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Writers Notebook
Brief Impressions At the Still Point 

By David Eide


"It does not take a majority to prevail...but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men."

Samuel Adams

Some Impressions on the Sense of Decline

I don't think America is in great decline. Obviously, if a critical mass of people think so then it travels along a rather fated path. At that moment I, for one, will find a small group of people who don't want to decline and form a nice community of monks.

No, I think we are entering a new horizon, one that we have not experienced before. The most important fact to understand is this: America has become the model of how to modernize. Every area on the globe is rooted in thousands of years of past. Past's that still exert a pull to them and can still be identified by the living people and which connects them to many generations who have lived in and around the same region. That is one reason why the "modern" world has been such a wrenching experience for many. Western Europe was ripped apart by two powerful, primitive responses to the modern world; communism and fascism. The Middle East is being ripped apart by a third response, fundamentalism.

. "Modernity," and the violent responses to it will be one giant theme for future historians if they pay any mind to this time.

America is the face of modernity but allows in its bowels and, even, brain some resistance to it. That means to me that if we studied ourselves and our own nation thoroughly we'd know the world better than it knows itself; at least its conflicts.

All free men and women should study: Science, Technology, Capital, and Representative Government. And not simply a survey of these things that would make them a good Jeopardy player but to immerse themselves in these subjects as if nothing else exists. And if they come out the otherside with some humor or wisdom then they can call themselves "moderns." Then they are utterly famished for the spiritual, art, poetry, and the intangibles.

* * * * * * * *

Obviously, a nation dependent on one man or one woman is going to decline much quicker than a nation dependent on many men and many women.

* * * * * * * *

We would do ourselves a lot of good by getting rid of all the political posturing and idiocy of the past forty years, clear the decks, wash ourselves thoroughly with those thoughts and ideas that keep liberal democracy alive, and then head out toward the world as bold, no bs, alert, tolerant citizens.

Most of the abstractions of fear prove unfounded in the long run. We can not predict the event that will assuredly happen. But fears serve a use in revivifying the mind as relevant to the future and to keep it orientated against the emotional responses or the hard-headed responses, both of which have a place.

* * * * * * * *

Politics, like law, is not something separate from me as a person. I can not own it. I must have a relation with it.

* * * * * * * *

My feeling is that the culture, especially the political culture, is arranged in concentric circles. If you are stuck in one of them without knowing, fundamentally, the others you are simply fodder for greater powers than your own. The closer you are to the organizing principles of the culture, the more you leap from one circle to another in higher and higher states with at least a modicum of free thought left in your brain.

* * * * * * * *

The art to this sort of culture is to keep the boundaries strong without making them corrupt.

* * * * * * * *

History, even recent history back in the 20th century, and the present time can be fairly disturbing. There is a kind of amateur delight in studying and understanding history and then applying what one has learned to the present. It always leads to the ineluctable paradox: War is inevitable and yet when we give-in to the inevitable it is that much closer to our own face. We should resist war with every fiber we have, drive it from our consciousness until we are utterly aware there is no other choice.

* * * * * * * *

The oddest thing is that looking at the planet with history-in-the-making in mind, the United States is prominent but Europe looks more and more removed from the center. Asia looks like it will pounce on the scene in many ways. America has the brilliance and experience to use Asia well as it is used by Asia. The further the center of action gets from the Middle-East, the better. .

A nation is more than a map.

* * * * * * * *

If three cartoon characters were to run and one win that would be more significant than all the meditations on "politics" by one who knows the full history of politics. Oh, that's already happened, ok. Take an, that occurred. Then a sex-addict. Oops.

After all, the people are supreme. The vote of she who is beguiled by a cartoon character is just as important as the person who has studied things out and turned it over in her mind, and who is aware of some of the consequences of things.

A man or woman's sense of politics and power deepen with age and experience. And yet the focus is always the present and the few who act on the stage of the present time.

I count that as a value to be transmitted .

* * * * * * * *

George Bush's failure is the people's failure. When they wake up to this fact perhaps they will shake out the habits of stupidity that have grown deep in them. Their vaunted common sense can not cope with the modern world.

Their survival is at stake. They can't hide behind power or bombs. They need to know now more than ever.

Since I don't think "decline" is in order I bet on them to do it.

April 20, 2007

Some Impressions on Political Culture

I bought a used book as a kid, I must have been nine or ten, and I was with my dad in a used bookstore in San Francisco. The book was Volume Four of a history of Rome, "Roman Supremacy," published in 1939.

The Oxford professor, Hugh Last, wrote a chapter on "A Roman Citizen Surveys The World," and concludes with these words. He's summing up the decline of the Empire and some lessons to draw.

"Barbarian attacks on the frontiers and a consequent increase in the tax-gatherer's demands forced the emperors' hands to measures which in the end were disastrous. But from the tale there emerge two lessons which are clear. The first is this-that, if human life is to be at its best, men must be allowed at least a certain freedom to manage their own affairs to work out their own salvation. And the second is not very different: that state interference with local business and private affairs, though it be begun with the best and most beneficent intentions, runs a danger of leading to a bureaucratic control which deprives its subjects of their essential independence and turns free human beings into machines of the state."

And if that last phrase doesn't resonate with a few modern Americans about their own society I don't know what will shake them out. It is also interesting to note this was written at the eve of total world war with a Nazi regime that fit the citizen to the bureaucratic state through political myth.

One might raise the question, "but what if the citizen doesn't believe he has any salvation to work out?"

It is an interesting question too full of meaning to deal with in a column of simple impressions.

* * * * * * * *

Every citizen, man or woman, in a liberal, democratic culture walks with a political animal at their side. Sometimes it is a rather demonic wolf-like creature and other times a kind of naive child. But it is always there.

When it is cut-loose, as so many in a liberal democracy want to do, the political animal at-our-side converts into an intelligent demonic wolf-creature and prances away to all the other demonic wolf-creatures who collect in the high country to wait the passive citizens; their heads bouncing between the ear plugs of an iPod, thoughts on big-breasts and money.

"Come through the pass so we may eat you clueless ones!" So hopes the demonic wolf-creature.

Any citizen who pays attention to this animal (always stalking by his or her side) is aware that it changes and, in fact, the relation the citizen has with the animal changes through time. But it is always there and most of the time not wanted. It is roped to us unhappily and we settle or cut it loose.

* * * * * * * *

It's interesting to understand that the generation of the "framers of the Constitution" lived in a world much closer in every way, shape and form to classic Greece and Rome than to modern- day America. In the present world we seem to be creating cults or tribes rather than self-reliant, self-ruling people. And this can be ascribed to, I think, the massive-powerful-world of effects the young and naive enter without a lot of preparation. The world becomes so frightening that they rush into any number of tribes and cults prepared for them. And so we see a great loss of both "liberal democracy" and the self-rule of self-reliant men and women.

* * * * * * * *

When people are ignorant they get frightened, they are unable to accept reality, they shut down, they get angry and strike back.

Ignorance is produced by the ratio between the volume of information and knowledge available to a free, democratic people, and their ability to deal with it with some intelligent structure.

When this ratio is skewered then perception seeks a critical mass to hide behind.

At that moment the arts of propaganda win out over the arts of a liberal, democracy.

Even among those who work hard to maintain basic liberal, democratic values of self-rule and self- reliance there is great limitation. One person can't possibly know everything that needs to be known in order to become that quality of self-rule.

It is very apparent to me that people of good will exist everywhere. That people of different backgrounds can communicate and work together. That race, religion, ethnicity, gender and these emotional categories become less and less bound up with destiny.

In the modern world the people strive to "be all they can be," and if they succeed at it go back and try to pull the rest up.

We are not the Roman Empire.

We have much more to lose than the Romans.

April 5, 2007

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