Coffeeshops resemble the internet in that almost everyone you meet in such places has a strong political opinion, or a theory of changing the world. This is fortunate for those who do not desire change, as it means that any possible accord is fragmented into literally millions of perspectives that differ enough to be incompatible. Of course, if you're trying to sound important in a chat room or hipster-beaten sofa, you need the most distinctive appearance for your political opinion possible, so consensus is not your goal.
Luckily for those who study philosophy, it's easy to group these opinions, as they universally represent a few actual viewpoints, when one removes the trivial conflicts where the political thinker is addressing a symptom and not structural function. Despite whatever personal conceits they invent to justify the uniqueness of their opinions, these ornamentations do not affect the general theory of each viewpoint; further, if that viewpoint were achieved in reality, almost all of the decorative uniqueness would be subsumed by a larger function. Even if you're the one republican who favors abortion, if the general theory of your outlook is that the government chooses what should be legal based on republican values, abortion will be decided by that principle, if nothing else through the opinion of a public conditioned to a certain way of doing things.
Almost everyone one encounters has some variation on the Christian-liberal theme, which is the independence of the individual and the consequent deferrment of collective needs; one reason America is a political disaster, as noted by Samuel Huntington in his epic "The Promise of Disharmony," is that the fundamental American political creed is anti-government and anti-collective: it is a form of personal kingdom that becomes selfish only when one sees that its pursuit obviates any chance for consensus or moving to a state of anything but constant debate, conflict and a see-sawing of political power. Americans do not agree on much because their only shared value is the importance of material individualism as expressed through a reluctance to agree. From our Puritan origins, and our massively powerful rhetoric during the Cold War, this amalgamated opinion is as deeply-entrenched as it is hopeless.
There are defectors, of course, most notably Communists, Greens and Nationalists. These are more pragmatic sorts who see the need for some agenda in common so that society can get past a state of constant indecision, which much as neurosis wears down the individual, over time erodes the political will to get anything done and thus leaves the nation susceptible to an ongoing degeneration of function until it reaches a point of third-world chaos. Each of these defector ideologies pulls in its own direction, unfortunately, negating the synergistic effect that could be found from looking at this commonality: they believe in a need for consensus and a higher value system than that of "if it makes money, it's good" and represent our only chance for escape from consumerism. Their problem, in addition to their fundamental violation of the American credo of materialistic individualism, is that each by narrowing in to a specific tenet or issue has excluded from their thinking the necessity of creating a whole system. Society must go on, and cannot radically discard un-Green practices, and life for normal people must not be interrupted by the radically normalizing of Communism; even Nationalists succumb, in that they have unrealistic or nonexistent plans for the rest of society after National separation (or, in the case of the white power wackos, genocide) is achieved.
What unites these dissident viewpoints with the mainstream consumerism-democracy-individualism crowd (who will insist they are themselves individual and unique thinkers, although a structural - "philosophical" - analysis of their beliefs reveals otherwise) is a belief in revolution. At some point, whatever it is that they have found to be defective produces a need for too many changes that inevitably conflict with each other, and like an airplane trying to out-turn too many adversaries, they run out of open space and declare a need for an extreme levelling to make their philosophies work. This inevitably translates into revolution, which takes many forms including genocide, and points to a failure in their thinking: they are looking toward the past. Whether they want to resurrect fallen empires, or remove what they see as a great evil, they are viewing society from the perspective of a frozen moment instead of seeing it as a constantly growing thing. They want an immediate and final solution, and to achieve one of these, one has to eradicate organic details and make big abstract absolute statements, whether "freedom" or "ethnic cleansing," in order to answer a question inextricably bogged down in details.
The revolutionary mindset is to be feared because it lacks a plan beyond revolution. Revolutionaries are inevitably more conditioned by social and political influences in the system they claim to be overthrowing and thus, once they've murdered their leaders and enacted chaos, they have no new structure to put in place and end up mimicking the old. In no small part this originates in the "individualism" of revolutionaries, who are not prone to consensus except the need for something radical to fix everything in one fell stroke. This is like trimming a tree by cutting it down, and hoping something better grows in its place, where in reality trimming a tree is a process of finding out its pattern of growing and making select ("structural") changes. Revolutionaries look toward the past, and hopelessly out of touch with the future, instead repeat the past with a new brandname.
Those who will make any kind of positive change deal in facts, not feelings, whether those are feelings of personal uniqueness or a "it should be this way" desire. Positive change comes from accepting the reality of the situation, and trimming it so that it grows into something better in the future. It does not happen overnight; every overnight "miracle" revolution has collapsed in its own disunity. It is a slow process of nurturing, which includes both stimulating growth and cutting away that which injures correct growth. Positive changers do not look at details, or emotional reactions, but pay attention to structure and modify it so that the whole of society changes. They do not zero in to a single issue and assume that fixing it will magically resurrect the whole. They deal in facts, not feelings or appearances, and they are willing to forego some measure of self-expression in order to find commonality; this, after all, is the founding principle of society: we give up some "freedoms" in order to work together more efficiently. We've forgotten this in the years since founding our society.
When I think of the changes I desire, I look toward the future. I want to group people by culture (nationalism) so that they can make the changes that concern only them, and keep going in their preferred direction; culture is the only antidote to consumerism, corporate robber barons and other entities that place money at a higher emphasis than doing what is right according to a cultural ideal. I want to remove politics from education and give those who can do great things the right tools, and remove pointless barriers from their path. I want to find a way to make industry work without destroying our world, and limit our land use and population so that we do not deplete earth.
I want to do all these things while continuing to grow toward greater heights of culture, learning, art and science; I do not want to give up on civilization. Revolutionaries see only the lack of potential in our current system, and want to destroy it, but are not rebuilders. I know we can make a better future while correcting the past and that all of the sane people, the ones who do not waste time in coffeehouses or ego battles on the internet, will agree with me and give up some degree of "individualism" so we can find common ground. Perhaps this is why the ancients worshipped the sun: even a sunset is part of a cycle that will bring eventually a new day, where new possibilities are infinite.
January 5, 2006