A new book just out on the Gilded Age, calls ours an Age of Acquiescence.
We’ve become a nation of accepters, its author argues, wiling to tolerate corporate crime and public poverty as inevitable outcomes of a system that’s just rigged.
The current public debate, author Steven Frazer suggests, reflects a resignation that market capitalism is bedrock, unchangeable. Simply the way things are.
A century after the Gilded Age and the rise of corporate power, we’ve become wussies, by comparison. Back then, wealth was just as condensed. The richest 1 percent owned over half of it while the bottom 44 shared just 1.1 percent of it all. But theirs was an age of sit down strikes and rebellion. Troops not just cops, routinely hit the streets. What happened?
As followers of our program know, at the Laura Flanders Show we don’t believe there’s so much resignation. There’s more rising going on than our money media show. Still, there’s truth in Frazer’s case that 19th unrest was fuelled in part by a different frame of reference.
To 19th century factory workers, the age of alienation was new. Descendants of subsistence farmers and self employed craftsmen, they remembered as we do not, an alternative and they chafed at logging-in and logging out.
“Wage slavery” they called it. When I asked a class of college students what they understood that term to mean, a room of blank faces stared back at me not long ago.
“We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable” science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin said upon receiving a National Book Award for literature last fall. But then, she continued, “so did the divine right of kings.”
In hard times, she said, we need fiction - “writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality.”
Which is why there’s so much to celebrate in the publication of a new book: Octavia’s Brood, an anthology of visionary science fiction written by social justice organizers and activists.
Can we rely on memory to imagine alternatives? Not in the way the 19th century rabble could. But we have radical sci-fiction as the editors put it, to help us “decolonize” our brains.