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Whithering Politics?

I'd like to propose something radical: maybe, just maybe, most conservatives and liberals, leftists and rightists are well-intentioned people sincerely looking to improve things. This throws a monkey wrench in the works as far as political loyalties go, since one's opponents are brutes and scoundrels who are misguided at best and more likely nasty and evil. But let's suppose they aren't. Where does this take us?

For starters, it brings up another unsettling proposition: both sides of the fence may have valuable insights as well as mistaken assumptions. It encourages us to extricate ourselves from pat ideological battles and consider alternatives beyond options A or B. This is attractive because neither full-bore communism nor so-called democratic capitalism has worked terribly well.

Communism imploded a decade ago, destabilized by its own contradictions and its inability to provide enough desirable consumer goods. Meanwhile, deregulated capitalism has an uncanny knack for consolidation leading to monopolization (witness recent moves in telecommunications and banking) and the liberal democracies are hobbled by voter apathy and elite manipulation. In sum, it's a case of either too few color TVs or too many. Both the left and right have tended to focus on material solutions to an essentially spiritual dilemma: what can bring us happiness in a world stripped of any sense of harmony or integration?

A third approach has been in the air for quite some time, with valiant stabs made by the Greens, bioregionalists, and Fourth World activists who've opted out of the bipolar tennis match. They've brought the environment into the political debate and started sifting through the ideological ashes. But leave it to those grand opportunists, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, to invoke the rhetoric of a new "Third Way" as a kind of pro-active centrism which amounts to lukewarm social democrats scraping the bibs of their Wall Street siblings and offering the scraps to the disadvantaged kids next door. If we don't watch out we may get the same old stuff repackaged as an antidote to itself.

Why is it so hard to even conceptualize a truly alternative politics? The pundits, policy wonks, and activists, our political protectors, have a vested interest in keeping things within familiar bounds. They know which side their bread is buttered on, and escaping the left/right treadmill can be truly scary. The last time any serious alternative to our familiar political ruts was tried out, it involved brown shirts and übermenschen and maximum leaders who left half of Europe in smoking ruins. No one wants to go out on that limb again.

The good news is that there are signs of non-aligned alternative politics coalescing from the bottom up. Two current examples are Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County (DUHC) in California, and the node of activity developing around the renegade political philosopher Richard K. Moore. Both defy traditional left/right pigeonholes and speak to concerned activists across the political spectrum. They are analyzing the present malaise, networking with other grassroots groups, and identifying practical arenas where small changes can begin to be made.

DUHC emphasizes the economic and social roles corporations have played since their creation as legal entities in the eighteenth century. Has our democratic framework been distorted by corporate entities that are treated by the law as persons yet whose directors are exempt from direct responsibility? How has corporations' ability to last in perpetuity affected the distribution of economic resources and power? These questions are intriguing because their answers are not immediately self-evident.

Richard K. Moore, a retired Silicon Valley software engineer living in Ireland who now devotes his time to socio-economic inquiry, is the most provoking non-orthodox theorist at work today. Moore focuses on how the process of economic and political globalization is rapidly evolving to benefit transnational corporations and allied elites as it dismantles the sovereignty of nation states. He identifies an authoritarian impulse in the steady erosion of civil liberties, privacy, human-scale enterprises, and democratic participation, a kind of "stealth fascism" ripening under the guise of anti-terrorism and the drug war. This, no doubt, sounds extreme and paranoid, but Moore's reasoned analysis avoids most of the pitfalls found in the conspiracy theories retailed by the John Birch Society or the Montana Militia.

As befits the late nineties, both DUHC and Moore's materials are readily available on the Web. Moore has a very active email discussion list where a remarkably varied network of activists refines his theories and puts them to the test. Only time will tell whether these fledgling groups carry the seeds of a wider political movement to come or whether the steamroller of history will run them over. My hunch is that if people of good will from both the left and right can find sufficient common ground to work together towards changes that both agree upon, things could really start rocking.

Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County

PO Box 27, Arcata, CA 95518

Citizens for a Democratic Renaissance (Moore's networking organization)

c/o Jan Slakov

PO Box 35, Weymouth, NS

Canada B0W 3T0