Whatever happened to the mutual aid society? An inspirational musical journey for troubled times

I feel we’ve lost a language.  We’ve lost a way of speaking to and about each other.  People are, in large part, what society makes of them.  We used to be able to talk about society, about the well-being of society, about the ills of society.  We used to be able to diagnose a society and think of what we could do for our country.

Our social world today has changed such that even mentioning the word “society” seems taboo.  Our culture changed into a culture of hustlers.  A culture of me-first, a culture of getting ahead.  We can talk of ill individuals, but not an ill society.  We have become free only in terms of being isolated selfish individuals while the wealth of the world trickled up and made the very, very, very few very, very, very rich.  We traded in society for a cult of individualism, worshiped the wealthy individual, lionized those few who “made it big.” Our voodoo economics lured us into an experiment of social Darwinism.  We voted for our Darwinian “winners” in this logic, made them richer, wished we would be hustlers like them.  We even, contorted our religion to fit this mold in our prosperity gospel.  We told ourselves that getting ahead was all about “the power of positive thinking.”  Society be damned, we looked down on others, blamed them for not being a Randian hero of this bizarre cult.

We’ve lost a language.  We’ve lost a deeper sense of our community and world in favor of a narrow vision of individual human liberty.  That was and is the cultural logic of neoliberal capitalism.  We commodified everything, at the expense of our culture and ourselves.  It’s sought even to wipe away our history with a banal amnesia.

However, I think there is a great reckoning ahead, just around the bend.  A kind of cultural singularity is coming as our culture heads toward its terminal point.  Folks, it is time, really, to check in with the soul of the country.  And I think there is something glimmering under the surface.  An ineffable soul.  I think there is a future yet, a possibility to find the soul of the republic once again within the crumbling of the American Empire.  To survive together, we need to remember a different way of living as the ties that bound us to the cult of the lonely robot fray.  We have to relearn the language of freedom and of society.

In the civil rights era, we had this language.  Working people, people of color, produced a language of inclusivity.  The need to be included in the civic process, to work together, to rely on each other, to demand representation and dignity.  A lot of this music, soul music, comes from black communities.  As Cornel West beautifully notes in his book Black Prophetic Fire, it is in black writing and art that we have a full articulation of freedom.  In the following, we hear what freedom sounds like.

I wanted to put together a little inspiring playlist for all of you lovely people out there.  A bit of music to lift your spirits, to evoke a deep cultural memory.  To do so, we have to get into the time machine and go a few decades back, back before the age of Reaganomics.   I hope you get inspired too…

And this is an amazing beautiful prophetic song by San Cooke …

Is there anyone making music like this any more?   We’re going to need to start.  Here bill Withers breaks it down for us …

And there was the folk music tradition.  Dylan, Guthrie.  So many good songs out there … Pete Seeger had a way of getting everyone to sing together …

Blue eyed soul music.  This was the shit …


This next is my favorite of the Bee Gees music.  In our world of overloading toxic masculinity, it’s fresh air to see these shaggy brothers in polyester.  I feel like I’m listening to Jesus and the apostles …

Blue eyed soul isn’t complete without the next from John Lennon.  He also got lots of people singing together.  It’s the song at the end credits of Children of Men (If you haven’t seen that movie, do so immediately!).

We need each other.  We need to organize a new society.  We should know our history to construct this.  We need anamnesis – UN-FORGETTING.  Do it, do it, do it, do it nowwwwww…..

Have any musical recommendations to leave in the comment section below?



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