Nothing to Celebrate

Some Limits on Freedom

Ok, it’s been an exhausting year of almost non-stop social chaos in this country. I’m sure there are plenty of retrospectives of the events of the past twelve months (and much trivia) you could watch and read this weekend but I’m not going to look for them.

I’m also not going to write one. I just have a few thoughts about all this crap, mostly recycled from three previous rants. Feel free to ignore them.

The origins of this mess we’re in go back farther than one year, of course, and I continue to assign primary responsibility to the dead weight of indifference expressed by a significant number of American citizens in 2016. I can only hope that enough of those who opted out of voting, or worse, voted as a “message” to some unknown entity, are now paying attention.

I’m sure many more people are now at least awake, as expressed by the so-called resistance of the past year. However, as I ranted previously, resistance is not futile, but it’s also not enough. Pushing back does not move the country forward. At best, it maintains the status quo. Most likely, resistance will only keep us from sliding too far back into that past you hear so much about. The one that was “great” for some, but not for most.

One positive will be the many new faces who will be running for office this year. However, they, as well as the more familiar ones who want to stay in office, need to do more than put up a lot of scary ads saying “I’m not with him/them”.

They need to explain, clearly and forcefully, their vision for positive change and how it can be achieved. Engage us with how we can progress and improve society, as opposed to returning the “normal” that obviously wasn’t working for large parts of the county.

Finally, much of what has been written and said by our so-called leaders over the past twelve months, also brought to mind an essay written almost twenty years ago by the great Isaac Asimov.1

His point in the column (published in Newsweek, an actual paper magazine), is that, although many in American society loudly exclaim that the people have a “right to know”, they rarely are referring to having accurate and meaningful information. Instead they ridicule and devalue knowledge.

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

Asimov ends the essay with this idea:

We might begin by asking ourselves whether ignorance is so wonderful after all, and whether it makes sense to denounce “elitism”.

I believe that every human being with a physically normal brain can learn a great deal and can be surprisingly intellectual. I believe that what we badly need is social approval and social rewards for learning.

Asimov’s refusal to accept willful ignorance would make a wonderful message for any candidate, for office at any level, to include at the center of their campaign.

The image is of a t-shirt for sale in The Newseum. If you are visiting Washington DC, plan to spend half a day in this wonderful alternative to that other museum of American history.

1 The whole essay is a little dated, as you might expect, but worth reading.

Indifference Kills

This will be my only post about the election. Feel free to ignore it.

Clearly the constitutional election process itself is royaly screwed up. Twice in the past twenty years, the person who received the highest number of votes for President lost. The fact that we continue with this system just because it was written by the sainted founders is absurd to the highest power and needs to be fixed.

However, there is another major flaw reflected in this election, one that has become integrated into our society. And I feel that it is even more responsible for all the crap that is coming in the next four years. It’s one that can be fixed, although I fear, not easily.

This quote, courtesy of the always wise Audrey Watters (by Antonio Gramsci, who died in a Fascist Italian prison in the 30’s), explains that flaw very well.

I hate the indifferent. I believe that life means taking sides. One who is really alive, can be nothing if not citizen and partisan. Indifference is lethargy: it is parasitism, not life. Therefore, I hate the indifferent.

Indifference is the dead weight of history. Indifference plays an important role in history. It plays a passive role, but it does play a role. It is fatality; it is something that cannot be counted on; it is something that disrupts programmes, overturns the best made plans; it is that awful something that chokes intelligence. What happens, the evil that touches everyone, happens because the majority relinquish their will to it, allowing the enactment of laws that only a revolution can revoke, letting men rise to power who, later, only a mutiny can remove.

I am alive, partisan. And, therefore, I hate those who do not take sides; I hate the indifferent.

Hate won this election, on a technicality. But hate also received a massive amount of assistance from that dead weight of indifference.

We have a significant number of citizens who suffer from that lethargy Gransci described. The loudest and most obvious group are those who refuse to vote, except for a flawless candidate who perfectly fits their unique mold. They are the parasites who are too utopian to take sides.

But they are relatively few in number.

Far worse are the large numbers who vote while being steadfastly, sometimes proudly, indifferent to even the most basic issues that most directly impact them. They refuse to do the work of educating themselves (something those sainted founders believed would be a fundamental requirement for representative government) and then demanding candidates explain clearly how they will address those issues. For them simplistic proclamations are just fine, thank you. Never mind if they make sense or are even possible.

We can almost excuse people for not learning enough to make an informed decision since they are served by a news media (mostly television) that has become almost completely indifferent to filling the basic role of the journalist. Of offering their audience the necessary details about problems we face as a society and then providing the context they need to make an informed decision. Don’t give me the crap about the need for “balanced” coverage. That concept is a myth. It’s impossible. Every issue has multiple sides and they are never equally weighted. If all sides were equal, then doing nothing would be appropriate and we move on.

To CNN, NBC, and the rest1, information and truth are far less important to these hacks than ratings and clicks – chasing the almighty demo and the profits they bring. Twenty four hours of indifference.

The combination of an uninformed public and media companies who keep them that way give us elected officials who themselves are indifferent (or openly hostile) to the needs and voice of anyone not providing the cash they need to retain their jobs. With the result that Lincoln’s line in the Gettysburg Address about a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” becomes pretty much a joke.

Yes, hate is now in control here in the US. But the real evil in our political process is the indifference that allows it to happen.

Will that change? Can it change? I have to be optimistic because the alternative is not a positive society.