failing not because of educational theories or unmotivated teachers but because there is an ongoing campaign to defund, weaken, lambast and then replace. Just as Walmart or Home Depot or Amazon cripple their opposition tactically, prisons, schools, Amtrak, subways, welfare, Social Security and Medicare, among so much more, are prey for the predatory and slandering practices of plutocratic economics.
Society itself is public not private though a party supporting the general welfare and the common good now grounds itself on personal rights and personal choices and not on our societal connectiveness that can bring us to a most effective survival tactic – one for all, the strength of solidarity. Why would a political party begin its campaign with the illusions of personal autonomy, personal choice and individual rights and set its goal there when the truth is plutocratic power has the only autonomy, choice is manufactured as cleverly as Mountain Dew, and the claim of rights is no more than another example of human presumption so easily challenged.
We need to be restrained within the boundaries of both society and Nature. If you want to fight for equity in a society already plutocratically entrenched, why would you assist capitalism in bringing everything down to private control and personal choice when clearly you should be mobilizing solid blocks of opposition? Why would you put individual rights, personal freedom, and choice at center stage when it is clearly societal concerns and connections which could dismount the mission of greed, self-aggrandizement, and a personal will to power that represents our plutocracy now?
Right now, any successful counters to plutocratic power are held, ironically, in low esteem by those victimized and exploited by such power. I refer to government, unions, a free press, and public education. It’s so outrageously ridiculous, so much La Commedia, that only satire would be our default if that and irony had not been already replaced by emoticons/emojis in our digitized communication. If you consider communication capable of creating collective understanding a potential threat to an economic system that benefits 20% and diminishes 80%, you would not be pleased with the way social media in the control of plutocrats has thrown our words into chaos.
Our defenses lie in our language. Whatever ideal was to be achieved by “democratizing/privatizing” human communication in cyberspace must now be placed alongside every ideal that led not there but to the dystopic. Our escape route, namely, our ability to proffer evidence, make an argument and find agreement, is now closed off. The intellectual liberation we think we find in our Smart phones is no more than a circling within the root bound pot of our own minds. And the beginning of that vicious circle did not begin with personal choice but with some keen manipulative algorithm that grabbed our attention. And now owns it.
Repositioning words from a personal staging to a worldly staging, which means considering political and economic determinants and constraints on the personal, requires a deflating of the arrogance of individual autonomy as well as a ludicrous belief that you freely chose to choose freely and so are “free to choose.” The words of narcissists, egomaniacals, liars and bullshit artists now hold sway because we believe we ourselves can achieve a self-empowerment blind to the ways power outside ourselves shapes the discourses, practices and institutions we live within. We are gullible marks, our language abused, weaponized against us as we are weaponized against ourselves.