[OSList] on context [was Open Space in Charlottesville]

Raffi Aftandelian via OSList oslist at lists.openspacetech.org
Thu Sep 7 06:22:11 PDT 2017

Hi Lucas, hi all!
I´ve been following this conversation with interest and my curiousity is taking me in a different direction, hence a changed subject line- ¨On context.¨
First off, hats off to you, Lucas, for initiating these conversations. Much needed!
One question that comes up for me when these types of public conversations are offered is if the matter of context needs to be visited, and if so how is best to do so.
 I think there can be many, many assumptions- uncovered assumptions- that may end up not being aired. Assumptions like- ¨this is a democracy, we lost our way, and we need to find our way back.¨ Or, that Rodney King line, ¨Can´t we all get along?¨
On this question of context- as to who are we (here in the USA) and where are we, there are two points I´d want to make.
The first one-- by way of a story-- Back in my college days, I took a course in Soviet history. Our main text was a book titled Utopia in Power by dissident historians Nekrich and Geller. All (or many?) of the darkest chapters of Soviet history were right there, in gory detail. I remember thinking at the time- oh, those poor Soviets, too bad they don´t know the truth of their own history. And in my time living in Russia, I had the sense that most people- even educated people- had little knowledge of this history.
Fast forward twenty-five years. My book club read a work titled American Nations (by Colin Woodard) late last year- and as the coincidental timing would have it- we discussed the book the day after the election. Woodard identifies 11 different regional cultures in the USA, each with its own distinctive values, often clashing with those of other regional cultures. While I was reading the book, I realized how little I knew of ¨my¨ own country, how little I knew its history, how little I understood the cultural and value context of each of these regions, and gained a much clearer sense of why we these so-called culture wars and other kinds of social and political conflict. My takeaway was that it really didn´t make sense for all of these cultures to exist under one flag. I also realized that, no, we *can´t* get along (if couples can divorce, why can´t states/cities/communities divorce from the USA???) 
So, the book had me flashing to that Soviet history class-- and in a way, I had my own comeuppance- ¨us poor Americans, if we only really knew our own context! I really wish that book - for all its own shortcomings- had a wider audience as it could really help us understand our own context much more clearly. And without a consideration of context, we are having these conversations without unpacking what *are* our respective worldviews anyway. And they are quite different. 
The other aspect of context is surfacing assumptions about our current political system. As best as I can tell, the USA never was a democracy, nor even a republic. The best way I could describe it is as an inverted totalitarian apartheid state with a not insignificant amount of democratic window dressing. 
Let me unpack this. Sheldon Wolin, a political philosopher at Princeton, who passed a few years ago, coined the term ¨inverted totalitarianism¨ to describe the political system we have here-- a web of corporations and other entities together exerting total control on the political system without the need for a person at the top (no need for a Stalin or Hitler). Journalist Chris Hedges breaks this concept down in an engaging three hour interview he gave to C-Span (it´s online) in 2012.
And, historian Gerald Horne in his recent Counter-revolution of 1776 makes a strong argument that the so-called Revolution of 1776 was really a counter-revolution, a reactionary attempt to maintain the institution of slavery. He states that really the US was the first apartheid state. 
And others would say that slavery never really ended, it just evolved...(I first heard of the institution of neo-slavery that existed from the end of the Civil War until the end of World War II and still don´t know much about it) So, when people say, ¨That´s not who we are (we aren´t racist, sexist, etc.)¨-- I find that maddening. We are all those things! 
So, to be an inverted totalitarian apartheid state with a not insignificant amount of democratic window dressing isn´t bad. But, it would be too bad, I think, not to recognize that this is our base point. And what´s important is that there is some democratic window dressing-- there is some space to change things, some space for conversation, but perhaps not in the ways we would like to think.
So, I don´t know how or if what I´m bringing up here is useful. But, I do believe it needs to be part of these conversations somehow.
My two kopecks/rials/dinars/pesos,raffi **************What blocks gratitude in this moment?
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