Friday, March 12, 2010

OVERALL

Every once in the while, I like to recap what I see as the more damaging elements that have been introduced into the nation’s systems in the past four decades.

As you may know, I only pay glancing attention to the depredations of the past 10 years since a) they get a lot of good coverage and b) they were built on or were responses to the dreck of the preceding 30.

And that dreck doesn’t get its tires kicked nearly enough. It is not – as the ancient Chinese would say – properly Named, and thus being inaccurately Named it can evade repair (to the extent now that repairs might still be made).

So I consider this my little bit in the service of a Rectification of Names. And as Norman Mailer said somewhere, the writer’s job is to try to make sense of things for himself and for other folks.

I am moved to do this again after reading the ‘Nation’ magazine issue of March 1, 2010. That mag, following the (improperly named) ‘liberal’ Correctness of the past decades rediscovered its voice during the Bush-Cheney imperium and went after the numerous emperors with no clothes then strutting on the national stage, dress’t in a little brief authority, as the Bard doth say.
Which is a good thing, since the damage done in their brief, Supreme-Court-enabled vaudeville act has hugely damaged Our polity and Our prospects.

But now the mag has gone back to its old habits, alas, doing its best to spin the ‘progressive’ line – or ‘narrative’, as they like to call it now. The game now is to tell Us that Once upon a time, everything was doing just great in this country … and then along came Bush-Cheney.

As if that horrific dyad and all their myrmidons were simply sown like dragon’s teeth and sprang up out of the bare earth in the midst of the Correct and lovely garden as if from nowhere, or from that Hell where ‘conservative’ (also incorrectly Named) demons lurk, as if in the wings, awaiting their summons onto this world’s stage. And this world, the mag would like Us to think, was doing just fine, thank you, right up until then.

It wasn’t.

JFK let a terrible genie out of the bottle when he tried to sidestep the matter of ‘religion’ in order to get elected, telling a bunch of suspicious Baptist pastors in Dallas in the Fall of 1960 that his religion was a ‘private’ affair and that he wouldn’t be ‘taking orders from the Pope’ when trying to run the country as President. It was a neat trick – and it sorta worked, since JFK squeaked by Nixon with 100,000 or so votes from Chicago (courtesy of a Democratic machine politics that was then replaced less than a decade or so later by a ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ Democratic-Maoist ‘cadre’ politics).

But Constitutionally, things had gone somewhat off the rails as early as FDR’s cheerible burbling about a second Bill of Rights in 1944. Whereas the whole Constitutional vision – and the complicated machinery constructed in 1787 to sustain it – was based on keeping the government out of the country’s way, so that its People could deliberate and debate and make Their pilgrim way through the jungle of this world’s human affairs, FDR – decently enough indeed – wanted to use the government, now hugely and successfully engorged as it was bringing World War 2 to a successful conclusion, to make life ‘better’ for everybody.

It was a marvelous vision – surely limning ‘the broad sunlit uplands’ of a better and a good life for all people if not actually suggesting the dance and march of sugar-plum fairies.

But it bode profound problems for the Constitutional ethos: a government now committed to making ‘the Good’ happen for everybody was going to be a government that was going to be messing around in just about everything, since the not-Good – in this vale of tears – is just about everywhere.

And that was even before ‘politics’ entered into the things. And by ‘politics’ I mean the tendency for all political parties and their operatives to convince themselves – like General Motors (google it if you have to) – that what was good for them was good for the country.

The government was now going to be in the business not of staying out of your way – simply defending from invasion, managing (to put it politely) the economy, and delivering the mail – but of re-balancing and re-Shaping the entire world of human affairs, terra-forming (as they say in sci-fi) not the actual geography of the country but rather the geography of the very human activities of its Citizens. And Their very thoughts, imaginings, judgments and attitudes.

As the Romans built roads, so the government built the interstate highway system. As Mao re-built ‘his’ people, so the US government would – for purposes it deemed ‘good’ – undertake a mission civilisatrice against its own People.

Thus it would impose – using that marvelous, sulphurous playbook captured as spoils of war from Dr. Goebbels (not inaccurately Named by his national contemporaries as ‘the Poison Dwarf’) – a more Politically Correct ‘narrative’.

‘Narrative’ in the sense it was going to be used in ‘postmodern’ practice does not mean what it would seem to mean. It doesn’t mean a simple and straightforward recounting of ‘acts’ and ‘things’ properly Named. That’s old-fashioned stuff for folks who ‘just don’t get it’.

No, ‘narrative’ now meant those deep cognitive preconceptions – embedded in the very awareness that you bring to ‘looking at’ acts and events. The government – in the service of political needs – was going to go into the mind-surgery business, re-Shaping – quickly and without ill consequence, in best ‘American’ fashion – the very ‘imaginarium’, bequeathed by culture, history, tradition, and (it has to be said) religion, by which the American people, like all human beings, understood their world and their place in it.

Such elemental change is the type of development that among humans usually proceeds over almost geologic spans of time, slowly and accretively. And it is well that it is so: to speed such a process up is the equivalent of giving a high-wire performer a mind-altering drug (in industrial dosage) while s/he’s up on the wire without a net.

So it’s not something humans should do.

And from a Constitutional point of view, it was not something that the government – especially the Federal government (in any of its Branches) – should do. Such profound terra-forming of the most profound processes of The People’s very conceptualization of life and History and their place therein, is something that has to take place only accretively, with much time for deliberation, consensus-reaching, decision, and implementation. It’s not the type of thing you do explosively – planting a whole bunch of dynamite-bundles here, there, and everywhere, lighting the fuses and running off a safe distance yelling – exultantly – Fire in the hole!

After all, in a lifeboat there are no ‘safe’ places when you’re playing with dynamite. Or the more ‘modern’ shaped charges, or the even more marvelous (but wrongly Named) precision-guided munitions. A blast in a lifeboat (or – dare the image be used? – on an aircraft airborne and full of souls) is really not a good idea from the get-go, no matter how good your ‘cause’ or your ‘intention’, no matter how much you ‘get it’ and are convinced that you know what you’re doing. No matter how much you can get the captain and crew and your cadres among the stewardesses to go along with it.

Didn’t any of them read “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”?

And if that’s what the ‘liberal’ programme has come to mean, then you can see why – slyly – the term is almost completely absent from the ‘Nation’ recently, replaced by the equally wrong Name ‘progressive’. Blowing up your own lifeboat is not ‘progressive’, I would have to say. I would make that judgment. I do make that judgment. I hope that doesn’t sound ‘judgmental’.

So at this point, the mag would hope that We could all just ‘get along’. Accepting as the ‘new normal’, by the way, all the stuff they’ve blown up over the past 40 years. At the very least ‘they meant well’, and – really – isn’t that what really counts?

And then let’s all shudder and rededicate Ourselves to the great task of combating a resurgence of the childish, primitive, duplicitous, ill-intentioned and frankly ‘evil’ politics of the Right, which – apparently – are poised to make a comeback.

Well, the Rightists’ (a more accurate Name than ‘conservative’) politics are indeed all that. They got it – courtesy of Ailes and his ilk in the late 1970s and early 1980s – from the Maoist agitprop politics of ‘advocacy’ and of ‘many revolutions all at once’ (Gerald Ford in 1976 channeling Mao’s ‘let a hundred flowers bloom’ Cultural Revolution in the hopes that Gerry could make the Republicans seem as ‘hip’ and ‘sensitive’ as the Democrats, proving that even Republicans ‘get it’).

Oy. Oy gevalt. Oy gevalt and frak.

Those politics are poised to make a comeback (an inaccurate Name; they’ve been here all along, but when the Dems do it We are supposed to see it as ‘just getting it’). The decent Obama has not been able to ‘fix’ things.

But how could he? How could anybody at this point?

Maoist agitprop politics – baptized as ‘advocacy by imposition’ – are as intolerant of an informed and active Citizenry as any Rightist version of the same.

And the ‘hope’ that at this point the Leftists would like Us all to just accept the past 40 Biblical years (minus the past diabolic 10) as a steady ‘progressive’ march to enhanced liberty, freedom, and untrammeled individual choice (whatever choice that might be) is the biggest fractured fairy-tale of all.

And ‘hope’ itself – now demoted from the ancient Western and Christian ‘Hope’, a theological Virtue – is inaccurately Named. At this point, We are not being invited to Hope, but to Fantasy.

Like those last cohorts on the stern section of Titanic, watching the forward 2/3s of the marvelous and mighty vessel break off and sink into the dark, cold, icy depths and finding themselves standing on the stern, which has ‘miraculously’ popped back up to a semblance of level-buoyancy, now relieved of the lethal drag of the rest of the wrecked ship’s weight.

Cue the band! Tell them to knock off that maudlin ‘Nearer My God To Thee’ and strike up some ragtime! Let’s move on from that sad (or serious) tune; or maybe the band ‘just doesn’t get it’.

Or maybe they ‘got it’ all too well – and knew that it was only a matter of time, minutes maybe, before the now unsecured and orphaned stern section would follow the rest of itself to the bottom.

And that at this point ‘hope’ would be best transferred from the things of this world to those of the Next. But that would require Prayer, and that is sooooo totally uncool and not-Correct. And anyway, there is no Next World – just this one, for which the vessel designed to traverse it has, through the workings of mindless hubris and arrogant confidence, been ripped open like a cheap tuna can.

Will this be the end of Little Rico? (If memory serves, Edward G. Robinson delivered that plaint with a preceding address “Mother of God’ … which, again, is not-Correct. We are out here alone on the deep in the cold dark night, and the only New World left to come to Our rescue may well be the Next World.)

Unless We can swim.

But not many have mastered that skill nowadays – ‘mastery’ being an oppressive, patriarchal thing and really it’s just your effort that counts, that you can feel good about yourself that you tried.

But as some cartoonist limned it to perfection recently: “We aren’t a San Francisco youth league; we keep score!” Consequences, results, achievements, mastery … did the cadres really think that by changing ‘perceptions’ and changing ‘the narrative’ that the world in all its potent but dark awesomeness would somehow turn into a sandbox or an English summer garden like on Masterpiece Theater?

Nope – the Sorcerer’s Apprentice has now blown up the lab and the library attached thereto, and on top of that has loosed some sort of Dark Thing that is taking shape in the smoke and mist.
Boy, are We in trouble now.

And Obama was supposed to fix all this? Was he supposed to be Hercules that he could clear out the Augean Stable in a quick and shrewd loosing of a cleansing Flood?

I don’t envy him. He represented a ‘victory’ for an ill-conceived ‘struggle’ that has been left in the dust by the onrush of Events and History. He’s ‘black’ and the fact that he’s now President is supposed to be a ‘victory’? Doesn’t’ ‘symbolism’ count for anything any longer? Doesn’t the Correct attitude and the Correct perception count for anything?

Maybe if the next time We elect a ‘woman’ – then everything will be better.

I’m thinking not.

Nor am I making an insidious play to get ‘a man’ elected. Gorbachev was a ‘male’ and he couldn’t fix the Soviet Union. Not that Condi or Hilary or Madeleine or any of the usual icons offer much ‘hope’. Maybe Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth (‘Shakespeare in Love’) or Maggie Smith as Professor Minerva McGonagle (on the faculty of Hogwarts) … but you see how quickly ‘hope’ winds up as fantasy these days.

Nor do I take much consolation in moon-faced lesbian Army generals and lantern-jawed lesbian Navy admirals – I’m thinking they’re not going to make Iraq or Afghanistan come up roses. Whatever ‘victory’ they represent or symbolize, it aint’ the type of ‘victory’ that sustains a nation’s life and prosperity.

We might ask with the Greatest Generation: Is this trip necessary? Was this trip necessary? And the past tense in that second phrasing of the question gives an inkling of just how baaaaad things have become. Or at least it will give an inkling to anybody who still pays attention to the profound human, historical and existential realities contained in such ‘quaint’ and ‘abstract’ stuff as grammar and verb tenses and verb moods.

Well, anyhoo, let’s on to my list.

The Dems, when last We left them a Post or two ago, were desperate to re-gain some reliable electoral viability after their shocking and heart-addling experience with Civil Rights after the Watts riots.

They needed fresh ‘demographics’ – and really really fast.

So they embraced whatever group and agenda was pushed their way.

YOUTHISM: All of a sudden it was great to be ‘young’ and it was old to be ‘old’. Forget that stuff about ‘maturity’ and that stuff about ‘experience’ and the development of the prefrontal lobes – ‘young’ means exuberance, confidence, a ‘take’ on stuff unburdened by experience or limitations or failures or mistakes or consequences, and a whole lotta cocky enthusiasm. Simplistic cognitive processing, the arrogance and mindlessness birthed by inexperience, the gushing and gushy ‘optimism’ of Texas oil in the old days, the effortless plenty of shoals of lobsters cluttering the beaches of Puritan New England (they hated the things) … all this was ‘good’. Eighteen year-old were given the vote in 1972. After all, could they screw up things any worse than LBJ and the Establishment? And why not be a ‘swinger’ like Teddy K? Why not hang out in the Haight and make groovy love on an endless summer afternoon? Why not make stuff REALLY happen like all those ‘involved’ Red Guards whom Mao entrusted to guide China?

FEMINISM: No, not women as in all-the-females-in-the-country. But ‘women’ in the sense of the radical cadres of revolutionary liberation who really did ‘get it’ and were embarked on a programme of such urgent and fundamental liberation that they couldn’t afford to wait for ‘democracy’ to ‘work’ and simply struck a point-of-a-gun deal with the Dems: give us what we demand and we’ll deliver the ‘women’s vote’ (that glittering 51% of the population). Forget the culture of the oppressive, patriarchal, white, industrial-era male (and let his ‘industries’ go too; the Brave New World would be a ‘knowledge society’ of college-educated ‘women’, assisted by such ‘males’ as could be de-masculinized and a ‘service sector’ of nannies, burger-flippers, and other assorted serfs). And it would all be imposed by the Feds, because that was a more ‘efficient’ way to get these things set up – and anyway, if you let folks really kick the tires of the feministical ideas and claims then folks might say No to the whole thing. Oh, and ‘thinking’ is too ‘male’; you should ‘feel’ instead.

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS: If you let folks speak about their doubts in regard to any of the ‘revolutions’ and their ‘revolutionary changes’ then you are only going to hold up the ultimate success of the whole thing. This is a war to change the way Citizens feel and think; and since most of them ‘just don’t get it’ then listening to them is a waste of time anyway. Show folks that if they don’t ‘change’ then the government is going to make them change; folks can ‘get it’ or else they’re gonna get it. And since there’s no need for deliberation or reaching a broad public consensus, then there’s no need for serious and mature (see Youthism) thought; politics is a matter of symbolism and the best political participants are the ones that ‘feel’ instead of ‘think’ (which is so male; see Feminism). * Oh, and all the ‘tradition’ and ‘common sense’ and ‘culture’ and stuff with capital letters like Family and Authority and Wisdom and Maturity and Virtue – all that stuff is just for dopes who ‘just don’t get it’. And stick-in-the-mud, oppressive nasties who are just looking to ‘backlash’. ** Lady Bird Johnson tried to put a good face on it: “the clash of ideas is the sound of freedom” – but of course the whole idea of PC was that there would BE NO CLASH of ideas, and instead (Goebbels here) public opinion would be not only manipulated but forcibly shaped by the government.

IDENTITY POLITICS: Your most important affinity-group is your race (or later your gender or sexual orientation or whatever subsets of the foregoing that you have adopted as your own); you are no longer an ‘American’ and it is treason to your group to imagine yourself as primarily an ‘American’. And what’s good for your Identity is what’s good for the country – which anyway is just a ‘construct’ in your mind and really just the ‘stage’ on which the ongoing drama of your Identity is played out.***

MULTICULTURALISM: There are no ‘Americans’ and there don’t deserve to be any. We must encourage and indeed guarantee that every person thinks of him/herself not as an ‘American’ (tainted with colonialist as well as patriarchal oppression) but as a member of his/her own national group of origin – according to the 1977 Five Categories**** decreed by the Census Bureau but also as further specified over the course of time. The goal is to reduce the ‘white’ (and ‘male)’ elements in American society and make it a ‘mosaic’; you don’t want assimilation like a soup, but more like a salad. And you must keep up immigration from anywhere in order precisely to prevent the distinct groups from ‘assimilating’ and ‘betraying their heritage’ (see Immigration). This will also help dilute those who ‘just don’t get it’ and who still remember those bad old days when the country as a society had a common and primary sense of identity as ‘Americans’.

IMMIGRATIONISM: You want to bring in as many people as you can from wherever, especially non-white areas, because this will speed up dilution of any common identity and also dilute the strength of those who remember the past (and may well make unfavorable comparisons with the Brave New Present). The ‘historical’ America was a baaad thing and the sooner it is diluted and deconstructed then the better for everybody. ***** And all those new folks would of course make up for all the 'American' babies aborted so that their mothers could pursue CEO-track jobs and careers. Another 'everybody-wins' pipedream.

VICTIMISM: All Citizens are weak and fearful and innocently helpless – and need to be protected, especially from crime (which, of course and by helpful coincidence, vastly increases the police authority of the Regulatory-Preventive State). ^ And since it is males who – endowed by evolution with the assertiveness and risk-taking capacities necessary to extend and preserve the group – wind up committing most of the violent crimes when they are under-socialized (no maturational help from the trellises of Family and Parental Authority, or maybe out of just plain human sinfulness), then Victimism is not only a source of quick ‘status’ for those who claim it, but also supports a general ‘war’ on maleness (see Feminism). From a political point of view, it’s a win-win demographically. [And a lose-lose Constitutionally, but then that document is “quaint” because the Framers ‘just didn’t get it’.]

Well, that would be my short list.

Yes, there are many who would insist that there are ‘positive’ sides to all the above. I don’t disagree, in some cases.

BUT there have always been these downsides, gravid with hugely dangerous consequences, and yet they have been ignored.

And now We have hit the berg: the marvelous money-and-success machine that was America as late as 1969 and 1970 has not only slowed but seized up, and barring the imminent US discovery of Warp Drive I don’t see any fresh fuel for another American 1870-1970 era.

So We arrive at that awesome Point of significant national economic decline – a grave challenge for any society and culture – already gravely weakened in personal and communal maturity, mastery, and capacity for sustaining resolve … or even for formulating a vision in the service of which We might be resolute.

Electing ‘minorities’ to high office and all the other ‘symbolic victories’ of now long-outdistanced ‘struggles’ is not really going to help face “the stormy present”. If you can imagine it, think again about Lincoln’s exhortation in his Address to Congress of December, 1862: “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country”.

Compared to what We now face, the past 40 years of ‘revolutionary change’ are indeed “a quiet past”. And an outdated and outdistanced past. (You could riff here on the hot ironies of the revolutionary agendas themselves helping to bring Us to the present mess … but enough for one Post).

Our “case is new” compared to the past 40 years of ‘the same old revolutionary stuff’. And from that We (and the Beltway, if that nomenklatura is capable of it) must indeed disenthrall Ourselves.

Whether, however, We will (future, indicative) save Our country … is yet to be determined. There is no guarantee – unless, with the fundamentalists (of the religious, not feministical, persuasion) We believe that God has permanently tied His prospects to these United States.

At any rate, We are in for a “fiery trial”. And a rendezvous with destiny.

NOTES

*Eric Hoffer, in ‘The True Believer’, recounts Rudolf Hess’s exhortation to a Nazi Party rally: Find Hitler, grasp Hitler, not with your mind but with your heart. True believers – and the young especially – are especially susceptible to this primacy of the effortless ‘emotional’ as a way of comprehending life and events and even their own self.

**Hoffer, writing in 1951 (!) and looking back at Fascism and Communism, noted that those movements demonstrated “a hostile attitude toward the family and did all they could to discredit it and disrupt it … they did it by undermining the authority of parents; by facilitating divorce, by taking over the responsibility for feeding, educating, and entertaining the children and by encouraging illegitimacy”. Which, as We saw 20 years later, was precisely the goal of the feministicals – the youth were already onboard with the whole idea … they wanted to get rid of everybody over 30. The Regulatory-Preventive State, bent both on being the Source of all ‘good’ (and ‘goods’) and on being the Protector of everybody would for all practical purposes become the Parent of the Citizenry – which effectively destroys the role of The People as envisioned in the Constitutional ethos and vision. Carol Gilligan’s ‘Sensitive Despot’ would preside from the Beltway over the national breakfast table of squalling, irrational, competing kiddies, doling out ‘care’ and goodies as she saw fit.

***Thus recent comments by a senior front-line Army commander about his ‘female soldiers’ is actually almost a contradiction in terms: there are two ‘identities’ in that phrase, and only one of them can be primary. And as the general discovered quickly to his dismay, the primary Identity was not ‘soldier’ and the Beltway let him know that in no uncertain terms. (see my Post here 010210). And at this point the Beltway has reduced itself, in some ways, to something resembling the Third Republic in the 1930s: fractured and fractious, its citizens unable to unite in the face of the threats growing all around them.

****Caucasian, Black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian.

*****It may seem strange that any government – let alone of a constitutional democracy – would literally turn on its own nation and populace like this, but that’s how addled the Dems were in those days. I also note that immigrants coming to this country nowadays are not facing anything like the situation immigrants faced when coming to this country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At that time the country was robustly confident in its own sense of cohesive identity and was, on top of that, a society presiding over an economic powerhouse still on the rise. In that setting, immigrants could blend in while at the same time finding a measure of economic success, and still keep the distinctive flavor of the countries they had left in order to come to America. Immigrants now face a ‘deconstructed’ America that is also in economic decline, and a society and culture whose own government has turned away from its greatest strengths.

^The weakness resulting from lack of maturity and personal mastery – engendered by the deconstruction of such traditional instrumentalities of child-rearing as Family, Parental Authority (fathers, especially – since they are ‘male’), and of religious formation and such concepts as Virtue and Maturity and Mastery and Achievement … this type of weakness the Regulatory-Preventive government is not so exercised about. This is no surprise, since government can never really perform such tasks – you can call them ministries, they are so profoundly vital to the formation of the human adult and the sustaining of a society and a culture. But ‘crime’ is something the government likes to address: since to do so expands its police power – which, as the Framers saw, is the eternal danger of all governments when let out of their cage, for whatever ‘good intentions’ and purposes.

And for that matter, I can’t help but notice that whereas the classic ‘old stereotype’ of the female sensibility as tending toward the emotional and even hysterical, and toward the irrational, and toward the helpless … whereas those comprised an old stereotype that the feministical revolution claimed it would eradicate, yet Our politics over the past few decades have precisely become all of those things: emotional to the point of hysteria (over ‘crime’ and ‘security’), irrational (don’t ‘think’, just ‘feel’) and continually demanding ‘protection’ from the government police power. Funny how the night moves.

And of course, it’s now migrated into foreign affairs, where the government’s favorite tool is the military (in domestic affairs it’s the police power) … and is that working for Us?

So if I may modify a thought I’ve mentioned in prior Posts: the National Nanny State requires ‘children’ rather than Citizens; and the Regulatory-Preventive State requires ‘victims’ instead of Citizens. And that’s reflected in Our politics (or lack thereof) and in the general trajectory of government.

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