FOR THE RECORD
by J. Palombo
Over the past ten years I’ve been the Politics Editor for Ragazine, writing articles on a wide range of political, economic and social issues. An important theme running through many of the pieces, fueled by my four decades of experience with our American experiment, reflects a constant worry – that the U.S. citizenry lacks an understanding of the country’s capitalist identity, particularly in regard to its corresponding link to democracy. Among other things this “civic shortcoming” has hampered the public’s ability to: legitimately grasp national and international policies; accurately distinguish liberal, conservative and alternative party platforms (and to adequately understand other countries’ political frames); gain a full sense of the cultural instincts that have developed from our ideological character. It is an unhealthy situation, to say the least.
Along with articles pointed at this concern, I’ve also been referencing the situation to individuals, organizations, media sources and political players who have laid claim to being seriously concerned about the future of our country. In this context I’ve contacted a significant number of prominent academics, authors, civic and movement leaders, news and media journalists and presidential hopefuls. Additionally there have been classroom and public discussions and civic-education projects offered under the banner of the Campaign for an Informed Citizenry and its “truth to logic” objective. As I’ve stated on many occasions, it’s obvious that we live in the most advanced capitalist system in the world. And not to include capitalism as a major element when examining the country is much like not including the pitcher and catcher when examining the game of baseball. In either case the resulting analyses will be at best of limited value.
Despite my efforts and the “obviousness” supporting them, it’s disheartening to note that there really hasn’t been much action generated. I’ve invariably gotten a pat on the back accompanied by “best wishes” for something that definitely needs to be addressed, i.e. not a single person has stated that the concern is not warranted! Yet beyond this more actionable participation hasn’t materialized.
Of course there have been a number of possible reasons connected to why this “avoidance” continues to happen. In general there is the fear, tied to our “cold war” history, of getting misunderstood – will someone via their own ideological misunderstanding mistake me for a communist or socialist if I’m talking about capitalism? There is this fear’s close cousin, self preservation – I (or my agency) know that there are serious problems with the profit motive, but pushing that point too far is only asking for trouble! There is simple ignorance as to the various definitions of capitalism − I simply don’t understand how capitalism itself has anything to do with democracy. And there is the treachery of deception – what you don’t know can’t hurt you, nor injure me!
Whatever the case may be it’s important to note that each of these are based on outdated political models, policy frames and institutional paradigms that don’t match up with what is going on in the country. Said another way, the political dialogue, analyses, assumptions and strategies currently being offered simply don’t reflect reality. In this context, liberals, while ignoring the ideological confusion directly in front of them, continue to search for ways beyond single interest issues to attract voters to their platform. Conservatives maintain a reliance on the antiquated metrics of “jobs to success” amid a trickle down, corporate welfare approach in a world where these measures remain shrouded in doubt. The far left and far right speak to radical and reactionary thoughts that rely more on the sway of personal opinion than any legitimate ideological understanding. And alternative party positions suffer from trying to distinguish how they are substantively different from the others in play without clarifying how this is actually so.
In total, it’s not difficult to recognize that this disturbing state of affairs is attached to the fact that there is an on-going, unattended, civic-education gap – one couched within the context of our tangled capitalist and democracy character, one that first needs to be laid open before for the politics of today and the future can promise any real, long-term change. Particularly given the chaos and confusion of the day it seems an opportune time to clear the ideological air. Unfortunately, despite the anger, divisiveness and frustration being evidenced across the public spectrum, this is not happening.
Again, no matter the issue, be it race, gender, the environment, war-peace, crime, education, equality, freedom, justice or whatever, having an accurate picture of what our American experiment “is and isn’t” is a must. In this day and age it is not existential thinking to ask “who are we” or “what kind of country do we want to be?” Nor is it out of the realm to consider whether we can realistically achieve our societal goals given the ideological behavior we’ve exhibited over time, including our actions related to empire building, consumption, individualism, social responsibility, and so forth. Put another way, can we, in “real time,” individually and collectively face-up to the enormous task of looking at ourselves as ourselves and make changes accordingly? Moreover, under what conditions might this form of collective self-analysis legitimately occur?
Any political effort that promises to better our future should be encouraging that these type questions be asked – and inspiring a corresponding look toward the answers. The country is plagued by pressing tensions and divided interests (just stop and listen) and a government that simply isn’t earning its keep (talk about taxation without representation). So a new social contract should be in the offing, one that includes a civic education process that delves into the historical struggle between our economic and social beings and one that, with all the ideological variables and definitions on the table, speaks to what extent profit and public good can co-exist.
There are viable and worthwhile ways to take steps in this direction. A prime example is the “symposium on civic education” project. This effort intends to bring together people from various positions and academic disciplines (business, government, public affairs and social service, entertainment, the media, etc.) who can, in a non-partisan fashion, sort through issues pertinent to the nature of our capitalist-democracy ideological frame. Sponsored by civic, political and education leaders this type gathering will not only draw attention to important civic concerns, but also provide a base from which a civic education-focused dialogue model can be formed and then implemented in a number of educational settings. The most important application of this model would be in university systems, in the context of one credit, civic education seminars offered at each year of study. As these seminars would reference economic, political and social concerns facing the country, the resulting exchanges with students would help ensure that a better informed citizenry is in our midst. And as the model is honed (including research done on its effectiveness) it should be that it gets replicated in the secondary and adult education processes, as well.
At this juncture I’m certainly hopeful that projects like the “symposium on civic-education” be realized, and that we move beyond the point where we currently are. To stay stuck in place should only remind us of the Orwellian state of “doublethink: to know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancel out, knowing both to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it.”
Without question, it would be a shame to let this situation continue. For my part, armed with what should be, by mere logic, on the public discussion table, I’ll continue to try to affect our course of action. Even with my prior experiences, I’m confident we have the ability to get to a better understanding of our collective identity. And I’m now clearly on record for where I stand in this regard.
Quote: George Orwell, 1984, Harcourt Brace
Website link and related articles The Campaign for an Informed Citizenry – www.cicrog.com – (Also available via Ragazine.cc, Politics archive link.)
PRIMER FOR PRIMARIES – using crime as the social issue to help detail ideological concerns.
OCCUPY WALL STREET – referencing the necessary elements of contemporary movements.
QUIZAS – encouraging student driven, ideologically based, international seminars.
About the author:
Jim Palombo, Politics Editor. James Palombo’s work focuses on issues related to social, political and economic concerns in the U.S. and abroad. He is the author of several books, the most prominant being his autobiographical discourse, “Criminal to Critic-Reflections Amid The American Experiment,” Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. The book chronicles his experiences from drug dealer and convict to social worker, professor, world traveler and public policy advocate. While continuing to travel he divides his time mainly between Endicott, New York, and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.