Written by Camille Paglia, on Salon.com
December 8th, 1999 in response to the Seattle WTO protests:
The battle in Seattle forced a welcome if brief international consciousness on the mass TV audience, which has been preoccupied with domestic issues and celebrity scandals throughout this decade, an obliviousness barely dented by President Clinton’s outrageous boutique bombings abroad. The protesters’ success in hamstringing the WTO, which adjourned without reaching key agreements, will surely inspire more young people to social activism for a wealth of causes. I hope it’s curtains for another style spawned in Seattle — the apathy and whining asexuality of passive-aggressive grunge.
The danger is that this nascent coalition of Democrat-led trade unions with environmental and labor equity groups will get stereotyped as left-loony. When post-adolescent anarchist goons pledge total destruction of the system or when dinosaur Marxists denounce capitalism as “evil” and call all property “crime” (caught on camera in Seattle), this promising movement doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of gaining popular support.
Capitalism, in my view, is the best vehicle of social change. Free enterprise and free thought are inextricably and creatively intertwined. Over the past 200 years, capitalism has enormously advanced global prosperity, even if an unacceptable economic gap remains between the first and third worlds. Though you’d never know it from the snide rhetoric of cloistered liberal academics, modern feminism owes everything to capitalism, which gave women financial independence for the first time in history.
On the other hand, capitalism is inherently Darwinian, and a just society must provide a safety net for the poor. While intrusion by government into the market should be as minimal as possible, it is ethically imperative to monitor working conditions, product safety and environmental integrity. My lifelong scriptural texts are William Blake’s radical poems “The Chimney Sweeper” and “London” (discussed in my first book), which heartbreakingly dramatize the disparity between the powerful and the powerless in newly industrial, polluted England.
Adjusting tariffs or formulating trade guidelines is a very difficult matter when emerging nations interpret U.S. demands as a usurpation of their sovereignty. We need a stronger “green” lobby that will fruitfully ally with its foreign counterparts. And we urgently need a broad-based, rigorously rational progressive party that will, without succumbing to outdated Marxist formulas, challenge the corruption of the major political parties by big money; critique the escalating power of multinational conglomerates; and condemn flagrant corporate greed (as in the looting of company profits through the inflated salaries of top executives).
There is no stopping the high-tech transformation of the world economy — except by Mother Nature, of course, with one of her standard cataclysms (a perennial Paglia prophecy). What is needed is massive educational reform — such as the development of trade schools and vocational programs serving students of every age. The social convulsion of job losses because of migration of industry abroad cannot be wholly prevented by artificial government manipulation. At present, American primary education is failing to provide either knowledge or skills for anyone but those already set on a professional track by their affluent, upper-middle-class families.
Presently, many folks are crying out about the shrinking of the middle class and the burden of student debt. We have no manufacturing, we cannot complete with cheaper goods from abroad, and we have sent all our jobs out, so our unemployment is high. We have thousands of people occupying public spaces across the country to protest the wealth of the top corporate CEOs.
You can’t say someone wasn’t trying to warn you.