Social Darwinism, Alive and Well in Election 2012

The Tortoise in his plodding way set out to understand liberalism and laissez faire. But Tortoise, slow and steady, steadfast and cautious, got very angry when he read that “In nature, survival of the fittest is the rule [at least according to Herbert Spencer, 1802-1903 in The Gospel of Social Darwinism]. Well, this he could accept, but he could not tolerate that “the weak and the effete make way for the strong and the swift.” That was it for Tortoise who knows a lot about survival, the strong and the swift. “Why,” he asked, ”do the strong and the swift have any better claim in the pursuit of happiness than the slow and the steady, the prudent and the deliberate? What’s the big deal about muscles and speed, especially if most of them are on steroids?  Does everyone have to win a frickin’ bowl game to be worth a damn? Why with some luck a tortoise can live 100 years!”

Tortoise, my friends, is furious. Any way this is what Herbert Spencer thought in the late 19th Century and things haven’t changed much. We all know who’s expendable, don’t we, Mr. Job Creator.

R. Strinivasan has written a superb paper on “Liberalism.”  The article or Position Paper–16, appears at Indian Liberals(Group) in Vol.2.  For those who have ever cared about such things as the evolution of liberalism from the 16th Century to the present, this is a readable article and mercifully short. This matters, friends, this matters. Liberalism isn’t socialism. The article clarifies why today’s American Conservatives are really 19th Century Liberals.

But more important, although the American election is not Strinivasan’s subject, his scholarship provides an historical perspective for the 2012 Debate in the U.S. — currently playing out in our mindless, Media circus. If you want to take the extra time in this paper, you can also appreciate the differences in British, French, German and American liberalism. In each nation the philosophy grew out of the unique experiences of these peoples.  From other reading(Edmund Burke), I know that the French Revolution and Robespierre, for example, gave the French a strong desire for a strong state. Watching that revolution from across the English Channel profoundly affected the British way.

Read this paper and you will understand how much demagoguery inundates us this political season. A plague on all thelr houses!

Here’s one last quote from the paper. Read “Liberal” as “Job Creator:”

Apart from this, there was an unfeeling attitude to the problems of the proletariat. The British economists were impressed by laws which they held to be immutable. Malthus was to argue of the impossibility of improving the lot of the poor – they tend to have an excessive birth rate. The subsistence theory of wages argued that the wage tends to be at a level which would allow the labour to exist and perpetuate itself without increase or decrease of their numbers. Any legislation which would augment the wage of the labour will result in a population increase which would offset the gain and poverty would continue. Also, increase in wages would eat into profits, reduce investment into production, increase unemployment and perpetuate misery. Nassau Senior advocated a view that legislation to shorten the hours of labour would militate against the profits; for profits are made only in the last hour of the working day. If one were to shorten the working hours, it would lead to the closing of the factories and mines. He was dubbed as ‘Last Hour Senior’. The Liberals were described as creating a science for wealth rather than a science of wealth.”

Steadfast and cautious,

for The Tortoise

David Milliken

 

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Krauthammer: Occupy Wall Streeters, a Bunch of Disaffected English Majors?

I cannot win this argument. Nevertheless and being an English major, my soul is troubled, my conscience pricked. Since the Sixties and probably even the beat generation of the Fifties, the English major has come in for some easy scapegoating. Remember the image of the beat “poet” donned in beret taking a hit of pot, then standing up extending his drooping arms in mime, saying, “I am a tree.” That was and is the stereotyped English major. Actually Krauthammer would probably extend this image to psychology, history and philosophy majors, i.e. the liberal arts contingent. I wonder if he would include political science and economics majors who as everyone knows are highly productive contributors to the GDP. Alas, the old, Seventies images of Allen Ginsberg and Paul Simon, as pied pipers and troubadours wither. That millions of successful English majors wind up in education, communications, public relations and the law lies beside Krauthammer’s point.

Krauthammer pricked my conscience because in my time I have been a bit disaffected, not from capitalism, the pursuit of success and the American Way, but rather the way many conservatives would bully our culture.  The United States without a doubt has been the most materialistically productive nation in history and in the world. Because of this we had the might to save that world from the Nazis. We’ve been trying to top our glory ever since.

And, of course, it makes sense that the absolute business of America would be business. Business dominates and towers hundreds of stories above all while it supports everything else — no question here. I am grateful for it, but not everyone is totally motivated by financial profit. Ayn Rand is not everyone’s hero.  Must we forget that the economy has sectors which include government, education and not-for-profit enterprise — all of which provide jobs?  Traditionally these three sectors have ameliorated bad times in the profit sector.  They involve millions of productive people doing necessary work out of passion and commitment.  The arts and humanities are legitimate endeavors.  People pursuing them do not expect to be rich. Right now a malaise lies over all.

I am as put off as anyone by the recent interviewee at Occupy Kansas City, when he said, “I’m looking for a job, somewhat.” His counterpart shows up at Tea Party demonstrations as well. This is a disaffection of sorts, but it is not mine. Mine admittedly, comes from what my father would have blamed on “too many books.” Truthfully I cannot say that my disaffection came from reading Marx and a bunch of French writers, Keynes or John Kenneth Galbraith. Whitman, Thoreau, Melville and Henry Miller only gave me different views of life and the human condition. My reading has been far more an effort to understand the madness than to vilify America.  And yes, at times the books have set me adrift  from moorings.

My disaffection has other sources. True, my reading of William Dean Howells’ “The Rise of Silas Lapham” affected me profoundly as did “The Catcher in the Rye” and “The Fountainhead.” And I have read Hayek and Barry Goldwater. I listened to William F. Buckley on a regular basis. Pat Buchanan seems fair-minded  to me these days. Above all, I like Pat’s sense of humor — a healthier view of the absurd than the bleakness held by too many “liberals.” For years my stepmother railed against FDR and lionized John D. Rockefeller and GM. I am still unconvinced that a corporation is a “person” except in the law. I have never found large institutions affectionate.

So I majored in English to immerse myself in all that seemed to matter.  At that time it was the life of the mind — still very important to me.  I am older and hopefully wiser now. I take more time to ride my bike, tend to home maintenance and watch the passing scene. The world belongs to others now, but the beast still slouches toward “Bethlehem” as it always has. The falcon again is out of touch with the falconer. The center has lost its grip and the next best step out of this mess is an end to stereotyping in all its guises. “Somewhat interest in a job,” Occupy Wall Street and the “disaffected” English majors are an old, old story just come around again in new clothes.

Your thoughtful comments are genuinely and fervently requested.

Steadfast and cautious,

 

David Milliken

 

 

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Occupy Wall Street — Wherever, Even Kansas City!

It was a beautiful day in Kansas City, an October day when the temperature reached the eighties.  Under the cloudless, blue sky I concluded that October is Kansas City’s finest month.  I work from my home now; thus I was free to watch Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC at noon.  She was interviewing campers at Occupy Wall Street.  I heard about Occupy Wall Street in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and elsewhere.  I wondered when it might happen in Kansas City.  Indeed, it has already started, I picked up from the Internet.  Twenty-four people have been showing up near Liberty Memorial and its neighbor, the Federal Reserve Bank.

This is the way it starts then.   Next I went to Facebook, just to see what I might discover in the nature of an “Arab spring,” so to speak.  Sure enough, a leaderless throng develops right here in Kansas City.  Of course and how appropriate — Liberty Memorial next to the Fed!  The throng grows.

I was in the Navy when the Free Speech Movement started in Berkeley.  In May of 1968 when French students rioted,  I had just left the Navy, my heart and mind full of feelings and doubts about the war I had just participated in.  The student rebellion in France almost brought down the Fifth Republic and President DeGaulle with it.  The times, the conditions, the rhetoric of now and then are eerily similar and full of admonition.  The major difference I see is the makeup of the throng.  Now the assembly redressing its grievances is young, old and middle-aged, full of students, surely, but a genuine cross section of the American middle class.  Nothing, when it finally takes hold, can be more powerful than angry, unemployed people from across the socio-economic spectrum.  And they have nothing but time on their hands.   This time they are “leaderless” — at least for the moment.  The resemblance to Lybia cannot be missed.

The epithets are there: fascist-Leninist, anarchists,  spoiled kids, Commies, radicals, et cetera.  More likely they lean toward being anxious human beings.  For sure they have witnessed job loss in their fifties and no jobs in their twenties. Many have been foreclosed. Others have health costs out the ying yang. They probably have friends, brothers and sisters who have already headed West to Asia where, at least for awhile, there was a boom.  There’s not enough boom in North Dakota natural gas to give everyone a job.  Some have a kid in the service who won’t find a job after doing his/her duty. The great promise of the service industry that was going to replace manufacturing has died.  This is the way it starts then.  As the poet Yeats said, “the center cannot hold” and the “falcon cannot hear the falconer.”  Will “mere anarchy be losed upon the world?”  The global dimension is there — what with Europe slumping.

And it will not matter whether or not we speed up deregulation in order to free entrepreneurship — besides the normal capitalistic process pours out like molasses in a Kansas winter.  We have fiddled too long. If Congress doesn’t act now, and it may be too late already, somebody is going to act.  Something will happen, because it must happen.  This is the way it starts.

David Milliken

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