Anyone who has paid much attention to the world of late realizes that dire deeds are abundant, and precipitous disasters loom. More so than at any time since the 1930’s and ’40’s, the basic viability of human existence is in question. And, as crisis engenders emergency, and catastrophe leads to carnage, what we are to do about all of this ubiquitous calamity is, to say the least, far from obvious.
Part of the problem attendant on figuring what action to take lies in characterizing the central issues before us. A plethora of topics might serve as candidates. General concerns, like jobs and energy and environment, are, minimally, apt problems to consider; specific eventualities: such as the Fukushima meltdowns, the overlapping conflicts in Southwest Asia, murderous outrage in the vein of what happened to both Trayvon Martin and Troy Davis also rank high on many people’s tallies of key difficulties to ponder. Obviously, these sorts of lists could keep going, if not ad infinitum, then into the scores or hundreds of entries.
However, this humble correspondent conceives of the heart of the matter differently. Both pragmatism–in the sense of what will make a difference–and duty–in the sense of what we owe to ourselves and each other–guide this estimate. A question, complicated as are all the interlinked items to think about, serves to introduce this core conjunction. To wit:
How are the common citizens of the world to gain, first, the knowledge and capacity, and, then, the organizational potency, to assume responsibility and command in transforming the current crisis for the benefit of themselves and their immediate and extended families, the vast majority of benighted human cousins who occupy the planet?
Now, this humble correspondent can almost hear the likely initial response to this interrogatory. “Do what?!?”
Before proceeding to explicate and justify the query, though, let’s just state an underlying assertion clearly. This question is more important than any other item on folks’ agendas.
- It’s more important than who wins this or any other election.
- It’s more important than ‘Peak Oil.’
- It’s more important than stopping any of the many wars now afflicting us.
- It’s more important than any court decision or legal or policy matter.
- It’s more important than ending brutality against women or any other group.
- It’s more important than the economy.
- It’s more important than the incarceration of tens of millions of people.
- Whatever the issue, it’s more important.
Again, before dealing with what the above question implies, this premise of preeminence requires a brief defense.
The basic rationale is simple to state. Only an organized and empowered citizenry can have even the slightest hope of addressing successfully any of the above points, let alone trying to tackle all of them, every one of which is in fact critically important. Thus, before we worry about any seemingly most crucial group of predicaments: discrimination or bigotry; nuclear or conventional weapons proliferation; the ‘War-on-Drugs’ or the Prison-Industrial-Complex and its deleterious impacts on people; the Citizens United ruling or other forms of electoral fraud or theft or overreaching; anything–we must first address the dilemma of a disempowered, disorganized, inchoate populace.
Of course, this reasoning in turn presupposes that democracy is a valid goal in its own right, either thinking along the lines of Churchill that “everything else is so much worse” or along the lines of Jefferson that majority-rule is the necessary state of civilized human existence. However, most readers would be willing to stipulate this assumption. Even those who in their hearts despise turning over rule to the ‘unwashed masses’ presently find politic a nod in the direction of democracy.
Therefore, we can now turn to the original inquiry, the elucidation of which is the primary purpose of this essay. The conclusion to which this discussion leads is substantial in its scope and thrust. Basically, the situation comes down to this: without grassroots organization and empowerment, homo sapiens are either ‘toast’ or facing a future of concentration camps and mass slaughter. Such stakes ought to make anyone want to achieve an understanding of the ‘rules of the game,’ as it were. Here goes.
AN EASY DELINEATION OF “WHAT”
The basic meaning of the complex interrogative sentence that is at the heart of this essay is straightforward. That’s merely a matter of breaking down phrases and clauses that currently conjoin into their own more simple sentences. Shifting from the interrogative to the declarative mode brings the overall implications to light.
Here’s a take on such a ‘translation.’ ‘The world’s average working people need to unite, not remain isolated and divided. Certain sorts of knowledge–about political economy, history, and social relations particularly–is currently missing, and yet essential to this consciousness that supports unity. Similarly, certain capacities–often technical, scientific, or logistical in nature–are also absent but critical. An organizational combination of this consciousness and ability must occur, permitting networks of wage-earners to form. Insodoing, these networks need to contend for the power to transform the world and take control of the political and economic spheres. This transformation must happen for the benefit of workers: “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The numerical preponderance of modern proletarians ought to make this whole process plausible.’
And voila, the importance of the inquiry should be clear. The rationale for propounding such meanings is less simple. However, equally clear goals and objectives, part of a ‘strategy for human survival,’ do underpin the thinking contained in the question.
WHY “THE COMMON CITIZENS OF THE WORLD”?
The original inquiry starts out by stressing one sector, albeit far and away the largest, portion of humanity. Often enough, politicos and marketers hypocritically underscore their schemes in like fashion; and just as frequently, romantic and idealistic folks allude to ‘salt-of-the-earth’ needs and involvement.
Here, however, the basis for this emphasis is purely pragmatic. Since money and its numerous mandates cannot continue in charge if the bullet-point list above moves along a ‘progressive’ or socially democratic route, the present ruling class will never voluntarily incline itself in such a direction.
Similarly, the powers-that-be cannot maintain their sway if democracy prevails in action. The point fits in with a popular idiom of ‘protest’ for the past half century of so. “The people, united, will never be defeated,” or “El pueblo, unido, jamas sera vencido.” Just as these notions resonate with vitality, so too the obverse ought to make sense. “Divided, the people must fail,” or “dividido, el pueblo fallará.”
WHY FOCUS NEXT ON “KNOWLEDGE & CAPACITY”?
Action seems so essential that taking the time to learn may appear to embrace a ‘paralysis of analysis.’ However, without key knowledge sets and skills, all action will, as if by some kind of black magic, end up with things just as they were before we acted.
In relation especially to history, political economy, and social relations, this situation of ignorance is so patently ludicrous as to be truly hilarious, as if we were to get a call in the middle of night from a friend: “How do I get to Portland?” comes crackling over the airwaves.
Just awakened, we puzzle at this. Perhaps we clear our throats and scratch our heads. Perhaps we check to see where the call is coming from; and then we ask the obvious. “Well where are you?”
“I don’t know,” comes the jovially ignorant retort, “but I’d like you to give me good directions anyway.” Golly, but if we don’t know where we are, how in hell are we going to get where we want to go? And in life, ‘knowing where one is’ means knowing the past that has produced the present. It means knowing about the fraud of ‘free markets’ and the lie of ‘laissez faire.’ It means understanding the class nature of society. This consciousness, or ‘knowledge and capacity,’ thus lie close to the core of finding ways to accomplish social, political or economic shifts.
WHY HIGHLIGHT “ORGANIZATIONAL POTENCY”?
Modern human culture is awash in ‘groups’ of different sorts. So why we must concern ourselves with yet another manifestation of such collective reasoning and activity?
Two points are apt here. The first concerns the vaunted ‘individualism‘ that is perhaps the most forceful trope of modern American indoctrination. Simply put, none of us are ‘individuals’ in the self-made, self-sufficient sense that such propaganda propagates. Starting with what Ma and Pa do to get us launched, and continuing through caregivers and collaborators from cradle to grave, each of us is a cooperative enterprise. This humble correspondent will soon write more about this, so for now, this much will just have to do.
The second feature to ponder at this juncture is how decisive the overall orientation is, to a conscious grassroots empowerment undertaking. Given that such an interpretation has any persuasive resonance whatsoever, then joining forces, absolutely impossible without some systematic cohesiveness, has to appear not only sensible but also imperative.
WHY MUST PEOPLE THEMSELVES TAKE “RESPONSIBILITY & COMMAND”?
Almost the entire planet depends on representation of some sort. Why this has become less and less sufficient has at least a pair of aspects, one resulting from a push, the other from a pull.
The root of what pushes us toward direct involvement is both that our representatives have so consistently failed us and that mechanisms of accountability are at best cumbersome. This humble correspondent will write next about the origins and purposes of the ‘American-as-apple-pie’ two party system to develop this contention more fully.
What pulls us, on the other hand, is that the techniques and technologies that permit participation have reached such a high point of development. The World Wide Web and the pervasive ‘self-improvement’ industry are just two clear examples of this material basis for people to take charge and act in their own behalf.
WHY SAY “TRANSFORM THE CURRENT CRISIS”?
“Change we can believe in” hasn’t worked out too well so far. The notion of change itself is slippery, and this humble correspondent would join those who doubt the potential that any fundamental ‘change’ in anything can ever take place.
Again, this is a deep subject, and we haven’t time or desire or necessity, as it were, of digging a well just now. However, thinking in both evolutionary and revolutionary developments–in other words in terms of both reformist and radical approaches to political practice, the noun ‘transformation’ perfects what people must engage in if they are to accomplish their own and their progeny’s salvation, so to speak.
WHY “FOR THE BENEFIT OF THEMSELVES” & THEIR KIN?
In the hideous pass that presently prevails, nepotism and self-centeredness seem such an integral part of things that all thoughts of ‘self-interest’ or selfishness may seem suspect. A single argument is enough, for present aims, to justify this element of the original question.
That simple point is that all working people face substantially similar–very often exactly the same–sinister sets of traps and tricks and machinations of the moneyed set that any effort to support ‘themselves and their kin’ inevitably redounds to the benefits of their cousins similarly situated. Only such idiocies as nationalism, or other forms of chauvinism, stand in the way of this cognizance.
WHY EMPHASIZE A “BENIGHTED…VAST MAJORITY”?
Life expectancy is higher; more children survive infancy; primary education is accessible to 80-90% of humanity; most other indexes of quality-of-life suggest that conceptions of any actual ‘good old days’ are a fraud. Yet, at the same time, one may very rationally speak of the overwhelming majority of people–certainly more than three quarters and quite possibly upwards of nine out of ten–as oppressively deprived.
The deprivation is a matter of comparative quality rather than absolute quantity. When one examines most of the same indexes of quality-of-life, which establish the quantitative superiority of present-day expectations, vis-a-vis any period in the past, one discovers qualitative differences that range from a breach to a gulf. Such differences separate from almost any working person those whose wealth and income place them in the top one percent of property owners and earners.
Health, education, stability of social relationships, political participation, satisfaction with self and society, and more are arguably as far apart, and occasionally much further apart, than the same sorts of differences during the Roman, medieval, or Renaissance periods, for instance. Furthermore, one may cogently posit that only through disempowering those who rule and empowering those who follow them can any sizeable alteration happen to make the distribution of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ more equable, equitable, and balanced.
SUMMATIVE STATEMENTS & JUST A BIT MORE
Quite probably, this introductory set of ideas barely advances us more than a single step. However, that step, however modest it is as a solitary stride, may be an essential one. In similar vein, a bit of salt added to a stew is only one ingredient, and yet the final product may taste markedly different lacking that addition. Or, as in a case when experimenters might choose to leave out important initial components of a complex mechanism, the entire process of the mechanism’s operation could fail as a result.
No doubt, a mere possibility in theory cannot prove any specific case. On the other hand, one may readily imagine intuitive, conceptual, and empirical assessments which would throw a favorable light on the idea that enabling the presently less-than-fully enfranchised is a key prerequisite of political reform, social progress, or even human survival.
If a viewpoint like that which shows up here has even a small degree of plausibility, it must be worthwhile to investigate it, at least so long as humanity’s potential to thrive makes any difference. For certain, a century or more of ‘reform’ has yielded little fundamental shifting of core relations and dynamics among life’s actors. For certain, ‘common folk’ have had little or no chance to play leading roles as one set of failed ‘improvements’ has replaced another. For certain, huge dilemmas confront our kind on our home planet.
Under circumstances such as these, capacitating the ‘beneficiaries’ of these seemingly never-ending reformist tendencies–activating the passive so that they become participants in shaping and implementing policy–could easily be a key component in successfully negotiating transformation. An approach of this sort would be a ‘no-brainer’ but for the powerful constituencies arrayed against it. At absolute minimum, a playful attitude of exploring the possible would dictate the operationalization of grassroots facilitation and participation.
In any case, such is the proposition that this humble correspondent promulgates. Its primary expression in this narrative is in the form of a rambling question. To repeat, then: How are the common citizens of the world to gain, first, the knowledge and capacity, and, then, the organizational potency, to assume responsibility and command in transforming the current crisis for the benefit of themselves and their immediate and extended families, the vast majority of benighted human cousins who occupy the planet? Inquiring minds would like to know.