Thursday, September 29, 2011

Edge Of No Escape

A well-read citizen is an informed citizen. I used to believe that. Being self-educated, I read everything I could. This really began in the Army. My base library was amazingly well-stocked. Diverse. I first read Paul Krassner there.

I even read The Militant, the SWP's main organ. Their headlines -- US HANDS OFF NICARAGUA! -- seemed ballsy to someone raised in a conservative environment. I balanced this by reading the Indianapolis Star, at that time one of the most reactionary papers in the country. I created a character, David Standifer, who wrote letters attacking the Star from the extreme right. Not only were these published, they often were the featured letter.

When I worked for FAIR, my reading accelerated. Four major papers daily. All the news magazines weekly. Liberal opinion mags. Most of the right wing, including Human Events and Policy Review.

Plus, I practically camped out at the New York Pubic Library's periodical wing on 40th Street. Read The New Freeman from the 30's. Partisan Review from the 40's. National Review from the 50's. The Nation from the 60's. Commentary from the 70's. Ramparts. New Republic. Mencken's American Mercury. I soaked it all in.

Now I wonder why. Most political commentary is insulting. The level of writing an embarrassment. The Web is responsible for much of this. Instant access to any audience has made people lazy, careless, sloppy. Semi-formed thoughts clog the tubes. Ignorance is a sign of authenticity. And this from those who make or try to make a living as pundits/experts. Comment threads are a sorrier story.

I've ranted about this before. Yet I still read them. I know that a vast number of Americans are uninformed, but their comments continually surprise me. I suppose we all need an area where surprise still occurs. Especially as we age. For me, at least for now, online comment threads serve that purpose.

Examples abound. Anything to do with war, race, or sex guarantees mad opinions. Immigration issues bring out the fascists. Politics are largely partisan. Boring tit-for-tats. People argue as if there are two distinct political realities. And only two. Larger pictures tend to confuse or anger them. But you'd think that unemployment and poverty would generate a sense of common concern.


The news story is sad enough. But look at the comments. The lunacy is generally reactionary-based. Defenses of Obama and Bill Clinton appear. Mostly wishful thinking and nostalgic gloss. But it's the self-professed patriots who bellow loudest.

This should please our owners. They wage class war on us, and people attack each other. Blame the powerless for their problems. Depoliticizing the populace has paid off -- for the One Percent. All those years busting unions, shifting labor to overseas sweat shops, and underfunding pubic education worked. Corporate ownership of the media makes it all seem perfectly natural. Only a nut would attack our envied way of life.

This is why Occupy Wall Street is important. People are pushing back. Madison wasn't an anomaly: it was the opening bell. How far this goes is unknown. Our rulers are banking on continued ignorance and disinterest to stem this active tide. That may well happen. But it won't work for long. More and more people are going under. Survival is a basic instinct. The question is, how much fight do we have in us?

ALSO: Friends Liza Featherstone and Doug Henwood ponder Occupation as well.