Sunday, January 01, 2017


More than a few people have suggested that Trump is deliberately meant to create scandal and amusement in the parlour while the corporate raiders (the same ones as always) sack the kitchen and pantry.  There is no real explanation for such a cheesy and childish man being elected.  But there are other forces at work and they’ve been there a long time, like years or even decades and perhaps unacknowledged because of being detected in surprising places.

Lisa Ruddick, quoting her article in “The Future of Scholarly Writing: Critical Interventions” (2015), talking about interviewing graduate students for jobs in literary criticism, she says they claim “something in this intellectual environment is eating them alive.”  She says that a colleague, Gina Hiatt, agrees that these people “sense ‘an immorality they cannot put their finger on’ in the thought-world of the humanities . . .  Some keep their best ideas out of their scholarship for fear that if they violate certain ideological taboos, others will “hate” them (a verb Hiatt hears repeatedly).

Ruddick goes on to say “browsing current journals might be left with an impression of deadness or meanness.  I believe that the progressive fervour of the humanities, while it reenergized inquiry in the 1980’s and has since inspired countless valid lines of inquiry, masks a second-order complex that is all about the thrill of destruction.”

I recognize this in the Unitarian Universalist congregations, among educated friends, in publishing and writing (the conviction that an accusation of hoaxing or plagiarism shows perception on the part of the accuser), among Montana writers and bloggers, among Native Americans who have been to college, among cowboy art curators, and at small town early morning coffee klatches.  I think many people see it as the tyranny of political correctness, the fantasy that calling a one-legged person “differently abled” will be helpful.

Beyond this sort of unacknowledged underground mood affliction, we are in practical terms dealing with the end of old structures, most cuttingly in awareness that our grandfathers and screen heroines are dying, the lost usefulness of things devised at the end of WWII.  Why would anyone not full of idealistic guilt over the genocide of Jews think that giving them a bit of land in the middle of enemy territory and basing its citizenship on religious faith could be a lasting solution? 

There is another VERY old set of assumptions and deep passions that goes back to the Ottoman Empire and the shifting fortunes of the Abrahamic worlds that came to a crisis in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, including the Black Plague and major religious institutions, but always connected to the economies.  These three strands of what is identified as religion — but is really more like life-ways — have variously fought and cooperated with each other for millennia with sometimes tragic results.  

And that is rooted (almost literally) in resource development.  You can criticize the ideas of Jared Diamond all you want.  Humans are a phenomenon of the earth planet and they vary according to the distribution of the wealth and means across the continents and seas, which are always shifting.  Human presence has now developed to the point of shifting even the atmosphere.  We’ve exhausted many of the resources, living or geological, and are now depending upon technologies that demand even more limited sources of rare substances.  Diamond is only restating what many others have pointed out: even the sun is an exhaustible resource.

But in another sense, we don’t have a shortage problem so much as we have a distribution problem.  There is an enormous amount of water on this planet, but it is often inaccessible or contaminated, often by our uses.  Water goes directly to the production of food and that is the most crucial economic factor.  It’s not whether or not a culture is yam-based, as much as whether there are enough yams to go around.

And then there’s the other globalizing problem, which is food created in one rich place that is sent — out of charity, one would assume — to places that are poor in food.  But would a yam-eater appreciate canned tuna?  Would he even have a can-opener?

Simple Simon was a product of culture shift.  He was always doing the thing that was right for the last situation, but wrong for the present one.  He was “other-directed,” but always applied their advice (carrying butter in a pail of cold water to keep it cool) to a situation he didn’t see accurately (carrying a puppy in a bucket of water, which drowned it.)  We are always one paradigm shift behind.  

Everyone in the rural small town life sent their children to college because education was the key to success.  But now it’s not and everyone sees rural small town life as failure or at least being stuck.  Few people sit down with a legal pad and make a list of new options provided by the new paradigm: maybe businesses based on the Internet or solar power.

I’ve never really been a political party joiner.  I’m eclectic in almost every thought-way.  I mean, my goal is to respond to the actual facts of the situation — what will happen if I try to carry this sack of flour in a pail of water?  Too many marketers will assure me that their sack of flour will only be improved — it will be ready to knead into bread!  I agree there are too many regulations and the liberals are too ready to believe that they can legislate virtue by writing down laws and rules and hiring people to inspect and enforce, thus inviting corruption.  

A single most plaguing problem in this town is that we pass ordinances according to local pressure but exempt all the friends and relatives of the council, which means that when the next election comes around the focus is on revenge.  They call it “revanchism,” French for revenge, because when we’re a bit embarrassed about being found out, we always slide over to another language.  It drives national political parties to passionate extremism.  

So another force on our list is tribalism, which appears to be biological.  The pre-contact prairie tribal bands (as well as the Old Testament tribes) were based on family, which was not just genetic but also affinity-based, a certain way of doing things, a language of their own.  Something as biological as pecking order also impels people to want sameness.  It must be a survival mechanism, but maybe the ecology has shifted away from that advantage.  Maybe now life demands a different way of thinking and relating.

Two different scientific branches — biology and physics — are presenting us with new information and controls that could find entirely new terms for survival, but they depend upon much energy (enough to run a cyclotron) and intense training, a form of discipline.  But they could make life bearable everywhere without drowning the children in an attempt to save them.  (Street drugs and depression are the same as drowning, but that’s another conversation.)

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