The decline of interest in the public interest

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Doug Woodard
The decline of interest in the public interest

For an example see:

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/feb/27/is-the-british-establishmen...

I posted this in "Canadian politics" rather than "international news" because I think that Canada is well down the same road though not as far, and this is a bigger interest for us. I think the reasons are:

1. the rise of neoliberalism and the degenerate state of economics with the domination of the neoclassical school of thought.

2. globalization, the loss of manufacturing industry  and its jobs and the driving down of Canadian wages.

3. the final and public collapse of Marxism-Leninism and the ostensible discrediting of all forms of "socialism" as well as of traditional conservatism and its replacement by Margaret Thatcher's school of thought, plus the conversion of China to a peculiar form of authoritarian capitalism. Among other things, "capitalism" doesn't have to worry about political competition any more.

Regarding (3) I recall a statement by Sir William Harcourt, a British Liberal of the 1890's, that "we are all socialists nowadays" by which I judge he meant that by his time almost everyone had come to think that the welfare of ordinary people was a fit subject of government concern. These days I have the impression that the right has moved from a claim that modern Anglo-American capitalism is the best type of economy for everyone, to a secretive kind of bastardized Nietzschean view that nobody matters except the rich and the managers; the modern "nobility and gentry."

I also get the impression that many fewer of the people who know how the economy works in practice are willing to acknowledge it and discuss it and criticize it with the public interest in mind.

All this seems to me to be worth discussing. Is anyone interested? 

Pondering

I'm interested in discussing it but I think the left over-complicates the issue. Neoliberalism did not win by convincing the masses that it was the way to go. They convinced the masses on individual points. That the poor and taxes were impoverishing them. The left played into it by focusing on the neediest and most downtrodden of society. 

So the left says, we must help the poor, the downtrodden.

The masses say, we want to be kind but taxes are already too high, we can't afford more, we are struggling ourselves, so votes right. 

The left doubles down on "but we must help those in need first, we must tackle racism and the rights of immigrants first." 

The masses say, no, I must help my children and family first. The needy come second. Immigrants come last. 

The left says "you greedy selfish racist capitalists" the right says "yes, first comes individual responsibility for the self and family."

Guess who wins. 

The right also learned how to use language: "A hand up not a hand out, people deserve to keep what they earn, right to work, job creators".

The left is above all that. They write manifestos and try to convert through education and appeal to people's sense of justice. 

progressive17 progressive17's picture

Using Cheka, Lenin turned the dictatorship of the proletariat into the dictatorship of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. If you say you are a Marxist-Leninist, you countenance autocracy and war. The people in most countries know that is a war they are going to lose.

The only hope we have is the rule of law and our ability to change it and enforce it. We can change the law through democracy, and if we are progressive we should campaign to extend democracy into more areas of the national life.
 

Ken Burch Ken Burch's picture

Pondering wrote:

I'm interested in discussing it but I think the left over-complicates the issue. Neoliberalism did not win by convincing the masses that it was the way to go. They convinced the masses on individual points. That the poor and taxes were impoverishing them. The left played into it by focusing on the neediest and most downtrodden of society. 

So the left says, we must help the poor, the downtrodden.

The masses say, we want to be kind but taxes are already too high, we can't afford more, we are struggling ourselves, so votes right. 

The left doubles down on "but we must help those in need first, we must tackle racism and the rights of immigrants first." 

The masses say, no, I must help my children and family first. The needy come second. Immigrants come last. 

The left says "you greedy selfish racist capitalists" the right says "yes, first comes individual responsibility for the self and family."

Guess who wins. 

The right also learned how to use language: "A hand up not a hand out, people deserve to keep what they earn, right to work, job creators".

The left is above all that. They write manifestos and try to convert through education and appeal to people's sense of justice. 

What are we supposed to do?  Pretend there can be a single, generic "common good"?  Pretend that greater degrees of suffering and oppression don't exist?  Go back to "one size fits all" when we know "one size fits all" can't ever work?

​There's no way to build a Left on appealing to people strictly as individuals.  To approach people strictly as individuals is to approach them on a level at which they can only be reactionary and selfish.  At some level, it needs to be about broader connections, and the recognition that there are wounds to be healed. 

Mr. Magoo Mr. Magoo's picture

Quote:
3. the final and public collapse of Marxism-Leninism and the ostensible discrediting of all forms of "socialism"

I don't know that all forms of "socialism" have, in fact, been discredited.  We still look to the so-called "social democracies" for guidance, seeing as they seem to have a lot of stuff figured out, to the evident benefit of their citizens.

Where it gets tricky is that this undeniably successful approach is neither a pure form of capitalism, nor a pure form of socialism.  So anyone who wants purity, on either side, is going to see a huge "sell out", of one form or another. 

I doubt if centrism, or compromise, or hybrid models have ever inspired anyone to light their torch, or march arm in arm, but since that seems to be an approach that actually works, it would be interesting to discuss.

Pondering

Ken Burch wrote:

What are we supposed to do?  Pretend there can be a single, generic "common good"?  Pretend that greater degrees of suffering and oppression don't exist?  Go back to "one size fits all" when we know "one size fits all" can't ever work?

​There's no way to build a Left on appealing to people strictly as individuals.  To approach people strictly as individuals is to approach them on a level at which they can only be reactionary and selfish.  At some level, it needs to be about broader connections, and the recognition that there are wounds to be healed. 

The purpose of political parties is to get elected. That's the goal. Parties have bases that tend to be more or less progressive socially and financially. The purpose of social movements is to advance causes through education and protest and pressuring government to respond. Governments/parties can promote a cause but only when the public is close to ready for it. When Trudeau first introduced his plan to legalize marijuana the majority of Canadians were against it. They supported only decriminalization. Trudeau correctly surmised that opposition was not strong so he would gain more by promoting it than what he might lose. Until government was convinced of that cannabis would not have been legalized no matter how many studies said it should be. 

It is up to activists/movements to gain public support. Once the public support exists then parties and governments can be pressured. 

The NDP is taking a more balanced approach to Palestine as an example. They can't go as far as activists want because the public support isn't there for it. They can't do anything at all for Palestine without getting elected. 

If the NDP goes all in on the The Leap Manifesto, title and all, support will shrink. Then they are more of a movement than a political party. 

I think the left wants the masses to be interested in politics and become educated in it. In my opinion that isn't going to happen. Ever. Nor does it need to. I don't need to understand neoliberalism or capitalism or financial markets. I just want to elect someone who does know about that stuff and does want to fix it in my favor. 

People are still interested in the public good. Medicare is the most popular program in Canada by far. Government has only been able to damage it through stealth. People would support pharmacare and dentacare if offered the choice. People also believe in equality of services so support clean water for reserves and equal funds for education. 

If the government instituted a school breakfast and lunch program for schools in less affluent neighbourhoods people would support it. 

But when they are voting, they want to know how they and their loved ones will do. That is assumed to depend on the economy first. 

Mr. Magoo Mr. Magoo's picture

Quote:
I think the left wants the masses to be interested in politics and become educated in it.

And then be prepared to debate them on it.

"Please tell us why you feel YOUR socialism is more true to Marx' words than MY socialism!"

Sean in Ottawa

Mr. Magoo wrote:

Quote:
I think the left wants the masses to be interested in politics and become educated in it.

And then be prepared to debate them on it.

"Please tell us why you feel YOUR socialism is more true to Marx' words than MY socialism!"

At the end of the day democracy -- in ideas as well as voting is very ugly. There are no better alternatives. This is just an example.

Ken Burch Ken Burch's picture

Pondering wrote:

Ken Burch wrote:

What are we supposed to do?  Pretend there can be a single, generic "common good"?  Pretend that greater degrees of suffering and oppression don't exist?  Go back to "one size fits all" when we know "one size fits all" can't ever work?

​There's no way to build a Left on appealing to people strictly as individuals.  To approach people strictly as individuals is to approach them on a level at which they can only be reactionary and selfish.  At some level, it needs to be about broader connections, and the recognition that there are wounds to be healed. 

The purpose of political parties is to get elected. That's the goal. Parties have bases that tend to be more or less progressive socially and financially. The purpose of social movements is to advance causes through education and protest and pressuring government to respond. Governments/parties can promote a cause but only when the public is close to ready for it. When Trudeau first introduced his plan to legalize marijuana the majority of Canadians were against it. They supported only decriminalization. Trudeau correctly surmised that opposition was not strong so he would gain more by promoting it than what he might lose. Until government was convinced of that cannabis would not have been legalized no matter how many studies said it should be. 

It is up to activists/movements to gain public support. Once the public support exists then parties and governments can be pressured. 

The NDP is taking a more balanced approach to Palestine as an example. They can't go as far as activists want because the public support isn't there for it. They can't do anything at all for Palestine without getting elected. 

If the NDP goes all in on the The Leap Manifesto, title and all, support will shrink. Then they are more of a movement than a political party. 

I think the left wants the masses to be interested in politics and become educated in it. In my opinion that isn't going to happen. Ever. Nor does it need to. I don't need to understand neoliberalism or capitalism or financial markets. I just want to elect someone who does know about that stuff and does want to fix it in my favor. 

People are still interested in the public good. Medicare is the most popular program in Canada by far. Government has only been able to damage it through stealth. People would support pharmacare and dentacare if offered the choice. People also believe in equality of services so support clean water for reserves and equal funds for education. 

If the government instituted a school breakfast and lunch program for schools in less affluent neighbourhoods people would support it. 

But when they are voting, they want to know how they and their loved ones will do. That is assumed to depend on the economy first. 

OK.  It's not as though the ONLY way to address that is to be about NOTHING but short-term bread-and-butter.  Voters want the practical, but it's elitist to assume that most people are incapable of connecting with a larger vision or of possessing such a vision themselves.

It can be a combination of short-term AND long-term...of feet on the ground and eyes to the stars.  And without vision, without dreams, politics and people are not fully alive.  As the old song put it "hearts starve as well as bodies/we need bread, and roses, too".