16 February 2012

Fear of the future: reactions left and right

Writing for the Albany Times Union, Karl Felsen considers the similarities between the Tea Party and Occupy movements. Both, in Felsen's opinion, are reactionary phenomena. The Occupiers see themselves, in his description, as "the future victims of our modern economy." They long for the safeguards of the 20th century regulatory state, most of which, Felsen writes, are gone for good in the age of globalization. By comparison, the Tea Partiers suffer from a sense of cultural loss. While Occupiers seem to fear for their standing as individuals in the future economy, TPs no longer recognize the society and culture around them as the one they knew or expected. As with the economy, however, Felsen writes that the culture has changed irreversibly. In their impotence against change, each group scapegoats an imagined oppressor, the "1%" for the Occupiers and the "government" or cultural elite for TPs. Felsen's moral is that each group dwells too much on the perceived injustices of the recent past to act as guides to the future. Because their grievances are selective, both groups miss "the important contributions and messages of true conservatives (smaller government, free enterprise, open markets, and protection of individual freedoms and liberties) and true liberals (regulated capitalism, a living wage, universal health care, progressive taxation, and protection of civil freedoms and liberties)." Each presumably falls back on its preferred ideology as if it could protect them against inevitable further change. They are, perhaps hopelessly, concerned more with "where we have been" than with "where we are going."

Neither group may recognize itself in Felsen's joint portrait. Occupiers certainly think of themselves as "progressive," while Tea Parties certainly believe they could make great progress, economically at least, if unconstrained by regulatory government or a Washington-Wall Street axis. But I suspect that Felsen is at least partially right in recognizing fear of the future at the heart of both movements -- and at the heart of each the fear is probably more similar than Felsen himself acknowledges. Tea Partiers may idealize the past in a way that Occupiers can't or won't, but very probably any individual TP is worried about whether there'll be a place for him in the future, just like the average Occupier. The important difference between the two movements remains that the Tea Parties want individuals to be allowed to find or make their own places, while the Occupiers are probably more concerned with making sure there's a place for everyone, and less concerned with whether "one size fits all" solutions cramp anybody's style. Nevertheless, people in both groups feel that someone is denying them a place in the future, not to mention a place in defining the future. If Felsen is right, then both groups resent that in the recent past leading up to the present, the "future" (that is, the way we live now) was determined without their consent. Whether either group has real cause for complaint depends on how much influence you think democratic will can or should have over history. But each group is driven by a sense of powerlessness in the face of some elite which each characterizes according to its particular fears or hatreds -- as greedy corporations or power-mad politicians. Neither group might fear the future, or change in general, if everyone had more say in shaping the future. Maybe some people wouldn't be so reactionary about everything if they felt empowered to participate in progress, or wouldn't seek refuge in an idealized past if they could actually contribute to the future rather than having it dictated to them. Agree with them or not, many Americans across the ideological spectrum feel that the future is being dictated by elites. If they could ever agree on enmity with a common elite, or trust each other to make the future together, years of protesting might actually amount to something.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future.