Monday, April 27, 2015

Op.Re-post: The Polite Escape Re-Visited (parts 1 & 2)



The Polite Escape Revisited (Part One)                  

(FuelForThought [FFT] November 18, 2004)

American military deaths in Iraq: 1,193

Back in 1982 Harry Ausmus published his first book, The Polite Escape: On the Myth of Secularization.  I helped Harry with some preliminary editing, and the reading I did in that book has stuck with me.  It has re-surfaced now as I struggle to explain the difficulties some of us are having with this surge of “morality” and otherworldliness we’re facing in our culture.  By the way, I recommend the book, though, to be honest, it will send you to the library for further reading.

Harry (undergraduate divinity degree, PhD. in history) had some pretty specific ideas about American religion and how it works in our culture.  He got a great deal of his thinking from Will Herberg’s Protestant Catholic Jew, a study of how the immigrant experience effectively secularized the religion of America’s people.  Other studies have been done of how the land itself (the “wilderness”) effected the same result.  For Harry, this idea bore out Reinhold Niebuhr’s idea of “Christian realism” (which trickled down from Neitzsche, who announced that God had died…but not that belief and faith had died…more on Niebuhr in Part Two).

Harry’s idea that the secularization process in US is more myth than reality is based in the idea that the process involves both transference (state as metaphor of religion) and transformation (state as the religion).  That is, through the pressures of assimilation (social, economic and political) all major religions upon import to US conflate to a belief system that is The Republic, so that to be an American is to believe primarily in Americanism, a shared faith in the fundamental tenets and understandings associated with The Republic (freedom, opportunity, “democracy”, capitalism, “the pursuit of happiness”).  Because the established religions people bring with them are indicators of a first principle taboo, the religious indicators are reduced to secondary status and, in some cases, diluted so that they conform to the social and economic pressures of The Republic (e.g., alternative scheduling of services for Catholics, majority of Jews indistinguishable in their attire from the general population, etc.).  Especially in the US, the secularization process, for Harry, is a myth, because it does not create secularism; it creates a religion that is The Republic.

This religion of The Republic works pretty well until The Republic as a culture of people confronts extraordinary stress from the real world that challenges the peoples’ faith.  The Republic, after all, functions in a calm real world but seems arbitrary and uncertain during times of stress.   At times like this (The Mexican War, the 1850s, Reconstruction and the elections of 1876 and 1896, McCarthyism and Vietnam), people choose to default to an Absolute faith, one that contains a fundamental mystery, their familiar religion.  Harry sees references to faith in virtually all institutions of The Republic; the word federal comes from Latin fede, meaning faith, we trust in God on our currency, we have The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and even the single optic hovering above the unfinished pyramid on the $1 bill is based in faith, the all-seeing eye of divinity.  And so on. 

Harry’s theory is interesting and challenging.  Most of his critics think his last two chapters evoke optimism.  Perhaps, but then they didn’t have the long conversations I had with Harry.  Harry was essentially cynical about Americans specifically and humans generally.  Harry’s opinion was that most Americans prefer to speak little about their faith and that by speaking little we sort of live within our own myth of secularism.  We prefer to believe we live blissfully in a condition of separation of church and state.  But in fact, because we remain Americans, we are fooling ourselves to believe so. 


In Part Two let’s look at the difference between the secularization process and secularism, and, perhaps, see that there’s more to this cultural gap than folks even want to consider.



The Polite Escape Revisited (Part Two)                        (November 19, 2004)

American military deaths in Iraq: 2,009

So the secularization process moves on apace as long as things are steady, and there’s no threat to the status quo.  During many of our conversations back in the 70s, Harry used to tell me to mark his word: All the moralizing about the Vietnam War was going to create an outbreak of fundamental believers that would make the Second Great Awakening look tame.  Well here we are.  The chicken hawks and Bible thumpers have come home to roost.  And perhaps at no other time in American history has a challenge to the status quo been so great and our senses of normality so uncertain.  We are stumbling and twitching through an age of anxiety. Our faith in The Republic has been shaken by more than 9/11.  It has been shaken by an enforced necessity to live in a global community engineered by technology that we can’t really see and don’t understand and by a real world in which none of our secularized values seem to obtain.  We are used to easy solutions and the barriers of two oceans, but now we seem bereft of worldly direction and The Republic seems impotent.  This is why many among us call on the power of an Absolute.  Nobody can claim you’re wrong if you do that.  Does this mean we have leapt out of the secularization into a cultural face off between secularism and divinity?

First, secularization is different from secularism.  Secularism is a philosophy professing that religion and social institutions in society should be distinct and forever separate.  Religion can voice opinions about societal institutions, but it has no authority or power to alter those institutions.  Traditionally, secularization represents an implementation of secularism, and many in America today fear that is what got us in this terrifying situation (Ausmus to the contrary notwithstanding).  Hence we have the face off.  Has anyone seen this coming, and what alternative was offered?

Some historians consider Reinhold Niebuhr to be the second greatest native-born theologian in American cultural history (the first being Jonathan Edwards).  Expressed in the 1950s, his so-called neo-orthodoxy proposed an ideology known as "Christian Realism", what he called his practical theology. Jerry Falwell, George W. Bush and their ilk would consider him heretical for showing more interest in the paradoxes of human life than in the salvation offered through Christ. Niebuhr felt we must take "myths" seriously, but not literally. For example, the cross of Christ was a particularly important theme for Niebuhr since it revealed the great paradox of powerlessness turned into power, of a love in justice that overcame the sinful world. He "focused more on the doctrine of man than on the doctrine of God, and showed more concern for life in society than for life in the church."

Niebuhr was prescient about religion in American modern life.  He contended that the major heresy for the Church, be it Catholic or Protestant, is for it to identify itself with God, to suppose that opposition to its way is opposition to God's ways. When the Church is guilty of such pretensions, it needs be, and usually is, attacked by a secular force. The secular voice becomes a judgment of God upon a Church that has forgotten its true nature.  This sounds reasonable and modern, but Niebuhr offered struggle, not absolute hope, so here we are at this face off. When The Transcendent Mystery confronts secularism, secularism withers.  Currrently, secularism seems to be weak and failing. Fear of the unknown has generated reliance on the unknowable.

The rise of Christian fundamentalism in everything (including in rap and hip hop) is consistent with other periods in our history, sometimes as a part of turn-of-the-century phenomena and sometimes as precedent to a major cultural cataclysm especially when the period is marked by significant shifts in or threats to the culture.  That we are experiencing the Third Great Awakening will be up to historians, but for now if we look we can see the signs.

Consider the call for “strict constructionists” as judges and justices.  This regards the Constitution as holy writ (like the Talmud and the Koran), as inviolable, not open to “deconstruction” – and thus we have an ironclad, absolute secularization of state as god/God.  Consider the Bush administration’s foreign policy: “Liberty is God’s gift to people” around the world.  And in its response to the defeat of its candidate for President, the Democratic Leadership Council has announced it is time for Democrats to shake off their secular image, to rephrase their positions in moral and religious language.  They are stepping up their efforts to rally religious and church groups to their side (NY Times, 11.17.04, p. A20).  And there are bushels of examples from popular culture.

The real test is our answer to this question: Do Americans have more faith in “Americanism” or their personal religions?  And then the hypothetical: If they were faced with giving up their religion or giving up America, which would they choose? (Historically, not much of a hypothetical; the Puritans, Pilgrims, Jews, Huguenots and others had to answer it.)  Ironically, much of America was settled by people fleeing an oppression of church run states, most of which have evolved into quite secularized states, keeping religion private and apart from the public domain…while America now seems to feel that it has had enough of its presumed secularization and prefers some sort of divine Awakening.




Sunday, April 26, 2015

Operation Re-Posts (cont.) "Vulgus"




Vulgus                    (OCTOBER 20, 2008 CyberspaceGlassHouse)

In today's Times, William Kristol, not known as the champion of the common person, writes a stealth column, extolling the virtues of the "vulgas," the ordinary, non-elite person, who over the course of the last century has mostly been correct about things—so says Kristol. His vain effort is to bring Joe What's-his-name and Sarah What's-her-name into the fold of prophetic voices of the demos, the spine of democracy. Kristol's cynicism truly sets a new standard.

Later, as I was trashing some old files, I came across a piece I posted on my other blog (rcsnmi.blogspot.com) back on February 18, 2008, "Exaltations of Ordinariness."  The following is what I said at that time:

I came across this phrase in an article by Susan Jacoby in the Washington Post. I let it mull overnight, because I wasn't sure of its degree of significance, though I had no question that it has special significance for contemporary America. I was fairly certain that it resonated with something I had posted over the recent months. So I sought, and there it was "Our Ignorance Crisis" (rcsnmi Jan. 23, 2008) . As Ms Jacoby indicates, the problem with people like us pointing this out is that the hordes of the proudly ignorant will shrug us off with a passing reference to our " elitism."  Ms Jacoby cites this mass response as the expected extension and personalization of the anti-intellectualism behind what I have called the arrogance of ignorance. But Ms Jocaby's most challenging conclusion just might be her references to the "anti-rationalism"; this insidious brand of cultural hubris seems to be our culture's preferred approach to its current dilemmas, rather than the thoughtful, logical approach. This is where the "exaltations of ordinariness" come at us like tsunamis, which, by the time the first alarms sound, have already begun their destruction.

During my consideration of our country's resistance to thought and reasoning, the word "dunciad" bubbled up. From somewhere in the recesses of the what's left in my memory of my undergraduate studies I recalled Alexander Pope's famous poem, the source of the word. A writer at Wikipedia sums it up very succinctly: "The poem celebrates the goddess Dulness and the progress of her chosen agents as they bring decay, imbecility, and tastelessness to the kingdom of Great Britain."

Apart from being "elitists", I'm sure that Ms Jacoby and others in our small group will also be called cultural Chicken Littles, claiming that this arrogant embrace of dullness and ignorance will bring down the greatness of America. Well, as I have written elsewhere, if the "demos" would stop rooting for their personal fave "American Idol", stop their tragic onanistic dedication to Facebook and stop thinking that "hope" will float their boats—they might see that America has finally consumed its empire (that's right: literally eating its global viability), feeling it in virtually every corner of its daily life and (here's the tragic part) hoping for a solution from somewhere or somebody. That's the critical problem ordinary people have with empire: They assume it will always be there and that by numbingly mouthing the mantras "hope", "freedom". "liberty" and such, and failing to pay attention to the rest of the world, that world will accept the imperial swagger.

When hoping and believing trump knowing and thinking as cultural norms, the culture has pretty much become something other.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Operation Re-Posts (cont.)




Their                                                                                    (2008 CyberspaceGlassHouse)

I’m fussy about language usage.  Sometimes I’m just fussy for fun.  For example, why do we even have the word “take” if people use “bring”, whether they’re bringing or taking something.  It’s really a simple and logical distinction:  You take from here to there; you bring from there to here. Please, take me to the movie and bring me home.  I drive people crazy with that. And they, of course, go along saying bring for everything…except when they use “take” in the absurd colloquialism, “Take this for example.”  Take it where?

But like I said, we can have fun with this; nobody gets hurt.  On the other hand, we can get into some linguistic binds when we try to insert political or sociological demands into language. Such are the hazards of forcing gender neutrality on pronouns.

“Everyone needs to bring their books.”  No problem with the subject/verb agreement (in number); “Everyone” (singular pronoun as subject) agrees with “needs” (singular form of the verb).  But the next pronoun, “their” (plural possessive form of “they”) has no word to refer back to (antecedent).  The logic of the English grammar system (by which we explain how our language makes sense) has been mugged.

Some will say that common usage recognizes “everyone” represents single members of a plural group.  Well, that might get by, but what do we do about the verb, the very heart of any sentence. We truly must choose.  If we are led by our impulse to de-genderize the language, we still need to have it make sense.   So the verb must take on the strength (I guess) of the de-gendered “their” and become the plural “need.” Let’s see how that works out.  “Everyone need to bring their books.”  This clearly raises another socio-political problem.

The simplest solution is to pluralize everything.  “All students need to bring their books.”  Thus, we have clean, clear and logical meaning.  But what if you want to emphasize “each”, as in “each and every one…” (which, of course,, is unnecessarily redundant)? That’s where the risk, either way, comes in.  Be neutral or be logical.  Which is the greater risk?

And just think, we haven’t even begun to discuss the contortions of “fun.”  Things can be “so fun” (adverbs don’t modify nouns), “the funnest” and or “funner”.  All of this demonstrates that language, perhaps more than any other cultural institution, alters itself “going forward.”  Don’t you just love that one?  As though “forward” is a place necessarily that we want to be, going there will be an improvement in our lives.  Really?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Operation Re-Posts


The current woebegone, benighted vibe of our culture has finally run me off the track of possible inspiration.  I can't think of anything to write that could penetrate the density of what passes for discourse these days.

But I do like to share stuff I've written with the few people who still visit my blog.  So beginning with the following re-post, I'll be re-posting stuff from my first blog ("Fuel For Thought" 2004-2005) and my alternate blog ("Cyberspace Glass House" 2008-2014).  Because many of the posts from both blogs dealt with immediate current events and personalities, I won't be using them (no point in having you re-visit that tragic tedium).  I'll be offering my observations of things of general interest that emerged during those dates and prodded me to comment.  We begin from "Fuel For Thought" (FFT) in August, 2004.


The Decline of Y: Lose/Lose Sexual Politics                                                   (August 21, 2004)


According to his book, Adam’s Curse: A Future Without Men, leading genetic scientist Bryan Sykes has concluded that men will gradually become extinct in 5000 generations, about 125,000 years. Of course, all the women are now smiling and yawning knowingly, so to speak.  5000 generations probably seems like an eternity to most people, but by evolutionary standards, it’s really quite brief.  Both genders of homo sapiens have been around for between 6 or 7 million years, give or take several hundred thousand.  At some mysterious point, either by Divine Will or a lightning bolt, we leapt from the trees, leaving our chattering primogenitors behind.  It’s been a good run…think of all the large and small wars…think of the grand, oppressive, male dominated religions…think of all the slavery…think of the attempted and successful genocides: Genghis Khan…the Bureau of Indian Affairs…Hitler…Saddam Hussein…Dick Cheney…Stalin…What! Did I say Dick Cheney? 

But rather than act offensively and typically male, and attack this hapless Brit who is only doing his job, why not be original and stop and think about ourselves and what brought us to this doom?

A long time ago I read Midge Decter’s  book, which demonstrated statistically how males engage in physically self-destructive behavior (males fighting wars declared by males, most athletic contests, general over-work, etc.).  Most men I know, no matter what age, would rather engage in some physically demanding work, including housework, than plan meals, do household finances, contemplate a new yearly wardrobe or simply sit and chat.  In addition, most retired and “down-sized” men feel inadequate if they have not developed some form of challenging new career (operative word: ‘challenging’), even some time-consuming hobby.  Generally, men feel the need to be out in the world (a little like Chaucer’s monk [GP, l.166], be an “outrider”) exerting their efforts against an opposite force, gathering stuff and hoping to acquire some form of noteworthy acclaim. And doing some dalliance whenever possible.

Norman Mailer wrote an extensive essay (Prisoner of Sex, 1971) about how a male’s sexual consciousness is not only a self-defining but is also a self-determining behavioral motivator.  In his response to Kate Millet’s attack on his ideas in her “Sexual Politics” (1970), he associates this directly with male primary sexual characteristics.   He claims that because the male genitalia are exposed, males generally pursue life in an offensive mode, striking first to avoid being stricken unawares.  And long before Mailer, another American literary lion (couldn’t resist that!) Nathaniel Hawthorne in an unfortunately little read novel, “The Blithedale Romance” has the tragic female character lambaste the hollow egoistic male, proclaiming: “Are you a man? No; but a monster!  A cold, heartless, self-proclaiming and self-ending piece of mechanism…It is all self! Nothing else; nothing but self, self, self!”

So the male consciousness is all self, striking out offensively to assure the strongest defense.  If you put all this together, you can conclude that all of this raising of self-assertion and physical exertion had to take its toll over the centuries.  Apparently, this exhaustion got into the DNA hard-wiring to the point where men neither care to nor in fact perform to their historical standards. Indeed, men have apparently lost a sense of their standards.  I’m sure contrarians lurk out there.  Why not submit some comments?


Monday, April 13, 2015

Our Cultural Valium



Back in June of 2008 I posted a blog entry on an alternate site called “Cyberspace Glass House” (don’t ask) about what’s known as consumerism.  My title is “Consumerated,” indicating a condition of having succumbed to the infliction of or faith in consumerism. In this Sunday’s Times Steven Quartz and Anette Asp offered a more nuanced explanation of how consumeration (the process) keeps us from getting angry about what we should be angry about.  It functions as a cultural valium.

The following is my 2008 brief notation:

Consumerated
I know.  This seems to be a funky coinage, someone (me) trying too hard to make a point.  Actually, if you Google it, you’ll find it’s been around for a while. OK, but what does it mean? First, let’s see why I bring it up.  I got the impulse when I read the following:

“It turns out that we’ve been split up and atomized for so long that real grassroots politics isn’t really possible; we don’t respond to problems as communities but as demographics.  In the same way that we shop for cars and choose television programs, we pick our means of political protest.  We scan the media landscape for the thing that appeals to us and we buy into it”  (The Great Derangement by Matt Taibbi, Spiegel & Grau, 2008, p. 9)

Our culture has reached the point in our hyper-consumption that we are unconscious of the degree to which market targeting has reduced us to niche (atomized) wanters of whatever producers think we’ll buy.  This process—I see a warp-speed production/consumption highway with its atoms (us) exponentially increasing speed and volume—is consumeration.  We, and all the traditional social institutions (religion, family, government, education, etc.), care only about the next version of a consumable, which marks us in our special niche.  As we select our comforting brand, we are by that selection branded.  Let’s see how it works in two distinctly different consumerated groups.

Around 2000, I decided that our newly founded Media Studies Department needed a boost to get some enrollments going.  I decided to see if what I already knew about African-American cultural history combined with my very sketchy knowledge of Rap music and Hip Hop culture could rise to the level of a university course of study.  After 2 years of research and listening, I developed a course and had discovered a turning point in this pop culture phenomenon.  I determined that the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”, combining a dance beat and a simple “rap” lyric (no ruptures in this form), marked the beginning of the consumerating shift away from the origins of Afrika Bambatta and Gil Scott Heron, resistive signifyin’ voices of the nation’s urban neighborhoods.  Parrish Smith confirmed this when he visited my class in 2003 and discussed how he and his partner, Eric Smalls, (EPMD) had to decide in 1992 to stay with the street and not move toward the pop mainstream.  During that same period, gangsta rap became consumerated and moved to videos, “tats”, and gangsta costuming. Lots more can be said about this, but you get the idea.

The second, much larger, atomized group is the health-nutty boomers.   My theory about their health-nuttiness has to do with the influence of Mr. Rogers on their lives.  He claimed that each was special, which resulted in their retaining their solipsistic, naval gazing specialness by being healthy.  And the health industries licked their lips and rubbed their palms.  The manifestations of this are everywhere.  We suddenly experienced ever more atomized branding of bottled water and health drinks, consumerated to identify with perfect teeth smiles and 6-pack abs as boomers lean on their specialized 12 speed bikes and sport ludicrously designed wind resistant helmets and spandexed Tour de France uniforms.  And, of course this is all integrated with their memberships in the appropriate commercial gym and/or hiring of a personal trainer. 

For the lower end of the Mr. Rogers generation, we can find a basement full of the niche exercise machinery and free weights sets many of which now languish in cobwebs and molder beneath layers of dust.  All manifest the consumerated lives of those in the family room, watching cable 24/7 news shows cum supermarket tabloids, being certain that the various images of hope, or change, or a secure America are produced just for them.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Charter Schools: The Actuality


Like all reform movements, the education reform movement has a downside.  Actually, it has a profound downside; its viability depends entirely on its stealth funding sources' ability to abrogate the democratic process.

As my regular readers know, I have had some experience opposing these forces of reform for a few years.  I oppose them mainly because they exploit public education by (illegally, in most cases) skimming vitally needed funds from the operating state education budgets and by undermining what I know from experience is the actual learning process.  Beyond that, it regiments elementary education to a quasi-military environment and removes any students who do not conform (rather than accommodating their learning difficulties).  But you don't need to rely on my testimony.  Go to the link below and judge for yourself.


Nowhere is this faux reform clearer than in New York's corrupted political process delivered by 9 hedge fund operators and their consigliere, those pasty faced lieutenants eager to remain in the good graces of their monied masters.  This is oligarchic privatization on steroids.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Does Economic Inequality Become Social and Political Instability?



The idea that economic inequality is a growing actuality in the life of United States citizens is not news.  But what some people have begun noising about (albeit quietly) is that this inequality and its metastasis threaten our ability to cohere socially and to self-govern. 

[Heartfelt disclaimer:  I am not an economist.  The closest I came was a basic undergraduate course, which I nearly flunked.  On the other hand, I spent all my years in graduate school studying what was quaintly labeled “American Civilization,” and, yes, the experience was as amorphous as it sounds…and is.]

The issue about economic inequality is not just that it is unethical or immoral; the issue is that if it continues unabated and continues to allow for and propel the dissolution of our social institutions, what we assume is our system of governance will become something quite different from a democracy and our social constructs will be closer to chaotic fiefdoms.  In this regard, economic inequality is a little like climate change; whether you believe it is occurring or not does not matter.  What matters is that significant life choices need to be made now in order simply to continue living with or without the kind of life choices we prefer.  The water will continue to rise and the droughts and storms will get worse, both actually and metaphorically.  We simply must change our ways of thinking and doing or we will cease as a democratic society.

Of course, most people will tell you they care about poverty, about poor people.  But they actually don’t.  Most of us are too busy consuming.  But it’s not nice not to care about poverty, and most people want at least to be nice.  Besides, poverty allows them to be charitable; that is, to give money and stuff to charities that, in turn, give to poor people.  Charity does nothing to relieve poverty in this country, but it allows us to feel that we are nice people (and allows for a pittance of a tax deduction).  So poverty is one of those things we assume has always been with us and will continue to be.  It’s part of the American way.

But now, along come people like Robert Putnam and Thomas Picketty, who are telling us that economic inequality is not just about poverty, but is rather about an impending sea change in everything in our social institutions and most cherished assumptions about our culture that will require major shifts in who we think we are and where we think we are going.  This phenomenon will make the actualities of climate change look like a mild tweaking of our lifestyles.

Robert Putnam in Our Kids (from the review in Huffington Post) makes several observations about how economic inequality is alienating and isolating Americans, similarly to what he wrote about in Bowling Alone, only this time it derives from necessity more than choice.  He includes such things as the curtailment of economic opportunity poisoning the integrity of democracy, alienation of learning through privatization of education thus increasing social divisiveness,  those in and on the margins of poverty becoming increasingly isolated, distrustful and disengaged. They feel isolated, disconnected, distrustful, separated from social institutions (education, religion, politics/governance, civics).  All results in the accumulating disintegration of the American community, which is exponentially re-enforced by all media, especially social media and in data reliance.

- 
In his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Picketty writes, “economic inequality is the inevitable collateral effect of capitalism—and that if governments don’t act decisively to contain it (mostly through higher taxes on wealth and incomes), it will steadily grow until it seriously threatens democracy and economic stability.” (quoted in Moise Naim's "Thomas Piketty and the End of Our Peaceful Coexistence With Inequality”).  "This superpower has an unrivaled ability to export and globalize its anxieties. In this case, it’s good news that the problem afflicting Americans is also important for people elsewhere who have passively tolerated inequality for too long.”

Christine LeGarde, head of IMF, is quoted in Mother Jones, "History…teaches us that democracy begins to fray at the edges once political battles separate the haves against the have-nots.” (emph added).  Her observation is uderscored by Frederick Stolt in his “Economic Inequality and Democratic Political Engagement”.  He states, “economic inequality powerfully depresses political interest, discussion of politics, and participation in elections among all but the most affluent." And it follows that interest in and engagement with all social institutions declines concomitantly.

I had been stewing over this problem for some time, and then I read an article in a recent New Yorker, Jill Lepore's, “Richer and Poorer”, at which time I decided to try to cobble together some sense by relating it to some things I have been observing.  And so you have this post.  Lepore takes both Putnam and Picketty to task, basically for over-generalizing the issue.  And that's fair enough, especially on Putnam's part (though my heart is with his longings for the 50s, which, however, were not that altogether communitarian as he wishes).  And Picketty seems to be far too global for Lepore.  Nevertheless, by citing Anthony Atkinson's Inequality: What Can Be Done?, as her middle ground, she seems to be overly willing to suspend disbelief in our current specious governance.  Even though Atkinson contends, “The American political imagination has become as narrow as the gap between rich and poor is wide,” he nevertheless castigates Putnam's "nostalgia" position and seems to place all his trust in a functioning government to create and fund all his 15 proposed solutions, such as a government role in the direction of technological development, a capital endowment of “minimum inheritance” paid to everyone on reaching adulthood, a global tax on wealth, a minimum tax on corporations…[and] he is interested in “responsible parties and in demanding government action."

But what if government can't or (more likely) won't?  And that is the situation we currently find ourselves in with no change in the visible future.

I am not so much concerned with economic inequality.  That has been part of America since the colonies, and, as I suggested, Americans accept that.  Inequality is what we perversely accept as a part of the opportunity equation.  And that is inexplicable (I've tried with various peoples).  What I am concerned about is the fraying and/or (worse) dissolution of our social institutions and governance.  I am concerned because I see it emerging at various levels.  What has traditionally been accepted as public is now assumed to be private, what has traditionally assumed to have been constitutionally viable in any time is now considered viable only in terms of originalist ideology—a concept on its face totally absurd.

I don't want to die uncertain that what I have thought Americans could always rely on is no longer reliable.  I don't want more.  I want what has been at least reasonably reliable.