18 October 2011

Bending the arc of history

Gamini Gunawardena, forwarding an excellent analysis by Drew Weston on Barack Obama (’What happened to Obama?’) highlighted two observations.  The first, given below, reminded him of Simon Navagaththegama’s play ‘Suba saha Yasa’, he said, and those who know the story of what happened when king and his gate-keeping look-alike exchanged places would call that observation ‘apt’. 
‘ Like so many politicians who come to Washington, he has already been consciously or unconsciously corrupted by a system that tests the souls even of people of tremendous integrity, by forcing them to dial for dollars — in the case of the modern presidency, for hundreds of millions of dollars.’ 
My take on Obama or for that matter any president or presidential hopeful of the Democratic Party of the USA has been consistent from the time of the first presidential race I was conscious of, Walter Mondale’s attempt to deny Ronald Reagan a second term in 1988.  It has remained the same through Michael Dukakis’ failed bid in 1988, the Bill Clinton years, Al Gore being pipped by a single vote of the Supreme Court in 2000, Bob Kerry failing to stop George W Bush being re-selected by massive fraud, Barack Obama’s stirring rise to be the
5th Black president of the USA and the same with respect to each and every candidate championed by the self-proclaimed ‘Left’ of the USA.  My question has been, ‘What is his policy on Cuba, and what does he have to say about the Palestinians?’ 
Democratic presidents might have been good for the USA, but they have by and large mimicked their Republican counterparts when it comes to foreign policy.  There’s nothing to be surprised about how Barack Obama has operated since becoming President.  He’s black, yes, and the fact has helped bring to the surface whatever racism that lies under the veneer of racial equality projected to the world by a diligent and well briefed mainstream media industry (meaning, much of it is pretty ‘out there in the open’ all over the USA).  The fact has been beautifully captured in a lampooning of Obama’s predecessor which has Dubya Bush saying ‘I f***** you all, but thanks for blaming it on the black guy!’ 
Sympathy on account of getting extra flak on account of skin colour aside, I have no tears for Barack Obama.  He is no well-meaning victim done in by spine-lack.  ‘Naïve’ is not a word one associates Obama with.  Neither is he lacking in grey matter, a deficiency many of his predecessors were not hampered by.  He had the words and he used them well to get to where he is.  Many believed he would deliver, forgetting that a single human being is not a front and that the White House doesn’t have room for more than one First Family, so to speak.  The people counted, yes, but only until the polls closed.  That’s when system kicks in and the rigid but strangely invisible structures  that shape policy marks presence.  Westen, above, has captured it all very neatly. 

More interesting and indeed educational for those who really want change and who must now realize that getting ‘the right person’ in the White House won’t set things right is the second observation, Gamini Gunawardena highlighted:
‘But the arc of history does not bend toward justice through capitulation cast as compromise. It does not bend when 400 people control more of the wealth than 150 million of their fellow Americans.
It does not bend when the average middle-class family has seen its income stagnate over the last 30 years while the richest 1 percent has seen its income rise astronomically. It does not bend when we cut the fixed incomes of our parents and grandparents so hedge fund managers can keep their 15 percent tax rates. It does not bend when only one side in negotiations between workers and their bosses is allowed representation. And it does not bend when, as political scientists have shown, it is not public opinion but the opinions of the wealthy that predict the votes of the Senate. The arc of history can bend only so far before it breaks.’
Westen plays on the Martin Luther King (Jr) line ‘the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice,’ which he claims Obama paraphrases as ‘the arc of history’.  According to the above description, then, the question arises ‘what really bends the arc of history?’ 

The internal contradictions of capital, as Marx might put it?  System collapse courtesy human greed that is blind to nature’s regenerative capacity?  Well, we’ve had the crisis of capitalism for a long time now.  ‘Late capitalism’ is a boring term now.  Capital has shown a lot of resilience.  It has shown, more than anything, an incredible willingness and capacity to unleash violence on all objectors.   The arc of history has bent and how!  And always in favour of the powerful.

Where does all this leave the vast majorities who have their futures decided for themselves by a handful of (white, yes) men (yes)?  They rise in indignation, they are ignored and if they become too much of an irritant, they are arrested, tortured or disappeared as deemed appropriate for purposes of sustainability.  How long can they do this?

We’ve seen ‘regime change’ in almost all nations.  Change has been predicted and its dawn has been cheered only for ‘same old, same old,’ to shut the door, often so softly that the cheering continues long after all reasons for celebration have been buried unceremoniously. 

Is that the fate of all objections though?  I am no clairvoyant and therefore I will not offer prediction.  There are signs that things are not as rosy as they used to be for capital and the lords and ladies who move and shake the world so its resources and labour congeal into profit.  On the other hand there have been such signs before. Reason to be pessimistic? No. 
When Barack Obama said ‘yes we can!’ the ‘we’ referred not to those who put all their hope eggs in his presidential basket but the people those who voted for him wanted out of their hair.  That’s what his incumbency has showed.  The bubble burst late for many, especially in the USA, but for those who have the slightest understanding of systems and individuals there never was a bubble to begin with.  It is cause for celebration for the end of illusion can be the beginning of reality and that’s where the struggle must take place.  That’s where we can and must fight.
We fight because what we see happening around us is illegal, unjust and amoral.  Can people demand from us a blueprint for assured victory?  No, because we do the best we can with heart and mind, hampered by our numerous frailties.  We fight because the arc of history does not bend of its own accord alone. It needs coaxing.  We fight in structures that contain us, limit us and also yield opportunities to re-shape the terms of engagement and alter the structures themselves.  We fall, but we can choose to stay down or stand up.  We see our comrades fall and die and we can choose either to opt for safe enslavement or be brave enough to take the risks necessary so our children will not be thus enslaved. 
We fight together and we need to fight together because even as we are put down as individuals it is a collective that gets insulted, humiliated and dispossessed.  Together we remake, refashion this world in ways closer to the collective desires of our hearts.   Together we break the unbreakable. Together we bend the arc of history.  Towards justice.  On all counts.



fayaz said...

if you want to know about good governance read about the 2 nd caliph of islam, Umar al Khattab, the conqueror of both the Persian and Byzantine empires..; for appropriate reading material do drop me a mail..

Malinda Seneviratne said...

would love to know....msenevira@gmail.com