It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way.-opening sentences of Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities”
When I first started talking about the notion that we were in an Interregnum–Gramsci’s notion that “The old is dying and the new cannot be born. In this interregnum there arises a great diversity of morbid symptoms”–I didn’t really suspect that it would get quite so morbid. A couple of days ago, a reporter, having read my Brave New World Redux post, called me up to ask about the reference to “Flash Robs” in the context of the London Riots. I made what I thought was a fairly uncontroversial remark about two facts. First, that in a world of increasing inequality, there is a group of unemployed young people who are totally untethered to the social norms. Second, those young people use social media for everything, including organizing vandalism and looting. Even though the reporter took a long discussion and boiled it down to one line, I still feel my comment was true. What I have seen since then is an onslaught of hate mail, much of it overtly racist, probably brought on by this blog post revealing me to be “an undisclosed new media leftist”. And here I thought I could return to my community and have a decent, civil conversation. Jeesh! Here’s an example of the kind of shit I read every morning. This one from one Dan Anthony.
Let’s tell it how it is.. These Mobs are Black Ghetto Welfare Slaves. Their parents and grandparents were also Welfare Slaves. A bunch of people caught in a cycle of no education, no ambition, and no morals. Stupid People breed Stupid People. If this was the best Economy in the history of the country , these people would still be doing this. The Economy up and downs do not effect Welfare Slaves. Maybe if people in this country told the truth without worrying about who’s feelings get hurt, we can move on and become a better society. Stay out in Cali with the rest of the elitest, leftwing nuts. You assholes out there are phooney, full of shit, Limo Liberals GO FUCK YOURSELF AND FUCK YOU JERK OFF.
I’m trying to figure out why my comments about the haves and the have nots has struck such a cord.I assume most of the people who took the time to find me on line and write, as Mr. Combs did, that I “was twisting facts to fit my socialist agenda”, probably are not working on Wall Street making $10 million per year. If Mr. Combs was working on Wall Street, he wouldn’t have time to trash me. Which leads me to the question, why are middle class folks so intent on defending the top 1%’s right to not pay their fair share of taxes? The conventional wisdom says that Mr. Combs dreams that one day he will make $10 million a year, so he want’s to make sure that when he gets to the top, he won’t get taxed. But the myth of American economic mobility is just that–a myth.
Most people think that there is more economic mobility in America than in Europe. Guess again. We’re also near the bottom of rich countries in this category, for example as measured by the percentage of low-income households that escape from this status each year.
So unless Mr. Combs first name is Puffy, he’s probably not going to get that mansion on the hill he dreams about. So why else would a comment about the London Riots bring out such vitriol from the Right? I think because it points to the possibility that extremes of inequality are not costless to a society. In my last essay, I assumed that at least in the U.S. Aldous Huxley was right. We are living in a Brave New World where the power of 24/7 entertainment mixed with lots of drugs and alcohol will keep the poor fairly pacified. The London riots as well as our own examples of Flash Robs put the lie to that myth. I have no idea what the next 12 months of the Interregnum will bring, but I do think social unrest will continue to be a problem. Many years ago I wanted to do a documentary on Robert Kaplan’s book, The Coming Anarchy. In describing the world of the future Kaplan wrote this prescient quote.
We are entering a bifurcated world. Part of the globe is inhabited by Hegel’s and Fukuyama’s Last Man, healthy, well fed, and pampered by technology. The other, larger, part is inhabited by Hobbes’s First Man, condemned to a life that is “poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
So why did I start this essay off with the Dickens’ quote about “the best of times, the worst of times”? How could I possibly think this was a season of Light? Well, because I see wisdom and light in small communities of practice. I see it in the students and professors who congregate in the Innovation Lab. I see it in the incredible generosity of the small rock and roll worship community I belong to that is lead by Jimmy Bartz. And like our correspondent Alex Bowles, I see it in the politics of California and Los Angeles, that are feeling their way towards a rational election system that may unlock the gridlock of our broken democracy.
When Jimmy Bartz and I talked this week about the cultural, political and spiritual crisis we find our selves in, he gave me three notions to help combat the anomie:
- Lean In (towards your community)
- Make yourself vulnerable
- Resist the numbing (of the entertainment industrial complex)
So despite the hate mail, I’m going to continue to try and post an essay for your consideration every Thursday. I’m going to lean into this community, make myself vulnerable and hope that collectively we can resist the numbing.