The great writers of the nineteenth century had neither religion nor politics nor aesthetic principles in common. But what they did have in common was a climate of ethical judgment, a moral climate. They shared certain values, they were humanist. If you read a nineteenth century novel today, Dostoevsky or Dreiser, Dickens or Twain, it is recognizable as a novel from the 19th century because of this moral climate. The core question that is asked is not are the characters successful or witty, but are they right? Writers of that period saw the individual struggling to find the correct balance between their independence and individual beliefs and the needs of the collective. There are only a handful of 20th century writers that have carried on this discourse and too many of them are given over to despair. The post-modernists of the 70s and 80s saw almost any political action as futile, compromised, or something of a joke. Some –too many –took ironic delight in pointing out the obvious difficulties. And rather than enlighten, they left one feeling bleak and hopeless. Meanwhile, in the real world, small wars and large wars continued. Corporations were stripped of their essential community based purpose, and instead were turned into the raw machines of profit. Yet, despite this sea change, our writers seemed stuck in a kind of identity crisis, a second gear, neither willing or able to tackle political issues of the day. Our popular culture essentially gave up on political man. News shows only pretended to objectively cover politics, and then only covered scandal. People forgot what it was to be politically or ethically engaged. During this same period, roughly from the late 1970s to 2012, our industrial base was eviscerated, our addiction to oil became deadly, and the American middle class saw their healthcare costs sky-rocket, their pensions raided, and their educational institutions privatized for the profit of a few. None of this is a coincidence.
As Christopher Hedges points out, “We have been, like nations on the periphery of empire, colonized. We are controlled by tiny corporate entities that have no loyalty to the nation and indeed in the language of traditional patriotism are traitors. They strip us of our resources, keep us politically passive and enrich themselves at our expense. The mechanisms of control are familiar to those whom the Martinique-born French psychiatrist and writer Frantz Fanon called “the wretched of the earth,” including African-Americans. The colonized are denied job security. Incomes are reduced to subsistence level. The poor are plunged into desperation. Mass movements, such as labor unions, are dismantled. The school system is degraded so only the elites have access to a superior education. Laws are written to legalize corporate plunder and abuse, as well as criminalize dissent. And the ensuing fear and instability—keenly felt this past weekend by the more than 200,000 Americans who lost their unemployment benefits—ensure political passivity by diverting all personal energy toward survival. It is an old, old game.”
Hedges goes on to note that what fosters revolution is not misery, alone, but the gap between what people expect from their lives and what is offered. As if in response to this syllogism, on September 17th of last year, activists and students descended on Wall Street and said, essentially, the gig is up. The scam must stop. The financialization of the world is killing our Earth. The Occupy Wall Street crowd did not operate in a vacuum. They were following The Arab Spring and the European Indignados. In fact, Spaniards from Puerta del Sol marched with us on Wall Street in those beginning days. And, on cue, it would seem, the Indignados in Spain have returned. They have reoccupied the Puerta del Sol as part of a global day of action to commemorate the first anniversary of the 15-M (May 15) movement. Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards amassed in the square, some dancing joyfully, others debating the replacements for capitalism. According to an article on roarmag.org, a message circulating on Twitter yesterday perfectly caught the mood in Madrid:
“This is not an anniversary — it’s a tradition!”
In a few more months, the United States will have its own anniversary. In advance of that, Noam Chomsky, MIT linguist and political activist, outlines the reasons Occupy should make a come back, and, seeing the challenges ahead, he offers a warning as well:” Unless the spirit of the last year continues to grow and becomes a major force in the social and political world, the chances for a decent future are not very high. ”
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