While the millions of His lost and lonely ones
Call out and clamor to be found
Caught in their search for higher position
And their search for love that sticks around
(Who says I only like hip-hop?)
Rather than lead off with something obvious like “I’ll Kill You” by X Japan, it seemed a better fit to lead off with something wistful and slightly mystical. The human condition and its myriad vagaries are reflected in politics; and it is clear that whether one speaks of Libya, China, or the US, there’s an immense sense of dissatisfaction with the way things are that permeates contemporary political discourse.
Of course, one can say ‘Oh, you’re full of shit, dissatisfaction’s always part of human discourse; people are never satisfied with what they’ve got’ and it’d be a totally valid point. Suspend disbelief and reflexive skepticism for a moment, though, and there’s something unsettling about this particular snapshot of global politics that invites further inquiry. Sure, poverty, war, and inequality of opportunity remain ever-present in discussion of human power dynamics as ever–but that’s nothing new. The Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution of 1949, the Cuban Revolution, and the mass conflagration of 1848 are all examples of moments where this combination went critical, so to speak, and dissatisfaction morphed into political violence. It’s tempting to view our world, 2011, as presenting similar conditions to these precedents–1848 being perhaps the closest parallel.
It’s no secret that inequality of opportunity has steadily risen throughout the world since the late 1970s. What’s more complicated to unfurl are the reasons why this is the case. To be sure, some of this is clearly the fault of policy makers. Cutting taxes, boosting deficits, and adopting adversarial stances toward the idea of the ‘welfare state’ –supply-side economic policy–spread from the US and other industrialized nations via the IMF, the World Bank, and the writings of various academic pied pipers until this set of policies became prevalent throughout the world. While it certainly drove up GDP numbers and the like, it also widened the disparity between the wealthy and the poor. Some would say that this was the whole point–bury the poor so that they are disenfranchised–and maybe there’s something to that. It seems rather simplistic, though, and it also overstates the impact of public policy in the creation of this dynamic. The rise of computer technology–in particular the emergence of the internet and mass communications–completely changed the dynamics of the global economy. This, along with declining costs for transportation, created a situation where the very best people selling the best goods–Apple, for example–suddenly could compete with local producers of similar but inferior products in, say, Thailand. These local producers would, in turn, be either driven from the market or co-opted into producing Apple goods at pennies on the dollar for shipment throughout the world. Apple’s winnings, already large, are multiplied exponentially now because there are both less competitors and production is significantly cheaper than in the past. The poor MP3 manufacturers in Thailand, however, are marginalized–as are the manufacturing workers in the US who no longer has the opportunity to make a good that 30 years ago would almost certainly have been made in the US.
In short, there are fewer winners in 2011, and more losers; and the winners are winning bigger than ever before. Channeling Machiavelli, because humans are a jealous sort, and wish only maledictions upon those who would be smiled upon by fortune, they rebel against those tyrants who believe their fortune to be a product of Providence. And though much blood is shed, the misfortunes of the unfortunate continue. In other words, there are two options to those dissatisfied with their political lot: peaceful democratic takeover; or violent confrontation. Tyrants, being idiots unversed in anything other than the dictates of their own gluttony, often preclude the former–at the price of their own heads. The moving pieces are different nowadays, and the ideologies driving both conceptions of liberty and the role of government in human affairs has changed drastically–but the end result is always the same.
Neo-liberalism’s ideological triumph (however transitory) has added an interesting wrinkle to the familiar cycle of throw the bum out-let’s get a new guy-the new guy’s a bum that bears watching. Neo-liberalism, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, is essentially the ideological equivalent of what Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, et al., were all about back in the 80s. An overarching theme of low taxes, aggressive foreign policy, and an overarching mistrust of government to deliver without intruding upon personal freedoms ran through these policies; and continue to hold sway in most nations in spite of the continuing deterioration of economic conditions. Government, in essence, has cultivated a mistrust of government. It’s like having the hand that feeds, and telling whomever it is that you’re feeding to bite your hand as punishment for feeding them. It’s a needlessly masochistic approach to governance; and one thing that I think most will agree with is that the government should not be involved in S & M. Too many things can go wrong in that sort of situation–someone forgets a safe word, and all of sudden we’re stuck with Michelle Bachmann and Qaddafi plastered all over the media. Better to keep the lines between government and the people clear and direct than be subjected to such consequences.
Now we can thrash to X Japan: