We Envy To The Delight Of The Masters

Yvette Carnell (the political commentator on Facebook, a Black woman) is right: it is a battle for the crumbs between America’s (the U.S.’s) minority populations. And it is the natural clannishness and tribal-centric focus of these many races and ethnicities, in their economic competitiveness, that is their greatest contribution to the continuing domination of the dominant culture and the dominant “race” in our White capitalist society.

Freedom versus Equality

The Cuban Revolution brought to power a centralized authority — Fidel Castro — who the Americans called a dictator, who could impose a vision of racial, sexual, and eventually sexual-orientation non-discrimination on the entire Cuban society. This Cuban Revolutionary vision extended to the liberation of African Blacks from colonialism and apartheid, and this Fidelista vision transformed the Cuban people, moving them beyond the Spanish colonial and Catholic racial and sexual hierarchies and prejudices that existed in Cuba up to the mid 1960s. Cuba was transformed from the top down into a society of great equality because of a great dictating power. (1)

In contrast, the United States is a society of great inequality because of a great degree of freedom from top-down restraints on individuals — especially on those with means — so they can pursue their many schemes of personal enrichment by the legally-accepted exploitation of weaker and poorer people. So, for the winners in America’s capitalist competition for self-aggrandizement America is “free” and Cuba is a “dictatorship.”

While to the Cubans who have been liberated from poverty, oppression and corruption, and have then been uplifted with state-provided physical security, healthcare and education, the obviously racially prejudiced and exploitative American capitalist elite are rabid imperialists and even fascists, whose “liberty” is exclusively the liberty of slaveowners to globally expand their temp-gig and prison labor plantation economy. The equalized Cuban socialists see American democracy as the democracy of property owners whose voting power is equated with the magnitude of their wealth, whose ultimate power rests on the micro-fragmentation of American society (by racism, sexism, anti-socialism, anti-unionism), and where the degree of one’s personal enslavement is equated with the depth of poverty that one can “freely” achieve.

Envy Enslaves Us

Black Americans resent White Americans for not loving them, and they resent all immigrants and their American-born descendants for getting in the way of that yearned-for love. The divide and conquer program of dominating colonizers continues in the United States, with the many minorities set into vicious labor competition with each other for the economic crumbs falling off the feasting table of the White capitalist elite. So, Black Americans deeply resent the Spanish-speaking people in “their” country, the one they believe they have priority rights for minority benefits and preferences, because their ancestors paid early and heavily during slavery for those yet-to-be received “reparations.”

It is true that every immigrant and immigrant group that lands in America aims to improve their economic condition, and they take advantage of whatever opportunities the system allows them. This is a threat for American Blacks because they see themselves as still struggling to own the opportunities available at the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. They resent the fact that all immigrant groups do better than they do in the battle for the crumbs in American capitalism. They also resent being conned by elite White neoliberals like Hillary Clinton, and their own self-aggrandizing Black mis-leadership class, to believe “we are all in this together” with other minority groups with whom they experience bitter labor and economic competition.

Capitalism Is Racist

There is overt discrimination by everybody. Every minority individual and group, given the opportunity to make employment decisions, will hire their own. So, it is easy to find Latinos (“Hispanics” to the Gringos, and the Blacks Stockholm-Syndromed to them) excluding monolingual Blacks from job calls (e.g., Miami), and Blacks being excluded in favor of Latinos by temporary job agencies because of White employer preferences (e.g., Chicago). Here in Oakland, California, it is also unfortunately easy to learn about instances of personal attacks on Latinos (and Chinese) by Blacks (I have seen such, and heard from people involved). Social media exudes vituperativeness in this regard (e.g., comments by some Black Oaklanders about Mayor Libby Schaaf, a White woman). Also, I have seen Chinese patronage-by-hiring enclaves within a large corporate structure, a very closed form of Affirmative Action. Basically, every race and ethnicity one can imagine prefers their own kind when doling out advantages.

Humans Prefer Division

Every American, of whatever type, is a racist without exception. Individuals who object to this characterization only do so to defend their egos. We humans are all just a species of primate (and there is only one “race” of humans, who happen to have some variety of physiological features and pigmentation). Like our primate cousins the chimpanzees, we fragment into troops that maintain fierce rivalries with other troops (we myopically see other human “races” as other species) for territory, resources, food: wealth. This basic human characteristic (flaw) has been used by imperialists, colonizers and race-dominating slaveowners for millennia to keep the “natives,” the plebes and the slaves at odds with each other, to ensure the rule of the dominant minority over the squabbling, oppressed and exploited majority.

The chronic toxicity of American racism and race-consciousness is such that today a perfectly acceptable vision for many Americans would be the idea that President-Elect Donald Trump could uplift Black Americans — the descendants of slaves, not the more successfully competing modern black immigrants from Africa — by offering a down payment on reparations in the form of making them (exclusively) the well-paid construction workforce in his mega-project of building a 3,201 kilometer (1,989 mile) wall along the Mexican border, to exclude potential labor competition to the English-only American underclass.

Prejudice Is The Self-Worth Of The Defeated

People imbibe their defining racist attitudes (ignorance) with their mother’s milk, it is passed down through families and by their “traditional culture.” Most people do not make the effort to gain the intellectual sophistication and the moral character needed to grow out of this prejudicial ignorance, and to evaluate other individuals on the basis of their personal merits and flaws, instead of as symbols of abstract concepts called “race.” Most people form their personas — their images of themselves and their foundational ideas — early in life (usually by 14 years of age) and are loath to alter them because doing so is sensed as a loss of confidence, a diminution of self. So, they are stuck for life with the misconceptions of their youth, however acquired.

But, each new generation always absorbs some new attitudes that are in general circulation in the local and world societies of their formative years, and in that way the consensus attitudes of larger populations (both ethnic-tribal populations and regional-national populations) glacially evolve. What I conclude from the efflorescence of popular racist ignorance in this present Brexit-Trump period is that the pace of attitudinal evolution about “race in America” is indeed exceedingly slow. One would have thought that a century and a half after the end of the Civil War that racism would be absent in the United States; but no. So, the half-life for the decay of American racism may be in millennia instead of centuries. It is conceivable that climate change will wipe out humanity with Americans still being stupidly racist, sexist and capitalist.

Note

(1) Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz (13 August 1926 – 25 November 2016)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2016/11/27/fidel-alejandro-castro-ruz-13-august-1926-25-november-2016/

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Epiphany On The Glacier

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Searching For The Hermit In Vain

I asked the boy beneath the pines.
He said, “The master’s gone alone
Herb-picking somewhere on the mount,
Cloud-hidden, whereabouts unknown.”

— Chia Tao (777-841), translated by Lin Yutang (1)

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Old now, I feel it more than ever — so good
to be here in the mountains!
Die at the foot of the cliff and even your bones are clean.

— Zen monk Jakushitsu Genko (2)

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“If only you knew how splendid it is up there, that’s where I want to die.”

“The land looks like a fairytale.”

“Adventure is just bad planning.”

— Roald Amundsen (1872-1928), the first human at the South Pole (and North Pole), speaking: in 1928 about the Arctic, and earlier about his 1911 Antarctic expedition. (3)

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In the 1985 film series “The Last Place on Earth,” about the race between Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott to the South Pole, the screenwriters graced the cinematic climax of Amundsen’s success, on 14 December 1911, with fictionalized speech of a Zen-like sparseness and focus that matched the expansiveness and extremity of the scene. Against a visual field of white, the lone figure of the screen Amundsen is seen from a distance walking up to an indistinguishable point in space about which the Earth rotates. How does he feel?, his companions ask; “All I know is, how good it is to be alive.” (4)

During January and February of 1911, Amundsen’s expedition established three supply depots for the return trek from the South Pole, at intervals of about 150 km (93 miles) from their base camp on the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf at the Ross Sea. The South Pole is about 1300 km (808 miles) from the Ross Sea. Amundsen’s party for the dash to the South Pole comprised of five men, four sledges and 52 dogs. The five Norwegians departed their base camp on 19 October 1911 and returned 99 days later on 25 January 1912 with only 11 dogs. Amundsen had planned for a 100 day trip.

Scott’s party set off from Cape Evans, 883 miles (1421 km) from the South Pole, on 1 November 1911 with twelve men, ten sledges, ten ponies, and dogs. They established supply depots for the return journey at intervals of about 70 miles (113 km), and as groups of men were no longer needed they were sent back to base camp. By 3 January 1912, Scott’s party was reduced to five men pulling sledges, and no animals (the ponies were butchered for meat). Scott was 169 miles (272 km) from the South Pole and at 10,280 feet (3133 m) elevation. He reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912, thirty-four days after Amundsen, and his men were bitterly disappointed at the sight of the Norwegian flag and the many dog tracks around it. The last entry in Scott’s diary was dated 29 March 1912, he and the two men who had survived to that point were found frozen in their tent on the Ross Ice Shelf only 11 miles (18 km) from a large depot, and about 400 km (250 miles) from Cape Evans.

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“How good it is to be alive” is both the alpha and omega of insight that some people find when facing the challenge of surviving extreme circumstances. It can be the endpoint of a difficult and dangerous effort; and it can be a rebirth, a new beginning, a way of focusing the mind to the tasks of living and the joy of consciousness, by overcoming fear. This attitude is the psychological buoyancy that frees the mind to direct a person’s full physical and analytical powers to working out the mechanics of survival. Such a person will go further against the opposition of implacable circumstances than a fearful one.

In the stories and poems of Zen and Taoist sages climbing the mountains to experience insight, like the Japanese poet Ryokan (1758-1831), there is usually the implicit suggestion of a subsequent descent. Otherwise, how could the tale have been told? This descent is the second part of the insight on the goodness of life; it is a descent back into the plane of human interaction, it is the goodness of life among other people. “Man is a social animal” (Aristotle, “Ethics,” IX, IX). (5)

The dual realization of the “goodness” of consciousness, and that this experience is rooted in and nourished by the field of our interconnected individual psyches, is what some call love.

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On Friday the 13th of October 1972, a Fairchild FH-227D twin turboprop airplane chartered from the Uruguayan Air Force by the rugby team of Stella Maris College of Montevideo, Uruguay, the “Old Christians,” crashed high in the Andes Mountains while on route to Santiago, Chile from Mendoza, Argentina, the last leg of their trip. Forty-five people, the young men of the rugby team, some family members and friends, and a flight crew of five had boarded the aircraft. Ten weeks later, sixteen survivors were rescued. The search for survivors had been abandoned after eight days, and the rescue only occurred because two of the survivors had trekked from the crash site on Las Lagrimas Glacier in Argentina at 12,020 feet (3664 m) elevation, up to a ridge crest of the Andes Mountains at 14,774 feet (4503 m), and then descended into the valleys of Chile to 4,676 feet (1425 m) elevation by walking a total of 33.5 miles (54 km) over very rugged and desolate terrain in ten days before finding another human being.

The story has been told in a popular book, “Alive, The Story of the Andes Survivors,” by Piers Paul Read (6), which was made into a 1993 feature film “Alive, The Miracle of the Andes.” One good English language summary with links to maps of the area appears on the internet at (7), and another site in Spanish gives an extensive presentation, including a day-to-day chronology, which conveys the emotion of the story as Latin Americans would feel it. (8)

The sensational aspect of the story is that in order to survive, the living had to eat the flesh of the dead. The essential element of the story is that the rescue hinged on the determination of one man, Fernando Parrado, to see his father again or die trying; and that his trek out of the mountains only succeeded because of the combined efforts of the group.

Parrado’s mother had died in the crash, and his younger sister eight days later in his arms. The loss of nearly half of his immediate family, the excruciating effort to prolong the group’s survival for sixty days, and then finally his arrival at the ridge 2754 feet (839 m) above the crash site after a three day climb up the steep glacier to see a westward vista of seemingly endless snowy mountains had savagely shocked then forged Parrado to the realization of “how good it is to be alive.” Yes, death in these mountains seemed a certainty, but that apparent certainty did not compel him to surrender. He could choose to use all that was in him to find help and to return to Montevideo to express his love to his father personally, or to approach as near to that goal as the force of circumstance would permit. He had found a vision worth dying for; “how good it is to be alive.”

Of the forty-five people on FAU (Fuerza Aerea Uruguaya) Flight 571, nineteen died during the crash or the first eight days. The remaining twenty-six would dwindle to sixteen and struggle to overcome the tensions of surviving at high altitude on the snow in the wrecked fuselage, without cold-weather clothing and mountaineering gear like boots and dark goggles, with very little food and no medical supplies. Despite the inevitable conflicts and the depressed or debilitating psychological state of some of the people, an effective and admirable level of group cohesion evolved and was applied to the purpose of self-rescue.

It might seem that the commonality of religion (Catholic), class, school, sport and even team would more easily incline individuals to cooperate in unexpected and difficult circumstances. However, it is really personal character that determines the capacity for cooperation under stress, because extreme circumstances can give rise to panic, desperation and despondency, which can easily lead to a lack of judgment, and unthinking selfishness in behavior.

One key result of the group effort was the fabrication of a large, three-person, insulated sleeping bag. The insulation was salvaged from the tail section of the airplane, down the slope of the glacier about a kilometer or two (about 1 mile) from the fuselage; and the bag was sewn by a group of the survivors. When the supply of thread was finished, they had to use wires pulled from the electrical circuits in the fuselage. This sleeping bag enabled Fernando Parrado, Roberto Canessa and Antonio Vizintin to survive the nights during their trek west up the wall of the glacial valley to the crest of the Andes.

It was there that Fernando Parrado had his epiphany. After the sinking dread that came upon seeing the snowy jagged crags of the Andes stretching far out to the west, instead of the lush green valleys of Chile falling away to the Pacific, he accepted the fact of his mortality and awakened to his power to choose how to employ it. About this epiphany, Cynthia Boaz wrote “in the most hopeless of situations, we still have a choice. At its core, Nando’s story demonstrates that we always have a degree of control over our lives, even if that choice is simply defining the terms under which we die. This phenomenon is much more than hopefulness or optimism; it is the manifestation of human agency. It is the essence of empowerment.” (9)

Fernando Parrado describes his moment this way: “My love for my father swelled in my heart and I realized that, despite the hopelessness of my situation, the memory of him filled me with joy. It staggered me. The mountains, for all their power, were not stronger than my attachment to my father. They could not crush my ability to love. I felt a moment of calmness and clarity, and in that clarity of mind I discovered a simple, astounding secret: Death has an opposite, but the opposite is not mere living. It is not courage or faith or human will. The opposite of death is love. How had I missed that? How does anyone miss that? Only love can turn mere life into a miracle and draw precious meaning from suffering and fear. For a brief, magical moment, all my fears lifted and I knew that I would not let death control me. I would walk through the godforsaken country that separated me from my home with love and hope in my heart. I would walk until I had walked all the life out of me, and when I fell, I would die that much closer to my father.” This was Thursday, 14 December 1972. (10)

Parrado’s strength of purpose was enough to convince Canessa. Vizintin was sent back — a quick sled ride downhill — to wait with the thirteen others while Parrado and Canessa continued on with all the provisions the three had carried to that point. Six days later, on the 20th, the trekkers made contact with a Chilean horseman tending his cattle. On the 22nd and 23rd, Chilean helicopters brought rescue and medical people to the crash site and ferried the survivors out, two days being necessary because the weather and travel time only permitted one trip per day, and there was a limited carrying capacity.

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There are many seasonal and religious themes that can come to the minds of Christians and people of the Americas when reflecting on the story of FAU Flight 571. The most poignant is that of Holy Communion, the sixteen survivors today are literally “the resurrection and the life” of many of their companions. They are a tight knit group who 35 years ago entered a horror during the harvest-time gaiety of pumpkins, Halloween and the Day of the Dead. They endured a ghastly negation of Thanksgiving, and were lifted to salvation for Christmas. Three Kings among them set forth from east to west following the star of Parrado’s vision, which carried the hopes of many and was itself the gift that gave birth to new lives for them all. Their gift to us is their story, reflecting on it can center minds otherwise distracted by the relentless hyper-animated flash of crass commercialism and mawkish religiosity that propels so many from pumpkins to turkeys to Santa Claus to cheap flat champagne with even shallower resolutions for “new” ways of living. The future is a fiction.

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The plane in this story was a Fairchild FH-227D, an American built version of the Fokker F27 F. I flew in a Fokker F27 F over the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California many times, on trips to and from the Nevada Test Site. Flying at 18,000 feet (5487 m) and looking down, the rocky crags poking through the snow-pack (at about 13,000 feet or 4000 m) are very clear, and the expanse of the desolation — for a marooned unfortunate — is evident. Having been through bumpy flights and frightening storms, it is not hard for me to imagine the experience of the FAU Flight 571 crash.

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The majestic inhuman beauty of the Andes made a compelling impression on the FAU Flight 571 survivors, and you, too, can experience it through the photographs of a 2005 expedition to retrace the trek over the crest of the Andes by Parrado and Canessa, on the exact same dates 33 years after the events. (11) The Uruguayan trekkers had no mountaineering experience nor specialized equipment and clothing, there was no trail laid out for them, and they had no maps. Try imagining this as you look at the 2005 pictures. The 2005 expedition was sponsored by National Geographic. (12)

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To me, a compelling aspect of this story is how a sense of appreciation and love can grow out of the effort to overcome adversity, and how that in turn can give one a greater psychological stamina. This same theme appears in Zen, and I believe is the essence of Buddhist insight regarding “enlightenment” as opposed to religious superstitions, which can have an uplifting effect on people facing hard times, but which are unreliable because they are a placebo effect based on fantasy.

In his book “Man’s Search For Meaning,” (1946) Viktor Frankl expressed a similar idea. His epiphany was forged by surviving a Nazi concentration camp; he was a Jew. For Frankl, survival demanded that one made a conscious choice to live fully, even happily, despite external circumstances. Again, externalities may control my life and my lifespan, but I can always choose my attitude within my time of consciousness. The attitude that made life as fulfilling as possible, whatever the constraints, was one that saw itself as directed toward a goal greater than oneself. A great love for another person, for one’s family; a desire to preserve and publish original ideas on your field of study (Frankl’s motivation); a desire to produce art, literature or some invention you can visualize; these are all examples of what could motivate a person to “live through anything” or die trying. Frankl saw humans as having an innate need to create something of personal meaning out of the physical and mental labor of their lives. If individuals can bring this insight to consciousness and make it specific to their particular lives, they would be as steeled as any human could become to face the buffeting by reality.

What Parrado and Frankl express about their epiphanies may simply be particular examples of Novalis’ elegant presentation of Heraclitus’ aphorism “Character is fate.”

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On a less elevated level, a sort of Marxian view of the FAU Flight 571 story would be that in the extremes of scarcity, group action and sharing rather than resource competition and inequity have to be the rule to survive. Yet, despite this there is no loss of individuality, in fact it seems to flower as each person discovers their niche in the collective endeavor. There could also be an element of dismal math here, when there simply isn’t anything, then everyone is “poor” and thus “equal.”

If we look at the Andes story as a microcosm of humanity in a world with a decaying environment, then we could say the lesson is that cooperative attitudes must precede any ability to respond effectively — globally — to halt and then repair environmental damage. Otherwise, I suppose we could hope that as environmental damage becomes more widespread and threatening we will all be drawn together into a more cooperative frame of mind, though this is a rather unappealing form of hope. The analogy does not preclude the possibility that humanity will simply kill itself off unnecessarily through blind, obstinate stupidity. One need only drop names like Cheney and Bush to make this point.

The FAU Flight 571 story — as a story for us — pivots on a realization of happiness by Fernando Parrado that relieved him of any anxiety about the inevitability and near eventuality of his own death. The external reality remained unchanged, and it was crushing and cruel, but he had changed. All the survivors had to have this experience to some degree. The escape was as much a shedding of psychological restraints as it was a trek out of the wilderness; survival was transformation, it was a release of one’s former self. I think this is the essence of the “happiness” that is signified in Thomas Jefferson’s phrase “pursuit of happiness,” and I think the reality upon which this “happiness” is based for any individual is their solidarity or “brotherhood” and “sisterhood” with the sea of individuals that surrounds them as our communities, societies and nations. Happiness is simply caring for others who care for you, and wealth can only be the extent of that mutual affection. The political structures of a population with this attitude would necessarily be socialist. So, happiness is solidarity, and solidarity is the objective of Socialism. George Orwell put the matter this way:

“I suggest that the real objective of Socialism is not happiness. Happiness hitherto has been a by-product, and for all we know it may always remain so. The real objective of Socialism is human brotherhood. This is widely felt to be the case, though it is not usually said, or not said loudly enough. Men use up their lives in heart-breaking political struggles, or get themselves killed in civil wars, or tortured in the secret prisons of the Gestapo, not in order to establish some central-heated, air-conditioned, strip-lighted Paradise, but because they want a world in which human beings love one another instead of swindling and murdering one another. And they want that world as a first step. Where they go from there is not so certain, and the attempt to foresee it in detail merely confuses the issue.” — George Orwell (“Can Socialists be Happy?” 24 December 1943)

“Love is the final goal of world history – the One of the universe.”
— Novalis (1772-1801)

Enjoy your time in the wild, behind every ridge is a marvelous vista.

NOTES

[1] This poem opens Alan Watts’ book Cloud-hidden, Whereabouts Unknown, a “mountain journal” (1973, Random House). It is a series of essays written between 1968 and 1972.

[2] This poem opens Jack Turner’s book Teewinot, Climbing and Contemplating the Teton Range. (2000, St. Martin’s Press)

[3] Map of Amundsen and Scott routes to the South Pole in 1911-1912
The Fram Museum,
http://www.fram.museum.no/en/default.asp?page=158

[4] The Last Place On Earth,
a 1985 film series based on Roland Huntford’s book with the same title,
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088551/

[5] “Man is a social animal” (Aristotle, “Ethics,” IX, IX)
http://www.cliffsnotes.com/WileyCDA/LitNote/id-21,pageNum-116.html

[6] Piers Paul Read, Alive, The Story of the Andes Survivors,
(1974, Avon Books/J. B. Lippincott, Inc.) ISBN 0-380-00321-X

[7] Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, The Crash and Rescue,
wikipedia,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uruguayan_Air_Force_Flight_571#The_crash_and_rescue

[8] Alexis J. Scarantino, El Milagro De Los Andes,
http://www.carlitospaez.com/elmilagrodelosandes/

[9] Cynthia Boaz, Thoughts About the True Miracle in the Andes,
14 October 2007,
http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/101407A.shtml

[10] Fernando Parrado with Vince Rause,
Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home, (2006, Crown Publishers)

[11] Ricardo Peña and James Vlahos,
National Geographic Adventure Expedition December, 2005,
Alpine Expeditions,
http://www.alpineexpeditions.net/ngc_adventure/index.html, http://www.alpineexpeditions.net/photos/ngc_adventure2/index.html

[12] Alive, Retracing The Survivors Daring Escape,
April 2006, National Geographic Adventure,
http://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/alive/survivors-expedition.html

Acknowledgment: Thanks to Jeffrey St. Clair for recommending Jack Turner’s book.

[Published by Counter Punch on 21 November 2007]

Social Democracy: Political Movement from Personal Fulfillment

Why is there no real political Left in the United States?

What is necessary for a major democratic-socialist movement to arise here?

Political Movement Is Born Of Personal Fulfillment
31 May 2013
http://dissidentvoice.org/2013/05/political-movement-is-born-of-personal-fulfillment/

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Note added on June 1, 2013:
Out of curiosity, I made a list of my previous articles that explored some aspect of organizing a social-democratic movement in the U.S. Despite the steadily deteriorating social and economic conditions for most people in this country, I doubt an American Spring will occur in my lifetime.

Here is my baker’s dozen of articles on “organization,” from 2004 to 2013:

Political Movement Is Born Of Personal Fulfillment
31 May 2013
http://dissidentvoice.org/2013/05/political-movement-is-born-of-personal-fulfillment/

Can US Socialists Organize? (No)
13 July 2012
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2012/07/13/can-us-socialists-organize-no/

Why Don’t Americans Rise Up?
7 May 2012
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci47.html

What Next for OWS, Politics?
5 December 2011
http://www.swans.com/library/art17/mgarci34.html

From Social Contract To Occupy Wall Street
7 November 2011
http://www.swans.com/library/art17/mgarci32.html

The People Cry Out Against the New Great Depression,
Three Articles on the Protests Against a Failed Economy:
4 October 2011
http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/the-people-cry-out-against-the-new-great-depression/
(sendoff — Occupy Everywhere: Movements & Goals — Creating Jobs by Renewing Glass-Steagall — Reform Wall Street in Four Strokes)

American Decline
21 January 2011
http://www.counterpunch.org/garcia01212011.html

Renew The Social Contract
18 November 2008
http://www.dissidentvoice.org/2008/11/renew-the-social-contract/

Time For A General Strike?
30 September 2008
http://www.counterpunch.org/garcia09302008.html

Homes of the Crash-Test Dummies
25 October 2007
http://www.counterpunch.org/garcia10252007.html

The Roots of Corruption (Election 2006)
9 November 2006
http://www.counterpunch.org/garcia11092006.html

Newtonian America
29 November 2004
http://www.swans.com/library/art10/mgarci26.html

Outline For Revolution
16 August 2004
http://www.swans.com/library/art10/mgarci20.html

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Can US Socialists Organize? (No)

Dan DiMaggio discussed the question at some length in his article “How Can We Build the Socialist Movement in the 21st Century?,” which appeared in Louis Proyect’s blog The Unrepentant Marxist on January 6, 2012,

http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/01/06/how-can-we-build-the-socialist-movement-in-the-21st-century/

I am reposting my reply to this question (comments #4 and #12 at the web page cited), updated slightly for clarity. Why? The readers who comment at The Unrepentant Marxist are generally enthusiastically indoctrinated Marxists, while those who read this blog are unlikely to be so politically specialized, so my analysis of the question should be of more interest here.

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Working people, especially in times past, were used to forming teams on an ad hoc basis to get their joint projects done, whether farm work, shop work and even industrial work. An essential aspect of such practice is a succinctness and speed of communication. A group of three or four carpenters on a house project do not waste much time deciding who’s carrying up the plywood, who’s nailing down the roofing shingles and who’s going to the taqueria to get the lunch orders. Management types call this “work flow.”

Experience merging your work flow trains you to communicate much, quickly and with little said, with others similarly experienced. This becomes less efficient with office work (staring at a computer screen eight hours a day), and the skill is less developed among people who work in parallel isolation. This skill would have been highly developed in the types of workers Karl Marx would have been familiar with, but it is not as common among today’s workers in the United States because a smaller fraction of the population does 19th century type work.

Construction work today, even with power tools, is not so different from how it was performed in the 19th century, and even earlier. But the nature of work has changed so much over the last century (even the last thirty years) that far fewer people have learned how to mesh their work flows efficiently. That is the skill essential to the effectiveness of a political organization. The big questions, “what are we fighting for?” and “how do we proceed?” are resolved quickly because everyone “just knows” the answers. The only issues to discuss are those of the moment: who’s hammering?, who’s carrying?, who’s fetching?, and who’s in charge for now? There are a few (only a few) regular meetings to go over the job, iron out problems and reassign tasks and leadership roles in an agreeable manner. The less friction generated and smoother work flow merging carried on, the greater the percentage of the collective effort that goes into achieving results.

The other socializing influence on 19th and 20th century industrial workers was the process of industrialization itself. The use of human beings as repetitive motion machines in an organized structure of work flow that ingested raw material and produced manufactured products. The “assembly line” and “efficiency” had their baneful psychological effects, but they also had their reflection in the “efficiency of scale” mentality and meshing of efforts that industrial workers brought to their unions, and the socialist political parties they supported (as with Eugene V. Debs in the U.S.). The craftsmen’s skill and discipline of autonomously meshing work flows was compressed into assembly line factory work, and the shaping and distortions of the psyche from these occupational activities was naturally carried over to the workers own collective enterprises. Collective work attuned them to collective awareness, the process of industrialization compressed them into organized assemblages, and the continuous pressures for efficiency and production stamped socialism into them.

This mentality has died away because the nature of work that formed it has died away — here. To find it today, go to China, where the officially Communist government is just as severe as Andrew Carnegie was to throttle independent socialism in the form of labor unions. American socialists today are people who pick up books, or read from computer screens, and choose to associate in clubs that discuss specialized topics in history, and try to relate them to events of the present day, and in the best instances to contribute to the analysis and resolution of current social and economic problems. These sound like sociology professors, not sheet metal workers pounding out Ferrari car bodies by hand (in the 1950s and 1960s) and then riding home on bicycles.

The perceived problem with organizing socialists today may be that you really don’t have a collection of industrially pre-socialized workers seeking to ensure their economic survival though collective action, but a symposium of college junior faculty determined to have their theories persevere against rivals. I was once the president of a unionization group for scientists and engineers (physicists, chemists, engineers with graduate degrees); it didn’t work, they were all so smart individually that they were determined to be collectively stupid (with a tiny minority that was quite effective).

I think the reason organizing a 21st century American socialist party is difficult is because those enthused about socialism have little connection to the concerns of most Americans (quaintly called “workers”), and they in turn are fixated on the conditions (and distractions) in which they live out their lives, and have no interest in “socialism” or anything theoretical, and are only interested in what specific solutions you have for their problems in the here-and-now.

People will follow those leaders who spell out concrete solutions that work. They will not care if that leader looks into a crystal ball or Das Kapital to tingle his brain so it spits out workable solutions, like Midas’ goose laying golden eggs. As long as the ideas are golden and steadily produced, the public will follow, but few people will ever care to know about the inspiration that tingled the sorcerer’s brain. You have to lead with results.

Even worse, you don’t necessarily gain power and glory by putting out those concrete golden ideas, because others may be far better qualified to translate “your” ideas into social reality. If an idea is really good, it will be stolen. But for these socio-political situations you shouldn’t care so long as the ideas improve society. If you want anything more out of the process, personally, then you’re just a careerist and the hell with you.

In summary, if your goal is to organize a party that draws in people to join in your enthusiasm for socialism (adopting a socialist canon to interpret their observations of life), you will not find overwhelming public interest. If instead, you wish to organize a political party that produces workable solutions to popular problems, then you will gain public support commensurate with your degree of concrete achievement (from the public’s perspective) but you would have to be willing to keep your socialism private.

In his article, Dan DiMaggio expresses his frustration over the failure of socialism to take root, politically, in today’s United States:

“Lately, though, I’ve started to wonder just how the &*^$ a viable socialist movement can actually be built in the U.S. I’ve been grappling with this question for much of the last year as I attempt to overcome a funk rooted in my sense that the current organizational forms of the socialist movement, to which I and many others have given so much of our time and energy, are a dead end. Recently it seems like every time I try to raise a finger to help the movement, I am overcome by a crippling sense of the futility of it all.”

A psychological disorder is: “Any personal construction which is used repeatedly in spite of consistent invalidation.” — George Alexander Kelly (1905-1967), http://oaks.nvg.org/george-kelly.html.

Kelly’s definition is the oldest likely source of the several quotes that have been blended into the well-known saying attributed to Albert Einstein (1879-1955):

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

I would say that what Dan DiMaggio is complaining about is the fatigue that follows from persisting with a personal construction that is resolutely invalidated by reality. He and others like him are missionaries in a faith that is consistently rejected by the American public, and not much popular elsewhere (without compulsion).

DiMaggio expresses a desire to be involved in a popular political movement that implements socialist ideas, because he is convinced they would help make society better. I, too, happen to think that many socialist ideas would make society better. I am also sure that never in a thousand years will self-avowed Marxists succeed in forming a popular mass movement, let alone a government, in the United States. In the last half century they have not demonstrated anything of practical benefit to society (except perhaps as individuals), and they aren’t even capable of organizing themselves beyond micro-sects. Politically organized American socialism died with Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926).

21st century Americans cannot be organized with 19th century conceptualizations of “workers” and “movements.” However, persisting in such efforts is the avid hobby of a dedicated group of enthusiasts, similar to the people who restore, maintain and run steam locomotives. This only becomes dysfunctional when your expectations are grandiose.

I have observed that when a man’s house is on fire, he is quite grateful to anyone who rushes over with a hose to put out the flames. Such help usually opens the homeowner to the idea of companionship with his helpers, and from there real friendship and a receptivity to new ideas and joint projects might develop. Now, it could happen that the homeowner finds that some of these helpers were fundamentalist Christians seeking recruits door-to-door, or redneck Republican neighbors, or some other type disfavored by the homeowner’s belief system, so he remains cordial and grateful but never merges his activities with theirs.

Wouldn’t it have been more convenient to stop his helpers as they were rushing in, to interview them first to ascertain their acceptability before allowing them to enter his property with hoses and ladders? It is unlikely he’d have a house left if he had.

I simply apply this basic fact of human psychology to make a suggestion to DiMaggio, and comrades like him, as regards the desire to be involved in a popular political movement that improves American society by applying socialist ideas. Bluntly said: give up the proselytizing mission and just develop — in reality, not in talk — helpful solutions to people’s problems. After people experience the benefit of your work, some of them will be receptive to learning more about your belief system. This is the basis of charity relief work whether carried on by Catholic relief agencies, or as the Black Panther food programs (today the Uhuru Movement), or by Cuban Communist medical missionaries. The goal is social change, not religious conversion.

In thinking about how to solve social problems in the here-and-now (e.g., empty food banks, foreclosures, student loan debt, unemployment, homelessness in a country with excess housing inventory, the opportunities today are limitless) you may find that the strictures of your faith, your belief system, are too narrow, even outmoded for the times, and you may have to move beyond them. The socialism of the past may help you visualize ideals for the immediate future, but it cannot be assumed to contain all the answers needed to achieve those near futures: you must move from “faith” to “atheism,” and work with existing reality.

The goal is to inspire people to form closer community, to care for and share “the commons” of natural resources, to participate in a socialism that expresses equality as a sense of solidarity and mutual help and not of forced standardization and regimentation, to liberate rather then enslave human potential as broadly as possible (read about the “human development index”). If instead, you seek to convert the heathens to your denomination of socialist worship, then you are wasting your efforts and their time. Don’t confuse your menu with their meal.

If you expect to change “them” into what you are now, forget it.

To change “them,” you accept becoming one of them, so “we change.”

What we change into is never entirely known, or fixed.

“Ours is never a struggle between good and evil, but between the preferable and the detestable.”