Saturday, August 06, 2011


I've been rather quiet these days, blogging-wise. I've been quiet at home, too. 3 solid months of writing has left me drained, I suppose. And to be honest, the nonsense in Washington has left me drained as well. This is a big statement coming from me. I'm fairly indifferent to politics. Certainly I vote in every election, and I sign petitions and write letters for issues I think are important, but beyond that, I don't spend too much time contemplating what goes on in D.C. Mark Twain famously said "Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself." And that was in 1891. I tend to look at Congressional idiocy as a lot of "same ol', same ol'"

What bothers me these days is not that Congress are idiots. What bothers me is that Congress is psychotic. Seriously. While you can't paint everyone with the same brush, the "Tea Party" contingent that has made it's way into Congress like a tapeworm has turned the Republican party into a bunch of passionate defenders of utter insanity. So insane, in fact, that if you or I started talking like they do, they'd come with a straightjacket and take us away.

Republicans have historically been against taxes, against "big government", and in favor of conservative spending. In balance, this does not have to be a bad thing. What they're trying to do now falls along those lines. But how they're doing it is what is screwed up. Just say it out loud, and you'll realize how nutty it is. "We need to cut trillions of dollars in our deficit. Right now the top 1% of earners (i.e., billionaires) make the majority of the income in this country. Because of tax loopholes, they don't pay any taxes. The people who are struggling and have the least of the money pay taxes with very few breaks. But they will have to sacrifice more, because we can't tax the billionaires, even though that would solve the revenue problem, and the billionaires would still be...well, billionaires."

When you consider how irrational that statement is, you have to ask "why"? The Republicans say it's because billionaires are "job creators", even though every bit of evidence is to the contrary. These people are GREEDY. They are not interested in sharing their money to stimulate the economy. That's why the economy broke down in 2008. The psychology of the rich has never been different--they have money because they don't spend it. And they're certainly not going to spend it on you. Trickle down economics has been proved to be utterly false, and yet they still cling to this, a piece of driftwood in the ocean that they claim is a boat. It's not coincidental that the so-called "Tea Party" movement gets a lot of its funding from the Koch Brothers--oil billionaires whose father had connections with the Nazis and the old Soviet Union. He had a falling out with the Soviet Union, then suddenly denounced Communism, and was allowed to do business in the U.S. again. The Koch Brothers are anti-regulation (environmental and otherwise), anti-green energy (they're an oil company, after all), anti-Labor, and of course, they have been financing a lot of the anti-Obama campaign as well as the Tea Partiers. Regardless of their family past, it's as Bill Maher said: "it's not a grass roots movement if it's funded by billionaires".

Now, after the fiasco of the debt ceiling debate, and the downgrading of the U.S.'s credit rating, it's incredibly obvious that much of Congress ought to be taken away and medicated. How did these people even get voted in? And why the constant battling with the President? (Who, by the way, is not blameless--he needs to stop pretending these people are sane and can be worked with. They're not going to work with him--they want to get rid of him. He's been far too weak and caves in too easily).

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I am fixated on this idea of "narrative vs. fact". I believe that we are driven more by our unconscious assumptions and "stories" about what is "normal" and "moral" and "decent" than we are by any facts. We are irrational, not rational creatures in many ways. It's why I'm a big believer in the Humanities, because the point is to teach you to think outside your own narrative, and to question it. But I'm not going to repeat all of that discussion now. What I'm interested in here is the narrative driving what's happening in our country.

On one of my trips to London, I picked up a book by David Reynolds, a Professor of International History at Cambridge. It's a history of the United States, from all of its colonizations to the "Bush II" years. I like to read American history from the point of view of the British (and other Europeans as well). I'm interested in how Americans and American history look from the other side of the pond. The title of the book was "America, Empire of Liberty". Early on, Reynolds explains his thesis--the paradox in the title is deliberate. America has always boasted that it is about "freedom" and "liberty", and are not empire builders (in the way Britain once was, for example). However--we also allowed slavery in our "free" country for many many years, and were reluctant to let it go, mainly for economic reasons. The South claimed they would be financially ruined without it. But we had slavery for such a long time--and Blacks were legally second-class citizens for so long--that the inherent racism of slavery has become embedded in the narrative. How can a "free" country also have a "slave" mentality?

I wasn't sure I was convinced by his thesis until Obama was elected President. As I've said before, this brought out the ugly American narrative in all of its horror. Basically, the "normal" American citizen is white, Christian (Protestant), wealthy, and straight. America is for these people, and these people alone, according to the narrative. Everyone else is just a parasite on the system. If you are poor, it's because you don't work hard (Protestant work ethic twisted). Non-whites are poor because they don't work hard, and they want to murder and rob the good white Christian families. Arabs and Muslims have joined this narrative since 9-11. If you are a Muslim in government, you want to impose Sharia law on all of us. Capitalism is also part of the narrative, and the "dime-novel" mentality that anyone can become filthy rich if they work hard enough. Therefore, any attempt by the government to have social programs smacks of "fascism" and "Nazism". A bastardized version of Christianity completes the narrative, and branches of it are taken up by fundamentalists who believe we are in the end times and should start a revolution against the "immorality" of the United States--with things like homosexuality and abortion rights on top of their hit list, but they've also managed to extend it to the poor and needy. Yes, that's right--being Christian is no longer about helping the poor. God is obviously rewarding the rich, and it's every man for himself.

Why Obama, you might ask? Because he's a Black man. He doesn't fit the "normal" model of the President. The fact that he is also in favor of helping those in need now makes him suspicious--he's not a capitalist, he's a "socialist", which they equate with "Nazism" (even though European socialism isn't remotely like Nazism, nor is the United States becoming socialist). Also not coincidental is that people want to associate him with the "enemy" religion of Islam. It also reminds us that our slavery heritage, and its later treatment of Blacks as second-class citizens, has not left the national mentality--it has become unconscious, which makes it more dangerous.

All of this narrative is obviously and patently false. But it's clear that people believe it, and take it as the "norm". The Tea Party would not have gained traction, nor would people like Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin be taken seriously as candidates for President if this narrative wasn't embedded in our national consciousness. This is not to say everyone follows this narrative--it seems to be largely in the "red" states (which, again not coincidentally, were the former slave-holding states for the most part). But many conservatives in the North have jumped on the bandwagon as well, drinking the Kool-Aid given freely by Fox News. The people who believe this narrative aren't necessarily "stupid"--they're just unaware how afraid they are of anything outside the narrative. They may not even be aware that it's their narrative.

Jimmy Kimmel's satirical take on Michelle Bachmann is a pretty good take on at least part of the "narrative" in all its absurdity:

I could talk about having "awareness" of our hidden assumptions, but I think Bertrand Russell makes the point better than I do:

I'm not even going to apologize for soapboxing this time. Apparently most of America is sick of this crap too:

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