At my age, the coming of the New Year is especially meaningful. My father once told me that elders in an ancient culture would stay in bed all day and lament that they had one less year to live. However, my father loved a good story and often let his creative juices kick in.
It is very difficult for Americans to understand meanings in allegories. So rather than repeat my father’s story – for years – I chose to go along with the norm and listen to inane songs, drink champagne and yell Happy Year! When younger and unmarried, I also took the opportunity to cop a midnight kiss in the spirit of Auld Lang Syne — a Scottish poem that forms the lyrics of what today is a New Year’s tradition in the United States.
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne?
To tell the truth, I never knew who old Lang Syne was and preferred my father’s cuento.
When you have seen as many New Years come and go, it is a time for reflection. Copping a kiss is as tacky as getting blasted out of your mind. I choose to celebrate by remembering traditions and memories of the past.
I don’t believe in an afterlife so I do not want to atone for my sins to beg my way into heaven. However, I feel sincerely sorry for often being inconsiderate and a jerk. There are so many seemingly small transgressions that stream through my mind that I have forgotten but are probably still fresh in the minds of others.
My daughter says I am obsessive and I guess I am. The thing that I most lament is my failure to fight to maintain political norms. Intimidated by accusations that I was too angry I backed off.
Ideological norms are socially shared belief systems that bring about ideological agreement. I can kick myself for being intimidated by the argument of the lesser of two evils in too many elections. The norm was and is a Democrat is better than a Republican, which is probably true, but it is no reason to vote for either.
Not all norms are bad. Looking back at my life ideological norms such as sexism, racism, and homophobia have shifted for the better. They were normative and individuals found ideological justifications to oppose the other and even to this day vilify immigration. People have used these norms as an excuse to discriminate, and even to justify violence.
As late as the 16th century, it was a mortal sin to lend money for interest, Usury was unlawful. Today, we live in a land of sinners, and greed is the norm – and the common sense is that you are a dumb ass if you don’t cash in.
Nowhere have norms shifted more than the political spectrum — a system of classifying different political values. This labeling goes back to the terms left wing and right wing that were based on seating arrangements in the French National Assembly that conformed to a set of norms and basic beliefs.
Today left wing generally means more “liberal” or “progressive” views. As a rule left wing politics is equated with some form of communalism. In contrast, right wingers have “conservative” or “regressive” views. Increasingly conservatives promote the notion that humans are naturally selfish and that government should stay out of people’s affairs and more productive citizens should not be forced to subsidize the less productive citizens. In other words, you are not your brother’s keeper.
The conﬂict over social norms leads to bargaining and ideological conflict. In the end the left always loses in the negotiating process that in the United States is tilted by money. The were an aberration and change came about because of youth and a changing value system.
Indicative of youth’s idealism was a decline of social organizations such as fraternities and sororities. For a very brief period, activism was in vogue and part of the accepted norm.
At the time, U.S. Senators Barry Goldwater said, “The fact is that most people who have no skill have no education for the same reason—low intelligence or low ambition.” The 1964 statement was considered extreme.
However, his statement on Medicare that year is gaining steam: “Having given our pensioners their medical care in kind, why not food baskets, why not public housing accommodations, why not vacation resorts, why not a ration of cigarettes for those who smoke and of beer for those who drink.” The pendulum is shifting to the extreme right.
History tells us that as the norms shift right belief systems change and corruption is more acceptable, e.g., the Gilded Age, the 1920s, 1950s and the worse of times — today.
The Supreme Court has facilitated corruption with decisions such as Citizens United. The weakening of checks and balances seem irreversibly tilted to the right. Witness that “Today, one one-thousandth of the American electorate is responsible for 25 percent of campaign funding. Members of Congress spend 30–70 percent of their time raising money for their next campaign.”
Charles and David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity spent $122 million during the 2012 campaign. The Koch brothers’ political network spent more than $400 million during the 2012 campaign, more than double the total spent by the top ten labor unions combined.
Politicians are bribed to reduce regulation and taxes for the super-rich. The US warehouses 2.2 million prisoners in jails and penitentiaries. The privatization of these prisons encourages non-flexible laws and penalties. The list goes on and on insuring that corruption defines the norm.
Through indiscriminate use of money the Koch brothers bought the silence of National Public Radio once the voice of the people. It is not as if the people do not know about corruption — just google it.
The common sense is that the political spectrum has shifted from the left to the middle and the middle to the right. Today fascism is an accepted part of the conservative norm. The old left has a faint heartbeat,
This change in our political norms is not accidental. Neo-liberalism that was once an out of date ideology popularizes the notion that the market will solve society’s problems. Public institutions become for profit marketplaces.
This shift in norms and my hindsight make this New Year more meaningful. I tend to want to forget Auld Lang Syne, and like the old man my father told about stay in bed and cry remembering lost opportunities.
I regret that I will not live to reverse usurious norms. I once sought to emulate the British historian E.P Thompson who wrote:
I am seeking to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the “obsolete” hand-loom weaver, the “Utopian” artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity. Their crafts and traditions may have been dying. Their hostility to the new industrialism may have been backward-looking. Their communitarian ideals may have been fantasies. Their insurrectionary conspiracies may have been foolhardy. But they lived through these times of acute social disturbance, and we did not. Their aspirations were valid in terms of their own experience; and, if they were casualties of history, they remain, condemned in their own lives, as casualties.
Unfortunately the spirit of Auld Lang Syne got in the way. Hopefully new activists will do a better job of building a communal identity that includes Mexicans, Latinos, Native Americans, African Americans and other oppressed people.
— by Rodolfo F. Acuña