We are in a transitional moment: page loads and "hits" are stable if not increasing. As I told one of our guest posters Bill the Lizard, I would rather have a small group of good folks who share, discuss, and teach us all something over the course of 10 comments, than 100 comments full of foolishness. I am totally at peace with that choice.
On occasion, I feature readers' comments as a means of pushing our conversations forward, and of highlighting the great range of intelligent observations (and interventions) which have taken place on We Are Respectable Negroes since its inception. In many ways, you all have been way ahead of the curve: the arguments we have developed together from Herman Cain's race minstresly, to the Adam Lanza shooting, and Mitt Romney's dog whistle racism, have been taken up by the national news media.
Never forget, you/we/us heard it/did it here first.
I am very fascinated by questions of meaning, society, and belonging. For that reason, I return often to questions about the role of nihilism on the black public sphere, specifically, and American society, more generally, whenever possible.
Something is very wrong. I am not sure when the Common Good was derailed by the corporate democracy and the fetish that is the market.
Did it begin with George Bush the Younger telling folks to go shopping after 9/11 in order to stand up to the "terrorists"...as though that is a defense of "freedom?"
Or was that mouth utterance simply a statement of what we have long known?
Something is amiss. Hegemonic power is by definition so omnipresent that we cannot get a hand around it. Exhaustion in the face of Power is by design, and is not accidental.
Paul Sunstone, commenter and friend of We Are Respectable Negroes, offered up a great and reflective observation in our discussion about black nihilism in the Age of Obama that deserves more attention and shine.
His comment is very well-timed for me personally. In my seminars this quarter I have been probing, asking students about the Common Good, and hoping to get a spark of response about the many ways that our civil liberties have been rolled back over the decades. I use the most troubling examples--kill lists; torture; indefinite detention; Top Secret America; the practical impact of gross wealth and income inequality on life chances, democracy, personal liberty, and freedom--and have come to a disheartening conclusion.
Most students know something is wrong and do not care. A good number care, but feel powerless, so why complain? Out of a room of 45 students, there are about 5 who know about the realities of Power, the surveillance State, and what perpetual war against "terrorism" means for the. To their credit, these students have not opted out. The former two groups only care about Facebook. Said observation is painful truth-telling; it is not an exaggeration.
The more aware group teaches me a thing (or three) each class. As a group they have decided not to use Facebook (and other related mediums) for reasons of privacy and mental health. When the latter group chimes in, the possibilities of critical pedagogy come alive and are made real; the seminar that day is a good one.
To point, in speaking to those concerns about nihilism, society, surrender, and agency, Paul Sunstone suggested the following. His comments are well-worth reflecting upon.
Is he right? If so, what can be done?
First off, that ignorance and indifference scares me, but I have seen it myself -- not in students, but in well-educated middle aged adults. I think it's a nihilism masked by a kind of optimism, by a unholy belief that things can't be so bad that they demand commitment, sacrifice, and action.
But even more frightening to me is their surrender to authoritarianism.
The one thing I fear most, really fear, is that when the pounding comes, that's how the majority is going to go. They are going to look at their declining fortunes, and then seek out an authoritarian leader who promises to save their butts, and tells them who to scapegoat. I don't see that as inevitable, but I do see it as all too possible.
Lately, I've been thinking the way to reach these people, the way to get them on our side, is first through economics. Show them what's happening to their wealth, their incomes, and why it's happening. Then branch out from there.
But that's just what I think, and I could be very wrong. I know so little about it. Too little. What do you think we should do?