The previous posting is still the "main" one that I'd like to be sure people see... I certainly worked hard enough on it. Still, over the next few days I have a few final addenda to add....
We appear to be at a cusp point, where the Western World chooses between two paths.
One is the trail of stupidity, leading to a cliff. Almost 100 years ago, in The Decline of the West, Ozwald Spengler transfixed the public with his certain-sounding explanations for why Europo-American society would soon dissolve into pain and despair, decadence and dust.
Pain came... dealt by people who believed as Spengler did. A cult of cynicism despised the Enlightenment. Monsters of both left and right saw as degenerate self-indulgences such shiny modern things as democracy, science, markets and the empowerment of individual minds. Horrors like Hitler and Stalin strove to prove it so.
But they failed and enlightenment optimists prevailed, through courage, innovation and will. George Marshall showed the way into a better era, filled with challenges but also progress. Today, most babies that are born actually live good lives. We have been to the Moon. Race and gender and class are less deterministic of your fate, and you are sharing thoughts with me across a worldwide brain that we forged with our own ingenuity and hands.
Cynicism isn't dead. It never went away, nor is it only a thing of the right. (Though that is its present core.) Dire eco-warnings, like Jared Diamond's COLLAPSE: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (see my review) and James Cameron's AVATAR may have been meant to serve partly as dire warnings, to help us see the dangers, but also deliver doses of poison, by railing that we westerners are all hopeless fools bereft of decent institutions or problem-solving skills. Or even hope.
In fact, the clear-eyed view is neither gloomy nor starry-confident. It was the great historian, Arnold Toynbee, who I believe got it right. After studying dozens of past cycles, he declared that civilizations thrive when they invest faith and hope in their creative minorities. When they see the future as a destination and willingly adapt new ways to reach it.
Toynbee -- after surveying many tales of rise and fall -- concluded that cultures start to decline when those creative minorities become distrusted, or are starved of capital, or left out in the cold. Or when they are shunned by those in power.
I mention this, because the clear and distinct pattern the we see in the latest phase of the American Civil War... similar to what occcured in earlier phases... has been an underlying theme of populist hatred for society's brightest and most skilled.
This motif pervades everything we see from the "movement" nowadays. In distrust of the Civil Service and the US Officer Corps. In the relentless War on Science. In boos that surge, at sneering mention of the word "Harvard." The use of anti-intellectualism to divert attention from a far more worrisome elite -- a rising aristocracy of monopolies and almost-feudal wealth.
Let's be clear. I am not saying that intellectuals are always right. I know plenty who are foolish. Nor is wealth inherently evil... I aspire to acquire more, through delivery of excellent goods and services, and I know some damn-fine billionaires. Nor is there anything wrong with salt-of-the-earth fellows like those Redneck Comedy Tour guys, whose self-effacing charm could win over even alien invaders. (Even if they don't read sci-fi.)
Still, if anybody ever had a clue about what makes civilizations rise and fall, Arnold Toynbee knew what he was talking about.
Moreover, the propaganda campaign against our creative people is so intense, so pure, and so relentlessly across-the-board, that it simply cannot be an accident. The correlation is just too perfect.
Somebody wants us to fail.