Monday, March 30, 2009

Goo-Goo, Comrade

America as a democracy has worked tirelessly (in a collective manner - the government, the civil service and the private sector) to establish, in the absence of economic certainty, a fully stabilized governing body. If there is such a thing as the American historical memory you can be sure that is scarred by thoughts of the early republic and its desperately inability to maintain cohesion. Then of course, less than a hundred years later, that mythic, romantic catastrophe, the Civil War further plunged the nation into a sort of mass self-doubt. In the decades to follow, and really, this is still such a young nation, through two world wars, an economic depression, and the chronic aches and pains of the so-called 'Car War' the nation and its governmental institutions have solidified into a firm and static status quo. The hunger for true, mass rebellion exists only along the desperate fringes if at all, and protesters who line the streets and boulevards do not call for uprising but for what amounts to progressive tinkering with established laws and methodologies.
However, there is something in the collective psyche - if I can further the politico-metaphysics of earlier- that understands the fundamental difference between the stability and stagnancy, the difference between a calm lake and standing water. Marxist struggle will occur at all levels of a society and at all times, those living under social contract laws require a great deal of the individual 'system' of government and while most are prepared to accept their share of abuse no citizen is without a threshold. But what needs to be understood is that in American in the past century has not required the sort of mass uprising that most Marxist theorists assume is required for change. Indeed, the great changes in America over the course of the 20th century were the result of evolutionary rather than revolutionary methods of political change. Changes in civil right's laws, arguably the most significant accomplishment of domestic American last century, was a struggle carried out over the course of the entire period. It encompassed many sub-movements ranging from the bourgeoisie to the militant and required personalities of matching variety. What is view as the final culmination of the struggle - the years of Martin Luther King's ascendancy, was really the signal of the movement achieving its most important victory - the mainstreaming of the struggle.
These 'baby-Marxist' struggles are perhaps best analogized with the magnitude of earthquakes - they fall along a continuum of degrees and intensities. More often than not, the struggles are much less romantic and earth shaking than civil rights or universal suffrage. Typically the wheres and hows of government workings are the subject of day to day scrutiny. The bellwether for these sorts of changes is the tawdry, pop-culture driven concept of the scandal. Examples are easy enough to list - Teapot Dome, McCarthyism, the secret bombing of Cambodia, Watergate, and more recently, the contested presidential election of 2000. In each case, scandal and controversy brewed and conspired to call into question the accepted methodologies of the status quo - not the status quo itself, mind you but the specific function of a government agent or agency - and from that scandal a process of change would be initiated. That change would either affect the actual operation of that agent or agency (i.e. Nixon resigns from office over Watergate, balloting standards unified after the 2000 election) or it will foster a permanent change in public opinion (the carpet bombing of Cambodia perpetuated the public outcry against American involvement in Vietnam).

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