Old vs. New: Where We've Been and Where We're Going
The Past Feeds Into the Future
In order to understand the movements and ideas of our age (such as they are), it is vital to not only consider where we stand today. Though it is necessary to grasp that "the world" is now different from that of a hundred years ago, we should also examine the currents of thought which preceded our own. While many flawed ideas existed in the past, let's not deny that some decidedly "new" ideas may be flawed as well — or, of course, that we have flawed approaches to otherwise good ideas. After all, people have an amazing ability to make even a great idea look like the worst of all time. Thankfully, though, it is not necessary to be a "perfect" person or even to always sound rational, in order to be basically good. At a certain point, being good should also include being good enough.
In our era of near-hegemonic liberal democracy, — where intellectuals are indeed thought to be essential to civilization and to replace the "folk wisdom" of ignorant masses — no militant or theoretician can encapsulate all of the different interests, instincts, and intransigence of the status quo. At most, the would-be leaders can try. However, they will fail. The fact is, no one truly knows what's good for everyone, and we are all hypocrites in the process of brandishing a half-cocked vision of the future.
That's where a good chunk of the human struggle comes from. People have a hard time letting go of some idealized mental vision and simply crafting something more palpable. Broadly speaking, most of our would-be directives and motivations are slated to come from someone in a leadership position. However, half the time, nothing all that great arrives, leaving us stuck and unable to self-motivate. Ordinary people have been — literally and figuratively — left without a bailout or a fail-safe. They are raised to rely on authorities yet they often simply can't. They are at a perpetual crossroads, even if they're not aware of it.
While much of this has to do with our over-reliance on authority, part of it is just the fear of the unknown. Many of us cannot cope with the unknown, which is precisely why we try to control the world. We often grapple with life rather than let things unfold naturally. Maybe we cannot perfectly let go of our controlling mentality, but it seems much of this has to do with cultures of the past having a ghost-like grip on the present.
There's a reason for that. The stark reality of surviving has always necessitated some sort of system. As innovative technology transformed the world, that led to various forms of dependence (as noted by none other than Theodore Kaczynski). We are right in the middle of that dependence now, seemingly locked into it for the foreseeable future. To a large degree that not only controls us but defines us. As a source of inner tension and frustration, it also mocks us. As politicians and technological giants prove to be animated by selfish goals, it also proves to be dangerous. In fact, it almost seems like a "damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't" stalemate. One can propose radical changes to society all night long, but no sane person truly thinks it'll happen overnight, or that things will necessarily work. We know people, places, things are unstable. It's right in front of us.
Where Does That Leave Us?
We are at a crossroads between moderate reforms and extreme change. Life itself is always poised to hit that panic button and already has several times. While it's tempting to blame media sensationalism for this state of being, it is more complex than even that. The basic fact is, most of us have been conditioned into self-doubt, if not self-hatred. We MUST rely on experts, we are told, or we are stupid. It turns out that, fairly often, it does make sense and there are apparent benefits and rewards. However, after doing this for so long, we have a complex cocktail of being informed by both intelligent experts and charlatans (as in a certain reality star-turned President). The simply fact is, some systems of authority are better than others, and so are leaders. Make no mistake about it, either: This is not a simple problem.
Contrary to what some hard-boiled anarchists will tell you, it is NOT the case that everyone in authority is absolutely terrible, just as not every parent is an abuser. In fact, not even literally every aspect of authority itself is entirely rotten. To a large extent, people in charge view themselves as just doing their jobs. They reflect the values they believe are correct, even if they screw most of us over. Also, even if they are hopelessly selfish and depraved, who put them there? Ultimately, a population let them attain their status, through ideology, ignorance and varieties of being political hacks.
To complicate things, there are degrees of legitimacy, having roots in the aforementioned fear of the unknown. If you do not know what to do, it probably actually is a better option to have someone else in charge of your life. A perpetual infant needs a perpetual caretaker! If that authority figure happens to be fairly responsible, who would I be to claim they carry every shade of evil? They just represent a pathetic situation. Also, if we're insulated from the worst aspects of the system (war, for example), the infants won't detect as much abuse. It's easier to yawn at war overseas if it's not your neighborhood getting blown to smithereens.
However, if we ever do want to collectively grow up, we will indeed need to be BOTH informed by the past and bold enough to sometimes give it the middle finger.
Pitfalls of Oversimplification
It is not an either/or equation, as life is full of nuance. For example, it is NOT good enough to say that American society is all just a system of racism and oppression. Granted, it can certainly look that way, even objectively. However, a comprehensive view of reality tells a slightly different story. There are good people living here, and there have always been some people willing to challenge the very worst aspects of the system (I won't name names, but abolitionists come to mind).
Similarly, there have always been people opposed to war, or at least SOME wars. There are also people who join the military who do not understand the devastation being caused by US foreign policy, just as there are leftists in America who don't understand the dangers caused by Stalin (I have met such people and they are something else).
At the end of the day, there is no definite solution, because there is no final phase of existence. For example, right now I wouldn't recommend challenging a government plan to unleash a universal basic income (UBI). People may end up needing such a thing for survival if the economy does not rebound and this economic shutdown stays ongoing. That's not ideology talking. That's just how things are right now. I really see no practical way around it, especially when people just are not well-organized independent of working under governments and corporations. The UBI may be the best chance we have of facing an economic downturn.
At the same time, I will keep communicating the basic concept that, yes, people should be working out alternatives to top-down solutions, and not for any "radical" reasons. In fact, one of my favorite examples of so-called "radical" organizing has been the factory recuperation movement in Argentina. Why did workers take over abandoned factories there in the early 2000s? Did they pick up some leftist tome ordering them to do so? No, their economy collapsed!
Quite simply, it was probably the sanest thing to do. That is reality, not radicalism or intellectual posturing.
On that note, any changes we strive to make should be done similarly. They should, in a way, be a part of the situation itself, as opposed to us striving to be above others, calling the shots and telling them what to do. People should lead by example, to the extent possible. Fortunately, this is possible, not just desirable. We just need to grow up a bit more.