American normalcy

We're the country that believes that charging enormous amounts of money for pills and for medical services and taking advantage of medical bankruptcies counts as "hard work and dedication."

We're the country where giving the Pentagon whatever it wants so that it can buy weapons it's never going to use is universally imagined as a virtue by the political classes of Right, Left, and center.

We're the country that believes that driving people into homelessness and then persecuting them during the winter months is a normal state of affairs. And most of our city councils believe that the homeless will disappear if the police push them out of town.

We're the country where paying teachers very little, burdening them with unrealistic testing-and-standards regimes, and arming them with guns is considered normal practice.

We're the country in which climate change denial is a normal position.

America thought Obama was a leftist, and now it thinks of Donald Trump as a serious politician.

*****

What to do? Offer an intervention? Boycott America? Hostility might not work -- remember that the Trump wall is a variation on the Clinton wall and is based more or less upon the wall in Israel. Maybe America's everyday ridiculous strategies satisfy another need, kind of like the attention-getting thing that Deeyah Khan discovered when she went out to interview neo-Nazis?

For my forthcoming book I'm working on an expression of "human nature." I do recognize that the idea of "nature" is typically ideological, and that the term "nature" is typically used to combine large numbers of rather different things. But I do think we need an idea of "human nature," simply because the drastic and scary simplification of planetary ecosystems in the world of today is expressed as something bad that was done to "nature," i.e. non-human nature, as if that term could explain in some sufficient way what was going on, which it does not.

My expression so far is this: people are basically awkward, and so we use our cleverness to overcompensate for our awkwardness. Perhaps this is what's going on with America? You have this big group of people, Americans, and they think they're clever for doing what they do, and then their awkwardness obliges them to double down on the ridiculous strategies they've chosen. The psychologists call it "cognitive dissonance."

And my suggestion is this: if America stayed the same, it would still be composed of a bunch of awkward people who thought they were clever. If America changed, it would also still be composed of a bunch of awkward people who thought they were clever. But if America changed, maybe life would be better.

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QMS's picture

of the American mindset, as manufactured by the marketing wing of the capitalist party. Unfortunately for the masses that accept this indoctrination, alternative versions of normal are not debated, as would be the case in a functioning democracy. Perhaps your suggestion of overcompensation for awkwardness is behind some of the failure to pursue a more humane value system. It is a good perspective to explore.
Thanks for bringing this forward.

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16 users have voted.

Listen to your higher mind.

dkmich's picture

It is a species that doesn't deserve to exist. Imagine how beautiful this planet would be without us.

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6 users have voted.

"Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

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dystopian's picture

@dkmich I think a too-large share of Americans are maybe Homo ignoramus or Homo stupidicus. Definitely upright and bipedal, however, not so much on the thinking part. Smile

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11 users have voted.

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.
both - Albert Einstein

@dkmich may be coming to a new age, where everything here now gets wiped out and everything starts over after a few million years.

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7 users have voted.

dfarrah

Cassiodorus's picture

@dfarrah in her Maddaddam trilogy, in which a genetic engineer manufactures a pandemic designed to wipe out the human race. In the end, the disease kills off all but a very small number of people while leaving behind some pretty weird genetically altered species to roam the Earth. Presumably the books will be made into a TV series at some point, or this is what they said a year ago and what they haven't mentioned since.

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6 users have voted.

"The degree to which liberals are coming to inhabit an alternate reality, impenetrable by facts or reason, is actually frightening." -- Steve Maher

@Cassiodorus
Atwood's literary accomplishment has been on a steady upward trajectory over the last 30 years, rather than just sort of petering out. Few writers who are successful when young get better and better in the second half of their lives, but she seems to have done so. I haven't read anything she's written since Cat's Eye -- which I read in hardback, not long after it cam eout.

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5 users have voted.

The earth is a multibillion-year-old sphere.
The Nazis killed millions of Jews.
On 9/11/01, a Boeing 757 (AA Flight 77) flew into the Pentagon.
If you can't accept these indisputable facts, I can't fake an interest in your opinions about anything else.

@dkmich
Animals see, hear, smell, feel and think. They have friends, they make offspring, they are hunters and or gatherers. They lived in a stable Earth climate and can tolerate geological change through migration and adaptation, and as a result produce many more species. All of the creatures had a very slow extinction rate up to now, unless there was an extreme geological change. They were part of a system of homeostasis of the climate, together with natural plant species. Their CO2 and CH4 emissions were part of a natural self regulating mechanism. We talk about limiting the number large animals only because we emit so much greenhouse gas.

I can only see that the planet is much better off without home sapiens. Saying otherwise is species centric, and totally blind to the scale of existence of life on planet Earth.

To justify our existence we would have to become true stewards of the planet and have a small to non-existent footprint. We will never do that because we are greedy beyond all needs, and incapable of self-limiting our negative effects on the planet, e.g population.

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11 users have voted.

Capitalism has always been the rule of the people by the oligarchs. You only have two choices, eliminate them or restrict their power.

@dkmich I mean, no one would remain to see this ... Beauty. Or stinking pools of death. In that case, no need to do anything--just let Trump destroy it. Or proclaim, "I love Big Brother!"

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2 users have voted.
mimi's picture

We're the country that believes that driving people into homelessness and then persecuting them during the winter months is a normal state of affairs.

You would think that being poor and homeless would be enough to get you upset with 'them politicians and Drumpelstiltzchen'. BTW, you don't have to have winter months to persecute the homeless. Those unintended consequences of being tough on the wall and with those lazy people and them migrants and natives, who don't want to work etc. ... can make some people quite happy.

The homeless people in Hawaii, who often live/camp in tents near or on the public beaches and regularly are chased away to not disturb the "tourists", because they would insult the conscience of the "folks with a home" with their presense, they are happy with the shutdown and therefore with Drumpelstiltzchen. ... You know not enough park rangers or police to check up on the beaches' "inappropriate inhabitants" to chase them away. So, in HI there are some homeless quite happy ... finally they can be left in peace on the beaches and nobody around to chase them away or persecuting them for a while.

All a matter of where you stand/sleep at night/in life, right? Wink

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14 users have voted.
arendt's picture

For my forthcoming book I'm working on an expression of "human nature." I do recognize that the idea of "nature" is typically ideological, and that the term "nature" is typically used to combine large numbers of rather different things. But I do think we need an idea of "human nature," simply because the drastic and scary simplification of planetary ecosystems in the world of today is expressed as something bad that was done to "nature," i.e. non-human nature, as if that term could explain in some sufficient way what was going on, which it does not.

There is a geographer named J.W. Moore, who has written an important book called "Capitalism and the Web of Life". The book is so chocked full of post-Marxist jargon and renaming common terms that even I couldn't wade through it. Moore has propounded the theory of "Cheap Nature".

Human organizations are environment-making processes and projects; manifold environment-making processes in the web of life shape human organization. This is the double internality of historical change – humanity inside nature, nature inside humanity. (With humanity differentiated, not reduced to a formless, abstract homogeneity.) World-ecology is not alone in making the broad philosophical argument; but it is distinctive in arguing for the translation of these philosophical positions into methodological premises, narrative strategies, and theoretical frames in which specific forms of human organization – such as capitalism – are producers and products of the web of life.
The Rise of Cheap Nature

The basic concept that is relevant to you is that capitalists modify the environment for their own benefit (massive land clearances in the Americas for sugar plantations). They make the modifications in order to make some natural resource cheap. (They focus on four cheaps: food, energy, labor (i.e., slave or wage slave), and minerals.) This modification changes the nature of nature. (Interestingly, he puts the start of the Industrial Revolution back into the 16th century when capitalists caused massive deforestation in the Baltics to get timber for sailing ships, and when the created the aformentioned sugar planatations. He argues that these had as big an impact on the environment as later capitalist industrial campaigns.)

Moore uses the jargon "world-ecology" to describe the co-determination of society and nature by human activity.

It is really a deep concept that I can't get my head around at 10 AM on Sunday after I just spent an hour digging myself out from the snowstorm. If you are interested, message me and I will try to put together something more coherent.

Good luck with your book.

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13 users have voted.
Cassiodorus's picture

@arendt

There is a geographer named J.W. Moore, who has written an important book called "Capitalism and the Web of Life". The book is so chocked full of post-Marxist jargon and renaming common terms that even I couldn't wade through it.

That's Jason. I've seen him in person twice, in Binghamton, and I'm sure I'll see him again in San Francisco later this year. He needs a bit of help getting out of the academic mindset. His book with Raj Patel is better. Raj Patel at least knows how to write for an audience of laypeople.

I'm using Jason's theories in my book, which I'll be presenting Feb. 10 I think in Portland.

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10 users have voted.

"The degree to which liberals are coming to inhabit an alternate reality, impenetrable by facts or reason, is actually frightening." -- Steve Maher

arendt's picture

@Cassiodorus

I'm conflicted here.

I could get the book for nothing at ResearchGate.

How do the author's feel about that? Would they want me to buy the book and thereby fund them? Or do they feel that electronic media ought to be free?

Do you have any idea?

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4 users have voted.
Cassiodorus's picture

@arendt Jason posts stuff there.

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3 users have voted.

"The degree to which liberals are coming to inhabit an alternate reality, impenetrable by facts or reason, is actually frightening." -- Steve Maher

There is something in us that is off kilter, a national mental illness?

There is history that has kings, gods and tyrants forever ruling over us, hat we are bred for subjugation. This may be true. Here we are isolated by our news outlets. Most of us will never visit a foreign land in person, and less and less of reporting on other countries intrudes on "the news". After all, people in Canada die like flies because of national health care, and clog our hospitals begging for care, right? It's only by an individual searching out how other countries govern, how their citizens live we can make a comparison to ourselves, our country.

By our numbers, the 99% should be a howling mob, absolute tyrants in having our demands, our needs, met. Instead we are brought up to be individuals. The Horatio Alger kind, solely responsible for ones fate, that every obstacle thrown at us can be overcome, and should be overcome by ones self. If something bad happens, it's something we brought upon on ourselves through poor choices and self indulgence. We're expected to get ourselves out of every mess, expect no hand outs or hand up. Maybe that's why we can shed tears about migrants at our border but remain silent about those fellow citizens who have no shelter or food. They had their chance.

In the land of rugged capitalism we're the bed wetters, ashamed of ourselves and shamed by our country for wanting, needing more for ourselves. Decent medical and maternity care. Adequate jobless benefits, a living wage, Social Security, education and job retraining. Who's going to pay for that? We all do, one way or another. It's just that often the payment goes to the 1%, not to anyone that needs it.

We equate the amount in our checkbooks with the amount of our worth, how much American virtue we've accumulated, and we elect those with the biggest checkbooks to lead us, directly or by proxy. They say education happens as much outside of school as in the classroom. If so, I'd wager the real American civics lessons borders on child abuse.

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14 users have voted.

@Snode
to a George Will piece criticising Trump. Will does not like Trump. After a lifetime of prim stick-up-the-butt rhetorical propriety with respect to People That Matter, he writes about Trump as if he were writing about an albanian drug kingpin or a crackhead serial murderer or some other significantly declasse sort of person.

But the really funny thing about it is Will's one significant policy complaint: That Trump has done nothing to reel in our out-of-control "unsustainable" entitlement-based government. He doesn't elaborate, but in reading the sentence, I was just baffled. What, exactly, are these out-of-control entitlements? Social Security? Medicare? We are the most materially wealthy nation in the history of humanity, and this guy's ideology still won't allow him to comprehend that, wherever the problem may lie, if we can't afford to support our elderly population our provide healthcare to our citizens, the problem is not, and can never be, unsustainable entitlements, but must rather be something structural in the way we choose to allocate resources. The toddlerishness of his comprehension of micro-economics and macro-economics -- mistaking the fundamental problems as matters of individual virtue rather than structural inadequacy -- is nauseating. A lifetime spent pondering and pontification about such things, and he has not advanced in his wisdom ten minutes beyond the little snot he was in high school.

But here's the real rub: He doesn't comprehend the culpability of either his ideology or his own rhetorical school, for the Coming of Der Trumpf. In one short opinion piece, he simultaneously decries the woeful political state of the union, with its appalling horror-show of a Head of State; and doubles down on exactly the sort of resentment rhetoric about "unsustainable entitlements" that reverberates in the heads of all those disaffected angry lower-middle class folks who elected Trump. Not only has his ideology not advanced beyond the simplistic WASPy libertarian moralizing of the typical socioeconomically advantaged academically excellent American adolescent -- but he enjoys no capacity for reflecting on the practical implications of that ideology when it is spewed out endlessly into the memesphere.

What. A. Tool.

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18 users have voted.

The earth is a multibillion-year-old sphere.
The Nazis killed millions of Jews.
On 9/11/01, a Boeing 757 (AA Flight 77) flew into the Pentagon.
If you can't accept these indisputable facts, I can't fake an interest in your opinions about anything else.

@UntimelyRippd What gets me is he just writes the same thing over and over, for decades, and passes it off as wisdom carved in stone. I came across this about Tucker Carlson, but couldn't bring myself to actually listen to the clip.

https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2019/01/tucker-carlson-capitalism-mo...

What I can't figure out is why, with so many of us, 99%, we put up with this crap. Unless on some deep unacknowledged level, we agree with it in some way.

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7 users have voted.
QMS's picture

@Snode
Implicit abeyance programmed into the narrative.

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6 users have voted.

Listen to your higher mind.

@Snode
i contemplated starting a blog called "WillWatch" or some such, whose sole purpose would be shred to pieces his inane blather.

up
6 users have voted.

The earth is a multibillion-year-old sphere.
The Nazis killed millions of Jews.
On 9/11/01, a Boeing 757 (AA Flight 77) flew into the Pentagon.
If you can't accept these indisputable facts, I can't fake an interest in your opinions about anything else.

Pluto's Republic's picture

@UntimelyRippd

He's the perfect subject for a proof of concept. Is there, infact, a mercilessly withering Opinion critique site for some of these stools that pile up over the course of a day?

How nice that would be. Wouldn't mind trying my hand.

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5 users have voted.

The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.
– Albert Camus

@Pluto's Republic
who had a reasonably successful blog titled, "Sweet Jesus I Hate Bill O'Reilly", which was rant after rant of hating on whatever Bill O'Reilly had said or done lately.

i just went and checked the domain, and somebody else owns it now, it's in a foreign language.

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6 users have voted.

The earth is a multibillion-year-old sphere.
The Nazis killed millions of Jews.
On 9/11/01, a Boeing 757 (AA Flight 77) flew into the Pentagon.
If you can't accept these indisputable facts, I can't fake an interest in your opinions about anything else.

Anja Geitz's picture

@UntimelyRippd

To send that comment directly to George Will?

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5 users have voted.

If we surrendered to earth's intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

@Anja Geitz

up
5 users have voted.

The earth is a multibillion-year-old sphere.
The Nazis killed millions of Jews.
On 9/11/01, a Boeing 757 (AA Flight 77) flew into the Pentagon.
If you can't accept these indisputable facts, I can't fake an interest in your opinions about anything else.

Deja's picture

@UntimelyRippd
And I laughed anyway.

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4 users have voted.
Daenerys's picture

@Snode It is abusive, you're absolutely right. Most people, especially those of older generations, were taught from a young age that you don't deserve to have your basic needs met unless you "earn" them by working for it. (While often simultaneously shitting on people working service/retail jobs, doing just that.)

It's so sad, really; my own mother is an example. She is a child abuse survivor, who never got help or counseling or therapy for what her dad did to her (who died young from health problems). Because back then you just took it and didn't get help, and that fucks with your head. Her entire self-worth is based solely on how much work she is able to do, which is less and less every day; she'll be 72 in March. We're working on getting her help; if that means having her forcibly removed from the farm so be it. It will be a war though.

Maybe it's more a rural thing, with people who grew up farming, and even still your neighbors all knew each other and helped each other out while insisting they did everything themselves....and we've had a major shift from rural living/farming to city dwelling.

I don't know. I don't get it either.

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12 users have voted.

This shit is bananas.

@Daenerys Children back then pretty much had no rights, they were almost property. Forget about believing their testimony in court, or anywhere they were automatically unreliable as witnesses because of age (also inherently wicked), and women weren't far behind.

Rural folks were both independent and reliant on each other. Big families made for a big network. If you weren't from a big family, it was harder.

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7 users have voted.
Deja's picture

@Daenerys
If your mom has any. I say this because the day my (rural) grandfather, who was at least 80, found out the state had refused to renew his driver license, and my mom asked him for his keys, he jumped up and grabbed one of his guns. The cops and my uncle were called. He gave my uncle his guns and my mom his keys, but he was broken. It made me so sad to hear.

You're gonna need some professional help to ease her into it. We country folk are an independent, hard-headed lot. Your description of her sounds textbook. Sorry you are facing this.

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10 users have voted.
Daenerys's picture

@Deja Yes, there are guns around that could be a problem. But she would notice they were gone if we just moved them somewhere. I don't know. We're going to call the county social services for vulnerable adults for an assessment, or whatever, or advice at the very least. We don't have power of attorney or guardianship or conservatorship or any of that. She has conservatorship for my dad. I don't know if that will make things easier or harder.

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4 users have voted.

This shit is bananas.

Deja's picture

@Daenerys
I'm so, so sorry. I don't have any other advice to give, other than do the best to take care of yourself through this tough time. Whatever brings you joy, make time to do it, just for you, as often as possible.

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3 users have voted.

i'm deep into a 46-episode romance called Kurt Seyit and Sura.

It's a fictionalized and dramatized rendering of the love affair between an ethnically Turkish Crimean officer in an elite Tsarist unit, and a very young White Russian noblewoman. It will surprise nobody reading that neither family approves.

The story has a very Tolstoyish feel. It begins some time late in WWI (maybe mid-1916?), then follows the protagonists (and various friends and family) through the collapse of the Tsarist regime and their flight from the Bolsheviks, ending up in Istanbul.

It's difficult, of course, to find great sympathy for displaced aristocrats, but in the end, people are people. Few of the characters spend much time bemoaning their lowered material state. The series is based on a set of historical novels written by a Turkish poet and journalist, drawn from the life of her own grandfather. Through interviews with a few surviving contemporaries of Kurt and Sura (including Sura's older sister), as well as some of their other descendants, she managed to put together a surprisingly complete narrative. However, the novels are just that -- novels, not memoirs or biographies -- and the TV producers have taken further liberties with plot and character in order to suit the dramatic "requirements" of the medium.

Bearing in mind this ahistoricity, what's most interesting to me is the presentation of the culture and politics of Turkey at the time. I hadn't ever given much thought to post-WWI Turkey, and something I explicitly didn't know was that the peace treaty gave the British a mandate to maintain order, similar to the British and French mandates in the "Transjordan", as Israel, Lebanon, Palestine etc. were known back in the day.

The result was a British occupation of major Turkish cities, including Istanbul. This being a Turkish production based on a Turkish novel written by a Turkish woman, dramatizing her Turkish grandfather's life, guess who the good guys are? The British occupiers are portrayed as being about one and a half moral steps above the typical portrayal of Nazi occupiers in western Europe (or Casablanca). They are corrupt and violent. Many of them view their "charges" with contempt, suspicion, and eventually hatred. They often pursue the pro-Attaturk independence fighters with casual contempt for due process or human rights (random arrests, beatings, summary executions).

There's also, eventually, a story line introduced that draws a dramatic (in the technical sense) contrast between the quite liberal and modern Turkish hoteliers with whom our protagonists cast their lot (e.g., Muslims drinking alcohol) and a more orthodox family (friends of the hoteliers, who come to stay temporarily after a fire damages their home in a different section of the city.) Again, this is interesting to me not for its historical accuracy, but just to see how a Turkish production chooses to portray the nature of the conflict -- which, BTW, includes a considerable amount of humor, as the exasperated hosts try to accommodate their friend's somewhat idiosyncratic conservatism. It's also clear, though, that one element of that conservatism is a response to the trauma of living under a Christian occupation.

So, yeah. To a large extent, the whole thing is just a big soap opera, but the fresh view into a culture about which I knew next to nothing makes it much more compelling than it would otherwise be.

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10 users have voted.

The earth is a multibillion-year-old sphere.
The Nazis killed millions of Jews.
On 9/11/01, a Boeing 757 (AA Flight 77) flew into the Pentagon.
If you can't accept these indisputable facts, I can't fake an interest in your opinions about anything else.

Anja Geitz's picture

@UntimelyRippd @UntimelyRippd

sounds like an interesting story

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2 users have voted.

If we surrendered to earth's intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Deja's picture

@Anja Geitz
Maybe it's like CStMS's Turkish shows she mentioned in her OT from this morning? It does sound like an interesting story.

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2 users have voted.

@Anja Geitz
the subtitles aren't too bad either, compared with a lot of the other subtitled stuff I've watched -- Korean, for example. Actually, the worst subtitles are for stuff in English, because they've started using automated voice recognition, which is bad to begin with, and completely incompetent when accomodating Australian or NZ or Scottish or Irish or Mancunian accents, nevermind accomodating the accents AND the dialect/slang.

up
6 users have voted.

The earth is a multibillion-year-old sphere.
The Nazis killed millions of Jews.
On 9/11/01, a Boeing 757 (AA Flight 77) flew into the Pentagon.
If you can't accept these indisputable facts, I can't fake an interest in your opinions about anything else.

Pluto's Republic's picture

In my view. Sex and altering one's consciousness — the two foremost human drives. Criminalized. That sort of thing. It comes from top-down thinking, where you set an ideal, like WWJD? And then you begin criminalizing things that fall short.

I have nothing profound to add except that this notion only occured to me when I was studying cultures that used bottom-up thinking to organize society. Later on, I began associating American normalcy with Americanized religions — like the teachings of Republican Jesus.

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14 users have voted.

The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.
– Albert Camus
Cassiodorus's picture

@Pluto's Republic or at least this was Aldous Huxley's observation in his book Jesting Pilate:

"The joy of drinking prohibited whiskey from enormous silver flasks..." (300)

(remember that this was written during Prohibition)

Or this great tidbit:

"America is popularly supposed to be a country of puritanism. And so it is, as any one who travels across it can discover. But what the traveller also discovers — to his vast surprise, if he happens to have arrived with conventional opinions about the country — is that a Rabelaisian looseness is just as characteristic of contemporary America as puritanical strictness. In Philadelphia the respectable booksellers do not stock Mr. Cabell's Jurgen. In Boston the Watch and Ward Society suppresses the American Mercury, and in the same city one at least of my own novels has to be sold under the counter as though it were whisky. I have been in Middle Western hotels where it was considered indecent for my wife to smoke a cigarette in the public rooms. And though I have not visited the Southern States, I have read in the newspapers the most extraordinary accounts of the persecutions to which unfaithful wives and errant husbands are liable there." (319)

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10 users have voted.

"The degree to which liberals are coming to inhabit an alternate reality, impenetrable by facts or reason, is actually frightening." -- Steve Maher

@Pluto's Republic Also with religion, Americanized (political) religion is the use of shaming. It's easier to steer people by shaming, especially if that shame can be internalized and becomes self regulating.

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9 users have voted.