COMMENTARY: Do you remember Henny Penny, a.k.a. “Chicken Little,” who became convinced the sky was falling when an acorn dropped on her head? As a consequence of Henny’s alarm, a number of her panicked chicken colleagues were eaten by a wolf. All of this the result of just one acorn falling.
It is only in the general, the sum total of a number of particulars, that we become able to correctly see larger patterns, the tectonic shifts in the social contract for example, and the proximate causes that tell us if the sky is really falling. Presently there are very many particulars going around and it’s a challenge to properly identify, characterize, and project them as indicators of future possibilities. These days, if you pay attention to the news, it’s difficult not to be somewhere between the extremes of outrage and fear.
Are we, as a society, as cohesive and secure as we believe, or are we kidding ourselves? Rousseau defined the social contract as a collective moral body, and I think he would be challenged to find such in the United States today. Would such populist sloganeering and propaganda as “America First” or “Take Back America” be politically useful if large segments of the population were not feeling an acute sense of insecurity? It’s hard to judge from the extremes of protestation and acting-out behavior going on across the country. Supporters of one populist candidate have staged violent demonstrations with out-of-control tempers, brandished guns, blows being struck, and people bloodied. Much of it seems to be about emotional racism and unarticulated class resentment.
True believers are striking out at the “usual suspects,” those being people of color or non-standard sexual orientation. Where people pee is inspiring death threats. And while protestors seem inarticulate about their grievances and unable to describe what exactly the source of their angst is, they are certain their candidate will solve it for them. Given the enormous disparity of wealth and opportunity this is certainly not surprising.
Obviously when an economic system permits the export of well-paying and even marginal jobs in search of people desperate enough to work for low wages, the inevitable consequence is unemployment in the society being abandoned. With chronic unemployment comes impoverishment, and with poverty the inability to sustain a viable, much less a vibrant, economy.
Fear, resentment, and anger are the inevitable byproducts. People who are powerless resent their sense of impotence and tend to take their frustration out on others. Politicians are ruthlessly taking advantage of this dynamic.
The present election cycle has exposed a deep body of unfocused acrimony and repressed anger caused by an economic system that has impoverished and disadvantaged many. There are company towns with no company. Angry Americans want a fence. But while a fence might keep migrants out, it certainly won’t keep jobs in.
At root, the underlying problem is the perception fostered over time that capitalism and democracy are synonymous. Capitalism, the driving force behind the foregoing social problems, has achieved quasi-religious and patriotic status and thus cannot be questioned. Capitalism has replaced democracy as the foundation stone of our social contract. Social democracy remains an experiment and not a delivered reality. Although the United States has never been a true democracy, it is even less so now. Oligarchy has existed far longer than democracy and is going strong in this country — concentrating wealth, influence, and power much more intensely and narrowly than ever before.
Experiment and experience derive from the same root. We experiment in order to experience an idea — imagination is the inspiration. An important quality of experiments is that there is no failure. We experiment seeking outcomes or results. It is a learning experience. And, brother, are we ever learning these days that democracy remains an ongoing experiment. Maybe the sky is falling.
Emanuele Corso’s essays on politics, education, and the social contract have been published at NMPolitics.net, Light of New Mexico, Grassroots Press, World News Trust, Nation of Change, New Mexico Mercury and his own — siteseven.net. He taught Schools and Society at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he took his PhD. His bachelor’s was in mathematics. He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force’s Strategic Air Command, where he served as a combat crew officer during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He has been a member of the Carpenters and Joiners labor union, Local 314. He is presently working on a book: Belief Systems and the Social Contract. He can be reached at [email protected].