|34 YEARS OF HISTORY|
|by David Eide||.|
Reading through my history book from Columbia University (it's only 34 years old) one can discern the good, bad, and ugly. Human beings kill but they also seek justice. They corrupt but they also seek happiness. Remarkable events happen, remarkable people come on the scene. There are blows and blows struck against civilized life. There are times when civilized life is a mask for evil. One scratches his head at the panorama. Only a few generations are recognizable to the modern type. Those are the Greeks of Pericles or Elizabethan England. Of course, these times are extraordinary because of the people, our times are extraordinary because of the machines and money system. The people hardly count. In this particular volume the last days are sounded by the authors. Yes, late 60's and early 70's had that quality. I think the middle-age took the antics of the young too much to heart. When I look back over those 34 years I see improvements of various kinds. The one "decadence" is the falling off of the public sector but that was done with the full consent of the governed. The other "decadence" is public education. I'm not at all convinced that modern technology has made people happier. It has made them more ignorant. It has made them more fearful. It has made them more nihilistic. It has made them more servile, if that is the term. It has reduced their connection to the values that gave rise to the freedoms they so enjoy unconsciously. It has messed with their heads. It has made them healthier and wealthier in a way; certainly in relation to their forefathers but in relation to their contemporaries?
In those 34 years some extraordinary things have occurred. Adventure into space. End of the cold war. Development of computer and internet. Integration of society on a hitherto unprecedented basis. Awareness of the role of oil in modern economy as well as its contribution to environmental problems. Styles and habits have changed. Ironically, jet aircraft have remained the same pretty much. Television has gotten larger and has more channels. The Japanese got into the car market in a big way. Both the Japanese and Chinese have threatened American dominance in the global marketplace. We rolled from a political orientation on the public sector to one on private sector and private acts like abortion. The rise of the fundamentalists was a key item politically and socially. The radicals receded to the university where they withered on the vine. Terrorism, active 34 years ago, is now a dangerous trend and a war is being waged over it. The most effective President during this time was a 2nd rate actor who began to lose his mind in the second half of his presidency. The least effective was a very smart, compassionate, honorable man. There was at least one nut-case who sabotaged his Presidency and was driven out. Another was a freaky split personality with a mature mind but emotions of a 15 year old horndog. And yet another president so inexperienced and ignorant it often feels he is a 15 year old boy-king. Through it all the nation seems ok, at best, it seems ok. There are always too many poor people, always too much crime and crowded prisons, too much to do and not enough time to do it. The honorable people fill up all the holes in office buildings and try to build a decent life. The culture is really about the pursuit of happiness and demands that the government keep "bad stuff" off their backs so they can pursue it. The boomer generation has passed through from an idealistic youth which believed in many of its pipe dreams, through horrendous disillusionment, to adjustment to family and career pathism, to a kind of falling off, wondering what happened and why. The older WWII generation started to bail out, retire, die off. The best of them readjusted to the changes and simply created new pathways for "life after 65," the young X generation was raised in some halcyon days under Reagan and Clinton but exposed to a deadly, toxic popular culture and dumbed-down. They make up for it by wide-ranging experience and travel. They are on the horizons of their run for power.
It's always a balancing act between the licentious quality of youth unbounded and the need for self-rule. One must transform into the other.
Self-rule comes down to the pursuit of happiness against the odds and taking responsibility along any number of fronts.
The writer takes responsibility for his talents and tries to deploy them in the best way considering the age he lives in. At every step he is challenged and has to think through.
The best way to avoid being a martyr is to have a great deal of knowledge. Resourcefulness is better than money.
Politics seems to emanate from the life experience of the people. If they are bounded by economic scarcity they have one sort of politics. If they are in the middle of economic surplus they have a different sort of politics. The difference between SF Bay Area and North Dakota say. Although North Dakota can be liberal in the reform, Humphrey-sort because the scarcity is in the middle of a perceived surplus elsewhere in the economy.
In the area I'm from there has been a shift from labor, blue collar emphasis to one of high-education, high-tech, entrepreneur emphasis. The impact of Silicon Valley has been incalculable. The impact of UC Berkeley and Stanford are immeasurable.
I read in my Constitution books again; Hamilton's argument of how different the President would be from the King. One thing he mentions is that the King controlled the armies, treaties, etc. The King could make war. The President could not make war; Congress made war. I was thinking of the preemption of President Bush and how that violates, as the Democrats have mentioned, this very important differentiation.
The Constitution only makes sense as a document pounded out by real men who had either participated or witnessed the revolution as real men.
The challenge was making the Constitution a real democratic document by giving the "common people," a chance to run things. I do think the framers wanted that. I don't think they wanted a perpetual group of semi-aristocratic types in there. Sometimes the people have arisen to the challenge and sometimes they have not. I do think we have a "mixed government" in that classes do exist but they really share in the running of things and it only works when law is respected; ie. Enron.
I think America is going through some kind of maturing process. Two thing will kill off America. One is the conformity which destroys innovation or brave and bold ideas or creativity. The other is a huge pissing match between U.S. and the rest of the world.
I started out very idealistic --- the utopia strain was quite profound at that time and I lapped it up. Communes and anarchism, Kropotkin style, and all. I don't regret it. I think Whitman was a hero, Thoreau certainly. They blazed a true path without a doubt, in my humble mind. And yet how can a "society" be created from their attempts? It can't. They are by, for, and with the individual person. Whereas a Lincoln or Martin Luther King, great individuals, are for the collective moral sense. The writer tries to be the one, and admires the other and does his deeds.
I went through a terrific disillusionment, the nature of which I still can't figure out. There was a sense of protection against the reality of the real people and then it came crashing through. I flirted with various ideologies. America lost its interest to me for at least a decade. I went to European sources and found them a good deal more authentic. America appeared to me to go off its nut. No generation or political persuasion was immune. It was a total meltdown of confidence, common sense, and connection. I would put this period as the mid-70's to mid-80's period of time. No political philosophy was satisfactory. I did read a lot of classic political texts; Machiavelli, Marx, Plato, Dante, Cicero, Montesquieu, among others. I think it stopped around Comte. I also read the pessimistic historicists like Spengler and Toynbee. I must have decided at that time that "politics" and the relations between power and the citizen was a private, intimate affair and to simply observe my own passage from one thing to another. I know I went through a period of pushing away all the influences of youth and connecting to more mainstream thinking. This was during the Reagan years. I felt by Reagan's second term some new turning had taken place. I thought it much more important to look at America as a world power rather than as an experiment in democracy. At some point that became obvious to me. That my old heroes Whitman and Thoreau were right for their time but something new had entered the picture.
The first real act of a citizen is to admit his fear. Fear is a great distortion and falls left or right depending more on the upbringing of the person than anything else. Fear of the future, of machines, of corporations, of radicals, of change, of different ideas or peoples, all these fears emerge and the effort to beat back the fears and not allow them center stage is the real democratic struggle.
I began to sense that being a "democratic citizen" was important to the writer as a foundation, as a backdrop to all his doings. But, consciously, he had to get into some orientation with American power and place. And that brought on a study of history, a study of different civilizations.
The problem with that was the hole left in the democratic conscience; the up rootedness of the democratic creed. Yes, it is great that the people have built this magnificence. Yes, it is great that the people have learned to rule themselves. Yes, it is great that the people are, for the most part, affluent. But, then what? Is it sustainable? Does it simply bankrupt its own aspiration and dream and become a stiff, oppressive thing? These were questions, no doubt about it.
All men and women are political animals. Their snout is either in the ground or in the air. Sometimes the tail is in the air and the head is buried deep in the ground. I find most but not all politics to be manipulative but there are plenty of good and sincere people in it. It's problems are legion: alienation, bigness that turns a lot of people off, money, nonchalance, a lack of critical thinking and others.
I think the challenge for liberal democracies is the world itself. Is the fact of the hugeness of effect that comes pouring down on sentient human beings without one ability to fight back or keep the pressures of the world out. Mass communications, globalization. huge technologies, massive cities, all of these things burn away at the ability to produce liberal, democratic citizens and so you are left with big glops of nothingness easily shifted this way and that way, the glops always winning over the individual. So, the individual in the spirit of the framers, in the spirit of Thoreu and Emerson, in the spirit of Whitman or MLKing or any number of others is the big loser, is the marginalized knat as the people hoist cartoon characters above their heads to proclaim as their leaders.
The writer must keep pushing. His loyalty is not the huge systems of the free world. He supports the systems and wishes them well. But the writer must assume the worst for the world he lives in and the best for the future; an odd contrarian view but necessary to fend off the mass effects of the present world.
So, ironically, success has led to a kind of stasis in American culture.
What is beginning to evolve is a set of very powerful intermediating groups and institutions and persons who fight gallantly for what they believe America is, what it's true principles are and they are surrounded by powerful nihilistic true believers-of-their-own- glory on top and masses of disaffiliated, dumbed-down, what-me-worry types. Not particularly idealistic a structure I don't think.
The question of "democratic vs. aristocratic" appears because of this: Never in history has a nation attained the stature and power of America without a sharp division between the rulers and the ruled. So, the problem is how do you take the democratic idea, the democratic creed and yet maintain the stature of power and influence? That is a more pertinent question than earlier "what is the democratic man?" questions. That question has been solved and is almost second nature.
Fortunately I grew up among very exemplary democratic men and women. They believed in self-reliance, in freedom, in knowledge, in creativity and the rest of it. Almost all of them are disillusioned with the state of the democracy.
© 2016 David Eide. All rights reserved.