"What's the matter with Kansas?" Or, more generally: why, given an economic and political situation that benefits so few Americans (roughly...1 percent), do all the others (the roughly...99 percent) willingly accept it, and sometimes even fight for it, seemingly against their interests? The most common answer: they're dumb. Or they've been duped. But this answer won't do. First of all, it's harmful: it perpetuates the Manichean, consumerist, and destructive way of doing politics called "culture war." Second, it's ineffective: to call someone a dupe is to alienate and exclude that person from the conversation. And finally, it's incorrect: "they," and "we," are just doing what makes us feel right. What makes us feel valued, and accepted, and worthwhile, in the communities we live in--the only yardsticks we've got.The answer, rather, lies in the way those communities have been built, formed, expanded, condensed, altered, weakened, and/or destroyed. In a word, how they've been organized. All meaning-making happens in organized groups--"interpretive communities"--which can be as small as two siblings or as large as Christendom. Political meaning-making is no exception. To the extent that all of us act against our interests, which we all do, it's because of the way the communities we live in have been organized, to make certain gestures and actions more valued, accepted, and worthwhile than others.This means that effective rhetoric--rhetoric that makes change--isn't just about finding the right words and saying or writing them. It's also, almost always, about being part of the effort to organize, dis-organize, and/or reorganize interpretive communities. Ideas, no less than people and money, must be organized if they are to be powerful.This is a hard truth for many to swallow, given that most of us have spent a lot of time in that large interpretive community called "academia and para-academia," where the truth is objective (not made by human organizations), and the goal is to find it and write it down, and it will set us free--and the result is a widespread, sometimes even active resistance to building and using our own agency. But it's a truth that the powerful have long known. Many of the most influential "ideas" people in modern politics, from Karl Marx to Carl Schmitt, have been organizers themselves, or have taken very intentional part in organizing work. This is especially true for two of the most powerful political activities in recent U.S. history. One is neoliberalism, the organizing campaign that began in the 1930s and 40s as an alliance among a handful of economists and businessmen and has grown into a worldwide movement that's changed the nature of politics, economics, and human interaction, actively destroying all potential for agency other than being an entrepreneur or consumer. The other is public work, emerging from the democratic populist traditions of the Popular Front, which is working to build a very different world: one where people come together and work, as collective producers, to make the world they--we--live in.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2014. Major: Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society. Advisor: Robert L. Brown, Jr. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 436 pages, appendix p. 378-436.
Organized ideas, or defeating the culture wars (what we need to know, and how we need to know it).
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