Once upon a time, there was a cable TV network, called “CNN Headline News”. There, as the name suggested, you could turn this on at any time of the day, and get a continuously cycling stream of news reporting about whatever happened to be headline type news stories of the moment. Some time ago, that was replaced, with the “Headline News” label quietly replaced by the meaningless acronym “HLN”. In place of actual news stories about what’s happening right now in the world, CNN created an auxiliary channel of programming of, well, crap.
Turning that on a few days ago, this is what I found. On screen was a guest being interviewed, whose name I immediately forgot, but whose occupation, according to the onscreen text, was “branding consultant”. The topic of the chatter was something about the wives of presidential election candidates Obama and Romney. What importance and relevance this has to anything is beyond my understanding.
This is the kind of thing we get as “news” to inform the citizenry of 2012 America.
Turn on a television and tune to CNN. You might find them playing with their giant interactive touch screen with fancy graphics, swooping through piles of poll data with all the statistical breakdowns, like the presidential election is a sporting event like watching ESPN doing a boring and pointless Super Bowl preview (months before the game).
The usual is the scenario where the CNN host and guests elsewhere all stare into their own cameras, and the guests spew assorted useless speculation, unsupported opinions and general bullshit, or just argue, yapping and interrupting, and after a few minutes, the talking head of the moment calls an end to the segment in time for the next batch of commercials, basically telling viewers to sort all that shit out yourself.
Nobody there seems to remember the concept of journalism, where professionals investigate and research and verify facts, organize it all in coherent form, and then present true accurate facts that matter about things that matter.
You want actual news, like, information? Good luck with that. You might get talking head infotainment host Wolf Blitzer. When I was a kid, we had Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, and David Brinkley. Now, we get a buffoon like Wolf Blitzer. CNN actually had a brief glimmer of light while they had an hour show for Elliot Spitzer in prime time, and then, suddenly and inexplicably, Spitzer was gone.
Turning elsewhere, you find Fox News, the full on reality distortion propaganda machine of Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes.
To borrow from Mr. Shakespeare, “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing“.
In the circumstances we’re in now, to have the Republican party candidate for president to basically be a real life Thurston Howell III is absurd enough as it is. But it’s much worse than that.
“Branding” action is certainly in play in efforts to make Willard Romney appear more “likeable” as a reason to vote for him to be President of the United States, along with the main dominant sales pitch being presented, of Romney as “successful businessman of the private sector who knows how business and the economy works, so he can fix stuff“. Looking at his business history, like the article by Matt Taibbi about Romney and Bain Capital I’ve referred to before, does not provide exactly stellar support for the branding image games in that department.
The project of tracking and reporting Willard Romney’s ongoing continuous mendacity continues, as Steve Beren is up to installment #34. In an new item that should be filed under the heading “you’ve got to be fucking kidding me!”, but isn’t, really, because it isn’t at all surprising anymore, Mr. Romney makes a new statement.
So, what’s the newest gem from Mitt? Romney says that in the upcoming debates between himself and President Obama, “I think the challenge that I’ll have in the debate is that the president tends to, how shall I say it, to say things that aren’t true“. The irony meter pegs the needle.
What’s worse is that apparently a lot of people don’t even care about that. Matters of actual fact and whether somebody speaks the truth about fact seems to be irrelevant to a disturbing number of people.
We have a serious problem here. Once people have decided, whether it’s clearly conscious, or maybe on some subconscious level of denial and evasion, to detach themselves from facts of reality, you have a clear, obvious, and profound problem. You’re no longer operating in the realm of reality. What kind of fool thinks that can work out well? This isn’t a rhetorical question, because it seems pretty clear that there are a lot of people who seem to be convinced that it can.
The big dog and pony shows of the national conventions of the two main political parties in America are now past. There were some pretty glaring problems with the Republican convention, although even getting into that subject triggers all kinds of automatic reflex responses from people and it’s virtually impossible to get anything through.
In the two main American political parties, the only parties in the general public view, we have a giant game of not dealing truthfully with reality.
The present day Democratic party mainly avoids things, or occasionally at least makes some effort to face things, and then drops the ball and ends up with “solutions” that don’t really address the problems.
The current Republican party has just detached itself from reality almost completely, a stunning freakshow, charging into more and more aggressive blatant lying and delusions.
One thing that was easily noticed in the GOP circus was an appeal for a certain kind of nostalgia for what they consider a bygone golden era of America, something addressed nicely in a piece written by Steve Beren.
Basically, a running theme of the GOP national convention, intertwined with almost constant lying and more subtle forms of deception, was something like “tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1955“.
This kind of false nostalgia is not a new thing in politics, but part of the theater of alternate reality was pumping out this fuzzy notion of “vote for us and support our vision and plan to restore our American greatness of golden days of the past when America was this, that, and the other thing“.
A state of things in a given time arrived at what it is, in all its complexity, for all the reasons that led to the present state, and you can’t just find a reverse gear on all the processes of human life and the universe and back everything up to some Point X when you think everything was just swell.
That time and place in history was then and there, the circumstances of that time and place, and you can’t just decide “right, we’ll repeat that, I liked that better”.
Let me take a moment for a quick pointer to something good, that’s useful in thinking about the subject here. The book The Fourth Turning, by William Strauss and Neil Howe, is a really great piece of work. It’s a fairly extensive piece of historical review and analysis that explains some things that are very useful to understand here. I won’t try to explain an oversimplified summary myself. There’s no way I can get across in a paragraph or two what Strauss and Howe spent over 300 pages explaining. There is a really sketchy summary on Wikipedia to at least give you some reference. I recommend taking a few minutes to read it before continuing on here.
My thoughts about how this is relevant here come from noting that at least a couple of the people indudging in vague rhetoric about nostalgic visions of “America’s greatness of the past” were people who were early in the Boomer generation, who grew up in the period that, in the terminology of Strauss and Howe, was a “High” phase of a historical cycle (the most recent “First Turning”). This particular period was defined by S&H using the timeframe markers of beginning with V-J Day, the end of World War II, and ending with the death of President John Kennedy. Roughly the period of 1945 to 1964.
The people who grew up in that postwar era through the mid sixties, the “High”, can easily fall into assumptions that this period is just how things are supposed to be. It’s easy enough to understand a kind of retrospective view of that period from somebody in that context. There are big problems with this kind of thing. One is that people can get a kind of retrospective view with a kind of rose colored glasses filter, and end up with a mental image of a past era that ends up pretty different from the reality of the time.
The circumstances of post WWII America were of their time, and now is not then.
A lot of people look back at the period, and think that life seemed simpler and generally more stable then. They might not consider that this period was pretty regimented and conformist in most areas of living.
Some might see it as a period of “less government regulation”, which seems a little odd in some ways, considering what I just mentioned. I suspect a lot of the nostalgic crowd might point at something like the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency didn’t exist in those days. We also had a nation where pumping assorted toxins and waste into the air, water, and soil was an activity happening on a massive scale, but a lot of people seemed to regard this as a trivial and petty worry. Problems in that realm were dismissed as part of “progress”, or as something the Earth could simply absorb and disperse without a problem. They just ignored the mounting evidence that we were turning our country, and world, into a toxic dump.
People might point back at a much more financially solid government, and forget that enough taxes were paid to support a functioning government that was not only solvent, but could do large scale works like construction of the interstate highway system and NASA.
In one of his last acts as president Dwight Eisenhower spoke to the American people shortly before leaving office, and that speech in January 1961 was arguably one of the most important public addresses ever given by an American president. In that speech, he spoke warning people about the dangers of domination of what he called “the military-industrial complex” and squandering the wealth and resources of the nation on militaristic jingoism, rather than just what was needed as necessity to protect the country.
That has been mostly ignored in the half century since that address.
I’m sure that much of the parade of nostalgia is bound to people’s thoughts of the period I’m talking about being economically healthy and thriving and prosperous. I’m not sure how much genuine understanding there is of how the period happened to be the way it was.
It was certainly a period where the American middle class grew, in numbers of people, and in general financial condition. It was also a period where a large portion of the population were members of unions. It was a period when a major part of American economic activity was in making things, and making things of quality and value that meant a lot of activity in work and commerce was about maintaining and repairing things.
The worlds of banking and finance were considerably more stable in this 1945-1964 period, and there are a couple of interesting facts to note. Banking and finance didn’t resemble mad casino games and dealt with stability and value, the Glass-Steagall Banking Act of 1933 was in effect keeping things sane and honest, and the realm of investment was generally about investing in things and work of actual value and meaning.
Of the people thinking in terms of a golden past they remember from their youth (or at least partially know and remember), I wonder how they might think of cities in America.
Maybe they have memories of cities with vital, busy downtown areas, and surrounding close urban areas where life was centered, with vital and coherent communities, designed as cities were always laid out in the past before the Oil Age, where people could often get to where they needed to go within walking range. Then they might look at the wretched state of American cities today with various forms of disapproval. In the era the Boomers grew up in, the postwar American project of outward suburban expansion was underway at full speed, and it’s reasonable to think that a majority of Americans thought this was wonderful, sign of progress and improvement, new areas where everything was shiny brand new.
I wonder how many people understand, now, how these outward expanding concentric waves left cities to decay and rot in neglect.
It’s clear that a lot of the determined grip of nostalgia holds visions of that era as being a time when people thought of natural resources in America as just bountiful, plentiful, without limits. It was that very attitude and naiveté that had the country on course to devour these resources and run into trouble.
During this period in America, the suburban project was well underway, full speed ahead, increasing petroleum consumption to mad levels that saw the US reach the all time peak of Hubbert’s curve in oil production, and make the turn into diminishing returns decline in oil production rates, around 1970, only 25 years after the end of the war.
Snap back to the present, a little over a decade into the 21st century. Very few people understand the patterns of Hubbert’s curve and what this tells us, know that the all time US oil production peak is over four decades in the past, regardless of all the clues clubbing us over the head since the 1973 oil embargo crisis, and consider the climb in consumption of petroleum since the US peak.
Instead of facing the situation, people are indulging in deluded fantasies that hold the idea that if they wish hard enough, and demand it enough, we’ll somehow just return to a state of things like a previous era, when people seemed to think that petroleum beneath the Earth in United States territory was limitless and perpetually cheap, and we could devour as much of the stuff we wanted as fast as we wanted. Pandering politicians are glad to play to this fantasy and delusion and tell people that this is possible, if only people put them in charge.
The question is, if people with some sort of nostalgic notions of a previous time in America could somehow reset and revert to circumstances of that time, would they then just carry right on with the kinds of attitudes and activities that eventually led to the batch of serious problems we have now?
It’s all moot, of course, because we can’t revert and reset to some previous state that’s past. It is worth thinking about what situations, and thoughts, and actions of a past time would be good to try to restore in some ways that might be possible, while understanding that this is still now, and we’re heading into the future from now, and this is not the same as some past time, and cannot be exactly like some past time.
After the big national conventions of the two major American political parties (the only ones showing up on the public radar), with all the showbiz pomp and circumstance, some things are pretty clear.
The Democratic party isn’t really coming to grips with facing the reality of our situation with resource limits and our consumption of resources, and they aren’t really getting to a clear view of the economic situation, and what to do to deal with the reality of both of these realms.
The Republican party, meanwhile, has just completely lost their fucking minds. The GOP convention was a festival of lying, blatant and constant, and such a mass of vague nothingness that Jon Stewart on The Daily Show had a great time with an embarrassment of riches to work with, for material to make fun of the whole farce, or shall we say, riches of embarrassment. I can imagine any remaining members of the Republicans of sanity and honesty witnessing the whole thing and sitting with their face in their hands. Most of them have been pretty much banished or shoved aside.
Many people might do well to read Joining the Reality-Based Community by Jeremiah Goulka. But, again, it’s probable that the very people who need to read that the most are the people least likely to read it, and have it sink in.
“When societies get badly stressed, delusional thinking increases. We are now in that situation.” – James Howard Kunstler