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Ghosts of American Dreams Past

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Once upon a time the promise of “skies the limit” was fundamental to the American Dream. Now something is fundamentally wrong. The core elements of the American dream are increasingly unaffo…

Source: Ghosts of American Dreams Past


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I concur with you strictly in your opinion of the comparative merits of atheism and demonism, and really see nothing but the latter in the being worshiped by many who think themselves Christians.
— Thomas Jefferson, letter to Richard Price from Paris, January 8, 1789


GOP and faith

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I’ve seen videos of GOP candidates praying before a political rally, bowing heads in sanctimonious reverence, the whole shebang led by a preacher at the podium. I’ve heard them referring to “the lord” at the debates. In the recent Town Halls they answered questions of participants regarding their faith, for which they gave elaborate answers affirming their holy christian rectitude, as if they’re running to get elected for evangelical ministry.

There is no separation of church and state with this bunch. All that’s gone out the stained-glass window. The most extreme is Cruz’s outright biblical zeal — perhaps even apocalyptic zeal — of vowing to wage aggressive war (to see “if sand can glow in the dark”), undoing planned parenthood, undoing Obamacare, undoing this and undoing that; he even promises to move Israel’s American embassy to Jerusalem, which reeks of biblical apocalypticism. The symbol of his campaign is the flame of the Holy Spirit.

It’s a very disconcerting thing: a biblical zealot and commander-in-chief of the world’s most powerful military. A fundamentalist christian would take solace in the fact that their potential leader is christian; on the other hand, the situation needs to be carefully contemplated.

The concept of ‘faith’ plays a large part in the “tribiblical” trajectory of Judeochristianislam, and I want to take the term up with respect to the ideas of existentialist theologian Paul Tillich (1886 – 1965); according to Tillich, ‘absolute faith’ and ‘ultimate concern’ epitomize the idea of faith. Firstly, ‘absolute faith,’ according to Tillich, transcends the traditional, theistic idea of god; absolute faith is a comportment to being that resists despair and meaninglessness, and embraces the ground of being-as-such as the “god above god” which transcends essence and existence. So far so good, this idea of faith is fine, if correctly applied. But his idea of ‘faith’ is further interpreted as ‘ultimate concern,’ of which he says: “Faith as ultimate concern is an act of the total personality. It is the most centered act of the human mind…it participates in the dynamics of personal life” (P. Tillich, Dynamics of Faith).

So here we have a plethora of related concepts getting tossed around: ‘absolute faith,’ ‘ultimate concern,’ and ‘total personality.’ Note the use of the words ‘absolute,’ ‘ultimate,’ and ‘total.’ Now let me throw another idea into the mix, “quasi-religion” (another Tillichian contribution). ‘Quasi-religion’ to Tillich is any kind of social ideological system which “claim the loyalty or veneration of their followers with the intensity sometimes of … theistic religions.”

Anyway, what’s happening here? There is, “ultimately,” no difference between religion and quasi-religion, a la Tillich, except their object of faith. The former’s object is supposedly beyond subjectivity and objectivity, essence and existence (according to Tillich), which brings it to the existential level of being. It demands absolute allegiance and action to prove it.

No, folks. Faith of this kind, “the masculine” warlike, “absolute, ultimately-concerned” faith is dangerous. It is the stuff of poison. Finite, mortal, limited human beings aren’t cut out for the “absolute.” They don’t understand it, they cannot understand it. Because there is nothing absolute about being human. The absolute, the ultimate, the total personality … these are not human categories.

Humans need to stick to the stuff of ol’ rags ‘n bones of day-to-day existence, to stuff they know and understand, to whatever works. It’s dangerous business to toss around “ultimate concerns” for mass consumption. Humans, the masses, have no idea what ‘absolute’ is.

Reply to Paul Adkin regarding ideology-free government

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Thank you Paul for sharing your thoughts. I will respond with respect to salient points in your comment here in post because the comments section lopped a bunch of the stuff reposted here, below:

PA: This creates a paradoxical dilemma. You can’t destroy ideology without creating a new kind of ideology.

Well said, Paul, and there’s the perpetual rub. I am admittedly Gendankenexperimenting all along, out loud. The dilemma naturally needs addressing. Paradox isn’t contradiction per se; it’s a logical loop that maintains an unresolvable tension. When applied to (ideological) ideas, particularly with regard to modeling non-ideological government, I view it as a healthy dynamic that is a strength and not a weakness. As you probably already know, if you or I were to take the Hegelian approach we’d philosophically presume that that paradox would some fine day get dialectically resolved and subsumed, i.e., in perpetual historical unfolding ad nauseum until the time of the final synthesis. But even that in and of itself projects itself to the future, and it’s only human nature to imbue praxis with such ideological understanding.

I believe that the paradoxical tension must always be maintained, i.e., with respect to the government’s non-ideological “ideology.” It’s a built-in self-checking dynamic, it can never take itself “too seriously” because of its inherent logical perplexity. It has no ground of dogmatic self-assertion as it must remain in a state of perpetual self-reflection. It negates itself the very moment it affirms itself, and so on.

PA: Humanity needs to be inspired and organised but history has shown that governments restrict inspiration, creativity and progress precisely because of their ideological nature.

Yes, I agree. Hence I was going in the direction of very limited government in terms of staying out of the way of human creativity, providing basic necessities (and protection(s), of course), and keeping corporations well regulated. The herd gets propaganda fed by bought-out governing bodies, concerning anything but the involvement of corporate entities.

PA: In a negative sense, this might create a kind of moral dictatorship … the very establishment of such maxims would need to allow space for, or even be based on, principles of human creativity.

Dictatorship is only possible when absolutes are (ideologically) set in stone; it’s the very thing to avoid like the plague. An assertive “morality” a paradoxically self-effacing ideological government would embrace is that it respects human creativity to enrich our lives and nurture our planet, and that it has a moral obligation to support that effort (which would entail regulating corporate free-for-all). In short, it would be a self-effacing government with respect to the freedoms of its people, assertive with respect to corporate regulation.

A government free of ideology

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When the pursuit of happiness is paradigmatically defined strictly in financial and material terms, civilization will suffer discontent. This has been the case hitherto with respect to capitalism as ideological socioeconomic paradigm. When human well-being (if not happiness) is paradigmatically defined strictly with respect to uniform socioeconomic equality, civilization will suffer discontent inasmuch as a government’s placing a “cap” on earnings and possessions would be tantamount to tyranny. When human happiness and well-being are paradigmatically defined strictly in terms of higher religious and quasi-religious causes and ideals, oppression, tyranny, and fear will prevail.

The middle-of-the-road would entail human(e) government services that provide returns for its people who have “invested” in their governing body (for the people, by the people) and nation in forms of education, healthcare, and retirement, along with maintenance of infrastructure and peaceful living.

But the middle-of-the-road governing structure is merely structure, not an ideological paradigm per se.  It provides a gentle and nurturing environment for the pursuit of happiness, it doesn’t ideologically pretend to take the place of the pursuit of happiness or human well-being proper. It doesn’t “big brother,” it “serves.”

When a government thus pushes no ideological paradigm upon its people, its people are free to pursue happiness and well-being of their own accord without oppression, without having to scramble day to day in a dog-eat-dog rat race without time to stop and smell the roses.

This kind of middle-of-the-road non-ideological government would assume that its people have the right to very basic assistance, so that its people are free to build and further civilization as individual and collective effort. What is civilization? The idea pertains to evolved social development and advancement of human beings (which, we are fast learning, cannot be accomplished in an anthropocentric way).

What if a nation’s paradigm were based on 2,000 year-old war-god religions that originated in bone-dry deserts? Can such a paradigm provide the basis of civilization for human beings of the 21st century and beyond? This is yet another ideological problem that human beings must move away from.

Life as such isn’t about making lots of money; it isn’t about equal rations for all; it isn’t about serving and worshiping  war gods. But when the collective consciousness of a nation realizes the illusory nature of these three extremes and its government reflects that wisdom, human beings — and not just technology — will have breathing room to evolve.

On the rhetoric of making America great again

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dtAlso sprach Trump: “I will make America great again.”

People criticize this slogan left and right — well, mostly left — but I haven’t seen any critical analysis with respect to its frame of reference.

The main key word here is ‘great.’ The secondary key word is ‘again.’ Let’s take a look starting with the former.

What does ‘great’ in the context of Trump’s slogan signify? It fires up the sheep and herd when it’s conjoined with ‘America,’ since it sounds impressive and grand, but its definition is open-ended, i.e., ambiguous at best if not utterly opaque. Does ‘great’ signify ‘powerful’? Does the term signify ‘prosperous / wealthy’? Does the term mean ‘happy’? It’s a vague term any zealot could project any meaning onto, i.e., it could also refer to ‘christian,’ ‘predominantly white,’ and so on, which, if one were of that ideological bent, s/he would not disagree that yes, that would be great.

As to the second key word ‘again,’ the connotation is much clearer. It refers to setting the clock back, i.e., going back to a golden age once upon a time when America supposedly was “great.” But great for whom? Certainly it wasn’t great (in every sense of the word) for women and all minorities. Just what period of time does this ‘again’ refer to? Was there an American Renaissance? Was there ever an American golden age when the ideals of the American patriarchs were fully realized?

America is a relatively new — brand new — country on the face of the earth; it is an experiment still in the making, it doesn’t have all that much to turn back to; it can only forge ahead and evolve.



The death of journalism

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I was watching “House of Cards” the other day, first season, first few episodes. A thought struck me, and it wasn’t anything new to me either, that there seems to be a lingering belief that journalism and news matter, and can make a difference. A vestige of bygone days of the Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward ilk. You could say “Gonzo” journalism à la its founder and patriarch Hunter J. Thompson is still alive in the cyberworld of cutting-edge reporting in both text and video, but call me a cynic, I wonder how effective any of it is anymore. Does anybody care what the facts are? Can’t somebody like Trump hammer racist rhetoric nowadays and pretty much keep getting away with it overall, drumming up huge public support? Can’t the so-called “war crimes” touted the world over (everywhere but the U.S.) of the Bush administration of the 2000’s fly under the radar completely and go ignored like nothing ever happened? The list of such rhetorical questions can go on indefinitely. The answer of course is: facts don’t matter anymore on the collective scale.

We’re in a brave new world of too much information, too much data, too much material to sort out; we’re in a world of partisanship that cancels each other out like particle and antiparticle, a situation of mutual annihilation; those who know, know, and they know what they want to know and need to know. But will the information and knowledge make any difference overall? I don’t think so, it’s too late for that. One thing is for sure, authentic journalism won’t make the impact it once might have, like maybe back in the Vietnam days of yore. Tweets, for example, aren’t the same as the evening news families watch over their TV dinners.

It’s something to think about, because the collective understanding of “journalism” still is news as seen on television, that’s still the standard status-quo assumption of the general workaday public. And as those who are aware know, what’s televised is mostly propaganda and disinformation, and truthful reporting gets lumped in with garbage and red herrings. I’m talking about the U.S. here of course, but I bemoan this Orwellian state of affairs. “Truth” has become as dubious as snake oil, it’s “out there” like the X Files but ineffectual, tenuous, open to criticism and “spins” by trolls and wingers that view everything in terms of partisan  politics at best — and ideological fundamentalism and bigotry at worst. Neoliberalism and its global implications, the TPP, the rising police-state, violence against African Americans and minorities … do any of these things matter to John Q Public? They do, but with all the crossed wires, the overall effect is highly buffered — at best.