Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Great Disintegration

     Just yesterday, the nominal 240th birthday of our nation, Sarah Hoyt produced a rather optimistic piece that’s excited a fair amount of dissent. (I was part of the dissent.) Now, that’s not newsworthy of itself, but given Sarah’s thesis – i.e., that “the people are all right” – I felt immediately upon reading it that it deserved a rebuttal. Not quite a refutation, mind you; merely a statement of the opposing thesis and some of the more significant bits of evidence for it.

     The problem is, the more I thought about it, the more the negative evidence snowballed. It’s put me in an unenviable position, as July 5 is a special date for me and the C.S.O., and I’d intended to spend it doing something other than writing one of these tracts. Nevertheless, duty calls in a voice of iron; one shirks the summons at one’s peril.

     Here is the meat of Sarah’s thesis:

     ...I realized that our “elites” including the presstitutes and the supposed intellectual heights of academia, are among some of the most corrupt in the world, but the people? The people are all right.

     This is the reason why, despite our terrible institutions we’re not Somalia or Venezuela or even Brazil. Our politicians are fully that corrupted, doing and saying anything for the sake of holding on to more power. But we’re different.

     How different? I’ll give you the two ways that made me fall in love with America:

  1. For now, in most places — this is changing and it’s a worrying trend — we are law abiding, and more importantly respecting of other’s property.
  2. We roll up our sleeves and do what needs to be done.

     This is in sharp contrast to my own observations, which in summary, are:

  1. The “worrying trend” that Sarah herself has cited is much farther along than she might think, especially in urban and suburban America;
  2. We “do what needs to be done” only under conditions, i.e.:
    • If we judge that the benefits will flow to ourselves, or our loved ones, or to some other entity of personal importance to us;
    • If we assess the costs and risks of “doing what needs to be done” as less than those of not doing so by a significant margin.

     Both of these things are strongly influenced by context. A large part of that context is expressed by the question “Will I get away with it?” The probability that the answer to that question is yes varies inversely with regional population density.

     But there’s a deeper point to be made here, and it deserves to be made in large font:

“The people” does not exist.

     No, there’s no error of number agreement in the above. Give it a few seconds of serious thought.

     I have a number of foibles. Perhaps the one most obvious to my Gentle Readers is that I strive to write grammatically correct English. In this regard I am greatly assisted by two other crotchety old farts. Here’s what Professor Will Strunk has to say about “the people:”

     The people is a political term, not to be confused with the public....If of “six people” five went away, how many people would be left? Answer: one people.

     To say that we the assorted citizens, permanent resident aliens, and so forth are “a people” is to aggregate us into a unit. But what’s the justification for that aggregation? We’re gathered into a single geographically delimited country, to be sure, but beyond that? What common characteristics unite us, apart from being homo sapiens? Do we share any beliefs, convictions, attitudes, preferences, practices, or fetishes?

     The question is a daunting one, for the answer has changed dramatically over time. In a sense, the early colonists were united quasi-politically by their desire to get the Hell away from the people around them, and in being willing to accept considerable danger and hardship for the chance. For a brief period after the American Revolution, there was a widespread sense of national comity – not unity, really, but agreeable co-residence and toleration of others of differing ways in the newborn U.S. – that’s sometimes been called “the era of good feelings.” But not long afterward sectional differences produced some rather bad feelings, exacerbated by two issues above all others – slavery and tariffs – and eventuated in a Civil War that even today holds the record for the most Americans killed in combat in a single war.

     Given the immense divisions, the intra-national predation, and the enormous waves of immigration that followed that war, we haven’t been “a people” since.

     Distance elicits differences. However, it can also ameliorate the effects, if persons tend their own gardens and refrain from meddling in the affairs of others far away. This is only one of the reasons the centralization of political power is a very bad idea. But there’s more and worse to come.

     In an essay of several important insights, Ace of Spades co-blogger tmi3rd notes another of the pernicious developments that have disintegrated the American “people:”

     Today, “Broadcasting” (other than the Super Bowl) no longer exists. It has been replaced by “Narrowcasting,” in which outlets are cynically designed to appeal to nothing but a tiny sliver of demographic for the purposes of maximizing advertising efficiency. This is destructive enough in the fantasy world of entertainment (no current TV show could even remotely claim to be well-known to a majority of Americans), but this has been absolutely catastrophic in the realm of news.

     Almost all of our news outlets now can be easily identified as having a particular, and often very narrow, political bent and they act like nothing more than TV sit-coms desperately searching for a sellable demographic which will keep them afloat (see Breitbart.com & Donald Trump). This means that most “news” organizations are only interested in stories and truths that their audience will want to hear. Quite simply, nothing could be more antithetical to both the pursuit of truth (which is quite often very UN-popular) as well as the maintenance of a country which has enough “knowledge” in common so as to be able to function as remotely unified society.

     Taking this concept out of the theoretical and placing it into the practical, this is exactly why we saw such deeply divergent opinions among the races regarding the very simple O.J. Simpson murder case (as well as numerous other similar “racial” episodes which have followed) and are currently seeing a civil war among conservatives about the equally clear-cut candidacy of Donald Trump. Each different demographic slice of the American Pie is now simply living in totally separate worlds with completely different realities.

     The ironies here challenge my capacity for elucidation. “Broadcasting,” in which I would include the production of “newspapers” distributed to a national readership, was originally propelled by publishers’ quest for greater profits. The connection is too obvious to require explanation: the more eyeballs, the more revenue. But the differences among us, elicited by distance, heritage, and regional needs and practices, made the profitability of true “broadcasting” – i.e., a uniform product to be distributed to the entire country – less profitable than regional or niche marketing. That caused the “broadcasters” to select – sometimes unconsciously; always unhappily – identifiable niches of taste, habit, and ideology at which to aim their wares.

     (In this connection, I heartily recommend a brief essay by an old friend, Lynn Chesnut: “Why Broadcast Journalism is Unnecessary and Illegitimate.” His insight will surprise you.)

     As far as public perceptions are determined by the media, public attitudes will follow thereby. Having divided us into “niches,” the “broadcasters” have divided us from one another as well.

     A “people” can only exist if they agree on certain principles. The birth certificate of the United States lays out such principles. The plan for their implementation attempts to codify the enforcement thereof. But to what extent do Americans, broadly speaking, agree with either?

     In my opinion, out of any randomly assembled ten thousand people, you’d be hard pressed to find one hundred who sincerely agree with either of those documents. Everyone wants to edit them. Everyone wants to make some exception, whether to the Declaration’s ringing statement of the Rights of Man, or to the Constitution’s schematic for their protection and nurturance. Nor are the exceptions at all uniform. If you disagree, just wait till Abortion For Everyone, Transsexual Rights, Black Lives Matter, La Raza, or Occupy comes to your town.

     No, dear Sarah, “the people” is not “all right,” mostly because there is no such thing.

     One of the more challenging problems in any social assay is that of deciding when and why to disaggregate. Sometimes disaggregation is tendentious and to be avoided. Sometimes it inverts the conclusion one seeks. But in political systems founded on anything other than the naked preponderance of force, the question will always loom large.

     The time is long past when any analyst can look at the population of the United States and see a “people.” It’s far more accurate to see us as we really are: atomized into contending, uneasily neighboring groups according to a myriad factors, especially political convictions and ethical principles. The greatest of the casualties has been the rule of law: that supposedly overarching principle upon which the polity is based. Kurt Schlichter has some penetrating observations and conclusions about that. I can’t find enough counter-evidence to his position to matter.

     Yet even if “we the people” are generally united in the opinion that our “ruling class” is thoroughly corrupt, we’re entirely disunited on:

  1. In what direction to go from here;
  2. What principles ought to govern what will follow.

     For which reason I contend that “the people” is not “all right,” because it disintegrated long, long ago, and is now no more than a memory.


Ron Olson said...

I wonder if you underestimate the unusual shared value of the decalogue. I agree with everything you said except that your conclusion disputes the everyday heroism I see with my own eyes. So I must side more with Ms. Hoyt on this one and say there is a people and they are alright.

Unknown said...

Francis, I think you and the commentor Mr. Olson are both right; it's just how you look at the light through the diamond. Is that possible?
But I also think there is room for another designator ...a remnant. Many interesting stories through the ages about what God does with His remnants. There is no doubt in my mind that this nation has had the Favor on it from the beginning, so I can calmly bide my time and see what He has in mind. That said, I'm still horrified to see how well our adversary has succeeded in un-educating at least three generations of "the people" not to mention those machinations before 1950. And I think your mini-essay holds up with the morning's news release about our next 'elected' president.

pdwalker said...

Too many divergent groups today. The Balkanization of the former US of A is almost complete.

The people are not ok

Linda Fox said...

Unfortunately, I'm with Francis, and this is hard to say. There IS no people - we ceased to be a people some time ago. We are individuals (I like Dilbert's term - InDUHviduals). Some individuals are awesome. Most are relatively good - if nothing happens to make them choose the well-being of the group over their convenience. Some are horrible.

The trouble is, without the Christian upbringing that would have been standard for most of our country's history, those middling individuals haven't a firm grasp on the concepts:
- the good of the group's survival, and the need to restrict one's pleasures for that good
- sacrifice, even to the point of potential death, for the group, if the cause is worthwhile
- moral standards/moral code
- hard work - REALLY hard work, the kind that leaves you sucked dry of any energy, even to the point of not being able to bend over to remove your shoes before bed - and, going out the next day, and the next...
- sticking to your word
- personal responsibility to care for your family

RichJ said...

Hi Francis, thought provoking piece today. You make the key point, "No, dear Sarah, 'the people' are not 'all right,' mostly because there is no such thing.".

Below is God's assessment as expressed through his prophets - some assessment/description of the problems we face, what was done previously about it and what will happen soon I think ... at least those exercising faith in God.

From Habukkuk 1:3-4

3 Why do you make me witness wrongdoing?
And why do you tolerate oppression?
Why are destruction and violence before me?
And why do quarrelling and conflict abound?
4 So law is paralyzed,
And justice is never carried out.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
That is why justice is perverted.

From 2 Timothy 3:1-5

But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, 3 having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, 4 betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, 5 having an appearance of godliness but proving false to its power; and from these turn away.

From Genesis 6:12-13

12 Yes, God looked upon the earth, and it was ruined; all flesh* had ruined its way on the earth. 13 After that God said to Noah: “I have decided to put an end to all flesh, because the earth is full of violence on account of them, so I am bringing them to ruin together with the earth.

* Or “people.”

From Revelation 21:1-4

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea is no more. 2 I also saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God and prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 With that I heard a loud voice from the throne say: “Look! The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his people. And God himself will be with them. 4 And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.

Col. B. Bunny said...

I see much common deceny but I think it comes from the momentum built up in past centuries, which is now diminishing. On the larger questions morality and reason seem like spent forces.

Liars, poseurs, and destroyers like Bill, Hussein and Hillary are demonstrably acceptable presidential material, unconstitutional and reckless wars are waged, Russia is falsely demonized, spending and monetary debasement explodes, law is ignored, and citizenship is debased by massive immigration. Multiculturalism and diversity are used to justify the importation of people who despise us or are near savages.

To this vast numbers of "our people" raise no protest at all or even celebrate it.

Sanity, decency, patriotism, or outrage are the province of minorities or razor-thin majorities.

I fear the die is cast for dissolution and chaos. The combo of betrayal, lies, and stupidity has carried the day.