The Candy Wrapper in the Prison Yard

One single word.

The wrapper flutters around the yard like a butterfly

What’s in a word?

The word “socialism” broke into American politics in the past few years is like the red candy wrapper carried by the wind into the prison yard on Robin’s Island in South Africa in the 1970s. For the prisoners, the world was entirely gray until this swirling flash in the sunlight reminded everyone of the colors that were possible. A word or a candy wrapper can’t change anything.

What’s an idea worth?

Political philosophy is beautiful. You can make great arguments against inequality or the limits of the market or come up with an excellent way to tell if a government or corporation is stealing the natural resources that rightfully belong to a nation, but to put it bluntly, the people running things don’t give a shit what you say or how well you say it. The only way the intertwined complex of media, education, military, technology, finance, government, law, and manufacturing is going to change in any way other than appearance is by force.

Any force strong enough to make a systemic dent in the system of exploitation and destruction would be so strong as to likely lead to a serious conflict and unintended consequences, as the powers of the status quo own everything and will never bend at all no matter how necessary reform might be for the survival of the species and the planet.

The status quo made its position clear in 1792 when the Jacobins won the most democratic national election in the history of the world, or when socialists won election in Italy in the Po Valley after World War I, or in Chicago in 1894, or when Salvador Allende bent over backward to respect the constitutional order, or Bolivia in 2018: they don’t give a shit, they are not going to budge or compromise with the likes of you and you can write, protest or do your damn podcasts or whatever but at some point, the “fuck you” consensus will emerge in some board room or dinner party, and then that’s your ass. A pack of self-centered egomaniacs and psychopaths rise to the top of every system and suck the blood out of any society. Since you can’t have Rosa Luxemburg, you get Lenin. See? Now shut up. As John Brown said to Frederick Douglas, discussing politics and ethics seems pretty pointless.

Let’s say we agree that a societal goal would be to increase the quality of human life. We could argue about the “good life” forever. Or we could aim to allow people to develop quality relationships, spend time in nature, exercise, be healthy, reduce interference and control by “the man” in people’s lives, not worry about disasters and danger more than necessary, see beautiful stuff, eat good food, decrease competition for resources, learn, and not work too hard. There might be more to life than that, but a social order that achieves some of those incremental goals might be better than a social arrangement that achieves nothing on any of those fronts.

Nope. Sorry. Can’t do that.

How about human society become more in balance with nature? We could try to make sure animals stop going extinct and we leave some little crumbs for the birds and bees, maybe improve our own lives at the same time.

That’ll be a fat no.

We could reduce the power of the state and corporations to track and interfere in people’s lives, not put people in jail if we can avoid it, ease up on the police state, and let people breathe.

I think not.

We could support local economies instead of running rough shot over everything and making the world into a giant Wallmart versus Amazon concreted hell hole. We could, potentially, stop reality TV hosts and suave players who manage to win elections from having the power to kill people anywhere, anytime with no judicial oversight. We could undo hundreds of years of injustice and share stolen wealth back with the communities who were robbed.

Nope. Fight me.

There are so many things we could do. If you know what kind of world you want, the steps to get there are easier to see. If we didn’t have a status quo saying no to everything, we could find the way forward. The steps are right there in front of us. Get rid of the ideological propaganda that pretends the market is natural or inevitable, and just make the world you want.

Naw, that sounds unsettling. What if it goes wrong? We’d be better off letting maniacs run the entire planet into the ground than experiment with new possibilities. I heard that on the news or in school. Or in a movie. Or in every movie and every TV show. And in every algorithm thread.

Would it be hard to achieve a more equitable, meaningful society in harmony with nature? Actually, no. It’s not hard, except for the status quo. We could do it, except they say no. That’s the only thing stopping us. Prove it? Sure. Just drop the propaganda and look around.

They will stop progress all the way to the miserable apocalyptic end and never change without a fight. Rich, satisfied, and pompous, they don’t listen to ideas or reason. They never have.

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