Politics and Power

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Politics is generally about power, and that’s one of the problems with it. No, it’s ALWAYS about power, but not always in a cynical manipulative way. The cynicism and manipulation have repulsed and enraged a lot of people, some of whom are mistaken in whom they blame, though everyone thinks they know who to blame, and whoever disagrees with them is wrong. Many of us are mistaken in one way or another, or, to put it another way, asleep. There’s no obvious or easy solution to politics besides getting involved, giving frequent thought to the problems, and trying to see through one’s own mistaken assumptions. I try to see clearly, but am by no means sure I do.

One of those assumptions, particularly in the conservative realm of ideas, is that liberals are really Communists. This isn’t entirely false. Liberals believe society needs to change for the better. Conservatives, by definition, tend to like things the way they are, and also tend to get upset when anyone tries to change things. Unless they believe that change has already happened, and is unbalanced. I wonder, sometimes, if the main problem they have with liberals isn’t when liberals don’t live up to their ideals. When liberals manipulate they are no better than any other group. To be effective they need to stand for something more than just acquiring money to make their party successful. So, for that matter, so should conservatives. Both parties use fear to persuade people to support them, and it’s often difficult to know if the fears are justified, so each party discounts the fears of the other.

According to an article reviewing a book about Karl Marx, one of Marx’s concerns was “domination”, by which he meant use of coercion. Of course, when Communism became manifest in the world, rather than some sort of vague ideal, it used quite a bit of coercion. What conservatives don’t like to be reminded of is that EVERYBODY, including the United States of America, uses coercion.

Domination is exactly the kind of thing conservatives worry about, as much as or more than liberals. But conservatives (at least in this country) are also married to the capitalist system, and find it inherently virtuous. I think that’s a dangerous mistake. ANY human system can be corrupted, and capitalism is no different. Especially since the Market, which supposedly regulates itself automatically, is constantly being interfered with either by people who want to keep it in its place, or by people who want to be given advantages in it they can exploit. Capitalism has used coercion as much as any other system. It’s convenient not to consider that the people most affected by capitalist coercion are important, since many of them are dark skinned or poor. Slavery became a notorious part of this country’s history because it was profitable.

Marx came up with the concept of class war, something conservatives don’t like to hear about, but which describes much of what goes on in economics and politics, and class war seems to be closely related to racism. Both insist that freedom is for the privileged few (usually wealthy and/or white skinned in our part of the world). Both look down on anyone who has dark skin or is poor. The thing conservatives seem not to understand about class war is that it has ALWAYS gone on, and that the upper classes almost always have the advantage. The question is, why SHOULD they have advantages poorer people don’t? The American Dream has been predicated on equality of opportunity, which (ideology to the contrary) is all that can reasonably be asked. Inequality of opportunity can reliably be counted on to produce revolutionary sentiments when things become extreme enough that a substantial number of people feel they have nothing to lose.

Conservatives look at class war as something liberals try to do to things as they are, but that’s not the original meaning. Marx saw it as a struggle that always goes on, usually exploitation of the poor by the wealthy through overly high taxes, pay that’s too low, poor working conditions, etc. Considering that perspective may make it easier to understand how Communism became such a powerful movement. Conservatives now talk about how terrible it is to be dependent on the government; is it any better to be dependent on an employer who may be whimsical, firing employees for no good reason, and willing to maim or kill any who dare to complain about how they’re treated?

The maiming and killing mostly happened in the 19th and early 20th centuries; the modern equivalent has been breaking unions through legislation, moving factories to other parts of the world, etc. With those concrete actions has come narratives blaming workers for being poor and for not wanting to work, which deflects attention from employers reluctance to raise wages so people can live on them. One would think raising wages would ensure more money being spent by poorer people, which would presumably improve the economy. Employers apparently don’t care about the overall economy being good–only what directly affects them.

This kind of cynicism means that people in general have very little idea of any common interest that might unite us. We’re divided into groups who hate and try to defeat each other because of each group’s beliefs. Patriotism can be dangerous because of manipulators who will take advantage of it, but it’s also a feeling of solidarity: a feeling that we’re all part of the same thing, and it’s something we need to protect and improve. If we’re loyal only to our own group, we might as well have a civil or class war, and blame whoever happens to be president for being divisive. If war is what we want, we’re headed the right way.

 

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