Dissonant Notes

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Counterculture Envy-The Right Finally Gets To Have Its Own '60s, and What It Could Mean

"I’m frequently seen in the conservative press as being out there on the barricades shouting: Down with capitalism! I do see it in the end as really the most workable system we’ve produced. So what we’re talking about is not the system itself, but its abuses, I don’t mean criminal but the abundant abuses just within the letter of the law. The essential question is whether it can survive these abuses given free rein and whether these abuses are inherent in the system itself."

William Gaddis

The mythology of the 1960's is so ingrained in our culture that its events can sometimes be seen as epic and otherworldly compared to our supposedly mundane times. People taking to the streets in anger, calls for armed insurrection and government take down, outrageous conspiracy theories; it seemed to, for a short amount of time, almost alter the course of Western Civilisation. Taking a stand against such outrageous behaviour was the silent majority, those God fearing, blue collar everyday folks who looked on aghast at Woodstock and feared for the purity of their daughters. They didn't smoke marijuana, and they certainly didn't take no trips on LSD. Given time, the silent majority prevailed and by the '80's Reagan was in power, and all was right with the world. Something must have been eating away at that silent majority mindset though. Tired of being painted as uptight moral guardians instead of the individualistic pioneers that they imagined themselves to be, the Right had to invent an authority to rebel against. They came up with the liberal media. Don't be fooled by this seemingly innocuous phrase. Behind it lies intimations of 1984 style mind control, of the befuddled masses being fooled by its insinuations and accusations, of a helpless populace forever enslaved by its propaganda. Who can free us from these mind-forged manacles? Who else but that rough-hewn pioneer forever alert to the nefarious servants of tyranny, that individualist champion of the ordinary person, that untamed rebel of the political jungle....the right wing suburbanite. With an enemy now in place, right wingers everywhere could feel more at ease with themselves. Unthinking servants of the American government? Never. Protectors of liberty and truth? You betcha. The fallacies of the liberal media theory have been dealt with elsewhere. That the media conglomerates themselves are billion dollar businesses owned by card carrying right wingers is apparently of no interest whatsoever. Let us not dwell on such matters though. Since the medias "betrayal" of America in their coverage of Vietnam, news outlets have been viewed as servants of the enemy by freedom loving suburban dwellers of the right wing variety. Apparently, though, this was not enough. The Right wanted a riot of their own, and with the election of Barack Hussein Obama, they got it.

Turn on the news and you'll hear talk of armed insurrection, of outrageous conspiracy theories concerning the President, of fighting for the real America. It's a show about the '60's, right? No, it's a show about the 2010 Right. The silent majority's counterculture envy has finally been unleashed. Now they get to be the rebels standing up to a "totalitarian" government. Now we have the birthers, spouting claims that would fit nicely into the pages of "The Illuminatus! Trilogy". Now we have Sharron Angle talking about a "second amendment solution". Everything that the silent majority rejected in the '60's is now being embraced wholeheartedly. Let's remind ourselves, though, of what most of the protests from the '60's focused on. The Vietnam War. What are the Right angry about? Health Care that supposedly ensures coverage for the poorest elements of society.(Can I add that it actualy ensures nothing of the kind? Yes I can) Apparently this is the single greatest threat to our freedom that currently exists and the first step on the road to Socialism. It begs the question, whose freedom is being threatened? Who are the people funding the Tea Party marches who are angry about Health Care? As everyone who's been brainwashed by the liberal media knows, it is the ultra-rich and ultra-right elements of the business world, who see any attempt at regulation by the government as a threat to their pay check. The problem is, they are stirring up a witches cauldron that may cause more trouble than even they can imagine. Telling a large group of powerful affluent individuals that they are under attack and peppering it with violent rhetoric is beyond irresponsible. Unlike the protesters of the '60's, many elements of the Tea Party movement and its affiliates have real power and influence, and what they seem to be asking for would lead to the dissolution of individual rights and replacement of government with business entities.

First off, let us rid ourselves of any illusions and make one fact perfectly clear. Individual rights exist because of government. The nature of Western politics is such that any advancements in individual rights are soon taken for granted and seen as being indisputable. Without government, though, we only have individual rights in principle. With no rule of law or appeal to a higher power those rights would be meaningless. They are not a permanent entity and many visitors to Western countries are shocked by the amount of liberties that we take for granted. The protection we are afforded by the existence of our governments is incalculable. Now, this is not going down the path of "Leviathan" and claiming that a totalitarian government is better than none. I hold in high regard those individuals who have risked their lives in order that governments would accept their rights and give them the necessary protection, which in many cases is simply the right to be left alone to live their lives. Many would point out that our individual rights were in fact given to us by a different kind of higher power, namely God. This is dangerous for two reasons. One, any government based on the belief of a particular god would have no incentive to protect the rights of non-believers or worshipers of a different god. Two, religious governments can and will go beyond merely being indifferent to the rights of non-believers to claiming divine reasoning for limiting the rights of all it's individuals, religious or not. Government must be secular regardless of the beliefs of those implementing the laws. Which leaves us with two options: individual rights as vouchsafed by a government (be it large or small), or the law of the jungle. Now, the law of the jungle in this case may not refer to outright lawlessness, but it may still reward the strong and punish the weak if they have no recourse to a greater power. This would be the case if the government's power were reduced so thoroughly and an even greater power (or powers) had usurped it. The power I'm alluding to is that of Corporations.

Right now, the only thing stopping Corporations from deciding the fate of planet earth is governments. Now, I know many would say  that the fate of the planet is in the hands of Corporations as it is, but the fact is that governments are a nuisance to Corporations. They charge tax and implement laws that demand minimum wage and worker's rights. If these same Corporations line the pockets of enough politicians they get what they want for the most part. The thing is, though, they want more. It is the law that Corporations must do everything in their power to make a profit, and often times that means butting heads with government officials. Government and Corporations have one crucial difference. Corporations are not democratic in any way. They are under no incentive to protect the rights of individuals, and the further Right you go, you find more people stating that ultimately the individual has no rights other than those he or she can secure in the marketplace. In other words, much Tea Party rhetoric involving less government and more "freedom" is simply right wing phrasing for the freedoms granted by the marketplace, the freedoms you yourself can secure, not those given to you by a government. Their version of freedom is that everyone is entitled to compete for their freedom, this is indeed their right, but that nothing more is guaranteed.

In real terms, it is the equivalent of climbing up a rope to the top of a cliff then cutting the rope when you reach the top and making others struggle. Peek behind the Tea Party bombast and you'll find many individuals convinced that their riches were the result of that "pioneering spirit" that birthed America. The market for them is the jungle, and they have slayed the beast. It is a fantasy world of affluence and arrogance, of delusions so strong that they threaten to unleash a firestorm of anger from many who are looking for real reasons as to why the American economy is failing. The answer that should be given to them, which is that American Corporations do not care one iota for the entity called America and therefore will go anywhere in the world where worker's rights are close to nil to ensure healthy profits for the shareholders (remember, it's the law) and the end result being that there is no industry in America, is not one CEO's and business leaders are likely to admit. No, the problem is big government and government spending. Never mind that Corporations will do everything in their power to starve the nation of taxes (again, I repeat, they are legally required to do anything it takes to turn a profit) and that real wages have been stagnant for decades. Never mind that many business leaders and Tea Party financiers would like to see a roll back of workers rights. This is all immaterial. The fault is always with government and never with the market. Which is not to say that I am anti-capitalist or endorse Communism in any way. I do not, and in fact see Communism's aims, whether carried out in good faith or not, to be detrimental to both the human spirit and individual freedoms. Individual rights involve a fusion of protection and being left alone. The right to mingle with our fellow beings or the right to be a recluse. The right to be generous or the right to be selfish. The problem, as it stands, is that Corporations have the power to reduce all our rights to their terms. In the teeth of such a monster we have only one hope, and that is government. Not an abusive or totalitarian one, but one that may curb the power of Corporations if they threaten our individual rights. Not always a wise government, most likely a messy frustrating one that does not please everyone, or even most, but nevertheless provides us with the rights and protections that many in the West gave their lives for, and that although we take for granted, could disappear in the blink of an eye if we misunderstand the nature of the "rights" and "freedoms" currently being pursued by many elements of American society.


  1. This is an important issue, and it's good to see you delving into politics.

    You jump very quickly into subjects like the astro-turfing of the Tea Party or the red herring that is the liberal media. I would be interested to hear more about how the movement does and does not compare to the 60s counter culture. For instance, why does it seem that, at least so far, there is no concurrent rise in conservative arts and music, as there was for the New Left. Also, when the Tea Party realizes that Corporate America does not care about them, either, do you think the activists will become more militant and follow through with many of their threats? Or will all the shouting just be hot air, like so many of the 60s movements unfortunately turned out to be?

  2. I don't think there will be any kind of artistic explosion from the Right, as it doesn't have the groundswell of sympathy amongst many traditionally artistic communities like the Left did when it was focused on issues like civil rights and the Vietnam war. I feel that in general it will simply push America more to the right for a very simple reason. The Nixon silent majority take-back was seen as removing the influence of the Left (who simply retreated to Universities) and to push the country more to the right,which it did. Now the not so silent majority is demanding another push to the Right because of America's lurch to the Left. What lurch to the Left you say? Exactly, there was none. The Tea Party is simply the most extreme edge of a push to the Right to equalise a push to the Left that did not happen. As such American normality in politics is even further away from the centre and even more Right. Corporate America does not care about the Tea Party in the same way that polite racists don't like their crazy Uncle who gets drunk and uses the N word all the time. It makes them look bad and causes more trouble than it's worth. The end result will still be a push to the Right.