Friday, November 12, 2004

Election Analysis, Part II - State of the Union

As someone said, Marx was great at diagnosis and lousy at prognosis. One of the mainstays of Marxist philosophy is the notion of historical inevitability of the ascension of societies through various stages of economic organization: from slavery to feudalism to capitalism to socialism. He was pushing for a socialist revolution in the advanced industiral countries as he thought that advanced stage of capitalism is a neccessary precondition for the move to the next stage. He advocated revolution, which never happened. It need not have happened - socialism, somewhat modified by another 150 years of historical wisdom, has peacefully arisen in most West-European countries, in Canada, New Zealand, etc. On the other hand, Marx warned against attempts to introduce socialism in agricultural feudal countries, like Russia and China, as they were not ready for the new system yet. Now we know he was right. Whatever went by the name of "socialism" in these countries wears no resemblance to what Marx et al. envisioned. It should be called "Stalinism" or something like that - these countries gave Marx and socialism a bad rap.

No matter how you feel about Marxism, his steps of progress can be a useful heuristical device for analyzing America today. Where do you think is this country right now? The stage of capitalism? Yes, but also, not so fast. It is not pure capitalism. What are we missing?

I will argue that all four stages are present in the contemporary American society, neither one of them in its pure form, each adulterated by the influence of the other three. When I talk about these four stages, I am not concentrating primarily on the differences in economic organization. Each of the four systems is based on radically different economic relations, but out of these relations grow complete systems of thought - worldviews, ideologies, whatever you want to call them.

The reigning economic relations in the USA today are capitalistic, and the wishes or tendencies (or longings) of some people to change this are largely in the domain of wishful thinking. The non-economic elaborations of the four models are, however, live and kicking.

Socialist way of thinking and understanding the world is present in (but not restricted to) large urban areas, centered around Universities, and close to large bodies of water (oceans, Great Lakes, Mississippi). In this country, it goes by the name liberalism, since the word socialism is so tainted with Stalinist overtones. Even the word liberalism has recently become a dirty word, so the new moniker is "progressive". Rose by any other name.... The essences of modern socialism are equality and freedom. It is the true Nurturant Parent system.
Those tiny numbers of people who actually join socialist/communist parties in America are actually way out on a radial limb away from the true liberal core. They have not learned anything form a century of history. They still dream of Marx-style socialism, not noticing how out-dated this notion is, and how well a modified socialism works in Sweden, Holland, Canada or New Zealand.

Relativists/postmodernists/deconstructionists are way out there, liberal in name only (and due to their historical origins out of leftist movements). So are the animal rightists. Those are the straw men put up by The Right in order to shoot down liberalism, but these fringe groups have little resemblance with the true liberalism.

A huge proportion of the U.S. population likes the ideas of equality and freedom, and applies liberal (or socialist, in Marx's taxonomy) views in many areas of life: civil rights, universal health care, equality of women, equal legal rights for gays, care for the environment, wish for international approval, etc. Unlike the original version of socialism, modern socialism contains free market economics as one of its core puzzle-pieces, quite consistent with its general complex-system understanding of the world, as I argued before (e.g,, and All voted for Kerry.

Capitalist way of understaning the world is prevalent in (but not restricted to) suburbs and exurbs. It is held by small businessmen, managers and white-collar workers, as well as most of the very rich. Economic interests are much more important than social values. Getting rich is more important than getting to Heaven. Owning stuff trumps freedom. Equality is a dirty word. Greed is NOT a dirty word. Christianity is shallow and church attendance is a social act needed for one's rise in the community. Sense of entitlement is strong. Looking down on the poor is a favourite pastime, after golf. Paying taxes elicits pain and is tantamount to being robbed at gunpoint. The worldview is a simple hierarchical system based on personal wealth. If you are good, you will become rich. If you are poor, there is something wrong with you: you are either stupid or lazy. This is a modified conservative, i.e., Strict Father, ideology, stressing economic over all other considerations. Mysoginy, racism, homophobia, xenophobia and superpatriotism are not strongly felt, or are even actively supressed. Many have equality in their marriages and are good parents. Those are "Rockefeller Republicans", a dying breed unwanted in today's GOP ranks. Most, but far from all, voted for Bush. Bush, Cheney and most of that gang belong to this group, too.

Feudalist worldview is heavily colored by religion. As an economic system, it is aristocratic. The aristocrat owns his serfs and levies heavy taxes, but the aristocrat protects his village and makes sure that nobody literally starves to death. He may sleep with every new bride in the village on her Wedding Night, but that's not too high a price to pay for security, and for the exhilarating sense of loyalty to one's own Duke, Count or Prince and the pride in bearing His Coat of Arms.

Hierarchy is not based on earned wealth, but on birth and blood. The best example is the woman who called in the NPR show to tell Lakoff that "God appoints the King. In our country, the President is our King". The ideal "King" is someone who belongs to a dynasty (e.g., son of a previous King), and states that he is doing God's will. This bunch had never had as wonderful a choice in history as is G.W.Bush. I bet Rove will committ all kinds of sins to make sure that Jeb Bush "wins" the next Republican primaries and the general election. All the "moral values" super-Christians belong to this group and they will NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER vote for a Democrat. They are a lost cause. Fortunately, there is not too many of them, and their voices are heard only during the election year. It is the capitalists posing as feudalists who win elections, not the feudalists themselves.

Feudalists live in the rural areas throughout the country but mostly in the South and the Wild West (e.g. Montana, Wyoming). A friend of mine, originally from Israel, who spent most of her life in New York City before moving down here a couple of years ago, once made a coast-to coast trip. She started at the Atlantic coast on Wrightsville Beach, got on I-40 in Wilmington, NC and drove the length of I-40 until she dove into the Pacific ocean in California. In her words, the first 200 miles and the last 200 miles are civilized country. Everything in between is poverty, dirt, trailer parks and churches. The way she said that struck me as nasty and elitist, as if this state of things was the poor people's own fault (probably the way many big-city liberals on the left and right coasts fell right now). She may have ignored the large urban centers in the heartland, but in general, her description is accurate. The "Jesusland" is a reality.

As deep religious faith is essential, there is a strong anti-intellectual and anti-science sentiment in this group. They are extremely fearful, cowardly and femiphobic, and they project their fears on everyone who is not one of them. They have only contempt for ideas of democracy, equality, freedom, rationality, reality, logic, or ethics. They deny that the USA is or should be a democratic country. They deny that the Founding Fathers were deists at best. They believe that this country was founded not to provide freedom for observation of many religions, but as a place where a Puritan form of Calvinism will rule.

Read these:

Religion of the Rich

Religion of the Rich


Bush & The Puritan Streak

Not a new Fascism but a new Puritanism?

Theory of Evolution It's been fashionable for...

From the "what the hell is happening" Dept.

Puritanism of the Rich

Also read these:

...and for more links, go here:

Slaveholding mindset is obviously frustrated by the reality of the American law. Don't think that, if it was possible, many people would not go out and buy slaves right now. Tom DeLay, Trent Lott, Zell Miller and Co. would love to own big cotton plantations in the South. Oh, and of course, they all voted for Bush.

Slave-holding worldview is, again, an economic system much more than social or moral worldview. It is more hierarchical than feudalism, and definitely more hierarchical than capitalism. Who is on top is not determined by one's wealth, or by one's family (which one can enter via marriage), but by one's race. Who cares that race is a biologically non-existent category (there is more genetic variation within "races" than between them).

This mindset is present, at least in the hidden reaches of minds of a relatively small minority of Americans, and is on its way out as the new generations of kids grow up in a racially tolerant society. The core Strict Father model, which is essentially slaveholding worldview, cannot withstand the social changes sweeping through the country. Racism and bigotry are still alive and well in the most impoverished areas of the country, deep in the hollers of the South, and in the deserts of Texas, but no amount of isolation and home-schooling can prevent the intense racism from being gradually phased out, because the strong religious component is lacking in the slaveholding worldview.

So, the four worldviews co-exist in this country, and each is preventing the other three from fully controlling the whole country. The slaveholding is withering away. Feudalism belongs to a minority, but is very vocal, and due to its religious fundamentalism, is here to stay for a long time. Capitalism is holding steady. Liberalism ("socialism") is the fastest growing segment. It is just that many liberals are not really aware they are liberals, and are still unsure about some of their views. Many are first-generation liberals, growing up in Strict Father families, then leaving home and joining the liberal communities in big cities and Universities. Many are quite religious. Some old habits die hard. The language certainly still holds sway. Bush won many of them through deception (Orwellian language and outright lies) and by using fear to invoke Strict Father components of their psyches (thus trumping the liberal components). Kerry was not capable of countering that. The very fact he is a war hero allowed the GOP to keep the electoral rhetoric centered on war, security, terrorism and fear. I wonder what would have happened if Edwards was the candidate. Would every GOP attack automatically re-inforce the Two Americas frame? Would Edwards be able to keep the debate on the liberal topics of fairness, equality of opportunity and freedom? I don't know. It was not meant to be, I guess. I wish we have tried.

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