May 05, 2008


Thomas Paine, courtesy of wikipedia.

Lately El Cabrero has been blogging about writing for social change, a jag that is likely to continue this week.

But first a comment on the idea of social change. If that's your goal, don't sweat it--it's going to happen anyway, what with the whole impermanence thing and all. The question is, will it be good or bad?

Sometimes, the fight to improve or protect conditions for working people is more about conserving things rather than changing them. Defending what's left of the Constitution or the New Deal legacy is a case in point. A few years ago, we had to fight pretty hard to protect Social Security from privatization and that one probably isn't over yet.

Having said that, a look at history convinces me that writing can play a necessary if not sufficient part in making things better or less bad.

In American history, good writing at the right time has made a difference over and over. In the days when independence was being debated, Thomas Paine's Common Sense, published in early 1776, had a big impact on public opinion, as did a certain Declaration published that summer.

If you haven't read the Declaration in a while, dust it off. It's pretty damn good, even if some of the things George III was accused of weren't quite fair in retrospect.

And, when the revolution was going south, Paine struck again with The Crisis, which even George Washington credited with helping to steel American resolve. Take a look at the first few lines:

THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.

Not too shabby! I wish I would have written something like that when it would have done some good.

Slave narratives, such as those of Frederick Douglass, helped influence opinion against that system, as did Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, about which more tomorrow.

HUNGRY PLANET. While millions of people around the world face a food crisis, the UK Independent reports that multinationals are cashing in.

MISSING A CHANCE. The housing and credit meltdown shows the need for reform, but will we miss the boat?

HAD ENOUGH? In our new Gilded Age, we're moving from the Ownership Society to the Foreclosure Society. It might be time to rock the boat.

HEALTH CARE. This Saturday, a few hundred people in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia rallied for health care. While many people are rightly concerned about covering the uninsured, even people with health insurance are finding it less affordable.

VIOLENCE. Here's an interesting article from the NY Times Magazine about a public health approach to reducing violence.

HABIT FORMING. Aristotle referred to habits as "second nature." Here's what the research says on how to change yours.


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