Collected Thoughts

February 2018
February 17, 2018

I normally find little to cheer in the writings of the New York Times columnist Bret Stephens. He is a Wall Street champion whose basic social goal is to increase the wealth of the rich and decrease the percentage of wealth held by the poorer 75% of the population. He wants a population in which a majority is always enduring financial suffering.

Still, I have to acknowledge basic sanity. In Stephens’ column this morning calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment he at least demonstrates a streak of that fundamental intellectual virtue. He recognizes there is nothing in the amendment as it is currently interpreted by the courts which pertains to the intentions of the 18th Century citizens who added it to the bill of rights. It no longer contains any of its original meaning. It has become a cause for intellectual freaks. And it is clearly an aid to murder.

I particularly applaud Stephens’ assessment that supposed conservatives who speak about the rash of shootings in schools are offering nothing but “false bromides and empty prayers.” All they can utter to parents whose children have been killed in the places where they should be safest is nonsense worth less than a pinch of fecal matter. If there was ever intellectual disgrace, this is it.

Fools like Paul Ryan who continue this practice should at least have enough empathy to shut up and not make the horror worse. What people mean by praying for people they don’t know I can’t imagine; I doubt they mean anything at all.

We have become a people whose political speech is not only meaningless; it is obscene. It spits in the faces of those whom it claims to console. What can be more foul?

So, I’ll praise an opponent who can summon that degree of honesty. We have so little of it now.

February 18, 2018

One reason I stopped posting for about three weeks is that I came to realize that the U.S. has lost all prowess for democratic government. Our system is now best described as a bizarre plutocracy.  We have hordes of vastly wealthy people, who employ vague rules for how they generally behave towards one another, rules they fight about incessantly. Their basic rule is they will take minor advantage of one another, but they will always protect their class. Rule Number One is the plutocracy will always prevail.

It may be that most of the people have not awakened to this condition. They don’t know what to think or say about it. They have literally been struck dumb.  So when we have school shootings, the plutocracy has nothing to say about them. Consequently, they pray. If we can believe Paul Ryan, he is praying virtually all the time. This is pure emptiness. This is where we are now -- in pure emptiness.

A country that is praying always is doing nothing else. Therefore nothing is getting done. We enter a state of paralysis. And breaking out of paralysis is the hardest thing to know how to do.

Breaking out. That’s the job now

But how do we even get started?

I see no sign that anybody with much influence (are there such people?) even knows how to start.

The only thinkers are the ones who go out and kill.

With guns, in this gun besotted society, we have killed more of each other in the past fifty years, 1,516,863, than have been killed in all of America’s wars since the beginning of the nation, 1,396,733.

How do we think about that?

February 19, 2018

I see that the Oscars Awards Ceremony is coming up on Sunday, March 4th, just two weeks from yesterday.

I have seen only five of the nominated films, and among those I have seen, it seems clear to me that Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri and The Shape of Water are the best. I would be very surprised if a film other than one of those two were the winner.

For best actor, I’d say Daniel Day-Lewis has a lock on the award, more so than any other of the actors. However, Frances McDormand is also pretty dominant among the lead actresses. They both gave memorable performances.

For best supporting actor, Woody Harrelson was very appealing, but basically himself, whereas Richard Jenkins in The Shape of Water exceeded anything else I’ve ever seen him in and deserves to win.

My favorite supporting actress is Octavia Spencer; everything she did in The Shape of Water was perfect, and whenever she was on screen the film took on even greater life.

Best director is also pretty much a lockdown. Guillermo del Toro is almost sure to take the prize.

So, there’s not great suspense this year about who’s going to win. The surprise, rather, is the kinds of movies in the lead. Who could have anticipated that the story of a woman so enraged about the inability of law enforcement to find the killer of her daughter that she goes completely insane, would win viewers to her insanity, would have people cheering her on as she does utterly nutty stuff, and laughing at her too? And then who would have expected non-human and human sexual romance to generate the tenderest love story in years?

We are in a different mode of thought. I only hope the times they are a changing for the better. And perhaps movies are the best signs they are.

February 20, 2018

I know of no reputable thinker who continues to assert the reality of American democracy. The inevitability of its decay was first laid out for me more than a decade ago by Chalmers Johnson and Morris Berman, each of whom produced a trilogy of books pointing to American decline. Berman’s final effort in 2014, was titled conclusively, Why America Failed -- no doubt left in that naming.

Though they and other writers, most notably, perhaps, Sheldon Wolin in Democracy Incorporated, have traced a series of causes, I don’t of any who have concentrated on a psychological condition I think played a larger role than anything else in bringing American democracy to its knees. I’m referring to a doctrine most commonly called “American exceptionalism.” which held that America was “great” (never adequately defined) just because it was, and not because of any particular talents that the American people either possessed or practiced. In other words, Americans didn’t have to do anything to be great. They just were great, a quality bequeathed to them by Providence. That was that, and there was nothing more to be said.

It was as if a football team declared itself to be of championship quality though it never practiced or never touched a football.

People lost all connection with what they thought their government ought to be doing, or perhaps more important, with what their government ought not to be doing. They held no principles of government in their minds. To the degree they thought at all about why they voted it was solely concerning whether they expected their vote to add a few dollars to their paychecks. What a petty reason for constructing a democratic republic!

The actual behavior of their government never entered their minds. Ask a random citizen how many countries his nation has military forces stationed in and the most likely response you’ll get is a blank stare (I know this is true because I’ve done it many times). Ask him why they’re there and the stare will get even blanker.

Has there ever been a more vacant-minded citizenry than the U.S. possesses at the moment? I doubt it. And I know there has never been one more obsessed with its own grandeur.

This is a condition that cannot be recovered from by a handful of elections. People don’t move from pure emptiness to an intelligent perspective in a few decades. If such a transformation is even possible, it would require generations.

We are now lost in the wilderness and we will remain here for many years. The vaunted American democratic republic didn’t just die. It was murdered by its own people and their egomaniacal theory. Those people now have no idea how to restore it. Or any real desire.

©John R. Turner

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