The combined influences of corporatism, racism, and militarism that dominate American society constitute an affront and threat to civilization. In order to parse this statement, we need to examine the concept of “civilization”. In order to have civilization, we need a critical mass of population that practices civilized behavior. To be civilized is to be able to constructively live together not only with other citizens, but in a global context, with other nations. Notice the similarity between the words “civilized” and “citizen”.
To be a citizen requires engagement, not only in the workplace or in a neighborhood, but engagement in social movements that act as civilizing forces, such as the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th century, or the current Black Lives Matter Movement.
Despite what we’ve been taught as residents of a corporate meritocracy, civilization is not defined solely by economics, technological advancement, or a system of representative democracy. Civilization requires civic engagement. Civic engagement is actively discouraged by the practices of our corporate meritocracy. The key players in our governmental elections are not people, not even the candidates running. The key players are 1) corporate interests that channel immense amounts of profits into political campaigns in order to insure that their vested interests are represented and upheld, and 2) mass media. Deep civic engagement is even discouraged by the very system of representative democracy, which sanctions civic engagement at the voting booth and in the electoral machine, but does nothing to encourage participatory democracy or political engagement at the community level.
We face a formidable endeavor in creating a civilization from the ruins of American society. To comprehend the immensity of this endeavor, we must first come to terms with the fact that American society, rising as it has from an Old World paradigm of slavery, colonization, resource extraction, and consumption, contains inherent flaws. This perhaps should not be surprising; all individuals are flawed, so why should societies made of masses of individuals be different?
This analogy of the individual and society can be instructive. Flawed individuals mature and grow by facing and transforming their flaws. As a society, America needs to mature and grow by facing and transforming its flaws. The place to start is with racism; this is the endemic illness of America. Slavery was established in the New World by European colonizers. At the time of the American Revolution and the formation of the United States, slavery was an institution not only in the south, but also in the north. New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Delaware were all slave-holding colonies in the 18th century. After the Civil War, the federal government imposed Reconstruction on the south, but this was a short-lived effort, and its gains were eroded by the Black Codes and subsequent Jim Crow laws, which reasserted and strengthened white supremacy. The Civil Rights era of the 20th century challenged Jim Crow and gained legal victories for African-Americans; however, racism proves resilient, and we see around us in the 21st century evidence of the New Jim Crow: a prison-industrial complex and criminal injustice system that has been strengthened by the draconian tone and practices of the War on Terror. A surplus of military gear is channeled into police departments throughout the United States via the Department of Defense’s “1033” program. This surplus gear is wielded against citizens often simply on suspicion of drug possession. The majority of people targeted in this way are Black or Latino, and, according to The Sentencing Project, “[m]ore than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities.”
Despite white society’s assertions, the election of President Barrack Obama did not signify that we live in a post-racial society. The notions of a “post-racial” and “colorblind” society serve to protect vested white interests. If people do not clearly see race, they cannot see structural racism. When people refuse to make connections between a person’s race and their daily experiences, they embrace ignorance. Asserting a “colorblind” perspective will not absolve America from its history, and it certainly hasn’t improved the lives of people of color, who still suffer from the implicit bias of a society that normalizes whiteness.
When we, as a society, normalize whiteness, we assert that our European ancestors are the standard of society, and we continue to marginalize our African ancestors, our Latino ancestors, our Native American ancestors. We normalize white experience in America; in doing so, we marginalize the experiences of people of color. We nullify the equality professed in our Declaration of Independence when we declare that the United States is a “European” or a “Christian” nation, and also when we pretend that racism is over.
Racism isn’t over. It’s the endemic illness of America, and as such requires critical and sustained attention. In order to address this national flaw, we need to radically reassess our priorities and shift from a culture of materialism, focused on financial success, which maintains an ignorance of the inconsistencies between our professed American ideals and our practices, into a culture of deep civic engagement.