A Change Whose Time Has Come
The block party finished with a performance by a local favorite, the Rousers. A "fifties" rock-and-roll band, they were competent, but I found them boring and anachronistic. The fifties were a long time ago, and rock-and-roll is the music of youth, rebellion and sexual energy. This band is neither youthful, rebellious or exuding of sexual energy.
As it turned out, the event had little youth, rebellion or energy of any kind. The attendees were mostly older people, with a lot of long-haired men, beards, tie-died shirts, and even sandals. It made me feel old and tired. I bought a few used CDs that were on sale, walked around a bit, and went home.
This event turned out to be a good metaphor for the futility and tiredness of what remains of the "movement" of the 1960s. Madison has long fashioned itself as one of the country's main bastions of the strident "left" - activists of issues and a wide range of peace, justice, environment and a fair and distributive economic system. All worthy causes, but the identity with the direction left has become tiresome and ineffective. It inevitably became something narrow, insular, resentful and largely ignored.
I used to identify with the "left." As time passed I got to know many "leftists," and found most of them to be insufferable: obnoxious, ego-centered, arrogant, posturing and seeking of attention. And, most importantly, powerless.
Except, of course, within the peer group, which is an arena of constant bickering, jealousy, infighting, conniving and ostracism. It depends on the group, of course, but the more overtly political the organization, the more the discord.
This year it might appear that the "left" identity has gotten a new lease on life with the candidacy of Bernie Sanders for president. His life and his advocacies over the years would seem to place him squarely in the "leftist" camp. Looking a little deeper, though, reveals that Sanders's appeal is mainly to young people, who are worried about their futures and frustrated by the lack of opportunity that they are facing in this brave new world of globalization and neoliberalism. They aren't wearing tie-dyes, head bands, bangles or sandals, except maybe incidentally - not for group conformity of worship of the past. Or of worship of the "old guard" as their revered elders.
This is encouraging. We are at the end of something old and the beginning of something new. There is wisdom of the past for the young to make use of, but they would do well to pursue their dreams free of the limits of directionality. There is no good reason that political alliance and beliefs have to be organized according to a linear abstraction - a model of reality that presupposes that people exist along a horizontal spectrum that runs from left to right along a continuum. For any particular person or belief, there is a slightly different person or belief just to the left and just to the right. Then another just to the left or just to the right of the first person. Than another, until some linear limit of extreme "right" and extreme "left" is reached. It's like space, though, where there is no limit. One could keep going "left" or "right" into infinity. The farther in one direction or another determines whether one is a "moderate," "extremist" or "centrist." As if all these things are "isms.
A better way has been needed for a long time. I have been writing for years that developmental psychology rather than political ideology is the more meaningful approach to human social interaction. The Abraham Maslow hierarchy of needs in particular does more to describe human levels of being and aspiration than the arbitrary and fictitious linear spectrum from left to right. The ideological approach inevitably leads to polarization, to an "us" versus "them" divide, where the "us" is always superior to and threatened by the "them."
A perfect example of the binary approach of ideology is the weekday talk show on WORT called A Public Affair. There is a different host each weekday, and guests are interviewed, sometimes in person, but mostly by phone. The guests are researchers, authors, activists and journalists, and are experts in their areas of study and activity, and the conversations are informative. And forgettable. They go nowhere. The segments invariably end with some variant of "We're out of time," and then on to another show. Listeners are left hanging. URLs are often given so those interested in further information can gain access, but there is rarely a suggestion of what listeners can do with what they have learned. You're on your own.
Mostly what is discussed on A Public Affair are variations on the themness of the "right wing" and its bad behavior around the world. Most attention is on the "right wing" of the "U.S." - a catchall grab bag of religious crackpots, gun nuts, "white" supremacists, survivalists, police, Wall Street bankers, Corporate America, the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson. Foreign entanglements of the "U.S." government are also covered on the program, and fit under the umbrella of the "right wing."
The guests tend to be miles above the local show hosts in terms of knowledge, intelligence, experience, and discernment, and also tend to be less ideological, more focused on the problem or issue at hand. The show hosts exhibit varying degrees of paranoia and victimization, weaving together a worldwide web, so to speak, of THE "right wing."
The broad-brush inclusion of so many disparate individuals and groups into the "right wing" renders the ascription without much meaning. What is really meant by the attribution is not "us." I called in to one of the segments years ago, and because I disagreed with the show host I was accused of being a "right winger." The accuser still hosts one of these weekday shows, and hasn't mellowed a bit.
In my experience, most people who are labeled "right wing" can be more accurately described as being dominated by the reptilian brain, a condition described by neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean as characterized by aggression, dominance over others, territoriality and ritual displays. It's the tribal mentality. A perfect example is the Ku Klux Klan, but you can find this condition among "leftists" as well. "Us" versus "them."
The psychological approach is especially pertinent when it comes to politicians. What I have observed over the years is that most politicians don't have any real beliefs other than their own advancement. They can change parties, change alliances and change stances on issues depending on which way the political winds blow.
Many politicians are psychopaths and/or sociopaths. One of the entertaining aspects of this election season is the way "Republicans" have condemned Donald Trump, then supported him when they thought it was in their best interest, then condemning him again when he makes his latest outrageous statement. None of them are truly "right wing," except to the degree that it suits their narcissistic purposes. Indeed, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is common to almost all politicians, almost as if by definition. "Right wing" is not a mental condition. Narcissism is.
WORT is having one of its quarterly "pledge drives," where they harangue listeners to donate money. The station is listener-supported rather than commercial-driven, so these two-week marathons are what keeps it on the air. I still listen to some of the programs, and it appears they are having more difficulty than usual getting people to part with their money.
I wish WORT would have an easier time getting donations. Its left-right binary obsession is wearying, but the station still provides a valuable service. The mainstream corporate media are little more than propaganda vehicles for the powers-that-be, whether governmental, corporate or individual. Even under the illusory "left" umbrella one is still likely to get a more truthful and accurate understanding of what is going on in the world. It just doesn't go anywhere. The "left" is impotent, existing on the margins, the fringe of society. It is not a threat to the dominant social order. If WORT were a real threat to the ruling elite it would soon be off the air.
WORT can serve as a hologram for what is failing in the effort to create a meaningful and sustainable human civilization. Back in the 1990s the station carried a nationally syndicated program New Dimensions Radio, which featured interviews with pioneering thinkers and practitioners in the fields of consciousness, healing, agriculture, business, the arts and spirituality. There was even a Public Affair segment devoted to the same topics. Both shows were dropped when the station took a "leftist" turn, or at least a more exclusively "leftist" turn.
The planet is in ferment. Change is on the way. Only the corrupt, the fanatical and the crazed believe we are not in the throes of an ever-worsening climate change. The dominant economic system, corporate capitalism, has just about run its course, due to its gross inequity, unsustainability and environmental destruction. Human civilization is at a precipice, about to fall into an abyss that may result in the species homo sapiens going extinct.
We can avoid extinction, and may be able to create a sustainable, equitable civilization. It isn't likely, but with a change in approach it is possible. Another way of describing a change in approach is paradigm shift, employing a different way of looking at phenomena and existence. This happened before in my lifetime, during the 1960s and '70s. It was called "The Revolution," the "Hippie Movement," and to some "The New Renaissance." It petered out, lost in an excess of drugs, extremism and burnout. Many died, many went to prison, some joined the mainstream, some divided-off into specialties like organic agriculture, natural healing, arts and crafts, and spiritual pursuits.
And some became "leftists." It is the most binary choice, a militant stance that defines itself largely as not everyone else. I might add that it is a militant stance that is not much more than a stance, similar to the "People's Front of Judea" in Monty Python's Life of Brian.
As the ferment of change intensifies, "leftist" media like WORT are likely to be left out in the cold, so to speak. Or, they can change as the world changes. If they do, so much the better. If they don't, something will arise to replace them. I'm optimistic.
Here's an example of the Rousers from twenty-six years ago.
Here's how to be an old band. Here's the chords and lyrics. Old rockers can always be inspired by younger artists.
You can watch some videos from New Dimensions Radio here.
There is a time to every purpose. Maybe that time has come today. There is no time left for hackneyed old ways. The new way will be the time of our lives, as long as we face the strange changes. We can ring out the old, ring in the new, though some would like to save time in a bottle. Maybe this should be our national anthem.
When I was accused of being a "right winger" it was almost comedic. A few years later comedian Will Ferrell did a parody of W. Bush, in which he kept adding people and countries to the Axis of Evil. It had a similar feel. I was added to the Axis of "right wing."
Here's another great scene from Life of Brian. And this, another meeting of the People's Front of Judea.
Update, June 7: NPR aired a short analysis of dimensionality today, concluding that we are all stuck in three dimensions. All, except those stuck in one dimension - horizontal.