In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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“One Nation, Indivisible” features excerpts from The Sun’s archives that speak to the current political moment.
It is possible for us to look at our present society and see in it [the founding fathers’] mark of brilliance. Consider, for instance, the foresight necessary to see through the mist of two hundred years and . . . decree that elections be held four years apart in order to give the population a chance to forget the neglected promises of the previous campaign.
So it is that every fourth year we are treated to a seemingly new series of causes and slogans that are destined to end up being a further boost to special interests and privileged classes to which none of us belong. The ever-growing disparity between the haves and have-nots has in recent years made this task more difficult. Nonetheless, our wordmongers continue to labor valiantly to sell us cherished illusions couched in words that will seem only slightly deceiving when they go unfulfilled.
“American Pie,” William Gaither, July/August 1976
Once in college, which was more like a country club than a school, I’d met the rich: the flagrant rich, the stupid rich, the oblivious rich, and the radical rich who shopped at the Salvation Army to irritate their parents and never had the cash to pay for our late-night meals at the snack bars, though they had their parents’ credit cards to buy whatever else they wanted. The shame and anger had been fermenting inside me ever since I’d first stepped into the gifted classes. Now, as I stood on my grimy concrete front steps, shame and anger did an about-face, so that instead of pointing at myself and my family, they were aimed back at the people on the other side of the line.
“The Gifted Classes,” Frances Lefkowitz, January 2003
Economists have long proposed that the “invisible hand” of the market is smarter than any person, but the neoconservatives take it one step further. They don’t think of the market as the best decision maker, but as the only possible decision maker. They reject any effort to create equity or balance in the system.
The development of neocon ideas happened to coincide with the production of computers in mass quantities. Before that, even the most ardent capitalists, like Ayn Rand, would emphasize the heroics of individuals. But after the appearance of computers, the romance of the individual was dropped. It still shows up in rhetoric at times, but not in policy. All that’s left is the algorithm that answers every question about nature and humans.
The problem with the market as ultimate decision maker is whether it can be as effective and creative as natural evolution. Natural evolution takes a very, very long time. It’s possible that the economy might be effective, but it might take a billion years to work.
“Voodoo Electronics,” Jaron Lanier, interviewed by Arnie Cooper, May 2005
Apart from a few of the founding fathers who created the myth, America wasn’t really ripe for democracy. Our hearts and minds were, and are still, monarchical, vertical. We are deeply conditioned to think of all of our relationships as hierarchies (who’s above and who’s below), and to live out our lives located somewhere inside a pecking order. (God is on high, man down below; the father is the head of the family; the boss may not be right, but he’s the boss. . . .) These power structures keep us from having to engage our own freedom. There is a kind of dead comfort in knowing our place. We just have to find our niche and get cozy there. In myth only is America the “New World.” In reality we are as terrified of freedom as ever. And we fear and tremble when we feel somebody rocking the boat.
“The Choice of Emptiness,” Jim Ralston, January 1983
Business lobbyists are crawling all over Capitol Hill collecting, as fast as they possibly can, all the sugarplums they can stuff into their mouths. One of the things they want most is big tax cuts, and they’re getting them, not only from the federal government, but from state legislators. How can lawmakers cut taxes, given all the talk about reducing the deficit? They do it by matching those tax cuts with spending cuts. But they don’t want to cut oil-company tax deductions or other corporate-welfare programs. They don’t want to cut programs that subsidize big farmers. They don’t want to cut mortgage-interest deductions. All of those groups have political muscle. So they have turned on the groups that have very little political muscle: they’re taking all the money out of programs for the poor. What can you call that except pure greed?
“Get a Job,” Frances Fox Piven, September 1996
Almost a year ago, [my husband and I] invited a man from our church to live with us. Homeless and schizophrenic, John had been attending Sunday-evening services for about two years. . . .
“You can’t change the world, you know,” my father reminds me as he climbs behind the wheel of his Ford Expedition — half of a matching, his-and-hers set he bought for himself and his second wife. He’s headed to his law practice, where he’ll spend the day protecting the rights of corporations. He believes in the power of the market as a universal, benevolent force, and in the tangible connection between a large salary and personal virtue. . . .
“Just remember, dear, you shouldn’t go overboard with this kind of thing,” says his wife as she leaves for her weekly manicure, pedicure, and facial, followed by a shopping excursion and dinner at the club. “You don’t have to be perfect, you know!”
“I’m so tired of your noble, self-righteous act,” snaps my sister over the phone as she heads to the gym. “What makes you so special, anyway?” Not content to be a size 8, she obsesses over her weight. (She once spent weeks in treatment for bulimia.) Her husband likes her thin and says so. She’s grown to hate her corporate job, yet her fifty-dollar moisturizers, her gourmet foods, and her “furniture budget” have become necessities. . . .
I find myself wondering: Which of us in my family are pursuing an unattainable ideal?
“Idealism” (Readers Write), M.R.K., December 2003
When you look at history, you find that we’ve become a lot more merciful as individuals. There’s a paradox in that governments are becoming a lot more destructive, but ordinary individuals nowadays are much more compassionate than they were even a century ago. We have developed more-delicate, more-ethical sensibilities. We’re not burning witches anymore. People don’t blind children or break their legs to make them more effective as beggars, which was a common practice in all the great civilizations of the past.
“Dreams without End,” Robert Anton Wilson, interviewed by Sy Safransky, April 1987
A debt strike is audacious, simple, and easy to participate in — easier than paying bills, since all you have to do is not pay your bills. It takes courage and social support but provides immediate gratification. Who doesn’t despise the monthly ritual of sending away precious cash to line the pockets of dishonest and destructive financial institutions?
“Debt Strike,” by Sarah Jaffe and Matthew Skomarovsky, from “Beautiful Trouble,” edited by Andrew Boyd and Dave Oswald Mitchell, May 2014
Many people I talk to these days . . . are feeling listless, vaguely frightened, and unenthusiastic about their futures. . . . People are perhaps too exhausted to go on being contrary, and their efforts seem futile in the face of a triumphalist and hermetically sealed administration in the White House. Among the people I know — and I suspect this is true of progressive forces across the country — there is a lot of fear. The program of the current administration is truly radical. There seems to be no lively alternative. So we sit and hold our breath, facing the direst of prospects: an American fascist state; economic collapse; environmental catastrophe; World War III, to be fought against proliferating bands of terrorists all over the globe. . . .
These frightening possibilities cannot be denied, but neither can they be taken as facts. The only fact is that we don’t know what will happen in the future, and to imagine that we do is foolish. It is not unusual for history to proceed by a process of reversal: momentum going in one direction is replaced by momentum in the opposite.
“The Religion of Politics, the Politics of Religion,” Norman Fischer, May 2005