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Sunday, November 17, 2013

"Discourse Is Not Life; It's Time Is Not Your Time"

I am happy to discover that there is a quite mainstream discussion of a US Basic Income Guarantee in the latest edition of Business Insider. Basic Income (or at least a bundle of welfare entitlements including basic income, universal healthcare, lifelong education, retirement security sufficient to secure a legible scene of informed nonduressed consent to the terms of everyday commerce) is an idea I've advocated myself for years, most recently here.

While it's nice to see a personal hobbyhorse find its way to a more mainstream media carousel, the more general point I would make is that it is also interesting that recently I have been seeing proposals for increasing social security, for lowering the retirement age, for providing universal pre-K, and for comparable extensions of general welfare from across the left getting floated with greater seriousness and with greater regularity in widely read spaces. The point is not that these proposals have much of a chance in the near-term, but that seeds are being sown that might bear fruit later -- and that, as we have all learned to our cost from the libertopians, "later" can actually be sooner than people think.

When I was in high school, and for crappy decades thereafter, it was commonplace to see endless reactionary libertopian proposals being made -- privatize the post office, voucherize social security, charter schools, deregulate finance, replace the three-legged stool with IRAs, on and on and on. It isn't just that many of these palpably idiotic notions were catastrophically implemented -- though of course far too many of them have been -- but that the relentless drumbeat of destructive deregulatory energy they mobilized has shaped what has been politically possible and seemed politically important for a long lingering generation now. For most of my politically active life, all the "energy," all the "ideas" have been declared to be on the right... Sometimes they were described as "libertarian" in a way that pretended not to be of the right but "beyond left and right," but even these conspicuously conduced always only to the benefit of the right. Even after all the deregulatory enthusiasm and greedhead looting of common and pblic goods and phony rugged individualist self-congratulation and cruel plutocratic rationalizations predictably (and the result was indeed predictable, as well as predicted, by many who remembered history or who were not taught to be macroeconomic illiterates) failed over and over again, and finally flabbergastingly, even after these failures, more than a decade of inertial investment in these failed reactionary formulations, figures, and frames among professional intellectuals and governing elites has yielded still more years and years of austerian misery and corporate control in the midst of their smoking moaning ruins.

One of the strengths of President Obama's pursuit of and tenure in the White House has been his circulation of memorable formulations championing good governance and collective responsibilities, and there have been others joining in to articulate a progressive social democratic vision lately, too. Mainstream media outlets like MSNBC have unquestionably amplified these rhetorical efforts. My own social democracy/democratic socialism is to the left of most of these representatives and outlets, of course, and so my point isn't to endorse them, but to recognize their indispensable contribution to a progressive rhetorical atmosphere, an available progressive hegemonic commonsense for people to latch onto, in which more radically democratic formulations and campaigns can find purchase as well. It has been especially frustrating to observe the desperate last-ditch white-racist patriarchal plutocratic anti-democratic GOP frustrate and even paralyze altogether the problem-solving work of the emerging progressive consensus and energy with their relentless hate and obstructionism, but I suppose it is worthwhile to note that even when representatives and media outlets are devoted to symbolic elaborations of progressive possibility and satirical exposures of reactionary irrationality this is work that contributes all the same to eventual good.

As Foucault said: "Discourse is not life; its time is not your time." The slow transformation of commonsensical assumptions and aspirations is perfectly normal, as is the painfully slow work of resistance and reform in the democratizing direction of equity-in-diversity. I think it is my awareness that in the background of all this slow change is the unspeakable reality of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change that worries me most of all: The chaos and expense and horror of ever more frequent and destructive Greenhouse storms, the inexorable rise of population coupled with the no less inexorable depletion and spoilage of clean water, breathable air, fertile topsoil, the social dislocations and violations of rising waters, confront us with an indispensably political task we fail to address as reactionaries force our politics to fail more generally. I do not doubt that democratic ideas can prevail once more, I do not doubt that progressive effort will wrest the collective imagination away from elite-incumbency, I do not doubt that sense will overthrow selfish nonsense in good time. But the pace at which ideas are changing and the pace at which the world is ending are not the same. Discourse is not life, its time is not our time, but its time may not give us the time to save our lives.


jimf said...

> The slow transformation of commonsensical assumptions and aspirations
> is perfectly normal. . .

Is that what they call the shifting of the "Overton Window"?

Dale Carrico said...

That's definitely part of it.