Haven’t you heard? The end of the world is nigh. And I’m not talking about those silly Biblical myths about rapture and the apocalypse and Jesus returning to judge us. Who could believe that stuff? I’m talking the real end of the world. You know because the Mayan calendar is running out, the Moon is too close the Earth, and there is a Green blob in space. Now do you feel me? Factor in global warming, tsunami’s in Japan, and some quasi-biblical trends like war in the Middle East, Jews going to Israel and we have ourselves are real issue.
Now that I have your attention, this inaugural piece of my new blog isn’t about Green Blobs in space. It is however, about our obsession with the end of the world and some general commentary what is ending around us. Humans clearly have a sense of individual mortality. It’s something we become aware of from a very young age. We also have a collective sense of mortality. Most cultures have creation myths and their version of the apocalypse. Without playing social psychologist, it speaks to an instinctual understanding of life and death, both individually and collectively–just as my grandfather died, so will I, and we, as a species, will eventually go the way of the dinosaur.
The deeper question for the human psyche is whether or not our collective demise is inevitable, and if it will come will it be because of our own doing (our sinful nature or global climate change) or by the hand of some force beyond our control (call it God or a Green Blob), and thus our angst. Living in the over commercialized US, our modern culture is replete with newer, more marketable versions of the apocalypse ranging from zombies to glaciers. We seem to know that “something is wrong” with our world, and we might be able to do something about it, but are at odds as to our ability to effect change. If there is incredible irony of living the modern US, it is that we live in a society which supposedly empowers the individual, but at the same time makes people feel so powerless which regards to the world around them and sees any attempt by others to change the world as strange and problematic. I think it might have something do with the fact that was passes for “culture” in our country is little more than marketing…but that is the subject of another post.
And I would definitely go see my movie idea above…well it was my idea after all.
The eastern world, it is exploding…
The thing is, I do believe it is the end of the world, well not entirely, but as we know it. Over a decade ago (wow, time flies), the international social justice movement seemed to be getting its legs. The protests in Seattle and across the globe against the IMF and other global financial institutions were both catalyst and focal point. Then 9/11…and the dominant discussion about “world change” shifted to “why do they hate us so much” and “who are we going to bomb next?” Voices to the counter seemed odd, ill placed, and “proof” of the latent liberal, commie, Islamist, anti-American sentiment in the US. It’s been almost ten years and the nightmare still lingers.
Obama was elected on a slogan of “Hope” and “Change.” And thus for we have precious little to show for it other than a Health Reform Bill which does more for insurance companies than the uninsured. Of course the media doesn’t present it that way–it’s socialism that must be destroyed. The bill won’t be overturned because the insurance companies ultimately got what they wanted, to spend millions to overturn a bill which may result in a “worse” bill (worse for them, better or the average American) wouldn’t make much sense, but again, not a story for the mainstream media. It requires thought and critical analysis. We are promised EFCA, and got union gutting bills from across the country, all while Obama sits on his hands. More frustration.
But then, Tunisia. A wave or protests sweep across the country. Folks take the street with a wide spectrum of grievances, ranging from government imposed austerity measures to the lack of civil liberties. A revolution…a popular revolution…a government toppled by the people it represents. And it spread. Egypt, US client dictator Mubarek faces a similar challenge and steps down. Protests in Yemen, Saudi Arabi, Bahrain, Syria, and throughout the Middle East. And then, Wisconsin. A “Tea Party” cheesehead gets elected governor and goes after the unions, and seemingly out of nowhere thousands, tens of thousands, over a hundred thousand swarm the capital. It spreads to Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. I attended several solidarity protests and for those of us in the labor movement, we know what it is at stake. I gather that those outside the movement find the whole thing somewhat puzzling, but polls indicate that most people don’t believe in stripping people of the right to organize, even if they aren’t crazy about unions.
What do these movement have in common? More than one might think. The Middle East has long been object of the West’s imperial project. You need not an intellectual to understand that the US’s interest in the region is not about human rights, but about oil. Historically, the best way to get that oil is by having pro-western despots run the show. The exact form is unimportant (Emir, military, dictator) so long as the result is the same. Countries with diverge from the program become official enemies and are demonized. Thus the quest for popular forms of government has been a long road for those in the Middle East, but in some countries popular patience has worn thin and the despots appear vulnerable. In the US, the situation is somewhat different but hinges on similar issues. Americans, over the course of the middle of the twentieth century, won many of the rights that those in the Middle East are struggling to obtain–more say over their governments, less violence against the people, a stronger social safety net, and a greater piece of the pie. These rights, which Americans enjoy, were not granted, but taken, and the elites have been sore about it ever since. The democratic movements of the Middle East are trying to move the clock forward, the democratic movements in the US are trying to stop it from being turned back. Their common enemy? The neo-liberal order based on austerity that reduces democracy to “show” that simply legitimizes decisions made people with real power.
That’s great, it starts with an earthquake…
Watching the horrific footage of the current events Japan is heart wrenching. It is a reminder of how truly fragile society is, but how bold the human spirit can be when put the test. The outcomes of these social struggles are yet to be determined, but I believe that they have made their imprint and it will be difficult to stop the Middle East from moving forward and to harder to push the clock back than Tea Party politicians think. In the case of the Middle East, the contradictions are many. US and Western interests versus the people of the region mediated by a myriad of national regimes, often with roles and alliances. It’s plainly obvious that the US will support popular movement in Libya but be less excited about those Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, but as this sort of policy develops, the hypocrisy will become more clear, constraining the ability of the US to block these movements. In the US, the middle class is under attack from above. It’s causing division, confusion, and is favoring the forces of reaction. But when those forces over reach, as they seem to have in Wisconsin, their true agenda also becomes exposed, people mobilized and progress is possible. We may be at that tipping point…and I feel fine.