Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Agents of Change

Professor Lessig
In these times, the hardest task for social or political activists is to find a way to get people to wonder again about what we all believe is true. The challenge is to sow doubt.
--Lawrence Lessig

The Democratic Party is intellectually adrift and reluctant to take principled stands that might find disapproval, especially among the moneyed elites... Intellectual innovation rarely comes from front-running, establishment candidates. They have too much to lose. Why rock a boat which you already command?
--Gary Hart

Just when you think crusading professors who try to change the world have gone extinct with the death of Howard Zinn, CNN sweeps in and puts Lawrence Lessig on the air. 

The professor wants to get money out of politics.

Exactly what form this sweeping of money out of politics would take is not clear. I did not see much dissent among the members of his audience about the desirability of eliminating "corruption" from government. Judging from the audience members who rose to emote vociferously,  the professor had been preaching to the choir.

The problem has always been: what is one man's corruption is another man's free speech and his freedom to exercise of  the  power of his purse.

Professor Lessig wants to teach the lumpen proletariat , wants them to wake up and smell the rotten fish.

Professor Lessig has a job which pays him to develop his ideas and to promulgate them. The rest of us have to get the kids out of bed, to get to work, to get the car repaired and (now in New Hampshire)  get the driveway cleared of snow and the roof raked. For the professor, the thing which motivates him to get out of bed in the morning may be fighting government "corruption;" for the work-a-day man or woman, what gets them out of bed is a strong desire to pay the bills and raise their kids. 

Years ago, my father returned from a trip to Franco's Spain very discouraged.  He had gone there, expecting to see Spaniards, living under the yoke of dictatorship, looking grim, unhappy and oppressed; instead he saw happy people, enjoying life at outdoor cafes. How could people  look so happy living where they are not "free"?  

Professor Lessig ought to ask himself that question.

The Movie, "Nashville" (one of my favorites) ends with a character, who has, for the entire length of the film, who has been muzzled, finally bursting into song for everyone to hear: "You may say/That I ain't free/But it don't bother me." Robert Altman at his best.

Professor Lessig. has traveled north, to New Hampshire to encourage the New Hampshire Rebellion, to get corruption out of politics, presumably because he can drive from Cambridge to New Hampshire in no time flat, but also because New Hampshire is, well, New Hampshire.  You know, we have politically engaged, hardy Yankee souls up here, ears and minds open to receive wisdom from a man who can talk sense to aroused citizens. And here in New Hampshire, we are nothing, if not aroused (politically speaking--don't get me wrong.)

Congressmen and Senators, it is obvious, are not representatives of a free people, but simply corporate employees who represent the people who pay them.

No professor, no New Hampshire Rebellion is going to change enough minds to matter.

After the killing of four students at Kent State, there was an image which likely did change a significant number of minds.
This Image Changed More Minds Than Any Protest March

What got us out of Vietnam was not determined teach-ins by academics or even the peace marches by ordinary Americans. What got us out of Vietnam was  the North Vietnamese army and the Viet Cong. 
Oh, If Gestures Could Stop Bombs

Will  the New Hampshire Rebellion really accomplish anything?

Well, it's attracted one energetic motivational speaker: Professor Lessig.

Were it not for him, we might all be living in vans down by the river.

If we cannot depend on the professional reformers to change the political landscape in this country, what mechanism of reform, what kind of reformer might actually be  effective? 

During the last election, in 2014,   a small coven of radical Hampton, NH Democrats  tried to get a message out, about the cravenness of Scott Brown and  Kelly Ayotte and their backers. They used  puppets and song, hoping to create an image to counter the slick fantasy created by Republican marketers and by the likes of Rush Limbaugh.  They failed. The internet is a vast galaxy and their star flamed out without much notice. 
You tube: Scott Brown The Prettiest Candidate 

That's the big problem in this new world of social media--so many voices, so little time, so little space. How do you get seen in a galaxy of competing, twinkling lights?

But they may have taken a first step down the right road.  Theirs, at least, was an authentic voice of derision and outrage, coming from an unadulterated place. Democratic candidates are timid, afraid to say anything which might offend anybody. These citizens had nothing to lose, and so they had everything to gain.


  1. Mad Dog,
    I think that coven of radical Dems from Hampton did alright for the first time out of the gate-and at least they can't be accused of standing idly on the sidelines...

  2. Maud,

    Spoken like a true progressive and servant of the queen.
    I am hoping those attack puppets re emerge someday. If the Republicans keep embracing the vaccination rejector movement, I suspect the puppets will not be able to resist.

    Mad Dog