The Mix

The crisis of American politics

The myths that uphold our most basic tenets of how our society, politics and economics function are husks of what they were. Let's fess up on that, and embark in the creation of newer, healthier ones.
"[E]verything we believe is a lie -- not because we lack data or wit, but because we're desperate to hold on to our lies." - John Dolan

“Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur," Latin for “the world wants to be deceived, therefore let it be deceived” - ascribed to Petronius

I don't think we necessarily need to feel bad about the need for lies or myths to keep a society going; it's when the lies become deeply unhealthy that we should work to found our political and economic systems on new ones. This is highly qualitative, abstract stuff to think about, with no clear way out. And it's very easy to dismiss, especially from the vantage of the U.S.S. Political Establishment, a boat that holds a lot more passengers than I previously had imagined. Former Dean campaign colleague Joe Costello has penned a good essay that offers some simple suggestions about where we can take things:
For the past two centuries, the nation state has been a powerful myth. The myth propagated that nation states were natural entities, a natural cohesion of monolithic and harmonious cultures. In fact, the history of the nation state has been one of violently forged homogeneity. Around the nation state has been built many of the most powerful myths of modern collective identity. But today, the myths of the nation state are threatened not by its traditional enemies of older smaller cultures and separatists, instead it is now being subverted in part by global identity.
The economic forces of corporate globalization are ripping through national economies with an amazing energy, and without a national economy, there is little need for the nation state. Cheap labor, the siren call of our modern captains of industry, has made China manufacturer for the world, resulting in a gradual attrition of the living standards of a growing number of the formerly industrialized West. In the US, the former possibility of fluidity across economic strata has ossified. Industrial economic benefits such as health care and pensions are denied to an ever-increasing number. In Europe, a growing chorus sings out of one side of its mouth the praises of corporate globalization and out the other side of the need to cut wages, benefits, and other industrialized economic benefits.
Yet while Europe has begun to dismantle aspects of their national identity, nationalism has been resurgent in the United States, paradoxically as the United States has been the greatest fuel to the forge of global identity. The American empire provided the first great myths of a burgeoning global society: mega-corporate economics have become both myth and reality of the economy; American corporations provide much of a nascent global culture; the Pax Americana espouses security, though it is increasingly unstable.
In the United States, the reality and myth of empire reach heights of entangled paradox. In DC, the principles and myths of the old republic, birthed by throwing off the British empire, are used to enlist the citizenry in ill-conceived imperial expansion. Freedom, democracy, and individual rights are perjured to justify the stationing of American troops in over a hundred countries across the planet and as a cover for an imperial resource grab. While across the American nation state, the realities of empire, such as massive military spending and ever increasing government secrecy, make a mockery of any republican reality.
Read on...
Jan Frel is an AlterNet staff writer.