One thing I don’t do too often on this blog is tell people what to do. I may tell people what I do, and I certainly devote plenty of bandwidth to telling people how I think things ought to be done, but that is not the same thing. (I’m not saying I never do it — last year’s Boycott Petroleum post comes to mind, though really that was more about me saying how stupid I thought the whole “Boycott BP” effort was.) I’m sure some readers can find examples of me putting my bossy pants on, but in general I feel like there’s no shortage of people telling everyone else what to do these days, and I don’t need to be one of them.
But it’s clear that something does need to be done. Today I had another one of those patented conversations with My Conservative Friend — the kind where we always end up agreeing with each other. He said, “the world is a different place now. People need to just accept that. The way Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower did things won’t work anymore. Too much has changed, too much is broken.”
I tend to agree with that sentiment. Our politics is broken, our electoral system is broken, our economy is broken, our communities are fractured, our planet is dying. In this new landscape, how do we influence the policies which will guide this nation into the future and allow the people to live meaningful lives?
I have plenty of liberals telling me we need to boycott this or that, which I find ridiculous. Effective boycotts are rare, just ask the American Family Assn. I have my own personal boycotts of conscience, as I’m sure everyone does, but we’re far too fractured to muster the economic muscle needed to influence corporate policy, except in really rare circumstances.
Corporate power is increasingly centralized and captured in our governing institutions, which makes political solutions even more impossible. The same people who profit from our broken system are in charge of it. Countering the corporate behemoth seems near impossible these days, what with recent Supreme Court rulings giving the corporate class more power at the expense of the people. What to do?
I was recently reminded of the Eschaton concern troll who littered comment threads with disparaging remarks about useless liberal bloggers. We all needed to model ourselves after Gandhi and weave our own cloth, eat homemade tofu and live in a yurt, he said. He reminded me a lot of my recent commenter who said we all need to file complaints with the Better Business Bureau, FCC and the like. These are nice ideas but ultimately naive; if you want to spend your days churning your own butter or waiting on hold with the BBB to stick it to the man, more power to you. But the reality is, these are not viable solutions for effective change.
Last time I addressed this topic I concluded that real change occurs in the cultural front: books, art, music, film, etc. I still think this is true, but technology has allowed even this aspect of our life to fracture. Anyone can publish a book or produce a film and get it seen by the masses. What was once a centralized media and entertainment landscape is now wide open.
But if the fact that we’re a splintered nation is the problem, perhaps it’s also the solution. Perhaps there is an upside to entropy — the natural law that as something becomes more centralized, a countervailing force will splinter it into smaller pieces. I happen to believe this isn’t just a natural law, it’s a universal law which applies to everything.
I see entropy at work today. We’ve splintered into groups, organized ourselves into smaller communities, virtual and otherwise. Individuals have more control and are finding ways around the established roadblocks.
Last year I had a conversation with a Very Famous Person who is generally regarded as a “forward thinker” on a lot of this stuff. He told me he sees the utter collapse of industry as we know it and the emergence of a new industry, one that is driven by these smaller communities. New products that aren’t harmful to the health or the planet will be created by members of the community. He told me social connectivity is the game-changer. Yes, walls are being put up, but as fast as they do people build ladders around them.
And I see this happening around me in a hundred different ways. We homeschool our kids, we buy food at the farmer’s market, we have 500 different channels to watch on TV instead of 10, we get our news from blogs and Tweets not just the corporate fish-wrap and Villagers in Washington. We’re starting down the path of decentralization, it’s only just begun but a profound societal shift has been put in motion.
And there will be a downside, we may feel less connected to our physical communities and more connected to our virtual ones. But there’s also an upside. The people are getting their power back and we will find a way around those walls.
I know this is a rather dense topic to lay on everyone on a Thursday afternoon. I don’t have any answers, just lots of ideas.