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You Say You Want a Resolution?

January 3, 2012

I was trying to figure out what to write about for an inaugural blog post for 2012 (seeing as one of my resolutions this year was to blog more frequently than Obama breaks campaign promises), and it occurred to me that Resolution Season™ itself sums up a lot of what I’ve had to say about the past year, and what I should be saying in the year to come.

For one, holidays and other annual events can be productively used to remind ourselves to take a moment to shock ourselves out of our ambivalence and inertia every once in a while. The most productive use of a holiday (aside from gratifying the evolutionary impulse to load up on pre-hibernation calories) is that we ought to take a moment every once in a while to make sure that we are on the right course, whether it’s in life, career, relationships, or whatever. Hence the forging of resolutions for the year to come; we constantly strive to improve that which is within our reach to fix or at least improve.

And yet, there is a problem that when we that cold hard stare in the mirror, we tend to see only ourselves and not our society as a whole. After all, that’s about all of what’s within our reach.

But we do ourselves a huge disservice by allowing that assumption to pervade our politics. We see politics as fundamentally broken, and we let Congressional approval ratings hover around 5% (if you subtract the 1% that leaves 4% of the country as congressional staffers and relatives, I guess?). But despite the very vocal response of certain groups, the majority’s silent response of acquiescence has been deafening.

We have let ourselves defer to the experts because we have forgotten how to ask ourselves the right questions about anything beyond ourselves. We’ve grown either too polite to believe that it would be appropriate to impose our opinions on others or too ignorant to believe that it might be impolite to do so. We’ve seen that someone else would be happy to step up and give their clever or slanted version of the an answer for us because that’s what they’re getting paid to do, perhaps by organizations with selfish interests and purposes antithetical to their own. “And in this economy, who can expect them to do anything else,” we ask rhetorically, forgetting what the words mean. We forgive ourselves the need to ask big questions because we have “enough” trouble taking care of ourselves.

And even when we listen to authors discuss the Arab Spring or  Occupy Wall Street or the end of the American Empire [Chris Hedges is especially worth a listen if you have three hours to spare] with solemn approval, we let ourselves continue complacently down the path of comfortable entrenchment.

Corporate culture absolves all of responsibility. This is part of its appeal. It relieves all from moral choice. There is an unequivocal acceptance of ruling principles such as unregulated capitalism and globalization as a kind of natural law. The steady march of corporate capitalism requires a passive acceptance of new laws and demolished regulations, of bailouts in the trillions of dollars and the systematic looting of public funds, of lies and deceit.

Of course, The People have stood up in a significant way this year; Occupy Wall Street has demonstrated the power of the crowd in an age of digital democracy. After all, a crowd that’s always “connected” can never really be dispersed; it’s always still out there. But what the has crowd been able to do is still largely in flux. We have yet to see what policies will change, what political self-examination may occur.

Perhaps what Occupy Wall Street really says right now (at least until we have some more electoral evidence to discuss) is that political talk is cheap, but hard to convert into action. Whether it’s campaign finance reform, infinite surveillance, or indefinite detention, there are no fewer than a dozen issues that are each like fifteen extra pounds America hopes to drop in the coming year. But somehow America always seems to end up gaining five more pounds on a fad diet in the process.

And meanwhile, here I am, at the crossroads of a new year, not at a writer’s block but in a writer’s loop. I have been repeating myself without much forward progress because I am writing from the comfort of my own prejudices to a small, self-selected audience. If anything I write is to have any greater purpose, I should be pushing it on a change-resistant public like free samples of bourbon at an AA meeting. So here’s a resolution: I’m going to participate in a discussion broader than this blog’s loyal, supportive readership. Hopefully, that’s one resolution that I don’t blow off by February. Or 2013.

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