The most disturbing trend of American politics of the last decade has been the decisive seizure of the national political discourse by the right. For all of the progress made and popular support enjoyed by the left, there has been a complete lack of strong leadership, little or no coordination between the disparate elements of the left, and no cohesive plan of action. Obvious though these points may be, the simple recognition of these facts is a far cry from the ultimate goal: the transformation of the left into a political entity viable in the twenty-first century.
The advantages the left has historically enjoyed, including vocal if limited grassroots support, the natural sympathies of a massive segment of the population, and the good intentions of its advocacy, are simply not sufficient. The traditional tactics of protest and peaceful political change are inadequate in an era where entrenched interests can call upon immense financial resources and dominate a global media and information system of unprecedented ubiquity. It is doubtful that the left fully understands the dangers it faces from the alliance of corporate media conglomerates and more traditional conservative political values and power bases. Increasing conservatism, the growing disparities in the distribution of wealth within the United States and between the first and third worlds, and the chronic and devastating humanitarian crises that envelope so much of the world point to a political, social, and economic system that is sick and broken. Even the most centrist Democrat has long recognized this fact, but actually altering the immense inertia behind the status quo is a Herculean task that all the leftist demonstrations, rhetoric, slogans, and placards in the world will not even begin to accomplish. Actually changing the world, improving the lives and futures of over six billion human beings will require a fundamental shift in the ideology and tactics of the left.
Liberals have traditionally, and with reason, felt themselves to be outside of "the System," underdogs fighting against entrenched interests far more powerful then they. However, given the tremendous technological and economic growth our world is undergoing, the left's struggle against the system has become entirely untenable. The world we live in is fundamentally different then the world of even 25 years ago, and in an increasingly complex, interconnected, and global world, "the System" the left has spent so much energy decrying has become irrevocably intertwined with the continued existence of society.
Rather then recoiling from Corporate America as the antithesis of everything a liberal holds dear, the left needs to recognize that corporate power is a direct result of one of the preeminent facts of our world: control flows from the top down now more then ever. Even in the most brutal pre-Information Age dictatorship, the local character of human interaction limited the control of the elite, whereas distance and traditional boundaries are becoming progressively more irrelevant in today's world. Without control over the corporations, national governments, and international bodies that form the global centers of power, any progress made by the left on a local or grassroots level is rendered moot.
The rhetoric of the left can no longer be based on a "fight the power" mentality, because "the power" cannot be overcome. The energy and talent of the left can no longer be focused on local demonstrations, improvement of local issues, or the righting of individual wrongs. Talented and principled people of our generation, those that can now have their voices heard only on their own campuses, must stoke their ambitions, and plan for a revolution within the system. The men and women who are now preparing to enter the real world must recognize the problems of that world, and carry their ideals and determination to change the world even as they work their way into power.
The truth is that the revolution is already happening, but it is a revolution of radical new technologies and global economic systems. We must seize control of the engines of this new dawn of human capabilities. Innovations in genetics and bioengineering, communications and information technology, and dozens of other fields are the easy part, given the brilliance committed to all fields of science and economics. It is up to our generation to see that the current conservatism of the American political system is replaced with a model based on moral judgment, rather than calculated self-interest. It's up to us to see that the emerging global economy benefits everyone. We must ensure that developing technologies with world-changing potential are used to do exactly that. We need to change the world.