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Anti-Intellectualism and the Death of a Movement

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“All explorers, pathfinders, in religion, morals, science, government, geography, in any and every department of human affairs, are agitators. They are seldom or never popular in the beginning of their labors. Their fate, as a rule, is to suffer derision, contumely, neglect, and poverty, often penalties still more severe; the exception only vindicates the rule.”

Eugene V. Debs 

Knowledge is power, yet it is reviled by much of the population. Unity is created, but at the cost of truth. This is as true on the left as it is on the right. Progress does not come through acquiescence to the status quo and continuing to live in a myth of federal deficits and taxpayer-funded spending. Agitation shakes up the status quo and is seen as divisive, but progress is not possible without agitation.

Many in this movement have failed to learn from the mistakes of the past — from the 2016 campaign where Hillary Clinton lied and mocked Bernie Sanders’ attempts to provide for the common good, to the 2020 election when a veritable army of primary challengers repeated neoliberal talking points. The media fed into these lies with the repeated question of “How are you going to pay for it?” — a question which is designed to weaken enthusiasm for big systemic changes like a Green New Deal or Medicare for All. Bernie came up with a series of pay-fors that were unnecessary in a country with monetary sovereignty.  

Any thinking human being can see taxes never pay for bombs, nuclear weapons, tanks, and F-35 planes, so why in the world would we place such spending limitations on the people of this nation? Without this knowledge it’s all just pie in the sky. That leaves neoliberals like Hillary Clinton correct if you believe that the nation is broke except for military spending and tax cuts for the rich.  

Hillary Clinton and her neoliberal friends are wrong – our nation creates money every single time we spend. It does not matter if it is Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pushing a Green New Deal or Donald Trump pushing a ridiculous border wall. We can afford to do anything for good or for ill. The nation can purchase anything for sale in US dollars and never go broke. Therefore, we must be bold in our vision, fearless in our advocacy and unequivocal in our commitment to advancing a progressive agenda.   

We must cut military spending – but not because it is unaffordable. We do not need to cut it to afford Medicare for All or Student Debt Cancellation. We can retrofit every smokestack in America, put solar panels on every American home, eliminate medical debt, rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, and even create the programs to provide the dollars for reparations for indigenous people and the descendants of slaves. There is no reason we cannot bail out Puerto Rico or fix the water pipes in every city across the country – including Flint, Michigan. Yes, we can have a Federal Job Guarantee which is locally administered and yes, we can expand Social Security and eliminate the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) altogether. The only constraints are real resources, not monetary ones. We must carry the message that it is public money, not taxpayer dollars. New money pays for every program we have today. Our kids deserve better. We need a Green New Deal now. We can’t sell a bold vision if we allow people to believe it is funded by their taxpayer dollars. It is simply not true nor is it how it is done. 

The knowledge that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) gives us is the reality of how we pay for it – Congress spends the money into existence. This is not a radical position to take; it is simply a description of reality. Yet far too often, we see the herd mentality created by the taxpayer myth. The masses are willing to go along with these false realities because no one in their affinity group is willing to step out of line and challenge their belief system. Unless ideas are brought up by their favorite politician or alternative media personality, they are seen as extraneous to the issue or even irrelevant.  

Understanding of how deficits work is important but this is not all that MMT teaches us. What about inflation? What about foreign policy? What about massive program structuring? All of these points can be understood through the lens of MMT. The role of the currency issuer, the currency user, the federal government, and the states. These questions are answered by MMT, but they keep coming up again and again. To many, they just seem like technocratic irrelevancies, yet nothing could be further from the truth. Social media does us no favors in this regard. Enormously important economic truths cannot and do not fit in 240 characters or less. Pride, ego, fragility – everyone wants to maintain their status, their stature, their leadership level, their followers, their subscribers, their place in the movement. Instead of trying to understand MMT, instead of asking for help, they tried to cancel people – lashing out and name-calling. This is shameful. Twitter has turned us into fast food information consumers.

Is it any wonder why the establishment keeps winning? Look no further than that mirror. Look no further than the affinity groups that place unity over truth. Look no further than worshiping politicians and alternative media personalities, that in no way shape or form understand the issue either. Look no further than the comfort they take in perpetuating ignorance because after all, how could anyone know the truth, right? Truth is elusive. There is no way to know the truth, right? Wrong.

Modern Monetary Theory: It is not as modern as it sounds, nor as theoretical as the name implies either. MMT has both a philosophical lens and an operational lens to view the economy. It is unassailable. It explains how federal finance works and how state and local government finance works. It shows that the federal government can never go broke on any debt denominated in its own currency. It shows the currency-issuing federal government has the infinite capacity to create U.S. dollars to address any problems as long as we have or can procure the real resources to bring to the solution. It shows that states much like corporations, much like our own household budgets, have very real constraints for revenue because they cannot create their own currency. They cannot create U.S. dollars. The Federal Government is the money monopolist. It alone has the power to create net financial assets. The Federal Government creates new dollars spent into the economy that never have to be paid back. 

Most states are really struggling. They have pensions that are failing. They have roads that are crumbling, their bridges are in need of repair, and their schools are underfunded. Only the police are adequately funded. The race to the bottom speaks to this, as states compete with one another to pull businesses and wealthy landowners away from other states with sweetheart tax deals. When corporations and wealthy individuals leave those areas, they leave a desert of people stuck with nowhere to go. Schools are falling apart without adequate finances because they are funded with the tax revenue brought in from the individuals living in that community. In other words, school funding is based on their zip codes. 

States are revenue constrained. States cannot absorb a major hit. If there is a climate change fueled natural disaster like increasingly frequent wildfires, ever-stronger hurricanes, flooding, or drought, states are reliant on Federal agencies to bail them out. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can absorb the cost of any disaster because it is federally funded. If disaster recovery was left to the states, they would go bankrupt. Louisiana cannot afford to pay for the damage done by Hurricane Ida any more than they could afford to pay for Katrina. Without federal assistance, they would have to slash public services. So, when the Federal government fails to adequately fund some item, like healthcare, roads, or schooling, states are forced to make tough decisions. This is what is happening in the race to the bottom. States such as Pennsylvania are beginning to reach out to fracking companies to fund their public initiatives, or else they have to cut other vital programs like pensions, food stamps, unemployment. States are not currency issuers; they must raise the money for these programs or they must cut from one place to spend in another. These cuts are always to essential programs, not the militarized police.

This is a class war.  

What many see as divisiveness and trolling is actually agitation. Agitation is a key part of any revolutionary movement. Bernie was vilified by the media when he said Hillary Clinton was not qualified to be president, but he was telling the truth. He shied away from making the same statement about Joe Biden, whereas Mike Gravel did not in 2008 when he said the leading candidates scared him. Mike Gravel was telling the truth, no matter how unpopular it was with the media. He was not allowed to debate in 2020 because he was willing to confront the establishment. When party unity matters more than truth, we end up with a Donald Trump, a Joe Biden, or worse as president. The best way for the working class to win is through weaponizing knowledge one mind at a time. The capitalist system will fall apart when the masses understand the economic truths behind it. The trillions of dollars given to weapons manufacturers and private contractors for a war in Afghanistan are the purest form of grift. This spending did not prevent public spending at home, but this is what many would believe. 

Agitators and truth tellers are what drive movements forward.  

“The wranglers over creeds and dogmas are perhaps the most persistent of all agitators; the bedrock idea being that a wrong exists which must be found and exterminated.”  

Eugene V. Debs

We desperately need Medicare for All – or better yet, a National Health Service. Thousands are dying due to lack of healthcare. We are facing an existential climate crisis every day. It requires a Green New Deal on an international level. It requires significant cuts in carbon emissions. It requires a different perspective and economic understanding. Degrowth, or if you want to take a sustainable position, regrowth. It takes understanding that we need to transition people out of dirty jobs. It requires the ability to mobilize millions of people with a Federal Job Guarantee to end generational poverty and ensure no one is left behind.  

Sadly, that layer cake is ignored because so much of the progressive movement focuses on orphaned politics. These one-off ideas that never, ever work hand-in-hand with the other ideas. Incremental change is not the solution.

Bernie ran on a $16+ trillion Green New Deal. Now it has been watered down to a $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill that may not even pass due to austerity politicians like Joe Manchin. Yet many are cheering for these half-measures. When you bring that up, you’re vilified. You’re castigated, you’re excommunicated and canceled. This is an anti-intellectual movement now. It is all about popularity contests, not truth. The truth might not be popular, but there can be no progress based on lies and economic falsehoods.  

Sadly, even some of the so-called good guys are ignorant about economics and spout the same tripe. It is fine to push for an end to the duopoly, but that is not enough. Now that we all know that both parties have failed us and the DNC is a shell game, we need and must seek real answers. Narrow-minded focus on the Dems or the GOP or Biden or Trump or Pelosi or McConnell dumbs down the debate. It ignores vital information. It turns people into cynics. They confuse cynicism with intelligence. What we need and what we have are diametrically opposed to one another. We need a movement that has an intellectual revolution. We need people to think about money differently. We have must get past the cliques and the claptraps. We must stop allowing emotional arguments to derail the truth. 

“Organization is the result of agitation, not of silence and submission — not of acquiescence in the rules of wrong, but a ceaseless protest against existing evils that must be eradicated if justice is to prevail and peace be maintained.”

Eugene V. Debs  

In recent exchanges about state vs federally funded healthcare, the explanation of economics was met with cries of:  

‘You want my kids to die?’  

‘You just hate the idea of us having health care.’  

‘Why are you fighting?’  

‘Why are you punching down?’  

‘You must be a libertarian or Republican infiltrator. Look, he used to be a Republican.’  

‘Those guys over there, those people, those Real Progressives, they’re mean.’  

Real Progressives represents seven focused knowledge areas: Economic JusticeEnvironmental and Ecological JusticePeace with JusticeEquality with JusticeDemocracyHealth and Wellbeing, and Technology and Innovation. Economic Justice is not about money, it’s about the equitable distribution of real resources. Environmental and Ecological Justice is the least of what we owe to the Earth, to our children. Peace cannot stand without Justice by its side. Equality without Justice is but an empty promise of a better life. Democracy must be of, by and for the people – it is not a spectator sport. The Health and Wellbeing of a nation is truly measured by that of its most vulnerable citizen. Technology and Innovation should be used to enhance our lives, not make us fear the future.  

These are not just slogans, these are goals. Cornel West has said that “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Justice for all, not an ideologized version of justice that supports the ruling class and upholds the existing system. This is the end goal of the movement, a just system based on these knowledge areas. Real Progressives exists to weaponize this knowledge, one mind at a time.  

In the end, it is not the rage of our critics that we have to concern ourselves with. It is the silence of our friends that allow this anti-intellectualism to destroy people who have fought round the clock to bring these truths to life. It’s this anti-intellectualism that fuels the race to the bottom. It’s this anti-intellectualism that allows the establishment to laugh at the progressive movement. As it pushes these great big but can’t be bothered to explain how to pay for it. Ultimately, anti-intellectualism has become the kryptonite of the progressive movement. Organizing, unifying, all should be done around truth because intersectionality requires truth. Fighting for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness requires truth. Anti-intellectualism reviles mocks and cancels truthtellers. And sadly, our children will be the ones that bear the weight of that debt. 

4 thoughts on “Anti-Intellectualism and the Death of a Movement”

  1. Denigrating intellectuals is not new in the US. I remember the presidential campaign of 1952 between Adlai Stephenson and Dwight D Eisenhower and how Stephenson was called “a pointy-headed intellectual.
    And infrastructure includes “social Infrastructure” – funding for enforcement agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the FBI (although I know that the FBI has a bad reputation). Underfunding these agencies damages the social structure just as much as underfunding roads and bridges does.

  2. Rose Ann Rabiola Miele

    If it’s not the truth, what good is it? Don’t be silent. Speak the truth all the time. Get some courage, folks.

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