Engage the Struggle, Let’s Swing!

Francis Fukuyama is an incredibly smart guy. I enjoy reading his work because he is thoughtful and insightful and makes really good points. But as has been the case since first reading The End of History, I read his work intrigued and pretty much buying into his ideas and then WHAM! I remember why he irritates me so. His article, “The Future of History” in the January/February 2012 edition of Foreign Affairs is case and point.

Take this quote, where Fukuyama is discussing the trends (I’m already mildly irritated by “trends”) in left-wing thought in the past few decades: “The academic left replaced [Marxism] with postmodernism, multiculturalism, feminism, critical theory, and a host of other fragmented intellectual trends that are more cultural than economic in focus.” (60) Yes, Francis, these areas are more “cultural than economic in focus” and the ideas expressed emanate from the actual people who have been historically marginalized and not simply or exclusively the people who study their consumer behaviors. Culture is inclusive, economics is exclusive; culture endures, economics fluctuates. And Francis, people are more than the sum of their buying power; or lack thereof, which brings me to my second point of contention. I struggle onward…

Francis defines multiculturalism as the study of a group “that validates victimhood of virtually every out-group.” Well, yes but not quite. First, multiculturalism is not about validating “victimhood” its about integrating discourse with voices of the historically marginalized. If that discussion identifies various “wrongs” levied on segments of society, good; in identifying the problems, we can move to correct them. Also, think about the miner’s canary; in hearing the song that alerts us to danger, we can all be saved from toxins in the air. Ugh! And I struggle some more.

Second, but related to my first point, the study of culture and so-called “out groups” is an effort to be more inclusive. By listening to more and diverse voices, we enrich conversations in any number of areas; say policy or civil or human rights or example. When more voices are integrated into such conversations, policies or laws can be created or enforced that will shape the lives of the people who live under their mandates. Take the new diplomatic strategy articulated by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for instance. She recognizes our “increasing global interconnectedness” and says diplomacy must reach “beyond governments to citizens directly.” Guess what? Most of those citizens will fall into these so-called “out groups” and the goal is to bring those people in – do you see? Business leaders are doing the same thing. I’ve written here about Navi Radju and Jaideep Prabhu’s idea of reaching the “next billion” customers and about how hierarchy can hurt strategy execution. Here’s the thing: when you segregate yourself from the next billion or keep corporate strategy boxed up into the corner office suite, your reach is limited. While such segregation from the masses worked well for a while, exclusion is no longer a viable strategy for diplomacy or business. How’s that for a novel idea? Francis drives me nuts!

Then he says, “it is impossible to generate a mass progressive movement on the basis of such a motley coalition [of postmodernists, multiculturalists and the like]: most of the working- and lower-middle-class citizens victimized by the system are culturally conservative and would be embarrassed to be seen in the presence of allies like this.” OMG and WTF?! First, name-calling is seldom productive (unless we’re playing the dozens but that’s a cultural thing and Francis seems to prefer economics) so I take issue with the “motley coalition” thing. Ok. Breathe deeply…  When we take the smack out of it, the “motley coalition” is a heterogeneous grouping of people who are highly educated and/or well read and well versed in the fields noted. This is precisely the goal – to diversify conversations. A homogenous group makes me think oligarchy and surely, that’s not what we want. Diversity and democracy go hand in hand. Second, if the so-called “working-and lower-middle class citizens” are “victimized by the system” shouldn’t we work to fix that? Shouldn’t their voices be integrated into discussions about policy and civil and human rights, for example? How could their experiences be instructive to discussions on education, healthcare? Who are their representatives locally, regionally or in Washington? Third, if these victimized people are “culturally conservative”; then, by moving them from out-group to in-group status do we make them more liberal? Would they be “embarrassed to be seen in the presence of allies” who, like them, had suffered historic wrongs or indignities but who, by forming a critical mass of like-minded people, were empowered and could realistically impact a change in policy or laws that could alter their status as victims? I’m thinking Menocchio and the critical thinking that lead to his self-awareness and death. Yes, empowering the historically marginalized could indeed mean the death of hierarchy as we know it so the effort to protect “working-and lower-middle-class citizens” from embarrassment has the intriguing consequence of protecting the status quo. This is anti democratic, Francis, and it is sooo 16th century!

That’s all for now in terms of identifying my points of contention with Francis Fukuyama’s essay. Here’s the bigger thing: Francis wants “An Ideology for the Future”; one that will “ reassert the supremacy of democratic politics over economics and legitimate anew government of the public interest.” He wants, like me, a “serious and sustained critique” of notions such as “ aggregate income [being] an accurate measure of national well-being.” Like me, Francis knows there’s a problem because “schools for the well-off are better than ever” and he is bothered that “elites in all societies use their superior access to the political system to protect their interests.” The details of how he articulates his views irk me but when I struggle though the would-be obstacles, I find various points of meaningful commonality. It is on these points we can work together to effect change. Struggle is necessary is discourse and in jazz bands because it creates the conditions for improvisation; and it is here, when each voice is articulated and validated that innovation occurs. Struggle is necessary in a jazz band because the rhythm section — drums, bass, piano — must reconcile the tension that sustains the rhythm so the band can swing. Engage the struggle and make it meaningful, let’s swing!

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4 thoughts on “Engage the Struggle, Let’s Swing!

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