For the Week of April 10, 2006
Since writing my recent piece on political cycles I have been unable to get it out of my mind.
The implications are obvious. The question is what follows.
It's clear to me now why we're in Iraq, why the Bush Administration is becoming authoritarian, and why it isn't working. The Nixonian thesis on which these people were brought up is based, in a word, on conflict.
The myth is we're surrounded by enemies, not just external enemies but internal ones as well. Those horrible journalists, those rotten protestors, the "fifth columnists" in the academy, they are the ones who lost Vietnam. It wasn't us, it's never us. And now we'll show 'em.
This became crystal clear to me a few weeks ago, in my own state of Georgia, when a State Senator named Steen Miles proposed a motion of thanks to Jane Fonda , who did a lot of good here while married to Ted Turner. The outcry was so loud against "Hanoi Jane" even Miles eventually voted against the motion, and I thought - Hanoi Jane is a grandmother, nearly 70. Why did people care so much?
It was because of the myth, that Nixon-era myth. Jane Fonda lost Vietnam, you see. She committed treason on that tank in Hanoi. It was all her fault.
Myths don't need truth to attain power. They only need to impart values. In history I learned that with Hitler, whose central myth was similar. (This doesn't make Bush into Hitler - hear it out.) In the Hitler myth Germany was beaten by internal weakness, not by Allied force of arms. By eliminating the internal enemy, Germany could triumph over all external foes.
Hitler did learn his political philosophy here, after all. His racism was a direct outgrowth of the American eugenics movement, his "lebensraum" a form of Manifest Destiny. It was our genocide against the Indians that made us powerful, Hitler felt, and if Germany could only copy that...
Still. We are all responsible for our own lives, our own myths, our own consequences. To say that the Nixon-era myths animate Bush - and more importantly his followers - is not to call them Nazis. It is to call them, instead, prisoners of myth. And call us their hostages.
So we're left with a political thesis based on eternal conflict. Bush actually said it in a recent speech, calling this "The Long War."
Again, the question returns. What is the new thesis? What replaces Reaganism (to put the best face on the myth), that great story of conflict and victory, with its Hollywood ending?
That's the new myth. Consensus. Ironically it has been a-borning all around us, all around the world. The European Community is based on consensus. The prosperity of China is based on consensus. That of India, the same.
And consensus is the only way forward, because consensus is the only force that can take on the challenges we face, challenges like peak oil, global warming, aging. We even benefit from consensus ourselves - what do you think the World Trade Organization is about?
For that matter, what do you think open source is about? What is the Internet about? It's a consensus on standards, technical standards, cooperative standards for doing business. How does science itself work? Consensus.
Consensus works where conflict fails. It's working right now. Consensus does not mean universal agreement. Scientists disagree. There are many different kinds of open source business arrangements, and there remain proprietary software companies outside the consensus. But we proceed based on the assumptions consensus achieves. We proceed based on the idea that global warming is real, even though there remain scientists who disagree.
Here is the problem. How do you get from here to there? How do we replace the current political thesis, the myth of conflict, with a new myth based on consensus?
Politically the job appears impossible. Republicans need Democrats fighting them, and they also take advantage when Democrats stop.
You can see it clearly in the story of poor Ben Domenech, the blogger fired from The Washington Post recently for plagiarism. Yes, I feel sorry for him. Born in 1981, he has lived his entire life inside the thesis of conflict. He was home-schooled, and taught from the cradle that Democrats were enemies, evil, liars, traitors to be crushed. He was taught to be ruthless. He had no choice in taking this on. He lived in a bubble.
When everything is politics, anything is fair. Plagiarism is fair. Lying about it is fair. Law-breaking is fair. Genocide is just getting your own back. There are, literally, millions of Americans like Ben inside this bubble of hate, watching their political thesis crumble around them, unable to stop it. It's horrible, it's heartbreaking.
But what can you really do about it? In 1944 some German generals tried to murder Hitler. But would that have really done the job? Would killing George W. Bush do anything to end this era?
Unfortunately, the story must play itself out. The thesis must be disproven before the way becomes clear so we might publicly propose the new thesis. The collapse must go far enough so that masses of Republicans reject their own leaders, their own premises, their own assumptions.
And there is very little the Democrats can do to hasten things. In the end, whether they fight or whether they stand back matters very little. It's personally gratifying to fight, but the intensity of the fight will only justify the thesis in many Republican hearts.
It's when the crisis comes, when the power shifts, only then, that there will be a party and Administration looking for something to believe in. Then you tell them.
We must get in line with the international consensus. We must proceed based on our own consensus, and an assumption of goodwill. There are too few of us to afford any more them. The whole idea of a them, in fact, is obsolete.
When will this become apparent? Only well after the fact. The 1968 election was thought to be close. Nixon consolidated it by bringing the Wallace voters into the GOP. The 1932 result was tentative. Roosevelt's program wasn't socialism, or Keynesianism, but continual experimentation. Try something, anything, that might stimulate belief and confidence, get people working.
How will it proceed this time? I don't know. The specifics of the future are unknowable. But the theme is now clear.
The theme is consensus.
I have made a big decision. I have moved my main blog, formerly called Mooreslore, to danablankenhorn.com under the name Dana Blankenhorn. (Hey, that's MY name.) The blog is written in Typepad and is also available at 200billionscandal.typepad.com
I'm continuing to produce a special blog on Open Sourcefor ZDNet. I am pleased to say it has grown into a real money-maker. I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for Voic.Us, which aims to become a political "super-site" and offer mobile marketing services. Please visit that blog as well.
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