Quo vadis, America? To where are we headed? by James Lloyd Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
As you go through life and learn things, you begin to recognize that there are fables and mythologies that we use in substitution for the realities we’d rather not enshrine with acceptance.
War, for instance, is always the result of an imposition of one or more nations upon another, institutional armed robbery and murder on a massive scale disguised by some sanctifying metaphor, such as the bombing of Iraq into the Stone Age by way of a magnificent display of “shock and awe” we label as necessary in “…the defense of freedom.” Or, the enthusiastic religious conversion of entire indigenous nations in the Americas by hordes of passionate armed and armored “missionaries” by way of the sword and the cannon “…in the name of the Prince of Peace” and to save them all from their pagan depravity. And then to bring the civilizing influences of compulsory, uncompensated labor and perpetual subjugation to those few who managed to survive their conversion.
Hypocrisy permits more crime and hides more violence than ever did honest, if criminal intent, but we manage to enshrine the most militant and murderous among us for the sheer chutzpah they display in their zeal for oppression.
Is it any mystery that when the tyranny of these cruel, avaricious and self-serving men is recognized for what it was that people are ready to tear down their iconic images enshrined in bronze?
“But it’s George… and everyone knows that George was an honorable man, the father of our nation.”
Nations have many fathers… and mothers.
Judge a man by his actions, not his aspirations or his words. Whatever high minded principle those men we call our Founding Fathers chose for their particular camouflaging mythology… in their case the divine imperatives in a statement that “…all men are created equal…” which did not include the black men they owned as a farmer owns cattle or sheep. Nor did it include women of any color. Washington owned people. More specifically, he owned black people… men, women, and children who made him rich with the unpaid and harshly compelled labor of their hands. And while he owned them, they could never enjoy the liberties, rights, and privileges for which he fought. Make no mistake, our nation was not birthed by men who took any of their mythologies to be inclusive, but fought for the sovereignty of their own and personal wealth in order that they could be richer by half and not taxed into want and commonality by a king who gave them no respect.
Hypocrisy is the father of all nations. Hypocrisy has killed more people than we can possibly count. Hypocrisy enables oppression, genocide, and tyranny. It’s time we stopped sanctifying and sheltering the icons of false idols.
It’s time to wake the hell up.
False Idols and Other Affectations by James Lloyd Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
21 June, 2020
We don’t even have to enumerate or declare the problems. We live with them daily and even when we isolated ourselves in our homes at the height of the pandemic, the media surged its insistent edge of disease and Trump, Trump and disease… day after day through our phones, our iPads and our cable. Unemployment, pestilence, strife and oppression daily, symptomatic expressions of something inherently wrong at the core of our lives. What makes it worse is that we don’t get solutions, just problems.
We don’t have a government any more. We don’t have that structure that offers us solutions. The government we had? Even if it was nothing more than lip service, they offered us solutions. As near as I can tell, our government was taken over by hedge fund managers, a hostile takeover, a downright purchase of something that wasn’t supposed to be for sale… and in the manner of all corporate pirates, they’ve dismantled it top to bottom, selling off the assets as they do and leaving all the liabilities to its shareholders, the working men and women of America. It’s not enough that they’ve screwed us in the workplace, broken the backs of our unions, now they’ve taken our government and put it up for auction, for sale to the highest bidder.
If anyone’s going to fix it, it will have to be us to do the work… so let’s talk solutions. Just you and me. For the moment let’s pretend we have the power to fix it.
Solutions are the elusive side of the equation, but sometimes? Even the questions are tricky. Personally, I’ve often used a simple declarative statement as a kind of colloquial expression to put a cap on a discussion that’s devolved into a standoff, something to the effect that, intellectually speaking, “…perspective is everything.” And I seldom have to go beyond that simple premise, since we… or most of us anyway… can generally agree to accept our differences with the dispassionate understanding that we will not always agree. As pithy sayings go, “perspective is everything” speaks clearly, seems simple enough, a rather basic and, perhaps, fundamental expression of the underlying imperative behind intellectual things in general. Finding solutions for seemingly insoluble problems is an intellectual exercise after all.
Perspective is everything.
However… and for the purposes of this essay, let me specify that what I am saying in essence is this… “Every aspect of our culture, including at the very least, our social tendencies, our morals, our philosophy, our social constructs… including the bases for government and law, our biases, et cetera, et alia, are founded and ultimately dependent upon our collective acceptance of a common world view, or… the accepted perception of that view, our own and humanity’s place in the world or the universe at large, and in context and concert with one another.”
Having so specified that, let me now hit you with a corollary statement.
“When our institutions fail us and the need arises for either reform or deconstruction that must precede the building of new institutions, the first duty of those who would be the agents of change is to question the most fundamental perceptions on which that failed endeavor was constructed and, if necessary, construct a new foundation on which any new institution will be built.”
Fairly simple, right? Well, not really.
People get upset when you challenge their notions and the people who establish the validity of a nation’s notions, at least here in America, although you could probably suggest it works that way elsewhere… the people in charge tend to be the people who are quite pleased with the way things are because… they hold the authority… the power, if you will. They also tend to use that power to their advantage.
Revolutionary ideas are the hope of the dispossessed. Their oppressors? Not so much. So, if the majority of people represent the dispossessed and the wanting… while a shrinking minority has all the money and all the power, who do you think will finally decide whether the foundations of that nation in which there is a large and growing disparity have failed? The answer is obvious when the minority rules, so where’s the relief for the rest of us? It will take a revolutionary idea to solve these insurmountable problems. Do we need a revolution? Must revolutionary ideas always be the source of revolution? Good question, but for now, let’s leave it unanswered and try to determine how a neutral observer would see our situation.
In the academic arena, though one could hardly name Academe as neutral in these issues, since their existence seems to depend on the charity of wealthy individuals. Spare us the objections otherwise, since the very premise of capitalism is the pursuit of money as the prime motivator of all human interaction. Capitalism is not and never will be the engine of intellectual inspiration. Value for value is the rule. There will be exceptions, of course, but not enough to drive an idea that is inimical to the status quo and the power structure it supports. It would be ideal, though, if the product of academic inquiry was valued according to the neutrality that guides it, but it does not.
Who influences research?
The people who pay for it.
Who pays for the research?
The government and corporations.
But if the corporations influence the government, which they do, and inordinately so, the answer to the question, “Who pays for research…” is then reduced by half. Once again you could plead the integrity and subsequent neutrality of scientific research. And once again, I will tell you that the prime rule of capitalism, which is the language and the religion of corporations, is… value for value.
“You give me what it is that I want and I will give you cash.”
And if I am perfectly happy with the way things are, will I give you money for research that I know will provide a conclusion that calls for a change? Will I pay you to tell me that in order to solve the problems, I must surrender my privilege? If I was St. Francis, perhaps, but I very much doubt that St. Francis would be working today as vice president in charge of research grants for a major corporation. I really do.
Forget, for the moment that we will argue incessantly over what the solution may be, let’s just imagine that we have narrowed it down to a solution that brings equality and justive into our lives as realities, not merely the mumbled aspirations that have passed for a reality since the nation was born by a C-section from mother England. The question is, “How do we get from what we have to what we want without the bother of a revolution?”
If we, the people, are ever to decide our fate by choosing to work inside the system to champion revolutionary ideas that would ultimately level the field in both social and economic influences, would we need an academic study that we can present to our government representatives… stating our case in order that they might fix the problem through legislation? Do they even do things like that anymore? I say… “What a waste of time that would be, since for every study that proves our premise, the statist elite could produce ten… and likely one of them would derive from the same university that gave us ours, but reach an opposite conclusion.” Such is the power of wealth.
It’s a very old game, this oligarchy maneuver… and it works just as well within the democratic illusion as in the supreme authority once claimed for itself the divine right of kings. Even Senators, Congressmen, and Presidents, when all else fails, still fall back on the old God Gambit with some measure of success because many among us still fall for the oldest trick in the authoritarian playbook. It’s a shame, really, because we could trust an academic approach when it is honest, and who better to do the necessary groundwork than those who specialize in the study of change as intellectual historians, philosophers, ethicists… people like Quentin Skinner who wrote:
“The history of philosophy, and perhaps especially of moral, social and political philosophy, is there to prevent us from becoming too readily bewitched. The intellectual historian can help us to appreciate how far the values embodied in our present way of life, and our present ways of thinking about those values, reflect a series of choices made at different times between different possible worlds. This awareness can help to liberate us from the grip of any one hegemonal account of those values and how they should be interpreted and understood. Equipped with a broader sense of possibility, we can stand back from the intellectual commitments we have inherited and ask ourselves in a new spirit of enquiry what we should think of them.”
So… if we know that the system is corrupted… and many more do than will say so aloud… what is the remedy? Maybe the complexities that we see in the systems we have inherited are confounding our perceptions… a purposeful and camouflaged field of smoke and of mirrors. Perhaps the solutions are so damnably simple, so maddeningly obvious that a child, lacking the sophistication of indoctrination through education, could show us how it’s done. The task then is not one of academic research, but of surrender. The surrender of a nation’s notions when they fail to give us what we need. It should be easy.
It’s not, though… is it? Ask yourself, “Why?”
You know and I know the answer to that one.
Because it’s hard. Damned hard. You will have to work for it and you will have to fight for it and you will have to lay everything on the line for it… your time, your substance… maybe even your life. That may well be the price of what you want for yourselves and your children. That’s a risky proposition, no? If you have the least amount of privilege working for you, you have something to lose, don’t you?
In that case, you might think it not worth the cost. Many do.
The justifications for standing in the gap for the rich and the powerful are manifold, convincing, and rewarding enough to ease the pull of a “woke” conscience.
It costs most people nothing to go back to sleep.
Ultimately, only you can decide if it’s worth it.
So… is it?
It would be and it is to the many black men and women who have been demeaned, humiliated, harassed, beaten, jailed, falsely accused and even murdered at the hands of law enforcement for so long that no one can remember a time when justice stood for anything but a lie. We could start by fixing what is the greatest and most pressing of all, since the oppression of any among us diminishes all of us.
Let’s fix the worst parts first and as we gather strength in solidarity, the rest of it becomes just that much easier. So… where do we begin?
Defunding the police is only the beginning.
It’s time change the laws that criminalize poverty and create a conveyor belt from the schoolyard to the prison yard with such predictable ease and unquestioning justification that the least study could shock people who seem to never notice what is right there in their face… or is really ignorance… and not selective blindness?
I get tired of quoting facts that never seem to break through, but if you believe the Black Lives Matter movement is unjustified in its depth and span nationwide, then you are the problem and I’m wasting my time with you… and you with me, so walk away and have a nice life. The truth will reach you soon enough. I just hope that it comes from revelation and not from the trouble and the strife your apathy has purchased.
If you’re interested, watch this video from The Real News Network in Baltimore, titled, Why do police shoot people in the back?
Or listen to this interview from Reveal, titled, Uprising
If you want to take the time, go to this site for the numbers. The Prison Policy initiative
It’s not just a policing problem. Our entire criminal justice system needs an overhaul and since 911 and the development of massive data collection by our government and the known abuses thereof, an intelligent observer might deduce that we are becoming, if not already, a police state that could rival that of the old Soviet Union.
Do some research. It’s depressing.
But wait !! There’s more !!
If you are really curious, you might want to read a few good books on the subject. Over the next week I’ll compile a list and on Sunday, a week from today, I will publish a reading list. Who knows? Maybe this could be the cause you have been looking for. We have a lot of problems, but if we tackle them one at a time, we don’t have to start a revolution… we will be the revolution.
Peoples’ Daily Brief by James Lloyd Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
“Something wicked this way comes…” Shakespeare, Macbeth (Act 4, Scene 1)
Once upon a time in America, a man or a woman who wished to be their own boss had options and a reasonably high expectation of success… assuming they worked hard and were able to avoid criminal influences, natural and financial disasters, et al. Shopkeepers, grocers, craftsmen of all sorts, even small farmers, of whom there were many… they were all involved in what they perceived as an upward personal trajectory, a cut above working for wages. Even if they did aught else but maintain a reasonable living, they could count on a better life for themselves and their families.
Perhaps it was the Civil War that changed all that, by way of massive, sudden demands for war materiel to equip enormous conscripted battalions that sprang up as if overnight. The call went out for the production of weapons, uniforms, ships, cannons, tents, wagons, ammunition… all on a massive scale… enormous contractual demands that benefited… not the small businesses, but the larger ones who had access to capital and could always outbid them. And so they did, by the forces of economic advantage, political connections and the benefit of the modern methods of mass production, the factories and machinery that only a larger business could afford.
The smaller enterprises, small businesses and family farms, in their day and even in the shadow of the new industrial powerhouses, did well enough with local markets, but after the War, the bigger businesses, with the loss of their lucrative military contracts, took their advantages into those markets as well. Some of these industrial giants colluded one with the other to join forces in competition, driving smaller companies out of even those smaller local markets altogether. And when laws were enacted to outlaw the unfair advantages they held, they colluded again to influence legislation in their favor. Today? We have Wal-Mart and Amazon. Can you imagine how many small businesses were destroyed nationwide in the building of those corporate behemoths and others like them? Even the small family farm is an anomoly today, shut out by the competition of powerful agri-business entities in the corporate world.
Times change. Technology advances.
Moral imperatives can transform overnight accordingly.
All material things can be swiftly revised to fill new demands.
Perceptions and even principles can change.
People, however, do not.
My father was raised on a farm in Georgia. His father was a sharecropper and when the family, by circumstances that poor folk cannot control was forced to move to Alabama, they did so in a wagon. They grew their own food, slaughtered their own meat, baked their own bread and lived much as people had lived for hundreds of years before them.
My father was ambitious young man, left home, took advantage of military service in the heart of the Depression to educate himself and became an expert in what was then the latest technology, radar. After World War II, he left the Navy as a Warrant Officer and, as a civilian, took what he’d learned and made a decent career for himself in technology. Over the years, he continued to learn new things, ending his professional career as an engineer for NASA, building small computers for satellites. He was involved in the cutting edge micro-electronic technology that eventually served as the basis for personal computers, the device that changed life as we know it and launched what some people call, the Information Age.
In his lifetime, he went from that poor farm boy riding about on horseback through an agrarian subsistence to the launching pads of advanced technology. He saw elemental transformations in every aspect of life, cultural evolution that we can only imagine and he was part of the technical revolution that has placed humanity today on the edge of yet another new epoch, one that has yet to be defined, much less judged as beneficial progress.
But I can tell you this, that in his heart of hearts, he was no different in the way of his humanity than he was as a young man n that farm, retaining the rich values that formed his decent perspectives, unwilling and unequipped to be altered by the cynical and self-serving ways of modernity.
Times are changing once more and the people who drive our economy seem determined to render humanity obsolescent and superfluous in a strange new and sterile world. Science fiction in mid-century America was prophetic when it scanned future possibilities and found them frightening and the most frightening of all was the sterility and cold demands of robotic automation, labor-saving technology that today seems to threaten the labor itself and the laborer who supplies it.
Once upon a time the purpose of all labor in the earth was the benefit of all mankind, each man and women in their way taking part. What part will they serve, what role can they play in a world that no longer needs them, in a world that seems to place priorities and progress in the service of profits instead. Maybe it’s time for humanity to stop and take a deep breath, to step back and take a critical look at what we’ve wrought and where we are going… or more accurately… what it is that’s coming our way.
Make no mistake, something is coming our way and we’re not quite sure what it is and how it will affect us. Maybe it’s time for us to decide if we really want what it is that’s coming down that road. Maybe it’s time for us to pay some attention. More than ever before in the history of humankind, we need to be aware and informed.
Here is a good place to start, with an essay by William I. Robinson that paints a depressing picture in a graphic and realistic analysis of troubling social and economic trends. You can read the essay and judge for yourself by way of this link to the article on TRUTHOUT
Peoples’ Daily Brief by James Lloyd Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
From the Merriam Webster Dictionary online…
night letter (n): a telegram sent at night at a reduced rate for delivery the following morning.
Presidential Grandiloquence – Part One
When I think of the American presidency, I think of slogans and of epochs. The duration of each administration’s sway upon the nation could be termed as an epoch, historically… a period of time that is often defined by the character and stated ideals of each individual President inevitably framed by slogans. More often, however, the slogans are lost and their idealistic definitions are tempered in remembrance by the realities surrounding each administration, by facts rather than by the carefully chosen words they use to define themselves.
For instance, the administration of Lyndon Baines Johnson attempted to characterize itself with florid descriptions of his signature achievements in civil rights and social justice legislation, an idealistic political agenda branded with vaunting, and not necessarily inaccurate labels. We cannot fault such ambitious programs as the War on Poverty and The Great Society, but all pretense comes to a crashing end and his happy place in history took a back seat to the stain of his one and horrific misadventure, the war in Vietnam, a can that had been kicked down the road by two previous administrations, but an issue he chose to tackle in the worst manner possible, with a war that was never actually declared, but was viciously and violently waged for a decade, killing over 55,000 Americans and untold hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese.
His successor? Recent revelations disclose the fact that Richard Nixon sabotaged Johnson’s peace initiatives by brokering a secret deal with North Vietnam before he was President as he rode to victory on the phrase, “Peace with honor” which was, in retrospect, a monument to cynical mendacity. But then, Nixon was no stranger to the perversion of truth. In fact, he earned a second term on a symphony of “law and order” with horns and percussion, played with verve and passion to his beloved audience, “the silent majority” of Americans who were dismayed by political and social upheaval over the war that Nixon had prolonged with his deception. But no one quite imagined how cynical it might be for Nixon to run on a platform that invoked law and order until they learned that the thrust of his entire administration was marked with such incredible violations of law and disruption of order that his corruption and crimes eventually forced him to resign in disgrace. Only a pardon by the next and quickly forgotten President Ford kept him from serving a justified term in a Federal prison.
Jimmy Carter’s presidency is difficult to characterize, since an honest man is not generally as glib in the realm of self-aggrandizement as the average politician, so he was more often defined by his critics and particularly by his successor in rather vilifying and dismissive words. Nonetheless, Carter was possibly the most forward thinking President in terms of a national energy policy, a political agenda that recognized the growing dangers of indiscriminate and poorly regulated use of fossil fuels and the very real cost of dependence on foreign oil. But like Obama in his second term, however, Carter suffered from an animated opposition by a Republican-controlled Congress during his first term, a fact that essentially crippled many of his initiatives. The death blow to his administration was certainly not of his making… a hostage crisis in Iran following a popular Islamist revolt. The uprising was the result of an American led coup and regime change in the mid-1950s and the hatred of the revolution for the USA was fueled by subsequent, generous American support of an oppressive regime. The hostage crisis was such an embarrassment to the nation that someone had to take the blame. Carter became the perfect scapegoat. His campaign for a second term quite collapsed when our military attempted to rescue the hostages and failed, the result of a peculiar regional weather event and an unfortunate accident in the wake of it. Carter’s Republican opponent in the election, Ronald Reagan, took advantage of both the incident and the ongoing, ever-present embarrassment, the loss of national pride… and won handily.
Ronald Reagan? Where can I start? The apostle of “trickle down economics” who invoked an image of an old, disproved, and rationally absurd economic theory that favors corporations and the wealthy as “engines of the economy” declaring corporate success as “a rising tide that lifts all boats…” Riding this absurd metaphor like a boogey board, Reagan proceeded to dismantle America’s post-WWII prosperity by shifting the burden of all taxation to middle and lower class Americans… by destroying the influence of labor unions… by giving tax breaks to the wealthy… by reducing “unnecessary” programs of social welfare… and by de-regulating commerce… thus creating a new American aristocracy and initiating economic trends that have given us the greatest disparity in wealth and income since the Gilded Age. Yet, even today, both Democrats and Republicans invoke his style with reverence as some sort of political benchmark for the ages. Unfortunately, that benchmark proved to be built upon such unstable foundations that it became a formula for failure. It has been the cause of unprecedented economic disparity and its philosophy can do naught but foment social inequity, based as it is on a lie… but let’s move on.
The first President Bush, the product of a more florid era of political rhetoric, had a particular gift for the iconic phrase… with such poetic entries as “a thousand points of light” which program was, essentially, another way to give awards to rich people who have so much money they can spend a little bit of it on poor people. The theory is that philanthropy, the largesse of wealthy people can ultimately supplant the need for social welfare. But the phrase that actually got him elected “Read my lips…” when he declared “…no new taxes…” is the phrase that eventually brought him down in his attempt for a second term because reality forced his administration to reconsider and he… you guessed it… raised the tax rate.
Bill Clinton came in behind Bush on the merits of such sentiments as “It’s the economy, stupid.” Clinton “…didn’t inhale.” And, he “…never had sex with that woman.” In fact he was, as my sainted grandmother would put it, “…so full of it…” one has to wonder how he ever got away with as much as he did. I don’t know what to say about Clinton, since this Democratic president, though adorned with the mantle of a liberal freely given him by his peers in spite of his apparent and obvious predilections to conservatism, managed to move the Party of FDR and the New Deal into territory once held by Republican elites. How did he do it? Charm and charisma? The ability to smile and to tell us an absolute lie while doing the exact opposite of what he said? Perhaps, but his legacy is written in the growth of policies that imprisoned more non-violent offenders and for such interminable periods of time that their lives were essentially destroyed. Prison populations soared. The war on poverty was lost in the Clinton administration through “workfare” programs and tough, even brutal attitudes toward crime and punishment. And though his administration did more to oppress black people in America than was ever publicly acknowledged, his ability to play the saxophone and the audacity to wear sunglasses while doing so on television, earned him the erstwhile label, “America’s first black president.” Charming.
The second Bush, pictured here in proximity to the toxic Mr. Cheney, was chosen by the American Supreme Court rather than by the electorate… the result of difficult and obscene mismanagement of the election in the crucial State of Florida where Bush brother Jed was Governor. Little Georgie Bush had run on the notion of his Christianity against Gore, the Vice-President under Clinton. The sitting President’s support of Gore was more or less withheld, since Clinton’s sexual indiscretions had finally caught up with him and made him politically toxic. Bush was hardly charismatic, even a bit “unclever” when speaking in public and, for the life of me, I cannot remember much about his rhetoric on the run up to the election… though there was some talk about “compassionate conservatism” supposedly based upon the fact that Bush was a “born again” Christian. However… in America and, to my recollection and personal experience, compassionate Christian evangelicals tend to be a rather judgmental group, given more to compassion within their own ranks than toward the public at large… but that’s not relevant here, is it? Either way, following the 911 attacks, George H. W. Bush’s little boy, George was given unprecedented license by a too-generous and overly patriotic Congress and he used it to take America to war in Afghanistan to go after the Taliban, which harbored Al Qaeda, which was the group that planned the attack. Then, for reasons known only to God, the Holy Spirit and Dick Cheney, Bush decided we had to go to war with Iraq, which had no connection whatsoever to Al Qaeda or the attacks on 911. Following a subsequently relentless attack on Iraq, punctuated and propagandized with televised displays of “shock and awe” scorched earth military attacks… when Bush had utterly broken the governments and infrastructure of both Iraq and Afghanistan, such as it existed, he led America into a huge debt spiral from the cost of both wars and subsequent unaudited defense contracts which attempted to put the countries we had destroyed back together again. When he saw what he had done… and in spite of the huge national debt… Bush decided to give enormous tax breaks to America’s rich people because… well who the hell knows why… but his Presidency very nearly caused a second Great Depression… which it was, although nobody was willing to admit it, so we’ll pretend it was not a Great Depression, but a really bad recession… even though most Americans who weren’t rich have yet to recover what they lost, but the rich people got richer, and they own all the media, so… Anyway, we can’t really blame Little Boy Bush for the problem since, from what I hear, Dick Cheney was in charge, but hey…
Then came Obama… But let’s save that for next week when we will continue to deconstruct everyone’s favorite president.
Night Letters to America by James Lloyd Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
I hope you will become a regular reader and I heartily invite you to comment below. I love your feedback, even when it’s criticism. It makes all the trouble worthwhile and it keeps me honest.