Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Isolate and stupefy

My cough continues, though no burning sensation yet. This blog IS for tracking my medical condition, so it is without shame that I mention the gross detail that there has been a tiny bit of productivity to some of the coughs. Maybe a bacterial infection setting in? Going to see the doctor this afternoon. Aside from the cough, I have been feeling great for the past two or three days. Maybe psychological, maybe physical. Maybe it's the people praying for me. I'll take it!

The coughing woke me up this morning, but fortunately I had obtained enough sleep. This morning, for the first time, one of the yawn-stretch muscle cramps (right calf) persisted, and made me limp, more than usual, getting out of bed. It's still there, though I am working it out by pressing the foot against a crate under this desk.

I while back I drafted an essay explaining my thoughts on the election, the war in Iraq, the struggle against terrorism, American culture, history, and everything else I could think of. I sent it to a few friends, who offered lots of helpful feedback. Then I put it in the molding bin. It's still there, molding, but I thought I would bring you one of the thoughts I've often had about American culture and the role of the New Right.

First of all, let me say that many systems evolve naturally and spontaneously without any master conspiracy. And what I am about to describe falls in that category.

The first effect is isolation. Due to our history, geography, and economy, Americans live in small, single-family units, often at great distances from their own families of origin. In many parts of the world, people live in multi-generation households, with extended family (aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins) quite nearby. There are major irritations to living this way (as no doubt Bushra can tell you), and I don't want to live that way with my relatives. But there are undeniably major advantages. Bushra, or one of her selfless and giving younger siblings, could do laundry for everyone, while I cook dinner. Many hands make light work.

Americans are isolated, through a process often called atomization. We are not the only ones so affected1, but we may be the most severely-atomized large culture in history.

You've heard of "divide and conquer." The isolation is the "divide" part. It's perpetuated and reinforced by itself. As our economy and infrastructure increasingly encourages individualism, the economic and lifestyle options for people increasingly require atomization. Automobiles and highways are just one example, now perhaps a bit dated.

Yes, I know that this trend also effects Europe and other developed areas, but we Americans are particularly susceptible to it given our collective ethos of rugged Western individualism (we are all cowboys to a certain extent).

The "conquer" part is that we're all so busy coping with our own deficit of time and money (Kids! Mortgage! Car payment! Work! Sleep?) and pursuit of the various luxuries we have been convinced that we need, that community and political involvement is very low on our list of priorities, and usually entirely absent. We're conditioned to pick up on what is easy and abandon what is hard, and we're more prone to adopt simple, entertaining and satisfying social beliefs and political positions.

The same in true in Europe, of course. But it has not snowballed out of control the way it has in America. There are a couple of reasons. To observe one, we can return to the Rugged Individualist ethos once again, and consider that the average American considers joining with and getting support from others as weakness -- not "standing tall." Working with others smells Communist, too.

The other part of the "conquer" is that the Republican party since 1980 has tacitly devoted itself to destroying the quality of education in this country, while publicly declaring its love for education. In kind, they have encouraged destruction of quality news sources, and enabled the suffusion of ignorance-promoting media from Fox News to the morally degrading content that they make so much political hay from opposing.

The Republican party itself did not always stand for turning America into a Third World plutocracy. The party used to be lead by sophisticated, rich, greedy, elitist patriots dedicated to their country, and principles of liberty and responsibility. If you are an educated, open-minded Republican voter and you are still reading this post, you most likely are a contemporary manifestation of that earlier, civil, Republican Party, and I'd like you to wake up, look around you, and recognize the destructive forces who have remade your party into an engine of insult.

Ronald Reagan personified the attack on intellectualism. Anti-intellectualism had always been a thread in American culture, but Reagan wove it into a shirt that still torments us. We entered a self-reinforcing cycle in which uneducated, malcontent, impoverished people who consider themselves to be the real, genuine, honest Americans vote Republican -- and thus against education and the benefits of community. And a new generation of Republican voters is born.

Certainly, not all Republican voters are ignorant. Many sophisticates are supporters because they are wealthy and greedy. Still others have other reasons. But the bulk of Republican support comes from a well of ignorance and privation that leads to a desire to lash out. The targets may change from year to year (foreigners, racial minorities, gays, the ACLU, over-regulation, greedy doctors, big government, pagans, Hollywood, the rich) ... but the real damage is done to education and community bonds. The result is more ignorance and resentment, and more Republican voters.

I don't believe that the New Right set out to do this with a master plan, but each time an election comes up, from local to national, they obtain the most Republican voters by being venal.

I say "Republican voters" in a qualified way, because Americans are not Republicans by nature. They are honest, hardworking people who truly want to care about others. And the New Right may quickly find itself to be the target of all the anger they have infused into our society.

Or not. Perhaps we will never recover.

The initial conditions and vectors which lead one complex system (such an an ecological system, or a culture) to spiral down into a hole, while another flourishes and remains healthy, can be quite subtle. Infinitesimal. The famed Butterfly Effect.

While Europe is quite similar to the U.S. in many ways, it is also quite different, in that they would never have elected or even considered a vile thug like George W. Bush to be their leader. I believe that there was vote-rigging in Florida and Ohio in 2004, but it only worked because nearly 50 percent of Americans did vote for Bush. In Europe that would never happen. The rigging required would be obvious, and there would be a revolution.

And they would not sit passively while their educational systems were destroyed, much less assist in the demolition.

Some Butterfly Effect must have made the difference in the history of American culture and European culture. It is not necessary for my thesis to identify correctly what that was. But my guess is that the idea of America was founded by those who departed Europe, who wanted to escape, and who then again rejected a European system in the American Revolution. Add to that the huge frontier, settling new lands, and (despite all the evidence of cooperation in our history) we find ourselves slightly more willing to think of ourselves as rugged individualists, and to distrust other people.

I have faith that this is not the only America that is possible. I love America, and none of you should count her out.

Yes, I used 'affected.' Actually!

And yes, this is another post that I thought would be a short quip. It got out of control.

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