Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Future

Back when I was a teenager, way back in the 1950's, things were a lot different from what they are today. Television was new and its effect on politics was just beginning to be felt and more slowly understood. Roads were turning into highways and highways into turnpikes and freeways. Disneyland was brand new and popular music could still be sung by the likes of Snooky Lanson on the Lucky Strike Hit Parade on Friday evenings. It was a time of rapid consolidation of the industrial and agricultural might that emerged across America during the Second World War. It was a time preceding we knew not what, but we knew it was not the way things would be forever. In fact we were in love with the future, as strikingly we are not these days.

Holden Caulfield was abroad in the land and, despite the fact of the geographical and sociological precision of that portrait of the governing class and its children, there were others—faceless others swarming into state colleges and universities from Pennsylvania to California, Michigan to Texas. The Iron Curtail fallen across the waist of Europe was opaque and beyond it—east—lay a forbidding land of totalitarian madness and godless Communism, that arch-fiendish ideology against which we were pitted man, woman, and child. There was, in other words, despite the obvious differences in social and economic and political classes in America, the semblance of a common purpose. And, there was a nuclear darkness of dread which permeated our lives.

The dread of the impossibly great evil represented by the USSR dissipated ten years later as the Vietnam War revealed the truth about ourselves in the words of Walt Kelly's cartoon possum, Pogo, who famously said one day: "We have met the enemy and he is us." We slowly learned what Dwight Eisenhower meant in 1960 when he warned us of the military-industrial complex. We learned that Rebecca Solnit is perfectly correct in saying that American history is dialectic in nature, that out of glory emerges disaster and from the depths of tragedy we frequently discern the roots of freedom and liberty.

Tom Engelhardt writes the news and opinion website TomDispatch, which we quoted and linked to frequently over the past year. At the beginning of summer Tom is reviewing the great posts of TomDispatch and this week was featuring a piece by Rebecca Solnit, entitled "Acts of Hope," published also by Orion Online. Here is the illustrated Orion version. It is a great piece of writing and thinking and perfectly appropriate for these days as we await the arrival of courage in our elective representatives, the courage to impeach a desperately misguided, radical, and ruthless President, his Vice President, and his Secretary of Defense.

If you have not by now read the Solnit piece, you should. Well into the essay she writes:

Nearly everyone felt, after September 11, 2001, along with grief and fear, a huge upwelling of idealism, of openness, of a readiness to question and to learn, a sense of being connected and a desire to live our lives for something more, even if it wasn't familiar, safe, or easy. Nothing could have been more threatening to the current administration, and they have done everything they can to repress it.

But that desire is still out there. It's the force behind a huge new movement we don't even have a name for yet, a movement that's not a left opposed to a right, but perhaps a below against above, little against big, local and decentralized against consolidated. If we could throw out the old definitions, we could recognize where the new alliances lie; and those alliances -- of small farmers, of factory workers, of environmentalists, of the poor, of the indigenous, of the just, of the farseeing -- could be extraordinarily powerful against the forces of corporate profit and institutional violence. Left and right are terms for where the radicals and conservatives sat in the French National Assembly after the French Revolution. We're not in that world anymore, let alone that seating arrangement. We're in one that for all its ruins and poisons and legacies is utterly new. Anti-globalization activists say, "Another world is possible." It is not only possible, it is inevitable; and we need to participate in shaping it.

Solnit has produced the best expression of hope I have read in ages. It is, moreover, among the reasons we developed this website and are constantly searching for ways to give you our readers the courage of your own good convictions ... and to be wary of your own prejudices and outrage. American Liberalism rests upon five interacting principles which are good for any day. They are not a program, they are a foundation for what we see as humane behavior dedicated to shining forward and illuminating the future.