Thinking Outside the Box and Beyond Next Week

by Lorna Salzman

In this year of 2003, there have been several postings about the Bush plan to expand the American empire. None of this should come as a surprise since virtually the entirety of recent American history - including the presidencies of Republicans and Democrats alike - has been formulated with imperial designs in mind, to one degree or another, whether military, economic or political.

What has thrown many Americans off balance, or allowed them to remain indifferent, is a fact that Chomsky and others have observed: that Americans have enjoyed a degree of personal, political, cultural and economic freedom undreamed of in the rest of the world. This, together with unspeakable (and unsustainable) material affluence, has contributed to the feeling that somehow, at the end of the day, these freedoms and the democracy we take for granted will continue unabated and unabridged. We now see that this is wrong.

Capitalism, bureaucracy and industrialism originally made a tacit deal with Americans: we will allow you these freedoms and material benefits in exchange for your averting your gaze when we slaughter peasants in Central America or buy oil from primitive patriarchs who enslave women or destroy the jungle homelands of indigenous peoples. All of us bought into this deal. Well, most of us anyway, and those who didnt were few in number.

But those who originally proposed the deal are now reneging...and this may be their undoing. Our president, shored up by our flabby fearful congress, is now making a serious miscalculation in trying to enact legislation that will curtail and in some cases eliminate the freedoms and benefits which we were originally promised. If this does not lead to revolution in the streets, schools and corporations, then we all deserve what we get.

We are all asking ourselves lots of questions now, but some key questions will not be posed, because they deflect, to a certain degree, attention and blame away from the criminals in government, military and corporations, and back on to ourselves and our movements. But no meaningful answers or solutions will be found unless we honestly confront where we - the progressive movements of peace, women, labor, minorities, Greens, environmentalists, civil liberties, religion - have either failed or been grievously inadequate and off the mark.

Whether we can come together and embed our personal grievances in a coherent and comprehensive analysis and program - shedding our defensiveness and egos in the process, shedding a priori ancient ideologies, shunning Identity Politics, in the interest of cooperation -- that will confront the imminent fascism creeping all around us will determine the future of this country and possibly all of western civilization.

If some hackles are raised at my use of the phrase "western civilization", then I am prepared to defend myself. The fact is that it has been secular democracies, not monarchies, religious states, socialism, or post-tribal African nations, that have accommodated and reinforced the best aspects of The Enlightenment, and thus of our present characterizations of basic human freedoms, liberties and rights. The eruption on a vast scale of religious, ethnic and tribal animosities and violence in all parts of the world except in the US, western Europe and Canada is striking and undeniable.

This is not intended to be a defense of the vast injustices and inequities that remain. Nor is it intended to denigrate or ignore the values by which many indigenous and tribal peoples live, and from whom we can learn. Nor does it ignore the environmentally destructive concepts of economic growth and development offered by traditional corporate global models. It is intended, however, to be an illustration of my contention that only under secular democracy - with full separation of church and state - can any kind of social progress be achieved.

It is for this reason that the twin demons of fundamentalist Christianity in the US and fundamentalist Islam conspire against the very foundations of freedom and democracy. Yet many progressives and leftists in the US still refuse to acknowledge these two sides of the same coin of repression, enslavement and injustice. Simultaneously they refuse to acknowledge that only under secular society can the rights of women be guaranteed and protected. These two issues - fundamentalist religion and feminism - are the two major issues that the American Left and progressive movements studiously ignore (added to their deliberate ecological ignorance and apathy).

At this point, we need to ask ourselves those tough questions I referred to earlier. My questions are by no means a complete list; they come from one person and that person's experience. But I am sure many of you are giving thought to just how we can come together at this most dangerous point in history to protect and preserve not just our personal status, demands and aspirations, but to protect and preserve those conditions and institutions and values that benefit - or should benefit - all of us regardless of our class, race, ethnicity, etc.

Why have progressives and the American Left and Left Greens studiously ignored these three things: the need to promote secular democracy; defend women's rights everywhere; defend Nature?

Why have we failed to develop a coherent analysis and comprehensive program/movement to confront the loss of those institutions and values provided by the Enlightenment and protected by secular democracy?

Why have non-Green liberals and progressives been blind to the Republicrat conspiracy?

Why have minority communities and movements failed to connect their needs and demands to an understanding of the need for drastic systemic change rather than incremental reforms?

Why have these communities focused on racial politics and the ineffable goal of "ending racism" rather than on ending institutional discrimination?

Why have the progressive and Green communities allowed themselves to be tricked into Identity Politics, which undercuts unified action and objectives and creates unbridgeable social divides?

Why do we lack, for the most part, credible, intellectual articulate public discourse and leadership? ( Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader excepted)?

Why do Greens think that running celebrities for public office is the best answer to corrupt government?

Why do Leftists still promote a 19th century philosophy/dogma that sees changes in economic relations and redistribution of wealth as the answer to all our problems?

Why have many Greens and Leftists failed to recognize the radical character of environmentalism and its capacity to change the whole direction of society?

Why do so many "good souls" still vote for the Democrats?

Why has the US peace movement failed again?

Why arent environmentalists joining the Green Party?

Why are Greens preaching to the converted?

Why are the animal rights and vegetarian and New Age movements so far off the mark?

Why are there no required environmental studies courses in most public institutions?

Why are environmentalism and ecology utterly lacking in American public intellectual discourse - in both print and other media ? (On the centrist "Left" The Nation is the most egregious of all in this respect).

Why did the US Left use 9/11 as an excuse to bash America?

Why are the US left and progressives not pushing hard for a REAL war on REAL terrorism? Why do they not take it seriously?

Why are so many people concerned about the civil rights of Moslems but ignore the fact that Moslems, abroad and in this country, continue to oppress and discriminate against women, have shown no sign of abiding by the conventions and principles of secular democracy, and have been almost silent on terrorism?

How long will it be before we try to come up with some answers?

© 2002 Lorna Salzman. All rights reserved. Material may be quoted with permission.