Thursday, March 19, 2015

Graybeards, Graybeards, Keepin' the Youngin's Down (To the Tune of a Possibly Familiar Song [11 Nov. 2014])

"Where you stand depends on where you sit." — Rufus E. Miles, Jr. 
"The crisis in our political system is less about party than about horizon." 

         In a column that came out just before the US 2014 midterm elections, Eugene Robinson argued that "Our politicians are flunking the vision test" by failing or refusing to think long-term, with a primo examples in failures to take intelligent action on climate change, the economy and infrastructure, and education.
            Mr. Robinson's column is an example of fair, insightful, responsible journalism. That has its limits, though, and, especially after the midterms, I think we need a bit more nasty, satiric, "red-team" thinking.
            My example here is Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth in a great scene in their 1952-53 dystopian classic The Space Merchants where their anti-hero, Mitch Courtenay a shanghaied advertising/marketing executive, is reading subversive literature from "the Consies": conservations in this instance lamenting the growing human population on a grossly overcrowded world, and a simultaneous decrease in average human intelligence. Mitch Courtenay is a figurative, but devout, worshipper of "the god of Sales" and sees no problem: more people, more sales; dumber people, more sales.
            Going for that jugular vein, I imagine myself a year or two older than I am, a bit Whiter, a whole lot wealthier and more openly Machiavellian — or more honest — and unencumbered by upbringing by decent parents, the strong influence of a high school Civics teacher of pedagogical brilliance, and respect for the more humane teachings of the Hebrew Prophets. And in that frame of mind, I give you Evil Grandpa and his brief riposte to Mr. Robinson and squishy liberals of Mr. Robinson's (and my) ilk.
Dear Mr. R.:
The problems you note are indeed long-term and as problems affect mostly young people and poor people and the traditionally exploited. A necessary consequence of the sort of time-frames you mention is that I won’t be alive to face any calamities my money won’t allow me to avoid. So these are not directly problems for me and won’t become them unless those affected rebel and riot or at least get disaffected enough to disrupt the system, as was threatened back in the 1930s and actually happened in the 1960s. Such disruption, even to a minor degree, is less likely now.
            * There is no big war and accompanying conscription, so the most threatening potential troublemakers — young men — lack the incentive they had until, significantly, the draft lottery was introduced during the Vietnam War. The current US military is volunteer and professional — or mercenary "independent contractors" — meaning not just the end of the draft but pretty much guaranteeing troops willing, if necessary, to fire upon fellow citizens living lives pretty far apart from theirs. But —
            * It’s unlikely the military or even the National Guard will have to be brought in because we have militarized the crucial police departments and inculcated in them the idea that they are separate from "civilians" and (true enough in our well-armed society) potentially threatened by those civilians.
            * The young and/or poor and/or traditionally exploited don’t vote regularly and often won’t bother unless they get "excited" about candidates or an issue or two. As we have seen, their vote can be suppressed by technical means and simply by distracting them. My people (the old and the well-to-do) know our self interest and vote it, regularly.
            * The poor education in the public schools, and the pressure for practical education means that many of the young and traditionally exploited lack the tools for political analysis and action. What you see as a disadvantage — the decline of public education — is working quite well.
            * Actual riots can usually be contained so that the underclass destroys, at worst, mostly their own neighborhoods and can be suppressed with the support of People Who Count. Most Americans, after all, would probably be safer in a police state, and resistance to suppression for most of US history has been pretty minor.
            So: Things are going well and will continue to go well if We Who Rule rein in our loud-mouths and teach them to say the right things in public and anywhere there might be a camera or microphone — and keep the police from casually shooting too many of the underclass in too blatantly a racist way (or try to ensure that much of the shooting is done by minority cops: "Wogs" of some sort are necessary, but they don’t have to be color-coded). Or, if you insist, things are going well and continue to go well for as long as people like me need be concerned with anything. Long-term problems are definitely SEP: Someone Else's Problem, and it they're posterity's problems — well, in a cliché we graybeards love to repeat, "Posterity don't vote," and they definitely don't write checks to political PACs.  

Evil Grandpa and his ilk will get cocky and overstep, and there will be enough disruption or threat thereof that honest people can negotiate decent policies. He’s gotten smarter in his old age though, Evil Grandpa, so don’t hold your breath waiting for the backlash and Evil Grandpa to be rendered into Soylent Gray™.

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