I think the unfortunate truth of the matter is, and really always has been, that the process of changing politics is far more complex than simply being on "offense" or "defense." We've all heard criticisms of the two party system, and I think everyone reading this likely recognizes that two options is not enough. That said, some (and arguably most) of the most profound and emancipating changes in history have occurred not as a result of elected political parties, but instead because of grass roots campaigns that influence leadership and hold political parties accountable. The abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, women's liberation, unionization in the face of brutal economic exploitation - you name it, none of these movements were simply the result of electing the right politician.
We find ourselves at a peculiar moment today in the Western world, a moment at which it seems to be becoming more and more difficult for any such "grass roots movements" to have a serious effect. It's something I've been trying to explain to myself for a long time. The English documentarian Adam Curtis has done lots of work that points at what may have gotten us into this position, even if only obliquely. In his three part series "The Trap," he deals with the way cold war game theory, a theory designed to predict the actions of nation-states that treated them as rational, self-interested individuals, filtered into the logic of psychology and found itself in a strange (or not so strange) alliance with the logic of business and Capitalism. The idea is, once we start treating human beings as totally rational and self-interested creatures, once we begin to assume that each person is going to do what's in his best interest, even if it means screwing over his best friend, they, to some extent, begin to actually interact that way more. What's more, it produces a sort of suspicious paranoia between people, preventing bonds of trust from really forming.
I think trust and communal solidarity are also now limited by the decline of habit and conventional modes of accepted interaction (I owe this line of thinking to Slavoj Zizek). This has been a sort of unforeseen side-effect of the utopian liberal vision of casting off all forms of social pressure and replacing norms with the simple notion that anything that occurs between two or more consenting adults is ok. The problem with this attitude is twofold:on the one hand it leads to people confused about how they should interact with one another (formulaic Hollywood movies aside, nobody these days really has any model on which to base their friendships, relationships, or family connections), and on the other, and as a result of this uncertainty about how to conduct oneself publicly, interaction itself with those outside of one's immediate social circle increasingly comes to be experiences as an intrusion or harassment, simply because (again, increasingly) nobody quite knows when to approach a stranger or how to react to a stranger who approaches.
In Curtis's more recent three part series, "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace," he discusses various attempts in the 1960s and 1970s to produce communes within the United States that did not function by virtue of any conventional rules. Some hundreds of thousands of people participated in these experimental communities (150,000? 500,000? I forget - watch the film!), but they mostly failed relatively quickly because there was no set of conventional habits that equalized the power of various personalities. That is, each of these communes became, in a sense, a cult of personality, a space in which the most domineering personalities won influence and power. The point is, some sort of overarching cultural norms are necessary to provide each individual with a truly "democratic" space for expression. In today's increasingly administrative Western world, where the left has given up on political visions in the face of the failures of the Communist experiments of the 20th century, where only the right provides a living political vision (albeit an overly simplistic and generally entirely reactionary and ultimately destructive vision), mainstream society itself has begun to become just such a "cult of personality."
Anyway, this was a fun rant, but I think I'm going to call it here for the moment. I've got some things to do today.