Is It Too Late?
American culture yielded Jazz and Baseball, where merit prevails over folly. If you can hit, throw, run, you will play ball regardless of skin hue. If you can play your instrument, you will, well, play, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion or lack thereof: Simple and beautiful. But even in the realms of sports and music, those humans with relatively more melanin had to struggle for decades just to play with those with less melanin: Convoluted and ugly.
The history or race and racism is well-known to many. The cultural maladies of that history are still with us, including the practices that stem from the ideas that fall under the banner of white supremacy. Umair Haque wrote today here about how “America’s institutions are built on a false theory of human nature. It says that some people are supreme, and others are not. This was written into the constitution, and the residue of supremacy has poisoned America forever, it seems.” (See “What American Collapse Teaches Us About Human Nature”). Expounds Haque:
“The logic of the slaver was that you had be tough, brutal, unfeeling, cruel, selfish. But that is just the same logic of Ivy League, of Wall St, of Silicon Valley today. I’m not saying that they are slavers — I’m pointing out that the logic of supremacy is what produced America’s predatory way of life, and in that way, supremacy is still very much with us. After all, supremacy really says the strong should survive, and the weak should perish — and that’s still going on in America today. But the price of supremacy, of being made to be predators by their institutions, was that Americans were denied all the things of happiness. Kindness, gentleness, trust, meaning or purpose any higher than “attack!”, curiosity, empathy, and so on. Quite naturally, Americans grew angry, enraged, miserable. Bang! Trumpism.” Id.
Then there’s the dumbing down of Americans. According to Christopher Lasch, the same has been in the making since the 19th century, when new forms of dependence substituted the defunct paternalisms of monarchs, authoritarian fathers and slavemasters. The corporate monopoly killed all self-reliance and citizenship, making us consumers. Lasch’s 1979 book, “The Culture of Narcissism,” deserves a re-reading. The cultural maladies discussed by Lasch have gotten worse, while his book provides clues to the current collapse of literacy and competence. Moreover, Chris Hedges (“Empire of Illusion,” 2009) and others before him have denounced the role of universities and other institutions in the collapse of literacy, knowledge, and critical thinking; while Carl Sagan famously warned us about that collapse in his 1995 book “The Demon-Haunted World.”
The resulting absence of critical thinking has made it easier for the barbarians. Critical Thinking is opposed to “Magical Thinking.” Critical thinkers are realists, with a good understanding of human nature. They’re hard to deceive and to cajole. Magical thinkers are easy to dupe and opt for easy explanations and the wide road.
The ramparts were dismantled right before our eyes, but we were too distracted, too dumb, to do something about it. Is it too late? I think that the point of no return came and went. The barbarians are not at the gates; they entered the city and are ransacking the place. Trump is just a minor player among them.
We need to ask ourselves whether the emphasis on “feeling good”or “positive” is sound. We have had it all wrong for decades. For several generations now, kids have been socialized to spare them pain and suffering, which have contributed to our self-absorption and stupidity. Medication, entertainment, and so on -aimed at helping us to “feel good”- actually paralyzed us, while the barbarians took over. The corporate monopoly takes care of all our needs, real and fabricated, making us mere consumers. Citizenship -like life itself- is about action and, yes, about some pain and suffering.
But the structure of corporate capitalism seems to require people who are easily bamboozled and infantile. 19th century aristocrats like Teddy Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge were suspicious of the new rich, who were beginning to control the economy and politics from the platforms of their corporations. Roosevelt and the progressives made efforts to control that beast, or at least to contain it. Anti-Trust laws, labor reform and other measures were part of those efforts. But by the 1920s the barbarians were running wild and, boom!, came the 1929 Crash and the Great Depression.
There had been depressions in the 19th century, but that one in the 1930s was the longest and arguably the worst to date. Other crashes followed after WWII, and then, boom, the 2007–2008 meltdown hit us hard. The response to the criminality of that one showed that the oligarchs control the U.S. government. It was a clear signal that we had entered a new era. The republic was not usurped by a lawless demagogue. It was usurped by these narcissistic, greedy, currently-all-powerful oligarchs, who now own a mega plantation named USA. To save capitalism from itself and ensure democracy, the U.S. had to move in a different direction. It didn’t.
Call it Reaganomics or trickle-down economics: It boils down to predatory capitalism or, more aptly, the biggest scam in history. With Reagan/Thatcher, the robber barons of our epoch came in full force and are on the verge of yielding tyranny & ruin. Barbarians took over, and they only know devastation, which is palpable already: Wealth inequality; environmental degradation; weakening of the rule of law; political termites destroying the federal government from within; institutional bankruptcy; totalitarian practices; demagogical propaganda; an opioids epidemic; despair; the revival or a previously latent, dormant racism.
Is it too late? Do we have the means to avert catastrophe? Is the balance of power tilted in favor of the barbarians? Does this minority, this oligarchy, wield now too much power to be pushed back, preventing us from getting them on line? They certainly could not care less about climate change, or about our health care, retirement, happiness; or about education and wealth inequality. We are at a crossroads. The prognosis is, at best, reserved.