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Deja Vu All Over Again

I apologize to Yogi Berra for the title of this post. I’ve been backing away from my former intense focus on events in this country lately, sickened by the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, among other things. I subscribe to a number of newsletters from various “liberal” sites and I have deleted all of those e-mails for weeks now. Every one of those notices is a shrill demand that I write my congressman/senator about the latest outrage. I’m through looking at the trees, folks. It is time to start looking at the forest. I’m through being outraged – I think this country is suffering from a soon-to-be fatal sickness of the soul and I’ve been doing a little bit of research to try to find out when and where that illness started. Right now, I’m doing some research on the Progressive Era, commonly defined as being the period from 1890 up until the end of the first World War, a war in which 9 million men, women and children died for nothing. I ask myself how is it that this country, allegedly a peace loving country, can be so violent? How is it that the basics of human decency are only addressed when there is immense human suffering in this country? How did we get tricked into buying the argument of the neo-conservatives/neo-liberals?

I think the social contract in this country, contrary to the myth that was foisted on us all through our school years, is fatally flawed. The American Exceptionalist broth that we have been submerged in from childhood is a disaster that needs to be looked at harshly, something that Andrew Bacevich does in his book, The Limits of Power, which was published in 2008, before the election of Barack Obama.

Alexis de Toqueville identified the five core values of American Exceptionalism in his book, Democracy in America, in 1831. Those values are: Liberty, Egalitarianism, Individualism, Populism, and Laissez-faire. All of us subscribe to these values – having been indoctrinated with them since childhood. The proverbial chickens have come home to roost and we see the results of our uneducated acceptance of these values in the form of the crazies on right-wing talk radio and the Tea Party androids, who repeat the lies that benefit the ruling elite in this country, to the detriment of us all. We also see it in the rising popularity of Libertarianism and schemes to privatize every function of government.

I am going to close this post by publishing a short piece by an author whom I will identify at the end. I would like to know when you think this essay was written. You will find the author and date at the end, but as you read it (and before you find out the truth), when do you think it was written?

“What I cannot understand is why the American people, which has been drilled from the beginning in the necessity and the advantage of the individual and his point of view, does not now realize how complete is the collapse of that idea as a working social formula. For while, on the one hand, we have arrogated to each of ourselves the right to be a giant individual if we can, we have not seen how impossible it is for more than a very few to achieve this.

“It is really not complete individualism for anybody that we need or want or can endure even, but a limited form of individualism which will guarantee to all, in so far as that is possible, the right, if there is such a right, to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and also an equitable share in the economic results of any such organization.

“As it is now, we have gotten no further than the right of the most cunning and strong individuals among us to aggrandize themselves, leaving the rest of us here in America, as elsewhere, to subsist on what is left after they are through. And if you will examine our American economic arrangement, you will find that they are not through, since by now 50 families control 95 percent of the wealth of the country, and these families, their trusts and holding companies, are now not only not distributing that wealth in any equitable ration, but even if they were so minded, they are not capable of so doing. Taken collectively, they do not constitute any central authority. And except through the function of government which they seek to, and do, direct for their own private aggrandizement, they have no means, let alone any intention of so doing.

“More, the government, which is supposed to represent all of the individualistic ambitions of all of our people, is in no position to do that. It, too, in turn, has become one of the instruments of this central group of individuals which now directs all of its functions to its particular and very special advantage.

“That leaves the American citizen, 125 million strong, with his faith in individualism and what it will do for him—mainly without his rent, his job, a decent suit of clothes, a pair of shoes, or food. His faith in this free-for-all individualism has now led him to the place where his fellow individualists of greater strength, cunning, and greed are in a position to say for how much, or rather, for how little, he shall work, for how long, and whether, he shall be allowed to make any complaint or even seek redress in case he is unhappy or dissatisfied, ill-treated, deprived, or even actually starved. In fact, his faith in this individualism as a solvent for all of his ills has caused him to slumber while his fellow individualists of greater greed and cunning have been seizing his wealth, his church, his press, his courts, his judges, his legislators, his police, and quite all of his originally agreed upon constitutional privileges so that, today, he walks practically in fear of his own shadow.”

“Individualism” Seen in Destructive Phase

By Theodore Dreiser

January 9, 1932

2 Comments on “Deja Vu All Over Again”

  1. #1 Debi Kelly Van Cleave
    on Jun 16th, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    I also delete the e-mails from all those groups because my soul is sick too Jeff! I told you, I need to take a break. I’ve even considered not reading the newspaper or watching the news. Can’t do that but I’ve cut back on the news on TV. I just need a rest. I’m even trying not to think too much about the oil spill. I keep seeing pictures of an oil-soaked pelican in my head and I am heartbroken. And worried. This is going to cause global havoc. I have a friend who thinks pieces of the land are going to start breaking off and falling into the hole…

  2. #2 Dawn Michelsen
    on Jul 8th, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    Ditto – I can’t listen to the news or read it. Reading and listening to the overwhelming tradegies to both humans and the environment bring me to tears if I dwell on them. Reading and listening to the violence and hatred that is happening makes me sick in my soul.

    The plague of racism hurts me to my heart. My son is biracial (I am white and his biological father black). For years, I watched him become more angry. Then he turned that anger inward and started drinking to his detriment. He is finally turning his life around. He will graduate from nursing school this month. Ironic that he will be caring for some of the same people that hate him without taking the time to know him. I pray that he has made enough progress with emotional healing that he will rise above and become better and stronger in spite of.

    Thank you for allowing me to have a place to share. I am not a radical anything. I want to live in harmony and mutual respect for people in all walks of life. I am just not sure this is possible. And it makes me sad.

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