My thoughts about culture and our present conditions. As Dianne Moore says in Learning to Love a Wounded World, "This requires a willingness to feel everything…. the horror and the beauty of what is here…. the fear and the Love.”

Real Change is Often Much More Than a Slogan

Change one can believe in and change that is real are two very different things.  –Anonymous

I am always heartened when I see someone trying to raise this issue. It’s
one of those conceptual paradigm shift problems, though, and it’s going
to take an engaged debate to get anywhere, not just a few comments and
quotes scattered hither and yon.

When someone can actually make the shift to a different paradigm,
suddenly the world looks completely different. Thomas Kuhn discussed
the history of those shifts that took place in science, and we have
some famous examples of how the threat of a shift was received by the
status quo, beginning with figures like Copernicus who we can recall
played a major role in what we are taught in our little dogmatic
textbooks in grade school was the great scientific revolution that
brought us out of the darkness and into the light. Copernicus helped to
shift the paradigm of the times that the earth was the center of the
universe.

The problem of revolution itself is cyclical, systemic, and structured into our very thinking processes,
however. We aren’t generally informed about that part because most of
what we are being taught is not how to stay in the light, but how to go
back and hide our heads in the darkness of received wisdom, which we
regurgitate obediently on tests, and live out obediently in life as
mostly managed beings. But even if we were informed, that wouldn’t be
nearly enough, each one of us must also raise the questions that rock
our views of the way the world is structured.

Unfortunately what they don’t tend to tell kids, especially now that
they are so busy teaching them to pass the national exams so they don’t
get left behind, is the revolutions have to keep occurring over and
over, because humans have a tendency to recreate a "center of the
universe" mental paradigm in all sorts of ways, including politics. As
Thomas Kuhn noticed in his monograph, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,
those who haven’t made the shift in their mental framework from the
flat earth to displacing earth from the center of the universe in our
now commonly accepted heliocentric cosmology don’t "hear" what the ones
who have made such a shift are saying about the new model. Getting
people to learn to shift their framework of thought is not the same
kind of education as teaching them facts to regurgitate on tests. The
ideas in a different paradigm don’t register when the mental framework
filters in only what someone has learned to hear. Paradigm shifting is
very heady stuff, revolutionary and usually controversial. The status
quo — be they the management or the managed — are resistant unless
they find something exciting about change itself. But real change can
be excruciatingly threatening.

The notion that this system of management we find everywhere (though
almost nobody really thinks of it as that), with a vast global system
of nation states, each with a centralized political system that
operates on the military command, hierarchical model of a corporation,
is the only way it can be now — is in fact "democracy" — is the real
problem you and your sources question. But I fear that a "Tweedle dee,
Tweedle dum" description of the two parties that hog the national stage is not stimulating the acquiescent mind to ask
the necessary questions. It evokes a Saturday morning television
caricatures for children in front of a television set, not a model of how the programmed minds arguing over the
pros and cons of the details of the latest corporate bailout, or a
centralized national stimulus package, see a binary model of warring
Republicans and Democrats struggling over our fate.

I find this perhaps the least instructive of this problem when I read quotes people like to use about change:

 "People
of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than
surrender any material part of their advantage" – John Kenneth
Gailbraith.

The reason I say that is because the "privileged" are not the only
element of the problem. The concept "hegemony" also includes the
accepting minds of the managed. Wolin’s inverted totalitarianism is not
just about the privileged holding on to their advantage, it is about
the minds of the ordinary citizen being unwilling to question the
structure of that advantage and how they participate in their own management. Even argue vehemently and rationally for its continuance.

Wolin is a political theorist whose political theorizing throughout his
life represents a paradigm shift that those who are struggling to
create new political visions, like the Green Party’s vision that
includes a restructuring of how we view the environment, are only
beginning to appreciate. That’s often the way of paradigm shifting
ideas. His own student, Chalmers Johnson didn’t get it back in the late
fifties when he was in grad school, and only now, in his seventies, has
he finally begun to appreciate what his teacher was trying to tell him,
and the result has been a shift of his own that produced his recent
trilogy. Your link to Johnson’s review of Wolin’s book, Democracy, Inc.,
gives a hint of that. I highly recommend the following paper for anyone
who wants to work on re-visioning politics (and the way society would
be structured for a different politics) in light of the vast systemic
disruption we seem to be facing at the moment.

Greening Sheldon Wolin: Limits and Vision, or Environmental Political Theory as a Vocation

Abstract:

This paper stages an encounter between Sheldon Wolin’s democratic
political theory and theorizations of environmental politics or “green
theory.” Environmental issues do not figure prominently in Wolin’s
work, nor has Wolin been seriously taken up by environmental thinkers.
There are, however, suggestive parallels between the two, as well as
ways in which the theorizations of each could be enriched by the other.
Wolin’s recent revision of Politics and Vision concludes by emphasizing
small scale community and “the value of limits” as democratic
counterpoints to “Superpower” and “inverted totalitarianism,”
presenting highly suggestive resonances with earlier environmentalist
critiques of industrial society. In the environmental field,
considerable critical thought has been brought to bear on the concepts
of limits and scale, which might be fruitfully brought into Wolin’s
democratic theory. On the other hand, the contemporary environmental
movement often sees the solution to environmental problems in either
technical (scientific or bureaucratic) changes, or in individual
ethical or spiritual transformation. In this context, I argue that
Wolin’s earlier work on the social role of political theorizing bears
revisiting, as environmental political theorists search for a role in a
movement that continues to struggle with its relationship to both
politics and theory.

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