Pride & Dismay

  • Posted: July 20, 2021
  • Category: Blog
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Adrift in a dismal swamp of partisan bickering, our minds grow benumbed. Watching the news or listening to NPR, I feel what IQ remains to me eroding away in bits and pieces, sand slipping through my fingers. Outside the sanctuaries for the lobotomized otherwise known as the “responsible press”, reflexive name calling allows for thoughts, if such label can be applied, expressed in Twitter’s short attention span.

The partisans of the “Left” can label their opponents fascists or Nazis. Their opposite numbers on the “Right” reciprocate, heaping hot coals on the heads of “commies” or socialists. The use of such labels has the added advantage, a very large advantage, of allowing emotion to replace reason.

All of these labels are meant to convince or to motivate and indeed they do incite their partisans, the shock troops duly salivating on cue in a parody of Pavlov’s dog. During my lifetime, the “Right” has talked of freedom, championing conservative ideas by supporting “Business”. The “Left” has fought for equality and social justice, Don Quixote endlessly expanding “Government” in the quest for a fair and just society.

But is there really any difference? For all the talk, for all the passion expended, what difference has it made on the ground?. The Year of Covid has given pause to rethink the passions that drive our politics. In reality, it becomes increasingly difficult to see the difference between the two.

Cynics have always said, “They are all the same, a pox on both of your houses”. Are the cynics right? Government’s reach intrudes on the most intimate parts of our lives, as does Business. Both have shown themselves dictatorial, immune to criticism or redress. Their dictates enforced by faceless clerks demanding both mute acceptance and servile obedience.

In my idiosyncratic world view, untutored by the orthodoxies of media and the Academy, I have always been puzzled. It is the received wisdom of the pundits and talking heads that fascism and communism/socialism are polar opposites. Yet, I fail to see the difference between them. Most particularly in those past standard bearers whose carefully curated memory, sometimes sanitized, sometimes demonized, is meant to incite, Nazi Germany & the Soviet Union. The Union of Socialist Soviet Republics sounds to me very like The National Socialist German Workers Party. The freedoms we once cherished were alien to both.

Of course, I simplify to make a point. There were and are differences in doctrines and dogmas. But are they not simply differences in degree, not in kind? Are they not intellectuals arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, while ambitious politicians pick and choose among their arguments seeking those most useful to raise money or inflame supporters. Would a Jewish visitor to a Methodist worship service see any meaningful difference from a Catholic Mass?

Perhaps it is my age, my isolating distance from the nine to five routines of the working world, but I sympathize with that hypothetical Jewish visitor in Christian society. He had the background to understand Christian culture, but the divisions among the Christians would seem rather trivial to him. I move through a familiar world, I understand it but I am an alien, a stranger in a land once familiar.

Seeking to escape the disorienting norms that now prevail, the circle of my family carries the sense of a citadel, a safe haven. The news, the entertainment, the rituals of retail and travel all reflect an increasingly outre world. But among friends and family there is a comforting sanity, a place of refuge from a world going mad. A once cherished television sit-com on CBS had a jingle putting music to my feeling:

“Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got

Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.

Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name

And they’re always glad you came.

You wanna be where you can see,

Our troubles are all the same

You wanna be where everybody

Knows your name.”

I can see in my mind’s eye the familiar Cheer’s bar, Sam, Diane and Frasier, Norm’s broad cheeks suffocating the bar stool while that pre-internet Wikipedia, Cliff, drones, Carla wincing in the background. But I fear the citadel to be an illusion. There is no escape from osmosis from the outside, the steady pressure to conform to those around us.

Human beings are social animals living in a social environment, needing a social environment no less than air and water. Our design manual as human beings, the Bible, makes that clear. At the outset in Genesis, God says in no uncertain terms, “It is not good that man should be alone”. In isolation we become a grim parody of human, and this need for relationship is not without cost, a price heavy upon our shoulders. We must conform to our environment or face the consequences.

Every now and again, life thumps us, something rubs our nose in the reality of our need. Not long ago, I got thumped by an otherwise heart warming experience. My granddaughter was chosen to speak at her class’s commencement activity, celebrating graduation from Elementary School into the Darwinian savagery of a pubescent Jr. High.

Standing at the podium before fellow students and parents, she was poised, calm and fluid in her ideas and talking points. She is a serious girl and even if I say so myself, quite well spoken, smart and caring. Reflecting on her past year of school in the “advanced” Science curriculum, she gave a well thought out talk, checking all the boxes of the “green” checklist. Not content to simply learn, she had put these ideas into action, implementing these concepts at home, hectoring her sisters, parents and friends as well.

How to describe my thoughts watching the video of her talk? I love this girl as only a grandparent can, one who has changed her diapers and taught her to drive an ATV. I am so proud of the young woman she is growing up to be. And yet . . . . Without knowing it she is in the grip of pernicious nonsense, a pernicious nonsense that colors all she does or thinks.

An idealistic young lady, she is proselytizing for that which can only end badly, for her and for others. Hopefully, I am jumping at shadows, but for me, the legacy of Covid is a visceral understanding of that which had been only intellectual before. History documents the periodic derangements that sometimes descend upon humanity. A mass of people becomes a herd of sheep, in the grip of a madness sweeping all before it. Future generations can only wonder – “What were they thinking?”

As I watched my granddaughter, I felt a great sympathy, an empathetic oneness, with the extended members of my family and hers, a century past, in the “old country”. In their time, I imagine they had watched their own children and grandchildren with that same disconcerting blend of pride and dismay.

In Germany, members of my extended grandparent’s family had watched their sons and daughters recite as only naïve innocents can, the ideals of the Hitler Youth. At commencement exercises children would regurgitate what they had learned, speaking of their heritage of Aryan racial purity, recalling the mythic past of the Volk. In Russia, it was more of the same, only the ideals of the Komsomol or Young Octobrists would be repeated. In their commencement exercises, children would exhort their parents to work harder, to be “shock workers” increasing production at Tractor Factory No.9 even as they monitored the implementation of “proletarian” values in their parents and siblings.

I hesitate to speak my thoughts aloud, I expect my family circle would simply roll their eyes, literally or figuratively, perhaps pretending to a respectful listening. I fear that later would be an exchange of worried thoughts among themselves about the old man’s grip on reality. What?? Is he finally losing it? Do we need to start looking into an assisted living facility? Already, he’s not that old, is he?

Maybe they’re right. I certainly hope so.  As the world wobbles on an unstable bifurcated axis, I often feel my grip on reality to be tenuous. But the Time of Covid has shown, at least to me, how the fanciful can become frighteningly real in the blink of an eye.

It’s not as if my granddaughter’s ideas are radical or threatening, at least to the comfortable audience of Adorables listening. She simply repeats the banal nostrums of what passes for “Science” in school rooms, museums, children’s programming, field trips, etc. I have another granddaughter who doesn’t want to eat at In-N-Out Burger because they have plastic straws and to quote – “Plastic straws hurt sea turtles”. A grandson has told me with all the solemnity of a 5 year old speaking of serious matters – “The Earth is sick”.

The Time of Covid has taken a revealing self-portrait. Our engineers and applied scientists are first rate.  Given a technical challenge they developed effective vaccines in record time, manufactured them in quantity and redeployed supply chains to move them with jaw dropping speed. Reacting to the technical challenges of face masks, social isolation requirements and seemingly irrational lockdowns, the business sector zigged and zagged admirably.

Technical problems with “engineering” solutions, the logistics of business  – passed the Covid test with flying colors. Everything else – our schools, our leadership, our government apparatus, our media, our “experts”, our “Scientists”? Well, I think the Keystone Kops a bar too high, even graded on a curve.

Over my lifetime, our educational complex, if I might call it that, has grown steadily into a monolithic bureaucracy, addicted to an insatiable need for federal funding in its many guises. Of course, along with that addiction to funding comes the need to please the dealer, the source of its fix, as opposed to meeting the needs or desires of its “customers”.

In parallel with the growth in external funding has been the militant unionization of its people and its culture. That combination of federal funding and unionization required control, a uniformity in metrics, a bland tasteless vanilla flavored oatmeal mush rather than what existed before, a mix of granola, nuts and berries.

It was a man of the military, Dwight Eisenhower, who warned us of the dangers from the “military-industrial complex”. Our present age needs another respected leader with experience in its workings to warn against the “education/regulatory complex”.

The “education/regulatory complex” has created a machine to care for, to teach and to indoctrinate our young, a machine both omnipresent and omnipowerful. That machine has been successful, producing a well-manufactured product – the Adorables.

I am a product of that machine, though I experienced the Model T version compared to the Tesla of the present day “education/regulatory” complex. I am an Adorable by education, by profession and by zip code. Our country today is prosperous, safe and healthy in large part because of my fellows, the Adorables.

But while that machine gave us the skills to succeed, our skills are simply tools in the carpenter’s toolbox. There must be a spirit to animate our workmanship, the carpenter relies on the work of the architect to guide his hands. In my own generation, we began with the fraying spiritual architecture bequeathed by generations past.

But new circumstances require new architectures and the circumstances of a changing world left that fraying architecture increasingly obsolete. We were quickly left to our own devices. Like all new generations we desired such independence, eagerly grasping it from the faltering hands of our fathers. But we had been ill-prepared for such independence.

Like all machines, the machine created by the “education/regulatory complex” had no soul of its own. The Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution had done its job, but the Founding Fathers had never envisioned that schools would replace families in the formation of children’s mind and character. Left to itself, the machine had no means to guide or nurture our spirits, to provide the rules for an architecture guiding the use of our tools. And so, the works of our hands became machines themselves, devoid of spirit.

But as Aristotle said, “Nature abhors a vacuum”. St. Augustine put it another way, there is “a God shaped hole in the human heart”. As the machine fed by inexhaustible streams of federal money grew, the vacuum at its core exerted an irresistible sucking action. And so in a parody of the movie, The Terminator, Skynet was born.

Skynet, the machine created by the “education/regulatory complex”, left with only its spiritually starved internal sources, was forced to fill its spiritual void by drawing on ancient memories. And thus the oldest and most mythic of human imaginations became the animating spirit of the machine, the fertility goddess, Mother Nature.

My grandchildren are now grist for Skynet. They have little choice in the matter as few options remain. My grandchildren’s ability to make their way in the world depends on years and years enmeshed in the gears of the machine, proficiency in its workings requiring diligent attention by their minds both innocent and assiduous to learn. Their social circle is of similar circumstance.

What can a grandparent do? Even if they would listen, a dubious proposition to be sure, what would a grandparent advise? One can rage against the machine. I am familiar with that course of action. It is who I am, it has been the guide star of my life. My own escape from that primitive version of the machine’s indoctrination is a result.

But as a result, I am a Deplorable among the Adorables, an outsider, looking through the window into “Cheers”. It is not what I would want for my grandchildren. Rather than looking in the window, life is richer by far sitting at the bar with Norm and Cliff.

Is it possible to retain one’s soul while serving in the temples of the pagans?

2 Responses to “Pride & Dismay”

  1. Paul S. says:

    “I think the Keystone Kops a bar too high, even graded on a curve.” – great commentary on various Adorable responses to the COVID flu.

    Thank you Bill for this and all of your other insightful, whimsical and reflective commentaries. I enjoy them greatly!

    Paul Silvester

  2. Brad Smith says:

    As aliens and strangers in this world we don’t belong at the bar of Adorables, no matter how enticing the patrons under the influence of their god make it appear. It’s an illusion and distraction to keep us from looking, as Buzz Lightyear would say, “to infinity and beyond”.

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