MISTAKES
by David Eide .

America has made mistakes. Now, even the grade school kids say it. The kids want to prove that they aren't sticking up for the "the man." And we use the word mistake rather than catastrophe because we want to remove the drama embedded in the mistakes and meditate a bit on how to move forward after the mistakes are admitted. They do emerge out of a collective-mindedness and taint the whole even when we admit there were vigorous protests against the mistakes.

Many books are published on these subjects from a variety of pov's. In 1982 I had an "economic determinism" attitude because I had no money. Many motives and complexities evade careful analysis. We can hardly accomplish anything in the short space we've given to ourselves but what is important is the aftermath of consciousness, when one has fully digested and rolled over the nature of the mistakes as part of his education. Does it really change anything?

1) Slavery:

Slavery was imposed on this hemisphere by empires, run by kings and queens and their courts. The Spanish had slaves in the 1520's and a century later the English imported them to the east coast. The pre-Columbians, like the Aztecs, had slaves. It was not a new concept. It was usually rationalized as, "better to have the losers of battles or wars do the dirty jobs rather than kill them off." It sounds awful but much of history is very awful. By the time the revolution came along, 150 years after colonization, a prosperous system was in place that was nearly impossible to dismantle. As many have commented on, slavery declining because it was less and less profitable. It wasn't until the cotton gin made cotton a valuable crop that slavery intensified. Only a small percentage of people embraced it, many were humiliated by it or shamed it and wanted nothing to do with it. But it persisted. There was never enough powerful interests to collectively get rid of the practice. The Constitutional Convention couldn't do it. The men who were at that convention were not certain that the Constitution they hammered out, would even be accepted much less work. As with most of the past, it was more fragile than it appears in the history books. And much protest against slavery had to do with the idea that it cheapened labor. The American idea was to liberate the average laboring person to work free, ample land and sell the products to an expanding market. Slavery was a direct threat to this value by making labor "without dignity". Slavery corrupted the slavers as many of the intelligent members of the Convention knew. Was America going to exchange one aristocracy for another? That seemed a real possibility with slavery a fact of life.

There was protest against slavery from the very beginning but collectively, rationalization after rationalization was used to maintain the fact. "If you outlaw slavery the South will not agree to union". "The South is agricultural, nearly another civilization and needs the free labor." The North had slaves but not a slave economy. They had mechanical power and had committed to the utter transformation of natural and human resources into production, expansion, wealth, more production, more expansion, more wealth ad infinitum. For plenty of northerner's machines were a point of pride.

Slavery had incalculable effect on the race that was enslaved, an effect we still feel today. Shame and anger hang over the whole thing.

The question is, "had slavery never made its way to the English colonies would some of the same angst been created by the consolidation of economy through the ownership of technology?" It certainly would not have gotten to the level of contention that slavery took the country, but there would have been deep political and cultural divides.

2) Civil War:

First, the North and South hated each other. This was exacerbated by the popular press of the time and the fact there wasn't much travel between the regions.

The Civil War was a natural outcropping of slavery but one thinks it would have occurred anyway as long as the South remained agricultural. The North could ask of the South, "where are your great industrial cities? Where is all your production? All I see are a few rich farmers acting like old Roman aristocrats," so thought the North. With the coming of the railroad and the steam vessel and general mechanization that respected no geographic boundaries, free to move anywhere, and all that land, that fine land accessible on the Gulf coast or along the Mississippi River. So much temptation. The philosophy of America was and still perhaps is, "all human function, all physical space used, transformed, converted to wealth. Nothing lost." In fact, as we noted before, slavery was extended by the cotton gin when it appeared to be on the way out. The fierce sectional war divided the nation and is in evidence today when you look at blue states and red states, where they are located and the emotions over the removal of Confederate statues. The Civil War could have been avoided, should have been avoided and it's rather scary to realize how few people actually made the Civil War go, those few in the south that owned huge plantations and wanted to preserve a non-democratic way of life. And as US Grant observed as he was riding Cincinnati one day through the region, "Why did they rebel when they need the North more than the North needs them?"

3) The Depression of the late 1920's and 1930's

If you continue to transform natural and human resources, invariably a balance will be struck and all advance in economy will recede at the expense of those who are least prepared for it. The Depression was a shock to the psyche of America to further break the potential of the people, to flatten them out and re-make them in the imagine of production. How else can you understand the myths of the people and their seemingly irrational fear in the presence of wealth? It was not done deliberately so much as a repeat of economic failure in the 19th century. The choice, however, was struck at the beginning to run the economy to the precipice, let it deflate, then build it back up. In other words, "the economy is beyond our knowing how to control it so let us drive it until it collapses, rebuild, relearn and apply what we learn." The Second World War, a direct result of the global depression, helped stimulate economies and after the war ended surplus, created from the effort, washed for years through the fifties. The society became organized along the lines of the war effort with some of the same discipline, a new enemy but an enemy nonetheless, the same goal which was victory and with victims, survivors, generals and a thousand lieutenants. This was when women entered the work force. This was when the artists and poets perceived the sterility, the death rattling of a nation usurped by its anti-life.

4) Vietnam:

Vietnam was a taste of world power status for the US. It was in the flush of the great victory in World War II that gave the American people a sense of inviolability. But it was its first major mistake as a world power and hit back hard against the feeling of benightedness. It was as though the ghosts of the dead came whirling in a great storm through the land. It was a fear that for all the power and speed of the nation, it had grown from a seed determined to fail. The great mistake had come to face itself and stare into its own fate. This can be a very enlightening experience, or it can be utterly devastating depending on the inner resources of the people. If they have been enlightened then they will gladly give up the mistake and seek the authentic American experience which is experiment, new paths, ideals, and all of this. If they have become devastated, they will act more and more as a parody of the failure and manifest this in the most destructive ways.

What are the keys in understanding this?

1) Environmental values. Since the country developed a transforming economy leading to disaster, recovery, disaster, recovery, disaster all at the expense of nature one's relation here is most important. It doesn't take that much tweaking of the American mind to go from transformers of raw material to husbandry of resources. Some of the same intelligence and skill is required.

2) The Type of Leadership: What proof does the leader exemplify that they understand this part of the American psyche? How much is the leader fixed on the political myths? Is the leader a man or simply an image created by the mass consciousness? How many secrets is he holding? A leader will not try and secure power and jealously guard it but rather give it out of his own strength.

3) The Development of the People. How alert are they? How passive? What new roads do they cut through the thicket?

4) Relation Between Military Spending and Attention to the Poor. Is America growing into a Rome where the masses are thrown fine grotesques for entertainment, where they are so transfixed by the inhuman, where they are so alienated that "anything goes", so degraded that the country becomes a monstrous image eating itself alive? And at the other end, so emaciated in spirit, so thwarted and repressed they become as machines? So that everything between becomes demoralized, hopeless and simply adds to a momentum doomed to destroy itself?

These are internal concerns but my guess, looking at things realistically, is that the "internal" is where America most lacks. It has put itself in a precarious position with the world, half hoping it will collapse so that it can be reclaimed. Most of the world looks at the US as a dream state, as an aberration which is why socially, politically, creatively it must attain its full potential and quit wasting that potential on the superfluous. Quit wasting that potential in a drugged, machine state, half-barbaric, half-aristocratic demoralizing itself and killing itself.

One only reaches potential when past mistakes are acknowledged and that power taken up and driven through the impossible to new areas of discovery, growth et al. There is nothing sentimental, easy or mollifying about this. It demands hard, painful thinking. It demands freedom. It demands all the best attributes of nature.

1982-2021

*I wrote most of this in '82 and have fished it out of piles of writing. I edited it a bit. I was trying to take on parts of US history that seemed not to disappear in consciousness. I called them "mistakes". Why not? The mistake always revealed something missing in the US. Slavery was degradation all around and one wanders why there wasn't more energy in getting rid of it early on. The Civil War was a failure of leadership at every level. The Depression was a result of "greed is good" ethos. Vietnam was proof of an overconfident power with disdain for its enemy. Mistakes. Since '82 you could count up the financial crash of 2008-2009 and the Trump fiasco as two more. I'm not convinced America made it out of that Vietnam era. Reagan tried closing the door on it and did on one level but it moved underground on many other levels.


Back to Essay Page

Back to davideide.com


© 2016 David Eide. All rights reserved.