Monday, August 29, 2022

American History Explains Alternative Facts

 Kurt Andersen's brilliant survey of magical thinking in the American historical psyche finally explains to me the evolution of how we got to Trump, Q Anon and all of the current madness.

He explains that it starts with the Enlightenment period in Europe where individuality and intellectual freedom permitted people to believe any damn thing they wanted. They founded the Age of Reason in Europe.  That included freethinkers but it also included the tightly wrapped Puritans who settled in the northern part of what became America and fortune seeking capitalists populating the southern part. Puritans were separatists from the Anglican church, whereas the Pilgrims believed they could coexist with Anglicans and possibly reform that Church.  The latter group populated New England later than the magical thinking Puritans.

Thus, the creation of a sort of Christianity- believing colony which was to be a Utopia, also dedicated to the myth that their religion would be the eternal salvation of the "savages" who greeted them on the eastern shores. Puritans were full of zeal about the end times and certainty about their path to god.  Andersen's analysis of history cites the Puritans as the founders of the Age of Unreason and the tribe to whom we can trace our current Fantasyland segment of society.

And the settlers of Jamestown whose vision was a commercial boom town there and endless riches from  finding vast quantities of gold, neither of which worked out for them, at least, right away. Their legacy is associated with the current capitalist segment of our modern society who have their own form of magical thinking about the pursuit of riches.

Andersen traces our history's connection to the evolution of Protestantism from stiff necked communities of worshipers to charismatic preachers introducing deep emotion and passion into belief and worship with many settlers attracted to camp meetings and chaotic gatherings of believers anxious to find the secret of their salvation through praising and pleading with a deity to grant them eternal life and forgiveness. In the early American years,  snake handling and speaking in tongues came in to vogue as means of worship.

This populists approach to religion and worship led the creation of all forms of bizarre new belief systems such as Latter Day Saints, Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Scientists and Evangelicals, side by side with mainstream protestant communities. 

In early colonial life great fear of so called satanic behavior enveloped communities leading to Witchcraft trials and marginalizing of women.

These aberrant communities of colonists developed side by side with groups of pragmatic realists who began the the process of founding a country based on enlightenment values of freedom, rationality, the rule of law, self governance and freedom from religion for those so inclined. The founders were representative of the reality-based segments of our culture.

From the aberrant communities and the inevitable con-artists in every society came quack medicine, side by side with science-based medicine.  Also, faith healing came into vogue, a weird confluence of religion and medicine.  During this period, as Euro-Americans pushed west, lo and behold the gold so many fantasized would enrich them was discovered and the gold rush had a pretty formidable run.

Andersen equates a prophet of the 17th century named Anne Hutchinson who asserted whatever you want to believe is true to our Kayne West.  Boundaries between fantasy and reality are fogged up, blurry. Thus the creation of myth stories such as Washington's Cherry tree and the myth stories of our early history which are mixed with historic fact teaching in our schools. And the mixing of magic and actual science with medicine and invention.  We dared to imagine that nearly everything was possible.

This mix of fantasy, entrepreneurial ambition and science led to America's industrial revolution and world envy for our innovation. Nearly anything was possible in the American Dream, including the belief that nearly anyone could become rich.

But romanticism and showmanship fueled the American imagination. The majesty of the West became and major obsession with the glories of our great outdoors featured in art and public obsession.  Thus the legends of the Wild West, Buffalo Bill and victories over the resistance of the First Americans evolved into traveling road shows and theater.  Our current gun culture is traced to that period of our history.  

The American belief that nearly anything is possible led to  P.T. Barnum and the huge popularity of traveling shows of the weird, strange and outlandish.  And through our history, belief in conspiracies and  imaginary plots conceived by evildoers and Satan worshipers were abundant. According to Andersen 200 persons were imprisoned, accused of Satanic victimization of children in the 1980's. 

Our science fiction literature and film flow from this mix of reality and fantasy. As do also our theme parks and Las Vegas, not to mention most TV, including so called reality TV which is usually far from reality.  The allure of escapism from reality surrounds American's daily.

Conspiracy beliefs are a small industry in the current day around events like JFK's assassination and 9-11.  Skepticism has resulted in accusations of fake staging of the moon landing and cover ups on alien visitations. According to Andersen, only a third of Americans understand that Co2 is a cause of our global warming crisis threatening our future. 

 Americans love their fantasy films and theme parks including those devoted to biblical stories, not to mention fantasy computer games which followed the 60's psychedelics and fantasies about the counterculture  and New Ageism. Feeling dominated reason.  Fantasy dominated reality.  UFO culture flows from that, according to Andersen, as does our addiction to youth culture and plastic surgery. We are taught to do our own thing.  Realists respond that you are entitled to your own beliefs but not your own facts.

Kurt Anderson further tells us that  today two thirds of us today believe angels and demons are active in our lives.  More than half of us, according to his research believe there is a heaven and a personal deity with human, male nature. A majority of us believe the bible stories are literal. 

Thus, a neurosurgeon can build a huge TV audience pitching unproven fake cures and remedies and a TV con man; no,  two show business con men can be elected President and many believe the most recent was the actual winner of a closely monitored and audited election. Oh, and super-realist computer genius Bill Gates funds a creationist pseudo-science according to Anderson.

So, here we are, America The Beautiful, mixing truth with fiction and reality with fantasy. This is not new.  It connects back to our origins and has a lot to do with innovation of dreamers and  American inventors and entrepreneurs.  I strongly urge you to read Fantasyland.  

Tragically, our magical thinking and fantasy is a bad mix with our politics, governance and civics. The fascism we face might not be so fanciful.




Wednesday, July 20, 2022

How Do We Live With These Fascists?

Image result for Graphic of A Broken American FlagThere is much talk these days about a pending civil war. I for one do not feel that I need to engage these anti-democracy people in any kind of combat as a foot soldier for democracy.  They are just not worth giving up a life for.  I guess I'll just have to depend on our federal military to take that risk should these deplorable fascists launch such a war against what is left of our union. 

I will continue to engage them in mental, verbal and intellectual combat, knowing that convincing them that democracy is a better way to live is next to impossible.  They want authoritarians to make decisions for them rather than engage in the hard work of participating in self government.  These people are authoritarian personalities either genetically or culturally.  That is the way they want to live.

They are going to have to decide if they can live with neighbors who value self governing and or as their 60's moral majority predecessors used to tell us liberals, "Love it or Leave it."

The elections of 2022 and 2024 will likely determine if we will choose democracy or fascism.  I have been warning those around me for many years now that fascism was on our horizon.  It has been lurking in the nooks and crannies of American life for many decades.  Racism has been a major driver to keep it churning inside the American experience.

We are largely dependent on the roughly one-third of our citizenry who do not participate in our elections to join with the plurality of us who believe self government and democracy serve us best.  If we can mobilize enough of the non-participants to join us as the polls, we have a chance to return the fascists to their red communities to suffer in silence.  If that mobilization does not materialize, we pro-democracy Americans will have to either craft ways of surviving fascism or defeating it. 

We pro-democracy Americans will have to become strategic rather than election to election tactical as the promoters of fascism through such decades-old organizations of the Republican Party as the Federalist Society and movement conservatism have done.  Democrats and Liberals have failed to establish long term  strategies on the offensive, looking decades forward as have the Republicans and conservatives.  We have a myriad of  groups competing for funding working various niches of the pro-democracy world who could unite into a much more powerful force for progressive change and reform but haven't.  Their competition rather than cooperation has produced defensive tactical actions each election cycle which has reduced their effectiveness to incremental slowing of fascism but not outright defeat.  But movement conservatism has powered its way through liberal incremental defenses to the point of national crisis evident at this very moment.

We may now have to settle for a grinding pro-democacy education and marketing  process spanning several decades ahead to overtake the fascists.  They were quite clever in embracing Trump and powering his cult like following.  They know what they are doing, but so do we.

Good governance has not been enough to convince the American electorate at large that democracy is of value to their lives.   It is going to take education, persuasion and marketing of pro-democracy thinking aimed at future generations to build the support needed to sustain the success of liberalism and democracy.  Republicans and movement conservatives have done very astute marketing.  Liberals, Democrats and pro-democracy Americans have created laundry lists of policies which are unmemorable and as communicated, unconvincing as our current affairs would suggest.  

Let's unite on the pro-democracy side and build a strategic program.  Or, wallow in the misery of cruel, selfish and punishing fascism. 

Saturday, June 25, 2022

These Supremes Don't Understand Their Own Religion

The 6 Catholics on the Supreme Court are of the Opus Dei variety, extreme and weird. They clearly have a flawed understanding of their Church's teaching over the decades which has changed significantly. The overarching teaching, not declared infallible is that primacy of conscience should guide ones position on abortion.
Their rigid position on abortion was not established until 1917; in the early Catholic years abortion was treated much like adultery, not a mortal sin.
Here is some history:
The medieval Church rules of penance did not consider abortion murder until after the first 40 days of conception; this was true up until the mid 1800’s. It was a sin but the context was associated with adultery and the punishment similar to that for adultery.
St. Augustine , Bishop of Hippo (ca. 415 AD), one of the most influential of all Catholic theologians, persuaded early Church leaders that abortion should not be regarded 'as homicide, for there cannot be a living soul in a body that lacks sensation due to its not yet being formed.' He, and Thomas Aquinas after him, taught that the embryo does not acquire a human soul until the end of the first trimester. At the beginning of the 13th century Pope Innocent II proposed that 'quickening' (the time when the woman first feels the fetus move within her) should be the moment at which abortion becomes homicide. Abortions occurring prior to that moment constituted a less serious sin. Pope Gregory XIV's declaration in 1591 that early abortion was not grounds for excommunication guided Church policy until 1869. In that year, Pope Pius IX eliminated the distinction between the animated and non-animated fetus and insisted on excommunication for anyone having or providing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy. That instruction was written into the Canon Law in 1917.
These people cannot be trusted to be guided by authentic teaching of either their Church or their Constitution.
 We are just fucked until we replace these twisted people steeped in the misogyny and authoritarianism of my former Church.