Aug 17, 2007

Is Another World Possible?

Common Dreams has the full speech by Naomi Klein, made at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York this past weekend.

Lost Worlds: Is Another World Possible?

The real problem, I want to argue today, is confidence, our confidence, the confidence of people who gather at events like this under the banner of building another world, a kinder more sustainable world. I think we lack the strength of our convictions, the guts to back up our ideas with enough muscle to scare our elites. We are missing movement power. That’s what we’re missing. “The best lacked all convictions,” Yeats wrote, “while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Think about it. Do you want to tackle climate change as much as Dick Cheney wants Kazakhstan’s oil? Do you? Do you want universal healthcare as much as Paris Hilton wants to be the next new face of Estee Lauder? If not, why not? What is wrong with us? Where is our passionate intensity?

What is at the root of our crisis of confidence? What drains us of our conviction at crucial moments when we are tested? At the root, I think it’s the notion that we have accepted, which is that our ideas have already been tried and found wanting. Part of what keeps us from building the alternatives that we deserve and long for and that the world needs so desperately, like a healthcare system that doesn’t sicken us when we see it portrayed on film, like the ability to rebuild New Orleans without treating a massive human tragedy like an opportunity for rapid profit-making for politically connected contractors, the right to have bridges that don’t collapse and subways that don’t flood when it rains. I think that what lies at the root of that lack of confidence is that we’re told over and over again that progressive ideas have already been tried and failed. We hear it so much that we accepted it. So our alternatives are posed tentatively, almost apologetically. “Is another world possible?” we ask.

* * *

So democracy wasn’t an abstract idea. It wasn’t just “We want to vote.” It was, “We want to control this transition. We want to have a say in it.” It was a direct challenge to the Fukuyama formulation, which, by the way, was made that same year: the idea that you would have these two streams and that they wouldn’t intersect.

I just want to read one other thing, which is another one of these paths not taken, because we know how that one ended in Tiananmen Square: that dream was crushed. Another historic moment of possibility, when we look back on our recent history, was 1994, when the ANC government won landslide elections in South Africa. That was a victory for people power. That was one of the most hopeful days that I can remember.

I think we should remember what South Africans thought they were voting for in those historic elections. You know, it was just portrayed as something very simple: it was an end to apartheid. But what did an end to apartheid mean to South Africans? And we can get an answer from that actually from Nelson Mandela, who wrote a little note two weeks before he was released from prison. And he wrote this note because there was a growing concern that he had been in prison so long that he had forgotten the promise of liberation, which was not just to have elections, but to change the economy of the country and redistribute the wealth. And Mandela was under so much pressure that he had to release this very short statement just to clarify this point. And what he said was, “The nationalization of the mines, banks and monopoly industry is the policy of the ANC and a change or modification of our views in this regard is inconceivable in our situation. State control of certain sectors of the economy is unavoidable.” And this was a reiteration of South Africa’s Freedom Charter, which is the platform of the ANC, which calls for the national wealth of South Africa, the heritage of the country, to be restored for the people, the mineral wealth and so on.

Now, I say this because this was one of those worlds that wasn’t chosen, one of those paths that wasn’t chosen. And I spent the past four years pulling these stolen and betrayed alternatives out of the dustbin of our recent history, because I think it matters. I think it matters that we had ideas all along, that there were always alternatives to the free market. And we need to retell our own history and understand that history, and we have to have all the shocks and all the losses, the loss of lives, in that story, because history didn’t end. There were alternatives. They were chosen, and then they were stolen. They were stolen by military coups. They were stolen by massacres. They stolen by trickery, by deception. They were stolen by terror.

We who say we believe in this other world need to know that we are not losers. We did not lose the battle of ideas. We were not outsmarted, and we were not out-argued. We lost because we were crushed. Sometimes we were crushed by army tanks, and sometimes we were crushed by think tanks. And by think tanks, I mean the people who are paid to think by the makers of tanks. Now, most effective we have seen is when the army tanks and the think tanks team up. The quest to impose a single world market has casualties now in the millions, from Chile then to Iraq today. These blueprints for another world were crushed and disappeared because they are popular and because, when tried, they work. They’re popular because they have the power to give millions of people lives with dignity, with the basics guaranteed. They are dangerous because they put real limits on the rich, who respond accordingly. Understanding this history, understanding that we never lost the battle of ideas, that we only lost a series of dirty wars, is key to building the confidence that we lack, to igniting the passionate intensity that we need.

The whole speech is a vital read.


PoliShifter said...

Love this part:

"We lost because we were crushed. Sometimes we were crushed by army tanks, and sometimes we were crushed by think tanks. And by think tanks, I mean the people who are paid to think by the makers of tanks."

Dem-X said...

Vital is right. Thanks for posting this!

SadButTrue said...

Sometimes I think the most frustrating part of blogging is that you really only reach the people who are pretty well informed already, and mostly in agreement with you on what the problem is. But the really frustrating thing is that it isn't that hard to find people who agree that the situation is bad, even dire - but you still can't get most of them to DO anything about it. This is such a persistent phenomenon that I've accumulated quite a few quotes from people faced with the same problem over time.

"A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." -- Plato

"There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction." -- John F. Kennedy

"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." -- Martin Luther King

"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis." -- Dante Alighieri

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." -- Edmund Burke

"A society of sheep will in time beget a government of wolves." -- Bertrand de Juvenal

"When one is deprived of ones liberty, one is right in blaming not so much the man who puts the shackles on as the one who had the power to prevent him, but did not use it." -- Thucydides

"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." -- Edmund Burke

"You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other man's freedom." -- Clarence Darrow

"We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately." -- Benjamin Franklin

Take your pick, they all say essentially the same thing.

Fade said...

SBT- Thanks for those great quotes.

"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." -- Martin Luther King

That quote just rings in my head like church bells.