Thursday, November 12, 2015

Back to the Past

"No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."

Hobbes' horror, Reagan's utopia.

One mythopoeic tendency in American political rhetoric is to long for a better time in the past that America needs to return to -- and will,  if only we elect the illiterate who flunked Middle School history and knows nothing about economics, law or foreign affairs.   Things always used to be better and there was always a golden age, from Eden to Jerusalem, to Rome, to La Belle Epoch. Nearly every period in the past is caused to have some redeeming factor that makes us long for it nostalgically.  In our imagined past, we were  or would be heroes with opportunities, not peasants with none.

I'd love to confront the political blowhards promising to make us a "great Nation" again because I seem to have missed that period of greatness and it may be that times we look wistfully back to as "simpler" seemed pretty damned horrific at the time.  I even sometimes doubt the premise that I had more freedom back when where you could eat, where you could sleep and with whom were tightly controlled.  Gender and race meant an awful lot to the government and your neighbors in our great nation.  I must have had my eyes closed to that period of peace and tranquility when the certainty of nuclear annihilation hung over us like a patient etherized upon a table,  Hung like some lynched teenager in a land where you can't pass anti-lynching laws because of the Klan's influence in Congress and thousands of us died every week, killing millions for "our freedoms." --. but oddly, even though at any moment we are the greatest and best and most powerful and glorious nation that ever was or will be, it always used to be better.  The best of times is so tightly bound to the worst of times, they are one and the same.

Maintaining this fiction must be important to the people who teach us history and ethics and government policy, because much if not most of what they say depends on framing and distorting, editing redacting and inventing a past where there were no taxes or regulations and thus all businesses succeeded, everyone was free and prosperous and Christian and often at night, when the old folks were at home, the "darkies" were gay.

It's not to say that Americans and America haven't done great things, it's to say that they had nothing to do with that parallel myth: the ever more restrictive and regulatory government with ever increasing taxes hindering growth, individual success and that ubiquitous aspiration we call, in our narcissism,  the American Dream.  Gee, I'd like things to be better.  How exclusively American.  Golden age?  It musta been before my time, and my Father's and his.

But of course we have Trump, we have Carson, we have Bush as pretenders to power (and pretenders to being qualified) and they're all going to repaint and re-gild that shining city on the hill by building a moat around it. A shining mansion maintained by serfs, barefoot and pregnant and like the survivors of Bush's shock and awe, thanking God for their freedom as they starve in the dust.

There were times though.  the times of our desultory flirtations with confidence and a view to great things.  We've had our per astera ad aspera days that led to feats the world had never been able to do and isn't it interesting how the good old days shamans want to prevent that happening again?  Back to the the past, to the golden age. It hangs in the air at our "debates"  but the meaning is 'abandon hope,' Arbeit macht Frei, God's in his heaven and the future is in the past.

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