Saturday, November 08, 2008

Wild in the Streets

There was dancing in the streets of Berkeley the night Obama was elected––a kind of social eros coursed through the crowd, a spontaneous manifestation of utopian tribal energy rarely experienced in the administered world. Meanings were released far beyond Obama's stated agenda, beyond even the joy at seeing the first African-American elected president––the pitch of feeling, approaching Dionysian frenzy, was appropriate to the fall of a long-imprisoning wall. We remain in crisis, yet it is no longer the crisis of a closed, but an open system. A feeling that far-reaching structural change is possible has entered the mainstream––even though Obama's administration may turn out to be about confining the flow of this feeling in the name of "realism." Reality, however (as we felt on election night), has a propensity for not seeming realistic. Behind the backs and beyond the intentionality of social actors, the very movement of the system itself, with its convergent crises (economic, environmental, etc.), is producing structural change. "Capitalism is doomed," as Immanuel Wallerstein––a systems theorist and sober Yale professor, not a street agitator––said in a radio interview recently. The costs of production (labor and resources), in spite of globalization, have begun to outstrip profits, and the financial bubbles which have occluded this fact have now evaporated. The new mode of production––and we are already starting to see its emergence––can take either a progressive or a reactionary political form, but it will not resemble capitalism as we have known it. Government intervention in the market, always present under capitalism, is shifting to a new and more acute phase, opening the door to increased democratization and to "spreading the wealth around." With breathtaking suddenness, the idea of socialism (McCain's failed scare-word) is back in play (in a way not seen since the thirties). With the election of Obama, the national discourse has shifted: it will no longer be driven by a 9/11-sanctioned imperialist imperative. A new, post-9/11 narrative is taking shape, one that is addressed to the production and distribution of social goods, and perhaps the social Good itself.

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