THE REVERSE POWELL MEMO
In the 30s, lefty politicians like Huey Long got popular, because Lefties of all walks of life had big ideas they could rally around (socialism! Populism!!) , and that solidarity allowed them to put pressure on mainstream politicians and demand substantial changes : FDR had the New Deal, and LBJ had the Great Society, and even Nixon started the Environmental Protection Agency , started Earth Day, and strengthened welfare.
And then to fight back, the big-business types circulated the Powell Memo. They didn’t have the numbers, but they had their own, big, unifying idea they could all rally round. (neoliberalism! Deregulation!).
But ever since Reagan got elected in 1980, liberals have been playing defense, trying to preserve the shreds and tatters of government programs while conservatives – on the other hand – keep moving the goal posts more to the right. The conservatives keep dreaming bigger and bigger, they’re demanding things that would have been political suicide even in Reagan’s time.
Sure, the Right is better funded and organized, but maybe the main problem with the Left is BEING ON THE DEFENSIVE IS NO FUCKING FUN. It’s hard to get motivated to march for SLIGHTLY LESS SHITTY! Or to demonstrate for COULD YOU CUT THE FUNDING A LITTLE LESS THAN YOU WERE PLANNING TO CUT THE FUNDING? It’s hard to organize a huge door-to-door campaign to raise awareness of MAYBE YOUR POVERTY IS NOT 100% YOUR FAULT FOR SHITTY DECISIONS YOU MADE. It’s hard to get people to volunteer their time and money for TRY TO RAPE SLIGHTLY LESS THAN 28,000 OF OUR OWN DAMN SOLDIERS THIS YEAR.
Frustrated 99-percenter types of today lack the unifying big ideas AND the money of the Old Left and Big Business. But what if there was a way to turn tour disorganization into an advantage?
What we lack in big, unifying ideas, we can make up for that in sheer numbers of daffy, unique, individual UTOPIAS. I’m talking about how a “homebrew utopia movement” should become A Real Thing. As much as I gripe about it, The internet is actually a huge help in this : just look at how many insane or stupid ideas not only get famous but spontaneously create communities, where people who (pre ‘net) would have persued their hobby in shameful solitude, actually compete with one another to see who can get the most far-out with it!
A “homebrew utopia” movement – where everyday people dream up alternative societies the same way they now write fan-fiction, youtube diaries, fantasy-football – could be like a giant game where people compete to see how many of our society’s unspoken assumptions they can discover, expose to the light of day . .. and then think of alternative societies based on DIFFERENT assumptions. Put another way, how many sacred cows they can fillet!
HOMEBREW UTOPIA MOVEMENT
The point is: overwhelm fuckers with diversity. I’m not seriously saying one single utopia will become a huge movement (which itself is a way-too-utopian plan!) . My plan calls for SUCCESS THROUGH FAILURE. Let me show you how:
The more different utopias people come up with, the smaller and blander it makes the dem-repub consensus look: “Oh you think Obama is crazy? Well get a load of THIS guy!”
Even if people don’t agree with any given utopia (by their very extreme all-encompassing nature, utopias are pretty hard sell to begin with!) . . .it’ll get people off the defensive and onto the offensive.
It’ll also get regular people to realize “Hey, did you see that jackass on the internet with his crazy commie/nazi/feminazi/asexaual/extraterrestrial fantasy? That utopia is ridiculous because it goes against this basic assumption of society . . .hey! I never realized we were all making that assumption. Which means even though THAT utopia was bullshit, means there must be OTHER assumptions, other ways to do a society. Hmm, maybe I should do my OWN utopia just for fun!”
Like I said, the Overwhelm With Diversity works to the advantage of a populace without money, political power, or a coherent ideology:
It costs nothing to threaten the Man’s assumptions of how society should be run, and cops can’t stop it, since it runs totally outside the definition of “protest”. If you can’t overthrow the System, overthrow the assumptions that legitimate the system!
GO ON THE OFFENSIVE IN THE WAR OF IDEAS.
Get your utopia on! Don’t worry about if it’s politically feasible or if it would even work if you could implement it. Just get thousands of ideas out there, listen to other peoples’ ideas.
The irrationality is actually a PLUS. It’s one of the few good ideas the hippies had: if you’re fighting a system of rigid bureaucracy, efficiency, robotic rationality and soul-killing tradition, fight back with surrealism and irrationality.
The point is not that any one crazy idea will save us – the point is to destroy the decades-long and well-coordinated-at-all-levels-of-media-government-and-business PR campaign to convince us that wall-street casino capitalism, and race-to-the-bottom globalism is the only possible way to run an economy.
The point is to teach us how to go hog-wild, rather than to beg for a slight increase in funding for some social program which has been cut by 90%.
The point is to go on the offense again.
The point is to re-start our collective imaginations, which have been beat to shit, not by mind-numbing TV, not even by the internet, but our imaginations got beat to shit by decades of sullen grumbling about right-wingers’ steady progress. By decades of allowing the other side to dictate the terms of the battle.
(also remember: at the height of the liberal, big-government, help-the-poor and regulate-the-polluters ‘70s, all the Powell Memo ideas must have seemed totally un-doable, impractical, or downright silly. But now those ideas are basically the norm.)
Put the burden of proof on The Man to explain why the economy SHOULD grow, why banks SHOULD be allowed to make money, why people SHOULD work longer hours even though machines allow one worker to do the productivity of ten workers, (and even though since the 60s the worker has not been paid in proportion to her rising productivity!)
THE MOST POWERFUL IMPEDIMENTS TO CHANGE ARE BELIEFS THAT WE DON’T EVEN REALIZE THAT WE HAVE
We have big disagreements in politics – but only about stuff that one faction dislikes. But what about the 90% of stuff that both factions like? What about all the assumptions that are so ingrained, people don’t even see them, like how fish don’t know what water is?
For instance, the assumption that “economies must always grow bigger and bigger, every year, forever,” seems obviously wrong now – the planet has finite resources, duh! But back in the 50s, even bitter enemies like the US and the USSR were in agreement about the inevitability of infinite growth (think of all those Great Leaps Forward!). To be precise, they were BEYOND agreeing – It was so obvious it didn’t need to even be articulated, (you have to articulate something for anyone to agree with it)
Anyway, it goes to show how quickly such bedrock assumptions can turn into obvious falsehoods. All it takes is saying it out loud. “everyone can make more of everything every year without ever running out of raw materials or energy!” derrrrrppppp. The hard part is actually realizing that there IS an assumption!
So to retun to my theme: If making completely unreasonable, illogical utopias became a popular hobby, if nothing else, it would be like crowd-sourcing the exposure of unspoken assumptions that we have. And exposing those assumptions is ESSENTIAL to starting to have reasonable, logical conversations of how to fix society.
In fact, some contemporary wackos, like anarchist David Graeber or Archdruid John Michael Greer, are doing just that! Instead of doing regular utopias (where you start out by imagining a fully formed future society), people like Graeber and Greer start by REMOVING one central unspoken assumption of our society, and then try to imagine how society would change if people all stopped assuming that thing.
For instance: what would an economic system look like where the “value” of things, services, and people was based on how much they helped other people, rather than on how much money they made?
What would a society look like where there was no oil left, no coal left, and . . . (dun dun dun) without oil or coal, you couldn’t have the energy to construct a world-wide replacement network of solar/wind/ocean-power plants? In other words, what would a society look like if every small village had to make its own power and replace everything it took out of the ecosystem?
What would a society look like if there was no concept of “debt”?
What would a democracy look like, if the concept of “majority vote” was applied in the workplace, every day, instead of in a polling booth, once every 2 years?
And so on. Most utopias have been based on an end point. This new breed of sort-of-utopias is based on a starting point: taking today’s real world, then tweaking one central thing, and imagining how things would unfold. However, despite exposing some unspoken assumptions of our civiliazation, none of these modern sort-of-utopias that I’VE ever read come close to actually fleshing out the answer in any detail. I don’t know if that’s because a) it’s really hard, or b) it’s really hard for someone (even an anarchist) who has been born and raised in 20th century monopoly capitalism to even contemplate?