Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Support the Status Quo! (1993)

From the December 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

No, we haven't gone barmy and been converted to the money system. Nor have we sold out to the forces of the status quo. We just want to show you how it is possible to support capitalism and prevent the growth of socialism without perhaps consciously intending to do so.

It may be helpful to propose a number of maxims to follow (for readers not into irony: not to follow):

Ignore the structural causes of social and individual problems. Pretend, for example, that psychological disturbance has nothing to do with the social forces that shape personality development. By doing so you can help those force's to continue unabated. Intervene only at the individual level. It's fine to help homeless people on a case-by-case basis. But don't enquire into the policy decisions and economic arrangements that brought about their predicament. That would only serve to invite drastic changes. Treat each example of corporate wrongdoing (illegal dumping of toxic wastes, for example) as an isolated incident and not the fault of the system. In that way you can help to keep the system intact.

The best way to keep the status quo intact is to make sure that individuals adjust themselves to serve its needs. Such adaptation was once enforced by crude, authoritarian methods of "re-education". Today this is hardly necessary. A wealth of advice is available on how to become successful, or at least to cope. How to get a job, what to wear, how not to become a victim - all such advice proceeds from the premise that you should adjust yourself to conditions as you find them. Adaptation means you must solve your problems within the institutions and according to the rules that already exist. To fit in is to fortify the structures into which you are being fitted.

The more you limit your concerns to yourself, the more you help to sustain the larger system. This does not apply only to material well-being. Even therapeutic and spiritual enterprises are useful for preserving the status quo. In encouraging you to attend to your own needs, they effectively direct attention away from social structures. Look after yourself and let the rest of the world go on its way — what better strategy is there for perpetuating existing structures? Exceptionally, personal growth could be a route to change your ideas about society. But the human potential movement generally doesn't go that far. so you need not either.

You don't have to defend capitalism. You can even nod in sympathetic agreement with socialists who condemn it. But you must accompany this nodding with a shrug. Phrases such as "like it or not" and "that's the way the wicked world is" should be employed liberally to emphasise that nothing can be done about the larger picture. Such protestations of powerlessness are actually very powerful, of course, since they make sure that things are left exactly as they are. Every person who takes such a stance is another person rescued from socialist activism.

When you come across people who refuse to resign themselves to the way things are or to believe that we are helpless to make fundamental changes, immediately label them "idealistic" or "utopian". Don't be concerned about the vaguely complimentary connotations of having ideals. An idealist is someone who doesn't understand "the world as it is" ("world" - "our society"; "as it is" "as it will always be"). This label calls attention to socialists' faulty understanding of "human nature" and helps to ensure that they are not taken seriously. By contrast, those who are "pragmatic" know that we must always work within the confines of what we are given.

You can make it more difficult for socialist critics of capitalism — and salve your own conscience at the same time — by claiming that your real reason for acting as you do is to "change the system from within". You can join any of the political parties that offer reforms (which means all of them except the Socialist Party) and you won’t actually have to take part in making fundamental change. Even if this really were your goal, you would be permitted to work only for insignificant reforms that never come close to challenging the structures themselves. A variation on this theme is that you are going to support a reformist party for only a short time, waiting for the socialist movement to grow before you consider joining it (if every one does this, socialism will be postponed for ever). If you are audacious enough, you can even rationalize your reformism as the most efficient way to change the system. The more people who accept this reasoning and follow your example, the more secure capitalism will be.
Stan Parker

No comments: