In my Masters and undergraduate programs, I took a number of classes from Robert Terrell, a professor at CSU East Bay I retain enormous respect for. I’m more radical than he is, but he provided me with the information that led me to where I am. I owe him a lot.
Having looked at all Terrell presented, and being thereby duly horrified, I came to be surprised by his attitude. As just an example, he came to the conclusion that Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, “is a really nice lady.” He described politics as “the art of the possible” and retained a faith in the ability of the system to reform itself.
I was more skeptical. But Terrell perceived gradual progress in the simple fact he was permitted to teach. Because of his race, he believed, he would not have been permitted that in the 1960s.
But to the extent we see progress as linear, the best we can say is that strands of progress are co-linear. Not all progress is to the same end. And depending upon our values, we might say that while we might conceptualize them as parallel, they do not proceed in the same direction. A more apt analogy might be with a bowl of spaghetti, with strings of pasta curled and tangled and running in every direction.
Because also in the time that Terrell has come to be permitted to teach, and as I have repeatedly commented upon in this space, neoconservatives have gained a hold on government that has outlasted the Bush administration. We no longer have what C. Wright Mills described as three hierarchies, with elites of similar social station directing those hierarchies toward similar ends, but the barest vestigial remnants of revolving doors between politics, corporations, and the military. It might still be possible to distinguish between the hierarchies; not so the elites.
We have nuclear weapons. Why? What possible scenario could ever justify their use? We only hear some vague explanation about the need for deterrence. But if this is so, why can we not at least disavow any first use?
And what about land mines, which we no longer produce or deploy? We are “continuing Bush’s policy of refusing to honor an international antipersonnel landmine ban — the Ottawa treaty — signed by 158 nations.”
The war in Afghanistan makes no sense at all. al Qaeda, we are told on the rare occasions we do not conflate them with the Taliban, has fewer than 100 forces in the country. But we are escalating our war there, taking a largely untold toll upon civilians, doing much more to promote our enemies than we do to defeat them.
On the domestic front, we have bailed out the banks and protected corporate interests while forgetting that they need customers with money to spend and doing nothing of substance about unemployment. But we have gone to great lengths to preserve the prerogative to spy on our population. If we had a political and economic system worth defending, would we need to fear our citizens and invade their privacy?
In an actual emergency, the earthquake in Haiti, we rushed to “secure” the country. Over 180,000 people were killed, but aid for people needing food and water was of secondary importance. (Disclosure: one of my fellow students in my Masters program, Kevin Pina, a filmmaker, has done a great deal of work in Haiti and is quoted in the preceding linked article.) Our record in that country has been of a series of actions, over its entire history, to brutally suppress any improvement in the condition of the people; they are to remain destitute laborers in the sweatshops of multinational corporations. How does this make sense?
When we are doing so many things that make so little sense, it can only be that our government pursues special interest rather than national interest, that we are solving the short term problems of a few while neglecting the long term problems of the many. Indeed with a government limited to two national parties, Democrats seemingly determined to lose power and Republicans seemingly determined not to take it (at least by electoral means), but both united to suppress progressive ideals, it can no longer be said that our government exists for any positive purpose.
In an odd way, the radical right are correct: our government now needs to be strangled and reduced such that it can be drowned in a bathtub. But their vision is too limited: this also needs to happen with our corporations and with our military. For the conflation of these three is now hopelessly corrupt.