I wrote this column just days after the election, but was so dispirited that I never published it on Frustrated Boomers. Two weeks into the Trump presidency, it bears repeating.
This morning, Neil Postman‘s son, Andrew, wrote something along the same lines. It is worth reading.
quote: “Our public discourse has become so trivialized, it’s astounding that we still cling to the word “debates” for what our presidential candidates do onstage when facing each other. Really? Who can be shocked by the rise of a reality TV star, a man given to loud, inflammatory statements, many of which are spectacularly untrue but virtually all of which make for what used to be called “good television”?
Who can be appalled when the coin of the realm in public discourse is not experience, thoughtfulness or diplomacy but the ability to amuse – no matter how maddening or revolting the amusement?
…. For all the ways one can define fascism (and there are many), one essential trait is its allegiance to no idea of right but its own: it is, in short, ideological narcissism. It creates a myth that is irrefutable (much in the way that an image’s “truth” cannot be disproved), in perpetuity, because of its authoritarian, unrestrained nature. ”
And here is my column, originally published on November 27th, on Bob Segarini‘s wonderful site, “Don’t Believe A Word I Say.”
When we’re confused by where we are, it’s important to look at where we’ve been.
Confusion, uncertainty, masked as fear, pride, or hubris, reigns in all of us in these last days of 2016. What a year! I’m tempted to ride out the last bit hiding under my bed with my cats.
I don’t think Trump could have been elected in any other year but 2016. Not only has it been a year where we’ve lost so many of those whom we respected and loved, but a year where the horrific has become commonplace, where democracy is shoved aside as unfriendly to business, where opinion (literally) trumped logic, and the slaughter of millions of innocents barely raises an eyebrow.
“What is Aleppo?” Gary Johnson asked “What is Aleppo,” while seeking the office of President of the United States. America … you have much to answer for.
We have to understand that we would never have come to this moment in history without a lot of groundwork being laid. George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, amongst others, foretold days like these; it’s been in the works for quite some time. Perhaps Huxley, in Brave New World, understood our impressionability more than Orwell did in 1984 … it’s not that we are being denied books or access to information, it’s that we prefer entertainment to knowledge.
From the foreword to Neil Postman‘s Amusing Ourselves to Death, 1986, Penguin edition:
“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distraction.” In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.”
It’s not being a conspiracy theorist to understand that there are market forces, globally, that need certain conditions to occur, in order to sustain capitalism, and that those forces will do whatever is necessary to create and sustain those conditions. However capitalism, of necessity, must eventually eat itself, since it is based on continual growth.
Before we move into the next era, post capitalism, we have to deal with the mess that capitalism has made, not just to the planet, but to our thinking. We have to understand that we have been willing lambs to the slaughter of intelligence and sober thought, distracted by shiny things that hold our limited attention for seconds before our constant craving for the next sensation propels us on to the next shiny thing.
“The world’s nuclear clock sits at one second to midnight .. but first, a word from our sponsor.”
We have to come to grips with a constant rage that bubbles beneath the surface of our collective consciousness, a rage that has no real focus, but seizes on whatever temporarily irritates or annoys us, that compels an acting out far beyond what the situation warrants.
We have to accept that we have been lied to, in the name of business, as our resources have been seized and ruined for future generations, as species become extinct due to their habitats being stolen from them. Human greed and human need have made the chances of your great-grandchildren ever seeing a real live elephant, slim.
And, in what I consider truly tragic, we still have to somehow find a sense of trust in those we elect to lead us into this uncertain future, and I don’t know if we can suspend that much disbelief any more. There comes a point at which we simply can’t deny that each successive political ‘saviour’ is just a new mask on an old face of treachery, bought and paid for by market forces.
Billions of our hard earned tax dollars have been frittered away on projects benefiting commerce, not the people. In Ontario alone, before privatization of Hydro One, it was run by one president, one vice-president, one department head, and so on. The president’s annual salary was around $420,000. Today, in Ontario ‘s Hydro (between the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), Hydro One and the Ontario Power Generation (OPG) (all three Public Sector Agencies)), the president reportedly earns around $4million annually, and there are 11,879 employees who make more than $100,000/year. These top earners draw combined annual earnings of over 1.6 billion dollars. 626 in management positions are making more than $200,000/year…
… while many Ontarions are having to decide whether they can afford heating or eating this winter, because they can’t come up with the money for both.
And yet, this week we’ve heard that our Prime Minister has been making the rounds, intent on privatizing yet more of the country’s assets, despite economical and historical data proving that privatization of assets can add a minimum of a third of the costs to taxpayers, when internal positions are outsourced.
Canadians on a government pension of $12 to $14K a year can only pretend for so long that the enormous government wages and pensions of civil servants and politicians make any sort of logical or humane sense.
Despite no recent Prime Minister having been elected with a clear majority or mandate, sweeping changes that will affect Canadians for generations have been put into place over the last few decades, with barely a whimper. Or, if a whimper was murmured, it was simply ignored. At best, we changed lobsters and continued the dance.
And we can only look on from afar and pray for American’s who are, like it or not, about to have their historical clock turned back to the ‘good ol’ days’ of segregation, back alley abortions, internment camps, and increasing civil unrest.
Many think we’re at a pivotal moment in time, although the events of 2016 may pale in light of other ‘really terrible years,’ like 1347-50, when the Black Death took a third of Europe’s population; 1492, when the indigenous people of America invited the wrong people to dinner; Ireland’s Potato Famine of 1845; or Europe in 1943, when the Holocaust deaths were at their height. Certainly, Syrians will name 2016th as their country’s nadir.
From History Today, ” If I was forced to name the worst year, it would probably be 1914. In July of that year, a European order that had brought peace, prosperity and extraordinary artistic and scientific progress, began to unravel. The vast conflict that followed led directly to the Russian Revolution, Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, the atomic bomb, the Cold War and the mess that is the modern Middle East. Only in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, did we enter a relatively stable period – the ‘End of History’ – before it came crashing down on September 11th, 2001. ”
So – we’ve been here before. However I don’t think there’s precedent for this year of Syria and Iraq; unparalleled devastation creating a flood of refugees fleeing for their lives; Europe’s epidemic of terrorism, Brexit, the Zika outbreak, horrific civil unrest in Turkey, growing racial tension in the United States; famine in northern Nigeria, American peaceful protests being met with aggressive military engagement; and possibly worst of all, the unholy alliance of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin … these are this year’s trials.
What comes after the “End of History?” Whatever happens next, it is certainly a time when the decisions and actions we – as a people – take now, will determine where we go from here, and will define not just North America’s future, but the entire planet’s.