Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"WHAT PRICE LIBERTY? HOW FREEDOM WAS WON AND IS BEING LOST"

Ordinary problems - extraordinary government

The Brits are noticing a problem: apparently they are expecting the government to "solve the problems of ordinary people".

Worse, the government seems happy to try and oblige. (I’m not going to say that the government is happy to oblige because that would imply that it has succeeded, is succeeding, will succeed, and ever can succeed at such a project.)

The implications for democracy in the UK – that “Englande” that was the seat of so much Western wisdom about the structure of government and its relationship to the governed – are not at all good.

This can hardly be surprising: if the citizenry as individuals become increasingly incapable of handling their own problems, then they will become more dependent on the government. And then the government, as is the nature of the thing, will happily step in to run the lives of the increasingly incapable citizens, and the result will be a death-spiral of democracy into a paternalistic (or maternalistic*) Big Daddy/Big Mama government. At which point whether the thing has a ‘liberal’-Left valence of a ‘conservative’-Right valence will be mostly irrelevant; whether a Big Parent or a Big Stick government will be a problem worked out in the smoking wreckage, sort of like the old Cold War ‘if there are now two of Us left standing, and only one Commie, then have We won?’ question … by that point there will be more pressing questions requiring immediate attention.

All of which is – as I have always said – relevant to Us over here.

The Brits of course don’t actually have a Constitution – so they have to rely on ‘traditions’. Which is an iffy thing, when you consider the ‘youth’ of most folks – and I don’t so much mean chronologically as I do mentally: generations over decades have lost the ability or the desire to really master their frontal-lobe, prefrontal cortex capabilities, settling for a far more (take your pick) mammalian, bovine, sheep-like, or even reptilian existence), responding primitively to primal stimuli or to stimuli packed to appeal to primality – and to trigger it. Oy.

Worse, they seem to imagine – which is and has always been recognized as a profound danger for humans trying to preserve a democratic politics – that the Big Things that hold up and shield their world are static, un-dynamic, unchanging because incapable of change and – sooooo much a child’s view of things – because they just don’t want the Big Things to change.

But as with all life, any concatenation of matter and energy – of elements and forces – is dynamic because matter and energy** are themselves in their very essence dynamic.
So Big Things are actually not so much ‘things’ as ‘sustained reactions’. And as any chef with something on the stove or research scientist or nuclear-reactor crew can tell you: a ‘reaction’ is something you need to keep an eye on and know how to manage.

So is History, then.

Most folks – in a child-y sort of way – seem to think that what ‘is’ has always been there and always will be. Oy.

Now of course here in the USA (or increasingly, the USSA – United Secure States of America or United Safe States of America; take your pick) We most certainly do indeed have a Constitution.

But there are all sorts of developments over the past four decades that have functionally reduced its stability and authority.

For a moment, recall that in 1948 in the discussions leading up to the adoption of NSC-68, the National Security Council document that set the basic plan for the Cold War, the American government adopted the policy of “scaring the hell out of the American people” to keep them mobilized and willing in this new type of war-that-wasn’t-a-war.

And that game-plan would draw in the knowledge and techniques developed over a busy couple of decades by the late Propaganda Minister of Hitler’s Germany, Joseph Goebbels. He had the only proven game-book, and it was a proven performer.

And that that concept was adopted by Beltway advocacies in the early Seventies, after a quarter-century in government Cold War service. Where ‘fear’ was stoked as an indispensable phase in this and that campaign to achieve the goals of this and that agenda.

So the stage was set with a public used to being stoked by fear and a government used to stoking fear to ensure acceptance of its plans and policies.

First, ‘deconstruction’ – especially when taken out of overheated university classrooms and embraced for their own purposes by the political and activist ‘elites’ – pretty much says that Yes there is that old parchment thingy in the big display case in Washington, but it’s really ‘quaint’ because it was put together by Dead White Males who just didn’t get it and it’s oppressive, and anyway what those DWM’s thought it meant isn’t as important as what modern readers think (or feel) that it means that makes it ‘meaningful’ to them now. Oy.

Then the philosophy of John Rawls from 1971 who basically said that his philosophy was that ‘liberalism’ shouldn’t really have any ‘philosophy’ and that it should be a matter of everybody adopting Rawls’s point of view as if it were philosophy and then proceeding logically to do whatever they thought was most ‘sensitive’ and ‘just’ (although, as I said and he implied) there is no Justice. Nor, for that matter, Truth. Or – come to think of it – Reality. There’s only elite folks who ‘get it’ and what they can do with political power deployed by ‘elites’ in the service of making things better (although there is no Good by which you can measure success in these things; and to have an all-demanding and endless Cause which cannot be measured for either success or failure is pretty much a Beltway wetdream of the first order).

Then the legal assorted legal philosophies such as “substantive justice” and “expressive law”*** which give legal-theory justification to all the moosh that Rawls gave philososophical justification to.

Then the genuinely and truly unholy alliances between the presumably ‘liberal’ Left and the government police power, especially in the past 20 or so years; certain broad swaths of feminist advocacy have invited the police power into the very core of sexual interactions between citizens, and into the very hearths and bedrooms of the citizenry.

And in an even more unholy alliance with the law-and-order Rightists, have weakened traditional concepts of law in a well-intentioned but hugely-fraught effort against domestic violence and – in a stunning Constitutional contortion with breath-taking similarities to Fascist and Communist propaganda and jurispraxis – have created the omnicompetent and omnipresent ‘monster’ of the uncontrollable and irredeemable and sexually omnivorous ‘sex offender’ from whom the citizens must be ‘protected’ by – that charming Israeli concept – any means necessary.

But worse, there is the overall presumption of the helplessness of the citizenry implied in the very vision of what I will call Victimism: that the citizenry are essentially nothing but so many gazelles on the savannah, and only the government has the power to go after the predatory beings that hunt them. (Although, were it to be suggested that Wall Street and even the Beltway contain more potent and lethally efficient predators than any bush along any American highway or byway … )

And a society, culture, and citizenry now enamored of ‘youth’ and ‘youthfulness’ – although those phases of human life are precisely known for their incomplete development of the prefrontal cortex, which is the seat of the most uniquely human potentials.

And fixated on consumption – as if all there were to being American were being a ‘consumer’.

And now more than ever tempted lethally to avoid a reality that they cannot handle by distracting themselves with spectating, with busying themselves with endless electronic nothings, by hiding in a thousand different ways from the challenges requiring a Citizenry and the immediate attentions of The People.

And if Michael Lind’s idea is right, that since the end of American postwar economic world-primacy about 1970, that the Beltway – regardless of political stripe and ‘principle’ – quietly purchased continued American ‘hegemony’ by giving the nation’s industry (and jobs) away to foreign nations, in exchange for a continued world reliance on American military superiority and diplomatic stature.

That hasn’t worked out well recently, and may never recover from the ongoing events of the past decade.

And on top of all that, a Multicultural vision (and not just the nice classroom respect-for-other-points-of-view variety, but rather the mature version with the teeth and the tusks) that insists that there is no ‘American’ culture and that such a culture would not deserve to survive even if it did exist, and that the many official ‘Races’ recognized by the government must each keep its own culture, like a salad, not a melting-pot.

And to embody that Multicultural vision, on top of everything else, vast numbers of immigrants now in the country who have no working knowledge of (the elitely declared “quaint”) Constitutional ethos and are far too tenuously placed – legally, economically, or both – to pay much attention or risk standing up to be counted in the first place.

So, you can see where things might go under the weight of all of this.

As one writer puts it We are “cut off from the mentality in which liberty was won”. Precisely. And that includes as well the sense of how once something is ‘won’ you must then tend it (like a plant, or a kid) to ensure its proper development (in a postmodern, multicultural culture that claims that there is no such thing as ‘proper’ or that there are infinite sorts of ‘proper’ – which amounts to the same thing).

Worse, continues the writer, We “have little faith in the ability of our beliefs to protect us against the threats posed by the modern world”.

Well, of course, Our “beliefs” aren’t doing such a robust job any longer because Our elites not only don’t believe them any longer but actually and positively are committed to overturning them. And too many of the Citizens are increasingly incompetent – along the lines noted above – to sustain either those beliefs or the government that is supposed to operate according to the Constitution designed to embody and protect them.

And of course, it’s not so much a matter of ‘belief’ any longer, but merely one of ‘perception’ – which is the Constitutionally reprehensible philosophy of Goebbels and of propaganda with a capital “P”.

Worse, the citizenry as individuals are now so under-developed in their skills that they need all the help they can get – which help, from a government now rather seriously broken loose from its moorings, is coming at an awful price. Because if there is no longer a citizenry comprised of competent Citizens who can function together as The People, then there is no need for and no basis for a Constitutional Republic. Which is starting to dissolve away, not so much by an easily-recognized Man on a Horse, but rather as if being pecked to death by ducks. But perhaps, once a certain tipping point is passed, then the Man on the Horse – even in the form of Big Daddy or Big Mama, and probably in that form – will present him/herself … and be welcomed by the desperate ‘sheep’, ‘children’ who need their Shepherd and their Parent****.

After all, aren't We 'entitled' to Liberty?***** And if this alleged entitlement is being threatened, isn't that what government is supposed to do - make it all OK?


OY and OY GEVALT.

If We – in the Hebrew Scriptural vision – are the current generation of the guardians of the Ark of the Covenant (the Constitution) then We are failing most seriously in Our role in world and surely American history, and thus We are failing future generations, as well as failing billions of human beings now alive.

If, that is, We realize just what a remarkable Gift to humanity the Framers’ vision really was and is.

Which brings Us back to the beginning again.

Which is where the challenge facing Us really lies. And has all along.

NOTES

*As I am writing this, I notice that the spell-check on my major word-processing program easily allows ‘paternalistic’ but does not recognize ‘maternalistic’ – and that says a lot.

**And of course quantum physics essentially claims that ‘matter’ is simply ‘energy acting densely’, which makes things even more fluid, dynamic, changeable, and – oy – unstable.

***See my immediately preceding Post on the Matthew Shepard Act.

****I can’t help but recall Flannery O’Connor’s vivid character Hazel Motes, in her 1952 novel “Wise Blood”. Possessed of vitality and zeal, yet he is un-Shaped or under-Shaped, seeking to give vent to his abilities by seeking a “Christianity without Christ”. Which rapidly devolved into an ideology, a ‘pure’ Idea un-tempered by the humanizing presence of Christ. And worse, an ideology still driven by zeal, which in the absence of any Christ-like humanity with its respect for actual human individuals and the slow processes of human maturation, rapidly resorts to violence for the ‘good’ purpose of imposing such a ‘good’ thing on everybody, whether they like it or are ready for it or not.

Reinforcing her point, O’Connor adds the character of Enoch Emery, a less gifted adherent whose excitements lead him quickly to regress to the level of an ape, deprived of both prefrontal capability and any soul, but willing to deploy any strength he has in an unripe and un-Shaped violent laying-hands-on the world around him – with monstrous and bloody result.

The usual conceit quickly presumed by many readers was that such whacked-out frakkery was confined to those dark and bloody and crazy, God-addled backwoods fundamentalist types.
But I think that it’s time to imagine that such awful whackery can be effected by ‘elites’ as well; you can get this crazy on Chardonnay as well as on moonshine and rot-gut, on so-called revolutionary zeal as well as on Fundamentalist excitements.

For when you get right down to it, the revolutionist (and revolutionista) and the Fundy are truly “sisters under the skin”: they both think that they ‘get it’ and that everybody else “just doesn’t get it”, and that they are therefore empowered to do whatever it takes to make folks do the ‘right’ thing and the ‘good’ thing.

My thought is that ‘good’ and ‘right’ are Good and Right, and yet no matter how Good and how Right (and therefore desirable) a thing might be, it must be planted like a seed and tended with all respect to the human ground in which the plant must grow; not simply jammed into the ground like a fully-grown tree being suddenly implanted by a giant claw-and-carry machine, which is by its very nature a violent thing.

And looking around at the country and the world around Us now, ‘violence’ – physical or otherwise, and no matter how allegedly ‘justified’ – seems to be on an ominous rise.
There is much that is monstrous in Our world now. But the ‘monsters’ are not primarily of the horror-flik variety. They are the developing and regressing monstrosities into which humans devolve when cut loose from any genuine Ground and any genuine Shape.

They knew that in 1776 and 1787 and for a long time afterwards. We have forgotten it. And the History that We may well be dooming Ourselves (and the world) to repeat is dark indeed.

That is the fierce urgency of Now.

*****And let's not even get into the distinction between 'freedom' and 'liberty': freedom, I would say, is something that individuals possess - although it is primarily a task of mastering yourself so that a genuine 'freedom' results. Whereas 'liberty' is a political achievement, and one that requires ongoing care and guard to maintain - as Ben Franklin saw ("You have a democracy, if you can keep it").

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