Where is “We”?

July 10, 2010

Joe Bageant’s column this week (http://www.joebageant.com/joe/2010/07/waltzing.html) was the clearest-eyed rant on where capitalism and our capitalist society stands right now that I’ve read in a long while.  I read it and wept.  Why?  I suppose because of all the other things I read and pondered this week.

This week, for example, The Atlantic magazine sponsored it’s sixth annual Aspen Ideas Festival where what one reporter described as “the well-heeled and enlightened eggheads” held “heady panel discussions and earnest disquisitions” on whatever, I suppose, well-heeled and enlightened eggheads discuss.  Billionaire real estate and magazine mogul, Mort Zuckerman opined that, “The real problem we have are some of the worst economic policies in place today that, in my judgment, go directly against the long-term interests of this country.”   And Harvard historian, Nial Ferguson proclaimed, (with a straight face, I presume,) that “The curse of long-term unemployment is that if you pay people to do nothing, they’ll find themselves doing nothing for very long periods of time.”

While the Aspen Ideas Festival was going on in Colorado, The Center for American Progress’ Campus Progress held its annual “Stand Up, Fight Back” conference July 7th and 8th in the D.C. area, where the hip, young, progressive elite stood up and fought back against … well, I suppose, people like the rich conservative elites and eggheads at the Aspen conference.

And a new Gallup Poll shows that the Tea Party, who have presumed to state that they represent the rest of us, are really mostly just conservative republicans fed up with all this government socialism (for the rest of us, not for the big guys) that has taken over since Obama came to office.  At least, they certainly didn’t seem fed up with it while it was going on under the Bush Administration.

In the meantime, fourteen million Americans are unemployed; nearly eight million of those have been out of work for six months or longer. Over one million are no longer receiving unemployment benefits, while Republicans in Congress stall efforts by the Democrats to extend benefits.  The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico keeps on spilling while, despite their assertions that “we’ll make it right”, BP is lawyering up to fight claims and protect profits any way they can while small businesses along the gulf go belly-up by the hundreds due to BP’s negligence. All across the country, ordinary people like my neighbor – a damn fine roofer and general carpenter who stopped by while I was out in my garden to ask if I had repair work that he might do – are desperate for any kind of work and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states that Recession related suicides are up 75% nationwide.

What the hell is going on here?

I can’t say for sure, being neither a rich elite nor an elite egghead of either political persuasion.  But it seems to me, that as things get tougher, all of us – rich and poor, eggheads or noodle noggin’s, democrats, republicans and independents – have forgotten that the very first word in the preamble to that Constitution we’re always shouting at each other about, is WE.  As in, We, the people.

I’m not talking politics here; I’m talking morality.  We all seem caught in a trap of “Me-ism” at its finest.  While the wealthy elite whine about the taxes they pay and how much better things would be for them if they didn’t constantly have to support those lazy, unemployed poor people, the gyre continues to widen.  While the elite eggheads assure us that more technology, more subjugation of nature will save us, things continue to fall apart.  While the elite progressives castigate the stingy conservatives and the elite conservatives tear into the wastrel progressives, down here in the real world where most of us live, the ceremony of innocence is being drowned. While the rest of us poor schmucks accuse each other of bringing this about through our political, religious, or sexual beliefs, the blood-dimmed tide grows nearer to being loosed.  And the sad, pathetic truth is, that for all the arguing about who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s deserving and who’s not, whose political or religious ideology will do the trick and who’s won’t, when the whole shebang grinds to a halt and collapses around us, it will be Ashes, ashes. We.All.Fall.Down.

As I pondered all this during the week, I ran across an article in the Wall Street Journal http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703620604575349003643117706.html?mod=ITP_pageone_1 about Detroiters who volunteered to keep up their communities as Detroit has had to cut services.  These weren’t eggheads with techno-fixes or elites throwing money around.  They were just ordinary Detroiters who felt a responsibility for the common good.  Not me-ism, but we-ism at its finest.

They heartened me, this little band of “we-ists”, because I know there are similar groups and individuals all around the country quietly carrying out similar activities – not for tax breaks, or political recognition or to preserve their own elite status quo, but because their consciences tell them it’s the right thing to do.  That’s the Center – the one that, if it holds as things fall apart, will hold mere anarchy at bay and spur on the celebration of innocence that is so in danger of drowning.

I was heartened because it reminded me, that “We” is within us all.

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2 Responses to Where is “We”?

  1. JudyB says:

    I’ll go back and click on those links. Promise. Right now I’m still writing my guest post for Jessica on E.B.White.

    Had to comment on your blog post, though. Not usually one to break new ground, I was among the first of the fourteen million unemployed. If most of the rest, as Nial Ferguson said, “The curse of long-term unemployment is that if you pay people to do nothing, they’ll find themselves doing nothing for very long periods of time,” then extend their unemployment benefits! That way, on the odd chance there is a job available in my neighborhood of the recession, I might have a shot at becoming employed again.

    Meanwhile, you may just have gotten me away from my computer to try to plan a volunteer service I thought of just before Mother’s Day. It’s about time to organize my thoughts on instructing homeless mothers at a local charity the art of frugal shopping and healthy meal planning. Sure, it ties in with a book I’m writing on those subjects. The mothers in question would probably not be able to afford the book. Oh, now my mind is racing on to how to get them copies!

    You’re right. “We,” the people, must occupy ourselves with helping each other – not for pay or tax breaks or to get a picture in WSJ or NYT but because “We” can do it and it will feel good.

    • theozarker says:

      Exactly. And what a great idea for a book and a program. With all the “buy this, buy that” propaganda out there, we’re no longer taught how to be frugal. If we’re heading over the peak oil hump, and the statistics certainly point that way, we’re going to have to work together to survive the changes to society that will mean.

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