17 November 2014

Lost American institutions

Today I tweeted Jason Segedy's manifesto The Rising Tide, which calls for Generation X to step up as we enter our middle years and reclaim the American public institutions which were destroyed when we arrived on the scene.

My generation has never known an America that had much in the way of authentic community.

We came of age at a time when things were atomizing and fragmenting — our cities, our corporations, our public institutions, and even our very own families.


Now we are becoming middle-aged. And slowly but surely, we are learning that for good or for bad, we are the leaders. We are the system. We are “The Man”.

We still fear that no one is going to come help us. But we also now know that we are on the hook. We know that if we break it, we buy it. We know that if we do break it, we will have no one else to blame but ourselves.

In a Twitter reply, Stacy Lawless calls shenanigans on the age before our own.

That togetherness culture we lost? Was white. Wealthy. Post-WWII. Always been many Americas. What Gen-X lost was not really worth keeping imho — Leave it to Beaver hegemony.

I agree with Lawless about the hollowness of the lost shared institutions of American life because they excluded people of color (and others).

But that's why we need to return to those institutions, and include everybody.

What killed that (White) “togetherness culture” that Segedy describes in America before the era of Generation X? We dismantled it because of White bigotry.

An apocryphal story says that Lyndon Johnson said that signing the Civil Rights Act cost the Democratic Party the South for a generation. Though almost certainly not factual, the story is true. When American liberalism declared itself dedicated to racial equity at public institutions, movement conservatism figured out that it could sell the destruction of public institutions by hinting that Black people benefitted too much from them. And so even Whites who hunger for a stronger public sphere turned against it out of bigotry: if they couldn't keep Black people out of public institutions, then they would rather not have them at all.

Generation X and Millenials like to imagine that we have overcome the bigotry of previous generations, but that's a fantasy: we have plenty of bigotry ourselves. But we are better than previous generations, and the demographics of Xers and Millenials are Blacker and Browner, and we are hungry for a vital public sphere. The time has come for another bite at the apple. We can build public institutions better than the ones we had before, not least in including everyone.

The alternative is give in to the “fear that no one is going to come help us”, that public institutions are impossible, and walk into the neo-feudal neoliberal nightmare that is being prepared for us, thinking that no alternative is possible. But I remain hopeful that we will choose otherwise.


Anonymous said...

"We are the people we have been waiting for"

J'Carlin said...

It will take a revolution by the millenials and Gen-x. They have the tools to do it relatively peacefully despite the state powers to interfere. I anticipate it happening sooner rather than later. The governments have created an entire generation that relates to Janis Joplin's definition of "Freedom" as just another word for nothing left to lose.