Most of my diaries make extended references to history. Most of my diaries are roundly ignored, except by a small bunch of people interested in history. In this diary I will discuss the impact of the real "End Of History" (not Fukuyama's triumphalist screed of the same title) upon progressive politics. That is, I will discuss the fact that a large percentage of politically active people find any history prior to 1990 irrelevant, pedantic, or "too rational" for the corporate media/ Tea Bagger environment of today's politics.
Of course, professional historians and social commentators have been complaining about the extreme historical amnesia, of even the well-educated part of the population, for two decades or more. Here is a quote from almost twenty years ago:
The destruction of the past, or rather of the social mechanisms that link one's contemporary experience to that of earlier generations, is one of the most characteristic and eerie phenomena of the late 20th century. Most young men and women at the century's end grow up in a sort of permanent present lacking any organic relation to the public past of the times they live in.If you want further meta about history, see the Appendix for some quotes from Neil Postman (a student of Marshall MacLuhan), who was also writing about this topic 20 years ago. Come below the orange amnesia cloud for what its like today.
...no one who has been asked by an intelligent American student whether the phrase "Second World War" meant that there had been a "First World War" is unaware that knowledge of even the basic facts of the century cannot be taken for granted.
- Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes (1994)
The idea of a permanent present calls up the famous quote:
Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.The "destruction of the past", as Hobsbawm puts it, is bad news for progressive politics.
- George Orwell "1984".
I do not know which makes a man more conservative — to know nothing but the present, or nothing but the past.That is because the destruction of history allows quacks and deliberate crooks to agitate for simple-minded policies that repeat known mistakes. They often do this for their personal profit. The most famous quote along those lines being:
- John Maynard Keynes, The End of Laissez-faire (1926)
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.The most important result of historical amnesia is the pre-dominance of the self-serving Big Lie of the Invisible Hand of the market, and of the inherent evil of governments of any kind. This anti-historical propaganda line has been absolutely deadly to middle-class democracy over the last thirty years of growing amnesia.
- George Santayana, Reason in Common Sense (1905)
Whole categories of economc history have been disappeared, demonized, or distorted. Keynes is used as an epithet for socialism (itself an epithet for communism). Contintental economics (Friedrch List and his kicking away the ladder critique of pure "free market" economics), Chartalism, Modern Monetary theory, etc. are rarely even mentioned by the corporate media. The average person has no idea of the non-socialist alternatives to Market Fundamentalism. Unearned income, liquidity traps, bubble economies, Georgian economics - all of these are only known to people who make an effort. They are never discussed by the corporate media or corporate-fellating "economists".
Currently, Wall St. is a rigged casino. Huge profits for well-connected insiders ("smart money"); "unpredictable" crashes for the dumb money. Its like no one ever heard of stock market pools or the Great Depression:
“Markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.”Just substitute "rigged" for "irrational", and you've got it.
-John Maynard Keynes, As quoted in When Genius Failed (Lowenstein, 2000)
The economic Big Lie has enabled the second Big Lie, that the current plutocratic government and the militarization of society under the guise of various Wars is really still a functioning democracy. Things that would have had people in the streets at any other time in American history are passed off as boring, inside-baseball stories about politics. Blown off with "if you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear." Or just ignored, like the fundamentalist/Catholic assault on the Separation of Church and State.
There are people who write for this and other blogs who do remember history:
We saw our nation taken into an illegal war on false grounds. We saw a Congress surrendering its responsibilities to be a check on an imperial presidency, a process that ...has largely continued unabated into the current administration. Yes, during the Reagan administration and Iran-Contra the process we should have expected was debased and devalued. Then in the first Bush administration we saw the use of pardons to reestablish some corrupt players back into the system. We saw appointment of people to the Judiciary who seemed dedicated to ensuring there be no further controls on power, be they executive or corporate, and who were not dedicated to protecting the rights of the people. The most powerful tool available to the Congress, impeachment, was debased in the partisan attack on Bill Clinton...There are people who understand the entire gestalt of sadism, power-hunger, and cruelty that is stamping out the historical America of the New Deal, the Marshall Plan, and the Great Society:
So where are we now? With drone strikes, with no accountability for the atrocities of the last administration, with corporate and financiers totally immersed in malfeasance political as well as economic not charged or fined, with a broken political system, with the will of the people being ignored because of a conventional wisdom influenced by the desperate desire for campaign contributions and an even greater desire to hold on to political office merely to occupy it rather than to stand for anything?
- Daily Kos Impossible to hold government accountable
This is the new face of American sadism: the unconcealed burst of joy at the thought that pain is going to be inflicted on someone weak and helpless. Its viciousness, I believe, is symptomatic of the way our society is changing. Everything from the healthcare industry, payday loans, and for-profit prisons to the trading in so-called derivatives, privatization of public education, outsourcing of jobs, war profiteering, and hundreds of other ongoing rackets all have that same predatory quality. It’s as if this were not their own country, but some place they’ve invaded in order to loot its wealth and fleece its population without caring what happens to that population tomorrow. The only interest these profit-seekers have in us is as cheap labor, cannon fodder for wars, and suckers to be parted with our money. If we ever have a police state here, I’ve been thinking, it won’t be because we’ve become fascists overnight, but because rounding up people and locking them up will be seen as just another way to get rich.There is even a resurgence of Marxist critique (no remedy, folks, just critique) in the corporate media.
With the global economy in a protracted crisis, and workers around the world burdened by joblessness, debt and stagnant incomes, Marx’s biting critique of capitalism — that the system is inherently unjust and self-destructive — cannot be so easily dismissed. Marx theorized that the capitalist system would inevitably impoverish the masses as the world’s wealth became concentrated in the hands of a greedy few, causing economic crises and heightened conflict between the rich and working classes. “Accumulation of wealth at one pole is at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole,” Marx wrote.Why the resurgence? Because people are finally beginning to see through the lies and the frauds to realize their money and their rights have been stolen by kleptocrats. So the corporate media needs to get out in front of that and steer it to someplace harmless.
A growing dossier of evidence suggests that he may have been right.
- Time Magazine March 25, 2013.
To return to the theme of the diary, Fukuyama's triumphalist proclamation of at the fall of Communism has been roundly debunked by the revival of Russia, the rise of China, and the new Great Depression - historical facts all.
But, "somehow", the Libertarians have the patent on bashing crooked government. And, there is some truth in some of their complaints. But, as with all fundamentalists, they overlook the shades of gray.
At best, [centrally governed societies] do good by providing expensive services impossible to contract for on an individual basis. At worst, they function unabashedly as kelptrocracies, transferring net wealth from commoners to upper classes. These noble and selfish functions are inextricably linked…. The difference between a kleptocrat and a wise statesman, between a robber baron and a public benefactor, is merely one of degree: a matter of just how large a percentage of the tribute extracted from producers is retained by the elite, and how much the commoners like the public uses to which the redistributed tribute is put. …The reason that the Libertarians still have breathing room is because, as anyone with any sense of American history knows, the Democratic Party has been hijacked by Wall St. Armando gets it.
Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel, Chapter 14: "From Egalitarianism to Kelptocracy,"
A full one-half of the political Big Lie is that the leadership of the Democratic Party cares about anyone but the rich and well-connected. Obama has been pro-actively trying to cut and privatize Medicare and SS. He has been actively pimping the hedge-fund/charter school racketeers. His Goldman-Sachs DOJ/DOT brought no serious prosecution or clawback of Wall St. crooks (cf. Lanny Brauer). He has been the most pro-active president ever in prosecuting whistleblowers. He continues to appoint Monsanto officials to environmentally and agriculturally sensitive positions. He appointed the CEO of uber-tax-dodger, GE, to be head of the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board. He single-handedly thrown away two electoral mandates for progressive policies; and his former chief of staff and now dictator of Chicago, Rahm (dead fish) Emmanuel called progressives "retards" whom he intended to ignore.
To finally make a historical analogy, the world today is on its way to looking like what Europe would have looked like if the Catholic Church had stomped out the Protestants and gone back to being a corrupt, anti-science, aristocratic boys' club. If FDR's New Deal was a revolt against the Robber Barons, today's Wall St. Counter-Reformation is doing a far better job of crushing that revolt than the Catholic Church did with the Protestants. Of course, the people running our counter-revolution are quite aware of history.
There. That is what commentary informed by history looks like. Notice how many different quotes and ideas come to mind when you think historically. Notice how it bears no resemblance to the poisonous pablum of the corporate media?
Did that bore you? Did that set you free? Did that irritate you? Vote in the poll.
It is only fitting to close this essay with a bracketing quote by Hobsbawm:
The past is indestructable...because public events are part of our lives. They are not merely markers in our private lives, but what has formed our lives, private and public...everybody over a certain age...has passed through the same central experiences. These have marked us all, to some extent, in the same ways. The world that went to pieces at the end of the 1980s was the world shaped by the impact of the Russian Revolution of 1917...----
- E. Hobsbawm, "The Age of Extremes".
Our culture’s adjustment to the epistemology of television is by now all but complete; we have so thoroughly accepted its definitions of truth, knowledge, and reality that irrelevance seems to us to be filled with import, and incoherence seems eminently sane.
The essential premise of the book, which Postman extends to the rest of his argument(s), is that "form excludes the content," that is, a particular medium can only sustain a particular level of ideas. Thus Rational argument, integral to print typography, is militated against by the medium of television for the aforesaid reason. Owing to this shortcoming, politics and religion are diluted, and "news of the day" becomes a packaged commodity. Television de-emphasises the quality of information in favour of satisfying the far-reaching needs of entertainment, by which information is encumbered and to which it is subordinate.
Postman asserts the presentation of television news is a form of entertainment programming; arguing inclusion of theme music, the interruption of commercials, and "talking hairdos" bear witness that televised news cannot readily be taken seriously.
- Neil Postman Amusing ourselves to Death