Thursday, September 02, 2004

The New Aristocracy

I'm inclined not to say too much about my day in New York. It was quite discouraging. I'm still trying to sort out the source of this feeling of discouragement. A big part of it might be that my troublesome knee gave out, due to much more walking than I anticipated doing. The city has been transformed into a police state, with armed men and women and their barricades forcing me to walk numerous blocks out of my way.

If you weren't wearing a suit and tie, you were the enemy. Armed guards controlled the streets. Every intersection I saw in Manhattan had at least a dozen uniforms in full battle gear.

The one "protest" I saw was pretty lame. 150 people marched right into the "protest pen," which was then barricaded up and surrounded by at least 300 blue shirts, although brown shirts would have seemed more appropriate to me. The "protesters" obviously had no plan once they were in the pen. They chanted slogans for awhile. No one had a bull horn. When I asked one of the press about it, I was told that you would be arrested if you used a bull horn. Soon there were only about 50 protesters left. The press swarmed them. One protester's creative costume consisted of a large trash bag pulled over his head, covering him to the waist. He looked like, well, a walking trash bag. At one point, I looked over and saw a woman shoving a microphone at the trash bag, with a camera crew standing behind her. That's right; the trash bag got an interview. I haven't seen it yet on the news. The Fox News reporter couldn't get anyone to talk to him. Instead, he was surrounded with chants of "Fox News lies!" Eventually, he gave up and left the pen.

I watched delegates trying to slip out the freight entrance on 34th Street. They had to walk through a gauntlet of young people lined up (behind barricades, of course) on either side of the street. The hired guards of the new aristocracy escorted the elite through the barricades. Eventually, we were given one minute to disperse or be arrested. The "protesters" dispersed, except for two, who were thrown to the ground and arrested. I know I've advocated for peaceful demonstrations, but come on! Who owns these streets? It was as if the protestors and the police were each playing a role, with everyone agreeing ahead of time what the ground rules would be. How about a little civil disobedience? How about sitting down right there when threatened with arrest?

I must admit I didn't do much better. When the crowd began moving away, I just stood there, shocked by the sudden passive obedience of those who just moments before had seemed to be such angry radicals. So, I got shoved by a guard of the elite carrying a club and a 9 millimeter strapped to his belt.
I looked at him and said quietly, "You just pushed me."
He replied, "That's right, and if you don't get moving, I'll push you again."
"What is your name?" I asked.
"What's it to you?"
"I want your name."
This was followed by a pause, and a step back, as this "peace officer" looked me up and down (and, no, for those who are wondering; I was not wearing a collar at this point in the evening).
"Lt. Donaldson."
"Thank you."
With that, I also dispersed; feeling like an absolute coward. After a few paces, I was shoved from behind by one of "New York's finest". I requested his name as well, which he gave me, and then turned to another slow moving "radical." I watched for a moment. I didn't witness him engaging in any more shoving.

I left the city, discouraged by the lack of any semblance of organized resistance on the part of the residents to the police state being forced upon them, and discouraged by my own behavior.

The left (most of whom are actually centrists today, since the right has moved so far to the right they have managed to redefine the center) seem to lack effective organization and a message that can be defined in short sound clips. The right has taken years to fine tune their message and methods, and are extremely well organized.
I'm discouraged by what appears to me to be the slow movement I see in this nation towards fascism, (in both politics and religion) and the lack of any effective means to thwart it.

In case one thinks that "fascism" is too extreme a term, consider this definition;
A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism. An appropriate definition for what I see going on.

There's many more thoughts spinning around in my head, but right now I'm not sure how coherent they are. Most likely I'd just come across as another "radical leftist," so I think I'll let everything percolate a bit before saying any more.

I do want to point to an excellent essay that I found linked over on Islamicate. It's written by Philip E. Agre, Associate Professor of Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. His essay, What Is Conservatism and What Is Wrong with It, is one of the best things I've read in some time as far as defining what we are witnessing in the rise of conservatism today, why such a rise is something to be concerned about, and how the liberals and moderates have failed to adequately respond to this shift. At the end of the essay, he details a number of excellent strategies and techniques that might be used to thwart the attempt by the wealthy and privileged, partnered with the religious right, to become the new aristocracy.

Q: What is conservatism?
A: Conservatism is the domination of society by an aristocracy.
Q: What is wrong with conservatism?
A: Conservatism is incompatible with democracy, prosperity, and civilization in general. It is a destructive system of inequality and prejudice that is founded on deception and has no place in the modern world.

These ideas are not new. Indeed they were common sense until recently. Nowadays, though, most of the people who call themselves "conservatives" have little notion of what conservatism even is. They have been deceived by one of the great public relations campaigns of human history. Only by analyzing this deception will it become possible to revive democracy in the United States.

The tactics of conservatism vary widely by place and time. But the most central feature of conservatism is deference: a psychologically internalized attitude on the part of the common people that the aristocracy are better people than they are. Modern-day liberals often theorize that conservatives use "social issues" as a way to mask economic objectives, but this is almost backward: the true goal of conservatism is to establish an aristocracy, which is a social and psychological condition of inequality. Economic inequality and regressive taxation, while certainly welcomed by the aristocracy, are best understood as a means to their actual goal, which is simply to be aristocrats. More generally, it is crucial to conservatism that the people must literally love the order that dominates them. Of course this notion sounds bizarre to modern ears, but it is perfectly overt in the writings of leading conservative theorists such as Burke. Democracy, for them, is not about the mechanisms of voting and office-holding. In fact conservatives hold a wide variety of opinions about such secondary formal matters. For conservatives, rather, democracy is a psychological condition. People who believe that the aristocracy rightfully dominates society because of its intrinsic superiority are conservatives; democrats, by contrast, believe that they are of equal social worth. Conservatism is the antithesis of democracy. This has been true for thousands of years.

The defenders of aristocracy represent aristocracy as a natural phenomenon, but in reality it is the most artificial thing on earth. Although one of the goals of every aristocracy is to make its preferred social order seem permanent and timeless, in reality conservatism must be reinvented in every generation. This is true for many reasons, including internal conflicts among the aristocrats; institutional shifts due to climate, markets, or warfare; and ideological gains and losses in the perpetual struggle against democracy. In some societies the aristocracy is rigid, closed, and stratified, while in others it is more of an aspiration among various fluid and factionalized groups. The situation in the United States right now is toward the latter end of the spectrum. A main goal in life of all aristocrats, however, is to pass on their positions of privilege to their children, and many of the aspiring aristocrats of the United States are appointing their children to positions in government and in the archipelago of think tanks that promote conservative theories...

...Life under aristocratic domination is horrible. The United States is blessed to have little notion of what this horror is like. Europe, for example, staggered under the weight of its aristocracies for thousands of years. European aristocracies are in decline, and Europe certainly has its democratic heroes and its own dawning varieties of civilized life, and yet the psychology and institutions that the aristocracies left behind continue to make European societies rigid and blunt Europeans' minds with layers of internalized oppression. People come to America to get away from all of that. Conservatism is as alien here as it could possibly be. Only through the most comprehensive campaign of deception in human history has it managed to establish its very tentative control of the country's major political institutions. Conservatism until very recently was quite open about the fact that it is incompatible with the modern world. That is right. The modern world is a good place, and it will win.
There's much more, well worth reading.


UPDATE: Judge Orders 470 GOP Protesters Released

A judge ordered the immediate release of nearly 500 protesters just hours before President Bush's speech at the Republican convention, then fined the city for refusing to comply with his order.

State Supreme Court Justice John Cataldo fined the city $1,000 for every protester held past a 5 p.m. deadline that he had set for their release. It was unclear how many detainees were still in custody, but Cataldo had ordered the release of 470 people.

"These people have already been the victims of a process," Cataldo told the city's top lawyer. "I can no longer accept your statement that you are trying to comply."

There were accusations that the city was deliberately holding the protesters longer so they would not be in the streets during President Bush's speech Thursday evening. Police have been preparing for heavy protests in the city directed at Bush, and hundreds of demonstrators were already gathered at Union Square Park, about 15 blocks south of the convention site, Madison Square Garden.

"The evidence shows that the city told defendants that they would not be released until George Bush went home," said Dan Alterman of the National Lawyers Guild...

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