Likewise. I really enjoyed reading your post and you make good points too.
Your work as an activist in the 70s and onward is valid and I respect it. Had I been born at that time and in a different context I could see myself acting just as you did. I applaud your anti-poverty work and within the context of this system reacting to the endless mill of crisis is more than needed. But that work also takes energy away from activism that could aim to target the root of the issue. I'm much more interested in questions like, why were those communities water supplies contaminated to begin with? Why did activists have to step in, shouldn't the government in whatever form it takes been able to react accordingly? Why do these same problems still happen with Flint Michigan being the hot one on my mind? In targeting the solution we can find substantive solutions to make sure bad things like this don't happen, or if they must because your right in that perfection is impossible, they are exceedingly rare and responded to efficiently and humanely.
For example. The road I live on is falling apart. Down the street there is an indentation in the road the size of the whole right lane that's been creeping into the left lane for months now. At some point a large truck is going to drive over that spot and the road is going to collapse off the hillside. The initial response would be that the municipality should have fixed the road months ago instead of letting this go on since the early summer. When I examined this problem I found out that people at city council had already been talking about it alongside many other damaged roads in the community. The municipality keeps responding to inquiries by saying that the road crews are taxed and they're working on problems based on how dangerous they are and how much traffic the road gets. Okay, fair enough, but why are the road crews taxed? So I follow that chain information and learn that the United States has a road density nearly 3 times as large as averaged developed nations. I also learn that suburbs specifically spend on average 60% of their budgets on roads and in my community specifically even what I assume is a large allocation isn't enough. So that either means we as a society actually can't afford all these roads, or that our government models are too inefficient to maintain them.
Either way, major change is needed to solve this issue. So what are the options? As I've been able to identify. We could start tearing up roads in whatever way city planners figure out will cause the least harm. Except that even in the most conservative circumstances this will cause more traffic congestion and make life worse for everyone. So that means we need to start talking about whether we as a society actually need all these cars, and the conversation starts spiraling into public transit. Which starts begging questions about environmental costs and whether suburbs are even a good idea at all. All because we can't fix the roads.
The second option is to have a conversation about how to make my municipality more efficient so we can afford the roads. But again, just like the first solution this quickly expands into a very large complex discussion that has broader implications. But what is the alternative? Collapse of the road networks? Currently we can't pay for them, systemic change isn't happening so we can afford them and it's not happening so we don't need them either. Currently the municipality, and as I've learned most suburbs and consequentially many Americans, seem to have chosen collapse. One could argue that my municipality specifically just sucks and I should move or we should fix ourselves, but if that were a workable solution this wouldn't be happening all over the country. Now this is only one issue but the same reasoning applies to many issues and I've become very dismayed over the past few months at how many problems my society answers by ignoring to let collapse come.
The activist work you were discussing never confronts collapse head on, it only ever offers patchwork in response as things deteriorate. Liberal methodologies made sense under post-war industrial capitalism and arguably liberal oligarchy may have too. In that sense your work was the right work at the time and even circumstantially is today. The material conditions have changed though and I don't think the same logic works anymore because the economy actually isn't getting better and growth will not last through the century with the climate crisis afoot. Even without the crisis if the oligarchs decide to return to gilded age economics and politics as they seem to be than class conflict is a real issue again because the condition of the lower classes can only deteriorate under gilded age politics due to breaking the keynesian bargain with workers.
And that's were our methodologies encounter friction. I respect your work and understand it I think, it's just that it's not enough and I don't understand how it ever could be given our circumstance. I'm not aiming to be negative, this is a realistic take given the state of the world. Organizations that have influence and activists that have experience need to start approaching these issues differently. The patchwork needs to happen too while we figure things out and that's where your anti-poverty work is useful and needed. But if we don't have a plan to actually try to eliminate poverty there's not much point in alleviating it either. In conclusion we need to tackle both ends of the problem, the source and the consequence, and I fear most activism today only confronts the consequences.
One could say that something like abolishing poverty isn't possible. History is my friend there because egalitarian societies have existed. And just because we haven't figured egalitarianism out on an industrial scale doesn't mean we can't. The alternative from a working class person's perspective given that poverty is unaccountable would be to reject civilization which doesn't work for other philosophical reasons I could explain if anyone wants.
I agree with you that removing Trump from office is a step. But I'd argue that putting a democrat in office is no progress. The whole office needs to go because the office itself is the problem. The green new deal even if it were enacted would fail. The world cannot be saved by creating a fortress America that intends to save itself by using everyone else's natural resources to shield itself from environmental collapse. The deal in essence makes no attempt to actually stop global warming but only to save America from it, which won't work because the world is more than America and without the world there is no America. We cannot afford to be incrementalists here either because there's no time to remove Trump, than replace the democrats with greens, then replace the greens with some group radical enough to make real systemic change. More than that our blueprint for what incrementalism gets us is our present condition. If an incremental approach were able to respond effectively to systemic problems than why is our society still facing so many of the same problems that it did 100 years ago? I'm not saying everything would have been solved, but the conversation should have evolved and the material conditions should have changed for the better assuming incrementalism worked. Yet here I am in fear of cops more corrupt and militarized than they were when my mother was young.
I agree with you that one's ideas are not perfect. But this dialogue isn't happening outside of niche circles and the minds of those directly affected by its absence. Hell, I started thinking about these things because none of the structures in my life worked with me and the world around me looks incredibly dysfunctional. I believe that anyone affected by decisions has the right to be part of the process making those decisions in some binding form. Otherwise dictatorships just get created on smaller scales even if the broader society itself isn't one. That's also why I'm so energized to bring this all up in the Trump thread. Trump sucks up so much darn energy he doesn't deserve to as you agree with me on. This thread doesn't deserve the popularity it has in my opinion and we'd probably do better to put our political energy into other topics in dire need of more discussion. With that said I don't intend on derailing it and will leave things be or move to a different thread should this discussion continue to grow.
This post is really repetitive in some respects and I'm sure you already understood the vast majority of what I'm saying if not all of it. For the sake of others who may not be familiar with the concepts I'm talking about I'm not going to pair this down. This post also feels less disjointed and fervorous than the last one so maybe it's valuable there too. With all that said I want to address this line because I think it's vital. "More lesser-of-two-evilism. I suppose. I also suppose that I don't have the luxury of having most of my professional adult life ahead of me. Rather, I have an imperfect life to look back upon in which I am all too painfully aware of my shortcomings."
I don't intend to be disrespectful with my following words but by the nature of their meaning they will have to be a little blunt. No one's life is perfect and we shouldn't dwell on lack of the impossible. You still have life ahead of you and the legacy you leave can still be improved by whatever actions you take today. Future generations will look kindly on the older folks who spend some of their later years working on bettering a future they themselves will not see. Heck, I even feel this, albeit, not as strongly as you I'm sure. I'm not convinced I'll live to see anti-aging technology come to fruition within my lifetime but here I am still donating to the SENS Foundation. The same concept applies.
I'm sure you already do more than the average older person given all our talks on this forum. But older people, especially retired older people who don't have to work anymore, have more time than the vast majority of the population for activism. Assuming their minds and bodies are able I still think there is some onus of responsibility there. Not saying older folks should work full time 40 hours activist jobs unless they want to, but a few hours a week couldn't hurt. Outside of the responsibility community building is very fulfilling, often unpayed worked, and I know a very many retired older people who are bored that choose to work at a diner or some other such business to alleviate that boredom even though their labour could be saving the world.
I don't like our cultures conception that activism is something people do when they're young and full of energy. Older people are people just as much as I am and their ideas are just as valuable. As are middle aged people and everyone else. If one is able there's no excuse in my opinion and if we're ever going to fix this world we all need to part of that process. In fact, I don't like the word activist either! Activists are simply specialists that have the labour of fixing the world offloaded on them so others can slack off! We should all be working for a better world and if we we all were there would be no need for activists. Moreover I'd be able to tow my fair share and get on with my life a bit easier instead of worrying about the state of the world so much, and that would be much appreciated
My next post will not be this large I promise. I don't have the energy for it even if I wanted too