Sunday, 4 December 2011

Orthodoxies and Adolescents

by Thomas S. Harrington                   Common Dreams                     December 1, 2011

One day when I was twelve years old, I told my grandmother, born in 1890 and a staunch believer in the Church of Rome, that I had doubts about the existence of God, as well as the idea that her beloved religion had a corner on the game of eternal salvation.

I knew that I was courting trouble. But still, I wasn’t prepared for what came next. This woman, who had always cooed my name with love and laughed at almost everything I said, turned to me with a look that was equal parts disgust and disdain and said very angrily: “you’ll never amount to anything with ideas like that!”

This event came to mind while watching Bob Schieffer’s interview of Ron Paul on Face the Nation two Sundays ago. In it, Paul tells the long-time establishment reporter that there is a strong causal link between the way we as a nation conduct ourselves overseas (bribing, bullying, invading, occupying, assassinating and destroying) and the hostility that citizens of many foreign cultures have toward us.

Upon hearing this rather unassailable fact, the supposedly objective Schieffer was, like my grandmother all those many years ago, overcome (watch the clip) by a wave of physical repugnance. And like her, he did his best during the rest of the interview to shame the libertarian candidate into hedging or renouncing his position.

Wednesday’s New York Times reported that the growth of the British economy is stalled, and that as a result, the Cameron government is contemplating the application of still more budget cuts. As Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Jeffrey Sachs and others have ceaselessly pointed out, only people lacking the most basic understanding of economics would ever engage in sweeping austerity measures in a time of economic recession/depression. So why, after predictably failing with its first application of such measures is the British Government now talking about doing more of the same?

Because the people that control the politicians see this as their big chance to finally destroy the "aberration" of the mid 20th century welfare state, you know, the thing that delivered hundreds of millions of people into the security of the middle class. For thirty years, the large-scale capitalists have, through their control of media, hammered home the idea that government only screws things up…and that anyone who doesn’t believe this is a naïve child unable to grasp how the world really works.

An essential enabling factor in all this is the abject historical ignorance of the political class and the "media pundits" now in power, people born, for the most part, between 1955 and 1975. They, like most of the people they grew up with, have no real understanding of the fact that the middle class lifestyle they have enjoyed did not--as the ideologues of the Right have told them throughout their entire adult lives--just appear because of market forces, but that it was mindfully engineered to happen. That’s right, it was meticulously and consciously engineered to happen by the political class that came of age in the wake of the Depression and the Second World War.

History is, at its core, an intellectual toolbox. By providing us with a broad longitudinal perspective it allows us to exercise critical judgment about the many things that are presented to us as "unassailable facts" in the heat of a given moment. Without it, we are reduced to the status of children, people imprisoned by the need to respond in "socially appropriate" ways to the "urgent" stimuli of the cool (read powerful) people in our midst.

Look around. The coreless children (Cameron, Sarkozy, Obama…) are now in charge everywhere, arrivistes all, careless and heedless in the way that only spoiled children who have not been forced to engage with tragedy always are. As people floating in the adolescent angst of the eternal present, subject above all, to a desire to please those they see as being smarter or cooler than themselves, they are resolutely incapable of developing the only real compensations of maturity: courage, wisdom and compassion. They are, sad to say, the perfect mirrors of their generation. Our children will pay mightily for their arrested development. 


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