"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, November 15, 2019

Idealism - The Faint Heart Of American Democracy

Not only is the Earth heating catastrophically, black churches burning, economic equality increasing, home-grown terrorism a real threat, campus rape at epidemic proportions, say progressives; but all these destructive trends are linked. Capitalism is at the heart of America’s evils. Our market-driven, free-enterprise system has always been a predatory, savage system of injustice. Industry has always exploited labor, squeezing the last bit of dignity and honor from the working man.

Corporate money rules Washington and statehouses, and right-to-work laws, spreading to over half the country, are emasculating the labor movement. The inner cities have been forgotten and dismissed by investors who cannot look beyond profit and see the pain and suffering of poor, marginalized communities.  Greedy land developers, venture capitalists, and multinational corporations have ignored the planet, seeking only short-term profits regardless of the environmental impact of their investments.


Not only that, the incarnation of evil is in the White House – an incubus, a social and moral reactionary, a sexist, homophobic, racist ignoramus.  If there were any worse times in American history, it is hard to find them.  The Robber Barons, laissez-faire capitalism, and the accumulation of wealth in a few hands? Hardly, living when they did, when America was still open, free, unexplored and unexploited land.  Their railroads, steel mills, and oil wells were the instruments of the rapid growth of the economy.  Yes, they made millions and kept most of it within their own private treasures, but all in all, they were not all bad. 

The corrupt administrations of  Harding, Grant, Jackson, and Garfield? Blips on the radar compared to Trump’s crassness and unholy, illegal, immoral dismantling of liberal society. 

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So progressives have a lot to worry about; but the issue is not about domestic and foreign policy, political appointments, social programs, or taxes – those every American is concerned about.  It is the derailing of the train of social progress, one which has been on the way to its final station for years, but now stopped at a rail head, unable to go on, that is the issue, a wholly unexpected break of a destined journey.  However, despite occasional glitches in world peace and the liberal social order, things, progressives insist are getting better.

Women have finally gotten their due and have reached the top of the ladder.  LGBTQ Americans have seen their stock rise to unexpected levels.  Who would have thought two decades ago that gay marriage would be common, that men and women could change their birth sex, and that the very idea of male-female binary sexuality would be dismissed in favor of a fungible spectrum?

The redistribution of wealth and economic value is a sure thing, idealists say, and the harsh free market, free-for-all days long past.  Finally, small wars don’t really count in the balance sheet of world peace.

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The point is that despite all the evidence to the contrary, if one actually believes that a better world is not only possible but a certainty, the journey will be difficult indeed.  The ‘small wars’ are wars nonetheless.  Thousands have been killed in Somalia, Yemen, the Congo, the persistent aggression and retaliations in the Middle East not to mention the civil wars in Syria, the separatist movements in the Caucasus, Indonesia, and Spain, the religious fanaticism of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and al-Shabab, and all the rest.  There is no evidence that the world is becoming a more peaceful place, especially after the brutality of Mao, Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot last century.  How to square progressivism with this sorry history?

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To make matter worse, country after country is rejecting its progressive, socialist past and turning to more conservative, nationalist governments.  Lula, Correa, Morales, Maduro have been or are being tossed aside by populations tired of taxes, corruption, government inefficiency, stifling of private and individual enterprise, and indifference.  Even Scandinavian countries are rethinking their overbearing neo-socialist welfare states, and Western Europe is making a hard turn to the right.   In other words, the liberal, progressive, Utopian dream so desperately longed for, seems only that – a fiction, whisked away by the realities of human nature, the perennial demands of human society, and the weight of history itself.

Ah, social reformers insist, the changes that we have helped to effect, especially the creation of a new, ‘inclusive’ society are more indicative of the continuing path to full justice, peace, and equality than any more temporal issues such as wars.  While many may pooh-pooh the gender spectrum, it is perhaps the best expression of true social integration, the foundation of a Utopian society.

Wrong again it turns out.  As many Americans are upset with the attempted rejiggering of human sexuality as those in favor of it.  Identity politics – the secular philosophy of  race, gender, and ethnicity, and the assumption that it is the be-all and end-all of human valuation – is finally running out of steam.  Enough people are returning to the early Christian, Enlightenment principles of the Founding Fathers and rejecting cultural and moral relativism, to make progressives take notice.

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Conservatives of course have a much easier row to hoe.  They understand that human nature is, has been, and always will be self-interested, protective, aggressive, traditionally sexual, and territorial. History is only the retelling of familiar stories, repeated ad infinitum because of the hardwired, inbuilt, innate structure of the human being.  If one were to lay out the Histories of Shakespeare in chronological order, one would see that history always repeats itself; and that the only interest in history is the fabulous characters that populate it.   So for conservatives there is no such thing as progress, no Utopia, no better world.  They are Rabelaisians, for whom ‘the best of all possible worlds’ is as much of a joke as it was for Pangloss.   And if this is the case, ‘What, Me Worry?”

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While many conservatives are upset at the railroading of Donald Trump, media hysteria over impeachment, the witch trials in the House, and the coming tar-and-feathering in the Senate, most others are simply enjoying the show.  When has life ever been different, they ask?  The Donald Trump show is simply the most entertaining in recent memory, and better to sit back and enjoy it.  It is hard to watch the goings-on in Washington without laughing – the bald-faced, impossible chicanery, the tall tales, the righteousness, the presumptuous, and the sheer silliness of smarmy attacks and counter-attacks that have always gone on here but are somehow more fun to watch now.

Nothing has changed about political life because human nature hasn’t changed.  Why should anyone suppose that politicians once they accept the mantle of public responsibility will become better men?  The contrary in fact is more true.  Once politicians finally win office, they become even more greedy, self-centered, and venal than they were before.

It is hard to feel sorry for frustrated idealists who keep seeing promises of a better world slip out of their hands.  They should know better.  Whatever changes they effect will either be rejected and overturned or folded into the larger American ethos of freedom, enterprise, religion, and the free market; never to be noticed or thought of again – footnotes in history, addenda, interesting anecdotes about transgender bathrooms and queer sex; images of BLM banners, peace symbols, and retro-hippy Idaho communes; but little more.

The good news for conservatives is that human society is conservative; no matter how many engineered changes, it still remains fundamentally unchanged.  No matter how many changes may be promoted and instituted, and no matter how the configurations of family, community, and nation seem to have been altered, we will always, invariably, and inescapably be the same.

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