Several decades ago, Saul Bellow wrote this:
For the first time in history, the human species as a whole has gone into politics. Everyone is in the act, and there is no telling what may come of it.
At this point, however, we can say what has come of it: failure. Politics has failed to deliver on nearly every promise it has made since the 1960s, and I think it’s time to hold it to account.
50 Years In
I was still a child in 1966, but I remember it fairly well. And I remember a good deal of the politics of the era, because my mom was involved with it. In fact, she helped to rewrite the Illinois State Constitution during those years. (Adoption came in 1970, but there were several years of work preceding it.)
So, I know what people in that time were hoping to get out of politics… what they firmly believed they would get out of politics. Here’s the list:
- A solution to the race problem.
- An end to a pointless war.
- A solution to the Middle East problem.
- To improve education.
- A solution to the problems of poverty and welfare.
- An elimination of police brutality.
Bear in mind that the people who were seeking these things were decent, well-meaning people. They truly wanted the world to be better, and they believed politics would make it happen.
And to their credit, they worked to make it happen. Not only that, but their children and grandchildren have kept the faith and continued the fight. We now live in a world of all politics, all the time. And so, half a century in, I think we need to take a hard look at the results, which are these:
The race problem
Race problems have shifted over the past 50 years, but they are still very much with us. And when I say “shifted,” I mean this: If you go to the towns of the American South that were considered the cores of racism (in those days it was called “bigotry”), you’ll find that black and white people generally get along pretty well; far better than they did in the 1960s.
Where racial tension survives and thrives these days is in the realm of the political and because of political actions. The typical white hater of the ’60s derided Negroes as being bad by nature. The “angry white men” of modern times are upset that their money, jobs, and opportunities are stolen via politics and handed to other people. (There is of course a residue of just plain hate.)
The bottom line here is that politics is keeping racism alive. And if the truth is to be honestly faced, this is because a large number of political operatives would have no job if racial prejudice evaporated. It behooves them to keep it going.
Vietnam goes, Iraq and Afghanistan come, and Syria may be next; ho hum, just another season in the long march of the military-industrial complex.
The Middle East problem
Israel, the Arabs, bombs, terrorists, dictators… which decade’s headlines are these?
Test scores since the 1960s have steadily fallen; teachers’ unions have become ever-more rapacious and arrogant, colleges ever-more expensive. Metal detectors now adorn school buildings, teachers are forbidden to adapt the curriculum to the students, etc.
Poverty and welfare
More people are on more welfare programs than ever before… and in the face of ever-declining scarcity in the world. And again, armies of political operatives would lose their jobs if these problems ever went away.
Eric Garner, intensely violent and overly used SWAT teams, and an ever-increasing list of innocent victims.
At the same time, every evening’s television shows laud “law enforcement” as our true and great saviors. Police departments are laden with bigger, deadlier tools and massive budgets. All of this while Acton’s dictum (“Power corrupts…”) remains.
We See, but Can We Perceive?
There’s nothing secret about the facts itemized above. We’ve all seen them. The question is this: How many of us are able to accept them?
Most people hate the reality that forces them to change their opinions. They fight it, cleverly and persistently. If the first reason to reject reality doesn’t work, it’s followed by a second, third, and fourth. And if excuses fail, anger, accusations, and wild displays may follow.
Still, reality is what it is. And this particular slice of reality is that politics has failed. Profoundly.
We may have leapt into politics with the best of intentions, but our efforts have failed to produce beneficial results… save of course that they allowed us to feel righteous. As far as changing the world, we’d have been better off gardening; that, at least, would have provided good food for people we cared about.
We can either face reality or fight against it. But if we really care about the state of the world, we need to face the truth: Politics has failed miserably.
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If you’ve enjoyed Free-Man’s Perspective or A Lodging of Wayfaring Men, you’re going to love Paul Rosenberg’s new novel, The Breaking Dawn.
It begins with an attack that crashes the investment markets, brings down economic systems, and divides the world. One part is dominated by mass surveillance and massive data systems: clean cities and empty minds… where everything is assured and everything is ordered. The other part is abandoned, without services, with limited communications, and shoved 50 years behind the times… but where human minds are left to find their own bearings.
You may never look at life the same way again.
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