11/27/2004: Thought for the Day:
Here's an interesting little factoid that I share at the risk of sounding, once more, elitist. (Sorry.) The United States ranks 14th out of 15 industrialized countries in per capita education spending. If we have an electorate incapable of thinking rationally about its own interests, who confuse politicians with old movie heroes, don't know much about history, and lap up the administration's lies about Iraq even after they've been repeatedly exposed as lies by the media, this might have something to do with never having been educated in the fundamental skills of critical thinking. (Note that Bush's much touted No Child Left Behind initiative, favoring rote learning and standardized testing, is the formula for an even more intellectually pacified and credulous electorate.)
But corporate America doesn't require an educated or critical citizenry. Quite the contrary. What it requires is a passive work force narrowly trained to perform specific occupations for decreasing wages, who will then overconsume lavishly in their leisure hours. It all works out rather well: Job dissatisfaction is placated by an endless succession of consumer crap (creating new jobs--though probably overseas--making more crap); intellectual boredom is assuaged by a steady diet of media crap (thanks to media deregulation); and any remaining critical stirrings are mollified by supersize portions of tasteless crappy food (thanks to an unregulated food industry). The result: a stupefied, overstuffed citizenry glued to pricey entertainment centers, whose national hobby is ridiculing Europeans for wanting shorter work weeks, resisting American imports, and denouncing the disastrous American policy in Iraq.
The political culture of a country doesn't only take place in voting booths. It's lodged in this network of intersecting social institutions and practices--education, media, religion, workplace dignity (or lack of it), even the kind of food we eat. And at every instance, Democrats have ceded the territory or never fought for it in the first place. Into this mix add the brand of superstitious and authoritarian religiosity now dominating American life. When it comes to religion, once again, the old left had a few interesting things to say. Someone, I'm a little hesitant to say who at the moment, once called religion the "opiate of the masses." In other words, a painkiller, and an indispensable one, given the degree to which social conditions force a population to live the impoverished lives that make these kinds of substitutes for meaning and fulfillment necessary.
Then let's add high unemployment and rampant job insecurity--useful techniques for stifling social demands and crippling whatever opposition a viable labor movement would provide. Stir in a climate of terror, which this administration has been particularly adept at milking. It's not just that voting for social progress becomes less likely under such circumstances, it's that even basic social demands start to seem threatening. The fact that a majority of the country has come to accept the persistence of vast social inequities in the face of unprecedented wealth doesn't make these conditions any less reprehensible.
Len on 11.27.04 @ 04:08 PM CST