Posted by: bracehare | December 28, 2013

State of the Union 2013

I’ve had a lot going through my head lately.  A jumble of thoughts, intense, not entirely organized, with a fevered pitch.  I’ve refrained from writing because I’ve been concerned I would come across as a lunatic, since all of this has the character of madness, but then I suppose I’m sufficiently incriminated already in that respect, and I still feel that these ideas, however undeveloped, need to be expressed in some way.

Lately I have been reading: The Rebel by Camus, Living in Truth by Vaclav Havel, The Gulag Archipelego by Solzenitsyn, and a revisitation of older reads such as the essays of Karl Popper.  A great deal has been put into context for me about my country’s history, about world history, and about “human nature” so-to-speak.  Alarms have been going off in my head.  I have had long stretches of unfocused trepidation and short bursts of lucid terror.  The problem is never so much one of making sure your model is valid, but of making sure your premises are realistic.  Maybe mine aren’t.  Let me start with them, so that my reasoning can be vetted.

What is it that made the American revolution successful and the French revolution a disaster?  Both were based on enlightenment values.  Whereas the United States became a stable and successful country immediately after though, France plunged into a fascistic nightmare from which only their own Caesar could rescue them.  Entire classes of people were murdered, factions of the same political platform turned violent against one another, and the more the state attempted to be a rational, legalistic, populist entity, the more blood was spilt, and the more absurdly.  It troubles me greatly that we cannot account for this country’s historical difference from its sibling.  Part of me suspects that the Jacobin disease lies dormant in our body politic, masked up until now by our unique history, waiting only for the right set of conditions to manifest.  Part of me supposes that France was lucky; they got it out of their system young, at a time when Caesars could still cross their own personal Rubicons, before the atom bomb fixed politics in stone.

The sinking feeling I have had is that the only reason the United States got away with our revolution whereas France did not is because we had an escape valve.  We had the west.  We also had designated acceptable targets extrinsic to our social systems; whereas France had the nobility, the United States had our natives and our slaves.  One set of targets are plainly less socially disruptive to kill.  When Andrew Jackson ignored the constitution and the supreme court to send the civilized tribes to Oklahoma; the whole history of our treatment of this country’s natives in fact; these were a missed symptom.  When the desperately poor of this country went west en masse simply to seek a life outside a ghetto, and the robber barons maintained their reign unquestioned, that was a missed symptom.  When the Mormon religion was persecuted in this land of religious freedom and they were forced to seek their promised land in Utah, that was a missed symptom.  And so on, and etc.  There was a prophylaxis by which every element volatile to the new establishment of wealth and political power in the United States was moved west, by choice or by force.  In more established countries such a thing would have been impossible, and what was really exodus under the guise of manifest destiny would have been a short but extreme period of violence instead.  Our national identity would have consolidated under such pressures.  Instead, a dangerous love of order, even above mercy or truth, was distilled by the osmosis of its would-be targets into areas of greater freedom.

So, this country is uniquely polarized by geography.  Lately due to the recession it has had to weather a resurgence of poverty, one of the traditional elements of a social powderkeg.  We have a law and order fetishism that would make the Jacobins blush, embodied in our prison industrial complex which is fed mostly by non-violent drug offenders.  Our country is also uniquely educated; our system produces technicians, intensely capable of plying modern trades (finance, software, the engineering professions, law…) but lacking philosophical, historical, or political education, critical thinking skills, or even the inclination towards such things; white collar professionals proudly boast that they are free from “useless knowledge”, that they are above “meaningless language”.  Are they really?  No, of course not.  There is a vacuum in these people’s worldviews, and by consciously turning up their nose at academic knowledge they ensure it gets filled with junk.  This is why so many American professionals are drawn to political extremism even of ostensibly defunct or plainly anti-realistic kinds.  Popper warned about this, as did Havel, and many others.  European intellectuals almost as a class predicted this would happen, and long before it came to pass.  The United States is a country with rich and diverse traditions, pragmatic people, and a dearth of its own philosophical culture which it resolves through foreign import and intellectual thrift; we make a few ideas go a long way.  Well, so was Russia.

It’s hard to explain precisely what’s terrifying me about this country today, because there are only ingredients, which have yet to consolidate into anything definite.  I can sense them trying to do so.  By the time they do, I think it will be too late for me; fringe elements are always the first to go, sometimes so much long before the problem is apparent that the two things are not even recognized as related by history.  Solzenitsyn states that the mass arrests of 1937 and 1938 are widely regarded as the beginning of Stalin’s purges, even though some 15 million peasants were disappeared almost a decade before then; easy targets.  

“This wave poured forth, sank down into the permafrost, and even our most active minds recall hardly a thing about it. It is as if it had not even scarred the Russian conscience,” says Solzenitysn

Prior to fascism in earnest, a rising fascist state “takes out the trash” so to speak.  It does not cause alarm for the same reason one can mass deport the Cherokee, violate one’s own law in doing so, and remain a populist figure; for the same reason slavery didn’t stand out as a contradiction to the constitution.  What use is prescience anyway?  If one reacts too soon to an indefinite threat, one only helps to consolidate it and give it shape, give it excuse.  John Brown did this, and only by luck did the chips fall favorably.  I don’t think I have the reflexes to react at the exact right moment, given such a small window of opportunity.  Nor do I think I have the wit or the good fortune to set things in motion in a way that leaves things better off than where they began.  So, I am just sort of left to watch as the circumstances of my future death develop.  Que sera sera.

Some things seem apparent about the future.  Contrary to the insistence of leftist revisionists, no fascist state has ever really been plutocratic.  Our country seems poised to become the first.  The conjunction of law and order fetishism, the conflation of wealth and character, the just world fallacy, and this country’s worship of financial success seem to be perfectly suited to enable this.  What is most ironic about this country’s love of wealth is that it stems from a romanticism that was born in the west, a worship of everymen who built fortunes and powerful families largely independently of established infrastructure.  Our country is today not nearly as ossified as some would think in terms of wealth, but it is nonetheless telling that corrupt corporate executives today fancy themselves as James J. Hills, even as they steal from the taxpayer in the form of subsidies and bailouts; that Wall Street traders, who use automated software to game the market, consider themselves Red Adairs; and that all of these people, even as they plunge the country to its death through insider trading, complex gambits with derivatives, incompetent management, short-sighted policy, general moral hazard, and the looting of the public treasury, quote Ayn Rand readily and without the slightest hint of irony.  There is a class of people in this country who have stolen this country’s authentic ideology and convinced others it rightfully belongs to them, simply because they thought it sounded nice and that is the sort of thing they have done professionally for hundreds of years now.

Religion is a scary thing sometimes.  I was tortured by the religious in this country, and that was over a decade ago, when they had little doubt about running the place.  Nobody made record of this.  I have to wonder how the religious are going to respond long-term to the antagonism of, for instance, moneyed homosexuals.  Two men in Colorado went to court and got the state to say to a religious man, “bake them a wedding cake or lose your livelihood”.  This seems to have no function besides antagonism.  If I’m harassed in a store the day after the verdict, is this related?  Has the idea been implanted that queer people are an imposition on the freedom of running a business?  That’s the trouble with being transsexual, is visibility.  It seems like gay men cause problems and then slip into the shadows.  My visibility attracts negative attention, which is then perceived as antagonism, and responded to in kind.  Gay people say, “look, they only hate those people.”  My cause is taken up by extreme leftists, who love all things lowly, including the brazenly criminal.  The right says “look, only communists and other trash will associate with these people, and you will know them by the company they keep.”  Then Log Cabin Republicans say, “Why do you have to associate LGBT issues with anti-american ideologies?”  Queer politics in a nutshell, but this is a digression.

Love of money for its own sake is a scary thing.  People in this country no longer care where money comes from, or make any distinction as to this.  Every rich person is entitled to the same form of speech, and how it rolls off their tongues, self-made men and vicious criminals alike.  Consumption is our only culture.  There is no pride left in work, only pride in how much one makes at work, which is displayed through conspicuous consumption.  People get angry at welfare recipients having iPhones, dressing nicely, owning cars and so forth because it disrupts our one real culture.  Poor people should not have nice things, because otherwise you can’t tell that they’re poor people.  Consumption belies hierarchy, and so consumption needs to occur in clear, socially stratified iterations; if it fails to do so, then laws must be passed to make it so.  Welfare fraud laws cost more than they save, for instance, but remain in high demand; their function is just to police the culture of consumption.  Even drug laws can be understood in this way.  When a rich man rolls up a benjamin and snorts a line of coke, does he want to feel he has something in common with a person living in a crackhouse?  Of course not.  So we raid the crackhouse.  Of course, drugs are an expensive habit.  The poor pay the difference in prison time while the rich enjoy the unstated privilege of their wealth.

Lack of meaningful education and lack of engagement with civic ideas are scary things.  People have learned to keep their heads down.  There are easy labels to dismiss everything now.  You do not need a breadth of knowledge to make money, not even very large amounts.  Money in this country is legal protection, culture, status, personhood, life.  Keep your head down and make money.  If you worry too much you will make others uncomfortable.  Social networking is more important than skill these days.  Be a social person; do not make others uncomfortable; and survive.  Resent those who refuse, regardless of the form or motives of their refusal, even if it’s unintentional for that matter, for their actions are an indictment of you, and they have no right to you indict you.  You are more valuable.  You have money.

The love of order and the ever more rigid taxonomy of human beings is a scary thing.  This country really loves putting people in prison, to the extent there’s a de facto prison of economic and social circumstance waiting for people even if they ever leave the official big house.  Honestly, sometimes even if they never go in the first place, provided it seems like they should be there.  Do we believe in free will?  Not as much as we believe in winners and losers.  A single action draws eternal consequences.  It is not like this everywhere, but second chance is becoming a dirty phrase here.  It sounds like a guilty person sniveling.  In order to believe that our institutions are meritocratic, we have rationalized ludicrous results.  Weigh your heart upon the scales of justice; if it weighs more than a feather, you will be consumed.  Our schools today are modeled after our prisons.  Is it any wonder we have such a docile populace?

How does all of this fit together?  I don’t know.  I’m not even sure how much I’m misreading.  If I’m not, I give my country a prognosis of 15-30 years, tops.

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Responses

  1. I thought of writing a long response, but instead I’ll just leave a short bit of evidence that indeed acceptance is coming in the youngest generation.


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