11/12/2006

Hope

I won't bother rehashing all the clichés and conventional wisdom about the results of our recent election, but I did want to take a moment to reflect on its importance.

A number of the progressive bloggers who I read regularly see this as the beginning of the end for the conservative movement, which has been in ascendancy for just about as long as I've been alive. This is not to say that we'll see a return of the Democratic domination of the New Deal, but that Americans have perhaps had enough of the extremism of movement conservatism.

I don't know if this is true, but I hope it is. If nothing else, that is what this election has given me (and hence the title of this post). If it is, then perhaps the progressive values that many Americans hold (as Noam Chomsky has often pointed out, surveys conducted by PIPA and other organizations indicate popular endorsement of positions favoring universal healthcare, environmental conservation, progressive taxation, etc. [I should fill in some links here, but right now I'm trying to keep this short]) may be able to come to fruition.

Indeed, it is good to feel hopeful. If there's one thing I wish I could change about the students I've had the wonderful pleasure of teaching, it's the almost pervasive cynicism that dominates their worldviews. I've written about this before, how nihilism, apathy, and anomie seem to be in fashion these days. Glenn Greenwald recently showed how this kind of cynicism is pervasive among political pundits, as well (first link on my sidebar).

Of course, I myself have never been able to shake off cynicism completely. As someone who does not believe in necessary progress in history, I harbor no illusions about what the future may hold (well, leaving aside my perhaps unwarranted optimism for technological advancement). I doubt that I'll ever fully eliminate my cynical side--especially since it's a cornerstone of my sense of humor--but at least it has always had to contend against a vibrant idealism which is certainly not willing to cede ground after this week.

Yet, there is still much that needs to be done if reason and progressive values are to win the day. In the next 2 years, I suspect the best that can be done is to hold Bush in check, investigate the hell out of his crooked administration and their allies in corporate America, and maybe increase the minimum wage for the first time in a decade. Election reform would be nice, but we'd never implement truly democratic measures like instant runoff voting and totally public campaign financing.

Taking a larger picture view of things, I really wonder about the future of this country. Some of the non-liberal leftists who I read are keen to point out that the Democrats are really only the slight more benevolent faction of the ruling class, that they are nearly as business-friendly, war-friendly, and people-unfriendly as the GOP. Of course, as is evidenced by the stolen election of 2000, small differences can have huge consequences.

I agree that the current duopoly in American politics leaves much to be desired, but why should the solution require new political parties? In Italy, there are hundreds of parties, and yet they end up having to form 2 major coalitions anyway. The Democrats, like the GOP, offer a big tent: leaving aside demographic differences, Democrats vary widely from state to state (contrast Tester of Montana, Webb of Virginia, Biden of Delaware, and Feingold of Wisconsin, for instance).

Sometimes I feel like the far left is too wedded to cynicism and pessimism to ever view anything as progress; every intellectual knows that criticism is far more profound-seeming than praise. Nevertheless, the Democratic party represents our best hope for positive change in the US. In fact, a number of more populist, netroots-supported candidates were elected on Tuesday, and this trend is likely to continue as the blogosphere becomes a more formidable media force.

For the first time in a while, I feel like I want to live in this country in the longterm. I've often dreamt of finishing my Ph.D. and then jetting off to Toronto or Amsterdam or Tokyo, but now I'm not so sure. Of course I'd like to travel more, but emigration doesn't seem as necessary and inevitable to me as it once did.

I suspect it won't be too long before American unilateral dominance in the world is eliminated by the rising powers of a united Europe, China, and India, among others, but I think this could be a good thing for our country (and the world!). If nothing else, we can thank Bush for accelerating that process.

Let me close with a sentiment from Spinoza: "So let the satirists laugh as much as they like at human affairs, let the theologians curse them, let melancholics praise as much as they can a life that is uncultivated and wild.... Men still find from experience that by helping one another they can provide themselves much more easily with the things they require, and that only by joining forces can they avoid the dangers which threaten on all sides..."

2 comments:

Jeff said...

Hey Dom,

good to see you're more hopeful--and blogging again. I'd be interested to hear your take on this article from the NYT on the drop in math scores and possible responses to this drop.
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/14/education/14math.html?pagewanted=1&ei=5088&en=ed6b1b2750ad9414&ex=1321160400&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

specter_of_spinoza said...

That fuzzy math bullshit annoys the hell out of me. This is one area in which I'm with the conservatives in adopting a more traditional approach to the curriculum.

Yes, drilling and memorization may be boring, but they have been shown to develop necessary skills in math, spelling, and so forth. The occasional foray into the practical is fine, but without the basic skills, it's pointless.

All these education theorists need to get it through their thick skulls that children are not adults. To be free and creative requires establishing the right habits. Unfortunately for students, that means a lot of repetition.

"But memorization stifles children's creativity! Waaaah! They don't like math if you drill them! Boo hoo!" Christ, who are the ones supposedly in grade school here? Grow up.

So, it is a good sign that people are finally waking up to see this bullshit for what it is. While they're at it, let's get rid of all this self-esteem garbage too.