Andrew O'Hehir gives a little talk at Campaign for the American Conversation regarding the “American Dystopia.” He speaks of the American condition today which is not “1984” of oppressive government spying, nor “Brave New World” of suppression of dissent by means of unfettered consumerism, nor “The Matrix” where all is illusion and reality is concealed, but which has elements of all three. He makes an interesting and, I think valid, point, but it goes downhill from there.
He points out that he was born in the sixties and that times were violent and chaotic, citing Vietnam and “race relations.” To begin with it wasn’t about “race relations,” it was about civil rights, which is one whole hell of a lot more important than a matter of how we “get along with each other,” and if he was born in the sixties he doesn’t know jack shit about it because the major changes were all over by the time he was old enough to remember.
If he did recall the sixties he wouldn't be babbling about “race relations.”
He then mumbles some magic words about change, mentions Obama’s 2008 campaign and that Obama was unable to deliver on his campaign promise, and then segues into a bland non sequitur about how he sees hope for the future. “We do not have to be spied upon,” he says, because of the massive changes that have occurred over the past fifty years. Sort of a Shakespearean “past is prologue” kind of thing, I suppose.
The point he seems to miss is that all of the major social change that has occurred during those fifty years did so in the first twenty of them, and the only change that has occurred during the past thirty years has been a slow and steady decline toward dystopia. That’s hardly a rosy picture of hope, so it’s hard to imagine where he’s seeing that hope that he’s babbling about.
What he does manage to point out, probably without meaning to, is that change is not accomplished by politicians, it is accomplished by people who are pissed off sufficiently that they are willing to suffer serious discomfort and risk injury and death to force change on politicians who are benefiting from the status quo. By his own statement, we live in peaceful and comfortable times, and that is precisely why change will not happen.
In Brazil and in Turkey today people are willing to be uncomfortable as hell; to face water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets; to risk imprisonment, injury and death; to remain on the streets in the tens and hundreds of thousands indefinitely to make their point. In this country, a few hundred people hold a campout in a public park and sing songs, and then disperse as soon as the police show up.
Whatever form it takes, we have the government we deserve.