The Victorian Era (1830-1901) saw the emergence of a pious middle class, rising evangelism and rapid industrialization coupled with massive colonial enterprise overseas. By 1890 it is estimated that, globally, one in four people was a subject of Queen Victoria. At home the Victorians enjoyed an unprecedented level of prosperity—connected by improved railway networks, intercontinental cable, printing presses, and an economy bolstered by factory labor and a merchant fleet that was without parallel. Women, still without many participatory rights, outnumbered men almost two-to-one, creating a unique population of unwed—or "redundant", as period journalists so generously put it—non-professionals. This led to a surprising vocational surge in the service sector: the prostitute and the governess became common fixtures on the local landscape. Despite the material opulence of British empire, there was mounting anxiety in much of the population. Labor began to organize and seek better compensation and rights, while many artists and thinkers wondered at the cost to humanity and individualism being incurred by global domination and such a rigorous brand of homespun morality. The church and the crown (codified behavior and callous economics based on blithe Benthamite strategies) seemed to supplant the more expansive and rustic notions of the Romantics.
Essentially at issue was the marshaling of hearts and minds towards the service of empire; a concern that might seem perfectly familiar to today's humanist. Whatever the similarities between late Victorianism and modern Republicanism—and there are plenty if we overlay the two (the internet and trans-con cable, diamond mines and textile farms, an exaggerated xenophobia, and a unified contempt for social resistance, to name but a few)—we have the disquieting fact of one hundred years in which we have forgotten the more radical strategies of the malcontents and visionaries and remembered, with myopic zeal, the schemes and machinations of a nation that sought to assert itself, under god, as the civilization by which all others would be judged. We may take comfort in the notion that the Bush dynasty will be justly sorted for its thuggish brand of god/police/puritanism in some golden tomorrow, but the reduction of life, rights and radical imagination is happening right now—on the street, in the home, and across the globe. There has never been a better time to be artistically angry and full of love, if one can walk that uneasy line.
This morning I listen to the Big Boys (queer skaters, quite appropriately from Texas, testing the jaundiced yoke of Reaganism back in the day) and weep along to their prescient sense of possibility/impossibility: "When will there be something / To take the place of all this? / Or is it me that died / And the rest of the scene still exists / I don't know which way to go / I just don't know which way to go." Knowing where we don't want to go, having been there for nigh on a decade, is it least a cue as to where we might want to point ourselves. It begins with "against", foments in "because", then flowers to "where and what we all want". It isn't fashion and it isn't lifestyle, no matter how many co-optive efforts have been waged against it. The essential form, the germ of resistance, still sings in the stone, "that mountain calling our name", that pebble yearning to spring from the rock.
While I personally have little belief in the two-party system, (finding Democrats to be just mild Republicans), we are at a point in history where even that slight margin is significant. I think defeating Bush means stopping the immediate loss of life and averting the collective death of the imagination. I can only frame it in surreal terms as the American world—ostensibly the world's police force—refuses to cohere to anything resembling sanity or reason anymore.
Much has been said against Bush and his minions, easily enough, but this tends to eclipse the specific and nefarious deeds of his administration—contempt for the World Court, the U.N. and any other internationally recognized coalition or authority. Whatever we may say of our constitution, we might all agree that it has recently been stretched beyond the tether of its seams, contorted into a Job-like bible bent on the destruction of anything "other". For your own peace
of mind, choose somehow—even if its going to demos and protests, which is always a good sociable outing regardless. But remember, a voice at the polls will speak directly to the powers that be, in terms they can't refute.
Columnist's Web SIte