Quantum of Solace: The Making of Modern Consciousness, Part III

Quantum of Solace: The Making of Modern Consciousness, Part III

(A version of this article was published in Blogcritics on May, 2009)

I

Arguably, every successful movement in our long and checkered history was infused with, if not inspired by, an ideological component. Even freedom or liberation movements looked beyond the immediate gains that would benefit the oppressed masses to the idea. And the same goes for the Civil Rights activists or the pacifist movement spurred by Gandhi and adopted by Martin Luther King, Jr., the abolitionists or the suffragettes. 

It was the idea that had fired them all, from Lenin and Castro to Chez Guevara and Daniel Ortega — and yes, even Hitler and Mussolini, because we can’t ignore negative examples since they, too, prove the point. And the idea that was bigger than life, bigger than the immediate circumstances of the moment, however deplorable, and which required correcting, bigger than the people itself!

For better or worse, that’s the nature of the beast. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword. Ideas rule, and the New Left is an example par excellence. The million-dollar question is: Can it sustain itself?

II

Don’t forget that the New Left and the ensuing ideology – the heightened consciousness which has since spread throughout the globe and soon to become a universal, mass consciousness – was a child of prosperity, of unique conditions in America and the industrialized West! Indeed, only prosperity made it possible for the bourgeois offspring to replace self-interest with concern for the plight of the many the system has left out. It made it possible for the spoiled bourgeois brats to rebel against the very principles that made for the fertile ground to think progressively and altruistically!

“Concern for others” is indeed a luxury that only a few can afford. And if material conditions deteriorate to the point that every person must fend for herself, then idealism is indeed a shaky proposition, and it stands on no less shaky ground.

III

It’s thus that capitalism — the very “inhumane” system that gave rise to the most humanistic philosophy ever to make it the exclusive province of Everyman — carries within itself the seeds of its self-destruction. 

It may be from Marx, but it’s something to consider!

IV

Once again, we’re back to our million-dollar question:

  •  Can we continue in this vein and retain this idealistic strain while the conditions which made idealism possible –a level of general prosperity for a great many –are about to become extinct? 
  • What would it do to mass consciousness if the masses themselves must become more and more concerned with the business of making a living? 
  • Isn’t there a danger here that humanity might revert to its primitive self and selfish and unenlightened thinking once again? 
  • Is the progress we’ve made a fleeting phenomenon, no different than any other accomplishment peculiar to a particular epoch or period of history? 
V

Civilization is indeed a thin veneer. Must it mean, however, that all the gains we’ve made in the past have been all for naught? And what of idealistic thinking? What of thinking that fired the imagination and focused on the plight of the disadvantaged and the have-nots? Is it going to dissipate as well to become just another episode in our long and checkered history? And for what good reason?

Just because our comfortable existence is likely to disappear, taking with it any inclination to concern ourselves with our brothers and sisters? Because the “take care of the number one” rule, the matter of sheer survival, will invariably take precedence over all other fine feelings we might have towards our fellow men? 

I’d hate to think we’re as limited as all that.

VI

These are relevant questions. And they’re not to be taken lightly since the capitalist system of production –the same source which made idealism and, indirectly, the explosion of mass consciousness possible — far from having spread throughout the rest of the globe, is itself undergoing all kinds of stresses and fissures from within. And as it fights for its very survival, our very future is far from certain as well. It’s all up to us, I suppose, and the kind of courage we’re going to display – i.e., whether we’ll maintain the “I’m my brother’s keeper” kind of stance or revert to a “dog-eat-dog” attitude.

I want to take a positive view and think that the human spirit will prevail. Besides, it’s not all that easy to undo a state of enlightenment once it’s in our grasp. It’s certainly true of individuals, for when we do acquire a third eye, as it were, it becomes a part of us wherever we go, no matter how our circumstances might change.

VII

It’s somewhat trickier when we apply the same reasoning to a collective, as when “mass consciousness” is at stake, for at that point, other factors come into play — of which, the idea of “critical mass” is the most important. 

Indeed, it would appear that if mass consciousness is to sustain itself or at least not to suffer a setback, it must acquire sufficient push and pull to become the prevalent ideology worldwide. And this makes it imperative to spread prosperity and the message to all corners of the globe in the hope that both will take root – again, a very iffy proposition considering the uncertain future of capitalism itself.

VIII

At the end of my “Hidden Dimensions” series, I suggested that we’d better put our ideological differences aside and work toward the common goal. As I conceived of it then, that goal was none other than to keep our government on the straight and narrow — to preserve our freedoms and way of life.

Nothing has changed except that the situation had become more urgent. Indeed, as one of the commentators had suggested of late on a recent Blogcritics thread (“Chrysler Bankruptcy: Political Payoff?”),

what I see happening is a schism in the Corporate Statist establishment between those seeking to socialize corporations and those seeking to privatize the government. We’ve breached [too] many walls between corp[orations] and the state. . . . It may be too late to back off and separate the state from a business1.

IX

I find it disconcerting — in fact, the greatest challenge facing us today — that present crisis notwithstanding, we’re being confronted with two equally unpalatable alternatives.: a move toward socialism on the one hand and the privatization of government on the other. Either way, it spells a near-total merger of public and private interest and the reinstatement of the dreaded Establishment as the military-industrial complex!

One should hope that these are but remedial measures designed to deal with the crisis at hand, but there’s no telling, as you and I both know. Anyhow, it’s cause for concern. If you have any doubt, read George Will’s article, “The Upside-Down Economy.” It’s the best treatment to date

X

If there is anything I’d like to impress on my fellow travelers from the New Left and those from the antagonistic Right, it is this. Let’s forgo all our differences because our freedoms are at stake: the freedom to excel in any area whatever or not to excel; the freedom to pursue whatever we wish to pursue, without regard to anyone else’s definition of what we ought to be.

That’s the essence of the American dream – the freedom to do what we damn well please – so long, of course, that we don’t impinge on anybody else’s freedom to do likewise.

“Live and let live” is America’s motto, economic differences notwithstanding. We’re all equal. 

I don’t have a problem with this concept. Do you?

XI

In conclusion, I’d like to reiterate that it’s our freedoms that are worth fighting for and preserving, including our economic freedom. Our political institutions may change. To wit, if the message of universal justice is going to take hold in the world, the likelihood is that we may yet end up relinquishing some of our national identity and way of life and become more subject to the rule of international law.

I could live with that because, in my view, this would be synonymous with progress. But what I definitely couldn’t live with is the eventuality that our political and economic decisions would emanate from the same quarter because that would mean a totalitarian government. 2 And under a totalitarian regime, no matter how benign, there would be neither freedom nor justice, not even “expanded consciousness” in any meaningful sense. It would mean reverting to the Dark Ages, plain and simple. That’s why corporate statism alluded to earlier – whether in the form of socializing the corporation or privatizing the government – must be fought tooth and nail by the Left and the Right alike. 

Our future is at stake.

XII

Capitalism may be far from perfect, and it does produce economic inequality. But economic inequality doesn’t and shouldn’t trump a far more fundamental notion of equality grounded in freedom and universal justice. Indeed, if the system were to become subject to sufficient oversight to prevent potential abuses and rid itself of the unscrupulous practitioners, it might help reduce this inequality. 

Thus, for all the contradictions presumably inherent in the idea that would leave most economic decisions in predominantly private hands, capitalism is still the best system to promote the spread of freedom and justice, and yes. of prosperity, too, throughout the rest of the world. The all-important proviso is, of course, that its self-destructive tendencies remain in check!

Let’s just hope that we can escape the present crisis unscathed and resume humanity’s progress towards a better and more equitable world.

Notes
  1. Kudos to the new editors of Blogctitics for purging their website of what they deemed as “outdated” articles and comments! Fortunately, I had a hunch to republish this article on the pages of my old Typepad blog, It’s My Take, where “troll” posted a thoughtful response. I reproduce it in full in the note below.
  2. Roger says:  But what I definitely couldn’t live with is the eventuality that our political and economic decisions would emanate from the same quarter because that would mean a totalitarian government.  To which I say:  yes, and yet, both the social-democratic and the liberal-pluralist theories [and] their implications concerning levels, kinds, and social distribution of participatory practices, are now a largely obsolete matter of the past in both their analytical and normative aspects. What we are entirely lacking, however, is a theory or normative justification of the current realities, when economic resources do determine the agenda and decision-making of the political process, while the owners of those resources themselves, and the distributional outcomes caused by markets, are not being significantly constrained by social rights and political interventions. (See “Democracy in crisis: two and a half theories about the operation of democratic capitalism” by Claus Offe in openDemocracy.) So, the unbearable is already here. What now?  September 27, 2013, at 04:23 AM

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