A friend asked me the other day why, if I’m such a radical, don’t I write about political subjects on this blog? I thought about it a little. I am very political in my walking around life. There isn’t a day when I don’t think deeply about democracy, economics, and culture. I hold very strong opinions on legislation, elected officials, and the workings of governments in our everyday lives.
I don’t often write about individual political matters. Everything I do has a political meaning, including the essays I write for this website.
The reader, you, think all the time about politics, culture, and economics. You may not realize it, but nearly every act either has to do with these subjects or results in a condition that is political, economic, or cultural.
A drive to the grocery store for a gallon of milk, for instance, implies several things. First, you have a car or have use of one that may not belong to you. This ties you into the histories of the automobile and its widespread acceptance as a part of life in the modern world, the road and where it is, and your participation, willing or unwilling, in a capitalist system that forms and shapes the person you are—what you buy, how it gets to be where you buy it, and the decisions consumers, people in commerce, and governments make to necessitate your drive to the store.
Second, your car takes you down a road that’s built where it is by decisions that took place years and sometimes decades and centuries ago. Commerce, government, and individual politicians, as well as their proxies, decided a course for that road and its shape and form. This road connects to others, which then also connect to airports and rail lines. In the United States, you can get from one rail distribution center to another—or from one grocery store to another—on a series of roads, each of which needs bridges, drainage ditches or sewers, and a number of other structures (guardrails and what not) to function as a whole.
The road, by itself, is a product of standardization. The street you drive on in Kansas City is the same as one in Portland, Maine. Imagine, for a moment, a world where streets are not built with lanes, or room for more than one car, or that have different markings. How did they get the way they are? To understand the political, economic, and cultural aspects of just the road you drive on, take a trip to France and rent a car to see how different roads are there than here—or contemplate a moment why Brits (Irish, Australians, Indians, Cyprians, and Maltans) drive on the other side of the road.
The mass of interlocking and dynamic decisions and forces that built the car, the road, the grocery store produce consequences, intended and unintended. Your participation in the results of these forces also have consequences, some of which you intend—the gallon of milk in the fridge (and don’t get me started on refrigerators)—and some of which you don’t: the crash you might be in on the way to the store, the poisoning you get from milk that might be tainted, or the healthier food choices you didn’t make because you have the milk.
Think for a minute how involved governments are in your drive. Is it a city street or county road? How many federal dollars went into building that road? What about the property and gasoline taxes that funded its construction?
Agencies and regulators influence the way the car is built. A city council determines how many streetlights and stoplights illuminate and flash along the route you decided to take to the store. Federal regulations and laws make sure that the road has a certain width. Those laws and other, more local ones, determine the composition and thickness of the road bed, as well as the dimensions and strength of the curb. We never think about why the road sheds water the way it does or what what the surface of the road is made of. Engineers, lawyers, construction companies, raw material providers, insurance companies, and elected officials at all levels enact or influence regulations and decisions that, in the end, come down to your vote, if you vote at all.
Then, there is the host of bureaucrats who, while often maligned, got that road built. They let the contracts and administer the money. Without competent bureaucrats, you’d be taking a horse on a cart path through the woods and between the rocks to buy your milk in a can from a farmer down the way. Culturally, we would not accept that. Those personal standards, too, have a set of historical developments.
Government—local, state, and federal—all influence the grocery store in terms of food safety and the abundance of food there. Government subsidies support milk production either directly with payments to farmers and associations/coops or indirectly with corn and other grain subsidies.
A complex apparatus that begins with the voter put those subsidies in place. You voted for local, state, and federal representatives who then made legislative, executive, and judicial decisions for you. They choose year after year to underwrite a portion of the farm economy. This transfer of taxpayer dollars to you influences your decision to buy milk and which kind—or not, depending.
Who wants to think of all these things? It’s just a gallon of milk. Or is it? There’s gasoline involved and insurance. The engine needs oil. The car needs tires. There’s wear on the suspension. All of it demands you pay sales and excise taxes. The plastic container manufacturers need oil. The farmer needs oil. The machinery the farmer uses need manufacturing plants, and they need employees. There’s a whole lot more to a gallon of milk than just the milk.
It makes a difference on all these processes who gets elected. I stated in essays on this website that I am a die-hard American democratic socialist. I like the New Deal, which Republicans have been waiting since 1932 to destroy. They are in charge now, and they’re gunning for the best parts of the Square Deal of the first Roosevelt and the New Deal of the second. They want to dismantle the programs of the Johnson’s Great Society and just about anything that Clinton did right. They don’t have any new ideas, except to return government and society back to 1890 conditions.
My take on political events, my innate humanity, and will to better the world, is less important, I think, to you, the reader, than the political nature of the act of creation. By itself, creating something that the world has yet to see is political act. It influences the culture. It has an economics. That is, creation is subversive. It makes a something where nothing was before, a something that, until it gains and audience and makes money, the system and the history cannot grasp.
That is not to say that what I do here is original. Far from it. I have a friend who reminds me all the time that what I do is synthesize the cultural phenomena around me into new forms, that may themselves not be very original. It is my lot in life, I suppose, only to see and understand the world from my perspective. But existing forms of government and social control and coercion cannot grasp me or my creative processes.
And, yeah, I realize the developments and devices that lead to this reality that is but a shade of a larger reality, the internet. Computers are as complicated in their arrival and use in my life as the street out front and that gallon of milk. Their history is tied up in culture, in economics, and in politics. But those are subjects for a future essay.
If the fascists get control, which they just may, I still get to create. Hopefully, I will create something that gets me in trouble. In the meantime, I seek to connect and build community, even if that community consists of just you and me.