Things are getting better all the time! Right?
In February and March I was doing a bunch of positive affirmations every day.
Positive affirmations don’t do anything. Barbara Erhenreich, author of Nickeled and Dimed, had breast cancer, and was suddenly exposed to the positive thinking of the cancer support groups. She then wrote a book called “Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.” Belief doesn’t do anything for you. If I had cancer, I could do positive affirmations all day long about healing, but unless I got cancer treatment, my chances of survival would be slim.
Where did we get this crazy idea that human history is a linear progression towards equality and greater morality?
You’re not going to believe me if I tell you!
Believe it or not, MARX!
Before the life coaches and positivity gurus, Marx thought this was true. It was a naive 19th century belief of absurd positivism perpetuated by the oppressors. However, Blanqui got it right. Blanqui said,
“All atrocities of the victor, the long series of his attacks are coldly transformed into constant, inevitable evolution, like that of nature… But the sequence of human things is not inevitable like that of the universe. It can be changed at any moment.”
He said that “scientific and technological advancement could be a terrible weapon in the hands of Capital against Work and Thought.
Humanity is never stationary. It advances or goes backwards. Its progressive march leads it to equality. Its regressive march goes back through every stage of privilege to human slavery, the final word of the right to property. I am not amongst those who claim that progress can be taken for granted, that humanity cannot go backwards.”
So, don’t fall into the trap of positive thinking. It’s easy to think that thought terminating cliche- “The world is getting better all the time, because that’s how it works!” It’s not. I used to believe this. But it’s something I would say to myself to convince myself I didn’t need to do more than what I was already doing. It’s a convenient lie.
If things are not getting better, why not?
What the hell is going on?
So, we have a problem. It’s not just the current president. (To see a full list of things each week, go to Amy Siskind’s excellent pieces on Medium) It’s a larger issue.
But what could it be?
White supremacy! And what follows fits pretty nicely under that umbrella. The 3 pillars of white supremacy are: Slavery/Capitalism, Genocide/Colonialism and Orientalism/War.
How does Slavery/Capitalism work?
According to Chris Hedges and political philosopher Sheldon Wolin, what we have now is totalitarian corporate power, AKA “inverted totalitarianism.” So, what’s that?
“It does not find its expression through a demagogue or a charismatic leader. No, it’s the political coming of age of corporate power and the political demobilization of the citizenry. It is a dispersed, faceless power- “the rule of Nobody” as Hannah Arendt wrote- that is expressed in the blank, terrifying anonymity of the corporate state.” -Chris Hedges
“Unlike classical totalitarian movements, the corporate forces behind inverted totalitarianism do not boast of replacing decaying structures with a new revolutionary structure.”
Orientalism/War and Genocide/Colonialism
Then we get Orientalism/War plus Genocide/Colonialism during those wars, as we are plunged into endless conflicts we did not agree to. “They purport to honor electoral politics, freedom of speech, the right to assembly, and the Constitution.
But they so corrupt and manipulate the levers of power internally that democracy is extinguished.
The constitution remains in place but has been so radically reinterpreted by the courts and by the executive and legislative branches of government, all serving corporate power, as to be essentially nullified.
Typically it is furthered by power holders and citizens who often seem unaware of the deeper consequences of their actions or inactions.”
So is it particular companies that are the problem? Or what?
Walter Benjamin thinks it’s capitalism.
He argues that capitalism is not only a formation “conditioned by religion” but an “essentially religious phenomenon” albeit one that no longer seeks to connect humans with the mystery of life. It is the religion of capitalism, the maniacal quest for wealth at the expense of others, that turns human being into beasts of prey.”
Chris Hedges writes, “Technological advancement and wealth are conflated in capitalism with human progress. All aspects of human existence that cannot be measured or quantified, beauty, truth, love, grief, the search for meaning and the struggle with our own mortality-are ignored and ridiculed.” (Just look at any recent Forbes, BusinessWeek or Economist magazine.)
“Capitalism,” Benjamin says, “has called on human societies to embark on a ceaseless and ultimately futile quest to find fulfillment in the endless amassing of money and power.
This quest creates a culture that is dominated by guilt a sense of inadequacy and self-loathing and that enslaves nearly all its adherents through wages.
He calls capitalism a purely cultic religion, perhaps the most extreme that ever existed. In this system, things have a meaning only in their relationship to the cult. Capitalism has no specific dogma or theology. Rather utilitarianism acquires its religious overtones. It is the celebration of the cult without dream or mercy. There are no weekdays. Every day is a feast day filled with consumption.
With ever acquisition the starting point for new desires, capitalism enslaves human beings with a sense of never being able to achieve equilibrium. Capitalism is probably the first instance of a cult that creates guilt, not atonement.”
Why should you keep reading at this point?
Well, as Mumia Abu-Jamal says, “You can’t fight power if you don’t understand it. And you can’t understand it if you don’t experience it and then dissect it.”
What does this mean for your nonprofit?
“Communities and communal organizations that manage to break free from the dominant culture will find a correlation between the amount of freedom they enjoy and the amount of independence they attain in a world where access to land, food an water has become paramount. Such communities that share the burdens of a disintegrating society are our best hope for sustaining the intellectual and artistic traditions that define the heights of human culture and permit the common good. As those who build these communities discard the religion of capitalism, their act of charity and resistance will merge-and they will be condemned by the corporate state.” -Chris Hedges, “Wages of Rebellion”
So eventually, your nonprofit might be part of the revolution, simply by asking people to be charitable. Crazy huh?
If things are not getting better, what can we do about it?
Again, you’re not going to believe this!
According to what Chris Hedges has seen in other countries, we need to work on befriending the police and the military.
So the secret to stopping Genocide/Colonialism and Orientalism/War is to befriend the people waging the war and perpetuating the genocide?
He said, according to his study of the guerrilla conflicts in the 1980’s in Central America, the civil wars in Algeria, Sudan and Yemen, the two Palestinian uprisings, the revolutions in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania all had this solidarity from within in common. He writes,
“Once the foot soldiers of the elite- the police the courts, the civil servants, the press, the intellectual class and finally the army no longer have the will to defend the regime, the regime is finished.
When these state organs are ordered to carry out acts of repression-such as clearing people from parks and arresting or shooting demonstrator-and refuse their orders, the old regime crumbles.”
“The fundamental tool of any successful revolt is the nonviolent conversion of the forces deployed to restore order to the side of the rebels. Most successful revolutions are, for this reason, essentially nonviolent. Examples:
- The Russian Revolution was victorious once Cossacks refused to fire on protesters in Petrograd in 1917.
- The clerics who overthrew the Shah of Iran in 1979 won because the Shah’s military abandoned the collapsing regime.
- Harsh communist regimes in Eastern Europe (East Germany, Romania and Czechoslovakia) were doomed in 1989 when security forces no longer defended them.
- More recently, Tunisia‘s Ben Ali and Egypt‘s Hosni Mubarak also lost power once they could no longer count on security forces and military to fire into crowds.
Bottom Line: The superior force of despotic regimes is disarmed not through violence but through conversion.
Crane Brinton writes in The Anatomy of Revolution (as he studied the American, French, American and Russian revolutions) that once a discontent affects nearly all social classes, including “economic grievances… not in the form of economic distress, but rather a feeling on the part of some of the chief enterprising groups that their opportunities for getting on in this world are unduly limited by political arrangements..”
A sense of entrapment and despair combine with unfulfilled expectations to fuel the crisis.”
Vladimir Lenin studied the three recent Russian revolutions, and declared,
“The fundamental law of revolution is: .. Only when the “lower classes” do not want the old way, and when the “upper classes” cannot carry on in the old way– only then can revolution win.”
I recently went to a fundraiser for our local nonprofit radio station, KBOO, on May 27th. I went because I’ve been a fan of Chris Hedges for a very long time, and it was my first chance to hear him speak in person.
Interviewing him was Joe Sacco, a Portland based cartoonist and journalist that Chris Hedges wrote “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” with in 2014.
I recently read Wages of Rebellion, The Moral Imperative of Revolt, by Chris Hedges. These are excerpts from his excellent book.
I hope these excerpts will encourage you to read the whole thing.
What can you PERSONALLY DO?
WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW:
- Befriend the police and soldiers
- Stand in solidarity with the $15/hr movement
- Seek out people who are different than you and have conversations with them.
- Instead of looking for how you don’t agree with people who are different than you, see how you can rally around the world you both want, aka a world where medical debt doesn’t have to bankrupt you, or a living wage for your area, or basic minimum income, or a cap on rising rents.
- Never get too far from people who are suffering the most. If you don’t have this in your day-to-day nonprofit work, could you volunteer in a soup kitchen or a prison?