Monday, 1 June 2020

The Smash-Grab is What America is All About

The year 2020 seems to be a reckoning. But a reckoning for what? A whole lot of chickens are coming home to roost.

Looking at scenes of rioting and looting playing out across America following the murder of black man George Floyd at the hands of rogue police officer Derek Chauvin, it's easy to think that while anger and protest are justified, rioting and looting are stupid and misguided. Easy and correct, of course. Opportunistic criminals, who are by differing accounts white supremacists, anarchist agitators or even the cops themselves using the social unrest as a pretext for stoking people into rampaging mobs warrant our condemnation just as much as rogue and murdering police officers do.

Yet the sight of mobs breaking into stores, tipping over shelves of merchandise and making off with whatever they can get their hands prompts a deeper, more troubling question. That being: who are you to condemn this, America? This is what you're all about.

I distinctly recall the halcyon days of the neoliberal euphoria back in the mid 1990s. Soviet communism had fallen, Chinese communism was embracing the free market with vigor and social democracy and new deal liberalism were in distinct retreat across the western world. What was the mood of the nation then? Survival of the fittest, take what you can get and every man for himself was not playing out in the streets amidst burning buildings in those days. Rather, it was the ethos being praised in the editorial pages of virtually every major media outlet across the western world, and the policy being taken by governments and universally cheered by their electorates.

Ain't that America - Something to See
No need to ask what would become of the losers in this then newly made culture of the hustle. As John Mellencamp suggested (possibly ironically) in his Reagan era hit Pink Houses, they ain't no big deal. We didn't need no namby pamby social safety nets and regulatory protections such as the Glass-Steagall act. Get ready to compete on the free market like a real man, and if you lost that was your own fault and your defeat was to the betterment of society as a whole. The glorification of the smash-grab did not begin with blue checkmark twitter after Floyd's ugly demise, but in the board rooms of the corporations who owned the media back in that seemingly more innocent time.

We've all seen the results of this by now.

Following the market crash of 2008, the store whose windows was being smashed was the federal government - that same government who had no business in the provision of social welfare to its citizens - and the looters were those corporate outfits deemed too big to fail.

Since then, social media has revealed in real time the real effects that this social darwinism 2.0 has had in the real world. Communities torn apart and ravaged by corporate maleficence and government apathy. Manufacturers gone in search of lower wages and worse working conditions, infrastructure neglected in favor of tax cutting and expenditure on foreign warfare, low wage service jobs in big box retailers with no connection to the communities they locate in. Hopelessness, drug addiction, suicide, wholesale relationship and social breakdown and anti social behaviors abound and prison populations have swollen. Statistically significant portions of the population have zero prospects at things like a half decent job or a relationship with a significant other, things once thought the hallmark of the American dream. Social dysfunction that could once have been dismissed as being isolated to ghettos of poor and discriminated against minorities - itself a travesty - has now crept into demographics once thought the stable middle class.

And now, a major pandemic has hit the world compelling many states to go into lock down mode, restricting people's economic and social activities. This has led to depression levels of unemployment and increased pressure on social welfare and health care systems. Which in America have either been gutted or exist only for private profit.

Suffice it to say, people are mad as hell about it.

So where is the political left in all of this? Surely a radical socialist movement could easily capitalize on all of this. Surely there is enormous potential to put huge pressures on big business and big government of a kind not seen since the 1930s? Yet even here, the malignant selfishness that has swept the nation in recent decades has firmly taken hold.

Most so called progressive activism has about it the same kind of take-what-you-can-get ethos we've come to expect everywhere. Most radicals have had the good fortune to come from the social strata privileged enough to be radicalized in the nation's colleges and universities. As you might expect, what they've received is an indoctrination into a radical egocentrism. I only care about my race, my gender, my sexual orientation and I don't have to reason with or have any kind of real dialogue with anybody because of my exalted marginalized status. While they raise some legitimate issues, can we really expect social justice from these so called social justice warriors who have no real comprehensive vision of what a just and fair society might look like, and invest their activist vigor instead into a toxic call-out cancel culture?

If anything, the so called left of today - a today with more class consciousness among the majority than ever before - is the one and only thing keeping the reactionaries going. When the moral bankruptcy of the neoliberal smash-grab has been rendered obvious for all to see, the far right winger can still point to the anarchist rioters and proclaim, "here is your political left! Here are your socialists! Is this what you want?

The answer is obvious. Yet I find these anarchist rioters strangely difficult to fully condemn, despite the obvious harm they're doing. I think it was Peter Gowan, in a May 28, 2020 article in Jacobin Magazine who perhaps put it best:
If you care about looting, turn your eyes to the militaries, the police, the pharmaceutical companies, the private equity ghouls, the landlords, the real estate speculators, and the billionaires. And demand that a world once looted from the vast majority be now returned to them.
Rioters and looters should not be given a free pass, of course, and too many people in the Jacobin crowd would seem to do this. They destroy the neighborhoods of the very poor minorities that the protesters are championing. But I would ask: just who is the rest of the western world and America especially to condemn them? The looters are just doing what they've been told to by the society they live in, after all. Turn a crisis into an opportunity and take what you can get. Their methods are simply the methods that people without the capital or opportunity necessary to riot and loot legally on the trading floors of Wall Street must then turn to.

Little Grey Jail Cells for You and Me
Sorry to have to tell you this John Mellencamp, but the losers ARE a big deal. The people warning us to that effect were also no big deal back in the 1980s and 90s because surely we were all going to get rich and prosper in the dawning free market utopia taking shape back then. Perhaps they'll be a big deal now that our cities are burning to the ground due to deep and systemic injustices and antisocial political elements that our media and educational system created, and a pandemic ravaging our population that could have been much more easily contained by a viable national health care system.

I guess the smash-grab, I guess survival of the fittest and every man for himself weren't such good ideas after all. Who'd ever have guessed.

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