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Against the Grain with Sasha Lilley - September 3, 2014 at 12:00pm

Against the Grain, for September 3, 2014 - 12:00pm

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Against the Grain with Sasha Lilley

Richard Swift considers alternatives to capitalism, from state socialism to anarchism, social democracy to degrowth.

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September 3, 2014, edition of

September 3, 2014, edition of Against the Grain with Sasha Lilley, guest Richard Swift: “alternatives to capitalism – from state socialism to anarchism, social democracy to de-growth”

“Gate-guarded communities” is the only mention that indicates Richard Swift’s grasp of a critical element in our problems. But what I never heard underneath all of the talk of socialism, capitalism, anarchism – is people, people working together. He speaks of government, the state, the system as if these are separate and distinct, abstracts – not entities peopled by people. Bad or good, corrupt or not, and all points and shades in between, there are faces, people doing the systems, governments, states and municipalities, etc. And these people, individuals, not unlike indeed including your guest see others as “those” others – usually inferior others. When someone says, “We need to have” jobs or a living wage or shelter “for ‘them’,” even if “them” is implied, the speaker is placing himself, usually a “himself,” above or more powerful, better off – and likely feeling “entitled” as the “natural order of things” to be more, higher, better than those others. Thus “gated” and “guarded.”

Your guest says “we” should “give” power to other people. “Noblesse oblige” was the old left or old liberal mantra of an earlier era – the obligation of those of “high birth”; “egalitarianism” for the “lesser,” who are created and sustained as, e.g., “the poor” because the “high born” are taking far more than their fair share. This is evidenced also in U.S. foreign relations model when U.S. officials bomb undeveloped and underdeveloped countries and rush in “humanitarianism” to bomb them some more.

Richard Swift talks about “going back to”. If some of us went back to, we’d be slaves or fugitives. In his selective-brained nostalgia, he fails to sense the import either of U.S./North American history or current conditions right across Africa, parts of the Middle East, Southwest Asia where people cannot begin to speak in narrow terms of “growth” (multinational corporations and western governments send people cellular phones instead of sanitation systems and clean running water). Economic systems and concepts such as “growth,” systems of governance such as “democracy”, and even ideological spectrums are entirely too subjective for one-dimensional concepts or simple solutions. Yet there is a fundamental connectedness among peoples and systems.

And this is the critical idea that is overlooked: the very opposite of “gated” and “guarded” begins with roundtables. Liberals and leftists and anarchists and feminists have never risen to nor plumbed the depths of this idea. Perhaps heading the table is more ego-stroking than rounding it.

The idea of roundtable, a leveler, means all are equal, speak as equals, coming together for the public good, equally contributing out of their difference, whatever the difference. Like the “human being”, like “America”; like representative government laid out in our historic documents, there is embedded “potential”, a “whispered promise” which can be realized in the continuous, progressive effort of one after another generation. We have never given serious and sustained effort to the “promise” in and our responsibility to make progress (evolve, add to, move forward) toward the constitutional mandate of forming “a more perfect Union.”

As is true of many programs of this sort, the underlying motive is to push an author’s latest product, I understand that; but in doing so, the listener really gets a singular idea or perspective and misses what is really essential: the richness of fuller knowledge made possible by the roundtable, interacting varieties of ideas and angles for public good. Though interesting for intellectualizing (and, to be fair, more than this given time restrictions), there is a prior issue that is more critical than economic systems or systems of governance; and though there are elements of the past that must be conserved (ignorance of the past clouds present perception and future vision and dooms a people to repeat the worst of the past), going back is never progress. Neither is going left or right. Progress is reflectively, consciously ferreting out the constructive good, adding to it, pushing it, evolving toward the highest potential, realizing that whispered promise.

Carolyn LaDelle Bennett
Western New York

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