Books on Monday: There Goes My Everything

A very inadequate zoom shot of the top of York Avenue, with Harlem a blur in the distance.

There Goes My Everything, Jason Sokol’s study of the white response to the struggle for civil rights, appears at a time when I find myself coming round to the view that struggle for equal civil rights for black Americans fractured the United States at least as badly as many white supremacists feared that it would — in what turns out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. For a long time, as the dust seemed to settle, I stupidly wondered if the movement had been a success. A sense that its achievement was not altogether complete eventually gave way to a recognition that it was merely the opening assault in a war against patriarchy that the most fierce abolitionists may have been unwilling to undertake. “What Is Wrong With America Today”? The America that everybody professes to love and root for is as defunct as Colonial Williamsburg — and we all know it. We had better get to work on breathing some life into its successor.

There Goes My Everything.

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One Response to “Books on Monday: There Goes My Everything

  1. George says:

    You say, “We create dependencies, by disenfranchising groups thought to be inferior.” and I would agree but add that it is the judgement of one group as to the inferiority of another group that at best sometimes creates dependencies but always at worst, it seems to me, creates in the minds and actions of those judged to be inferior tremendous enmity towards the judgemental group. It seems to my mind an issue so much broader than “What Is Wrong With America Today”? the issue being rather “What has and is always wrong with people?” that they cannot desist from making the distinctions along every possible line that separate like me from not like me. And, then the even more socially disruptive tendency is having made the judgements about who is like and not like ourselves is then to enforce a physical separation from the unlike, who become immediately the unliked. Enforcing this separation from the unlike by violence seems to be the root of much that is wrong with people today. I think defining life in terms of negatives, “knowing what I don’t want”, is pernicious but clarifying the positives, “knowing what I do want”, is sometimes such a daunting task it is no wonder that the common tendency is to take the negative approach. It is to me not so much that the desires of the men from the Colonial Williamsburg era

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

    are in error, those desires at the time as expressed in the Declaration of Independence being a novel twist on Locke’s original idea which allowed for “the pursuit of property” still seem a noble goal to me. What seems rather ignoble in America at the moment, that moment extending back in time at least through the current despicable administration in Washington, and perhaps in the world, as well, is the increasing tendency to not even pay lip service to noble ideas or words. I heard Benjamin Barber get it right the other day when he said

    Democracy means pluralism. If everything’s religion, we rightly distrust it. If everything’s politics, even in good politics, we rightly distrust it. But when everything’s marketing and everything’s retail and everything’s shopping, we somehow think that enhances our freedom. Well, it doesn’t. It has the same corrupting effect on the fundamental diversity and variety that are our lives, that make us human, that make us happy. And, in that sense, focusing on shopping and the fulfillment of private consumer desires actually undermines our happiness.

    Barber’s book Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole might make a good companion to Sokol’s There Goes My Everything by pointing up another much larger, more immediate and very real dependency and marginalization issue. The real America I live in is far from moribund but the mythical America trotted out by both political parties during the election season is more like Lenin’s corpse than a vibrant myth capable of moving a society in positive directions. Even some of the Russian plutocrats are considering burying V I just for public relations reasons. We certainly need to breathe some life into the American Ideal but I don’t think any of the current crop of American plutocrats who pass for politicians will give us any air anytime soon.