American Samizdat

Wednesday, December 20, 2006. *
One of the characteristics of the illness I call "americanism" is the tendency to pay attention to style and hype rather than truth. We want so much to embrace the latest popular trend, as dictated by Madison Avenue and mass media, that we forget that fashion passes, but truth does not. Fashion can be made up, but truth cannot; it can only be discovered or revealed.

We are destructively ready to abandon the truth of basic principles and believe the latest fashion. Fashion is the great distracter; exceptionally seductive. So, for Americans, there is no real truth, there is no lasting truth. There is only a deep desire to embrace the Mississippi River of new jargon, new hype, new dress, new products, new "trends", new values, and, demonically, new wars, new exploitations, new lies. In America, there is a universal conviction that if something is new, it must be better. New ideas are good, old ideas are bad garbage.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm no neo-Luddite. The new idea that emotional and mental difficulties are often the result of a brain disease, a biochemical imbalance, rather than some failure of will and character, has saved my life. The latter (old) idea nearly killed me. The new idea allowed me to explore new solutions. Interestingly enough, however, this particular old idea is dying hard, thanks to the economic necessity of marginalizing the mentally ill into the lumpen proletariat, the insanity of Tom Cruisian Scientology, and the unrelenting popular history of absolute fear and hatred of crazy people. We're still ready to kill the insane, rather than compassionately help and nurture them (sorry . . . us, because I am one by society's definition). I have found in general that those old ideas which allow one man to claim superiority over another tend to be the most enduring.

In this post-capitalist era, a decidedly deadly and destructive period of humanity, most new ideas are driven by the need to sell something, and folks only buy antiques because they're cool. We've sacrificed our brains, our hearts, our will, and our souls for the current sexy image. Our common religion is not Christianity, but "progress".

It is safe, I think, to assume that an idea is held as "good" or "bad" by listening to what people say and watching what they do. With this in mind, let's examine several contrasts between what appear to be "bad" (old) and "good" (new) ideas.

One that most exemplifies my above notion that many new ideas are driven by the needs and functions of capitalism: "Money is the root of all evil." Benjamin Franklin on this subject: "He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money." And Xun Zi (310-237 BC): "Human nature is such that people are born with a love of profit If they follow these inclinations, they will struggle and snatch from each other, and inclinations to defer or yield will die." So the corrupting power of money is a pretty old idea.

Contrast this with, "Greed is good." That's a pretty popular new idea. "He who dies with the most toys wins." After 911, President Bush encouraged the American people to remain steadfast in the protection of our way of life by "getting out and shopping." The implications of this are many, including "the new is always better than the old", therefore it must be more valuable. The concept that "more is better than less" is a corollary of this new philosophy.

We can explain this rejection of the old (bad) idea by writing it off as "human nature." Even if that is so, the need of capitalistic progress to maintain "growth" and "progress" certainly exploits this (possible) aspect of the essential human character. And now we admire and value the rich more than we do the poor, often regardless of the spiritual values and principles which the poor person may carry.

I recently came across a quote from Henry George's Progress and Poverty:
The evils arising from the unequal and unjust distribution of wealth become more and more apparent as modern civilization goes on. They are not signs of progress, but tendencies that will bring progress to a halt. They will not cure themselves. Unless their cause is removed, they will expand until they sweep us back into barbarism -- the path every previous civilization has taken.

But this truth also shows that these evils are not imposed by natural laws. They arise solely from social maladjustments that ignore natural laws. Poverty, with all the evils that flow from it, springs from a denial of justice. By allowing a few to monopolize opportunities nature freely offers to all, we have ignored the fundamental law of justice.
Next, we seem to have abandoned the old idea that "war is bad; peace is good" and embraced its opposite. Never mind that the majority of Americans think this war is bad. I am not convinced that we will practice restraint if we are given a good excuse for the next one. We only abhor wars we cannot win.

From antiquity to the very present, wisdom has shown us that war is a bad idea. Ben Franklin again: "There was never a good war, or a bad peace." Cicero "An unjust peace is better than a just war." Percy Bysshe Shelley: "Man has no right to kill his brother. It is no excuse that he does so in uniform: he only adds the infamy of servitude to the crime of murder." Voltaire: "It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets." The Ten Commandments: "Thou shalt not kill."

None of these statements sounds equivocal to me, but it seems that it is not so hard to abandon the old idea because "this time it is justified." It looks like peace might be considered a bad idea for a long time, since warmongers claim that "the war against terror" will last for decades. So now we have a bulwark justification for a nearly endless war.

The initial justification for waging our current wars was revenge. "We can't let the attacks of 911 go unanswered." Considering the fact that Christ in the New Testament urged us to "turn the other cheek", we have embraced the even older, Old Testament idea of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." Retaliatory war causes retaliatory war causes . . .

[more at P! . . .]
posted by ddjango at 3:53 PM
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