On the disturbing quality of American decline now including ascending white death rates – see here and here – Sasha Breger Bush recalls Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War as a model. The decline of Athens, a slave-owning democracy for “some” as Hegel rightly puts it, has always resonated in later decadence…
There is a hole…
Bill Tremblay a poet and novelist – see here and here – who has written several posts on why Americans don’t yet sufficiently rise up against this – see here – profoundly gets at the tragedy of American loneliness and the collapse, for the abandoned/”de-industrialized,” of a future. The story of his Texas acquaintance who saw much, had no future. “sang in his chains like the sea,” and drank himself to death is resonant (better than a Weberian “ideal-type,” a real story…). As Angus Deaton says to account for his and Anne Case’s data, those dying young, sometimes killing themselves through alcohol or drugs “have lost the story of their lives.”
Again, I would say, Black Lives Matter! is leading the way in activism, the Keystone XL pipeline was defeated, against the odds, by a long campaign from below, led by indigenous Canadians and Americans, farmers in Nebraska, and many civil disobedients in Washington – see here – and there is activity from below. Many workers and students are not simply “loyal” to their organization which do corrupt things – consider the hunger strike by Jonathan Butler against rampant, unchecked racism at the University of Missouri and the subsequent refusal of black football players, with support from the team, to participate until he ends the strike, and the resignation of the University President Tim Wolfe yesterday. Even in the American military life, there is resistance: consider Vietnam Veterans against the War once upon a time; listen to the voices of Operation Winter Soldier Iraq here; think about the courageous Chelsea Manning…
But the decline of American jobs and the smashing of unions means that a pivot of collective life and action, one emphasized by Marx and many others, is no longer here. As with Occupy and the vision of Grace Lee Boggs, The Next American Revolution, on community gardens in Detroit, we have to find new ways out of isolation. David Frum who hailed Bush as The Right Man – something one could only do out of loneliness and isolation, not to say insanity – has remarkable empathy for and sadness about the situation of many whites, though, of course, the situation has been much worse historically for blacks, chicanos and native americans. Nonetheless there is a particular tragedy to the decline of friendship, family, relationship to which globalized, virtual life – the latest avatar of corporations, banks and militarism – tends.
Some things about American decadence are as Thucydides describes: when reactionaries depict Israeli murderousness and forget Occupation, when the lives of some children are important and many more killed are not (Palestinian Lives Matter! just as Jewish Lives Matter(ed)! in Germany…), when the names are changed in a deteriorated culture but the words still refer and reveal mass murder…
Some things, the loneliness and despair, the absurd loyalty to “barbed wire mothers,” the feeling of “no agency,” are new.
Spanish fascists were in love with death (their chants sought death). To die for “one’s generation,” that is, aggressing for the Nazis, in Being and Time and in the life of Martin Heidegger, is seen as a thrill, an “authentic” death…(for all the philosophical insights, it is hard to beat Heidegger, in his peasant garb, for being a fake).
The distance between loneliness and political monstrousness is thus not far (as we see in the “white” vote for racists; Trump is no Franco as of yet, but candidate Francos are on parade in the American elite…). Political monstrousness – those who deny or falsify climate change (the executives at Exxon-Mobil, sadly including my student Condi Rice for whom an oil tanker was named until she became Bush’s national security advisor…)
The possibility that we might help others, as individuals and in a movement for a common good – what Bernie represents in the possibility of reaching out to all workers, including ordinary whites or, more likely, in what a more multiracial, anti-racist movement from below might lead to is important both in itself – and as an alternative to the awful thing which waits in the wings…
He thought politics was despicable and totally built on lies, but he understood very well that everyone is selling a version of themselves. It’s called “having a personality.” He just wanted to be let alone to live his life as he saw fit–i.e. as a never-ending party. He wanted to make life simple but that meant people had to shed their complexity so he could maintain that illusion. [Isn’t that what Donald Trump is doing? Playing on that cherished myth: that if you have the guts you can like Wyatt Earp pick up a gun and kill the Clantons?] Finally, he lived in a bar with a bunch of guys whose morality was never to question that they were drinking themselves to death. I’m amazed he lasted as long as he did.