Monday, August 07, 2006

All the bad news has come true

How did we get here? I don't know —but I have some theories, some hunches, some "off-the-wall" insights. First of all: what is meant by the term here when there is defined as being something somewhere between Thomas Jefferson's near utopian vision of agrarian Democracy and Alexander Hamilton's dreams of an industrialized north? Roughly, Hamilton's dreams have ended in the American version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis found inside Manhattan, Houston, Chicago et al. Jefferson's vision, however, is all but dead and Democracy, like the Constitution under Bush, is quaint. From an IMD review of Fritz Lang's classic: Metropolis:
In the future, the society of Metropolis is divided in two social classes: the workers, who live in the underground below the machines level, and the dominant classes that lives in the surface. The workers are controlled by their leader Maria (Brigitte Helm), who wants to find a mediator between the upper class lords and the workers, since she believes that a heart would be necessary between brains and muscles. Maria meets Freder Fredersen (Gustav Fröhlich), the son of the Lord of Metropolis Johhan Fredersen (Alfred Abel), in a meeting of the workers, and they fall in love for each other. Meanwhile, Johhan decides that the workers are no longer necessary for Metropolis, and uses a robot pretending to be Maria to promote a revolution of the working class and eliminate them. —Claudio Carvalho, Brazil
Ironically, while Hamilton's dreams of industrialization must surely exceed Hamilton's expectations, it is there, I suspect, that in the midst of Bush's assaults upon the rule of law, due process, and presumptions of innocence, that Democracy seems most alive. It is no accident that Bushco pulled off a most un-democratic coup d'etat in Florida. Go figure!

Presently, democracy is like fireflies' flight —winking, blinking, and sometimes disappearing altogether in the darkness. Here and there are easily confused in darkness. But it is possible to outline some characteristics of here. As a nation we have never been more crowded and at the same time more isolated. Even as demographers predict votes with house to house accuracy, the broader picture of ourselves is hidden in plain sight. That is: we are divided along many lines the most pernicious being wealth, on the one hand, and the lack of it on the other. In the past, this dramatic division might have precipitated violent revolution —but not in America where the extremely wealthy have literally hidden themselves away inside ever smaller concentric rings of gated communities —security inside security inside security. This must surely be the domain of dull conversation, duller wit, and misplaced super-materialism.

The rest of us are reduced to being mere consuming machines inside a bigger machine which requires of us our total obeisance. There is no room for Abraham Maslow's "self-actualized" individual in this unfeeling super-structure of corporate bureaucracies and machine designed skyscrapers. Maslow is remembered for having created the human potential movement, for having ranked human needs from the most basic — air, water, food, sex, security, stability —to the more complex: acceptance and love. At the very top: the self-actualizing needs i.e., the need to fulfill oneself, presumably upon criteria of our choosing, our making. But, in fact, we labor not in Maslow's vision of truly free individuals, but in the dark canyons of Metropolis. The only function left us is to create the wealth that trickles up to an un-elected, neo-fascist priesthood. All the bad news has come true!

How do those who cower behind concentric rings of super security rationalize the existence of their regressive, recursive society? Among super sized fries we are sold a myth: that by acquiring the latest gewgaw, we, too, can become truly self realized! We can buy hip; we can buy cool; we can buy self-realization! It comes in a bottle, a pill, an SUV. And it's cheap: your soul!










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48 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sometimes you truly wax poetic!

"Presently, democracy is like fireflies' flight —winking, blinking, and sometimes disappearing altogether in the darkness."

Wow!

And sometimes, a word falls off as you type...

"...being wealth, the one hand, and lack of it on the other."

I think you dropped something.

Ah, here it is : on

:)

Unknown said...

Vierotchka, that you found the one sentence that I've written in a year that I like is truly gratifying. I must have, at last, done something right. Thank you, most humbly. And, thanks for the proof read. As the regulars here must surely know by now, that is not my strong suit.

Anonymous said...

Bonjour, Len, Dante, Vierotchka, je m'excuse. J'était absent pendant la fin de semaine, à la rivière Cowichan en Colombie-Britannique.

Great post, Len - very brooding and introspective, and makes one weep for the future. Incidentally, Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs" is a pillar of formal instruction in military leadership. I wouldn't be surprised to find it occupies a similarly favoured position in all bureaucratic executive boards, since it's building-block approach from essential needs to gratification suits that sort of power structure. More to the poinnt, it permits the leadership of such structures to cut off the gratification at the minimum level required to get maximum output.

Vierotchka, Dante, I'll check out the posts you recommended in the last thread, which I only had time to skim until now. Thanks, I was getting twitchy being out of touch with the news!! À la prochaine!!

Sebastien Parmentier said...

Superb post, Len. Yes indeed, "As a nation we have never been more crowded and at the same time more isolated". It illustrate an certain article i posted around here a while ago - concerning the general detachment before mass murder and genocide.

It is when the number of people is becoming too big that it is becoming almost impossible to devellop any attachment and strong relation with a "community" that can not be called as such when being formed by millions of folks.

i'll write something about it later. (i am really buzy today)

SadButTrue said...

I echo Vierotchka on the firefly quote. It was on my clipboard unpasted, and now...I'll find some places for it. This is some of the best writing I've seen in some time Len, in service of some really lucent thinking.

"Among super sized fries we are sold a myth: that by acquiring the latest gewgaw, we, too, can become truly self realized!" -The American (and North American. I assert no claim that Canada does not share the same cultural flaws) value system has slid so low that the pursuit of goods has thoroughly replaced the pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of liberty 'don't put gas in my SUV', so has no place in so many lives. The pursuit of justice is a shadowy memory. The apathetic can't understand that they are as complicit as the leaders who bring about a devolution of the human spirit with their every act.
It has been said that America was the first country to go from barbarism to decadence without an intervening period of civilization. Unless the course is reversed, and quickly, the return trip to barbarism will be swift and final. I only hope that this is the darkest hour before the dawn. If this is not the nadir, I shudder to see what may lie ahead.

P.S. Could I possibly cross-post this to my blog? George Bush says it's important to keep repeating the same thing over and over, catapulting the propaganda. I submit that his opponents must do likewise, hurling veracity back in his face as often and as forcefully as possible, with the mighty trebuchet of truth. Contact me at iamsadbuttrue@hotmail.com if this is possible, or if you have anything else you would like to communicate to me.

Fuzzflash said...

Len, wonderful post of our bleak and dystopian times. You wrote,"Presently, democracy is like fireflies' flight—winking, blinking, and sometimes disappearing altogether in the darkness. Here and there are easily confused in darkness."

Took a while to tumble where I'd come across a notion something like this before. And then it hit me. Early last century E.M. Forster may as well have been addressing us all, personally. The quote is from his "Two Cheers For Democracy", the essay, "What I Believe" (Italics and minor editing, mine.)

"As soon as people have power they go crooked
and sometimes dotty as well, because the possession of power
lifts them into a region where normal honesty never pays. For
instance, the man who is selling newspapers ourtside the Houses
of Parliament can safely leave his papers to go for a drink, and
his cap beside them: anyone who takes a paper is sure to drop a
copper into the cap. But the men who are inside the Houses of
Parliament - they cannot trust one another like that, still less can
the Government they compose trust other governments. No
caps upon the pavement here, but suspicion, treachery and
armaments. The more highly public life is organized the lower
does its morality sink ; the nations of today behave to each other
worse than they ever did in the past, they cheat, rob, bully and
bluff, make war without notice, and kill as many women and
children as possible; whereas primitive tribes were at all events
restrained by taboos. It is a humiliating outlook - though THE
GREATER THE DARKNESS, THE BRIGHTER SHINE THE LITTLE LIGHTS, REASSURING
ONE ANOTHER, SIGNALLING: "WELL, AT ALL EVENTS, I 'M STILL HERE. I
DON’T LIKE IT VERY MUCH, BUT HOW ARE YOU ?" Unquenchable lights
of my aristocracy! Not an aristocracy of power, based upon
rank and influence, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the con-
siderate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all
nations and classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret
understanding between them when they meet. They represent
the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer
race over cruelty and chaos. Thousands of them perish in
obscurity, a few are great names. They are sensitive for others
as well as for themselves, they are considerate without being
fussy, their pluck is not swankiness but the power to endure, and
they can take a joke."

This time tomorrow in the nutmeg State we shall see a swarm of those fireflies crankin' out some high voltage democratic light. For it is written in the book of NeoGenesis.........

"And on the 8th day of August,
In the Sixth Year,
Of the Third Millenium,
The People rediscovered light,
Democracy's light.
The People were pleased,
And it was good,
And the People could see,
They could see for bloody miles."

Anonymous said...

The commodification of soul.

Great post.

Unknown said...

Sad,

Could I possibly cross-post this to my blog?

With my blessing.

It has been said that America was the first country to go from barbarism to decadence without an intervening period of civilization. Unless the course is reversed, and quickly, the return trip to barbarism will be swift and final. I only hope that this is the darkest hour before the dawn. If this is not the nadir, I shudder to see what may lie ahead.

And it can be argued that the Europeans destroyed the civilizations that they found in the New World. Mandans, Cherokee, Choctaw, Iroquois....and on and on.

Frederick Jackson Turner believed that "...the existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward" explained how the American "west" was transformed from a "...desolate and savage land" into a "modern civilization".

When I studied Turner, my profs were embarassingly reverential. I am convinced that Turner's thesis is simplistic, possibly racist. Free land, my ass! They stole it. And with that fact, there goes, Turner's "bloody" little theory.

Fuzzflash: They could see for bloody miles.

I love the sound of that. BTW —E.M. Forster is fine company. And if you want a bit o'old England as well as a taste of Texas, try "A Texas in England" by J. Frank Dobie. Dobie was a U.T. history prof asked by Henry Commager [1902–1998] to lecture at Cambridge even as World War II raged. His Cambridge students asked Dobie: "Do we sound as strange to you as you do to us?" Dobie said of his experience in England that it was the "... beginning of his acceptance of civilization, an enlightened civilization free of social and political rigidities and with full respect for individuality." [See: Famous Texans, J. Frank Dobi]

Nobody said...

Len, I've been reading your blog for ages, but never left a comment before. Like I posted on another blog, you are poetry. I admire you and your writing skills. Don't stop.

Anonymous said...

"As a nation we have never been more crowded and at the same time more isolated." Good observation, Len.

"Experienced" my first National Night Out last week in my new suburban League City neighborhood. But everyone chose to huddle indoors under their air-conditioning ducts. My memories of summer nights growing up in my small rural hometown near South Bend, Indiana was everyone sitting on their porches until bedtime in creaking swings and rockers, and conversations carrying through the darkness to a porch two houses away. We didn't need to see anyone's face as we knew everyone's voice. Television was still a decade away for most. On the corner under the street light, we kids all played "kick the can" until being called, one-by-one, to come in and go to bed. Hopefully it would be cool enough by then, but then we had our humming, trusty fans to stir the air all night.

Fast forward 55 years...

My neighbors two doors over have yet to speak to me and my partner since we moved here last year. He is an assistant pastor of a Houston evangelical megachurch and you'd think he would want to at least spread the love of his Lord! But then, we are two guys living in the cheapest home on the block...should have moved to Montrose! We also don't drive a new Hummer, a Lincoln Navigator, and a BMW like he and his wife do. The "preaching" business must be good and he is only an "asistant". Of eleven homes on our cul-de-sac, only one neighbor is friendly...we look after each other's homes, feed each other's pets, when the other is gone.

As a people, we are no longer even a tribe. How can we be a nation?
I think people are afraid to talk anymore, in a nation more divided than I have ever seen it in my nearly 67 years here. It's like we are afraid we might say the "wrong" thing, IOW not say the "right" thing, whatever that may be.

Anonymous said...

Off topic, I know, but I just had to share this with you:

Texas Republicans on Monday abandoned their court fight to replace former House Majority Leader
Tom DeLay on the November ballot after being turned back at the Supreme Court.


Yeeee Haw!

:D

Unknown said...

HillCountryGal: Don't stop.

Don't worry. It is more important now than ever for good people to speak up. The poll numbers, apparently, mean nothing to the cabal that keeps Bush in power. We have but one way to change our government: the free election process! If that is denied us, what's left but revolution?

Grant: My memories of summer nights growing up in my small rural hometown near South Bend, Indiana was everyone sitting on their porches until bedtime in creaking swings and rockers, and conversations carrying through the darkness to a porch two houses away.

It was like that in Texas too. And before huge freeways sliced up the state, a cross-Texas car trip would take you by the front porches (and a few back porches) of rural residences from El Paso to Orange. I remember waving to people and they waved back. On one occasion —north of Big Bend in far West Texas —we stopped at a ranch house visible from the highway. We just wanted directions to Terlingua, as I recall. We were greeted with a Texas "howdy" and invited to stay for a bit to eat. It turned out to have been a Texas barbecue the likes of which I have seldom seen. Ranchers from all over the county and all of them had brought food.

I think people are afraid to talk anymore, in a nation more divided than I have ever seen it in my nearly 67 years here. It's like we are afraid we might say the "wrong" thing, IOW not say the "right" thing, whatever that may be.

I first noticed that in the early eighties with the ascension of Ronald Reagan. In the sixties, I spoke my mind. Not everyone agreed with me and that was OK! I didn't always agree with them. It's only recently become a matter of suspicion to hold opinions that are not PC or —worse —"liberal"!

Vierotchka: Texas Republicans on Monday abandoned their court fight to replace former House Majority Leader

The shocker is that it was Scalia who dealt the GOP case the fatal blow. Wow! Now the "election" becomes a referendum on DeLay who is now toast in his home district. It's also a referendum on the GOP that spawned him. Yeeee hawwww, indeed!

Jennie said...

Grant in Houston, I had the same thoughts about front porches, as well. When I was reading Len's post, all I could think about was the demise of the American front porch.

When architects came to the New World centuries ago, they wanted to make their architecture different than that of the Old World, especially the architecture of Britain. They wanted the architecture to reflect what this new country, the United States, was all about. Thus, they tossed aside the idea of row houses and introduced the notion of a front yard and a porch, where people could gather, discuss the happenings of the day and enjoy each other's companionship. That was part of the ideal of democracy, the thought that people would informally and regularly gather and talk.

It seems that after World War I, those grand front porches started to disappear and by the time our soldiers started coming back from WWII, front porches and grand houses were being replaced (literally in some cases) with ranch/rambler style homes that showcased a small front door surrounded by shrubs (some houses even placed the front door to the side, to further distance people from the previously inviting front door).

Some claim that it was the advent of the car, with a loud and smelly exhaust, that brought people inside. Others claim that people were too poor after the Great Depression to build houses with porches.

Was the demise of the front porch a coincidence (or a consequence of progress), or a master plan to change the way we relate and socialize with each other?

I purchased an easy reader storybook for my son based on the movie Cars that put the storyline in very simple terms. Lightning McQueen wanted to win the big race (just like we think material things give us happiness), but he got lost on the way to the race and got in trouble. In the end, he realized he didn't need to win the race, he just needed friends.

Sometimes we get too busy to realize that we haven't connected with our friends very often anymore. Our society continues to plan our communities, design our work and home spaces, and create devices to minimize human interaction. Although we think of them as conveniences, the TV, air conditioning, iPods, computers, and mobile phones when used beyond moderation inadvertently dehumanize our existence. When these devices take over our daily living, we have truly lost touch (literally) with the relationship of community.

Unknown said...

Jen: Our society continues to plan our communities, design our work and home spaces, and create devices to minimize human interaction.

Great post, jen. In old Galveston neighborhoods and in the Heights in Houston, you can still find "porches". I am hopeful that those porches will resume the role they've played as those neighborhoods are rediscovered.

In the meantime, the "machine" continues to reduce as best it can what it means to be a human.

SadButTrue said...

Another thing lost in time; the milkman. When I was a kid one guy in a truck came down the street leaving those wonderful cream-top bottles on each porch. He was followed by the bread man, who left loaves and rolls. They gave the neighbourhood security because when they made their rounds they were unconsciously on patrol. If anything was amiss they'd notice because they knew everybody and were familiar with everything. If you didn't belong, the milkman, the breadman, or the mailman would notice you.
Few families had more than one car, and no family, even the ultra-rich had more vehicles than people to drive them like Grant's neighbour. What a wasteful instance of conspicuous consumption! The housewife couldn't 'pop out' to the store in the middle of the day while the breadwinner was at work. Consider the gasoline used when 30 people, all one another's next-door neighbours, all get in their SUV or minivan and pop out for some milk, compared to one truck making one trip through the neighbourhood. Consider the impact on the planet of manufacturing these 30 extraneous vehicles.

Jen has so incisively captured and amplified the essence of your original essay, Len.
"That was part of the ideal of democracy, the thought that people would informally and regularly gather and talk.
..Was the demise of the front porch a coincidence (or a consequence of progress), or a master plan to change the way we relate and socialize with each other?


I would say yes, and yes.
I'm so glad to see my friends Hill, Grant and Jump came by as I suggested. Now they know why I've been raving about this place, the electronic front porch of my internet neighbourhood.

Fuzzflash said...

I'm calling it for Lamont.

U.S. Senate - - Dem Primary
625 of 748 Precincts Reporting - 83.56%

Lamont, Ned Dem 120,616 51.88%
Lieberman, Joe (i) Dem 111,887 48.12%

You little bloody beauty, Ned.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the update, Fuzzflash. Democrats had best pay attention. That race was a referendum on Bush...and the Democrats who made Faustian bargains with him.

Indeed, Sad, the comments are articles in themselves. As Jen makes the point about "porches", I've railed against suburbia in general. Small towns —even in Texas —were once livable. A main street of local retailers, navigable by pedestrians. Perhaps a movie theater. A drug store with a lunch counter and a juke box. A dime store. A train station. Walmart killed all that. Check out Bedford Falls of It's a Wonderful Life fame. When the "angel" wanted to show George that his life had been significant, he showed George a changed, gaudy, seedy, hideous Bedford Falls.

This is the genius of Frank Capra. He knew —and showed us in a black and white movie — that the cities we build are but manifestations of what we are and what we become. What, then, do hideous, unlivable cities say about the people and the society who build them?

It is no coincidence that as we have made of our cities something hideous, we have changed who we are. And who we now are —the perpetrators of atrocities in far flung corners of the world —is something I no longer recognize.

Condorcet languished in prison and, in the face of imminent death, he defined —optimistically and courageously —an era: the Age of Enlightenment. "If we can ever wed the proper aspirations of humanity to the power of science", he wrote "progress is inevitable." Condorcet professed to the end his belief in the perfectibility of mankind and the concept of social progress.

But what is "progress"? What are the '...proper aspirations of science?' The right wing no longer believes in science and "humanity" seems as quaint as the Constitution and the niceties of international law.

We don't have porches because we no longer like each other very much; spending time together on a breeze swept porch is completely out of the question.

Sebastien Parmentier said...

The Bush administration has drafted amendments to a war crimes law that would eliminate the risk of prosecution for political appointees, CIA officers and former military personnel for humiliating or degrading war prisoners, according to U.S. officials and a copy of the amendments.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the human things have gone missing, Len. What makes us human is our enthusiasm, the heat, the passions we pursue. The only thing we can ever offer others is our unguarded enthusiam. Everything else is marketing. I guess that's why your post brings back those memories of a simpler time when 'spin',for most, was not only beyond practice it was beyond conception. People were more of what they actually thought, felt and said. We can restore it if we try, I'm sure.

Fuzzflash said...

Grant,Len,Jen,Sad,and for those who came in late,Damien(did you bring a note?) Been so focused on the political history being made in CT that I hadn't paused to savour your latest comments: the vileness of Metropolis, the sociability of the porch, the quinessential ugliness of the little boxes on the hillside made out of ticky-tacky that all look just the same, the demise of the milkman(milko, if you wanna p.c. me), consequences of equus to Lexus, and our socially engineered alienation from our fellow human beings.
So glad I did. Nothing beats calling by one's favourite cyber saloon at sundown, when ideas are swapped so sweetly.

Anonymous said...

...pity the Internet doesn't come with good whiskey. It's be a real porch then.

Anonymous said...

What do we do when religion bows to government? And government bows to corporation? And corporation bows to greed? How do we stand up?

Anonymous said...

My overall happiness and inner peace increased when I quit watching TV. More than a little.

Enjoyed the post, and was thinking about it, so I came back for more.

Peace,

Nobody said...

Len, I lived in Odessa for 5 years during the oil boom. Being from West Texas, you know the old saying, "Midland is where you raise your kids, Odessa is where you raise hell." When I saw Odessa in the moving van for the first time, I thought this was the place I would dry up and die. It was so desolate and dusty. But somehow I adjusted, went to work for The Odessa American, and made tons of friends. It was a thriving town then, where people with a 4th grade education could buy a welding truck and make $80,000/year. Then Reagan happened. The work dried up. People with Master's degrees were competing for the only 7-11 job in town. I remember a vivid nightmare I had before the jobs crashed. I dreamed a black limo pulled up in front of my place and Reagan and his SS guards stepped out, walked right into my house and grabbed my 2 little kids. They threw them in the car and sped away. I searched & searched for them for months, then one night, the same black limo came back and returned my children. Except they looked like emaciated skeletons from war-torn Africa. I know the nightmare was a metaphor for my fear of what Reagan would do to the country, but years later, when he died, I was standing in line at the grocery checkout & everyone was yapping about what a great prez he was. I said loudly, "Yeah, right, nobody could find a job back then and I had to clean houses to make a living." I was glared at like I had the number 666 stamped on my forehead. By the way, I went back to Odessa about 6 years ago to visit friends, and it is almost a ghost town. So sad. BTW, when I lived there, I saw this unknown group of musicians performing on a rickety outdoor stage at a joint called "Dos Amigos." The band's name? The Fabulous Thunderbirds.

Unknown said...

dante, I think you know how I feel about Bush's ex post facto efforts to exclude his administration and its criminal enablers from the rule of law. His efforts are unconstitutional prima facie. Moreover, when Bush falls precipitously (it won't be pretty) an international effort to round up war criminals will begin. And, under those circumstances, I suspect, the "law" will be unimpressed with Bush's transparent efforts.

On the off chance that regulars to this blog don't know how I feel, here it is: Bush, himself, is a war criminal who should be prosecuted for capital crimes spelled out under US Codes, Title 18 Section 2441.

jumptotheleft: My overall happiness and inner peace increased when I quit watching TV. More than a little.

Indeed, TV (FOX is an especially egregious example) has become the means by which this machine keeps us compliant. They also use it to sell us crap.

damien, you have described "authentic" people; this quality of "authenticity" is a first casualty. It seemed to have disappeared overnight with the ascension of Ronald Reagan, when even "innocent" opinions were suddenly treated as if they were subversive.

Re: HillcountryGal, fortunately, I missed Odessa during RR's malevolent reign. I was long gone by then. But I can certainly relate to what you wrote. It was still a bustling place in my youth.

Your "metaphor" of the Ronald Reagan years is not misplaced. I still get weird looks when I tell people that until Bush, Reagan was the worst President in American history. Reagan ushered in an era of the very, very, very rich vs the very, very , very, very poor. I've got the GINI indices to prove it. But I still get arguments in the face of cold hard facts.

I have, therefore, become cynical about Reagan. When it comes to RR, people will believe whatever it is that makes them feel good. I've often heard Reagan-heads say these words almost verbatim and often: "....but he [Reagan] made us feel good about ourselves."

For a start, no mere President has ever made me feel bad about myself. Why the hell should I expect a mere "President" —and a stupid one to boot —to make me feel good about myself, if I don't already.
This pathology, ushered in and/or exploited by Reagan, is at the root of our malaise. Americans don't feel good about themselves, about the rest of the world, about other cultures which they refuse to understand, let alone embrace. They are, hence, susceptible to Reaganesque demagoguery.

The fall of this nation is, unfortunately, slow and painful. It began in 1980!

Jennie said...

Len:

This truly is a front porch gathering here! Too bad we don't physically live in the same community. Maybe you should be coined "The Front Porch of the Blogosphere"???

I have to admit that when we lived in Colorado from 1994-2000, we had milk delivery, along with bread, eggs and other common grocery staples with Royal Crest Dairy. We lived in a new neighborhood that the builder had a get to know your neighbor social right before the houses in a section would be completed. These new houses had front porches, but they just weren't big enough to do much with them.

Actually, Len, I believe the fall of this nation began much earlier than 1980. It happened around the same era that discounted the front porch, during a great time of progress with the industrial revolution, and great inventions were devised in the guise to make daily living better.

Great men began the public relations movement around this time of 1915-1930, as well. These were moments of instability with wars fought, uncertainty of the future of civilization. Public relations and propaganda made us feel good about this progress.

Public relations deals a lot with philosophy and psychology, even though when I majored in this subject in college, neither were requisite for the degree. I now view public relations much like nuclear energy, both came to being about the same time, both have the capability to be used for the good of the people, and both have the equal potential to be used to cause tremendous negative impact on people, even to the point where they feel good about it.

Adolf Hitler must have learned something from Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee on public relations, because he knew exactly how to win the German people. If it weren't for Hitler, there would be no Autobahn. Hitler did many public works projects to rally support before he got them to support his world domination conquest.

George W. Bush's grandfather Prescott Bush must have also learned certain public relations strategies from Hitler, as well, since he was a great proponent of social programs like planned parenthood, civil rights, and backed the creation of the interstate highway system (check it out on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prescott_Bush )as a US Senator from 1952-1963. Oh, yeah, and the connection with the whole Hitler financing deal? Well, maybe Prescott thought Hitler held good ideals?? Or was it from the influence of great-grandfather George Herbert Walker, who's investment firm held rich assets from Russian and German businesses?

I always kind of wonder in the back of my mind what kind of bedtime stories Prescott told to grandson George W. Bush...

That is just a couple of reasons why I believe the downfall of our country happened before 1980.

Anonymous said...

"We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force."

Ayn Rand

I can't describe how sad the comments here are; an aching sorrow for the passing of small-town America, Norman Rockwell's America...has the world really changed so much, or have we? Is it perhaps just that the time in our lives when we might still do anything, be anything, has gone - leaving a teasing whiff of summer fields and fairground hot dogs to mark its passing, and adamant reality in its place? Where once the road opened away and away to the vanishing point, aglitter with a million bright possibilities, we have become afraid to look ahead.

Unknown said...

Mark, your keen observations appreciated as usual. However, the "small town" is still with us but it's no longer a community. And certainly not the kind we recall. Richmond, TX, for example, still has a "downtown" of sorts. But, in fact, it has been gobbled up by Houston. Others —far enough from Dallas, Houston, or San Antonio have been changed in other ways. The Wal-Martization of small town America goes on. Monroe, Louisiana IS Wal-Mart but won't admit it.

Clearly, we are different people. Naturally, the shape of our urban landscape has likewise changed. Or —is it the other way 'round?

I hate to single out Houston for particular criticism; surely, it shares its fate with many another American megalopolis. But here goes: Houston is un-navigable. Traffic is insoluble primarily because the residents have opposed mass transportation since GM killed off street cars. Rail is a recent development and still opposed vigorously by an SUV lovin' populace.

The climate is no fault of the residents, but it certainly does not help. Houstonians are more rude than New Yorkers ever thought about being. And they are most certainly more arrogant than laid back LA. Most notably, Houston is an overgrown oil town; no need to recount the Enron story. Many another gleaming skyscraper dominates a skyline of uninspired slabs. Because of Houston, I am NO fan of Phillip Johnson or his mentor: Mies van der Rohe. A half century of non-descript slabs is quite enough. The "International Style" is not a style; it's a formula, loved by corporations and fascists. Albert Speer and Adolph Hitler together drew up plans that presaged the fascist nature of American architecture. Germany is fortunate that very little drawn up by either man ever got built. Gad! Say what you will about Prince Charles, he is correct about architecture.

The biggest problem with most US cities can be summed up with a nod to Ada Louise Huxtable who said of Los Angeles: "...there is no there there!" She also said: "An excellent job with a dubious undertaking, which is like saying it would be great if it wasn't awful." I can't remember if those lines were written with Houston in mind. But, if they were not, they should have been.

That is almost every American city these days. You can plop any Chicago skyscraper into downtown Houston or vice versa and —who would notice? Likewise, Los Angeles.

Skyscrapers are a crashing bore. Two of the ugliest skyscrapers ever conceived were destroyed on 911. And if it were not for the human tragedy, I would be tempted to declare that they had been destroyed by outraged critics of architecture.

Now, the orient competes mightily to build the world's tallest building. Who really gives a crap but the egos and the ill-gotten money that rides on it?

I have seen the row of storefronts in Stockbridge, MS that inspired the Rockwell cover of note. It is a national treasure. But, one day, a developer will read similar comments and conclude that if he just duplicates that in cookie cutter suburbs all over America all will be well and he will get written up in Architectural Digest. He/she will have missed the whole freakin' point!

Anonymous said...

It is the nature of all things to change. What incumbs us is to lay the foundations for a better future. :)

Anonymous said...

Too true, Blue, as the Aussies are fond of saying. I read somewhere once that a skyscraper looks like an ice-cube tray standing on end; in a cubist sort of way, it does.

I loved the small-town look, with the big house, the rolling lawn and the huge old trees. However, I like adventurous architecture, too, like the Burj al Arab Hotel in Dubai (which I've never actually seen) and the Oriental Bright Pearl TV Tower in Shanghai (which I have actually seen). Interestingly, the two types evoke vastly different emotions in most observers. The Norman Rockwell type of small-town family home represents security, a predictable path; a society where everybody knows your name, and where your soul is still your own - where life will not turn in your hands like a greasy knife and cut out your heart.

Avante-garde architecture, by contrast, represents excitement, anonymity - a sense of transitory pleasure without committment. I'm sure it's no coincidence that such designs are chosen for hotels.

Apropos of nothing, since it has nothing to do with architecture, here's a funny set of bookends I ran across;

"The entire process of peace in the region will become much easier once you don't have Saddam Hussein in Iraq. And I think frankly, the Syrians will start backing down and the Iranians will start backing down,"

Newt Gingrich, 2002

"This is World War III,"

Newt Gingrich, 2006

Unknown said...

Vierotchka, I celebrate organic change. Another word for that is "evolution". But urban and surburban change in America is anything but organic. It's the glass and steel expression of fascism. The closest thing to "organic" architecture in America was Frank Lloyd Wright who, at least, took into consideration questions of environment, climate, landscape, etc. The Guggenheim seems an exception to that...but Wright was not perfect.

Unknown said...

Mark wrote The Norman Rockwell type of small-town family home represents security, a predictable path; a society where everybody knows your name, and where your soul is still your own - where life will not turn in your hands like a greasy knife and cut out your heart.

I like English row houses of almost all styles from Georgian to Victorian. I remember the East End and the Docks when they still looked dark, dingy, and Dickensian. Now...the entire area has gone "Cool Britannia" —no place for Oliver or Fagan.

Off topic but here goes anyway: I love rack of lamb with a bit of mint sauce, peas, grilled tomato. I prefer new potatoes to mashed. It should be washed down with a pint o' bitters —the real stuff not a fizzy keg beer.

benmerc said...

"Clearly, we are different people. Naturally, the shape of our urban landscape has likewise changed. Or —is it the other way 'round?"


Surely it is both. Another informative venue you've fostered here. Just to throw one of my old influences concerning the teching of america...remember Alvin Toffler? He wrote a few decent books about adaption to technology and other culture shocks that were looming in the near future ( I think one of his early reads was called Future Shock...early seventies). Many blew Toffler off as pop...but I think he was very insightful, he opened my eyes to many aspects of what was going on around me, at least gave me a few more perspectives to consider and then some. Eventually I made my way to some of the deep ecology writers, which some of them I can relate to.

Organic change = evolution, right on Len.Your statement : "However, the "small town" is still with us but it's no longer a community"

That pretty much sums it up in a sad nut shell, yet so many of us seek community. I bet many others do also, and don't even know it, or what they are missing.

Unknown said...

...remember Alvin Toffler?

I must confess I never read Toffler but, as I understand his thesis, he was probably correct. It cannot be said that the changes were sociological as well as technological because, as we have all but concluded here, that line is no longer distinct. Media and technology are but nodes on a new continuum. Indeed, even before Toffler, Marshall McLuhan wrote that "...the medium is the message". We are living in a post Toffler/McLuhan world in which there are no brakes on the media/technology continuum —even if the effects should prove harmful, even fatal to our society.

many of us seek community.

The sense of community is a basic human need. Maslow included "acceptance" in his hierarchy of human needs but, surely, that acceptance is not merely the acceptance we might experience one on one but also within the context of a community.

Where is that to be found today? The suburbs are artificial communities and no neighborhood association can substitute for the kind of "community" that is found in any pub in any small English village. One of the first lessons I learned in my very first visit to England was the fact that throughout Northamptonshire a pub could always be found within a hundred yards or so of a centuries old church; the vicar could always be found, after the service, enjoying a pint with his parishioners. Community!

Unknown said...

Jen wrote: I believe the fall of this nation began much earlier than 1980. It happened around the same era that discounted the front porch, during a great time of progress with the industrial revolution, and great inventions were devised in the guise to make daily living better. ...Adolf Hitler must have learned something from Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee on public relations, because he knew exactly how to win the German people. If it weren't for Hitler, there would be no Autobahn.

Indeed, I have been planning an essay for this blog about how Bernay's Crystallizing Public Opinion may have been the Goebbel's inspiration.

Albert Speer in his "Inside the Third Reich" tells the story about how he rode with Hitler and (as I recall) Goebbels on a trip via the autobahn. They were driving a Mercedes (of course) and doing something like 120 miles per hour or more. They literally blew past someone limping along in an American made car. I would like to think it a Chrysler! Dr. Z might not appreciate that.

SadButTrue said...

This thread keeps drawing me back like a magnet and I can see from the all the new comments here that it is having that same effect on everyone else. Better make another pitcher of lemonade, Len. I came back to post this link to a series of pix of a grand porch on a heritage house in Jacksonville, Fla. Front Porch
Hope you don't mind my sticking around for a few responses. I promise I'll bring the cookies next time. First is about Jen's comment,
"Was the demise of the front porch a coincidence (or a consequence of progress), or a master plan to change the way we relate and socialize with each other?
And I answered that, YES, I thought it was. But anything that can be changed can be changed back, and this 'electronic front porch' idea can, YES, be as aggressively pursued as the ideas that deliberately took down the real front porches. And when we've got enough people sittin' around and talkin' about it, we can move forward to rebuilding the real porches and communities that the nation requires to heal.
Jen's later post elicits a rather less optimistic reaction. Shudders in fact, to contemplate the Fascist sympathiser Prescott reading little Georgie to sleep. Someone said that Orwell wrote 1984 as a warning, but the neocons use it as a training manual. On a previous thread you, Len stated that Bush has learned from the mistakes of Nixon. Chilling to think that he may have also have learned from the mistakes of Hitler. That would put us on a path leading ineluctably to the Fourth Reich.

Anonymous said...

Len,

RE TV, yes, and it's more than just selling us crap. It sells us values, ideas, ways of seeing, ways of evaluating our own existence. It shifts the perceived norm to one that enriches corporate, big money America, and leaves people perpetually feeling empty--that they don't have what they ought.

And that's not all. The medium itself is damaging. It rewires cerebral connections in ways that render real life experience dull and unstimulating. Real life does not include a series of panoramic views, fast cutaways, montages, and rapidly changing scenes. Notice that people who watch a lot of TV have a hard time sitting in a grassy knoll. Sitting on a mountain top sounds boring...

Societally, we lack sufficient time and space to be quiet and still and to listen and ponder. We don't allow ourselves time to ask questions, of ourselves, each other, or our government. We are too busy consuming, wanting, and chasing the dragon of material stuff. The neural rewiring is especially damaging to young brains because they get habituated to real life stimulation. It all becomes so dull and empty. "Where's the oomph?"

I haven't even addressed specific content, which we could discuss for a month. There's that which they directly sell for profit, and all the rest they sell to support and maintain a world-view in which consuming is the organizing principle.

The compliance comes, I think, from being too busy chasing stuff to care about ideas and to notice events in the broader world context.

Thought about this on the freeway today. Thanks for the provocative post. Loved it.

Not sure I'm done...

Grant in Houston said...

Enjoying everyone's posting here.

We have become a nation where we no longer have trust in others. We begin by scaring our children from birth not to talk to strangers (when it most often Uncle Bill maybe we should be concerned about).

I was literally raised by my neighborhood that Hillary has been lampooned for suggesting we attempt again. We are most afraid of old people, shuttling them off to Sun City or a "home". Only the many Amish near where I grew up insist on keeping their seniors with their families. Never knew of any Amish in a nursing home.

My territory as a child was several blocks around my house and my mother turned us "loose" in the morning with our Irish Setter and didn't worry about us unless we didn't come right away for meal time. I might go up on a porch of an old lady who was "snapping beans" and talk to her, or sit on the porch with the old Spanish-American war veteran across the street who always liked to talk about Teddy Roosevelt. But my best friend was old Charlie Martin, crippled for life being thrown from a horse, barely able to walk with braces and a walker. Charlie had been a jockey, sulky driver as a young man and lived with his brother, a butcher, and his evil sister-in-law who made him live in the barn back in the day when "carriage houses" were still found on city alleys. He only went into the big house when his brother came home and was allowed to sleep there. Charlie loved us kids and he always had candy for us...horrors!. I loved to go over to his "apartment" in the barn where he spent all his days when not limping over to our sandlot baseball games to watch. I loved to listen to his tales about great horses he had known, even raced. He had raced against the famous Dan Patch. Charlie had a whole scrapbook of clippings about horse racing and a collection of bridles and bits, horseshoes.

Mother would often take Charlie a piece of her sugar cream pie (chess pie in the South) and the littlest favor would make him beam. Charlie outlived his brother and evil sister-in-law and died a very old man at the "county home" when I was in college and I was one of the few at his funeral.

Years later, after all of the stories about pedophilia began to surface, I asked my mother if she wasn't afraid of us kids going into Charlie's barn and she said she never thought anything of it. Maybe I was naive but I never ever had anyone, while growing up, ever make a move to touch me in any inappropriate way, or talk about sex, show "dirty pictures". I am sure abuse existed back "in the day" and maybe our parents were too trusting, but we children were really fearless compared to many children of today. Plus we heard many great stories at the knees of our old folks. Now we have become very ageist and our culture seems so child-centered. Children then were told they were to be seen but not heard, but that also forced us to listen, and we learned so much from our elders.

Unknown said...

Re: jump: it's more than just selling us crap

Of course, when I think of "crap" purveyed by the media, I think of FOX. Crap denotes not only material objects but the phony picture of ourselves that media holds up, the outright lies told by FOX, as well as the phony values that are celebrated by a "virtual" culture. We are expected to embrace all that as if it were real.

Sad: I came back to post this link to a series of pix of a grand porch on a heritage house in Jacksonville, Fla. Front Porch

Back porches, I think, morphed into "patios" and we put barbecues on them.

As significant as the vanishing porch is the fact that Americans probably never developed what I would call "scene". As coffee was discovered by Europe, the "coffee house" often anchored scene —where conversation was as stimulating as the drink —philosophical, irreverant, and often subversive. No wonder the establishment sought to close the coffee houses down. One of thouse coffee houses became Lloyd's of London. Later, the existentialists would have the Left Bank.

Such a scene, however, presupposes a "community", a viable neighborhood. Commuters do not frequent that kind of coffee house. They will "pop into" a suburban Starbucks, grab a latte, and back into the SUV. There is no social interface, no plans for revolution, no scathing critique of Manet, no tortured explanations of existentialism, no discussion of what the hell happened to porches.

Jennie said...

Sad: I love your photos of the grand front porch--what a beautiful house!

Len: It is sad how we went from having open front porches to secluded patios in back.

Your comment about the coffee houses reminds me of our small town bakery, that was owned for decades by a couple who were very active in the Democratic Party. When we first moved here in 2000, it was in the midst of the presidential election campaign and I was impressed to hear how many of the presidential candidates came to the bakery. John Kerry came to the bakery during his 2004 presidential campaign and made his mark on the large crossword puzzle on the wall. Not only was this a favored campaign stop, but this place had a "big table" where locals would gather in the morning and during lunch to chat about the day and discuss issues. New owners have changed the menu and it still is a gathering spot in the morning, but has lost some of its appeal for a gathering spot.

I think we as a society have caved in to sensitivities of a few in an effort to be more PC, to the sacrifice of our own ability to appropriately speak our minds. It is in a way a detraction of the freedom of speech, for we may offend someone if we speak our opinions or state the obvious.

I am sure there are some that would be dramatically offended by our discussions here. But I am grateful to have an outlet to express my thoughts in a group that encourages such discussion in a way to understand, learn and to see other perspectives. Without such a venue we become very narrow sighted in our vision, and our thoughts and ideas are left to wither and die.

Thanks, Len, for your blog!

Anonymous said...

Nothing quite like a huge global "terrorist red alert" (I don't for one moment believe the Blair government re this current spectacular terror alert) to capture the people's attention and divert it from Israel's pounding of Beirut and from the implications of Lamont's victory...

Meanwhile, since you all brought the beer and the lemonade to the porch, I provide the background music, to preserve sanity. :)

Jennie said...

Love that Buddy Guy! Damn Right I've Got the Blues! The lemonade must be fresh squeezed, so delicious!

I brought some soft oatmeal raisin cookies fresh from the oven. Enjoy! I've also got some yummy im-peach-ment pie baking in the oven, as well, but I don't know when that will be done...

Unknown said...

Vierotchka: Nothing quite like a huge global "terrorist red alert" (I don't for one moment believe the Blair government re this current spectacular terror alert) to capture the people's attention and divert it from Israel's pounding of Beirut and from the implications of Lamont's victory...


What a mess Bush and his neocon nazis have gotten themselves into! I am convinced that E. Clift was right: Bush gave Ehud Olmert a greenlight to invade and has, since that time, conspired with Israel to drag Syria and Iran into the fray. An immediate goal: GET IRAQ OFF THE FRONT PAGES.

Now —it is a measure of the utter incompetence of this international gang of thugs that they have to concoct a terrorist plot in order to get the Isreali quagmire in Lebanon off the front pages.

Would someone please arrest GWB and file the appropriate capital crimes charges against him?

benmerc said...

For the red alert enthusiasts out there…

Our Vice Prez sez:

“..The thing that's partly disturbing about it is the fact that, the standpoint of our adversaries, if you will, in this conflict, and the al Qaeda types, they clearly are betting on the proposition that ultimately they can break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task. And when we see the Democratic Party reject one of its own, a man they selected to be their vice presidential nominee just a few short years ago, it would seem to say a lot about the state the party is in today if that's becoming the dominant view of the Democratic Party, the basic, fundamental notion that somehow we can retreat behind our oceans and not be actively engaged in this conflict and be safe here at home, which clearly we know we won't -- we can't be....”


Got the quote above off of :

No More Mister Nice Blog , (They have been all over this “Red Alert” thing….check them out)

Anyhow, in true form [ not withstanding any judgment one way or the other as to the validity of this current “crisis” as Rumsfeld would say: (hands in air) “ Who knows?!?” ] Here is Cheney to our rescue in our time of need…to brow beat us over the Lieberman primary loss, Gee…I feel so much safer now. What A TWIT this guy is, a real “statesman” in action. Just can not help him self from partaking in some more errant political capital. And Len, watch the MSM go after this like it was a winged shiner.

Unknown said...

What are the odds, benmerc? Everytime Bush and his gang get in trouble, a nefarious terrorist plot materializes to pull their fat outta the fire! Bollocks!

Anonymous said...

Benmerc, I took the liberty of copy-pasting your above comment on Buzzflash - I hope you don't mind. :)

benmerc said...

No problem vierotchka...

Thanks for letting me know, my take on all this is that it's all pretty much public property after the submit key goes down. I've enjoyed the music at your site, it is very nice!

Anonymous said...

"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

James Madison, as quoted in the recent U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion of “Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld”.

Ahhh...Dick Cheney, once again playing the only chord he knows. Everything is black and white, either-or. If you don't support the smashing of Lebanon, it's because you support terrorists. If you support stem-cell research, it means you hate babies. If you don't support the war in Iraq, it means you hate the troops, hate democracy, want the terrorists to prevail; Christ, what kind of fiend are you?

In an environment where sheep were not so plentiful, such a simple, transparent idiot-child manipulation would have about the same chance as a pork chop at a Rush Limbaugh celebrity picnic. That it continues to succeed....well, that's not for me to say.

I will, however, submit that never has such an everybody's-grandpa mask concealed such a completely evil human being. You could push his face in fresh dough and make Beelzebub cookies.