Are Progressives Depressed or Too Privileged to Produce Social Change? Or Are We Just Failing to Organize Effectively?
Continued from previous page
Yet Levine is tapping into a strong current that runs through our political discourse. We sense a growing fatalism -- a feeling that significant change is not possible even when our most basic institutions are failing. We are frustrated that Obama seems less of a change agent than hoped for. We wish more of us would be willing to fight back. So the image of the "broken American" seems like a reasonable explanation and I’m sure many of us have run into people who fit this description. But I urge us to take care in extrapolating from those anecdotal accounts to a general political account of "the American people." We are far too diverse, and I hope, far too resilient.
Does the Truth Set Us Free or Subjugate Us?
Perhaps Levine's most eye-popping claim, at least for me, is that the American people may be so broken that the truth will not set us free.
You can understand why this would get to me. Going after the truth, however murky, is what I try to do. I write because I’m trying to share an analysis, a sense of reality that I hope is as truthful as possible, as well as empowering. I work closely with editors and fact-checkers by choice because I want them to keep me honest. It’s very easy to twist the truth, to write propaganda, to get lost in ideology, to subjectively slant the analysis. So it will take one hell of an argument for me to stop trying, and I will have a great deal of internal resistance to thinking that it’s not a good idea to share the truth with the public, even with that segment who might be in the "abused" category.
Levine's discussion puts us into a kind of Catch 22 because he quite obviously is sharing a truth with us. But if the truth doesn’t set us free, why is he bothering to write to us? Aren’t we also suffering from too much truth? (You have debts? You live in the suburbs? You're a consumer?) If we’re not the abused, then who are "we" and who are "they"?
"They" seem to be "elitist helpers" who use the truth recklessly. For example, he writes:
Elitist helpers think they have done something useful by informing overweight people that they are obese and that they must reduce their caloric intake and increase exercise. An elitist who has never been broken by his or her circumstances does not know that people who have become demoralized do not need analyses and pontifications. Rather the immobilized need a shot of morale.
But are Levine's readers and commentators the elitists or the broken? Do we need a heavy dose of Levine's "truth" or a "shot of morale"?
I vote for the truth, even Bruce Levine's provocative version. Because the alternative more often than not is not "a shot of morale" -- it is falsehood. If we are confused and immobilized, I’m willing to wager that the suffering is enhanced by being lied to again and again. We’ve been lied to about the economy. We’ve been lied to about Vietnam and Iraq. Lying is our public way of life. In fact lying and giving us a boost in morale often come packaged together -- I'm thinking of Reagan’s "Morning in America" and Contra-gate. I don’t think we know whether the truth will set more Americans free, because there has been so little of it coming from public officials.
But let me pose a more basic question to you: Do you find the truth empowering or debilitating? If you think the truth is extremely valuable, then what makes you so different from the rest of America? To me the very definition of elitist is someone who withholds the truth because he or she doesn’t think the other person can handle it. Democracy means that we have to handle the truth, painful or not, syndrome or not.