Re: [sixties-l] Bedtime for Democracy

From: Ted Morgan (
Date: 12/30/00

  • Next message: Ted Morgan: "Re: [sixties-l] Bedtime for Democracy"

    This is a belated answer to Jerry West's comment on my earlier post:
    Re. my comment that non-voting was a kind of 'rational act' on the part of
    many of those who felt powerless,
    Jerry West wrote:
    >The rational decision not to vote is a decision to let others make the
    To which I would reply that for these non-voters (and well, to a fair
    degree, most of us), "others" have already, in effect, "made the
    decisions."  The very fact that the possibilities in a normal 2-party
    election do no include anyone who will in reality address the felt needs of
    the powerless means that they are already disempowered by the
    money/tv/primary process that weeds out anyone who would.  This year, of
    course, Nader was an exception.
    Jerry goes on to comment on my remarks about the media-narrowed system (that
    "with the effect than any substantive criticism remotely radical is
    virtually invisible in the mainstream media --as are a host of ills produced
    by this very liberal-capitalist-imperialist system")
    > JW reply:
    > People may be excluded from the benefits of society and from adequate
    > coverage in the media because that is the way the system wants it, but
    > their exclusion from the polls is a conscious act on their part, even if
    > it might be motivated by the perceptions fostered by the establishment.
    > It sounds like you are preaching a doctrine of hopelessness here, saying
    > that the system wants a large number of people to be marginalized, so
    > they are and nothing can be done by them only for them.  I disagree.
    I'm a bit puzzled by his Jerry's first point --apparently the system "wants"
    the powerless to receive "inadequate" media coverage and "exclusion" from
    society's benefits, but not (?) their exclusion from the polls (election
    booths?) because this latter is self-chosen by the powerless.  Seems like a
    little garbled reasoning to me.  There's plenty of evidence, in fact, to the
    effect that as sufferage spread in the 20th Century, elite intellectuals
    like Walter Lippmann (a noted liberal) and Harold Lasswell embraced the mass
    media as a means of 'controlling' the "bewildered herd" (as Lippman put it)
    --i.e., as voting became a potential vehicle for public control, it became
    more crucial to control the public's consciousness via mass communications &
    "public relations."  Thus I not only argue that the "decision" not to vote
    reflects external electoral realities (2-party control) largely (though not
    inevitably) beyond the control of the powerless, but that this is not
    "unintended" (the same can be said for the variety of voter registration
    laws inthis country that make it harder for the poor to vote than is the
    case in most of the West).
    But my real contention here is with Jerry's conclusion that I am preaching a
    "doctrine of hopelessness."  I have, I'd argue, consistently "preached" (?)
    something more akin to Gramsci's "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of
    the will" --that one must be hard headed in analyzing the system and how it
    works while being insistent through action, writing, etc. that a
    transformation is possible, that organizing, acting, writing, talking --all
    of it adds up to the maelstrom of little actions that someday at crucial
    times take off and bring about transformation.  In short, RECOGNIZING that
    "the system wants a large number of people to be marginalized" --as Jerry
    puts it-- is the first step or precisely the effective kind of organizing
    that needs to be done.  Nothing in what I say is meant to argue
    "hopelessness" --nor has it ever been. So, I wanted to clear up that
    Ted Morgan

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