Thursday, June 28, 2018

On the Decline of the United States

*Above Image, Detroit, Michigan. Source unknown

A few people have said that my essays have a left-wing bias, and. . . well. . . so be it. But the truth is I don't believe left-wing ideology, per-se, can do much more to improve human life. The reason is, that although I agree with most of the ideas associated with the traditional left, such as freedom-of-speech, artistic freedom, equality for minorities, for women, for gays, and so on - and though I see most of the political agenda of the left as simply being rational - it should be clear that such rational practices would have long been standard practice, if there wasn't some more mysterious, overriding, factor at play than reason. Clearly there is something aberrant, and abhorrent in our collective natures that those who are rational, and ethical, are loath to look at. And so choosing not to look there the left wing makes its appeal almost exclusively through reason.

Those on the left, for the most part, confine themselves to a rational discussion of the issues, and abjure the more fundamental question of why reason isn't the essential factor that guides human actions. On the face of it, it may seem the reasons for irrational behavior are obvious. It would seem at face value that they are the standard culprits, starting with inadequate education, but I believe that that is a fatal mistake. The reasons for this tendency to abandon rational thinking in favor of emotional appeal are deeply rooted in our biological natures, and we are all subject to it given enough stress. For this reason a chaotic situation plays to the advantage of the right wing, who's subsequent policies engender more chaos, in a descending vicious spiral. That's what is at the root of America's decline.

Those on the right often shout at people on the left. . . "You can't improve humanity!"

"Why not?" We ask. "Well," they say, "look at me!"

And in truth that's a pretty difficult argument to counter! In effect they are saying "I know myself, and if you think I, or people like me, are going to start caring about something other than gratifying our own egos, and desires, then you can just forget it!" And how can you really counter that argument? It's a self-fulfilling prophesy, rooted in free will, and unchecked, it will doom us all.

The thing most galling about all this is, of course, that these same people who believe humanity is irredeemable, based on their estimation of themselves, and others like them, constantly prate about immorality in others, based on such insignificant issues (in the larger scheme of things), as their sexual activities, or preferences. Whether they are in a position to judge, or whether their prejudiced interpretation of the Bible is an adequate basis for judgement, they have apparently never questioned. Introspection isn't their strong point.

The only ill of society they seem to recognize, in an overcrowded world, is abortion, while their own avowed cynicism regarding human nature precludes them from giving a damn the billions of people already alive, and in misery. They consider themselves morally superior, yet are perfectly content to block policies that offer any hope for America's disenfranchised, or for the ocean of suffering elsewhere on earth. In a nutshell, they are contemptible.

All of the above behavior is driven by the deep atavistic impulses of mankind, and it's in the lack of a realistic assessment of such people that reformers who appeal exclusively to reason, delude themselves, and fail to come up with approaches that work. In America's heyday there were many educated, white, liberals who wanted others to share in America's wealth. For this they were subjected to ridicule - in part by the contemptuous rich - but primarily by those whom they'd wanted to share in that wealth. It was working class whites who, in the voting booth, shot down those attempts at reform, in the fear, it seems, that minorities might also share in that prosperity. So, in other words, they chose to fall into poverty and desperation themselves rather than see others, whom they hated irrationally, prosper as well. There is no way to account for such behavior in the light of reason.

Clearly, reason isn't primarily what motivates a great percentage of people. They're motivated by emotions, of which fear and hatred are often paramount. So likewise, those on the "old left," who believed in "The People," - as in, "If only we can educate "The People," we can change the world!" were also misguided. For despite the best intentions of the most altruistic social theorists, and generally enlightened minds of modern times, in 2018 the human condition grows darker by the day.

Though the liberal agenda of personal liberty, and the democratic division of wealth, is more historically American than the philosophy of economic royalty, exclusion, and class warfare, imposed by the Republican Party, it is the Republicans who somehow manage to wrap themselves in the flag - who constantly beat the drum of patriotism, and are considered then great American patriots. The Democrats should learn something from this, about the necessity of stirring people's hearts rather than appealing just to their minds. We live in a time in which, in Yeats' words, "The best lack all conviction, and the worst are filled with a passionate intensity." But the Democrats can't do this right now because they've given up on class equality. They no longer have a message that can appeal to the deeper emotions and cares of the masses. If this doesn't change the Democratic Party is done for!

The right wing has an instinctive grasp of the symbolism that appeals, where reason fails. In their constant use of the flag, in their visceral appeal to the emotions, they have become masters. The left is not wrong in appealing to reason. It is wrong in being unable to grasp that you must also appeal on a more primal level, because people make decisions more in response to what they feel than what they think.

If the right wing were to make an ad advocating the preservation of our national parks (if you can imagine such a thing!), they would show glittering scenes of Bamby in the woods with his mother, surrounded by wildflowers, all set to some idyllic music that makes people all warm and pliable inside. The left would give you a bunch of facts and figures about the way trees diminish global warming, and help to preserve the human race, not realizing that a huge percentage of people secretly hope for the end of the world. To admit such a thing is unimaginable to the mind that considers itself rational.

Tragically, The Age of Reason appears to be setting, and this despite the advent of computers, the latest technological marvel that, along with science and technology, we were told would save us. In some profound, and essential, way way we are stuck in our thinking. We are simply incapable of facing certain disturbing truths about the nature of psychology, and power, and sensing this failure on the part of (what remains of) the liberal and educated establishment, more and more people are abandoning reason altogether, to seek solace in enlightened spirituality, or New Age, feel-good, gobbledygook. Or more ominously, in Dark Age fundamentalism.

Though the divide between left and right is to a degree real, it is also to a degree misleading, and destructive. The deeper problem is inherent in human nature, and is not confined to left or right. It is rooted in Darwinian evolution and the struggle for survival, which has engendered in us a defensive cruelty and duplicity when we are threatened. So in searching for a paradigm to maximize the quality of life on earth, for ourselves and the other living beings, we must ourselves delve fearlessly into the extremely uncomfortable subject of our own natures, on the individual level, and on the level of society at large. We must do this with the goal of understanding human nature, and the reasons we endlessly reproduce the very problems we must then struggle to solve, in an endless round of self-destruction.

Firstly, it seems, we must re-commit to a quality, liberal education for all. For only through a liberal education can we develop the depth of understanding necessary even to begin to solve our rapidly escalating problems. We should not be surprised at the election of Donald Trump, for he is exactly the kind of man one would expect a society to produce that puts so much store in business and technology as the primary solutions to our problems. We must seek a paradigm that incorporates reason, science, ethics and spirituality. Only through using our full human potential can we combat the problems we face as a species, and at the moment our spirits and minds are vivisected into a number of incompatible, and antagonistic outlooks, such as the false divide between science and religion.

We must recognize that greatness doesn't come from an understanding of technology, or of business (or from military, or economic power.) It comes from the power of discerning what matters, in the quest for advancing humanity as a whole, and in acting upon what we find. America was once very good at this, but we've become a grab-bag of moribund cliché's concerning the primacy of business and technology. We've become a nation that promotes ourselves, rather than genuinely struggling to excel. These are the real reasons for America's decline.

The United States was forged in the philosophy of The Enlightenment, in a belief in the essential dignity of man that in turn gave rise to a belief in liberty and equality under the law. These things form a noble, and integrated worldview. One that has stood the test of time, and is worthy of attracting a large following here and abroad. We're throwing that away, in exchange for an outlook based on sales charts and marketing strategies, on self-promotion, and self-flattery. We increasingly rely on machines that are sophisticated, but lack anything approaching wisdom, or a soul.

Our belief in liberty was founded on a word-view in which reason and spirituality were integrated. That view has been under constant and active attack in America, since at least 1980, by those who have no use for democracy and who seek its overthrow. Liberals have done little, if anything, to counter that attack with a vision that appeals to both people's minds and hearts. We've sold ourselves short, and we're reaping the consequences. The left must learn again to appeal to people's spirits and not just their capacity to reason. Our hope lies in acknowledging that many of the assumptions the left has made in modern times have been proven wrong, and that we must now grow our understanding of what it fully means to be human, in mind and in spirit, if we are to lead in a genuinely new and positive direction.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2018, Brent Hightower