My Blog Week: August 25 to August 31
A Word on the Week
Power of the Purse
Outrage and protest open the fall season for nations everywhere.
Let me quote for you the words of an Illinois state senator named Joseph Duncan, writing in the year 1825:
To enjoy our rights and liberties we must understand them; their security and protection ought to be the first object of a free people; and it is a well-established fact that no nation has ever continued long in the enjoyment of civil and political freedom which was not both virtuous and enlightened; and believing that the advancement of literature has always been and will ever be the means of developing more fully the rights of man; that the mind of every citizen in a republic is the common property of society and constitutes the basis of its strength and happiness…”
(Preamble, to a bill introducing the funding of schools.)
Isn’t it true that those things we would nominally have rights over, our personal data, our financial well-being, the environmental protections we have approved and paid taxes for, our assurance of living in peace and continuity with the global community, seem to have fallen under the control of people who seek to franchise information, to privatize it? What would enable us to understand whether a supposed threat—cyber, national security, economic stability—is real, would be knowing the underlying mechanisms, the relationships among the people who create self-interested networks. Even without tipping into full dictatorship, we still find ourselves being spoon-fed.
Certain American states have no intention of changing their voting systems…the public appears powerless to demand change without voting, and knows almost nothing of how the machines work, where the data goes, how it is tallied and results compiled. But we all know the machines are easily hacked. Environmental laws are discarded, we are told this is about jobs, not profits…and that jobs are being created in vast numbers, whether or not this news sorts with our personal experience. The tariff freakishness wreaks its economic havoc, and no enlightenment on the subject seems to penetrate the halls of the White House.
Everything that is meant to be a law and a protection seems flouted; the quest for justice treated to a stonewalling process of lawsuits and countersuits. We come then, to the question of political tools, those still at the disposal of the common person. In Hong Kong and Britain have been massive street protests, escalated against the marchers of Hong Kong with militant threats and tear gas, but showing that a single compelling issue brings people out more effectively than the rat-gnawing assault…on everything, a little at a time…we are undergoing in America.
Another power of the individual is the boycott. The objection to boycotts is that they hurt the worker, not the boss or the owner/shareholder. It’s difficult to drum up enthusiasm for them. People are as likely to say, “Oh, what now?” when they see another company trending on Twitter, especially one whose products they like, as to say, “Oh, boy!” Companies recover; people forget what the fault was supposed to have been. And if you were a sort of holed-up nihilist of boycotting, never forgetting or forgiving, you would at length be unable to buy anything anywhere.
Meanwhile, there is the uncomfortable link to thuggery. Is boycotting not akin to blackballing? Are minorities not often targeted for “drive them out” campaigning? Is there an okay level of wrongdoing?
But for all that, each consumer has the right to be repelled by a person or company, to not want to patronize a Trump property, not buy Koch factory chicken, not watch Tucker Carlson—but some also may buy more plastic straws, more cheap novelty fashion (possibly fur-trimmed), as reactive shoppers will, when they feel prodded by political correctness.
Again, focusing the issue should generate better numbers. Calling for a short-term protest, a fifteen day boycott, would have an impact without becoming existential (participants could later fill their tank, buy chicken), or trying patience.
Political infighting over commitment is a commonplace, and no doubt strident protesters would find surgical boycotting dilettante-ish. Also, the taint of thuggery will not have been completely answered.
So I’ll end with another quote, from a man named Thomas Babbington (Lord) Macaulay, in his Essay on Milton:
The final and permanent fruits of liberty are wisdom, moderation, and mercy. Its immediate effects are often atrocious crimes, conflicting errors, skepticism on points the most clear, dogmatism on points the most mysterious. It is just at this crisis that its enemies love to exhibit it. They pull down the scaffolding from the half-finished edifice; they point to the flying dust, the falling bricks, the comfortless rooms, the frightful irregularity of the whole appearance, and then ask in scorn where the promised splendor and comfort is to be found. If such sophisms were to prevail, there would never be a good house or a good government in the world. There is only one cure for the evils which newly acquired freedom produces; and that cure is freedom. The blaze of truth and liberty may at first dazzle and bewilder nations which have become half blind in the house of bondage. But let them gaze on, and they will soon be able to bear it. In a few years, men learn to reason. The extreme violence of opinion subsides. Hostile theories correct each other. The scattered elements of truth cease to contend, and begin to coalesce. And at length a system of justice and order is educed out of the chaos.
If men are to wait for liberty until they become good and wise in slavery, they may indeed wait forever.
Monday, a new episode of Battle Stations, with faithful Dougal called on again by Fiona; Tuesday, The Impresario, episode four, in which Pierre’s enemy turns up. Wednesday, a non-fiction piece, featuring Andrew J. Blackbird’s story of nearly being denied his vote; Thursday, Catastrophe, with the last observations of the visitors to the crater. Friday, another Jumping Off poem, “Thought It Mattered”. And Saturday, the latest from chapter five of The Totem-Maker, has the character on a sea voyage, becoming better acquainted with fellow travelers.
Images on my posts often have a link to related information (click first image), sometimes serious, sometimes whimsical, sometimes in answer to a direct reference. Since people can be leery about links, I include them here: what they are, what sites they point to.
My Blog Week: August 25 to August 31