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It’s Later Than You Think

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For the past week or so, I’ve been having this weird mental hitch where I think it’s later in the week than it is.  This morning, I thought it was Wednesday, which is a day on which I have to do a whole ton of stuff I’m not really prepared to do.

I scuttled around this morning trying to gear myself up to do things I later–much later–realized couldn’t even be done before another 24 hours. 

Then I realized what I was doing and sat down to see if I couldn’t get my head to start dealing with reality.

The situation is even weirder than it seems on the surface, because it oddly connects with what I’ve been reading, and even with some of the conversations I’ve been in on FB.

What I’m reading is still Perry Miller’s Life of the Mind in America from Revolution to the Civil War, which is an account–by a New Deal liberal–of how Americans came to understand their society and the place of religion, law and government in it.

This is a very odd book to be reading these days, because, if Miller’s history can be trusted, these days are an awful lot like the ones that led from the founding to the Civil War.

The players these days are not only pretty much the same people as they ever were, but they’re pretty much ranting and railing about the same topics and in mostly the same way.

The issues are going to sound very familiar: the power of the federal government, the place of religion in American life and politics, the expanding power of experts and the use of those experts by Eastern elites to foil the will of ordinary people.

In fact, all of this is so familiar, I’d almost suspect Miller of writing a spoof.  I know he didn’t, because he died in the Fifties, when he, like most historians, thought that all these issues had been resolved.

Of course, ten or so years after Miller died, Richard Hofstadter brought out Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, so hope on the part of New Dealers that the acceptance of what we now call Big Government was complete were undoubtedly exaggerated.

That said, the issues aren’t anywhere near as easy to work out as I once thought they were, or as Hofstadter thought they were, either.

You have to give it to Perry Miller for understanding that, and being careful.

The foundational principle of this nation is that ordinary people–the mechanic in the gas station on Main Street, the lawyer in a New York highrise office, the Christian fundamentalist mother of four driving her children to a religious school, the band members of Florida Georgia Line–are fully competent to make their own decisions about their own lives and to run their own government theirselves.

This is, of course, a political fiction, and everybody knows it, but the bottom line is very simple: we must behave, politically, AS IF it were true.

We must behave that way because the alternative leads to far worse–to the imposition of an established religion (metaphorically), of the spectacle of people who think they’re morally and intellectually superior to their fellow citizens running roughshod over everybody else.

But.

And it’s a big but.

I don’t think there’s any one of us out here with an IQ over 2 who hasn’t looked at the some of the specimens of our fellow citizens and gone, “Oh, my God.”

If you’ve never done that, I’d recommend about a week of reality television.  Forget the “outrageous” stuff like Duck Dynasty (those people built and run a successful business) and go straight for the mind-numbing mindless.

Party Down South would be a good one–following the adventures of a group of people who seem to do nothing but get drunk, get pregnant and fight with each other.

I have no idea why anybody, anywhere, would want to appear on national television behaving like this, but there they are.  It’s the ultimate example of the principle that it doesn’t matter what you’re famous for, as long as you’re famous.

For me, though, the issue isn’t people like the ones on Party Down South. They don’t seem to be very bright and they’re mostly wasting their lives in ways that aren’t even interesting, but we all have the right to pursue happiness, and this is how they pursue theirs.

No, the people who get me going are the ones I always identify in my head as the ones who “ought to know better,” although I’m not sure why they ought to know anything.

The prime example of the breed is a woman named Jenny McCarthy.

Ms. McCarthy is an actress who had something of a vogue about a decade ago.  She also lived for a long time with the actor Jim Carrey, who is a truly astounding actor, and therefore probably somebody you do in fact know.

None of this matters next to the fact that the woman has spent the last fifteen or so years declaring to all and sundry that vaccines cause autism and that parents shouldn’t vaccinate your children.

Note here, that the anti-science stand is coming strictly from the Left.  Ms. McCarthy is convinced that we only vaccinate our children because we have been hoodwinked into it by Big Pharma, which is making a mint off the fears they themselves have invented.

Sorry.  I get REALLY sick and tired of people telling me that one side is “pro-science” and the other is “anti,” when both sides deny science as soon as it gets in the way of their ideology.

At any rate, Miss McCarthy.

The first time I heard about Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vaxx campaign, the first thing I thought of was that she was obviously much younger than I am.

I was a little over 2 during the last great polio epidemic to hit the US.  It’s one of my earliest and definitely one of my strongest memories: being forced to stay in the house all the time, listening to my parents discussing what had happened to a boy down the block that I played with all the time and would never play with again.

If you think vaccinations are nothing but a plot by Big Pharma to make a bunch of money, you’re a very lucky person.  You’re too young to remember when not being vaccinated meant dying at the age of 5 or spending the rest of a short life in an iron lung or paralyzed from the waist down.

There are lots of things out there like this, things that ought to be no-brainers.  There’s the fluorescent light bulb thing. I think it was wrong of the US government to institute a ban on incandescent bulbs. 

On the other hand, if you’re still using incandescent bulbs, you’re an idiot.  The fluorescents last long, use less power, and–in spite of a higher initial cost–end up costing you less money.

Things like the anti-vaxx crusade are a type of stupidity that seems to have its own natural history.

This type of stupidity always comes accompanied by high levels of paranoia–Hofstadter also wrote a book called The Paranoid Style in American Politics–and the paranoia always seems to come wrapped in a conviction that the world is being run by secret forces with absolute power conspiring against the rest of us.

In other words, it’s the paranoia of what we ordinarily think of as true nutcases. David Icke. The Reptilian people.  The Illuminati.

I’m not saying Jenny McCarthy natters on about the Illuminati.  She doesn’t.  It’s just that her theories about the Big Pharma plot to trick us into giving our children vaccines they don’t need and that will cause them autism is that kind of paranoia.

Big Pharma is all powerful.  In can operate in complete secrecy without ever being detected, or even–in outright contradiction to all human nature everywhere–losing one of its conspiracy members to book deals and whistleblower fame.

Some of the Christian versions of this kind of thing come right out and blame the devil for what’s going on, and that at least makes a certain kind of sense, since the Devil is supernatural.  The chairman of Glaxxo-Klein, on the other hand, is most likely a middle aged functionary who has enough trouble trying to stay ahead of international tax codes.

I think what I’m trying to say here is that this way of looking at the world seems to be a standard variant of the way our brains work. 

All of us do a little of it, and some of us do a lot of it.

Right now, one of the groups of people doing a lot of it is running around the American West shooting police officers and declaring that we’re about to see “the revolution.”

One of the police officers working on the mess out in Nevada yesterday helpfully explained to CNN that the perpetrators hadn’t left the swastika because they were neo Nazis.  They’d left the swastika because they thought the POLICE were Nazis.

Which was helpful as a distinction, but I’d already figured it out.

Rachel Maddow spent last night asking the question that’s now a favorite all over the Internet–are these guys being egged on by Republicans who write books and produce radio shows talking about how awful the government is?

It’s cute, but it doesn’t even begin to address the issue.

The US has always had a large and vocal segment of its population that is anti-government to the point of anarchy.  It was here in 1776, in 1828, in 1861 and yes, now, and it will always be with us.

What’s actually egging these people on at the moment is the fact that this government no longer seems sure enough of itself to provide a credible threat.

It was the Obama Administration, not the Republicans, that backed down during the Cliven Bundy mess, and did it on international media.

And that is the point, and it’s a big one.

Those people know the Republicans are more-or-less with them.  They now think the Democrats don’t have the will to successfully oppose them.

I think it’s going to turn out to be the worst mistake any American government has made in 100 years.

The Jenny McCarthys in our midst, though, will earnestly and stridently tell us that the whole thing is being orchestrated by Big Pharma.

Or Big Oil. Or Big Tobacco.  Or—

Written by janeh

June 10th, 2014 at 11:42 am

Posted in Uncategorized

13 Responses to 'It’s Later Than You Think'

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  1. I too remember our whole family lining up for a mass polio vaccine distribution. I was very small, but I remember the sense of…deliverance from evil, if you will, that permeated that crowd. Joyous yet solemn community feeling. I also remember suffering measles, and mumps, and living closed in the dark because too much light or noise might make me go blind or deaf. I still have faint scars where I scratched my chicken pox. It seems to me it’s only people who haven’t experienced that who will risk it for their children.

    I think the “world is run by secret conspiracies” forces are sourced in a feeling of powerlessness. I certainly feel my vote is essentially meaningless, though I vote nonetheless. No matter how I and my neighbors vote, it seems like the groups with the money are the only ones who have access to government. Big Whatever, not so much. It’s not necessary that there be organized conspiracy, as long as there’s enough money in opposition to the popular will.

    Lymaree

    10 Jun 14 at 12:32 pm

  2. How do people fail to have even the most basic facts about things like vaccinations in the age of google and wikipedia. In 5 seconds I have at my command now information that would have taken a trip to a University library and several hours worth of research. Pharmaceuticals companies were just getting started when vaccinations were first rolled out.

    Maybe the Internet and Wikipedia are responsible for people forgetting how basic research works. It seems more than ever we need to know how to fact check our information. Andrew Wakefield’s flaky research that showed a link between Autism and vaccinations has been thoroughly debunked. He flat out made up stuff. So even when there is so-called science to back claims up, people need to be suspicious.

    I think people have translated a basic mistrust of large corporations into something akin a conspiracy. Corporations exist to make money and as long as you understand that as their primary motivator you are fine. No they are not going to act in your best interest unless it is also their best interest. And no they are not going to carefully obey laws and regulations. We can legislate til we’re blue in the face but we lack the ability to enforce all those laws. Corporations will always do as much as they can get away with because all the other corporations are doing the same.

    For what purpose would a corporation deliberately harm large numbers of people? Suppose vaccinations did cause autism. Why would a corporation want to do that? My husband has Aspergers, I can guarantee you that it doesn’t make him likely to swallow corporate kool-aid.

    I do think corporations manipulate information in attempts to keep their tax breaks and subsidies going. I read an account of how the estimated size of a large oil deposit in California is being lowered by a huge amount. This is oil that is being extracted by fracking. I wondered if there was any reason to perpetuate a fraudulently high estimate in the first place. After further reading I came to the conclusion that there was. It bolsters arguments for continued fracking and lowers investment and interest in alternative sources such as wind or solar.

    http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-oil-20140521-story.html

    The point being that information manipulation is going on but isn’t a conspiracy. It’s just business.

    I don’t know that the Clive Bundy mess would have been better played out as Waco either. Law enforcement doesn’t seem to be able to find a middle ground.

    It’s funny what you saw in the history book, I was thinking similar things reading an article about the 20s and the depression. The game changer now seems to be complexity and technology. But maybe not. Husband says Mexico can have Texas back.

    Susan Nash

    10 Jun 14 at 12:52 pm

  3. If the Mexicans want Texas back, they have to take California too. Fair is fair, and anyway maybe the Mexicans can make something of the place.

    Polio vaccines. Yeah. Our neighbors when I was quite small had a boy who was one of the lucky ones–he was only lamed for life. I think of him when some nutcase with a four-year degree or more starts ranting on science and reason as European, hegemonic and phallocentric. Of course, I also think of cheap easy travel and communication, and shelves of inexpensive manufactured goods like books. Once, I would have thought of spacecraft.

    And of course Big Pharma terrorizes us with non-threatening diseases, the way Big Oil goes around sabotaging magic carburetors and windmills, and Commercial Agriculture is force-feeding me French fries. An older generation knew that if it weren’t for the capitalist conspiracy, a single shoe factory could leave the world well-shod–and the line workers could run it by means of a short meeting Friday afternoons.

    It’s not the Internet. Before they had Big Pharma and Big Oil, these people’s spiritual ancestors had the Monopolists, the Freemasons, heretics and witches. It’s been going on easily five centuries.

    And the odd thing is, I was handed the answer last night, listening to The Teaching Company’s “Making History.” I’d just got to Lecture 19 (“The Apocalypse of Karl Marx”) and the lecturer was all but shouting “this is what happens when instead researching to find something out, you begin by picking a conclusion and just scrounge around for supporting evidence!” That’s it: five hundred years of conspiracy theories in one sentence.

    And yes, certainly there are United States citizens who shouldn’t be left to play unsupervised. Some of them are in the cabinet, and there are reports of a few even in Congress. And yes, we have to act as though they were all responsible human beings. I find the easiest answer these days is to ask someone describing the fair wage, equitable hiring or bias-free promotion “who gets to decide what is fair, equitable or bias-free?” The answers so far have always been (a) “someone who likes me,” (b) “someone I can influence,” and–the overwhelming favorite–(c) “someone very like me.” If anyone ever comes up with a (d) I promise to pay attention to that one.

    robert_piepenbrink

    10 Jun 14 at 5:33 pm

  4. Conspiracy theories go much farther back then 500 years. I can think of the Roman Empire blaming its problems on Christians and the medieval Black Death being blamed on Jews.

    I am not following the Las Vegas shootings but when I read that the first victims were police officers and the shooters shouted something about revolution, my first guess was left wing fanatics.

    Speaking of shooting, I came across a Facebook comment “We are second amending ourselves into extinction”. Doesn’t anyone check statistics? 2.5 million people die a year in the US. 11,000 of them are firearm homicides. I would add the attacks on the NRA to conspiracy theories.

    jd

    10 Jun 14 at 5:46 pm

  5. As it happens, jd, the fanatics in the LV case are from the right-wing. Preemptively killing cops so the government didn’t take their guns.

    Lymaree

    10 Jun 14 at 9:14 pm

  6. Lymaree, at that level of fanaticism, there is absolutely no difference between the left and right.

    Mique

    10 Jun 14 at 10:24 pm

  7. Cheryl

    11 Jun 14 at 2:52 pm

  8. jd, maybe, but I don’t think it was quite the same thing. The Christians were mostly denounced for things they were doing quite openly-refusing to sacrifice to the traditional gods and withdrawing from society. I think the Jews at the time of the Black Death were felt to be drawing divine fire–being unbelievers and all that.

    But by the time you have an actual Jewish conspiracy theory, in which they’re meeting secretly and plotting in private group policies they wouldn’t admit to in public–that is, the PROTOCOLS–you’re well into my 500-years. But as to why things pick up then–religious divisions? more distant and abstract governments? Printing and cheap pamphlets? I’m open to suggestions.

    robert_piepenbrink

    11 Jun 14 at 5:01 pm

  9. Robert, google came up with this.

    http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/jewish/1348-jewsblackdeath.asp

    I was familiar with the accusation of poisoning wells. I didn’t realize the extent.

    jd

    11 Jun 14 at 5:45 pm

  10. Cheryl, you are very, very wikkid. I do so like that in a person. :-)

    Mique

    11 Jun 14 at 6:29 pm

  11. re Cheryl’s link:

    jd

    11 Jun 14 at 8:03 pm

  12. oops typo! should have been SNICKER

    jd

    11 Jun 14 at 8:04 pm

  13. jd, that looks plausible as a modern conspiracy. Perhaps that’s the first, and template?

    robert_piepenbrink

    12 Jun 14 at 4:07 am

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