Posts Tagged ‘horizontalism’

As we plow our way through this hot and dismal summer of 2010, the democracy vision is collapsing about our ears.

It’s not so much that we’ve ceased to believe in the core values of democracy as that we’ve grown disillusioned with the ability of our supposedly democratic system to uphold those values. By almost any measure, we Americans are less free and equal now than we were a generation ago, and have far less control over our own government.

At the same time, our misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan have undercut our faith that Western-style democracy is a universal human norm which can be exported as easily as blue jeans and Coca-Cola. Perhaps the clearest lesson of those two misbegotten wars is that a system of free elections and majority rule — though adequate to resolve the minor differences of opinion that arise in a relatively homogeneous society — only creates turmoil when applied to the power struggles of well-organized and heavily armed minorities.

Even worse, that same kind of turmoil could lie in the future of the United States — where our increasing cultural diversity is already giving rise to seemingly irreconcilable tensions — unless we can develop a more flexible way of operating.

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In the last few years before the 1960’s counterculture found its voice, a dawning sense of the universe as an all-embracing whole was already bubbling up into consciousness. It was still nothing that could be put into words but it was present on an intuitive level, and in 1963-64 it was being expressed more clearly in the music than anywhere else.

Surf music may have been the first to tap into the new holistic awareness, but a similar message was present in Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” — a technique epitomized by the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” (1963) — and in the harmonies of early Beatles songs. (Not surprisingly, in 1966 the Beach Boys would fuse the wall of sound with surf rock in their groundbreaking Pet Sounds.)

By 1965, a recognition of the latent power in the music had inspired even Bob Dylan to go electric. But the new awareness was not yet accessible to everyone. The outraged folkies who thought Dylan had betrayed them didn’t get it — and neither did the clueless Time magazine intern whose interview of Dylan just before his first electric performance is believed to have inspired the classic line, “Something’s happening here but you don’t know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?”

Right now, at the start of 2010, we’re coming close to the equivalent of that “Mr. Jones” moment, but we’re not quite there. Amazing things are about to happen, there is a sense of almost intolerable imminence — but they haven’t happened yet. And this time, of course, the primary vision will be not chaos but holism, which is in the process of moving away from an alignment with the failed democracy vision — and its model of progress through political reform — and into an alignment with the next social vision.

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