The New Activism: An Uprising of the Soul

Sam Smith of the <i>Progressive Review</i> has written a powerful new book on the corporate state and how the public has been lulled into a false sense of powerlessness by a culture coopted by corporate interests.

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We have been writing this column for a couple of years now (Focus on the Corporation has appeared on the MoJo Wire since September 1999). Periodically, we’ll get a message from a reader that goes something like this:

“I’ve been reading your column for a while, but it’s all negative. You lay out the problems — problem after problem, week after week — but give no hint at a solution. It’s all so depressing.”

We and others can advocate more democracy until we turn blue in the face, but at some point, we must look carefully at the question of why, given the facts on the ground, there is no mass human revolt against the corporate control over our democracy.

We set out recently in search of solutions. And luckily for us, our first stop was the Washington, D.C. office of the Sam Smith. Smith is the editor of Progressive Review, and is a longtime small-d democrat.

Smith has written a new book, tentatively titled “Why Bother? Reasons for Doing and Being.” He’s searching for a publisher.

Smith says that during a meeting on a new journalistic enterprise in the 1980s, he realized that to a large degree, facts didn’t matter anymore. “I noticed that truth was no longer setting people free,” he writes, “it was only making them drowsy.”

We were in an age, as philosophy professor Rick Roderick put it, where everything once directly lived was being turned into a representation of itself.

So, Roderick argued, we watched Michael Jordan to remember what a life filled with physical exertion was about. Similarly, Smith says, we now watch C-SPAN, to remember what democracy was about.

As we were glued to the television set and computer screen, a culture of impunity took hold.

How does a culture of impunity differ from ordinary political corruption?

Ordinary political corruption represents the corruption of the culture. A culture of impunity becomes the culture.

“Such a culture does not announce itself,” writes Smith. “It creeps up, day by day, deal by deal, euphemism by euphemism. The intellectual achievement, technocratic pyrotechnics and calm rationality that serves as a patina for the culture of impunity can be dangerously misleading. In a culture of impunity, what replaces constitution, precedent, values, tradition, fairness, consensus, debate, and all that sort of arcane stuff? Mainly greed.”

Smith reminds us that the Italians, who invented the term ‘fascism,’ also called it estato corporativo — the corporatist state.

“Orwell rightly described fascism as being an extension of capitalism,” Smith writes. “It is an economy in which the government serves the interests of the oligopolies, a state in which large corporations have the powers that in a democracy devolve to the citizen.”

Is there any doubt that ours is a corporate state?

And it is our increased consciousness of the corporate state that has led us to deeper despair.

“To accept the full consequences of the degradation of the environment, the explosion of incarceration, the creeping militarization, the dismantling of democracy, the commodification of culture, the contempt for the real, the culture of impunity among the powerful and zero tolerance towards the weak, requires a courage that seems beyond us,” Smith writes. “We do not know how to look honestly at the wreckage without an overwhelming sense of surrender.”

In the face of this despair, Smith rejects the way of the reformer in the hope that a new activism will arise — the citizen who will seek the “hat trick of integrity, passion, and rebellion.”

“We need no more town meetings, no more expertise, no more public interest activists playing technocratic chess with government bureaucrats, no more changes in paragraph 324B of an ineffectual law, no more talking heads,” he writes.

Instead, we need an uprising of the soul, that spirit of which Aldous Huxley described as “irrelevant, irreverent, out of key with all that has gone before.”

Smith wants to see Huxley’s uprising of the soul. He’s asking us to begin to fundamentally question the corporate culture that has, step by step, unannounced, engulfed us — junk food pushers in the schools, tort deformers educating judges, oil companies cleaning up in public museums, big companies of all stripes taking over public interest groups — the list is endless.

The uprising of the soul will replace the reformer with the rebel, the negotiator with the defender of justice, the prevaricator with the honest citizen, the diplomat with the radical.

“We need to think the unthinkable even when the possible is undoable, the ideal is unimaginable, when power overwhelms truth, when compulsion replaces choice,” Smith writes. “We need to lift our eyes from the bottom lines to the hills, from the screen to the sky, from the adjacent to the hazy horizon.”

Why bother? Smith asks.

We have no other choice.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of “Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy.”


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