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In The Jury Box;

By David Eide


"....when you decide a case you bring in all your experience, knowledge, and common are not a robot."
Instruction of a judge to a jury.



I am an American. Over the years I've questioned what that means. I've been critical of both the government and the people. I've embraced both the system of governance and portions of the people. I live in one of its squares of latitude and longitude, pay taxes, obey the laws, and try to stay up with what's going on. America is a rather inexhaustible subject simply because it believes in the future and not the past. And when, as has happened the past few decades, it gets mired down into a present it loses its primary engine of imagination which is progress, aiming up along the future where deferral of gratification enters its true self. It is open and infinite, a cosmological principle enacted on a daily basis. It is way too large for the generalizations spewed out in the red hot vacumm of politics. The attempt to understand it can be a noble enterprise but it is enough to try and understand one's personal experience in it and of it.

When it is stuck in the present it shits all over itself.

When it gets stuck in the past it turns into a vengeful beast.

We can connect in marvelous ways now and are only limited by our incapacity to see the whole. Politics can both shrink our understanding or enlarge it depending on a number of factors. We want leaders who enlarge our understanding and fight off fears, prejudices, partisanships that diminish what it means to live in a culture of this magnitude.

The worst tendencies in America come from the strongest emotions. The best tendencies come from the ideas that have tried to animate America from the beginning. Ideas, that is, rather than practices.

The liberal democratic citizen should seek out the fierceness of his or her time and kill it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

There is the "instinct for survival," even in a huge nation-state. However, that could signal any number of things. It's very difficult to project an "instinct for survival" on behalf of an entity like the U.S. The seeming destiny of the country has been divided between the activist/impotent left and smug/activist right with a very predictable and watery middle. And inside all the cast aspersions, from all sides, are the nuts and bolts of running systems on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis. This is the part that usually eludes the vox populi. The most ardent of them seem to skip on the most salient facts of the nation.

There should certainly be a concern about the relation between power and the citizen. There's a justifiable fear that American democracy has slipped into a state of permanent alienation driving toward a dissolution in the 21st century. So the "reconnection" of the citizen seems to be a key to thinking on the "survival" of the nation-state. The system itself seems out of the control of any particular person, group, or generation. Anything not of the analytical description of government and its processes seems, after a while, to be completely wrapped up in ideological rhetoric that doesn't care too much about the truth.

The disturbing things about American politics and government are discussed often enough: the dominance of cheap images in the harvesting of votes, the influence of money, money, money, corruption and waste, the "beltway attitude," incompetence in the bureaucracy, the ponderous machinery of making law and so on. These problems were there before I was conscious of them and will no doubt be there after my consciousness takes leave of the tragi-comical folly.

You never want to feel that the system is greater than your ability to see it and to see when it is making, perhaps, a fatal mistake. Yet, our perceptions are imperfect at best. What I see today I did not see yesterday. And I have a feeling that ten years from now I'll say the same thing.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

All systems produce discontents- why is this? I think it's because people glimpse, from time to time, the basic fictions of the society and then realize that they are outside the fictions or, they are far enough removed from the center of the fiction to be alienated. The sense of alienation is fueled at all times by the "opposite", by those who embody the fiction and the tension that is developed eventually breaks out into discontent. The systems seem to always fail groups of people from fulfilling their potential for happiness or meaning. So on one hand the discontent is part of the attempt of the democracy to improve itself. It is forever trying to figure out what it can do to improve itself. As long as this spirit is active it is in good stead. The discontent has a real purpose. It's up to the culture to try and guide that discontent into productive areas where the gap between the citizen and power is reduced. And in a free society that gap is reduced by the exercise of freedom on the part of the discontented.

The most dangerous tendency to a democracy is when a free people will continually make the wrong decisions because of emotional appeals or throw off their freedom as an unwanted burden. Or that the freedom will become such a senseless appendage to a degraded life that the whole concept of being free will simply fade away through time.

The central tragedy today is, as I have noted before, America must be a world power. Therefore it has to develop the criteria that will uphold the power and transmit it to the future. It is a tragedy since our conscience is embedded in anti-power and it divides us immediately. Our loyalties are split. The simple becomes complex.

What resources are brought to America to sustain it as a world power? That question has to be answered.

We don't want repression. We don't want to separate into a small elite of controllers and a fragmented, backward, superstitious mass of people.

That means that the individual citizen has to be renewed. The individual has to flourish as never before.

That is my secular prayer for the day. And the individual must separate out a host of goblins and temptations that dominate the scene.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

There is a period of time in the culture when there is felt a horrible repression of thought. Perhaps this is one of them. It grips the nation when it is in fright.

Here's what the cosmic pessimist says: "All systems depend a good deal on the ignorance of a good number of the citizens who then can be manipulated by leaders or wannabe leaders in thought, politics, and economy."

Whatever issue dominates a time the underlying issue, the one that should be seriously addressed, is the issue related to the integrity of the society. Will the society survive? How? What will it be like in the 21st century and beyond? What makes the culture cohere and respond to national challenge? Where does the consciousness and identity come from?

Is it a conscience that is built from the ground up to some pinnacle of identity that is then transmitted to future generations? Or, is it the integrity of the Constitution, the dynamics of the economy, the conscience of the people and the intelligent energy of the political system? Or, is it some innate quality that come out of the minds of people, spreads among them and then is elaborated by different types in the culture?

It is, no doubt, all of these things. The only way in which the country would lose its wholeness would be if somehow the people were convinced that the Constitution was not working anymore and so abolished it in favor of something else. Another way would be if the economy collapsed, precipitating a civil war between those who have and those who have not. Another would be if the fragmented political culture got worse and worse and so, eventually, precipitated one of the dire scenarios.

When a sense of identity is raised what is it exactly that people see? Do they see all of the institutions operating all at once? All of the millions of transactions, all of the issues operating and so forth? Do they see all the good, bad, and ugly? Or do they see only what they want to see?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The thing that the piss-ant American has to learn more than anything is patience. Patience so that the initial blast of the culture doesn't do the spirit in. Patience so that one can make mistakes and not feel as though they have been pitched into Hell. Patience so that the whims and changes that overcome a culture at any particular time do not take one tumble-weed fashion into its hot dry desert. Patience so that the object and the articulation can get breathing space and fly through the menhirs that Americans are surrounded by.

It is true that complacency is very bad. Complacency and the kind of arrogant smugness that creeps up from time to time are no good. At the same time the frenetic life of the average American is the type of life that obliterate patience as well as those other qualities necessary for the development of anything worthwhile.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

You have to look at the objective way in which things are organized and how things get done. The complexity that is revealed is really the complexity of ordinary things happening quickly and repeatedly. Then you look at all of the specially made things; the objects which present something meaningful because of the way they are constructed or their particular use or the history of the object. Then you look at events and deeds that are significant to the memory. These are ways that consciousness can bring substance to the world it lives in.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

There is a distinctively American conflict that plays itself in this manner. One group believes in the zero-sum game, that is, "I win you lose. I lose, you win." It still exists deep within the American psyche. Common beliefs emerge out of this agonal struggle. It also translates into "I will do everything to win and do anything that will contribute to you losing."

There is really no way around this. It stimulates the imagination and emotions. "Ambition fights ambition," as Madison put it.

But then there is the added-value belief. That is, if you are doing your best and I am doing my best we will achieve something. We must, in other words, find ways to contribute to each other. Once a limitation is revealed things can get reduced again to the zero-sum game. I would state that is a philosophical quandary rather than something in practical affairs. However, it is obvious that in a contest between them the eternal zero-sum game wins out. How then can citizens be produced that are able to synthesize arguments they don't have much faith in, to produce a more effective politics?

After looking at youth and its' experience of various ideas and perceptions, you naturally look at the power of ideology. It zones off the richness and complexity of life and demonizes that which it desires to supplant. It does so in the hope that others will follow so that the object demonized will be destroyed and the ideologist will take over. The ultimate zero-sum game. At that moment the structure of governance means everything.

Marxism was very influential in my youth since authority had collapsed and America appeared to be a mask for a semi-barbaric system. It was the neo-Marxists who slipped out "working class" as the victim class and inserted "women and people of color" in its stead. As a result, the Democratic party cut the working class loose and took on the new constituencies that had much more political imagination and vitality at the time. But the axiom, "Everything Marxism touches it destroys," is probably more true than its analysis of real historical forces. Neo-Marxism drifted up into the Democratic Party that developed into the establishment elite and now faces this populist onslaught of evangelicals and working-class Americans who don't identify with the ruling establishment.

Any prophet worth his salt would be saying, "Behold how the mind reverses the very crimes it discovers about itself! And projects the nature of the crimes on enemies."

The politics of these things are particularly sharp in the East Bay area where I spent so much of my youth.

After a while you see two types of people. Those who are drowning and those who are sleeping. "Beware when the sleepers awake," says the prophet.

Religious fundamentalism and political correctness, ideologues, the mediocre, the nihilist, those who have no stake in anything become Loki-types destroying progress as they fight over their misperceptions of the system. It is far more propitious to find those who are constantly making, creating and sacrificing.

The uncomfortable truth for intellectual types is that the "middle-class" must thrive in order for a liberal democracy to thrive. That means producing healthy families, healthy children, healthy schools right down the line. So it stands to reason to do everything possible to make the middle-class stronger, to make it the center of political value. It also means pushing up from below as many poor as possible to replenish that middle-class and make it equal to wealth as a class.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

To survive America has to renew three strong principles. One is the idea of self-rule. That the citizen has a stake in what is going on. Despite appearances to the contrary I think that principle still lives today. Secondly, is the idea of progress; no matter what the condition in the present is it can and will get better. And thirdly is the ability to objectify power from top to bottom so that it is accountable for its actions.

These imply the self as well as the larger community of citizens.

December 6, 2017

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


I resisted the gigantic ways the world can be viewed. For instance, as a series of nation-states in relation to global interconnections. The nation-state defends itself and its enemies are many. My feeling was that we, the people in a democracy, are responsible for the decisions of state so we need to know. To know is to invite the unpardonable sins into the calculus of supporting or attacking the nature of the so-called state. After all, if one emerges out of the rough and tumble period he seeks to secure himself to something, even if it is the apron strings of an idea. Yet, we either are or are not free citizens. If not then why fake it? If we are we take up those obligations necessary to make sure what exists will be here tomorrow and improve. We are both lover and bitch.

First we remove scenarios we don't want: total collapse and invasion, therefore loss of sovereignty. Extremists ala fascist, communist, or fundamentalist getting to the center and forcing everything to conform to that center. Or, even, complacency and hatred screwed into the eyes of everyday people. Leaving off those scenarios we are left with a few animating ideas and the common sense whether we are fulfilling those ideas or letting them go out of disgust to become something wholly historic and sadly doomed as a result.

Looking at society, even the world, one could say, "Ah, it is ripe for a new belief system to discipline it and lead it into the future." That is not wanted or needed because we know what happens. The belief creates a series of conflicts, the conflicts inspire repression, the ones who dominate do everything in their power to keep power, progress is slowed, problems get worse etc. etc. What is needed is the intelligent ability to use everything through the strength of the system itself, whether that system is in decline or not. And I doubt if American democracy is in dire straits although it's a tough thing to love at times.

When you have that consciousness you need to see how imminent it is and what the causes would be. I don't think it's imminent and I think the root causes would be "overreach" and the profound separation between the nature of the society, the core of its value and vast amounts of people. It would begin as soon as you had permanent classes that "could not move," from where they started because the country is too deeply involved in the intrigues of the world and simply can't afford the types of renovation that would be needed to prevent more and more decay.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

No doubt the American populace is feeling the stress of bad economy, big problems, incompetent government, and bad war among other things. It takes one back to basics but also makes people look at the reality of a huge machine called government, the total fragmentations of politics, the bad influences that play on it, the backwardness of the vaunted people, the rise of rivals, the emptiness of slogans and lofty rhetoric, the cruel feeling that even in a huge nation-state we are merely trapped rats.

I watched a retrospective on the development of NASA through the Gemini project. It took me back to adolescence. The space adventure took the American, if not global, mind out to something larger than the normal fare with a lot of physical challenges, technical and scientific challenges thrown in.

That is thoroughly missing in today's world. After the cold war it's been purely materialistic greed; maybe the most profoundly driven greed in the history of the planet.

The internet could be seen along the lines of a collective project but the fact that it is a necessity now changes all of that. It is still the best stimulant going evidenced by the fact it carries great good and great evil on its back.

What is needed is a national improvement program across many systems.

Of course the national view is a very flawed one. It is a wonderful exercise to make it as precise as you can and then writing through the titanic vision. But even when it is on the mark it is less than perfect. That requires many views from many quarters. The best way to enter the national is to be thoroughly absorbed in the region and know the region inside and out.

One would have a national view because of familial experience, personal experience, pride, necessity to keep the spirit of democracy alive and moving forward. But that view is only good when he or she admits the limits of that view.

The last thirty or forty years has proven to me that the culture can change, is responsive to calls for justice and to correct wrongs and abuses. But then it tires of the whole prospect and is eager to move into another modus operandi. Such is the political reality of the large nation-state.

Ideally we want to have an identity in spacious regions, with vitality all its own but connected to the center and core of the culture, wherever that may be. In many ways it is in that dangerous territory called the mind because America started as an idea and all ideas have shadows and shades of grey. Nothing interprets ideas quite like action. All action can be traced back to ideas. The fight for civil rights from the 50's onward was a series of positive actions that commented on the idea of "all men are created equal." Every region had its particular interpretation of what civil rights was but the "whole" of it came from the sense of a national idea.

That said, the living must deal with America as a "whole", as a federal system, with both awful complexity and opportunities, even as regions act on their particular interpretation.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Respect the people and their lives; that's the only social philosophy that makes sense. A few of the people might report on the shadows they see in the people and culture; respect them and listen to them. Ignore anyone that has contempt for the people and who want to circumvent the due diligence, checks and balances etc. that are in place in the society.

Nothing moves forward in human affairs without mutual respect. One person respecting another but getting nothing but salt in the eyes in return is going to result in conflict. And respect means that you listen to that person because his background, his experience, his knowledge doesn't intimidate or annoy you. In fact, his differences are invited into the self as a great enhancement to one's own knowledge and experience. From that moment on the possibility of communicating and having a relation with another seems very possible.

There is toleration for even the worst activity in honor of the fundamental soundness of the structure of governance. And that can create inner conflict that resonates within and without the citizen. I, as a person, want a moral system for myself at the very least. I want integrity as a person. But in an ideal way I doubt if it matters that no one else shares that moral system as long as I am free to pursue it. And isn't it interesting that when one is most vulnerable in the experience of self then all comes into question and the differences are acute and threatening. But when there is confidence in the experience of self they aren't?

It appears that the goal of the society is the full development of the people who are made aware of their potential and given the tools to live their potential out for the benefit of family, community and society. What other goal would there be. Even when the society recognizes that there are many different goals and ways to get there that appears to be the central concern, after survival. It is hate, repression, resentment, lack of ability to deal with failure and assorted pressures that destroy this relation.

Influences, coercions, manipulations are sometimes the best teachers. It's trying to get from under these things that teaches one to pursue knowledge and wisdom or, at least, "fulfilling potential of self." The family counts, the community counts, the education counts but all those are dressed down by what Lippmann called, "the acids of modernity." So one must know what coerces and manipulates and impresses the modern type. I always come up with science, technology, capital, and some form of accommodating government that has to prove to its citizens that their lot will improve through time. If you are ignorant of what manipulates you, if you don't understand the nature of things in your own time then what can you say to it? And is that the state of democracy we want to sustain? Most people measure their knowledge of these things by their use of them. But do they consider how much they are dependent on these things? And what that dependence does to their sense of being liberal democratic citizens?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Without a sense of liberal democracy the society appears to be a huge bureaucracy and a powerful military, no different than China or Russia. What distinguishes the liberal democracy? And in my estimation it was the ability of the citizen to be "beyond" the powerful which they would acquire through experience and knowledge. I found that without self-awareness of liberal democracy and experience of spiritual resource there could be little freedom. The key is in keeping the integrity of self without which one flies out into nothingness without the ability to make sense of the nothingness. This was clear to me in the 70's as I watched the melting away of faith in liberal democracy and the rise of cults in the Bay Area. And cults are the canary birds in the mineshaft for liberal democracy, as is tribalism. The intensity of both is a measure of how far the idea of liberal democracy has decayed.

There's this dilemma. We are best when we look for ideals. But to sustain a real democracy you need boots on the ground so to say. You need a life where things matter. A life, for instance, that doesn't dismiss everything as a post-death, carnival nightmare not worth sustaining. That it matters that nukes exist. It matters that vast poverty exists. It matters that there is corruption in government. It matters that there is greed. And it matters that the democratic people see the necessity to keep on and not give up. Life is what it is and yet we believe it can be better, even perfect way off in the distance. Is not our sense of perfection the source of reality for some future?

There is nothing more important than the fair treatment of women, the freedom of women and so on. It is proof of higher civilization when women are free to plot their own course of action and when they own property and have money, etc. In other words, to have the full potential of the female out engaged in the world. On the other hand, you don't want the culture to get feminized. You don't want it to get into a state of guilt or resentment or dark secrets or neurotic complexity that spins its own wheels. When the masculine is depressed in favor of the feminine you find a lot of violence, porn, corruption and so on. The masculine exists for building things, leading things, using common sense. These are attributes and don't belong specifically to men and women but to persons.

Among the things that create inequality are education, wealth creation, and status. What a democracy tries to do is spread those things around as much as possible so the "equality" is deeper in the society. Would you really want a society where everyone is at the same level? Human beings aren't robots and they respond to different motives and inducements. You need, for instance, educated people to run the institutions so you must make the incentives for people to go to school and that means there is a lot of competition among families who look to get their kids the best possible education. This competition in itself creates inequality since one family is more resourceful than the next or has better adult models or sees the sheer necessity of it. So from the outset, at the basic institutional level there is inequality created. Politics fights over these items and culture modulates the nature of defining these things.

The society has developed such complexity that to radically change it you'd have to tear it all down and start over. If, that is, you wanted to produce ideal equity. Unfortunately, we know what happens and it is usually bad. And we assume that elections are, on a small scale, a version of that very thing. Free, honest elections are necessary for the integrity of the liberal democracy. However banal that may sound it needs to be said over and over, especially when foreign powers interfere or, even, rival parties make elections less free, less honest to gain power.

We know too much perhaps. We know of all the schemes and dreams. We know all the fickleness of human nature, all of its persistent need to protect wrong ideas. We would say what you need is a radical restructuring of the human being but that too has been attempted a thousand times over albeit in small, privileged groups. We know too much about it. And good models can be provided from time to time that are taken up by the complex whole.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The "60's"

Was the rebellion worth it? There were more than one. It did shake things up and when all the pieces fell back to earth there were interesting new configurations as in environmental concern, attempts to integrate society, consumer, food awareness, computers and the like. It was the adrenaline a large nation-state system needs at least once in a century, maybe twice. A lot of bad seeped into the culture. One thing was apparent: anyone who was susceptible to addiction found their favorite poison or it found them. It's clear too that "liberation" can be as Darwinian as "repression" unless it is joined with self-discipline.

"Liberation" can be as dogmatic as any other sensibility and prevent as much good as allows for it.

What is America but what you make it to be? Its civic life can be bizarre in many cases or, even worse, somnambulant; you experience both in one lifetime. Vietnam, Watergate, protection of civil rights, environmental protection, War on Terrorism, cold war, space as well as run of the mill scandals are some of the historic events the public has had to respond to. The society itself, the culture, is a raw potential that one must touch lightly and deftly. Laugh with and not at it.

Drive the freeways. What do you think? Intermingle with its variety of classes economic, racial, religious, etc. Do you survive with integrity still intact? Chase some dream. What is the depth of your disappointment? Read history. Can you find it in your midst?

The disorientations of modern America often drive people to safety behind a variety of walls and shields.

It is not a genteel freedom in America but something pushed up from the bottom; with both fear and amazement that life could be this good and this awful.

It appeared to me that a liberal democracy was practically impossible under the duress of a technological, highly charged capitalism. And liberal democracy meant more to me than technology or capitalism; I admire aspects of both yet both exist under many different political and social forms including communism, fascism, and theocracy. It was the dominance of those two things that created the values, not the other way around. Liberal democracy existed in little pockets of air here and there. I don't know if that was merely a fear or a misperception on my part but it did result in a few decisions. At this late stage all that can be said is that a liberal democracy can produce wise individuals who know the nature of technology and capitalism and can apply common sense to their use and development.

It is the quality of the citizen, the health of the organizing principles, the quality of the questions raised, the sense of where the thing is at any given moment that piques the interest of the free liberal, democratic citizen. Obviously too many things are going on at one moment to make anything absolute. Most places I look the citizens are, if not happy, not going to pull it all down. I don't even sense a low state of morale that I've felt here from time to time. It just rolls on. Things are reduced to even rows, now fresh shaven and without a spark of wit in them. They get all their expletives from cartoon shows. Perhaps Trump will inspire a new need to examine the nature of liberal, democracy.

It matters how much a person knows. But who is going to define what it is that needs to be known? As a functioning citizen what matters is the effectiveness of doing what nature intended the person to do.

America is the opportunity to become a liberal democratic citizen. It demands the ability to fight against the odds. It requires a whole generation to reduce the life they confront to a series of problems and their solutions. And then spend their life as citizens to try and enact some of those solutions.

November 17, 2017

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