Topics: Civics, History, Politics, Research, Science
History matters. It is "2 a: a chronological record of significant events (as affecting a nation or institution) often including an explanation of their causes, a history of Japan; 3: a branch of knowledge that records and explains past events, medieval history." Merriam-Webster
The more dependent we are on technology, the more we are flippant on history and expertise. Reading (sadly, on the decline) for example, is an interrogation of history, whether fiction or nonfiction, as some basis of an understanding of past events has to go into the crafting of even fanciful tales. Backgrounds are structured such that the verisimilitude seems plausible; if the author has done their work, the realistic realm pulls you to the last page of the book, whether papyrus, I-Pad, Kindle or Nook. If it's a good read, you feel accomplished, better for the effort and time spent away from passive, frequently banal entertainment media. Above all, one feels a sense of empowerment.
Our knowledge of civics has been reduced educationally to multiple testing choices a, b, c, d and e (the last usually, all of the above) and in practice "us versus them"; we won, you lost. The Common Good is virtually unknown as it has no reality show or equivalent entertainment platform. MSNBC seems recently captivated with sports metaphors: Chuck Todd with basketball and Chris Matthews with boxing.
Over the decades I've been voting since 1980, that attitude has solidified. "We The People" have been grouped by tribal affiliations, we vote for "who we like," the current anointed-by-God politician we tweet, and will likely never meet. Consensus, compromise and reconciliation is to be avoided; conciliation is betrayal. Our self-governance is now so toxic, old and vile prejudices open us up to manipulation; our pride allows us to self-delude and mask from the con that we have been duped by extra-national, nefarious agents and complicit wolves within.
I've mentioned my excellent high school Social Studies/Civics teacher Van Bullock. The other instructors I received civics lessons from were my high school JROTC and college AFROTC instructors. Senior Master Sergeant Wilkins at North Forsyth High School used to emphasize that democratic republics can only exist in educated populations. In insular environments such as these, one can assume your classmates are getting some version of the same teaching. I now have my doubts.
Timothy Snyder, author of On Tyranny warns that republics are not "automatic" nor are they inevitable. It requires a buy-in from the governed, a fundamental knowledge of the mechanism of republics and the citizen's responsibilities in keeping them going. One simple aspect is voting; the other is holding our elected officials accountable for their actions towards their constituency, not their donors or the donor class. That alludes to other forms of government that have the labels: autocracy, authoritarianism, corporatism, kleptocracy, oligarchy, totalitarianism that are the basis of very haunting dystopian novels of hopeless futures, Orwell's "boot stamping on a human face forever." Our lethargy in this country and overseas is due to the near instantaneous access to information, resulting in a citizenry in western nations that would "rather not think about it," or in the spirit of Sinclair Lewis, "It Can't Happen Here." In his prescient essay in 2004, Chris Hedges begs to differ *:
* The movement seeks the imprint of law and science. It must discredit the rational disciplines that are the pillars of the Enlightenment to abolish the liberal polity of the Enlightenment. This corruption of science and law is vital in promoting the doctrine. Creationism, or “intelligent design,” like Eugenics for the Nazis, must be introduced into the mainstream as a valid scientific discipline to destroy the discipline of science itself. This is why the Christian Right is working to bring test cases to ensure that school textbooks include “intelligent design” and condemn gay marriage.
The drive by the Christian Right to include crackpot theories in scientific or legal debate is part of the campaign to destroy dispassionate and honest intellectual inquiry. Facts become interchangeable with opinions. An understanding of reality is not to be based on the elaborate gathering of facts and evidence. The ideology alone is true. Facts that get in the way of the ideology can be altered. Lies, in this worldview, become true. Hannah Arendt called this effort “nihilistic relativism” although a better phrase might be collective insanity.
Failure to question alternative facts (lies) or stretched truths, or play by any fairness or rules, the lazy put their cares in the hands of one strong man or woman: as long as "their team" wins.
When sports loyalties becomes the foundation for the administration of a republic, it becomes a zero-sum game. Whatever you need to do to WIN is then justifiable, from secret, ultimately disastrous raids decided flippantly over dinner; deflated footballs to collusion with governments that are not looking at one party or another anymore than Al Qaeda or ISIL/ISIS has a preference of one western nation over another, or the particular Melanin hue of their respective babies.
In each case, they call themselves "us" and we, E Pluribus Unum... are "them."
“To abandon facts is to abandon freedom.” —Timothy Snyder
On Tyranny, Timothy Snyder
Barnes and Noble
The Financial Times
The problem with facts, Tim Hartford
On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder review – how to defend democracy in th...,
Richard J. Evans
"Post-truth is pre-fascism": a Holocaust historian on the Trump era, Sean Illing
Los Angeles Times Magazine (September 22, 1991):
The Death of Reading, Mitchel Stevens
Washington Post (September 7, 2016):
The Long Steady Decline of Literary Reading, Christopher Ingraham