I was a bit dismayed by the lack of response to a guest blog I posted not long ago written by Jerry Stark. It struck me as extremely insightful and even a bit alarming. It is certainly worth a moment’s reflection. If Jerry is correct then we are in the midst of a revolution — which may or may not be a bad thing. Thomas Jefferson thought we needed a revolution every 20 years to clear the air, as it were! But this revolution is assuredly not a good thing, I fear, as it radically alters our perception of our world and other people in decidedly negative ways. I suspect it goes hand in glove with our cultural narcissism and may be exacerbated by our numerous fears and uncertainties. At the very least, it expresses the ressentiment of a growing number of people in this country who feel disenfranchised, excluded from the centers of power and influence, on the outside looking in.
In any event, I have selected the ten points that Jerry lists as evidence of the revolution in our thinking and will leave it to my readers to decide whether or not this alteration is a good thing — or indeed if it is widespread. I cannot argue against the fact that it is taking place. The only question is whether or not we will benefit from it in the long run. After all, like the oligarchy that has replaced our Republic, it replaces much of Western Civilization as we have known it for hundreds of years.
Here are Jerry’s ten points as he posted them:
(1) There is no truth other than the truth of the powerful. Any truth other than that of the powerful is not only false and fake; it is evil. The Leader is the source of Truth.
(2) Bigotry in defense of white supremacy is good. Non-white people are inferior. Social equality between races and religions is a dangerous lie.
(3) Nationalism, nativism and authoritarianism are good. Globalism, cosmopolitanism, and intellectualism are forms of weakness.
(4) Men are superior to women.
(5) Christians are superior to non-Christians.
(6) Real Americans, that is white Americans, are superior to all others.
(7) Strength is better than weakness. Military and economic strength are all important. Diplomacy and cooperation are signs of weakness.
(8) The strong are morally worthy; the weak are morally unworthy.
(9) Leadership is action for its own sake. Destruction is better than reform. Intelligence and policy analyses are unnecessary. All that is required is the will to act decisively and to prevail — in Trump’s words, to be a winner.
(10) Ignorance is virtue; intellect is vice.
When the United States was celebrating its bicentennial, the American historian Henry Steele Commager was asked to point out what was, in his mind, the single greatest difference between the country in 1976 and in 1776. Without hesitation, he said it was our current lack of concern for posterity. “Washington, Adams, and Jefferson couldn’t give a speech or write a letter without invoking posterity. . . [this] is a word that has disappeared from our vocabulary. . . ”
I agree with Commager (I bow to his superior knowledge of American history!) and would suggest a possible cause. I think our lack of forethought is a result of what I would call our business mentality. Alexis de Tocqueville noted this about us as early as 1831 when he said, in a letter to a friend, “…one sees that [the Americans] have sought the value of everything in the world only in answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?” To be sure, our culture is saturated by the preoccupation with the present, whether it be profits or pleasure. It permeates not only the business world, where it may be appropriate to focus attention on the bottom line, but also government and, worse yet, education where results now must be quantified and accompanied by a pie-chart. We don’t notice our mind-set in these contexts because we are so used to something that permeates our world-view at all ages from crib to coffin. We carry it with us all the time: it’s like a pair of glasses we see through and aren’t conscious of. As a culture we not only ignore the past, but we don’t think about the future either. It’s all about the here and now. This may be a good rule in business where today’s Dow-Jones is all-important, but it’s not healthy thinking for full, meaningful lives, when it comes to determining our place on this planet and the kind of world we are leaving to our grandchildren.
The first step in altering our mind-set, of course, is to become aware of it. But this simply is not happening as we blithely go about the business of living in the moment with no thought of what the future might bring. To alter this way of living in the world, it would be wise to place much greater stress on history than we do at present in the schools. After all, history does tend to repeat itself and Americans are notoriously ignorant of their own history, much less world history. In addition, we should also introduce into school curricula a time for “brain-storming,” sitting around and asking the question “what if?” This might enable young people as they grow older to imagine future consequences of present actions and learn also to cast their minds beyond the immediate present. Computer models may fail to project, and humans may not do much better because predictions are always subject to doubt. But failure to consider the future of our children and their children will most assuredly have grave consequences. Of that we can be fairly certain.