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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Simplification

Fifty years ago, a guy named Walter M. Miller Jr. penned a provocative and terrifying tale.

It was the only book he ever published, but it was a doozy*.

A Canticle for Leibowitz tells the story of a small abbey of monks living in a post apocalyptic world devastated not just by a terrible war, but by deliberate and willful ignorance.

Like much of the fiction of the 1960’s, Canticle was shaped by the Cold War. In the story, six hundred years before the events of the novel, civilization was destroyed by a nuclear exchange between East and West. The survivors could have rebuilt their world, could have remade civilization, wiser perhaps, more cautious, they could have put aside their differences and learned to cooperate.  Instead, they descended into savagery.  They killed the surviving scientists and the engineers, blaming science and technology for the devastation instead of the fear and hatred and politics that had led them to disaster, and then they deliberately discarded the hard won knowledge of their ancestors.  As the world disintegrated into a new dark age that would last for the next eight hundred years, they hunted down and burned the last books, along with those who could still read and write.

As ignorance and superstition fell across the continent, the survivors proudly began to call themselves “Simpletons.”

Miller’s description of the Age of Simplification was mere scene setting for Canticle, a prelude told in bits and pieces scattered across a tale that spanned the twelve hundred year story of a small order of Catholic monks, the Albertian Order of Saint Leibowitz, dedicated to the preservation of knowledge in the blasted ruins of what used to be New Mexico. We learn early on that the titular character, the order’s founder, a former Jewish electrical engineer converted to Roman Catholicism named Isaac Leibowitz, was caught by a mob of Simpletons while attempting to save one final load of books from the flames, he was then hung by the neck and burned alive for the crime of literacy and “booklegging.”

Re-reading A Canticle for Leibowitz today, what strikes me is Miller’s portrayal of religion as safeguarding and preserving scientific knowledge instead of denying and suppressing it –  a bit of irony obviously not lost on the author, as the superstitious monks of the story revered a handwritten grocery list as sacred text right next to a book of electrical engineering.

But it was always Miller’s description of the Simpletons that fascinated and repelled me.

There are days that I wonder if Miller didn’t get it backwards.

Simplification first, then the fall of the civilization – and the rise of savage empires.

Unlike the 1960’s we no longer expect the world to end in nuclear war. 

Now when I imagine the end of the republic, it’s not the cataclysmic thunderclap of The Bomb I hear.

It’s not the martial drumbeat of goose-stepping fascists, nor the clanking rumble of poorly made communist tanks in the streets of America.

The soundtrack of our demise won’t be the crash of falling buildings and exploding ordnance and the stutter of machinegun fire.

It’ll be to the sound of the raging mob.

 

See, the problem with a government of the people, by the people, and for the people is, well, the people.

 

You’ve heard me say it over and over, our republic depends for its very existence on educated, informed, and reasonable citizens. 

Our country, our civilization, was not designed to be run by a bunch of simpletons.

This isn’t my idea, our nation was founded on this very concept.

Prior to the the United States, countries were ruled by those who had been born and bred and (supposedly) educated to run them.  

A government of the people was a whole new model of government which directly implied that anybody of sound mind could be as educated and informed and as reasonable as any king or noble – something we Americans, and subsequently most of the modern world, now take for granted.

However, for this concept of a government by the people to work, there turn out to be certain consequences.

If you’re going to have a government of the people, if any random Joe Shit The Ragman can rise to power at the whim of the electorate, it clearly follows that everybody must be educated and intelligent and reasonable enough to actually run the the place.

In a republic such as ours, willful ignorance and deliberate stupidity are not virtues.

This assumption was explicit in the founding of America. It’s why originally only landed white males could vote, because they were assumed to be exactly those people, educated, intelligent, and reasonable. When education and freedom were extended to all citizens, those explicit assumptions were extended as well – or vice versa, depending on your viewpoint.

Certain things directly follow from this basic idea:

  • A government of the people implies that if the population is on average cooperative, educated, informed, and reasonable so too will be the resulting government.
  • Likewise, in a representative democracy, an unreasoning and uncooperative population tends to produce a government of obstinate braying jackasses who are incapable of running the country. And typically, once this state exists, collapse or transition (by whatever means) to a more effective form of government (of whatever type) usually follows.

That’s the Achilles Heel of a democratic republic.

Republics are resilient. A republic can survive many things, conflict, pestilence, civil unrest, widespread dissent, recession, depression, radical changes in fortune and society, and even civil war – but a population of ignorant simpletons?

A democratic republic can survive an unhappy restive population, but not a willfully ignorant and uncooperative one.

A growing proportion of our population appears to have discarded reason, intellect, and cooperation for fanaticism, for ignorance, for fear and hysteria, for unreasoning simplification.

A significant fraction of our population is now firmly convinced that violent revolution and civil war are the only ways to “save” the United States – the apparent logic being that in order to avoid supposed FEMA Reeducation Death Camps of Death, they must preemptively overthrow the government and herd all us unsavory types into … um, well, American Reeducation Camps of Christian Capitalist Patriotism, those of us that they don’t just shoot outright anyway.

Another fraction is firmly convinced that America, indeed civilization, isn’t worth the effort, they’d like to burn it all down and live in the ruins – because for them peering suspiciously out the gun ports of their bunker while eating salted rat under the flickering yellow light of kerosene lanterns is preferable to flush toilets and paying taxes.

Repudiation of education, abandonment of reason and intellect, and disdain for the spirit of cooperation – the very things our republic was founded on – are apparent at every turn of this bankrupt worldview and strongly apparent in those that we choose to represent us, i.e. the herd of braying jackasses we currently call the US Congress.

Increasingly, these simpletons want to erase the hard won advances of our predecessors, of science and technology, of society and civil rights, of advance and change and reason and cooperation, and retreat to what they think must have been a better time.

Now, of course, the United States has always had a stubborn core of religiously fueled uncompromising anti-intellectualism – ironic, given that the men who created America were as a group the most educated, intellectual, reasoned, and cooperative outfit to found any nation in recorded history.  But since the early 80’s the strident repudiation of intellect by a religion increasingly hostile to reason and obsessed with apocalypse and Dominion has grown exponentially and it shows in everything from creationism to climate-change denial to those that would gleefully let the world burn in order to realize some ridiculous muddleheaded mumbo-jumbo of biblical “prophecy.”

It’s not just that these people are predicting a new dark age, they’re actually looking forward to it.

The thing is, they might indeed lose their republic; but they’re not likely to get what they’re wishing for either.

Last week, John Stossel penned an opinion piece for Fox News where he randomly cherry picked the opinions of one Dr. Carl Richard, professor of history at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, to make some kind of half-assed doomsday comparison between the fall of the Roman Empire and the United States.

Stossel’s OpEd is subtly entitled:  OMG! OMG! Will America soon fall, just as Rome did?!!!!!

Okay, I might have added the OMGs and the exclamation points, but I think the omission was obviously an oversight on Stossel’s part.

And OMG! is most certainly implicit in the text.

Stossel went to Princeton, and he’s supposed to be an experienced columnist, but frankly his essay looks like something that would garner a D- in any high school freshman English class. It’s chock-a-block with non sequiturs, fallacies of false comparison, outright historical falsehoods, odd little unattached paragraphs, and unattributed quotes.  Hell, even the title of the piece begs the question in a fallacy of circular logic.  Stossel can’t decide if the United States is a republic or an empire, which is probably why he keeps confusing the Roman Republic with the Roman Empire while doggedly trying to compare the two to the United States.

The article begins thus:

A group of libertarians gathered in Las Vegas recently for an event called “FreedomFest.” We debated whether America will soon fall, as Rome did.

Historian Carl Richard said that today’s America resembles Rome.

The Roman Republic had a constitution, but Roman leaders often ignored it. “Marius was elected consul six years in a row, even though under the constitution (he) was term-limited to one year.”

Sounds like New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg.

“We have presidents of both parties legislating by executive order, saying I’m not going to enforce certain laws because I don’t like them. ... That open flouting of the law is dangerous because law ceases to have meaning. ... I see that today. ... Congress passes huge laws they haven’t even read (as well as) overspending, overtaxing and devaluing the currency.”

The Romans were worse. I object to President Obama’s $100 million dollar trip, but Nero traveled with 1,000 carriages.

Tiberius established an “office of imperial pleasures,” which gathered “beautiful boys and girls from all corners of the world” so, as Tacitus put it, the emperor “could defile them.”

Emperor Commodus held a show in the Colosseum [sic] at which he personally killed five hippos, two elephants, a rhinoceros and a giraffe.

To pay for their excesses, emperors devalued the currency. (Doesn’t our Fed do that by buying $2 trillion of government debt?)

Nero reduced the silver content of coins to 95 percent. Then Trajan reduced it to 85 percent and so on. By the year 300, wheat that once cost eight Roman dollars cost 120,000 Roman dollars.

Nowhere in this muddleheaded libertarian twaddle does Stossel attempt to actually address the ominous warning of the title with anything other than innuendo and hand waving.

We debated…

Debated?

In other words, a bunch of angry miserable libertarians (that’s redundant, isn’t it?) sat around in a big circle-jerk crying into their beer about how the country is going to hell and how everything is going to fall apart at any second, so get your guns and grab your womenfolk, time to head for the bunkers and don’t forget to pick up a brochure on how to make gunpowder from your own piss on the way out.

Debate means something else.

…whether America will soon fall, as Rome did.

Rome? Which Rome?

Rome didn’t just fall.

It wasn’t like one day there was a Rome and the next there was the Dark Ages and people were looking around with a confused expression on their faces, “what the hell happened to Rome?” “I dunno, did you look behind the couch?” “Of course I looked behind the couch, it’s not there!” “Well, where’s the last place you saw it?” “I dunno, Turkey maybe?

Rome evolved over a long, long period of time.  It grew and shrank and fought against itself and was sacked and burned and rebuilt. And which Rome are these libertarians talking about? The Village? The City State? The Kingdom which eventually evolved into the Republic? Which became The Empire? Which split into two empires which went their own separate ways, one of which just sort of faded away and one of which became a religious theocracy? All over a period of more than twelve hundred years?

If you’re going to compare the Current United States to Rome, you have to be a lot more specific.

The Roman Republic had a constitution…

Oh for crying out loud, for most of its history the Roman constitution was an informal hodge-podge of various guidelines and governmental principles passed down through the generations mostly by word of mouth or in collections of writings from various politicians. And the Roman Constitution continuously evolved over the years, and there were radically different versions depending on which period of “Rome” you’re talking about. The late Republic’s version resembled what we today would very loosely call common law. 

“Marius was elected consul six years in a row, even though under the constitution (he) was term-limited to one year.”
Sounds like New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg.

Sounds like New York City’s Mayor… ?

The Bloomberg Bogymen again? The hell?

I call Shenanigans.

Gaius Marius was Consul of the Roman Republic – the most powerful man in the known world at the time. History informally calls him “the third founder of Rome.” He was a general of the Roman Army, a soldier of Rome, a commander of Legions, a statesman in the original meaning of the word. Marius was a hard-eyed ruthless ambitious son of a bitch, he’s one of the guys responsible for changing Rome from a republic into an empire, along the way he conquered about half of Europe, provoked a rebellion that nearly turned into a civil war, and killed untold hundreds of thousands of people.

Michael Bloomberg is the mayor of New York City, which is one city of hundreds of cities within the United States and not even the country’s capital, hell it’s not even the state capital. Think about what that means. New york might be a big damned city, but it’s not a nation, Bloomberg is a mayor, not an emperor.  Bloomberg doesn’t command armies and far from conquering the Germanic tribes of Europe, or even their distant German descendants in his own state, Bloomberg is the guy who banned supersized Slurpees because he wanted people to live longer and be healthier and to save money that the government spends in order to care for the health problems caused by too much soda.  Liberals like to promote his name for governor of New York and for president of the United States, so far he’s declined to run for either. He was term limited out of office after his second hitch as mayor, but after New York City changed its election laws, Bloomberg was reelected for a third time.

Bloomberg’s reelection was perfectly legal, no violations of the US Constitution, the New York State Constitution, or even the Roman Constitution occurred.

Marius’ reelection was likewise legal.

While there’s some question as to which laws were actually in effect when Marius was reelected, those laws turn out to be moot since there was an invasion going on and, with Cimbrian barbarians at the gate, Rome wanted Marius the General in charge, so the laws against reelection were voided by the Roman Senate.

Also, Roman law and US law are wildly different animals, ditto the Roman Republic and the US one. They’re not comparable except in the broadest of outlines.

You want to direct Stossel to the fallacy of false  equivalency or should I?

“We have presidents of both parties legislating by executive order, saying I’m not going to enforce certain laws because I don’t like them. ... That open flouting of the law is dangerous because law ceases to have meaning ... ”

Who is Stossel quoting here? 

Is it just some random libertarian? Is it one of Stossel’s drinking buddies? Is it himself, does he quote himself the way Rush Limbaugh does? Is it that aforementioned historian? Who? Where did the quotes come from? What context were they uttered in? Where’s the source reference and associated link? The entire article is peppered with these unattached quotes. Hell, Stossel could be quoting Michael Bloomberg for all you can determine.

And what is it with these people and executive orders?

The president, whatever his party, isn’t legislating anything. That’s congress’s job – though they’re not doing much legislating either.

The president is the head of the Executive Branch of the US Government. That’s his job. The Executive Branch is the largest and most complex portion of the government, there are fifteen enormous departments under the Executive, and hundreds of agencies, bureaus, boards, offices, government owned corporations, inspectors general, charter organizations, commissions, and enterprises – and one of those departments includes the entire US military. How, exactly, do you think the president directs all of those people?

What? What’s that? You call it a what? And order from the executive?

Yeah.

Executive Orders apply only to agencies that fall under the Executive.

Executive orders must comply with the law, with the Constitution. They can be challenged by congress. They can be contested in court. The President cannot, repeat cannot, give you an order – unless you work for him.  He can’t give Congress or the Court an order. He can’t give business or industry an order – and in fact one of the few times an Executive Order was struck down by the court was when Harry Truman tried to give the steel industry orders.  Executive orders apply only to the executive branch of the government, that’s how the president – i.e. the Executive – manages his constitutional area of responsibility. Executive Orders have the force of law, but only for the Executive Branch of the government, and they are issued to clarify US federal law as legislated by congress as it applies to various executive agencies.

For example: if Congress passes a bill that makes unrestricted domestic spying on American citizens by NSA once again illegal (i.e. congress repeals certain articles of the Patriot and Protect America Acts and the president signs that into law), the intel spooks don’t just magically turn off the monitors. These are massive complicated programs, there are active funding lines (and that money has to be accounted for, it can’t just be spent elsewhere, it was specifically allocated for these programs by the NDAA and other bills. I.e. it’s the law), there are billions of dollars of assets in play, there are legal contracts with commercial companies that must be honored, there are thousands of people involved, there’s all that data. The office of the president has to issue an executive order to the Department of Defense (which is the authority NSA falls under) to bring the US intelligence community into compliance with the new law and describe the exact parameters under which the department will operate going forward, this is the president’s legal responsibility. The Secretary of Defense then issues more specific orders to DIRNSA (the director of the National Security Agency), who then issues his own orders via directive that address the very specific technical, procedural, and administrative actions to be taken.

This isn’t a secret. This is how the government works.

Do they not teach this stuff at Princeton any more?

And the president never said “I’m not going to enforce the law.” Never. Didn’t happen, never happened.

The president directed the Justice Department not to defend certain laws against legal challenge before the Supreme Court, that’s a whole different thing from not enforcing the law. 

There is no, repeat no, “open flouting of the law.” That’s just made up political horse puckey.

For example: If the president chooses not to defend the idiotic Defense of Marriage Act in court then that’s his decision as president. That’s why we elected him, twice. But until Section 3 of DOMA was struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional in 2013, the federal government under the president enforced the law as it stood. This isn’t open for argument, it’s plain provable fact.

Of course, this “Obama is not enforcing the law” bullshit isn’t really about defense of traditional marriage, is it?

It’s about illegal immigration.

Libertarians are ambivalent about same-sex marriage, but their panties are twisted into a hard tight little knot over the mere thought of illegal immigrants getting away with something.

That’s a hallmark of the libertarian philosophy, they’re all about flouting laws they themselves don’t agree with, especially when it comes to guns (in the name of liberty, of course) but angrily insist that everybody else toe the line.

The accusation of not enforcing immigration laws holds about as much water as the beef over DOMA – but you couldn’t prove that to fanatics and there’s not much point in trying.

The Romans were worse. I object to President Obama’s $100 million dollar trip, but Nero traveled with 1,000 carriages.

Tiberius established an “office of imperial pleasures,” which gathered “beautiful boys and girls from all corners of the world” so, as Tacitus put it, the emperor “could defile them.”

Emperor Commodus held a show in the Colosseum [sic] at which he personally killed five hippos, two elephants, a rhinoceros and a giraffe.

Jesus Haploid Christ, talk about the mother of all non sequiturs.

What the hell is Stossel trying to say here?  We’re like Rome but not really and besides the Romans were worse so I object to the cost of a presidential tour of multiple countries across Europe and Africa but 2000 years ago Roman emperors engaged in debauchery and slaughtered animals in a stadium that I’m too upset to even spell correctly [** Edit: See the footnote] which is so totally like meeting with heads of state to improve trade and relations with the US. Bleet bleet. Ook ook. Also, Nazis.

Dread Cthulhu, folks, an Ivy League educated journalist? Really? 

I don’t know about you, but at this point I’m starting to wonder who he had to blow to get the job.

To pay for their excesses, emperors devalued the currency. (Doesn’t our Fed do that by buying $2 trillion of government debt?) Nero reduced the silver content of coins to 95 percent. Then Trajan reduced it to 85 percent and so on. By the year 300, wheat that once cost eight Roman dollars cost 120,000 Roman dollars.

What the hell is a Roman “dollar?”

And how did we get from Commodus killing hippos to inflation? There isn’t even a connecting sentence. Seriously, what the fuck?

Again, what does this paragraph even mean?

Note: also, not exactly a great supporting argument for return to precious metal standards as libertarians demand, is it?

The rest of the article is of similar cut. Poorly reasoned, poorly structured, filled with fearful ominous gibberish that only serves to summarize the fevered undefined shadowy night-sweats of conservative terror.

But then again, the frightened angry people who read this silly nonsense aren’t doing so with red pen in hand and they aren’t actually demanding anything other than confirmation of their own hysterical undefined fears.  So I suppose it follows that Stossel has given up even pretending to be an actual journalist.  Stossel knows his audience, and his employer, and he gets paid the same for hysterical tripe and he does for actual journalism –  which is probably why he’s just phoning it in. 

This kind of dreck, journalists like Stossel and the declining standards of mainstream media, aren’t the cause of this disease, they’re a symptom of the larger cancer.

Articles like Stossel’s, and there are many, are indicators of a marked decline in intellectual rigor, in national integrity, in civil discourse, in reasoned dialog, and most especially in an informed, educated, and reasonable population.

Not only does a major, supposedly professional, news organization employ a “journalist” who would actually write such amateurish copy, editors who would accept it without correction, an owner and managing board that would allow such juvenile doomsaying to post unchecked under their imprimatur, but it also indicates that a significant fraction of the population accepts this nonsense with an unquestioning nod of their fearful ignorant heads.

A republic, especially one like ours, depends for its very existence on an educated, informed, and reasonable population that is willing to cooperate for the benefit of all.

A republic, most especially one like ours, cannot suffer fearful ignorant simpletons gladly.

Not for long anyway.

And not in the majority.

Stossel and his simpleton friends draw the wrong lesson from Rome.

The Roman Republic didn’t fall.

The Roman Republic became the Roman Empire.

Democracy gave way to dictatorship eight hundred years before the actual fall of Rome.

When the Roman Senate, i.e. the Roman legislative branch, fell to infighting and inaction, to ignorance and unreason and obstruction, when the legislature became incapable of cooperation and thus action, those with the will and the ambition seized power and declared themselves Emperor.

That’s the true danger of this ongoing deliberate simplification.

In a democratic republic, when the population is no longer capable of cooperation, when they eschew education and reason for ignorant superstition, then they are no longer capable of running the country and by default they give up their right and authority to do so.

And that, right there, is how republics die.

When the end comes to the American Republic it won’t be to the apocalyptic thunder of nuclear war.

It won’t be to the martial drumbeat of goose-stepping fascists, nor the clanking rumble of poorly made communist tanks.

The soundtrack of our demise won’t be the crash of falling buildings and exploding ordnance and the stutter of machinegun fire.

It’ll be to the simpleton cackle of that moronic laugh from the Beevis and Butthead cartoons, eh heh heh heh heh heh...

 

 

 


* Walter M. Miller was a prolific writer of short fiction. A Canticle for Leibowitz was a “fix-up,” i.e. three of Miller’s previously published short stories were combined with additional material and rewrites to create a single novel. The book was supposedly inspired by Miller’s experience both as an engineer and as a tail gunner in the US Army Air Corps during WWII where he flew more than 50 missions over Italy and was present at the bombing of the Abbey at Monte Cassino. Miller was a hell of a short story writer and he penned some of the best short science fiction ever written, winning a Hugo Award for it. But he suffered terrible post traumatic stress disorder from his war experience and from horrible writer’s block when it came to novels – and especially with the pressure of crafting a suitable sequel to the fantastically successful Canticle (which won Miller another Hugo for best novel in 1960). He struggled with his demons and that sequel, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, languished for years until he died under tragic circumstances with it unfinished. Science Fiction writer Terry Bisson completed the book from Miller’s outline and the novel was published under Miller’s name posthumously.

 

** (Update) From The Grammarist: Coliseum and colosseum are both common spellings of the word referring to (1) the famous Roman amphitheater built in the first century A.D., and (2) any large amphitheater used for sports or other public events. Neither spelling is considered wrong in either use, but while the forms are often used interchangeably, the famous structure in Rome is now usually spelled Colosseum, and coliseum is generally reserved for other uses. Exceptions are easily found, however, and there is no consensus evident in popular usage.

I stand corrected, Stossel’s spelling was acceptable. My apologies to Princeton University.

126 comments:

  1. Well I have to disagree with one of your assessments. There will indeed be the cackle of gunfire and it will be the simpletons who, initially, for the most part will be pulling the triggers. Unfortunately for them the rich owned military industrial complex will then descend upon them and squash them like bugs. For you see the MIC needs the scientists and intelligent workers to make new weapons which keeps the money flowing. They are not about to let a herd of once useful morons stand in their way. No the laughter will not come from the simpletons. It will only be their screams of rage and pain before they die. The rich authoritarian leaders will have the last laugh as they sweep the pawns off the board.

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  2. So, not with a bang, but with a whimper then.

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  3. "Now, I'm no librarian, in fact, I don't know what star sign I am. But, as a famous person once said, 'You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.' And as I - another more famous person - once said, 'If you don't teach them to read, you can fool them whenever you like.'" -- Max Headroom

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  4. This is classic dystopian fiction, complete with the end of the world as we know it.

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  5. I remember reading "A Canticle for Leibowitz" back in the 1960s when I was in college; I think I still have a copy somewhere in the house. I had not heard that there was a sequel. Thank you for mentioning it.

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    Replies
    1. Yes. Jim and his readers refer to or recommend some interesting reading. I try to chase a lot of things down.

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  6. Brilliant piece, probably the best I've ever read here -- one more reason to consider making Stonekettle required reading in my freshman comp classes. Just the two brief paragraphs (about what the president has to actually do regarding a change in one law) are enough to make half their shiny little heads explode. I appreciate most of all, though, the focus on "intelligent and cooperative". I could almost hear the words "Gricean maxims" throughout this whole text.

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  7. Um... I hate to pick nits in an otherwise brilliant-as-usual piece, but "Colosseum" IS spelled correctly.

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    1. Eh, the more common form I've seen, at least, is Coliseum. No doubt that's Jim's experience also.

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    2. 'Colosseum' is the spelling that usually goes with the ancient Roman one. ; )

      Also, is 'imprinteur' supposed to be imprimatur?

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    3. I stand corrected.

      I've added a footnote to the text that says as much.

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    4. notacynic: in answer to your question: yes, damnit. Ironic, that mistake given the subject of this comment subthread. The grammar gods mock me. Thanks for pointing out that embarrassing mistake. It's fixed.

      Too bad Fox News doesn't have such literate commenters willing to proofread for peanuts, they'd be better for it. But I digress.

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    5. An Indian Engineer I know has a saying.

      "When you throw peanuts, you get monkeys"

      Danny

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  8. Yep, you have to be a simpleton not to know that Rome literally didn't disappear over night. I'll have another look upstairs to see if that's where it ended up, but I think the Italians still have it somewhere, right?
    Another winner.
    There should be a Pulitzer for bloggers like you.

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  9. Coliseum does have two acceptable spellings and colosseum is one of them. But I agree with Paul. Brilliant! One of your best. (I keep saying that...)

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    1. When I visited that giant brick-pile a few years ago, the guide told us that the Flavian Amphitheatre came to be known as the colosseum because there was a Colossus (long since taken away and made into other things) in the adjoining piazza. So it was called Colosseum to set it apart from other amphitheatres around the city. And hence the coloss***. root is certainly appropriate.

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  10. Huh, and I was starting to think I was the only person who'd ever heard of that book. I still think of the two headed mutant when I urge my kids to "eat, eat!"
    I am always astounded by how thoroughly some people can ignore facts and reason, and revel in their lack of education.

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    1. Mrs. Grales, the two headed termater woman.

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    2. I think he was referring to the one that killed Brother Francis in part one, actually.

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    3. Ah, yes. Eat eat. You are correct, Anonymous. I hate it when I confuse my two headed mutants.

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    4. Are they related to Zaphod Beeblebrox?

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    5. Joe-Jim Gregory would be my guess.

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  11. Jim, you were at the top of my list for finding cogent explanations for the state of things in the U.S. and the world (okay, I also laugh at the conservative-bating) but since you mention A Canticle for Leibowitz and cite it correctly and effectively, I find that I have to create a new rank a step above the top of my list.

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    Replies
    1. But, but, there's no air up here. Choke. Gasp. Damn you!

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    2. We minions of the Station will snake up a tube of some 100% O2 for you. Because you are our god.

      Keep striking while the iron(y)'s hot, Jim. Oh wait, it's always flipping hot. Sorry. My bad. Okay, whenever you can, then. Can't get too much Stonekettle.

      I was in polite conversations with a small group of Evangelical Christians one day (I know, what was I thinking?) and it might go without saying that most EC's could be typecast right out of shutterstock for the simpleton profile pic.

      It wasn't a bad discussion on bible history as those things go . I love me some parables and a good 'end times' story. But once we'd run through the Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself lovefest and a wish that the those *other* Christians would stop making a bad name for the rest of them (we love our gay friends, seriously, true!) it was still mostly what I've come to experience in these discussions -

      recitation by indoctrinated minds with little or no recognition of factual history of (especially) the new testament. C'mon people, how can you have Biblical History without History??? You don't really believe that the little baby was born on Christmas Day and had reindeer and fairy lights and a yuletide log, right? As opposed to say some savvy Romans trying to gather up their pagans?

      I guess this particular group wasn't big on the history of Civics or nuance for that matter. But I like to experiment just to see if can juice noggins every now and again. Again, I know, you can't reason with unreasonable people. But I swear! A few of them seemed reasonable. I could have sworn I was seeing some lights going on.

      I asked them this question, "You read the King James Version? Or are you followers of the NKJV or the New American Standard Bible?" With a followup question. Had any of them actually studied King James? Who he was, why he wanted the changes, and what was changed?"

      What do you suppose was the non-answer to that?
      "The bible is a living document that is meant to reflect God's changing covenants with his children."

      Well, alrighty then. Guess it didn't have anything to do with the Rise of the Roman Empire and that neat little sovereignty the Holy See (well played *there* fellas) or the little hissy fits of that upstart England wanting its own Church of England and various kings throwing their rattles from their prams cause, you know, beheading a wife is unseemly unless you can make her a heretic.

      Delete
    3. "The bible is a living document that is meant to reflect God's changing covenants with his children."

      Huh! ...

      Guess that explains why it is the immutable Word of God (handed down literally, in English yet.) Nope, I never will understand evangelicals.

      Delete
    4. Marti Salvato - We just may need to get you an O2 bottle or 3 for up there with Jim in the nosebleed section! Well said!

      Delete
  12. Thus, the resistance to the introduction of the Common Core Curriculum which has now been adopted by forty-five of the fifty states and to be fully implemented in the 2014-15 school year (at least here in Ohio). The Common Core Curriculum will once again be requiring the education of our children in (GASP) Critical Thinking!

    Texas and Alaska share the distinction along with West Virginia, Nebraska and Minnesota of so far resisting Common Core. That educated electorate might be dangerous you know.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Best news in national teaching issues I've heard all year.

      Delete
    2. Unfortunately, the idea and the reality are far from the same. Here's what's going on in the state where my kids were raised:

      http://crazycrawfish.wordpress.com/2013/08/19/parents-denied-a-voice-at-bese-speak-out-here/

      http://louisianavoice.com/2013/08/12/walton-foundation-trumpets-tfa-donations-ignores-96-5-million-in-la-tax-breaks-to-sustain-bangladesh-sweat-shops/

      http://louisianavoice.com/2013/05/07/supreme-court-squelches-voucher-funding-how-are-those-course-choice-providers-gonna-sell-the-free-classes-now/

      http://cenlamar.com/2013/06/29/financial-irresponsibility-and-incompetence/

      Corruption did not end with the Long family.

      Delete
    3. Jane - A word in defense of Minnesota: we adopted the CCC in reading in 2011 and moved to a more rigorous standard than CCC in math in 2008.

      Delete
  13. At the risk of piling on, a comprehensive argument with the inception citing "Canticle....?" Why, yes, in the pantheon of your essays, this one is particularly aglow. In my slightly complicated life as both a captain for an international airline and as a Government Affairs functionary for our union (yes, despite my loved ones fondest wishes for me I am a Registered Lobbyist), I often find myself confounded by the utter rarity of people in the politics and policy worlds who are capable of constructing a rational treatise; never mind communicating it in a concise manner (and we won't bother with the even rarer avis of those who can rationally deconstruct by way of a compelling counter-argument). It is a true joy when I discover you have penned yet another "shiny."

    ReplyDelete
  14. It's interesting who all flew on bomber crews in WWII. It must give you lots of time to think, or something. Howard Zinn, Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut. George McGovern. And Walter M. Miller. Hmmm ...

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    1. Don't forget Russell Johnson, The Professor from Gilligan's Island. Bombardier on B-24's. 44 missions. Shot down over the Philippines. Purple Heart. The GI bill is what got him into acting school after the war.

      Delete
    2. Thanks, I'll add him to the list. ; )

      Delete
    3. Wasn't Kurt Vonnegut more a *recipient* of bombs ? I remember Slaughterhouse Five ...

      Delete
    4. Kurt Vonnegut, a scout in the 106th Division, was captured at the Battle of the Bulge. He was forced into the cleanup of Dresden after the firebombing destroyed it.
      Jimmy Stewart flew B-24s. He flew over Korea and Vietnam as well, and retired as a brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve.

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    5. You know, I feel like I knew that and forgot it, over time. Would up putting him on the bomber crew list. Of course, he was his own inspiration for Billy Pilgrim's war experience. Thanks for the correction. ; )

      Delete
    6. Quick note about Jimmy Stewart. He actually enlisted in the Army a year before Pearl Harbor. He was actually a Corporal on guard duty at Moffet Field in California when the word broke. He was one of the men most responsible for the Air Force becoming it's own branch of service. Check out the book "Jimmy Stewart: Bomber Pilot" for a lot more.

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    7. Something about sitting on a moving target with multiple threat vectors made them think of mortality and morality. Makes you think deeply I suspect.

      Delete
    8. And meanwhile, Ron Reagan did what in the war, again?



      Jeff Lamm

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    9. Thanks Lucas M, I plan to do that.

      Delete
  15. Ignorance is the root of most evil. Books not bombs. Speaking of which, I need to go buy one - a book that is (whew, that was close, don't want my NSA minders thinking I was going for that other option..!) I've never read A Canticle for Leibowitz. Thanks for this.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. According to Reinhold Niebuhr it isn't ignorance so much as it is what he called 'predatory self-interest' ...

      Delete
    2. Along the same vein as Canticle, but takes place more immediately after civilization's meltdown is Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower. Really hits some very hard points.

      Delete
    3. According to my grandmother, a teacher during the 1930's, there is ignorance, and then there is IGNORANCE, that latter being the willful resistence to education. Watching people engaged in the current practice of worshipping IGNORANCE as an American Value is like watching a friend self-destruct on Heroin.

      Delete
  16. Judi (aka kabbage)August 18, 2013 at 9:11 PM

    I first sought out and found A Canticle for Leibowitz after it was mentioned in James Michener's novel Space. Michener's character Leopold Strabismus is an interesting one to watch as he devolves from writing Ivy League papers and theses for hire to selling unearned degrees to sending bulletins about space aliens who are preparing to take over the earth to becoming a fire-and-brimstone preacher, all for his own benefit and based on reading the American public. The plea for St. Leibowitz to "keep 'em dreaming down there" is the last words of an astronaut dying on the moon during a fictional final Apollo trip to the far side of the moon.

    I noticed one typo in this post, Jim. I believe Harry Truman tried, not tired to control the steel industry.

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    1. Oh yeah, I remember that character. From the only Michener novel I ever read. What a putz. ; )

      Delete
    2. I've often thought that if I ever wanted to make a ton of money and didn't care how I got it I'd become an Evangelical Preacher. It's way too easy and I don't have the stomach for that much lying.

      Delete
  17. I started saying this...oh, about 30 years ago and of course everyone just chalked it up to me being an odd duck. Sometimes it truly sucks to be right. Maybe, just maybe it isn't hopeless if enough people like you can see it.

    Surprising myself even commenting here, I stopped talking to most anyone except my immediate family years ago. Just began to feel like a waste of breath, how much time do I have left on this earth vs how much of it did I want to waste talking to knuckleheads.

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  18. You are of course correct in that this behavior cannot be reasoned with. No matter how many points are addressed fully and understanding is assured, they are shrugged-off in favor of the unaddressed points (even if there are none!). *shrug*

    ReplyDelete
  19. Quaere:

    What do you call a Republic where fully half the citizens base their political beliefs on celebrating ignorance and have made acting just as dumb and childish as humanly possible one of the joists in their platform? Besides "doomed?" More importantly, what can be done to reverse this trend?

    ReplyDelete
  20. I tend to think of critical thinking, or clarity of thinking as being similar to the body's immune system. Sometimes it is stronger or weaker depending on a vast array of circumstances. Imagine, for a moment, a person driving a tractor around, and around, and around a large field. The person is feeling highly stressed: hungry, tired, hot, had a fight with the spouse last night. She turns on the radio and, of course, Limbaugh, or Hannity, or some other propogandist is "there." They're always there. And, at first, they can make a little bit of sense. There is no counterbalance to this aural seduction. In Kansas, for example, there are literally no progressive talkers allowed on the public airwaves! The information range, on the radio, is from looney to whack-a-doodle,and sandwiched in between slices of classic rock music. Think about it: other than the floridly psychotic, what other altered state of awareness can account for such intense, emotionally driven disassociation from reality? Only hypnosis can account for the disconnect I see all around me. Many of these people are not intentionally ignorant so much as deeply entranced. And, they must get their trance state deepened every day or they feel uncomfortable.

    I always enjoy your thoughtful essays.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Hanlon's Razor "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've been saying similar things for years. I hadn't known someone else already had. Not too surprising though. It's common sense.

      Delete
    2. Hanlon's Razor -- I like that.

      Delete
  22. Well, if you want to keep the [sic] reference for the Colosseum, you could always point out that Commodus was actually at the Flavian Amphitheatre.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I do not follow your blog all the time, but do read the articles when my friend posts it on a social network stating it is good.

    I must say, your articles can be more readable, if you stopped cursing so much.

    Specific to this article, I would say that, there are simpletons already existing or the group is getting bigger.
    a. People who quit their jobs and change their whole like and their children's by building bunkers. When I watch those episodes on TV, I have to wonder what is going on in their mind. They have tactical gun training and have no hesitation to kill people to get their food or acquire resources.
    b. Overly religious folks who want to change our education to meet their religious needs.
    c. Powers that be dumbing down the population, so they can be frenzied into doing their bidding. (tea party)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. if you stopped cursing so much

      Thanks, I'll take it under advisement.

      Delete
    2. By which Jim means: go fuck yourself right in your ear Anonymous.

      At least, that's my educated guess based on my time reading his most excellent writings. I do not claim to speak for the good man, he does that on his own quite well. There's a disclaimer at the top of the page, feel free to read it before posting.

      For those of us who love every word, the cursing is just part of the delightful melange of style, and more importantly, substance of this blog.

      My apologies if I've gotten into your wheelhouse Jim, I'm cranky today.

      Beth in Toronto

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    3. Beth is that your way of saying "Quit cursing? Fuck that shit."

      That was my first reaction.

      Delete
    4. Now now. There's no need for that, Anonymous followed the commenting rules and was polite about offering his/her opinion. Regular readers point out typos and grammar errors all of the time, it's perfectly okay for a comment to offer an opinion this subject.

      More, Anonymous is correct, I would attract a more mainstream audience if I eliminated the cursing. And I have considered it.

      But, that's not my goal, I like the audience I currently have just fine.

      Some folks are put off by cursing. That's perfectly okay. In real life, I curse too much. I'm well aware of this, my wife is constantly after me to rein it in. Twenty years in the navy, I can swear for twenty minutes in three languages without repeating myself, it's probably a good thing she stays after me, otherwise I'd swear every other word.

      That said, when I write I never use words by accident. If I swear, it's because I did so on purpose and for my own editorial reasons, usually to instill a particular mood or tone to the idea, or to convey the exact level of irreverent disgust the subject warrants as is the case in this essay. Attentive readers will note that in certain essays, when I feel the subject matter is deadly serious, I don't curse. At all.

      When I said to anonymous "I'll take it under advisement," I was engaging in a certain amount of snark, sure, but it's a true statement in that I do hear what anonymous is saying and I do consider the words I'm using, and when I swear in text I go back before publishing and consider if I'm doing gratuitously or if it supports the editorial tone I want.

      Delete
    5. My apologies. Mother always told me to take a breather before letting my mood do the talking. My Germanic heritage usually wins out though.

      So, Anonymous, I apologize and retract my comment (to be completely honest, I wanted to delete it shortly after posting but couldn't).

      Jim, my apologies for overstepping. Won't happen again.

      Beth

      Delete
    6. It's ok, Beth, we all have those days, me more than most. Plus it did give me a chance to explain why I write the way I do, at least to some extent.

      Thanks for apologizing, I appreciate it.

      Delete
    7. My comment would have benefited from one of those little smiley things. It was a joke-- an obvious one-- and that's why I hesitated until Beth jumped in.

      For my taste, your writing has just the right amount of cursing, Jim. Any more and it would lose its effect. Any less and it would lose some of its charm.

      Apologies to anonymous. I enjoyed the comment he/she posted.

      Delete
    8. After 20 years in the Navy, I've thought that it's a wonder that Jim curses as little as he does. Now I know why. (The bosun on my ship seemed to use curses as punctuation as well as emphasis.)

      Delete
    9. I'll offer my House Rules for cursing. I hope some of you find them useful. First, let me say that in my younger, more bulletproof days, I was a commercial fisherman, one of only a handful of women that captained our own boats in Alaska at that time. If you think those Navy guys can swear, try a group of (mostly) men that are undisciplined, generally do not bathe regularly, have no respect for the law and make tons of money. Here are my rules:

      1) You must use swear words approprately. As in, they are forms of expression, and should be used to convey an idea, not as proof that you are just an asshole.

      2) If you use swear words in written form, they must be spelled correctly. Otherwise, you are just proving that you are an ignorant asshole.

      and, finally,

      3) You must not use them in a manner or in a setting that is simply desinged to make other people uncomfortable, or within hearing distance of someone you know will be offended. That is the very definition of 'acting like an asshole'.


      Jim, I think you follow those rules nicely, with your warning at the top of the page, your correct usage and your general non-asshole behavior.


      And thank you for another well-written and thought-provoking post.

      Delete
  24. The "Dumbification of America" seems to be well under way with the TEAPLE leading the charge. I'm quite certain there are more "reasonable" people than TEAPLE. So my question is, why do we tolerate their destructive behavior?

    Inquiring minds want to know....;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A book and a quote.

      The book: "Dumbth, The Lost Art of Thinking" by Steve Allen; 1991, expanded 1998.

      The quote: "Now, I'm no librarian, in fact, I don't know what star sign I am. But, as a famous person once said, 'You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.' And as I - another more famous person - once said, 'If you don't teach them to read, you can fool them whenever you like.'" -- Max Headroom

      Delete
  25. Of simpletons, not in Rome, but (Ancient) Greece - who coined the word "idiot".

    This is how Wikipedia describes it:

    Idiot as a word derived from the Greek ἰδιώτης, idiōtēs ("person lacking professional skill", "a private citizen", "individual"), from ἴδιος, idios ("private", "one's own").

    ...

    An idiot in Athenian democracy was someone who was characterized by self-centeredness and concerned almost exclusively with private — as opposed to public — affairs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting word origin there. Thanks. I wonder when it was made to connote a person with a low-functioning IQ? The various levels included "moron" as a descriptive as well.

      Delete
    2. Diane Duane's excellent Star Trek novel "Spock's World" alternates a history of Vulcan with an up to date look at the Vulcan government through the lens of an attempt by certain factions to get the Vulcans to withdraw from the Federation. At one point McCoy speculates about how many Vulcans will actually participate in the planetary referendum. Spock reveals that the turnout will likely be 95%. Evidently the current Vulcan word for "idiot" is based on a much more ancient word for "one who does not involve himself in civil affairs".

      Delete
    3. maryk, it had that connotation pretty much from day one. For all their faults, the Athenians had a whole bunch of good ideas, and one of them was the realization that what we now call the franchise was pretty much the ultimate expression of power and agency you could have -- the right to have a say in how you were governed, to speak and be heard. That, more than anything, was what separated free men from slaves (also from women and other social undesirables; I did mention they had quite a few faults...)

      Those who had it but refused to exercise it deliberately threw away their freedom and agency because they were either too shortsighted to understand this, or too lazy/apathetic to care, and were pretty much spoken of only with contempt, and their complaints ignored.

      Delete
  26. "“what the hell happened to Rome?” “I dunno, did you look behind the couch?” “Of course I looked behind the couch, it’s not there!” “Well, where’s the last place you saw it?” “I dunno, Turkey maybe?"

    This made me almost choke on my sandwich, not the least because, if you take the long view it's kinda what happened. The Roman empire in Italy certainly fell apart, meanwhile in Byzantium they kept making Emperors for a couple centuries.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Depending upon how you count the reigns of emperors, the Eastern Roman Empire lasted until the early 1200s or until 1453 AD, about 700 to almost 1000 years after Rome and the Western Roman Empire fell- much longer than 'a couple centuries'. Quite a lot of the destruction of the Eastern empire was due to the Crusaders. (Chalk up yet another "victory" for religion.) It can be argued strongly that the Renaissance happened in Italy when scholars from Constantinople sought refuge in the Italian states after the fall of the empire.

      Delete
    2. You really think the Crusades were about religion? It was a land grab, with religion as a cover story to make it seem a noble and heroic undertaking to the medieval general public. Those "Holy Lands" sat on some highly lucrative trade routes, and the Europeans wanted the control they lost when the Roman Empire splintered. If the Eastern Empire had maintained control of them, you can bet they'd have found a different excuse for the wars; it was just good luck that the current owners were "other."

      Delete
  27. "Do they not teach this stuff at Princeton any more?"

    Jim, have you ever read Lewis Lapham's "A Wish for Kings"? It's a wonderful look at our politics at the end of the 20th century, presaging much of what Chris Hayes wrote in his book. It's been awhile and the book is in storage, but i remember that he spent a good chapter talking about how the supposed elite institutions were producing sub par candidates to enter our halls of power and run our thought institutions as long ago as the 50's. The Ivy leagues have been out of the business of educating citizens for a long time, instead they produce courtiers, people who specialize in the ancient practice of telling flattering lies to people who can make their wallets fatter and their genitalie more puissant. That's all Stossel is doing. I don't believe for a minute that there's a serious Libertarian in that bag of skin, not that such a creature would be noble. He just knows his audience, people who profit from the collapse of the system in the short term, who hide behind high minded libertarian rhetoric to provide cover for their pillaging.

    ReplyDelete
  28. There's too much evidence not to agree with what seems to be an ongoing intellectual witch hunt that has literally pervaded our media. Go through the top-ten best seller lists of fiction and see the same 5 authors, who are actually novel factories. Sci-fi seems to only exist in the movies now, because the 'people' (more than likely, those who decide what we like) want special effects, not the thought provoking pace of a novel that makes you reflect on what could be and why ('Canticle' is a perfect example). Look what has happened to National Geographic, the once esteemed journal of explorers and photographers sharing a world of culture, biology and geography in our laps. A creation of journalistic integrity, bringing the wide world closer and showing the common humanity in spite of our cultural diversity. Now the realm of Doomsday preppers! I think we are already half-way down the slippery slope. My hope is seeing the generations after us are ignoring a lot of the noise of what takes up too much of our time. Sexism! Racism! Homophobia Religion! I don't see it in their eyes or speech. They turned the TV off a while ago. They'll have their own demons to deal with (electronic media weaning, for one). I just hope we leave them something positive to inherit.
    Duff in NoFla

    ReplyDelete
  29. Jim, I've got to disagree.

    The ideal America as a nation of well-educated citizens was something that only really came into being after WWII. You had the GI Bill, the founding of PBS specifically as a mass-education channel, you had mass reverence for rocket scientists, you had working-class dads buying Time Life Great Books and an encyclopedia for the household because it was their duty as fathers. It was one very special time.

    Heck, compare I Am Legend the novel with I Am Legend the movie: Will Smith's character is a Navy scientist, while (if I remember correctly) the book's Neville was just some guy who started studying biology and chemistry from library books after the catastrophe happened. That illuminates the strange cultural world of the 50s, where it was considered normal for a man to learn things on his own. They had to change it for the movie cos the book's Neville is an unbelievable character today.

    But still, go back to the 19th century and the US was a raging pile of proudly ignorant loonies that would make today's GOP fringe look like intellectuals. I just finished reading a historian's book about a criminal ancestor of mine, and it amazed me how profoundly ignorant voting-class Americans were in places like Kentucky and Tennessee. Big-city intellectuals were a reviled minority back then even more than now. Even judges and elected politicians simply avoided parts of their own constituency for fear of death.

    Sure there were a few log-cabin-educated liberal-intellectual geniuses like Ben Franklin, but perhaps the system back then was structured more around the idea of the intellectual class having a duty to the people, and using classical rhetoric as a way of persuading the mouth-breathing masses to do the right thing?

    Richard Hofstadter goes into this in a lot of detail in "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life". Totally great book, you'd love it.

    Anyway, the narrative "we're stupider now than we were way back when", which you've sort of based your post on, is always popular among the learned classes, but it's also profoundly wrong. Sort of like the narrative about the imminent decline of America. You're still stronger than you were even in 1955, your economy is far richer and more dominant, your citizens are vastly more educated, and people from all over the world still want to move to the USA.

    The big secret you're missing is that the masses have always been profoundly ignorant.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. NeverAccept, I agree with the gist of your criticism, but that's not exactly what I wrote - or at least not what I intended anyway.

      I never said, or believed, that we are "stupider" now than we were back then.

      from the text: Now, of course, the United States has always had a stubborn core of religiously fueled uncompromising anti-intellectualism – ironic, given that the men who created America were as a group the most educated, intellectual, reasoned, and cooperative outfit to found any nation in recorded history. But since the early 80’s the strident repudiation of intellect by a religion increasingly hostile to reason and obsessed with apocalypse and Dominion has grown exponentially and it shows in everything from creationism to climate-change denial to those that would gleefully let the world burn in order to realize some ridiculous muddleheaded mumbo-jumbo of biblical “prophecy.”

      What I meant to say here was, yeah, sure, we Americans have always been a bunch of yahoos as a people, it's the standard joke outside of America (I lived in Iceland for a while, where everybody spoke five languages and the average education is post-grad, talk about contempt for the ignorance of the average American) but in the last 30 years since the political rise of the proud ignoramus in the guise of fanatical outspoken politically powerful evangelical American Christianity, things have taken a significant turn for the worse. If I wasn't clear about that, and I can see how I might not have been, apologies. The post was already long enough without flogging what I thought was obvious (but in retrospect wasn't).

      The big secret you're missing is that the masses have always been profoundly ignorant.

      I'm not missing it, I try every day with every post not to overuse the terms "drooling idiots," "ignorant morons," and "booger eating stupidity," because my disgust and contempt for the lazy reasoning ability of a significant fraction of the population would be even more apparent than it is now.

      Sure there were a few log-cabin-educated liberal-intellectual geniuses like Ben Franklin, but perhaps the system back then was structured more around the idea of the intellectual class having a duty to the people...

      Right, that's why I said: It’s why originally only landed white males could vote, because they were assumed to be exactly those people, educated, intelligent, and reasonable. The Founders and Framers were well aware of the idiots in their midst and limited the franchise accordingly. When that franchise was extended to everybody, it directly implies that they must be able to step up to the job - most don't, and there are consequences. That's the point here.

      Delete
    2. There are some rural types here. I've often wondered if their unofficial school slogan was:
      "Ignerint n prowd of it"

      Delete
    3. An excellent piece, as usual, Jim.

      One quibble: "It’s why originally only landed white males could vote, because they were assumed to be exactly those people, educated, intelligent, and reasonable." My objection to this statement is that the vote was limited to "landed white males" because it was assumed that ONLY those with those "qualifications" would be "educated, intelligent, and reasonable." A subtle but important distinction. I suspect that the decision to apply this limitation had the happy result of cutting out the "idiots" in their midst, but it also confirmed the exalted status of the landed white male -- which is, of course, the very definition of our Founding FATHERS. But it also prevented not only while male idiots from voting but all women (who could also could not own property) -- leaving aside the entire assessment of slaves as less than a complete person. Expected for the time, of course -- but a definite intention of the founders, not just a happy accident.

      This is not (necessarily) to diminish the importance of the work of these men. A recent visit to the Constitution Center in Philadelphia only increased my respect for them as they imagined an entirely new form of government, especially apparent in the idea of three branches with the resulting checks and balances. But it also highlighted how long it took for people like me (a woman) to be able to vote, no matter how educated, intelligent, and reasonable we are!

      Delete
    4. Replying to my own "reply" to note that yesterday was the 93rd anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment which gave the vote to women!

      Now if we could just get the ERA passed, we might FINALLY be considered equal under the law! http://www.equalrightsamendment.org/

      Delete
    5. In my opinion, the ERA ratification drive and the Roe v Wade decision were the pivotal events that propelled the wackadoodles to the front of the GOP short bus. Without the former, we would probably, and mercifully, have never heard of Phyllis Schlafly.

      Delete
  30. I'm pretty sure Bloomberg has to deal with barbaric German tourists.

    That has to count for something.

    ReplyDelete
  31. I agree Jim, that the threat to our Republic from these uneducated and ignorant, and unreasonable masses is growing fast. That they send cretins like Louie Gohmert and Allen West to Congress is witness.

    I note with interest that you attribute some of this to the Dominionists, who are very determined to infilitrate and radically change law and government.

    An excellent website with significant research on this topic is at http://godsownparty.com/blog/

    I am sure that many Christians are pursuing life, liberty, and happiness without threatening the rest of us, or attempting to undermine what few freedoms we have left.

    It's the Dominionists and Christian supremacists who's life mission is to force everyone in the USA to live in a society governed by their take on biblical injuctions, religious mandate, and male patriarchy

    They believe it's their destiny, just like Sarah Palin believes the "prophets" who have told her that God has chosen her to be President.

    In the face of such solipsistic mythology, rational thought, critical thinking and other people's Constitutional rights don't matter since these are fanatics.

    They are doing whatever they can to change state and federal laws to repress women's rights, invade our bedrooms with their "morality", and to codify every bit of repressive horrific religious doctrine into the laws of the land regarding abortion, gender issues,immigration, marriage, employment law, drug use, litigation, voting rights, and rigging elections.

    I use to be hopeful that Americans had a bright future, but since President Obama's election,
    it's obvious that the great divisions between the ultra right and progressives, North and South, Christians and everyone else are growing exponentially worse.

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    1. I know you wrote to Jim, but your final paragraph struck a chord with me~ that we are becoming more divided... and it's intentional. The more the public suffers, the more they need to be distracted from finding a solution. With the Financial Crisis looming as Obama was first elected, drastic measures needed to be taken to prevent the People from focusing on reforming the system responsible for the collapse. We've become deeply divided now, what I think is part of a deliberate campaign that seeks to keep us focused on the in-fighting as opposed to useful collaboration. When faced with a common enemy, humans tend to cooperate quite well; this is a principle that is well known, the most prescient example I can think of is Basic Training for the military, where unit cohesion is achieved through providing recruits with a common (and seemingly sadistic) enemy, the Drill Sergeant.
      Unfortunately, I don't see a way out of this hole except through a massive public awakening~ virtually every communication outlet we have is controlled, from publishing to television, even on-line~ controlled by the very people who have the most vested interest in keeping us focused on each other. When the largest protest movement in world history, Occupy Wallstreet, can be ignored; when the "Tea Party" can rebrand old ideas, elect 60 some representatives, and keep its following though they've done absolutely nothing with their power (unless wanton obstruction is considered doing something), when the conversation is about deficiets and issues that are fabricated whole-cloth, and most citizens are more concerned about getting their next paycheck, I don't see a way out.

      It's been a game of chess, and I think I just heard someone say "check."

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    2. Jkarov,
      "I am sure that many Christians are pursuing life, liberty, and happiness without threatening the rest of us, or attempting to undermine what few freedoms we have left."
      That caught my attention. Those folks quietly mind their own business while what seems to be the majority are vocal dominionist/theocratic/radical types who want everyone to believe as they do - or die.
      I don't care what you believe or how much you know, but I sure get grumpy when folks insist I have to be like them.
      Thanks, Mr Wright, for another excellent article.
      John Gall

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  32. Jim, it seems like you caught the Noam Chomsky article on Salon a few days ago; if not, its interesting to see several intersections from two different writers, both of whom I have a great deal of respect. It is true, even on my local talk radio stations, you can hear almost daily people either intentionally conflating and confusing issues for personal reasons; or perhaps they're simply ignorant, but if thats the case, they have no business discussing something they don't understand.

    I'm considering a run in politics in the next few years, after I'm medically retired (fucking Ied nearly took off my foot) and while considering how to best advertise myself (I'm young, hip, smart) I am also struggling with the demeanor I will need to take when addressing my opposition. I've always been very polite and formal in person... but I'm starting to think that the only way to fight this current paradigm of ignorance is to mock it, to shame it; the only way to stop them is to make their opinions so publicly laughable, so shameful to have, that they are forced to either shut up, or obfuscate even more... So I imagine a situation where I'm being asked about another's opinion, and just saying "are you kidding? Thats fucking stupid" ~ I think at first it'll make things harder, but it could certainly get me some national attention, and that's what I'll need~ because once I'm visible, I hope that I won't have any trouble getting support (being a pragmatist, a humanist, and all around decent human being who has a solid mind on their shoulders)... but it's an idea that I still have a year or so (gotta go through IDES) before I can act on it... Being who you are, some who has a sound mind and a great deal of respect from me, I just thought I'd share that.. I do think you are right~ this current situation is more than simply a rough spot, its the symptom of a concerted effort to misinform, disenfranchise, and rally or co opt a large part of the now ignorant masses for the benefit of the powerful..

    If this wasn't inspired by the Chomsky article, I'd recommend reading it (to anyone on here) it's called "America doesn't behave like a Democracy" and its on Salon.

    Thanks to anyone who takes the time to read this

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    1. Salon makes my teeth itch. There's some really good work there, but there's also a hard edge of mean spirited fanaticism among the readership that puts me off (but then again, part of this post is about an article on Fox News, yeah, never mind. I should shut up now).

      I wasn't aware of the Chomsky article, can you provide a link?

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    2. N2SE, what we really need is a speech like the one Marc Antony gives in Julius Caesar where he turns the crowd against Brutus. The difference is that you don't have to twist things like Antony did in that one. All you have to do is point on the lies and distortions.

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  33. Hi Jim, very timely piece wrt my current reading. While TDY to Germany (sucks, but someone has to do it), I am rereading Joe Bageant's "Deer Hunting With Jesus." If you all have not read Bageant's book about his home town folk, please give it a go.

    The population of and around Winchester VA represent the "heartland" as promoted by Republican machine politics and corporate vultures. These folks are not developing into Jim's simpletons, they have been there for generations due to circumstance, social inertia and the deliberate, soul crushing maneuvers of their "betters" (the wealthy landlords, corporate management, local GOP shit stirrers and fire-breathing preachers).

    These folks don't have the time or energy to waste a bit of their lives considering things outside their narrow day to day struggle to get out from under debt and pressure. They don't read books or newspapers. Their complete exposure to anything outside of their lives is via Fox News, Christian and conservative radio shows and NASCAR. Their greatest joy may be the large collection of firearms passed down for generations of meat hunters feeding their families. Liberal politicians don't give a crap about their labor or financial conditions. And Democrats could not gain a foothold in this environment if they tried.

    The book was published in 2007. But, he predicted the subsequent implosion of the economy and mortgage market. And its affect on the poor, who were scraping bottom and working endless hours to try to buy a little bit of the fixed and fraudulent American dream. "Deer Hunting" is still as true and timely now as published.

    Jim, you remind me of Joe Bageant in your tone and turn of phrase and message. But, he has passed now. You should try to stick around a little longer. Semper Fi - Tommy D

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  34. Might I recommend the movie 'Idiocracy' by Mike Judge? When the stupid keep breeding, they take over. It's a hilarious take on the same idea, and a humorous, extreme look at what the dumbing down of America is ultimately leading to.

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    1. Idiocracy is funny enough, but I think too many people recommend it as if its a documentary, which is unfortunate because it misrepresents how intelligence, evolution, education, and government work.

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    2. I tend to think of it as prophecy.

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  35. Like a lot of people, I bought Canticle for Leibowitz while I was in college. I read through it to the first ending, and it traumatized me to the point that I put the book back on the shelf and left it there. For ten years. Approximately ten years later, I thought I was recovered enough to read the last half, so I took it down and did so. I've never read it again (and likely never will), but I'll never throw it out. It's terrifying and shattering.

    Jim, everything else you said is pretty much dead on, I'm sorry to say. As for Roman dollars (Jeez, what a stupid phrase): If you're interested in Roman currency, the Wikipedia article is pretty good, including showing relative values. The denarius and sestertius seem to have been pretty basic; I have a nice Greco-Roman denarius from about 46 BC hanging around my neck as a pendant right now.

    The word "dollar" I believe comes from "thaler" which was the name of a currency minted in Bohemia in the 16th century.

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  36. "The Romans were worse. I object to President Obama’s $100 million dollar trip, but Nero traveled with 1,000 carriages."

    Talk about runaway inflation. When I saw something about it a couple of days ago, the trip was only $90 million. And I didn't believe it then.

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  37. This article is not new,
    http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2011/12/02/american-vs-international-news-time-and-newsweek/,
    but I think it amply illustrates what is going on with our national media. I have maintained for some time now that we are living in a combination of "1984," "Idiocracy," and "Max Headroom." The covers (and featured content) of Time and Newsweek are becoming indistinguishable from People and US.

    P.S. I was told that the one science fiction book I should make sure to read in my lifetime was "A Canticle for Liebowitz." In the past size months, I have read both it and "Liebowitz and the Wild Horse Woman." The experience was sobering.

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  38. I actually participated in a high-school production of "Canticle" in 1972 (I was Brother Joshua the star ship captain - a loyal fatheaded simpleton waiting around for orders to take off). Our troop was invited back to the monastery we had visited for research to give a one-night performance - fascinating experience, but the monks laughed at entirely different places from the secular audiences. Read the book shortly thereafter, and re-read it periodically since then. Found a first edition at a flea-market - it's one of the things I'll grab on the way out the door if the house burns down. Also have digital copies of the 1980s radio version (pretty good treatment of the story, with only about two exceptions). Obviously, this story has affected me greatly, and even though I am non-religious it has given me a lot to reflect on over the years - I find myself increasingly unsympathetic with the monks however. I applaud Jim's use of the story as a lead-in to his article today.

    -- Hairy Doctor Professor (long-time lurker)

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    1. I have to ask, was your performance lit by the light of a single bare carbon arc lamp?

      Just for verisimilitude, it would have been worth it.

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    2. Pretty close, actually: a standard classroom film projector was mounted above the stage, attached to and hidden behind the apex of the middle of three simulated-stone archways, shining down. Worked quite well. (Although that bit was in Act II, Fiat Lux, and I was in Act III, Fiat Voluntas Tua.) I should have mentioned earlier that many of us had never heard of the book before we started working on the play, so the title was often misheard as "A Cantaloupe with Liverwurst" or more commonly as "A What for Who?". But then, we were only 15-16 years old.

      -- Hairy Doctor Professor

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  39. Hi Jim,

    Let me say, that I read Cantile when I was around 13-14 years old and really enjoyed the article.

    I believe that the entire premise of this article is the downfall of the American Republic.


    "You’ve heard me say it over and over, our republic depends for its very existence on educated, informed, and reasonable citizens. "

    I would qualify this with citizen legislators that represent the people in government. Although the government can withstand a good portion of idiots if we have other competent people representing in the government. We cannot stand a majority such as what we have in the house, and enough in the senate to obstruct everything.

    "Our country, our civilization, was not designed to be run by a bunch of simpletons."

    George w. Bush ran the country for 8 years. You don't get much more simple than that. I would argue that its not the simpletons but the people who control the simpletons that will cause the downfall of the US as we know it. America is not going to go away. America is being transformed into something else such as the Roman Empire.

    Regards,

    John

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    1. "Our country, our civilization, was not designed to be run by a bunch of simpletons."

      "George W. Bush ran the country for 8 years. You don't get much more simple than that."

      But don't forget that Reagan was non compos mentis for most of his reign.

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    2. I was going to add that later :) Reagan was the beginning of the Republican yes men. Matter of fact the last election they said they didn't need a qualified individual as president, just someone to keep the seat warm. Glad they came prepared with a huge selection of candidates that are good at warming seats, saying yes to corporate interests.

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  40. "In a republic such as ours, willful ignorance and deliberate stupidity are not virtues."

    This.

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    1. Or as an admonishment to our students, the leaders of tomorrow, "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son."

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  41. "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." -- Isaac Asimov

    That "thread" is now wrapped around our collective necks.

    "Bread and circuses" -- we're given just enough figurative "bread" to stay alive and then are distracted by the wonders of technology, including awesome video games, fake "reality" shows on television, and the never-ending aspiration to the latest and greatest cell phone.

    The Right, starting around the Reagan administration, has, in public discourse, eliminated the role of "citizen" and replace it with "taxpayer". The former has a connotation that the person is a part of a society, with rights and responsibilities (including, of course, paying legally imposed taxes). But a citizen also recognizes the advantages that accrue to him/her when the society as a whole prospers since he/she is a part of that society. The latter thinks of him/herself only as a pocket/checkbook, having no role but paying for things -- many of which do not directly benefit him/her. Therefore it's easy to foment dissatisfaction because they view government as having no purpose other than to take their money (always "hard-earned" even if it's not) and use it for "the common welfare" of the country. Even with federal income taxes (the most visible and most attacked taxes) at the lowest point in many years, the mind set of "I've got mine, the hell with you/him/her/them" prevails and spreads to those who end up voting against their own best interests.

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  42. I read this short story in middle school, and it stuck with me: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Marching_Morons
    I often think that more damage is done by nitwits (some of whom mean well) than by the deliberately malicious.

    Vicki O.

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  43. I thought the line about presidents of both parties ignoring laws referred to signing statements, not executive orders.

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    1. Stossel's exact complaint was, "We have presidents of both parties legislating by executive order, saying I’m not going to enforce certain laws because I don’t like them. ... "

      This is a common complaint by those on the right, executive orders are fine so long as they come from a conservative, from Obama they're indications of a unconstitutional dictatorship.

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    2. I see what Stossel said, but "... I’m not going to enforce certain laws because I don’t like them" sure sounds like a reference to signing statements, which are, IMHO, an abomination.

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  44. I came to this link from a link in a friend's FB post. Had never been here or heard of Jim Wright before. But I will come back often. This is one of the most enjoyable debunking of TeaParty philosophies and miscommunication that I have read. Unfortunately Jim has run into the major wall of democracy.... knowledge v.s. sound bites. Republicans can and will continue to throw out one-liners like the Marius/Bloomberg line and while completely wrong and a terrible metaphor, allegory, whatever... it will be absorbed by far too many. To counteract that type of statement you need a long description such as Jim provided. The majority of people will not read that. It is the single greatest reason why the creationist (creation science) debate still continues. There is not a shred of common sense or science in that argument but supporters can throw out one liners that are wrong in so many ways. "Evolution violates the first law of thermodynamics" for example. To fully explain how wrong that is, you need to provide the scientific background. The audience will be yawning and yelling "boring".

    I used to work in the parks and museum field. The major logic of GOOD display signage certainly fits into this discussion. 1) write the text of the sign to reflect a grade 7 reading level 2) have the single most important point of the display in larger text, bold and the first sentence as most visitors will only read that. 3) have all the remaining pertinent information in the next 30 words and you may catch some of the visitors. 4) Anything after 30 words will likely not be read by 90% of visitors. Republicans know how to do the grade 7, bold first line steps very well.

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  45. Supplemental note. If I can find the reference, I will post it but there was an article on animal rights and zoos written by a university professor from Australia. It was as terrible as you quote above. I read it thinking the same thing "don't they teach this at university anymore?" I taught high school English one long year and I'd have given a student maybe a D for that essay let alone have it published. The article set up the most extreme example of the history of zoos with 2-3 examples, even quoting Montezuma killing off his animals when he was pissed off one day. Similar to the office of imperial pleasures/inflation example above. So having gone to university or even teaching in one, is no guarantee for logical, informed writing.

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  46. I think there's another pertinent example, the effects of which we're still seeing in action: The Ottoman Empire.

    When Europeans began to decisively overtake the Turks and Arabs in technology, wealth and power, the Ottomans and their subjects did some fairly literal soul-searching. They decided the reason for their decline was that they'd paid too much attention to "pagan" science and math and philosophy, thus making Allah mad. So the way to return to power was to become simpletons - to eschew education and the sophistication of politics, and return to the primitive purity of early Islam.

    This, of course, led to further defeats; to which the response was doubling down, the rise of fanatical fundamentalist movements like the Wahhabis.

    And I think we see the same ideas operating in the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda, a rejection of anything deemed "un-Islamic" as the key to reestablishment of a world-dominating Caliphate. A doomed endeavor, of course, but one that can cause a lot of damage on its way down - just like an American mob.

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  47. I loved "CAnticle for Liebowitz" as a proper cautionary tale; but I think you are right...the simplification ("Idiocracy", anyone?) comes first and then destruction. The sequel was sad...seeming to suggest that we learn nothing and keep repeating destruction in the same manner. Miller's monks were like the medieval scholastics, but modern religious types, they remind me of the medieval flagellator-crazies.

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  48. And a cry was heard, all across the once great land,"Let Freedumb Ring!"

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    1. Joe, you're giving me a girl chubby.

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  49. Stossel can’t decide if the United States is a republic or an empire

    To be fair, the United States can't quite seem to decide this either.

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  50. "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

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    1. Sorry Anonymous, but that quote, whoever spouted it, is simply nonsense. What our constitution is at the moment proving unable to cope with adequately is not immorality or lack of religion, but rather political polarization.

      The constitution was written with a large unwritten assumption behind it, which was that the persons and entities who wielded power who were all signing up to it, though they all had conflicting material interests, generally all had the same notion of what a civil society looked like, and acted like, and what ends were appropriate to it and what ends were not.

      Now you can argue that unless the country's population is infused with religious morality, and more or less the same religious morality, that population will never generally agree on anything at all, much less the size and shape and legitimate ends of civil society, and especially a form of civil society that you yourself might a.) recognize, and b.) approve of.

      But the constitution is nothing more than a blueprint for a functioning government. Like the blueprint for, say, an automobile, it doesn't really have anything to say about what destination you (as a country) might choose to drive it to. Even the Bill of Rights does not describe a destination.

      If 66% of the U.S. Population was hard core Bible thumping Evangelical, or even if 66% of the country was hard core libertarian pot smoking godless atheist, so long as either population elected representatives that reflected their own views, and those representatives acted accordingly, the constitution, as a blueprint for a government, would work like a well-oiled clock.

      What it was not designed for, because no one at the time could see that far into that future, was a country divided against itself so completely, and on so many fault lines. The constitution contemplates very well competing selfish individuals. With so many cultures and World View's competing neck and neck, and so little common ground between them, not so much.

      BB

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    2. John Adams said that in his "Letter to the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts"
      http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_Adams
      There are multiple problems with quoting some of the so-called Founders , especially without context and background. Contrary to current popular belief , many of those gents were deeply conflicted about what could/would work to knit together the states in a workable fashion as well as confer civil and political rights to citizens in a formal way.
      It seems to me this is the foundation of Mr Wright's essay here on simplification.
      Mr Adams was one of those who were deeply conflicted about what form would work best. His notions of balance of powers opened him up to charges from other Founders of being a monarchist, something which is still argued today.He did work to establish the judiciary as a seperate but equal branch of the federal government- something not wildly embraced by plenty of other Founders.
      He was also a deeply religious man who seemed to truly believe that morality was only possible within a religious framework. Raising his personal views to stand as final arbiter of the necessity ( or not) of religion to provide a moral frame and as a defense for the current Christian Nation meme is problematic in a number of ways well outside the focus of this essay .( I do find it hilarious that some of the silliest complaints from the Christian Right have to with the so-called-godless judiciary -which is also outside this essay in many ways )
      Thank you Mr Wright for another slam dunk .
      Alaska Pi

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  51. One of my all time favorite books! I re-read it about once a year. As the pride-in-ignorance crowd has come to popularity, I've often had the same thoughts you've expressed here.

    Signed,

    - Your Otter in Sanly Bowitz

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  52. Republics give way to democracies being destroyed by propagandists. The socialism that results leads to everything Wright espouses. In the end, authoritarians rule. They call themselves progressives. Jim Wright rules. What a wonderful life.

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  53. I had not read A Canticle for Liebowitz in many years. Point well made

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