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Dream as if you'll live forever and live as if you'll die today

by Jozef Imrich

How many people in this room made $100,000 last year? Less than five percent of the American people make that much money. But one who did, Mikey Eisner, the head Mouseketeer of Disney. In 1995 he made $100,000. Not for the year, not for the month, he didn't make $100,000 a week; he didn't make $100,000 a day; he made $100,000 an hour. Plus a car. Meanwhile he was knocking down the health care benefits of the minimum wage workers who were at Disney Land and Disney World. These executives, like Michael Eisner, they get so rich that they could afford to air-condition hell. And the way they're acting, they better be setting money aside for that project.

Jim Hightower (21 October 1997) Democracy NOW!

The month of July seemed to be peppered with special birthdays. The Australian based Webdiary (Webdiary) celebrated a berry (sic) colourful birthday and in Amerika (sic) Radical Reference (RR) Librarians were also raising a toast to a different kind of altruistic movement.

Walt Disney and his pioneering spirit would be proud of these movements which honor his visions and not just his initials: If you can DREAM it, you can DO it. Abbie Hoffman summed up the dreams along the following lines:

Democracy is not something you believe in or a place to hang your hat, but it's something you do. You participate. If you stop doing it, democracy crumbles.

Six years ago Webdiary and RR were just dreams, however, slowly at first, and now in growing numbers from kitchen tables to non-profit organizations to corporate boards, citizens are turning away from the politics of bickering and division and working out a new politics - a politics of creative problem-solving. A politics of providing various public interest inspired choices and options to a multitude of complex issues.

Webdiary tends to come up with solutions to public issues that are thoughtful enough, clever enough, and inclusive enough, to bring people and factions together. The real solutions to problems like the recent policy on detention centres were brewing on Webdiary for many months.

The strength of phenomena like Webdiary is in the ways they encourage us to be as many-sided as we really are -- practical and visionary, mature and imaginative, sensible and creative, all at once. Some describe this sort of activities as radical middle politics. It is an attitude, an impulse, a mood shaped and re-shaped by characters like Vaclav Havel, who was among the first to tear down the wall and breathe new life into Prague’s Second Spring.

Mother Teresa, who encouraged people to open their hands if they wanted to be held, created a radical vision for the new middle:

If you judge people, you have no time to love them.

Our vision, then, is like a map that shows our destination. Once we know we want to go, we can work backwards, figuring out what roads to take to get us safely to our destination. After we know which way we wish to go, things start to happen. Without a map, or vision, we cannot predict our future, but with a map, we become seers. We can see into the future because we knowingly create it. However, as the Slavic saying goes, Vision without action is a daydream and action with without vision is a nightmare.

After all, action without vision is action for action's sake. It is misdirected, for it doesn't take us where we wish to go.

Often we define ideas or concepts by what they are yet rarely we define them by what they are not. So if you see politicians blaring half-truths at each other in the mainstream media - or demonstrators marching with simplistic slogans - then you know you are very far from the radical middle.

The Velvet Revolution gave birth to a grace known as forgiveness. Peaceful movements show that ideas and actions do not need to end up in the ‘mushy middle’ where there's no direction or principle.

When a political playwright or a community activist addresses a problem in our community - and instead of scapegoating government or business proposes a solution to the problem that might involve working with Mayors such as Clover Moore or the business community - then you’re seeing radical middle politics first hand. Because the radical middle is not about kicking government or business or union for the sake of cheap political football. It is about learning to listen to everyone, learning to work with everyone, and learning to build on everyone’s best insights.

Show me any reasonable citizen who would let Jim Hightower's one-size-fits-all corporate greed have a final say on any Industrial Relations legislation?

To succeed, though, Webdiary needs efforts of all caring citizens. As Edward Abbey rightly pointed out, “Society is like a stew. If you don't keep it stirred up, you get a lot of scum on top.”

Most people at Webdiary are bold as well as reasonable enough to want idealism without illusions - a fresh and hopeful vision that doesn’t fall into the trap, as many right wing heartless beasts do. On the other hand, Havel has also issued a warning to the leftists who tend to be fond of looking back to chestnuts from the counter-culture of the Sixties and Seventies, such as soviet economics or neo-anarchist democracy or a wildly optimistic view of human nature.

We need a politics that’s ‘radical’ in the sense that it addresses fundamental public policy issues in ways that are honest and creative - but ‘middle’ in the sense that it doesn’t aspire to overthrow entrepreneurial spirit or representative democracy.

Webdiary to me is all about maximising choices for every Australian. Webdiary is about peace, grace, joy, and love. No wonder so many posts mention Iraq and Detention Centres.

Thoughtful pioneers like the Austrian-Amerikan Peter Drucker tell us that in this world capital isn't scarce, but vision is.

Many individuals are living complicated lives now - few of us have moved through life in a straight line. I think many of us would benefit from trying to gather and synthesise the difficult political lessons we’ve learned over the courses of our lives. Let’s hope that the rise of knowledge workers and the creative class represents more than a change in lifestyle - a change in communicating and thinking.

The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. If there is no struggle there is no progress.

Those who profess to favour freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning and they want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters:

This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted.

Frederick Douglass (1857)


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re: Dream as if you'll live forever and live as if you'll die t

The quotation below is very stirring:
"This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted."

From your eloquent article I cannot tell if the quotation is from Jim Hightower (21 October 1997) Democracy NOW! or from Frederick Douglass (1857).

Can you enlighten me? Where is the quotation from?

re: Dream as if you'll live forever and live as if you'll die t

Jozef, we both seem to appreciate Albert Camus quotes ... this one is worth repeating, "A free press can, of course, be good or bad, but, most certainly without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad."

re: Dream as if you'll live forever and live as if you'll die t

Indeed, Polly, freedom is priceless. I like listening to Solomon Burke who sang in his Grammy winning CD, “None of us are free, if one of us is chained, none of us are free.”

re: Dream as if you'll live forever and live as if you'll die t

Greetings Ray

I trust that the link below might shed more direct light on the quote:

Frederick Douglass (1857) Without Struggle/No Freedom

re: Dream as if you'll live forever and live as if you'll die t

Jozef, a fine reminder of exactly what we should all be trying for here, albeit too often forgotten amidst the heat of many debates. Thank you too for the link to the "radical middle" - a concept I'm very fond of, personally, but was unaware that any writer was promoting directly. I'll check it out asap...

One thing I'm curious about, though - just how strong is your adherence to our current 'unreformed' version of representative democracy? My own perspective on same has been (badly) shaken since reading Thomas Ferguson's Golden Rule: the Investment Theory of Party Competition & the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems (Chicago University Press: 1995) a few years ago... as he provides very strong evidence for what most of us suspect - that, in the absence of massive widespread grassroots revolt, political parties converge on any issues that their major funders jointly agree on, thus forestalling genuine debate on many/most of the key issues.

This is a problem that - quite simply - I feel we have yet to properly come to terms with as, without effective instituional means of circumventing such interests (ie. some measure of well-designed direct/deliberative democracy as a counterweight), all the well-intentioned agitation in the world can 'safely' be ignored until it reaches crisis point.

But... that is NOT the recipe for a genuine - and workable - democracy. In fact, it resembles rather a somewhat more benign version of the dilemma that Eastern Europe found itself in prior to the revolutions you so rightly praise.

We need to start thinking about this - rather than simply focusing on the day-to-day issues (however important), otherwise - as usual - the 'commanding heights' will remain captive to the existing groups of political operators and their all-too-flush puppetmasters... until they've screwed things up even more than they have to this point.

All the best.

re: Dream as if you'll live forever and live as if you'll die t

John your observations provide food for thought. I guess blogging has taught me that no matter how original, bright, revolutionary or new I think an idea is, that someone else has not only thought of it before me but has written about it too often in much better way than I can.

For example, I came across a fascinating essay by Michael C. Munger who reviewed and assessed the Golden Rule in a rather balanced way Golden Rule. Munger said: “Adam Ferguson’s main thesis was that differences in status in the workplace, and in the community based on wealth, extend to differences in power in the political and social setting in which work takes place.”

The investment theory of politics, documented by Thomas Ferguson explains how “powerful investors, not unorganized voters, dominate campaigns and elections because [they] 'invest' in political parties and their candidates” using the voters as merely a duped audience for resolving their internal squabbles. One key result is that "on all issues affecting the vital interests that major investors have in common, no party competition will take place" (Golden Rule, 28) unless "the gains that might come from control of the state" exceed the losses from mobilizing voters by sacrificing those vital interests. ‘Golden Rule works well as a collection, and represents an important challenge to orthodox conceptions of politics and public-choice theory.’

To effectively control governments, ordinary voters require strong channels that directly facilitate mass deliberation and expression. Lets hope initiatives like Webdiary will provide the channels as Golden Rule 29 notes “The prerequisites for effective democracy are ... deeper institutional forces--flourishing unions, readily accessible third parties, inexpensive media, and a thriving network of cooperatives and community organizations--are the real basis of effective democracy.”

My father liked to quote Robert Kennedy often and do so because so much of what he said is timeless. In defending democracy anywhere in this fragile world, we should consider the following from RFK:

Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

re: Dream as if you'll live forever and live as if you'll die t

CODA: 'If we look at history, we find that in time, humanity's love of peace, justice and freedom always triumphs over cruelty and oppression…'
-The 14th Dalai Lama

re: Dream as if you'll live forever and live as if you'll die t

On a positive note, it is encouraging to read that the Melbourne Writers Festival's session for the keynote speaker John Ralston Saul, talking about the prerequisites for effective democracy and collapse of globalism, attracted 1800 readers.

Craig Rowley of Webdiary fame captured the powerful ideas in the post entitled They devour their reason and scarce think: the globalists come to the island nation.
The story of the last five years, as John Ralston Saul provocatively argues in the Collapse of Globalism is more its retreat than its advance. Countries are asserting control of their national destinies. Malaysia and Argentina, for example, have both refused to kowtow to the financial markets and prospered. China is industrialising in its very particular fashion. Even tiny 'New Zealand has reversed its flirtation with a Thatcherite agenda and prospered. When surveying the world, what is striking is not the uniformity of policy but the diversity. The real choice, declares Ralston Saul, is positive or negative nationalism. Those who do believe in globalism, place their faith in the power of free markets to produce economic growth, which in turn will improve living standards for everyone. Their mantra, that a rising tide carries all boats, has characterized their conviction. For some, that conviction is stronger than their faith in god, and is tied to the notion that less government is better. There is now the realization that democratic governments can create laws governing how their economy is affected by market forces. He attributes this reawakening to the string of economic crises in the 1990s (Mexico, Russia, East Asia) and the realization, especially in places like Latin America, which have followed globalism’s religion to a fault, that the magic failed to eradicate poverty and has actually caused more income inequality.'

Last night, Kerry O'Brien of the 7:30 Report fame wondered what kind of democracy there might be in the XXIst century. He also asked John Ralston Saul whether he believed the global pendulum would now swing back towards protectionism. But as we all know nothing in its extreme is particularly good. Exchanging one brutalism for another is not the answer. ‘Listen, you know, the odds are with those who are conscious and who do not feel there are powers, forces at work that they cannot shape.’ Globalisation's decline 'calls for leadership' .

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