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Mar/Apr 2001 issue (#50)


'60s Dream Lives On

Party Troopers

Suit Filed Against George W. Bush

"Friends in High Places"

Baby Bush Bombs Baghdad

Don't Put the Utilities Back in Charge

Biblically-Grounded Movements For Progressive Change In Washington

How to Run for City Council

Mad Cow: Coming to the U.S.?

Monoculture and Mad Cows

Itching to Ride Light Rail

Is Work Killing You?

Escaping the Globalized Gym

Seattle's Clattering Poets

A Puppetista Manifesto

Living Outside Empire

Don't Put the Utilities Back in Charge

ACORN's Falling

Social Transformation Explained? Technogod

Spokane Free-speech Battle


Reader Mail


Urban Work

Media Beat

Nature Doc

Rad Videos

Do Something!

Reel Underground

Social Transformation Explained?

book review by Paul Lehto

Can Peter Gabel’s The Bank Teller and other Essays on the Politics of Meaning take you where you’ve never gone before, philosophically, politically, and spiritually? It’s worth a look:

First, in a book that confidently traverses territory from the psychological to the political in well-written and advanced prose through a series of essays, Gabel safely assumes what all of us already know: our communal project seems marked by gridlock, deadlock, decay and cynicism, while our private project seems marked by the Internet “revolution”, giddy expectations of “progress”, and the claimed constancy of change.

Interestingly, by tracing out the political, sociological and psychological roots of these paradoxical phenomena Gabel makes a telling diagnosis: we are witnessing nothing less than the privatization of hope and social desire itself, where anything is possible personally but nothing seems possible politically. Symptoms of the suppression of hope and social desire are the dysfunctions that fill the papers of the day, the desperations going hand-in-hand with the alleged peaks of success.

These ideas, fleshed out, would seem a decent accomplishment for one book, but Gabel goes further. Rather than simply bemoaning the twins of cynicism and suppression of social desire, Gabel explains and elaborates on it with a credible psycho-political framework, explaining just how the suppression of social desire manifests itself throughout society. This framework constitutes a large new contribution to the “Politics of Meaning” framework co-developed with Michael Lerner. Key among the processes suppressing social desire is a “rotating lack of confidence in the desire of the other”, perhaps also thought of as a learned doubt that another person will respond positively to an expression of enthusiasm (based in a fear of humiliation). Many a preacher or would-be lover can testify to the primacy of this terror and Gabel is dead-on in explaining its role in culture and society.

But in the series of essays that comprise the book, Gabel elucidates not only the implications of the suppression of social desire, but also the implications of its release historically (certain parts of the 60s) and prospectively. Taking seriously the idea that humans are creatures of meaning (of which modern “competitive man” is just one dysfunctional subset) Gabel both describes the kaleidoscope of society and begins to describe possibilities for changing social patterns when the kaleidoscope is turned by the emergence of social desire.

It’s been reported that in Japan a dating service has distributed sensors that are worn around a necklace and which allow the user to choose various options such as “movie”, “conversation”, or “love”, depending upon what one wants to experience. The sensors then beep whenever another person who has selected the same option comes within ten meters, and the two can meet. On the personal level, this is one clever, if crude, method of overcoming the “lack of confidence in the desire of the other” Gabel writes about. Similarly, on the sociopolitical level, Peter Gabel’s book is quite the tease. If you care at all about leading a transformation of society, we should have a match. And it should be quite the evening.

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