Crossroads: Reality For Beginners

 

I vividly recall watching a CBS Walter Cronkite evening news broadcast soon after I left active duty. A reporter was interviewing an Army captain during an attack on a Vietnamese village. The scene was shot from a low angle; both the captain and the reporter were lying below the rim of a ditch, and in the distance, through smoke and explosions, the village could be seen. Various types of aircraft were dropping ordnance, firing rockets, and machine-gunning this group of huts— hell had broken loose. With every explosion the cameraman jerked a bit in response.

The reporter asked the Captain what was going on—yes, he did ask that. The Captain explained that the village had some Vietcong in it and added (I swear this is true!), “We’re having to destroy this village in order to save it.” That was very many years ago, and here we are still at it—destroying people, places, ideas, beliefs, trust in government, society, and justice—destroying in order to “save” them. That scene from Vietnam comes to mind often these days as we see one news story after another about politicians, right-wing organizations like ALEC, and powerful oligarchs engaging in serious destruction of our now-fragile social contract. So many politicians are today more notable for deceitful and rent-seeking behavior than for their intelligence and devotion to public service—or even their country.

What do you suppose the consequences will be if the Oligarchy-sponsored right-wing assault on the social contract is successful? Their stated targets to cut or eliminate include these vital elements of the social contract:

  • unemployment benefits
  • dismantling social security
  • health care
  • food stamps
  • elder care
  • veterans’ programs and benefits

Will we live in a better world or a worse one if they succeed?

All societies, polities, and civilizations are complex systems; no part acts independently of the others—push something here and something pops up over there, ad infinitum. This accords with Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons, wherein individuals acting out of self-interest ultimately deplete the finite resources of the commons, resulting in loss for all, especially those least able to fight back. As, for example, the US being 26th out of 29 countries in child welfare, or that one American in two is low-income poor. The resources of the commons include trust in government, belief in equality, equal opportunity and social justice. These are the “glue” of a humane and just society and have been a hallmark of this country since the Great Depression. Failing the cohesive “glue” of belief, societal collapse inevitably follows; it presages the death of hope. What are those people thinking? Do they really believe there will be no consequences, or do they trust that the relentless militarization of police forces will contain any outbursts or rebellion? Will we have to see the society destroyed before it can be saved?

Hypocrisy is become high fashion, thoroughly rationalized and the Constitution be damned, all for our own good, 1984 has arrived. Over the years the United States has, with high moral dudgeon, condemned the Soviet bloc countries, Nazi Germany, and several other countries for domestic spying and is now itself engaged in the same behavior. Who cares, so long as we have assurances that we are made safe? Of course it never occurs that we might be better made safe if we would change our behavior in the world, mind our own business, let other countries settle their internal problems on their own, but would the world then be safe for the oil, mineral, and financial oligarchies? To the extent that the relentless pursuit of profit directs American foreign policy so too will the resentment, distrust, and anger we suffer continue to grow, even amongst our allies, and not only because we spy on them as well as our designated enemies.

What demagogues of all stripes fail to remember is that there has always been a price to be paid when a critical mass of disbelief is breached. Lies have lasting effect and are inevitably found out, either by disclosure or by turn of events, and there are always consequences. “The most irreducibly bad thing about lies is that they contrive to interfere with, and impair, our natural effort to apprehend the real state of affairs,” is how Harry G. Frankfurt puts it in his charming and insightful book, On Truth. What would a world without truth be like? How could citizens trust their government? Why would they trust? How just can society be when, for example, even lawyers lie in court with the tacit approval of regulating bodies, which are supposed to regulate their behavior?

If it is true, as social philosopher, Philippa Foot, cast it, “… it makes sense to speak of those who are lovers of justice—as of those who are lovers of truth.” So now consider that many if not most legislators, national and state, are lawyers. Consider further that at the national level it is commonplace that campaign coffers in the form of PACs are filled with money “donated” by lobbyists for every sort of interest group. We must, on evidence, then conclude that the lawyering industry has a questionable relationship to both truth and justice if their standards for truth are a moveable feast of fabrication to suit the circumstances. If the motto is “winning is everything,” the corollary is inescapably, “Society be damned.”

If that doesn’t sound like double jeopardy, I can’t imagine what would. And just what is it that is in jeopardy? Well, for openers, how about trust followed by justice, followed by the public’s interests. There are many more to list, but these are enough to paint the sorry picture. Then there is the matter of the recent financial crisis buy-outs and the enormous loss of savings the public suffered while the financial industry was, by contrast, largely spared with infusions of public money.  Who wins and who loses in this game? The social contract doesn’t have a chance—will it have to be destroyed in order to “save” it?

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