Dreams of apocalypses show the brotherhood of America’s Left & Right

Summary: Left and Right in America are in many ways mirror images of each other, as many posts here have shown. No surprise, since we’re all Americans. If we recognize this, perhaps we can better communicate with each other, and perhaps even work together better.  {1st of 2 posts today.}Apocalypse

 

Left and Right share a belief in the coming apocalypse, although they differ in the nature of the end times. Is it Cultural collapse or resource exhaustion? National bankruptcy and currency collapse or climate catastrophe? Mass social disruption or … they both agree on that.

These nightmares seem to be gaining an increasing grip on the American imagination, as fear becomes the major marketing tool in our politics — across our political spectrum. Does this provide a basis for communication, and perhaps working together?

Here are excerpts from two books I recommend that give deep insights into our culture. The first is by one of the top social critics of our generation. The second is deep and complex but brilliant,  well-worth the effort to carefully read it (his description of us is imo dead on target).

The Culture of Narcissism
Available at Amazon.

 

An excerpt from Christopher Lasch’s
The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (1991)

The Waning of the Sense of Historical Time

As the twentieth century approaches its end, the conviction grows that many other things are ending too. Storm warnings, portents, hints of catastrophe haunt our times. The “sense of an ending,” which has given shape to so much of twentieth-century literature, now pervades the popular imagination as well. The Nazi holocaust, the threat of nuclear annihilation, the depletion of natural resources, well-founded predictions of ecological disaster have fulfilled poetic prophecy, giving concrete historical substance to the nightmare, or death wish, that avant-garde artists were the first to express. The question of whether the world will end in fire or in ice, with a bang or a whimper, no longer interests artists alone.

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Conflict in tomorrow’s offices: strong women clashing with each other

Summary: Three videos about Disney princesses show us the future of work in America, dominated by the clashing personalities of strong women.  (2nd of 2 posts today.)

Disney Princesses
Imagine them fighting in your office.

 

As women move on top of men in America, conflict will increasingly take place between strong women, replacing the men-men and men-women clashes that dominate today’s work world (except in those fields already dominated by women). As women break free of the roles that govern their behavior, these conflicts might look strange to us — as will so many things coming soon.

This series describes the changing gender roles that will reshape American society in the next 2 decades, changes already baked into our future.  To help us prepare, this post has 3 videos of the new world. As in so many things, Disney shows us the future. These are made in fun, but …

“Many a true word is spoken in jest.”
— Ancient wisdom, first seen in “The Cook’s Tale” in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.

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Why don’t our dreams of a better world inspire us to act?

Summary: In this chapter of our search for a better America we examine our stories and myths. Do they show a path to the future — inspiring us to act —  or are they just dreams of salvation by gods?  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Phoenix
In our future lies a better America.

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty.

— John Adams’ Letters to John Taylor (1814).

I’ve written hundreds of posts describing how our passivity and apathy have allowed the 1% to gain power as our representative institutions decay, so that now the Republic itself is at risk. I’ve written 50+ posts about ways to reform ourselves and rebuild America’s politics. Unfortunately the diagnostic posts are more convincing than those about cures. Readers agree, as the posts about the problems get far more clicks than do those about ways to reform (there is another, darker explanation, which I’ll pass over today).

In these cases I turn to our myths for inspiration. Let’s review some of the good futures described in our literature, films, comic books, and TV shows.

Looking at our dreams

“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see….”
“You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”
“No,” said Ford … “nothing so simple. Nothing so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, “why don’t the people get rid of the lizards?”
“It doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they assume that the government they’ve voted in approximates the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in.”

— Douglas Adams, in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984).

The Space Patrol in Robert Heinlein’s future history series (e.g., Space Cadet, 1948) is an autonomous military organization maintaining the peace by its monopoly of nuclear weapons. They are aware of that the Patrol could become tyrants, and it had one almost-successful internal coup d’état (“the Long Watch”). This is the most realistic of the visions described here, although the stories themselves imply their improbability.

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Forgotten what political reform looks like? See this reminder by Taylor Swift.

Summary: Reform movements in America have almost entirely burnt out, with Hope & Change Nobel Peace Prize laureate Obama stamping out the embers. Yet the sparks remain and will catch fire again, sometime. Will we recognize harbingers of change after so many disappointments? See this new video by Taylor Swift; it shows what to look for. (2nd post of 2 today.)

Objects might be closer than they appear
Eagles might be closer than they appear

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The rash of police shootings has the Left hitting the streets again (like OWS but more vigorously), waving placards demanding things while delusionally marching along their road to irrelevancy —  as described in this typical twitter comment (name omitted):

Its all coming down. No amount of armor can stop that now. The Left is in the streets again, the only place that matters right now. The endgame is same whether the street explodes and burns it all down from the bottom or the top finally loses control of ridiculous maths experiment on Wall Street and burns down from there.  If the ‘white majority’ wish to be Fascists history shows what is in store for them.

As 2016 looms ahead the center-Left (i.e., liberals) prepare their bid for power by running long-serving, 67-year old, boring mediocrity Hillary Clinton. She’ll read her lines to generate support from the appropriate demographic and special interest groups. She’ll sing the Hope and Change, and the Democratic Party’s core will hum along with her. But nobody will believe. All but the core know she’s a creature of the banks, the war machine, and the mega-corps. Since the 1% don’t care about the proles mating habits and leisure pursuits, she’ll advocate a miscellany of social reforms (conflict about social policies creates a facade of conflict between the two parties).

Both Left and Liberals in their own way block meaningful efforts to reform America. They give us a choice of paths: boring or futile. Neither taps the public energy necessary to overcome the unassailable might of money. Obama did so in a slight way, showing the potential magnitude of the force available to us — but was limited by the insincerity of his campaign (obvious even in February 2008).

How can we identify a powerful political reform movement in its early stages? Here’s what it looks like:

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Why have our movies become so dark, showing a government so evil?

Summary: The evolution of America has accelerated as we slide down the long-feared slippery slope leading to the end of the Second Republic (founded on the Constitution). Each event appears clear in the news, but the cumulative effect — the rise of a New America — is too large for us to see. For perspective let’s look at our heroes in print and on screen. Their foes display our fears; their relationship to the government reflects our relationship to it. We might pretend not to see what’s happening, but our mythical heroes see the darkness falling on us — and have changed accordingly in ways that reflect our weakness. When we decide to become strong again, we’ll find new myths (or reclaim the old ones).  {First of two posts today}

“People need stories, more than bread, itself. They teach us how to live, and why. … Stories show us how to win.”
— The Master Storyteller in HBO’s “The Arabian Nights”

Superman in handcuffs
“Man of Steel” (2013)

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Our fictional heroes reflect our dreams of individual empowerment, along a gamut from James Bond to Superman. Less often remarked, some of our myths show our awareness that only through collective action do we have strength. In the real world unions, associations, and governments created the middle class and brought full civil rights to women and minorities. Many of our stories feature heroic organizations — such as the British Secret Service, Triplanetary, U.N.C.L.E, GI Joe, and S.H.I.E.L.D. Heroic individuals and organizations protected us against criminals and foreign powers.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E

No longer. The war on terror has revealed that our government might have become our greatest foe. On TV we see stories with ample precedents in history, but unimaginable to most Americans. President Obama personally selects America citizens for assassination, without formal charges or trial. The NSA taps our phones and monitors our emails. Police patrol our streets with military equipment (just like Fallujah), eager to use force (e.g., SWAT teams killing when delivering summonses).

Fiction often mirrors our fears and our view of the world. As do our films today. Soldiers take Superman away in handcuffs. SHIELD launches helicarriers equipped for surveillance and assassination. Government agents attack Captain America. Action adventures routinely feature government officials as the bad guys. The next sequence of Marvel films feature the Civil War series, in which the government regulates — forcibly enlists — mutants in its service.

The GI Joe team

In this world trust becomes rare. Heroes in TV and films are often told to “trust nobody” (e.g., in “The X-Files” TV show, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, and “Captain America: Winter Soldier”). Sometimes the moral of the story is the even more extreme “trust nothing”, with the usual exceptions of love — or friends and family. It’s excellent advice for peons. Taken seriously this prevents people from working together through existing organizations, which shatters even the strongest people into powerless shards. We become individuals and families helpless before the mega-corporations and government agencies that run our world, and helpless before the 1% that own it.

Movies and TV are our myths. Today they give us nothing to inspire people to work for social and political reform.

The missing link

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How does The Hunger Games compare to other classic stories of children fighting children?

Summary: As we watch “Mockingjay”, the 3rd movie in the Hunger Games series, let’s compare Suzanne Collins’ books to the other classics of children fighting children — Lord of the Flies (William Golding , 1954) and Tunnel in the Sky (Robert Heinlein, 1955). Children fighting for their lives against other children, a gripping story-telling motif these authors use to illustrate the nature of a society — or even of humanity.  Each paints different possibilities for our future.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay

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Contents

  1. Scheduling the annual high school massacre
  2. The Hunger Games
  3. A lesson from another story
  4. Reviews
  5. The trailer for “Mockingjay”

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(1)  Scheduling the annual high school massacre

These three books show children at war with one another. The first two show children as castaways, thrown into nature from adults and society. Unlike Hobbs — life without society is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” — in Lord of the Flies Golding shows that children are not solitary, and naturally form gangs. Unfortunately Hobbs got the rest correct; gang life is, as seen on the island (and in US inner cities) “poor, nasty, brutish” and often “short”. Order is restored only by the return of authority. The children (and perhaps, by extension, the mass public) cannot do it on their own.

Critics often describe Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky as a rebuttal to Golding, but these books describes very different conditions. The children in Tunnel have been trained to live on the interstellar frontier. To get their certificates, as its final exam each class spends  2 to 10 days on a wild planet with whatever gear they can carry (plus the even more valuable knowledge in their minds).

It’s a daft scenario. Imagine students from your high school armed with their weapons of choice and dumped as individuals in the wild without supervision or even observation. Blood would flow in revenge for years of insults and abuse, retribution by ambush without mercy. See this list of school shootings in America; imagine making these easy, even routine. If that wasn’t motive enough, every student is a WalMart for anyone amoral enough to kill from behind.

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Tom Clancy, manufacturer of myths that kept us happy & ignorant

Summary: We loved Tom Clancy’s fiction because it gave a realistic gloss to our myths about ourselves, about America, and about our military and intel agencies. Unfortunately millions of his readers believed they were seeing an accurate picture. In fact Clancy got the details right, but most of the big things totally wrong. Gorbachev was not a wise leader; Prince Charles was not a great family man; Federal agents seldom feel agonies of guilt when killing people in the line of duty. A full listing of Clancy’s distortions would fill a book almost as long as one of Clancy’s. Here one of our top geopolitical experts paints a picture of Tom Clancy, showing how he gained a place on our bookshelves by giving us what we wanted.

Tom Clancy
David Burnett/GP Putnam Sons via Associated Pres

Tom Clancy, Military Man

By Andrew Bacevich
The Baffler, #24 2014: “The journal that blunts the cutting edge.”
Reposted with the generous permission of The Baffler

Word of Tom Clancy’s passing in October reached me at a local gym. Peddling away on an elliptical trainer, I welcomed the distraction of this “breaking news” story as it swept across a bank of video monitors suspended above the cardio machines. On cable networks and local stations, anchors were soon competing with one another to help viewers grasp the story’s significance. Winning the competition (and perhaps an audition with Fox News) was the young newsreader who solemnly announced that “one of America’s greatest writers” had just died at the relatively early age of sixty-six.

Of course, Tom Clancy qualifies as a great writer in the same sense that Texas senator Ted Cruz qualifies as a great orator. Both satisfy a quantitative definition of eminence. Although political historians are unlikely to rank Cruz alongside Clay, Calhoun, and Webster, his recent twenty-one-hour-long denunciation of Obamacare, delivered before a near-empty Senate chamber, demonstrated a capacity for narcissistic logorrhea rare even by Washington standards.

So too with Clancy. Up in the literary Great Beyond, Faulkner and Hemingway won’t be inviting him for drinks. Yet, as with Ted Cruz, once Clancy got going there was no shutting him up. Following a slow start, the works of fiction and nonfiction that he wrote, cowrote, or attached his moniker to numbered in the dozens. Some seventeen Clancy novels made it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list, starting with his breakthrough thriller The Hunt for Red October. A slew of titles written by others appeared with his imprimatur. Thus, for example, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Choke Point or Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist Aftermath.
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