I have stated it before and will go on saying it–evil is easy, while good is incredibly difficult.
Nowhere are these truths more obvious than in the way in which neoliberalism has hollowed out our republican method of governance.
Just as an example, the rich, through the use of think-tanks in order to intellectually propagandize have sold the public a bill of goods on how taxation is theft, reducing their taxes dramatically in the process. However, there is a vital reason to tax the rich besides funding government services. The idea behind civic republicanism, which has been deliberately obfuscated, is that taxation is a means to prevent the rise of oligarchs. In a republic, citizens can be rich. But being ungovernably rich is a dire threat to the republic, as we can observe in our own milieu.
Then there’s the parallel tactic–the way in which neoliberal ideologues have defunded government over the last half century then turned around and ran against government dysfunction. It’s worked like a charm. Government has been degraded at every level while services have been privatized. In the process, our civic culture has coarsened while everything has gotten way more expensive.
Like I said–evil is dead easy.
Probably the main way in which this happened historically was when movement conservatives, like Murray Rothbard, deployed race as a cultural wedge issue in order to fracture the New Deal consensus. The Civil Right Act, the Federal attempt to integrate housing and busing, as a way to ameliorate segregated schools, were all attacked by white racism and supremacy as a means to animate their monopoly-tolerant, union-busting economic policy agenda.
Professor emeritus of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, Adolf Reed Jr. makes some excellent points about how this process has unfolded.
“The cycle of strategic pillaging of public goods that produced the Katrina disaster is by now well documented: Free-market ideologues neglect the public welfare for decades; they then privatize and starve out funding for public goods and services; and finally point to the resulting shortfalls in public-sector performance created by their handiwork as a rationale for cutting funding and neglecting these critical services and infrastructures even more…. The yearlong-and-counting Covid catastrophe bears similarly painful witness to the entirely predictable results of four decades’ worth of leaders blatantly and cynically discrediting government while also hollowing out the country’s social and physical infrastructure—very much including the anemic public health systems that prolonged and worsened the pandemic’s course…. The orchestrated mass forgetting of the idea of the public good reinforces the broader suspicion of government as a knee-jerk principle. And this distrust in turn ratchets up rampant vulnerability to the frighteningly solipsistic—if not nihilistic—notion of “rights” as unqualified individual entitlement expressed in anti-masking propaganda and gun rights absolutism. The long-running atrophy of the public good as a framework for governance also creates an enormous opening for malevolent conspiracy theories that at least offer internally consistent accounts of the sources of people’s anxieties and concerns and promise to resolve them—even if through a mass purge of the political opposition or an apocalyptic reckoning. That, indeed, is the big punch line here. The neoliberal regime of intensifying economic inequality may be exhausting its capacities—in this country and elsewhere—for delivering sufficient benefits to enough of the population to sustain a nominally democratic order.”
I saw a billboard the other day that got me thinking about how there’s even a political/economy of evil. It depicted a young African-American girl and extorted the value of Head Start as a way in which to make our society better. A noble sentiment but good rather than evil. However, the reality far too often is that instead of early education the young girl is shunted onto the prison pipeline. Now she becomes fodder for the prison/industrial/complex where working-class white men have job opportunities after their former manufacturing ones were off-shored to China. For the evil architects it’s win-win. Give these former factory workers employment while pitting blacks against whites like crabs in a bucket to preclude any sort of bi-racial class struggle.
Of course if we had a political party that actually believed in republican governance instead of one that played one on TV the present moment would be a marvelous opportunity to show that government can and should work for the American people. For the Democrats, stimulating the economy to create jobs building stuff would mean a better political environment in the 2022 and 2024 elections, while raising taxes on the rich and corporations that offshore jobs and profits would make it way more popular.
If we want a better world we need a way in which good can be a force-multiplier rather than evil. A good start would be to reimagine our early republican form of government. One of the great tragedies of American history is that we have allowed liberal capitalism to supplant civic republicanism as the primary driver of governance.
It is not until people are reintegrated into the society, not until corporate and oligarchic control over our educational, political and media systems are removed, not until we recover the ethic of the common good, that we have any hope of rebuilding the positive social bonds that foster a healthy society.
I have seen what can be done. My neighbor was elected to the school board where he’s become an advocate for poor and marginalized students and teachers. My other friend helps deliver food while his wife organizes to keep elderly pensioners in their homes.
It will not be easy. The most necessary organizing is difficult, unpaid, and largely unheralded. Working people are busy and tired and stressed out; why should they spend their free time doing something that will leave them even more drained as often as it energizes and restores them?
Unfortunately, we have no choice.
Update: That didn’t take long to find an example of my theory. It’s even more evil than I imagined.
“For example: “60% of Illinois’ prisoners are from Cook County (Chicago), yet 99% of them are counted outside the county.”
Pretty slick shit right? First you arrest predominantly Black people from large population centers that tend to vote Democrat. Next you cage them in more rural places where the prisons are thereby inflating that district’s raw representational power. Now areas who rely on prisons for jobs and power and wealth can have a leg up on passing legislation that will send more Black people into those same prisons in a massive feedback loop of disenfranchisement.”