Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Struggle for the Future

Modernity is often equated with the term “progress” and regarded as an inexorable, almost cosmic force, bound and folded into the construct of time and as unremitting as the tides. Those who “stand in the way of progress”, or wish to return to a pre-modern state, as well as those who wish to build an entirely new structure on the ashes of the old have in the past generally been considered casualties of intellectual weakness or romantic utopianism. A moderate liberal or conservative attitude which desires to act as a discerning filter or a tempering brake on the headlong rush of modern development is viewed as pragmatic, mature, perhaps prudent and judicious. Unfortunately, the voices of moderation, concentrating exclusively on diminishing the forces of modernity, have failed to notice or act upon the more insidious forces of reaction. The crisis which I believe humanity now faces is the result of a global reactionary movement unwilling or unable to adapt to the rapid pace of this “progress”, manifested in techno/scientific forms of capitalist development This resistance is primarily assuming the forms of fundamentalism and intolerant, fervid theocracy and its contradictions within the context of the project of modernity are unsustainable.

For my purposes, I will divide the term “revolutionary” into two distinct, yet interrelated categories. The first uses the term within the context of its classical political-economic meaning and the second as it describes the rate of change in technological-scientific knowledge and understanding. Viewing history as a dialectical process where development, or the advancement of both material gain and the just distribution of that gain moves through stages from less to more, we see the movement is both uneven and unsymmetrical. What the evolutionary theorists call” punctuated equilibriam”, or, periods of gradual change, interrupted by rapid upheaval may best characterize this movement. That is, at times the material gain accumulated by a ruling class outpaces the social development of the society as a whole, characterized as periods of class oppression. At other times the social movements reach closer towards equanimity, characterized as revolutionary periods. When modernity or progress become associated with these periods of political upheaval and turmoil, with its often-attendant dramatic violence and disruption, the forces of conservatism will generally tend towards the reactionary. This then is the revolution of classic political-economics. When I speak of revolutionary forces in the materialist or class sense I refer to a force wishing to take ownership of the means of production or grab institutional power. This was the dominant struggle of the catastrophic 20th century but that struggle today is of much less concern today and exists only as an undercurrent in this context. Concurrent with these historical –materialist developments human society is also hurtling into an era of scientific-technological revolution with unprecedented speed and force of momentum. This too results in a reactionary force as the masses try but are unable to absorb the implications of this rapid change on social relations, relations of production and their emotional and spiritual lives. It is just such a reactionary period which Western society, primarily centered in the US, and characterized as Christian, and Islamic Middle Eastern society, are struggling to resolve both internally and as opponents. To the degree that advanced capitalism and scientific progress affects every other culture, nationality or ethnic group they are of course involved peripherally but the center of conflict remains the tension between the once great civilization and the modern challenger. The irony is that the struggle they both share internally is the struggle that divides them globally.

Today in both Islamic and Christian society there is an escalating conflict between the forces of revolution and those of reaction that the moderating forces of liberalism and conservatism are less and less able to affect. Primarily when I refer to revolutionary forces, I am speaking of accelerated technological and scientific progress and the cultural, sociological and psychological change that attends it. Exacerbating this conflict, there is for Oriental Islamic society a sense of humiliation and wounded ethnic and racial pride born of past colonial and post-colonial experience informing a fierce resistance to modern western hegemonic rule. This is compounded by a sense of increasing irrelevance in scientific and technological advancement in a culture that historically led human civilization in these “progressive” endeavors. Economically they are reduced to energy suppliers for the great Western machinery and culturally they are attacked by vulgar consumerism, extreme individualism with its anti-tribal agenda, sexual license and loss of piety. Philosophically they confront post-modern relativism, a global mass media spectacle with no cultural or spiritual references to relate to and politically they are force fed secular, neo-liberal economic doctrine and “democratic reform”.

Other than the post-colonial experience this is exactly the range of experience, which alienates the multitude in Western society, and in as much as a citizen is likely to be an immigrant from a society under recent imperial domination, this aspect may contribute as well. Even the educated masses do not understand the technology that underpins their entire existence. One in ten thousand can explain modern physics, mathematics, biology or engineering. Fewer still have anything but the most rudimentary grasp of history, political economy or psychology. Advancement in scientific understanding has far eclipsed the ability of the masses to process it in any meaningful way. Half the population of the United States says they do not accept the theory of evolution and far fewer actually understand it. Most people (myself included) have as much knowledge of quantum physics, molecular biology, cosmology or nano-technology as they do of Sanskrit or sanghas. The uneducated do not have time to worry about what they don’t know because their day-to-day struggle for existence is all consuming. Economically, they describe conditions as “a rat race”, a “treadmill” or a “grind” unless they belong to that ever shrinking minority for whom satisfying or rewarding work consists of re-arranging capital holdings, re-packaging commodities or reducing workforces to extract more and more production and profit. Culturally their experience is reduced more and more to whatever emanates from the television set and despite the influence of the internet, exposure to foreign sources of literature, art or music is minimal to non-existent. They vaguely understand that there exists an elite “technocracy” which seems able to process, assimilate and disseminate this vast complex of information and knowledge but they themselves have little hope of understanding the systems or structures which determine their own movement or that of the universe at large. For both societies then, the overwhelming feeling of the masses is one of powerlessness.

In both the case of Western and Islamic society then, the reaction to these revolutionary, modern developments is generally one of retrenchment and retreat to a perceived historical or mythological time of safety and tranquility and is in many cases politically reactionary. Within the religious sphere a combination of tradition, reductionist doctrine and communitarian fellowship creates a bulwark against the perception of threat and a seemingly solid foundation upon which to build resistance. The simplistic, dogmatic and theocratic world view is a natural refuge from the confusing, complex and often abstract concepts required for modern, scientific understanding For Islamists, this may escalate into a violent defense of this perceived remaining stronghold of a once global power and challenge to imperialistic outreach. Pan –Arabian nationalism extends into cultural conservatism, with its social mores, sexual roles and religious fundamentalism reinforcing a comforting super-structure of traditions and ancestral values. Moderation by both liberals and conservatives is thwarted by the hysteria of fear, destroyed social systems and the ignorance and extremism born of poverty and neglect. In Western society the feeling of powerlessness is easily transferred into fear of the “other”, racism, xenophobia and nationalism that transcends class boundaries and manifests itself, particularly in those with a rural, less educated or cosmopolitan orientation as patriotism, intolerance and obedience and rejects as un-pure the modernism, often seen as “relativism” or “secular humanism”, which seems to engulf its citizens, This too expresses itself as a violent defensive posture or even projected “pre-emtive”power, defending a perceived historical or traditional position. The same cultural conservatism informs its fundamentalist ideology and blame for poverty, discrimination and alienation is projected at those who seem to represent this destructive modernity, intellectuals, academics, liberals and of course other faiths with a competing claim to absolute truth.

It may seem preposterous that just sixty years after a catastrophic war with Fascism we could see reactionary right-wing movements develop antagonistically yet synergistically in both the East and the West. Part of this is the old revolutionary undercurrent but with the socialist Left in global retreat (save parts of Latin America and a couple of minute outposts), a right-wing military/corporate/statist complex (the great bear) is reduced to fending off a right-wing Islamo-extremist non-state movement (the hornets) in order to quench it’s mighty thirst for oil, project a sense of it’s imperial power and fulfill its millenialist destiny, with all its anti-modern, anti- techno-scientific implications. For this encounter, capitalism must wear both the cloak of conservatism (or neo-liberalism or paradoxically, neo-conservatism) and fundamentalism to garner the support of its own citizens that it is, behind-the scenes, “creatively destroying” through economic attrition. Both sides of this conflict are fighting a perceived “war on terror”. Both sides are terrorized by the same extreme fear of the “other”. Both sides are terrified of a present and future they neither understand nor are able to control.

Where fascism of the last century rose from fervent nationalism and ethnic pride wedded to a zealous anti-communism, the present historical irony is witnessing these same forces congeal once more in a fascistic religious war for control of a future neither side can understand nor accept, based on irrational fear. The tragedy, once again, is that the working class is once more distracted from its historical mission of self- emancipation and pressed into the service of its oppressors to kill and maim one another. Truly, the pull of nationalistic, xenophobic and millenialist extreme right wing ideology is historically strong for the disorganized, supersticious and fearful masses. Fortunately for the forces of progress,a ruling class that knows the "weak citizen"is the easist to exploit and so promotes anti-modernist theology, will find its position less and less tenable as the implacable demands of modernity run headlong into the inflexibility of totalitarian, theocratic rule.

2 Comments:

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