As We See Them
The Aftermath: Presidential Elections and other Stories in the Meat Market
Brief Observations At the Still Point
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We are political
animals and need it as much as we need food and sex, God for that matter. Sometimes freedom is a surrender
to necessity and other times a struggle against it. Sometimes the mind is that little air pocket in a vast
sinking ship where the few stick their heads and survive, hoping against hope.
I was impressed with a speech Robert Reich gave before the election. He said the reason why so many
men are devotees of Fox and Limbaugh and so forth is because in the last 25 years their wages have gone down.
And there's no greater recipe for trouble, political or otherwise, as when one is hopelessly caught in a downward
spiral of wages. And what these males have seen over the years is, first a turning away by the Democratic
Party who began to characterize them as rednecks, racists, homophobic, jingoists, animal killers and everything else
that is odious. And then a turn to minorities and women as the new bulwark of constituents. And so these
men in the red states watched their wages decline and began see women and people of color wearing expensive suits,
driving excellent cars, carrying briefcases, with an expression on their faces of, "don't bother me unless
you can make me money or make me happy." This was a shock to them and they embraced the radical Republicans.
One of the first things Democrats have to do is discover how the wages of men in the red states can increase.
The Republican's won't do that. They figure this group is locked up with them. I see that happening in the next
four years. The Clinton's may be a key factor in that, I'm not sure.
The problem for the Democrats is a fundamental one. The Republican's have a faith-based agenda that is emotionally satisfying.
Many of the Republican politicians are excellent "secular humanist fun-seekers" but know a good support group when
they see one. The Democrats have always relied on the intellectual, academic group to develop sophisticated ideas
about inequalities, environmental problems, and the like. But, as we've mentioned before, that support group was
dependent on some variation of the Marxist theme that everything in life was reducible to immutable classes,
defined, measured, predicted, controlled. And the central class division to understand was between those who
own and those who labor. Now, those ideas have been modified over time and exerted tremendous influence. But we
are going through an epochal change in the mind of western society. It's the old cultural shift that was
prominent twenty years ago between the "Newtonian universe," of predictability and the "Einsteinium universe" of
chaos, time travel and the rest of it.
The old ideas are being abandoned; the classifications emptied out. And so the Democrats can do little
but fall into old, tired definitions, animosities, and ideas. Until a new structure of thinking about the
world is in place, the Democrats are going to have a hard time of it. They will be, essentially, trying to put
out the fires started by the wild, radical Republicans.
Perhaps in our lifetime we will see an idea catch fire and roar through culture in ways we can hardly
predict at this point. Perhaps. But, by that time we may contact life on other planets and ideas will seem
superfluous. "Are they comin' to get us?" It may serve earthlings right to get conquered by some greater
force in the universe. I don't wish it to happen on my watch. But then, isn't the conservative wave a kind of
conquering from beyond the pale of anything reasonable and good and in the grain of America? Yes, it is. Indeed it is.
January 29, 2005
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The young, literary crowd as best as I can reckon it, have opted out of politics and they have our
blessings. We know now that the snake charmer and his wife in the cabin on the Smokey Mountains has much
more play in politics than the mere literary imagination. Thus, America. Well, it's not all that bad. And
the responsibilities of living in a liberal, democratic nation require some thoughtfulness, some relation to
what goes on.
I've been reading both the Paradox of American Power by Joseph Nye Jr. and The Unconscious Civilization by John Saul,
two very excellent books that argue from different perspectives. One would say that Nye's perspective is a bit
more realistic, a bit more grounded in the world-as-it-is. Saul's main thesis is an attack against the
"corporatist state," and its ability to corrode liberal democratic values.
I fully agree with him. I've seen it and experienced it and know that "corporatist values" are
a resurrection of old aristocratic values that were supposed to have been subdued in our democratic era.
His further thesis is that the political state is the only entity able to corral and subdue the beast. Again, I
agree with it.
He underestimates how powerful is the drive for personal happiness among free people. That is usually
underestimated by academic, literary types being miserable and stopped up in themselves for all the thinking
they do about the world. I recommend both volumes to anyone serious about engaging the world, in its reality, today
in the beginning of the 21st century.
What the young rightly see is that the fear of terrorism oversees all other considerations and our nice,
philosophical discourse on liberal democracy, even in the form of chastising the beast, means very little. It may
even get you lynched or ostracized.
But a brave, intelligent, free people would plunge directly into the center of the fear of terrorism
and discover, not simply its roots but all its darkness, all its permutations. "We will make allies even of those
who hate us so..."
I question whether the American people are brave, intelligent, or even free now. And my people have been here
for over three hundred and fifty years and lived in every region north of the Mason/Dixon line.
As individuals there are plenty of brave, intelligent, and free Americans. But as a group they are in
deep fear, backwardness, and slavery of a sort that will take another century to disentangle. And that makes
me a bit pessimistic but I always hold out hope....I am a true American in that sense.
January 27, 2005
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Sights and sounds at the beginning of the 2nd administration: At the risk of being a perpetual nay-sayer
bobbing in an ocean of complacency, let us inspect some of the speech today. Among the rhetorical flourishes of the President,
one can perceive a kind of future. In his speech he practically declared a jihad on behalf of American style
democracy. This would translate into a lot of military action all around the globe. And comes at a time when American
foreign policy is despised and, in fact, in danger of being defeated in Iraq. The type of "idealism" President Bush talked about is precisely the type of
idealism that can lead to disaster. It is the sort of idealism that says, "we'll install democracy in Iraq, kill
100,000 innocent people, get bogged down by insurgents, rush into an election, bug out as soon as it is politically
possible, and then wash our hands of the whole mess. It's up to you now Iraqi's..."
The elections coming up are meaningful. The hope the President expressed for Iraq is meaningful. But, the fact
that the insurgency has not been subdued and likely won't for a good while is meaningful as well. And it instructs people
all around the globe that there is a real limitation to military power.
And, of course, the "vote" is only one component of a democratic society. Iraq had a "vote" under Hussein. It was
a meaningless vote because it didn't come with any of the core freedoms necessary for a democracy. Watching the inaugural
I had to question my own vote. Some votes count more than others. Not all the votes are equal. If I pay the President
$50,000 I can sit in on a dinner with he and his charming wife. This is more in the tradition of benign despotism when dignitaries
brought gifts to the despot, to influence and be heard. In that context, what is my vote? I don't see any of my special
interests giving up that kind of money for that sort of influence.
We are not going to go so far to say that human habit has gravitated to the more natural state of despotism.
It tends to want to accumulate more and more power. It tends to give up more of its freedom to
gain security and comfort. All of these tendencies are alive and well in America. Again, for all the rhetorical flourishes
of the President, for all his somber idealism, who among his group has volunteered for that tough assignment in Iraq?
That does answer one question that I have thought about for quite some time. In the past a "social order"
was believed to have been ordained by God and few people argued against it. The nobleman was never to be the peasant and
vice versa. With the coming of democracy this was thrown over. Or was it? The only conclusion I come to is that the present
social order is a phony one because those who benefit from it won't fight for it. They won't fight for it because they know
it is phony. Their singular hope is that the sleepy, distracted people will not notice they aren't wearing clothes.
What would a "social order" look like in a free democracy? An interesting question that is rarely connected to the reality of
anything but regardless. We believe that a social order built on the love of money will dig its own grave and leave
it at that.
The other thing, of course, is that to have a free democracy you need a free and critical press. And the press,
in this country, is solidly in bed with the administration. It's a disgrace, pure and simple. There is a kind of
de facto tyranny when the press and the people give up the critical mode and prance around the naked
emperor convincing each other that he's wearing a splendid coat.
And everything the Bush Administration has done has tried to squelch criticism. It even pays off "commentators"
to tell its good news.
To get a sense of what a democracy should look like go read the Funeral Speech of Pericles. It's in
Thucydides and other sources. The Greeks had slaves but they also put their rears on the line in the
field of battle. Even Socrates fought at the battle of Marathon.
No, we are not a democracy but a Republic, based on the Roman model as outlined by Cicero.
We must understand not simply how the Republic was built but why it "declined and fell..." That is
an academic exercise but it is also a part of the moral courage necessary in America, now that it has attained
the stature she has.
One thing that marked the decline of the Roman Empire was its control in the hands of fewer and fewer
families. Another was the corrupt spoils system that only permitted a fraction of the population to
exercise their ambitions. A third was the fatigue the burden of Empire carried to the people.
And a fourth was the mark the Empire became for anyone and everyone who
wanted to make a little history, including the barbarians who swept through the Empire in the 400's.
January 20, 2005
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The "liberals" and thinking types who are now in a distinct minority should turn their attention away
from "issues" and focus on "problems." Certainly, in the guts of the political arena all people fight for what
they believe. A big fight will happen over the privatization of social security; eventually it will be rejected,
I think, because of the memory of the dot.bomb/market bubble of a few years ago. So, certainly, there are troops that need
to be deployed on the "issues" front.
The biggest front or the one where thought can actually do something and shape something is in framing
the nature of problems. Perceiving the complexity of problems. Introducing a few solutions. And keeping the feet
of the leaders to the fire when it comes to their fixes in these areas.
Some of the problems are physical like a shortage of vital resources; cheap oil for instance. Some are
of a morale type such as the lack of vision/aspiration that I sense in the American people. Some problems have been
identified and all types of groups are trying to get a grasp on them. One is the emergence of China; friend or foe?
Another is the on-going "global economy." Another, certainly, is global terrorism, especially as it links up with
crime and drug interests.
It's time to start re-thinking the future. What hath our technology wrought? It appears to me that the pressure now
is to decentralize large agglomerations of people. That can only happen in the privileged affluent West perhaps but
it would be a concept to wrangle with.
January 15, 2005
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