National Conversation

“We need to have a conversation about…” race, the opioid epidemic, gun safety, police, income inequality, housing, etc. The list could or would seem incessant, but what is “the conversation”? Of the multiple meanings of the word “support”, the dictionary gives a socially oriented one of “to maintain (a person, family, institution, etc.) with the necessities of existence; provide for”. Today the word seems to have become just another synonym of “purchase” or “buy”. We are asked to support the local vendors at the Farmers Market, or support a local restaurant, or support community service through “shopping” (another synonym of the current use of “support”) at the local thrift store. Like it or not “to maintain with the necessities of existence; provide for” is not at all the same as “buying”, “purchasing” or “shopping” within a competitive capitalist economy. Sure, the end results of maintaining existence may appear to be the same, at least until “provide for” is considered (aka go fund me). “Support” seems to have morphed into “purchase” with the financial meltdown of the Bush presidency, and the “Great” recession implicated by it. But then, George W’s first reaction to 911 was to tell his fellow citizens to go out and buy stuff, a pick up truck or hummer. The roots of its meaning transformation may be deeper than the collapse of Lehman Bros. Like “support”, “conversation” seems likewise to have slid into meaning something not exactly the same as the dictionary definition which implies some kind of “interchange of thoughts, information, etc.” The recently endured national primary contests, as well as the anticipated (and loathed) general election campaign, give evidence of another meaning entirely. The financial meltdown of 2008, and the ensuing years of recession filled with lack, brought with it an overabundance of speculative questioning by journalists, scholars, economists, etc. Is capitalism capable of addressing the public needs left over from catastrophes and disasters? Can capitalism, and the market, provide the necessities of housing, food distribution, medical care? People were definitely out of work with their homes in foreclosure and the food pantries emptied. Everyone clamored that there needs to be a national conversation on this. That was 8 years ago. Today we have the harvest of a two party system that has specifically sowed legislation limiting democracy to a choice between only two, over the past century if not more. Recent evidence of this within Ohio was the quick legislative change of third party ballot eligibility during the race for re-election by John Kasich in 2014. The current (and loathed) presidential contest pits a neo-liberal against a “self made” salesman of the virtues of marketing. Neo-liberalism is all about personal choice, and making markets available (and inevitable) in virtually everything, and to everyone. The “liberal” vestiges (if any) are the “virtually everything, and to everyone”, making it appear progressive, concerned with the welfare of all (whether in terms of free trade agreements, meals on wheels or low interest school loans). The “self made” salesman for the virtues of marketing doesn’t disguise his absolute lack of interest “to maintain with the necessities of existence; provide for” the welfare of others. If you can’t afford it, get out. As Newt Gingrich put it so succinctly when he ran for president “take a shower and get a job.” The “self made” salesman phrases it more positively, “We love those who go to work for us.” Both the neo-liberal and the salesman are in agreement over the positivity that must be extended to the electorate (neither willing to diss those who vote), as well as being united in their underlying commitment and dedication to profit. The “interchange of thoughts, information, etc.” concerning matters of social urgency and significance can only be made within the bounds of marketing, business and profit (thoughts about how to profit, business information, etc.). Any “conversation” outside that envelope simply will not pass postal regulation, whether it contributes or not, and is relegated to the dead letter file. Since the financial meltdown of 2008, “conversation” has experienced the same slippage as “support”. “Conversation” is more about “closing the deal” than any “interchange of thoughts, information, etc.” We ought to have a national conversation about that.

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