Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rage Against the Dying of the Light


Ironic, isn’t it?

Ironic, that those folks who are so worried about about the country are the ones so hell bent on destroying it?

I am, of course, talking about those who would drive this country to revolution.

See, there are certain things all revolutions have in common, especially those that led to communist, socialist, or fascist states.

It begins with the pervasive belief that the country is in decline.  That its greatness, whatever that was, is being slowly leached away, gnawed at from the outside by some ill-defined enemy and/or stolen from the inside by some shadowy conspiracy perpetuated by fell creatures bent on supplanting “our way of life.” You pound this message home, over and over, until everyone believes it. Until it is a given.

Next, education. It’s the teachers.  They are indoctrinating the next generation with those alien ideas. Divide and conquer, subvert from within the population is told. So the wealthy and privileged and those that can move their kids to private schools – and they move their money too.  What happens to the rest, the majority, the ones who aren’t wealthy, aren’t privileged? They get what’s left, what trickles down, like the mice scurrying after the crumbs under a wealthy man’s table. Within a generation or two, the ones with the education become the de facto rulers, they become the leaders, the politicians, the owners, the landholders, the officers. They have all the opportunity. The poor get what’s left.  The problem is that there are a lot of poor. Nothing opens the gap between the small number of haves and the large population of have-nots like this dichotomy.  Nothing will erase the middle-class faster, leaving behind a tiny population of entitled elites and a huge angry miserable disenfranchised sea of proletarians.

Accessible, universal, secular public education is the very heart of a republic.

Without it, without a well educated population, democracy dies.

Those calling for increased privatization of education, for voucher systems that will allow their kids to attend private schools, aren’t trying to fix public education they’re looking to abandon it.

As the gap between the rich and poor widens, between the educated and the uneducated, the population becomes increasingly susceptible to manipulation, to group think and propaganda and pervasive false beliefs. This is a fertile ground for religious and political extremism, and it is almost inevitable that such will take root and flourish.  Today, right now, nearly one in four Americans are birthers to one degree or another (read that carefully, note the small “B,” there is more than one kind of birther, not all of them are on the same side of the political spectrum and not all of them are talking about the same birth) – significantly most of them don’t believe that they are conspiracy theorists. A increasing fraction of Americans consider themselves 911 Truthers.  Today, religious and political extremism and hatred of the government isn’t the exception, it’s the norm.

As the gap widens, a disproportionate fraction of the national burden falls on the non-privileged, on what used to be the middle-class but will increasingly become the de facto poor.  An increasing percentage of their lives are taken up with the basic necessities of food, shelter, energy, transportation, communications, and reproduction. Things like child labor laws, safe workplaces, representation, medical care, education, longevity, and living wages become luxuries.  Eventually, the non-privileged make up the bulk of the military, not the officer corps but rather the ranks – who are increasingly treated as mere cannon fodder. Note the increasing call for conscription, despite the fact that it’s not necessary to maintain the military.

Meanwhile, the privileged pay little or no taxes, nor do the corporations and businesses they own.  They have access to shelters and protections denied the less fortunate. They are rarely held to account and they have an extraordinary levels of power and access to power. Inevitably, their glamorous lives, once desired, once achievable, become objects of resentment  and disdain – the poor become proud of their station, of their lack of education, of their struggle. They revel in it. And those poor who attempt to rise above their station will be pulled back down by their resentful fellows. Those few who succeed are excommunicated by the poor and privileged alike.

The gap widens.

Resentment grows.

The poor become more and more restive.

Which, perversely, convinces the privileged of their uniqueness, their birthright, of their right to privilege and power.

Increasingly the non-privileged will go hungry, cold, homeless, and without access to basic services or civil rights.  The standards of living, the rights they once knew, are taken away or are abandoned. Right now in America there is an increasing push by those in power to limit the rights of workers to organize, to repeal child labor laws, to remove protections for the weak and less privileged, to end government education loans and grants. There are far too many people in this country who go to bed hungry and homeless and uneducated every single day – and far too many people who think they deserve it.

There is much a population will bear, if they bear the burden equally.

But when the burden is unequal, revolution becomes more and more likely.

When people perceive that their voices aren’t heard, when the poor go hungry, when they are told over and over that it is their neighbors and their government who are the enemy, when those in power won’t listen or are perceived to be corrupt and in the thrall of foreign influence, corporations, and the rich – then upheaval is never far away, and you can, today, right now, see the seeds of it all around you. 

No country is ever more than three meals from revolution – as events from the fall of the Soviet Union (or its rise) to the recent revolutions in stable Middle Eastern countries exemplify.

Add to the mix: unending war, economic uncertainty, a designated scapegoat, pervasive surveillance, and a universally held belief in manifest destiny combined with a wide availability of the basic tools of revolution – weapons, communications, and demagoguery  – and the likelihood of a popular uprising increases exponentially.

Sooner or later, the disenfranchised will rise up.

The goals of the revolution will be noble, because they always are: wealth and rights for all, equality, liberty, justice, an end to corruption and greed and avarice.

But – as those in the former Soviet Union found out (both at the revolutions of its birth and the one that presided over its demise) and those in the Middle East are finding out right now – revolution rarely results in a republic, in democracy, in freedom and equality.

Revolution, big or small, almost always, eventually, gets coopted by a small handful of hardline idealists or the power hungry and results in totalitarianism in one form or another.

In fact, in only one case, has revolution ever truly ended in a democratic republic. 


I’ll wait, while you figure out which revolution that was.


So, what do we do about it?

Are we doomed to eventual revolution and totalitarianism?

Does the light have to go out and darkness fall?


Of course not.

But that’s tomorrow’s post.


  1. When you realize that our first revolution was one of broadsheets, pamphlets and public speakers... that our Civil War was full of letter writers and readers... you realized that our great conflicts were not run by or fought by a great sea of ignorant illiterates. Which is why it had a chance to succeed.

    Reveling in the breakdown of society, because it makes you feel like you're powerful? Not so much.

    Dr. Phil

  2. Bingo.

    The men who led the rebellion against King George, and preserved the Union through its darkest hour, were highly educated. And that, right there, made all the difference.

  3. Nick from the O.C.April 23, 2011 at 3:53 PM

    It's always been interesting to me -- and more than a little frightening -- that one of the first areas that a county or city cuts back when budgets get tight are its public libraries.

    Soon however, all public libraries will consist solely of electronic media. Which is great in terms of lowering the costs of running the libraries.

    All one will need will be an electronic reader ... which will be available (in many formats) from retailers at a price equal to one week's rent in some areas.

  4. The problem with that Nick, is that it then becomes very easy to restrict, manipulate, and regulate who has access. And if you're really good at it (remember my specialty used to be information warfare), you can do it without the public being the wiser.

    One the reasons I'm foursquare against my internet provider deciding what and how much information I can access.

  5. Nick from the O.C.April 23, 2011 at 4:39 PM

    Jim, the problem with restricting hours of access to libraries, closing them, or limiting them to electronic content that can only be accessed via commercial readers is that it furthers the gap between the have and have-nots, the educated and the poorly educated, the rich and the poor.

    It's difficult to be bootstrappy when you don't have any boots.

    1. For what it's worth, when I last worked in libraries (2012) some of the bigger systems were experimenting with checkouts of e-readers.

      But I also feel that doing so was a terrible idea, unless maybe you bought some kind of heavy duty toughbook-inspired reader.

  6. As part of my dissertation research I read every issue of every newspaper published in Philadelphia between 1787 and 1801. It was a period of bitter, vitriolic rhetoric - of outrageous accusations and deep-seated fears for the security of the new republic, which was, after all, on its second constitution in two decades at that point. Nothing was guaranteed and everything was a point of vicious argument.

    Except one thing.

    The one thing that EVERY newspaper, no matter how partisan (and a partisan press was assumed then), agreed upon was the need for public education. Each side would reprint articles from the other approvingly, calling for more of it. They knew then precisely what you say now - that a well-educated, broadly educated populace was the cornerstone of the survival of the republic. Without it there would only be chaos. It was in EVERYONE's best interest to make that happen.

    Benjamin Franklin Bache, editor of the Democratic Republican paper Aurora and named after his grandfather, put it best in 1792:

    "Let the education of children become a common charge. If a man has property and no children, still he should be taxed to pay for the education of other men's children. The more knowledge, the safer his property. It is better protection than armies. Every day before this work is done, is time lost. All other securities of Liberty without this are trifling."

    We forget that at our peril.

  7. Curiously, I found the picture painted in your OP profoundly bleak and depressing, but my hope was rekindled by the comment thread.

    Maybe I need to get out more.

  8. I agree with beachdog: this is some bleak stuff. But the comments, especially the Bache quote (thank you, David) make me feel slightly better. Looking forward to tomorrow's post!

  9. from these other comments and judging by the source that suggested I look at this, seems like you might be singing to the choir. which is fine, nice to be able to discuss ideas in relative agreement and maybe add to the depth. My interest in commenting was merely to point out that yeah, I agree in many ways, but I respectfully ask the gentleman to acknowledge that women are here too and this time around, revolution or no, the contributions that women can make toward a sane culture and secure nation are profoundly valuable. Think of it, back in the day women were not taught how to read and did not attend school. The calls for public education quoted by our friendly scholar David were not at all inclusive of women. That has now changed. There are those who would see us put down again, there are those who imagine that ditsy barbie dolls like Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann should actually run for president (possibly just to prove that women really are too ditsy for that), there are those who call for the "traditional values" of antiquity (though 40% of babies born in America in 1776 were born out of wedlock), and of course, there are those who would like to see all of us in our place, poll dancing. Anyway, just want to put it out there that modern women are a new sort of animal which can, if nurtured and recognized properly, should give us all a big dose of hope.
    Also would like to say I was surprised Jim that you point out internet info is unattainable to those who have no computer. So few Americans notice that.
    And I have to say, I really hope a whole lot more guys thinking like you will come crawling out of the woodwork of our military. Really hope so.
    Guess I should blog my own blog if I'm gonna go on and on like this. Nuff said. Peace out.

  10. well a bit of an addendum -- if you want a source for the 1776 out of wedlock comment, that might have been philadelphia alone, same year that the number one cause of death in philly was not war, but malaria. i shall try to track down that source, a book by a penn state college prof, but at least saying it made your eyes pop and boggled your minds. : )
    recall the story of "Tom Jones" and you gotta admit, they were in fact pretty free spirited back then.

  11. oops, sorry. 40% of marriages, the couples had already conceived/had children. (most women are not as ditsy as I am.)

  12. well Jennifer, I don't think you're on the opposite side of the fence from Jim or any of the rest of the commenters. When this gets boiled down, it appears that we're in the middle of class warfare, naturally, those in charge would prefer to not have it defined in those terms and imho I believe that they've studied quite well and are doing everything that they can to establish and maintain control of the wealth and power of this country.

    They do this by controlling the media, for example anyone see any MSM coverage of the 100K worth of protesters in Wisconsin? Or tens of thousands of people in the streets in Madison or Lansing or Columbus? Yeah, riveting coverage of hundreds of tea party rallies, not quite as much about labor rights. You see anyone discussing the Progressive Caucus budget plan, it actually addresses/retires the debt in 10 years, versus the Ryan plan of 35. Doesn't hack Social Security and Medicare, actually promotes single payer.... how? taxing the rich (modestly) and removing subsidies from big oil and coal. Closes corporate tax loopholes. The view from the Village, crickets chirping, the wrong people are "suffering" I suppose.

    Legislation making it tougher to vote, specifically targets young voters who typically go Dem. More crap about illegal immigration (despite numbers that show that its down) sowing fear of the other as if there are Hispanics of all stripes just waiting to recreate the homestead act if we're not ever vigilant.

    They sow discontent between public workers and private industry as if workers rights granted to one group is somehow a bad thing. The question isn't why do they have collective bargaining, it's why doesn't everybody? They could give a shit about abortion, they just want to control women, keep them poor, uneducated and powerless. Hell if every fetus is sacred, why axe prenatal care? What about the subsidies for the child once its born... as far as they are concerned, its innocent and protected until its born and then well, now onto something else. Goes hand in hand with gutting education, ignorant people are easier to fool, hell an unfortunate amount of people doen't even know the state capitals much less keeping abreast of financial or EPA regulations.

    Now they're going after the elderly and the soon to be retired by eliminating the money you've been paying into the system. It's a great plan that these folks are implementing with the battles being fought on so many fronts that its evident that there are probably very few folks pulling the strings. As they said in All the President's Men, follow the money. Who benefits?

    It comes down to this, they got theirs, now they want yours. If we don't wake up and unrig the game (tyvm SCOTUS for Citizens United) we're all gonna be looking for pitchforks soon, provided we can afford them. Problem is, these folks have plenty of flash to buy guys with guns.

    sorry for the diatribe, ending soapbox mode.

  13. I think one of the attitudes in this mix is that no one believes that they are badly educated, no matter how badly educated they truly are. It takes a major effort for someone to realize that they are ignorant on a subject, any subject, and to make an effort of filling in that sinkhole in their understanding. Much easier to either take someone else's opinion as direction, or to remain ignorant.

    I can point to such subjects in my own understanding; for instance, I am a complete, drooling idiot when it comes to woodturning, woodturning tools, or how the techniques of the former when used with the latter result in pretty things (although I do aver I am an expert at appreciating said pretty things for their intrinsic prettiness.) I also know that while I have some vague wish to gain such knowledge and expertise, I don't really have the time or inclination, given the other things I must do, and the things I'd rather do. So I defer to people like our esteemed host on such matters, trusting that he knows what he's doing and leaving it at that.

    Apply this principle across the population, with individuals maintaining their own interests and delegating the thinking about other subjects to those individuals interested in such thinking. One can make an argument that some subjects, such as civil rights, should be known by everyone, at least in outline, but then you get into the realm of what should that outline consist of, and which subjects should cover it, and who gets to write the syllabus, let alone the textbooks on that syllabus.

    In some ways, I think that the current fracturing of public education is at least in part a direct result of prior universal education, as 'educated' people backlash against what they see as flaws in the system, and go about trying to design a better system, whether in private schools or home schools or whatever. I do believe that what everyone wants is the best for their own children. Where their personal ignorance may be showing is in not seeing how campaigning for the best for someone else's children *also* serves the needs of their own.

    (Renee looks up, sees how much she's been babbling, and says, "Love the blog, Mr. Wright. How are the kitties?")

  14. Let's see, make the populace afraid, force the government to break it's own ethics and civility, that breaks the basic social contract, the people revolt, attempt to direct the political outcome. I seem to remember that from some of my training. I don't know what it referred to, though. :)

    The fuckers are winning.

  15. I should mention here, that one of the players, IMHO, has made an unforced error by attempting to reach too far to quickly and overplayed their hand, and there's about to be a backlash against it. It's my hope that the reflex response may diffuse some of the situation.

  16. I do believe I love you Mr. (W)Right!
    I don't necessarily want to marry you, but hanging out would be somethin' special! Kim

  17. Bravo, if the populace would turn off "The Next Fat Bachelor" and pay attention, this could turn around. Sadly, I don't have much hope for that.

  18. Certainly the United States is in a form of decline but not from without but from within. There is a transfer of wealth via the price of oil from the U.S. to other oil exporting nations the U.S. gets its oil (read energy) from. U.S. citizenery who use gasoline/diesel vehicles to the extent they do are literally sending billions of dollars off to places like the middle east and suppliers in south america like Venezuala. This is widening the gap between rich and poor in the U.S. to the demise of the middle class who pay the bulk of the taxes that grew the U.S. into the power it was. But that tax base is being decimated to the point where it can no longer carry the load of adequately funding programs that benefit all U.S. citizens. That is why we are witnessing the funding crises in the country. Borrowing will only exacerbate the funding shortfall by increasing the interest liability of the loans. It is therefore imparative that the U.S. drastically reduce their use of petroleum products and the sooner the better. Either that or start developing the Bakken field for oil - the sooner the better. The U.S. will probably not become a second rate nation in the mid and long term but it will be close to becoming so. The world is fed up with the U.S. applying itself as "policeman to the world" - it appears to the rest of the world community that the U.S. only does something foreign if it has something to gain. The world sees through the U.S.'s stated intentions as being to "liberate" people whose leaders are deemed "dicatatorial tyrants" as an outright lie and are only after their natural resources as the U.S. has consumed so much of their own they now must go overseas to get more to feed their voracious appetite. Until this attitude by the U.S. changes they will always be despised and attacked throughout the world. Its time the people of the U.S. got off their high horse of "freedom and liberty" and called it what it really is - the pillaging of others natural resources. In the meantime the fall of the U.S. continues and its wealth flows outward. I believe that most U.S. citizens who read this will strongly disagree but that disagreement dowsn't stop the financial bleeding thats taking place and it will continue. Only a change of attitude from saber rattling to reconciliation and hands off other countries will stop the bleeding and distrust.

  19. The demand for free, universal public education was one of the first demands of the nineteenth century labor movement, back when they still had the 12-hour day, the 6-day week, and unions had names like "Grand And Honorable Brotherhood of Silk Hatmakers".

    Those old blacksmiths, cigar rollers, wheelwrights, ship's carpenters, ladies' hatmakers, etc, knew what they were talking about.


  20. I have been thinking about the decline of our country, and (no surprises) I lay it at the feet of
    1) Capitalists who pay no taxes
    2) Religious folk who hate their fellow Americans
    3) People who think E Pluribus Unum means (me myself and I) ...
    4) The war on public education and teachers
    5) The broad sense that only religious people have TRUTH
    6) People who think public service should NOT included Police Fire or Teachers
    7) That the above are "parasites"
    8) That the constitution is just at goddam piece of paper
    9) who believe screaming and incivility in public forums is the ONLY way to conduct public discourse...
    I await part two of your Rage article

  21. Part II is in progress. You would have had it yesterday as planned but I spent the day moving several tons of gravel instead - which much longer than I planned and left me crippled for the evening.

    Today also contained unexpected elements that have sucked up all of my time.

    Perhaps this evening.

  22. I have been thinking about the decline of our country, and (no surprises) I lay it at the feet of
    1) Capitalists who pay no taxes .... The corporatist
    2) Religious folk who hate their fellow Americans ... The neighborist
    3) People who think E Pluribus Unum means (me myself and I) ... "out of many, one."
    4) The war on public education and teachers ... No time for children
    5) The broad sense that only religious people have TRUTH ... Let dunkin be undone
    6) People who think public service should NOT included Police Fire or Teachers ... should wander alone
    7) That the above are "parasites" ... were just humanites
    8) That the constitution is just at goddamn piece of paper
    9) who believe screaming and incivility in public forums is the ONLY way to conduct public discourse... .... those that do write
    I await part two of your Rage article

  23. I fear a civil war more than a revolution. This country has been divided by the insane people who seem to want total control of the asylum.
    I attended public schools until I went to college. I have a first rate education from an Ivy League school and I am neither rich nor elite. My education taught me to think critically and never stop asking questions. It also gave me a background in history, literature, art and science...all useful when thinking about the earth that we are hell bent on destroying and the problems that we face, all over this planet, as well as in this country.
    Times of economic unrest can lead to despicable humans seizing power and carrying out outrageous plans to hold onto that power.
    Every child on this planet needs as much education as possible to keep this type of thing from happening.
    Unfortunately, education alone does not ward off evil people (many of the architects of the Third Reich were well educated). But it is important to remember that most dictatorships purge the Universities and schools first.
    Keeping the masses hungry and ignorant and afraid is a very powerful tool.

  24. Two points (sry, they're long):

    I'm not sure that Nick is right about 'all libraries consisting solely of electronic media soon;' but then again, I live in NYC, where their embrace of ebooks (and audiobooks, etc) has not stopped them from stocking paper (tho we have had some hours cuts) and I'm sure that that is happening other places, e.g., Colorado Springs, where it's not just libraries, police, and FD, it's streetlights.

    Renee also talked about peeps' lack of awareness of what they don't know, and their willingness to delegate their thinking about various subjects to other people.

    The daily info feed has become the firehose. In those founding days, one could be at least somewhat well-informed about almost every topic. One could read every newspaper and broadside that came one's way. Now, there is simply no way to be well-informed on the same breadth of subjects--or even vaguely informed. One must perforce narrow one's focus or have no grasp of anything (and perhaps travel into Ted Sturgeon's "And Now The News" territory). Plus, you have to filter for media bias--which is not that big a thing (my old joke was "read The Nation and The National Review and take the average"), but the filtering takes time and effort. And coffee.

    JMocha, sorry for rambling a bit.

  25. Nick from the O.C.April 26, 2011 at 1:36 PM


    There's a 4/26/11 article over at singularityhub.com that I'm too lazy to link to. (You can Google it if interested.) Here's an on-point sentence from that article.

    "Now that public libraries, one of the last bastions of printed media, are thoroughly open to digital lending, the death of physical books seems more inevitable than ever. How will the demise of print change reading in the 21st century?"

    You may not agree with how I draw the trend line, but I'm comfortable I'm not alone in projecting the outcome.

  26. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine was complaining that since he and his wife had no intention of having children, he shouldn't have to pay for public schools. I was fortunate enough that a school bus had just let out its passengers across the street. I asked him:
    "Ian, you're what, 35 now?"
    Do you see the girl with blue hair who just got of that bus?"
    "In 25 years, she's going to be your oncologist"

    We never had that discussion again


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