It’s History Time

We are now in a special kind of time. “Revolution time”. “History time”. “Disruption time”. Whatever you want to call it.

Every day, huge events are happening. Things that seemed impossible now are a matter of course. Right now I’m watching a speech from the president of Serbia attacking the EU and throwing himself onto the arms of China. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Fox news) is proposing a much stronger (and equitable) response to the crisis than Nancy Pelosi. The Fed just took most of the 2009 playbook and deployed it in one big go yesterday.

In History Time, the rules are different. Opportunities arise. And the knives come out. For example: Right now the US airline history is asking for a $50 billion bailout because they “have no cash”. They just spent the last decade spending their cash on stock buybacks. Stock buybacks used to be illegal.

We have to be aware of the disaster profiteers. Not the small time chumps selling Purell at markup from their garages. I mean the titans of industry that will grab as much free money as they can.

In History Time, ideas that used to be laughable are now on the table. After 9/11, the FBI took out their wishlist from a filing cabinet, bound it up on one bundle, called it the Patriot Act, and dared congress not to pass it. After the 08 crash, banks started even more mergers and paid their executives even more money, and dared congress to stop them.

Now it’s History Time again. Will we cede the field to the white collar criminals? Or will we step up with our suddenly reasonable demands? Remember, right now Tom Cotton is to the left of Nancy Pelosi on the crisis response. Anything is possible.

(How do we do it? As a first step: Start organizing your literal neighborhood. As a second step: join a local political group that has dues-paying membership and democratic control by its members. As a third: let me think about it and get back to you)

6 replies on “It’s History Time”

Anthropologists – who are obsessed in general with everyday life, the disruption thereof, and time itself – have studied this! In Sian Lazar’s
article “Historical Narrative, Mundane Political Time, and Revolutionary Moments: Coexisting Temporalities in the Lived Experience of Social Movements” (2014), she argues there’s a difference in how society lives “historical time” (ripe with opportunities) versus “attritional time” (or “mundane political time”), akin to what Greeks understand as “kairos” versus “chronos”. Holler if you’re interested and will send you the PDF!

(Won’t be offended in the slightest if not.)

Also relevant to your idea is Janet Roitman’s excellent, “Anti-crisis.” She gives a nuanced argument that when people claim that we’re in some “crisis,” it actually morally enables all kinds of drastic and reactionary measures to curb the ostensible crisis – her prime example being one you offer, too, the claims by financiers and economists in 2008-2009 that we were in a global financial crisis and the bailouts/other government measures taken to address it.

Send me the things! Would enjoy reading them.

Yeah, Naomi Klein also covered what I think you’re saying Janet Roitman is saying. It was obvious to a lot of us even back in 2008 too!

The problem is that we need public intellectuals willing to understand and call out the fancy handwaving of some members of the economics priesthood.

Luckily we have people like Claudia Stahm, Matt Stoller, David Dayen, Barry Lynn, Elizabether Warren, etc. But back in 2008 we still had David Kay Johnson, Robert Reich, and others, and it wasn’t enough.

Roitman is interrogating the actual concepts of crisis, time (particularly historical time), and critique – a concept which she explains co-emerged in Ancient Greece with the initially medical concept of crisis. Those two words have the same etymology, as in, “the patient is in ~critical~ condition.” In that era, diagnosing a krino (crisis/critical condition) meant signposting that some existing reality (e.g. a person’s life) was at the brink of fundamental, irrecoverable change for the worse, which therefore justified intervention to reverse that change.

As the concept of crisis evolved and spread outside Greece and medical practice, Roitman (drawing on others) argues crisis sort of came to define the concept of history itself as well as the modern era , an era in which people conceive of themselves as living in historical time per se. In this modern era, not unlike in Ancient Greek medicine, the constant diagnosis of one “crisis” after the other teaches people to understood the future as fundamentally different from history unless we intervene to stop it…which of course ends up itself inducing change. Roitman is emphasizing not just the shock doctrine-type interventions taken in response to crises (as if the crises were objectively there), but the narration/diagnosis of crisis itself and its pivotal role in how we practice politics and engage with the world we perceive.

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