Our Town: Why social movements fail

a group of leading intellectuals listen to Dr. D'Agostino discuss why social change is so hard

Have you ever wondered what happened to the Occupy Wall Street movement? That seemed to be a big deal at the time but the last I heard the only people occupying Wall Street today are stockbrokers and hedge fund guys.

How about the 2017 Woman’s March where 5,246,620 protestors filled the streets of every major city in America on the day after the Trump inauguration to demand women’s rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, LGBTQ rights, environmental reform, racial equality and worker’s rights?

This was the largest single-day protest in US history with fully 1.6 percent of the population involved, including nearly every major celebrity in the nation. It is hard to see how anything has changed with anything on their agenda over the last two years with the exception of getting more Democrats voted in during the midterms.

A cursory look at this newspaper’s Letters to the Editors section reveals that many of our readers are alarmed about the way things are going in Nassau County and in the nation. Our politics are divisive, our weather borders on the bizarre and our mood is both sour and anxious. So what is to be done?

As luck would have it, I was able to attend a special meeting in Manhattan which addressed the problem of social inertia and the notable failure of progressive movements to have much impact.

The meeting was held at Fordham University and was organized by one of the world-leading psychohistorians, Dr. Paul Elovitz. Participants included luminaries such as Dr. Brian D’Agostino, who recently published the book, “The Middle Class Fights Back,” Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler, author and psychoanalyst who runs the Object Relations Institute in New York, and Bill Blakemore, the Emmy award-winning ABC news correspondent spearheading their news divisions coverage of global warming.

D’Agostino remarked that the last social movement that had any sway was the cultural changes of the 1960s, which ushered in the sexual revolution, new forms of music, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement and the end of the draft.

Since then, and especially since the 1980s, there have been increases in income disparity, evidence of global warming, the steady rise in American corporate power globally, the increased power of the ‘military/industrial complex‘ and a growing social divide which has marked the death of the American Dream and the hopes of the increasingly stressed and overworked middle class.

In the face of all of these serious social problems, there has been a stunning lack of leadership and an astonishing lack of solutions. D’Agostino states that over the last four decades, stress and anger are rising but no progressive movement seems to have any ability to make a change.

All this reminds me of many films including “Falling Down,” which came out in 1993, directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Michael Douglas as an unemployed, frustrated and demeaned defense worker who unravels and becomes psychotically violent. Or better yet, the Academy Award-winning 1976 film “Network,” which gave birth to the line “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

These artistic efforts were popular partly because they channeled the ongoing American angst that is still with us. But now we are greeted with a virtual landslide of films about zombies and the walking dead, all of which symbolize America’s current dissatisfaction, emptiness, hunger, paranoia and rage all rolled into one.

Artists and filmmakers are able to express this winter of our discontent, but as D’Asgotino asked, why can’t anyone come up with some solution?

Here is what I think. One of the best thinkers of recent years was the French intellectual Jean Baudrillard, who was a key figure in post-modern thinking. Don’t let that word confuse you because all it means is that some writers try to understand our brave new world and how the television, advertising and electronic media in general have impacted human life.

They have concluded what Huxley, Orwell and McLuhan hinted many years ago. These post-modernists state that the amount of information we have been bombarded with over the last 75 years has totally overwhelmed our human capacity to digest it and the result is that we have basically become passive and zombie-like. And this means that civil movements, or even dialogue in general, is no longer possible. They point out that 1980 was the basic tipping point and they refer to this as the end point of history.

All that may seem a little dramatic, but actually I believe them. At present we are addicted to a variety of forms of entertainment and now we have gone so far as to elect a man to run the free world who may be the most entertaining form of entertainment possible. As Bill Blakemore told me, Trump has garnered more free media publicity than any man in history.

A nation addicted to entertainment is not a nation all that interested in social movements. TV and all the other forms of entertainment we have access to have a way of soothing us and putting us in a quiescent state. And we will undoubtedly grow more passive and tame when marijuana is made legal and recreational.

Huxley gave us Soma in which to obtain blind-eyed bliss and now we have a large choice in which to obtain the same state of mind. So when one posits the question, “why social progressive movements fail,” all you have to do is look at your television to understand why. Just turn it on, sit back and enjoy. “Hey honey, when are the Simpsons on?”


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