Archive for the 'on Society' Category

Thoughts on “It Can’t Happen Here”

Some time back I wrote a review of Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel, “It Can’t Happen Here”. I picked the book up again yesterday because, in fact, it did happen here. This essay will use excerpts from that review to illustrate and make what I believe are important points regarding recent political events in which a clearly unqualified and unsuitable individual won the 2016 race for President of the United States. In that essay I wrote:

Yes, it can happen here, and some would say it’s already happening. Written in 1935, Sinclair Lewis’ prescient novel, “It Can’t Happen Here” tells what happens to a country when people are complacent and compliant while others feel their time has come. The novel is an allegory, a morality tale, a story depicting the unquenchable quest for renown, power, and oftentimes wealth in a “go along to get along” complacent society. This is also what is referred to as Big Man theory and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). The Big Man, often inflicted with NPD, dispenses favors, employment, and material gain to sycophants in return for loyalty and support.

Sad to say, my opening sentence was also prescient and I felt it more than I thought it. There were other reasons of course, including what many of us thought was a dishonest primary with high party officials, including the party chairwoman, colluding to favor one candidate over another a fact later confirmed by ballot counts. Complacency in the form of a great many eligible people simply not voting either in the primary or in the general election added to the debacle. The lack of voter interest and participation is, in and of itself, a terrible commentary on and worrisome omen for the future of politics in the United States. Think for just a moment of those who sacrificed, either with lengthy commitment of time out of their lives or by making the ultimate sacrifice of their lives, to preserve this so-called Democracy. The depth of tragedy is unavoidably clear.

Where were all those “Freedom Loving” Americans who stand for the national anthem even if they don’t know the words and can’t follow the music? Do they not know, have they not been taught, do they not understand the importance of voting, of informing themselves of what is at stake? What happened? Where did the American socialization process go off the tracks, substituting consumerism for patriotism?

Lewis describes the pathology that infects both sides of the current Democrat/Republican equation …  from local politics to labor unions. It’s a two way street. The “leader” generally requires obsequious feedback and loyalty and the followers require favors in return for their affirmation and adoration. Everyone in the game has a handful of “gimme” and a mouthful of “much obliged”. It often doesn’t matter what the actors receive so long as they get “something” – a vote, a ride in a limo, a free meal, or simply an “atta boy” pat on the back. Such “leaders” possess an innate primal instinct to identify and exploit weaknesses crucial to their success.

And, it is a pathology, a disintegration of a social contract that requires responsibility for the conduct of a society and the outcomes of its governance. It’s a pathology that can become fatal. I have witnessed instances of these kinds of “leaders” asserting control over organizations and social scenes and the pattern is always the same. Favors are given, loyalty replaces thoughtful engagement, “goodies” flow, and promises predicting even more “goodies” or “free” munchies for the faithful. It is, on evidence, an “innate primal instinct”. It is a matter of ambition over integrity, of emotion over reason.

… consider the following symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder as described by the DSM-5 diagnostic text and … ask yourself if you recognize any of these in the current political milieu.

  1. Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others
  2. Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
  3. Self-perception of being unique, superior and associated with high-status people and institutions
  4. Needing constant admiration from others
  5. Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
  6. Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
  7. Unwilling to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs

These specifications describe our 2016 Presidential election. The specifications apply to both sides, some elements applying more to one candidate than the other. To these I would add two more. There is a certain kind of ruthlessness that specifically negates civility and exploits weakness in others. If you add together the elements of anomic personality disorder you can come up with a fair and accurate description of the actors in this modern-day drama especially the over-weaning necessity to dominate and to receive submission. Last but not least, in connection with the former, include the need for revenge as punishment for failure of obsequiousness and obedience. 

The obvious parallels are manifested in Windrip’s startling resemblance to two of the current candidates running for President of the US and Jessup’s avuncular resemblance to a sidelined populist former candidate for President.  Yes, history does indeed repeat itself. I vividly remember the turmoil of 1968 and the candidacy of Eugene McCarthy. As you read … I believe you’ll find yourself wondering if things ever actually change and what is our fate as a society if we cannot do better than this? Think of “It Can’t Happen Here” as an early warning call to action.

As much as some people are revolted by the notion, our social contract is underwritten by socialistic policies such as Social Security, Health Care, highways and by ways maintained by governments, police departments, and a standing military; for the benefit and good of all, even if more for some than others. Will all of this be dismantled in a sociopathic jihad that posits everyone should be on their own in some kind of jungle ethos? Are we just going to give this a whirl and see where it ends while the rest of the world watches?

Education’s Challenge: Don’t Play It Again Sam!

First a bit of history. I wrote this essay in 1971 when I was at the time finishing my Doctorate and was the Director of the University of Wisconsin Extension Service’s Regional Arts Program. I post it because when I recently came across it I was struck by how little the issues facing public school education  have changed since then. Credit and many thanks to: REGIONAL HISTORY CENTER NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY and: Margret Abbott, Assistant University Archivist, Regional History Center, Founders Memorial Library, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb Illinois 60115

 

Education’s Challenge: “Don’t Play It Again, Sam”

At a time when the world is crying out for relief from its social and environ-mental crisis our response must come in the form of radical departures from “business as usual” in the schools. Misplaced intelligence and well intentioned ignorance have made American schools like factories 1. With production came dehumanization and its consequences insensitivity to self, others and nature. The production view of education persists because of its appeal to those who fear human nature and who have deep needs for social control as well as for proof of status. At this moment the “in” euphemism for production .is “accountability”. Industrial conglomerates faced with dwindling business become the modem counterparts of the corporate management specialists and social efficiency experts of the early 1900’s. Schools are guaranteed results specified in advance this time through the application of space age technology. A new automated production line replaces the old piece-work methodology but the essential characteristics remain, Specified behavioral objectives are the stuff these dreams arc made of. Discrete bits of sanctified knowledge, neatly packaged, conveniently presented, and, above all, easily tested for are the substance of production. That children can be specified, designed produced, and quality-controlled like ball-bearings Is both the promise and the threat or these educational schemes. The children are to become dimensionally uniform – and as humane – as the perfect ball-bearings.

It is not that behavioral objectives are in themselves objectionable. The manner in which they are used to supersede the needs and intentions of individual persons is objectionable. When the goals of a few override the goals of individuals politically, we call it totalitarianism. When the goals of teachers and administrators similarly transcend the needs and intentions of children, it is called education. The more perfectly a school controls the behavior and training of its students the more favor it finds from those who have been conditioned to believe that this is all that is possible. As this cycle continues and the more deeply entrenched the ideas become, the greater the distance between man and his humane possibilities becomes. The more production-oriented the system, the more insensitive the “product” and the more remote the individual from the intricate and delicate interactions of nature.

Outdoor education is, at this point, in an enviable position. Educators are at the door asking for new behavioral objectives. At every conference the cry is, “Tell us what to teach and we’ll teach it.” The temptation is to haul out every-thing the outdoor educator has been trying to do for the past so many years.

Enormous lists of environmental concepts are being generated, card-filed, computerized, video-taped, cassette recorded, ad absurdum. And for what purpose? To replace old behavioral objectives with new one ? Objectives which are in step with the time and which would be proof positive that the     schools are keeping up and are responding to the environmental crisis? “Just give us the new specifications and we’ll get the new model on the assembly line.” Do we want to be party to this? Do we think the “new”. product will be more humane, more sensitive, or more responsive to the environment because the new specifications have been drawn up in our comer? If the present methodology does not work with present objectives (which, incidentally, are not so different from the new lists of environ-mental concepts) it isn’t going to work any better simply because the new objectives are more to our liking. The problem isn’t in the objectives but in the processes built into our educational systems from kindergarten to the universities.

All of us have had, at one time or another, experiences which reinforce this analysis. For instance, at a curriculum workshop conducted by a State Department of Instruction, my object was to help a group to define the terms concept, generalization, process, and evaluation. As we exchanged our views over these difficult words I remarked that, as human beings, “We are all process.” From birth to death, we are a synergistic collection of many and diverse processes. I was sharply rebutted by an elementary school principal, “I’m no process and that’s that!” It was difficult to convince him of what I took to be a self-evident truth. When we broke up the group, I could see that he was quite taken with this new perspective but for myself, I was deeply disturbed. As humans, especially in industrial societies, we have been so removed from a fundamental view of ourselves, from what we are as living organisms in the world, it is small wonder that we are capable of destroying our natural environment in so many ways. I am reminded of Lewis Mumford’s statement, in which he points out that in order for man to survive the dehumanized aspects of his work and existence he has had to tum his back on his more organic interests and become himself, a subsidiary machine.2

But nature knows no machines. Everything in nature from diatoms to mountain chains, from river beds to trilliums, everything is a process, a state of becoming. Nature knows no end products, no finalities. The remains of an extinct species fertilizes the earth so that new forms grow. Man, too, is both a process in himself and a part of the total process of the biosphere. It stands to reason then that when his actions violate this precious equation, disaster is the inevitable result. While few would argue this point with regard to Lake Erie or Los Angeles smog, fewer still would acknowledge the more pervasive but no less pernicious effects of mis-education.

What then is specifically amiss in modern education? Firstly, when people do not think of themselves as being a part of something, they are unable to respond to life in appropriate ways. When a relationship is based on conquering or having dominion over, be it social or environmental, it is not predisposed to loving interaction. When men feel that they are not themselves process, much less a part of a larger process, how can they feel nature, how can they help but be in conflict with the environment? They are already in conflict with themselves as individuals and as a species.

Before we can get at the root causes of environmental problems, then, education must take new forms-forms which are themselves consonant with natural processes. We must promote reforms of the fundamental concepts of public education away from production models, social control, and behavioral conditioning. We must find forms which respond to the needs of learners, which promote self-direction and self-control, which encourage community responsibility counting the environment (and all of the people and life in it) as an inseparable part of that community. The environmental problem has to be solved in the primary environment of human experience-the self. People must come to know themselves as fully functioning beings capable of influencing the circumstances of their lives before they can be expected to act in behalf of the natural environment which includes the forests, cities, marshes, and oceans. The environment which is to be cared for is what is around them and not something “over there” that some naturalist is concerned about. The ecosystem of a city slum is as much a part of the biosphere as Hell’s Canyon in Idaho. And outdoor education has a great and obvious responsibility to the inner city child just as it does to the preservation of the Blue Heron. Preserve one and not the other and you have nothing; love the child and preserve the Heron and you have everything. Give that child a view of himself as vital and capable, and then we will perhaps save the environment.

Outdoor educators concerned with self-image should recall the words of Henry David Thoreau, a great outdoor educator, “What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines or rather indicates his fate.”3 Man polluted the environment and man must un-pollute it. We cannot solve the problem but at its source -and the source is self. REFERENCES 1. Kliebard, Herbert M., “Bureaucracy and Curriculum Theory,” Freedom, Bureaucracy, and Schooling, 1971 Yearbook of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. 2. Mumford, Lewis, Art and Technics. Columbia University Press, 1952.            3. Thoreau, Henry David, Walden. The New American Library, 1960. from the opening essay entitled, “Economy”.

 

Circling The Drain

In mathematics there is a concept called Pareto efficiency, it describes the impossibility for one side of an equation to keep taking without depriving or diminishing  the other side. A common sense idea in which the losing side inevitably goes to zero. Because of the finite quality of available resources namely money, Capitalism is a Pareto efficient economic system – the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. In other words it is a zero-sum game – I win and you lose. This raises an interesting question: how can a so-called “Democratic” society  tolerate or thrive within a anti-democratic economic model? As a consequence of too few having too much too many have too little of this stuff to spend. It doesn’t require a PhD in Economics to figure out that if too few have to little to spend the general economy will suffer. So, a truthful Economics 101 should tell us that the imbalance caused by greed is a foundational cause of economic failure and, eventually, social collapse.

It is important to understand that aside from accumulating as much as possible, there is no moral or ethical code associated with the Capitalist belief system. To understand this consider: A pharmaceuticals company acquires the rights to a vital medicine which has been selling at $56.64 per dose they raise the price overnight to $317.82 for the same amount and at the same time raise the compensation of their CEO from $2,453,456.00 to $18,931,068.00. The drug went up 461%  and the CEO’s salary went up 671%. As they say, nice work if you can get it and pity the people who need the drug to survive.

Pick up any economics texts and you’ll be treated to an amazing variety of theories explaining why we had a crash in 2008 or why the world’s (and our) economy has failed to regenerate from said crash in spite of various governmental interventions. One theory after another is generated by learned professors at various universities and think-tanks. Of course none of this wisdom accords with what we experience in our everyday lives but it sounds profound. The reason why the economy isn’t recovering is actually quite simple – we live in a Pareto efficient economic system, that is to say, too few people have too much of available monetary resources and too many have too little.

The totality of economics can be expressed this way: 2+2=4 and 4-2=2 but more importantly, 4-4=0. That’s it, that’s the whole story in a nut shell. For all of us unwashed, economics is a simple matter of you either have it or you don’t. As of July of this year 13% of men between the ages of 25 and 54 have dropped out of the labor force consequently they don’t have any “it” to spend. The unemployment rate continues to hover around 4.9% of which 26.6% are considered long-term unemployed. Also, what the numbers don’t tell you is what kinds of jobs are available and what wages they are paying. Do they pay minimum wage? Can people support their families on this level of income? Can employed people afford health care? Is there such a thing as “disposable” income? Did you know that a large percentage of enlisted military families rely on food stamps or that the US has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the entire world? That’s real world economics, folks.

Capitalism is a dualistic belief system which, while promising fair distribution of material and social wealth, delivers quite the opposite. Now that 1% of the population owns 40% of the United States’ wealth it seems plain to see things are out of balance. Although many writers such as Thomas Piketty and Charles Lehmann, have produced incontrovertible evidence  of the imbalance, the general public seems to be in denial. To argue against inequality earns you various imprecations such as, you are a Socialist or even worse a Communist. Most using these terms don’t have a clue as to what Socialism is or means, it becomes name calling because Communists, are, as we all know, evil and totalitarian and who knows what socialists are?

Given the Pareto efficient aspect of Capitalism, the imbalance, cannot be treated with doses of feel-good Kumbaya or patriotic exhortations; eventually something has to give. A bigger question remains. When there is nothing left for the majority how long can belief in the social contract survive? Are we circling the drain? Inevitably we are going to find out.

  Gliding Into Dreamtime

  We are not living at the dawning of a new Age of Aquarius. We are more living in a necessary Dreamtime. In the Aboriginal “Dreamtime” people connect to their ancestral past and to truth. Today, civilized populations live in a Dreamtime in which there is no truth, and no personal responsibility for the world as it is. There are others to carry that burden. It’s a simplistic cosmology populated with good guys and bad guys. It’s a philosophy that relieves believers of responsibility for the world as they find it; someone else has caused it, someone else will take care of it. Beliefs, dualisms, and fantasies govern this dream world displacing blame and handing off problems to higher supernatural authority.

The world we live in is defined by constant tension and turmoil between believing and knowing. Beliefs simultaneously energize and constrain, they have been the foundation stones of all social contracts from the onset of human experience to this day. Many common belief systems are religious and imaginary projections of characteristics attributed to other belief systems, other individuals – “others” in general. What people believe about anything or anyone often counts for more than what may or can actually be known or proven. Speaking to and stoking belief is a favorite tactic of politicians, demagogues, and despots. Scare people sufficiently and enough of them will follow you anywhere, even to war. History is a continuum of wars waged over beliefs.

Politicians peddle belief as much as clergy. Politicians pay pollsters sacks of money to determine what people believe and what they would believe. Politicians peddle what they learn back to you often via some well known “personality”. A lot of money and effort are spent crafting a believable Dreamtime pitch just for you, just for what you believe, just for what you want to believe. For the most part, this works. Why? Because people generally want their beliefs affirmed and when they hear it from a famous speaker they are validated. Demagogues are especially good at this form of salesmanship holding a fat thumb on the scales of truth.   

The belief / knowledge dualism is built into the humane psyche with belief being, in all probability, the most foundational survival mechanism – one that cannot be extinguished. The dualisms of modern life mirror those of past times. Life and death, wealth and poverty, good and evil, peace and war, health and sickness, gain and loss, power and impotence, justice and injustice. Fear is also belief, particularly with regard to mortality. The sixty-four-dollar question being, what happens after death? Belief in an afterlife, whether a welcoming host of heavenly angels with golden harps or a thousand virgins for every jihadist, is the anodyne of mortality. Belief in Heaven and Hell resolves the dualism of good and evil providing the ultimate distribution of justice. Death is the only unequivocal answer to your questions.

We have to question, I believe, the life expectancy of belief systems foundational to any social contract, capitalist or otherwise, that would impoverish and leave jobless formerly middle-class people.  In many communities across the United States, for example, there is no living wage employment in a vacuum left in the wake of businesses exiting for low wage foreign countries – nothing left behind but mortgage  foreclosures, and food stamps. Ironically, many full-time workers are relying on food stamps, their wages being insufficient to feed their families. In a final irony, some state Legislatures and Governors restrict or outright deny food stamps to those in need often subjecting them to humiliating drug tests. The same is true with subsidized health care and unemployment benefits.

We must ask how much destructive inhumanity any social contract can withstand before erupting into rebellion. The long glide into a dystopian Dreamtime will not be anesthetized by watching Archie Bunker reruns. It’s going to be painful.

Comes The Revolution …..

Comes The Revolution

In the Broadway production of Ballyhoo of 1932, Willie Howard and his brother Eugene played in a widely popular Depression-era comedy routine describing the inanities of government programs in which a soap-box orator told some New York City bums about the glories of Communism. “Comes the revolution,” the orator declared, everyone will live the good life and eat strawberries and cream. “I don’t like strawberries and cream!” responded one of his listeners. “Comes the revolution,” the orator declared, “You’ll eat strawberries and cream—and like it!”

Many years ago I belonged to a unionized carpentry cooperative that framed buildings for general contractors. The cooperative was named after the Bolshevik great-grandfather of one of the coop’s founders, whose favorite rejoinder, adopted by our entire crew was, “Comes the revolution.”, complete with a dramatically rolled “r”. Nearly every carpenter in the group was a college graduate and at that time I was teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Our conversations were lively and the politics ranged from liberal to revolutionary. We all entertained visions of strawberries and cream for the human race. That was a long time ago but I am still reminded of those conversations when confronted by today’s politics especially the multitude and variety of beliefs swarming within the body politic not the least of which are attempts to inject religious beliefs into the political discourse when the Constitution clearly states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”.

In these modern times the economic system, Capitalism, seems to have evolved into a quasi-religious political belief system. Like religious dogma, Capitalism may not be questioned without accusatory and punitive response in spite of clear evidence it is destroying social contracts, consuming and sequestering wealth in un-taxable accounts globally. Capitalism has become a belief system which, while promising fair distribution of material and social wealth, is delivering quite the opposite. Now that 85 people, according to Oxfam, own nearly half of the world’s wealth and closer to home, .01% of the US population owns nearly 40% of this nation’s wealth, it is plain to see things are out of balance and in a multitude of ways. Forbes, not exactly a left wing organization, reports that currently 76 million Americans are struggling financially. A Harris poll found that 43% of the jobless have given up looking for work and the US government reported that 94.7 million Americans are now considered as not being in the labor force. To argue against these imbalances can earn you various imprecations such as, you’re a Socialist or even worse a Communist. Many people who use these terms haven’t a clue as to what socialism is. It is simply name – calling because Communists and Socialists, are, as we all know, evil.

We have to wonder how long a life expectancy any social contract, Capitalist or otherwise, has that impoverishes and leaves jobless so many formerly middle-class people as their employers close and, in the name of profit, move operations out of the United States to places with little or no health and safety regulations and pay scales that are a fraction of those in the US. This past March the Carrier Corporation announced it was closing its Indianapolis air conditioning manufacturing and moving those jobs to Mexico at the loss of 1400 American jobs. Carrier moved jobs to Mexico where workers earn approximately $19.00 a day compared to, on average, $15 to $26 an hour in Indiana. The total annual compensation of the chief executive of United Technologies, Carrier’s owners,  is, by the way , $5.7 million. In many communities throughout the United States, especially in the mid-West, gainful employment is drying up except for low paying menial jobs – not much remains but mortgage  foreclosures, and food stamps.  There are many full-time workers who rely on food stamps as their wages are insufficient to feed their families.

Unemployment numbers are suspect as many no longer qualify and have dropped off the roles allowing politicians to cite low unemployment. In the face of this tragic situation several states Legislatures and Governors (most notably Maine), while touting their religiosity are even restricting or outright denying food stamps to those in need and subjecting applicants to humiliating drug testing. We have to wonder and must talk openly about where all this is going to end up. The national conversation needs to be about these things otherwise it’s going to be either, “Just eat your ice cream and strawberries and shut up!” or “… comes the revolution”. A choice is going to have be made by one way or another.

 

The Henny Penny Syndrome

Do you remember Henny Penny, a.k.a. “Chicken Little”, who became convinced the sky was falling when an acorn dropped on her head? As a consequence of Henny’s alarm, a number of her panicked chicken colleagues were eaten by a wolf. All of this the result of just one acorn falling. It is only in the general, the sum total of a number of particulars, that we become able to correctly see larger patterns, the tectonic shifts in the social contract for example, and the proximate causes that tell us if the sky is really falling.  Presently there are very many particulars going around and it’s a challenge to properly identify, characterize, and project them as indicators of future possibilities. These days, if you pay attention to the news, it’s difficult not to be somewhere between the extremes of outrage and fear.

Are we, as a society, as cohesive and secure as we believe we are or are we kidding ourselves? Rousseau defined the social contract as a collective moral body and I think he would be challenged to find such in the United States today. Would such populist sloganeering and propaganda as “America First” or “Take Back America” be politically useful if large segments of the population were not feeling an acute sense of insecurity? It’s hard to judge from the extremes of protestation and acting out behavior going on across the country. Supporters of one populist candidate have staged violent demonstrations with out of control tempers, brandished guns, blows being struck, and people bloodied. Much of it seems to be about emotional racism and unarticulated class resentment.   

True Believers are striking out at the “usual suspects” those being people of color or non-standard sexual orientation. Where people pee is inspiring death threats. And while protestors seem inarticulate about their grievances and unable to describe what exactly the source of their angst is, they are certain their candidate will solve it for them. Given the enormous disparity of wealth and opportunity this is certainly not surprising.

Obviously when an economic system permits the export of well paying and even marginal jobs in search of people desperate enough to work for low wages, the inevitable consequence is unemployment in the society being abandoned. With chronic unemployment comes impoverishment, and with poverty the inability to sustain a viable much less a vibrant economy. Fear, resentment, and anger are the inevitable byproducts. People who are powerless resent their sense of impotence and tend to take their frustration out on others and politicians are ruthlessly taking advantage of this dynamic.

The present election cycle has exposed a deep body of unfocused acrimony and repressed anger caused by an economic system that has impoverished and disadvantaged many. There are company towns with no company. Angry Americans want a fence. But, while a fence might keep migrants out it certainly won’t keep jobs in.

At root, the underlying problem is the perception fostered over time that Capitalism and Democracy are synonymous. Capitalism, the driving force behind the foregoing social problems has achieved quasi-religious and patriotic status and is thus cannot be questioned. Capitalism has replaced Democracy as the foundation stone of our social contract. Social Democracy remains an experiment and not a delivered reality. Although the United States has never been a true Democracy it is even less so now. Oligarchy has existed far longer than Democracy and is going strong in this country concentrating wealth, influence, and power much more intensely and narrowly than ever before.

Experiment and experience derive from the same root, we experiment in order to experience an idea – imagination is the inspiration. An important quality of experiments is that there is no failure. We experiment seeking outcomes or results, it is a learning experience. And, brother, are we ever learning these days that Democracy remains an ongoing experiment. Maybe the sky is falling.

The Power Of Belief

The philosopher Donald Davidson once pointed out that, “Truth is beautifully transparent compared to belief …”. As human beings our vanity is that we believe we act rationally when, in fact, the vast majority of human activity is motivated by belief. Throughout the course of history social contracts have been based on belief systems regardless of truth, as for example, “… all men are created equal”.  No form of social contract, from so-called Democracy to totalitarian states can exist and function unless people believe its tenets, be they true or not. This necessary belief may be coerced or delusional, condign or voluntary, but is always foundational to all social contracts. It cannot be any other way. Because of this any discussion about social contracts must include what people believe in a specific social context, that is to say, their belief system. Liars, public and private, and politicians know and exploit this dynamic simply by telling people what they want to hear based on what they need to believe.  It’s how cons, in and out of politics, work their magic selling the Brooklyn Bridge.

The US government has already built, at not inconsiderable expense, a wall and fence along the border with Mexico to keep out people many of whom are refugees fleeing violence in their home countries. The GW Bush administration built around 670 miles of fence along the border at an estimated cost of $2.4 billion to keep people out. One former Republican presidential candidate, Marco Rubio, made fencing the border a major component of his campaign agenda. Not to be outdone, Donald Trump went Rubio one better promising a 2000 mile wall along the entire border and, he said, Mexico will pay for it. How do politicians get away with this nonsense? Belief – the belief by  their audience that such a fence will make them safe, keep out the threatening undesirable refugees (including children), and that Mexico will pay for it. It’s a con playing to ignorance. It’s a con. People have been playing to fear since white people first set  foot on this continent. Demonized Italians, Frenchmen, Poles, Lithuanians, Irish, you name them and just about every group that came to this country has been demonized at one time or another by a group that had themselves been previously demonized.  Every protester who now wants to pull up the gangplank owes their citizenship to an immigrant ancestor including those who came across the Bearing  Straits land bridge 16 to 13,000 years ago.

Recently a group of individuals took over a federal facility in Oregon, claiming their rights as “sovereign citizens”. “Sovereign” generally refers to royalty; however, as an adjective sovereign implies ultimate power, and in a democracy that supreme power is said to rest with the “people”. It is important to note that the group in Oregon consisted mainly of white males who were armed and who had, in this staged drama damaged or destroyed public property. So what do these protesters believe sovereign means? Do they believe they can enjoy the benefits accruing to citizens of the US without communal duties or responsibilities, a notion that has been regularly rejected by the courts? Their belief is strong enough for one of them to get shot to death by police and others to be jailed.

Perhaps one possible explanation to these questions lies in the power of false and contrived political identity born of a lack of a sense of authentic political and  social identity.  In short, they believe they have to declare themselves sovereign to be authentic. Another observable authenticity scam is the skilled use of false identity by politicians to divide their believers from others. Donald Trump is a master of this kind of demagoguery.  Fear is the belief system being appealed to no different from Hitler demonizing Jews. Believers are easily conned because what they are really afraid of is not truth but what they believe.


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