Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Born in 1920

I often make the argument that the Romantic Era ended in 1929.  When I write of this era I am focused on a particular zeitgeist that promoted the individual with individual freedom and responsibilities and a society that extolled the greatness of human achievement and progress.
The beginning point where a shift of cultural consciousness occurred from the peasant mentality of the pre-modern era to the widespread Romantic mindset began to take-off in 1776.  The key events of that year that I use to mark this shift were the publication of The Wealth of Nations, the Declaration of Independence, and the first commercial use of the steam engine.
The end of the era is marked by the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the consequential events that followed, namely the Great Depression and World War II.  The resulting new zeitgeist was the idea that the government needed to manage and regulate the economy and society at the expense of freedom.
Now despite a massive cultural shift beginning in earnest in 1929, the old Romantic zeitgeist did not disappear overnight.  Yes, a new world was born, but none living in 1929 had been fully socially conditioned into that world.
Psychologists would argue that the basic template for the individual psyche is set by age ten.  Some say earlier.  Everything after that point is reinforcement within the mental compartments already developed.  So if you were born in 1920 and nine years old in 1929, most likely your social conditioning would have been set for the twilight Romantic Era rather than what I will call the Socialist Era.
As a child, the last Classic Liberal President was in office, Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929). Your teenage years would have been spent in the Great Depression.  This may have involved struggling to find work.  Although you did look to the government to do something, you were looking for a hand-up rather than a hand-out.  Many of President Roosevelt’s New Deal agenda would have seemed reasonable.  You were still your own man but there was added assistance available if needed.
You would come of age as an adult just in time to go to war.  During World War II you would have absorbed the rhetoric of freedom and liberty against the socialists and fascists. You would have been instilled with a belief in your country, its values, and his goals.
So even though the Great Depression and World War II shifted the focus from the individual to the State, it was only a veneer atop a Romantic core belief system in the individual.
In your late-twenties you have returned from war, married, and started a family.  The post-war economic boom must have seemed like a god-send after the turmoil of the last fifteen years.  The prevailing message was that your faith in government paid-off.  They saw us through the Depression and brought-us victory against authoritarianism.  The future looked secure as well, thanks to social security.  In Britain, we see the establishment of the welfare state.  There was no need to worry because the government was going to take care of everything.
Children born before 1929 had been socially conditioned towards the Romantic Era zeitgeist.  Children born between 1930 and 1945 were born into the tumultuous birth of the new Socialist Era.  The first children actually born into and socially conditioned for the new era were born after 1945, the first group being the Baby Boomers.  If you were born in 1920, then these were your kids.
To understand the divide between the Romantic Era zeitgeist and the current Socialist zeitgeist one need only look at the concept of the Generation Gap introduced in the 1960’s.  When the hippies said, “Don’t trust anyone over 30” they were talking about you.
The word zeitgeist means “spirit of the age”.  In less glamorous terms we might call it a general philosophy of the age.  A system of beliefs about reality largely held unconsciously by most members of the society and transmitted through the process of social conditioning.  The Socialist Era zeitgeist did not appear from the ether.  It began as a simple philosophy that grew and grew over many decades until in 1929 it was in a position to use disaster to take dominance.
Prior to 1929 there were socialist movements in Europe and the Progressives in the United States.  Once this philosophy entered academia it became part of the social conditioning process.  By 1929 the elite in academia, politics, the arts, and business were adapted to the philosophy in theory if not practice.
So metaphorically speaking, the older generation in the 1960’s generational conflict were not exactly full-blooded Romantics.  The Socialist influences were in their minds; they had experienced what appeared to be government successes in dealing with the Depression and the war; and during the Cold War they were looking again to government to save them from the Red menace of communism. The Romantic was not dead, but it was now out of context.  So it thrived in fiction when not in fact.
In my last article I introduced the idea of political spheres.  During a particular age with a particular zeitgeist, political arguments tend to be restricted to the dominant general worldview.  So for example, during the 19th Century the dominant political sphere could be called Classic Liberalism, and so left and right politics were limited to that sphere.  Likewise, by the 1960’s Socialism had become the dominant sphere, so left and right politics were limited to that sphere.  But even within a common sphere these left/right divides can be fairly dynamic.
So let’s apply this to the generational conflicts of the 1960.  The older generation with the greater ties to the Romantic Era made appeals to tradition often solely for the sake of tradition itself because they lacked the intellectual programming to justify it and looked to government to back them up.  We might say that this attitude coalesced into Conservativism.
The younger generation, who often identified themselves with early 19th Century Romantics, particularly the poets, rejected tradition for tradition sake and sought to make their own rules.  In rejecting the traditions established by the Romantics, they were rejecting the Romanticism that they claimed to embrace.  They looked to change the government into something more aligned to their socialist values, beliefs, and feelings.  Likewise this view established itself as Liberalism.
In both cases we see an emphasis on the role of government as the final arbiter.  This is evidenced by the fact that since the 1960’s we have seen a steady increase in government authority regardless of the left/right paradigm, regardless of the issues, and regardless of the progression of the generations.  The course has been fixed and steady in the direction of more centralized government control over the economy and society.
If you had been born in 1920, then you would have retired in 1980 and here you would have met with an interesting blast from the past even if you did not realise it.  I’ve made a distinction between two very different zeitgeists, that of the Nineteenth Century, which I call Romanticism, and that of the Twentieth Century, which I call Socialism.
The Romantic zeitgeist was dominated by the political sphere of Classic Liberalism and the economic theories of Adam Smith.  This was a time when property rights were held sacred, the free market was allowed to act freely, and each individual reaped what he had sown for good or bad.  So each person knew their freedom and their consequences.
The Socialist zeitgeist was of course dominated by socialism.  I’ll note here that despite the American Socialist Part never gaining more than six percent of the vote, every economic platform in its 1928 campaign was adopted in law by 1978.  The dominant economic views were those of John Maynard Keynes which encouraged strong central economic planning.  This meant regulating the economy, usually through a private central bank, in America this would be the Federal Reserve.  This was also the era of government programs from everything to unemployment insurance to protecting endangered species, to price fixing, to subsidies for select segments of the economy, to free housing, welfare, education, and medical care.
In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith points out that a nation’s wealth in not measure in gold or resources, but in production.  What do the people of the nation produce?  This is measure in Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  Between 1903 and 1917 the percentage of government spending as a percentage of GDP stayed below 10%.  In 1929 it was 11.27% and by 2010 it grew to 43.09%.  Today, nearly half of what America produces is spent to sustain government and its programs.
The thing about socialism is that someone has to pay for it and this money is taken from the GDP.  This is why we have a mixed economy; Socialism needs capitalism to fund it.  When the central economic planners get it wrong by setting interest rates poorly or by putting too many restrictions on the market, then the golden goose cannot lay enough eggs.  This is what happened in America and Britain during the 1970’s.
So in November of 1980 the people of the United States turned to the ultimate Romantic icon, the Cowboy.  I mentioned earlier that during the socialist Twentieth Century the last bastion of Romanticism was fiction.  Nowhere was this more evident than in the popularity of the Western.  Thus it is not surprising that America turned to a man born in 1911 who had made a name for himself in Westerns as an actor and now stood before the American people extolling the virtues of the West:  individual responsibility, small government, and free markets.  Of course this man was Ronald Reagan.
Reagan and his British counterpart, Margaret Thatcher, were both born in the pre-1929 Romantic twilight, but unlike their peers they never truly abandoned the Classic Liberal position.  In America, Reagan’s popularity forced other Republican leaders to happily follow in his wake in hopes of reflecting some of that limelight.  Thatcher did not have it so easy.  Evidence shows that she fought constantly with the socialist Tories in her party.
The problem with Reagan and Thatcher was that they were both creatures out of time.  They both embraced the Nineteenth Century zeitgeist, but this wasn’t the Nineteenth Century; it was the Twentieth.  Their efforts amounted to trying to force a round peg into a square hole.
In the end, Thatcher succeeded in bolstering the capitalist element of British society so that it could better feed the socialist element and thus restored the mixed economy equilibrium.  Reagan on the other hand became what happens to all Romantic heroes.  He became a legend.  The problem with legends is that they can be manipulated.  During the Republican Party nomination debates of 2008 all the big government socialist Republicans laid claim to the banner of Ronald Reagan while mocking the one man who upheld Reagan’s vision, Ron Paul, and saying that he was not a true Republican.
If you were born in 1920, then chances are that you would have died in the 1990’s.  The first Baby Boomer President was in Oval Office, Bill Clinton.  He was succeeded by the second, George W. Bush.  Despite being in opposite political parties, both of these men were born in 1946 and therefore shared the same social conditioning towards the socialist zeitgeist, as evident in their big government policies.
I had my political awakening in 1980.  I remember debating the Presidential elections of that year in school.  Jimmy Carter vs. Ronald Reagan.  I came of age in the society that voted for Ronald Reagan and believed in him.  So I would fall into that category called the Children of Reagan.  Likewise, there is a similar term in Britain, referring to Thatcher’s Children.
Now we are all grown-up.  The year is 2011.  The influence of the Baby Boomers upon the generations that followed is dominant.  Most people born before 1929 have died or they are too infirm.  The influence of the twilight Romantics is now completely gone from the social landscape.  All that remains of them are the old movies, books, and popular characters that they made to express their worldview.
However, the Romantic Era was dominated by Classic Liberalism which emphasised the individual over the collective.  That ideology may have lay dormant during most of the Twentieth Century but received new life with the formation of the Libertarian Party in 1971.  As communication technology has been revolutionized through the internet, the libertarian message has become more widespread.
Today, many of the Children of Reagan carry signs reading, “What would Reagan do?”  More and more people are coming to the realisation that the ideas of Conservative and Liberal are really just two manifestations of the same socialist zeitgeist.  
The battle lines are being redrawn.  I call it Romanticism vs. Socialism.  Others call it Individualism vs. Collectivism.  Some call it Libertarianism vs. Progressivism.  No matter what you call it, it is all the same thing.  The same war.
The problem for the Romantics is that they are fish out of water.  Not only are they rebelling against the prevailing social programming of the past half-century, they are also rebelling against their own programming.  And what they are fighting for has not been real for over one-hundred years, so no one really knows what their world would be like.  Many might find themselves like the kid who runs away from home only to get scared and run back once he is a few blocks into his journey.
The problem for the Socialists is that their world is falling apart.  There is not enough money to sustain it.  The debt is so great that no Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher can put a band-aid on the wound as a temporary measure so the system can limp on.  The parasite’s host is dying and the governments of the industrialised world are struggling to keep it alive.
Born in 2000
If you were born at the turn of the millennium then you have inherited the fears of your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.  You great grand-parents feared the Great Depression and World War II, your grandparents feared being sent to Vietnam, and your parents feared nuclear holocaust at the hands of the Soviet Union.  Today, you fear the terrorists and global warming. 
Each generation before you has looked to their government to save them from their fears and you are encouraged to do the same.  You are told that big problems require a big government.  You are being socially conditioned for this age.
The problem is that big government requires big money and the money is gone.   The Baby Boomers, the first generation socially conditioned for socialism, is now retiring and they demand what they were promised since their birth.  They demand that the government pay for their upkeep for the next twenty years, and by government what they mean is that every working person has to contribute a portion of their income to the state or go to jail.  If that sounds extreme, please do not judge them too harshly.  They paid for those before them and now it’s your turn to pay.  Besides, they do not know any better.
My concern is this.  Think of a vast open field with cattle grazing in the centre.  The cows don’t do much.  They just wander about the same patch, so when one day someone corralled the pasture the cows didn’t care much.  They didn’t leave the area anyway.  Every five years or so, the enclosure was rebuilt smaller and smaller, but the cows did not care much.  Each time, the cattle grew accustomed to the new space and forgot how big it used to be.  When eventually their free range days were over and they found themselves confined, none really noticed.  All had been born into it and never knew the freedom of their ancestors or even what it meant to be truly free.
Every year since 1929 the corral has become smaller and smaller, and if you were born in 2000 then this tiny corral is all that you’ve ever known.  You have less freedom than your parents, and they have less than their parents, and they have less than theirs.  You are the product of a domestication process that has been going on for many decades since before you were born.  The thing about domesticated animals is that they often do not survive being returned to the wild.
You’ve been born into a three way conflict, a conflict the media calls The Culture Wars.  There are the socialists on the right, the socialists on the left, and the libertarians.   If either socialists win then your corral will get even smaller.  The economic crisis means that they will need more of your production and will return less in government services.  By necessity it will be a harsher form of socialism than previous generations knew.  If the libertarians win, then you’re on your own.  The strong, the competent, and the energetic will thrive and the weak, lazy, and stupid will perish.  
The future depends on you.  Will we see the dawn of a new era with a new Romantic zeitgeist, or will we see the continuation and entrenchment of the current Socialist one?  The spirit of every age is determined by the people, and governments will become enlightened or corrupt depending on that spirit.  So it is up to you to use your mind and see the forces at work, choose a side, and take conscious control of your social programming to either accept or reject the spirit of your age.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Brainwashed Nation

An interesting question in the field of hypnosis stems from the fact that everyone, everyday, drifts into what we would call hypnotic states.  Likewise, there are natural persuaders who use hypnotic techniques without even realising that they are doing so.  Generally, we all accept this.  However, should someone intentionally learn and use such techniques, then we start questioning their morality.  In other words, it’s okay to accidentally influence someone, but it’s not okay to do it on purpose.
I bring this up because of another natural phenomenon called social conditioning.  Like hypnosis, it is a conditioning process, but it is incredibly complex and varied.  Through this process children learn about their society, their place in society, appropriate behaviours and expectations in society, and so on.  They become adults with a fixed worldview that is relatively similar to others in their society.
This is all a normal, natural process of human development.  Traditionally, the prime architects of this conditioning process were the parents, the church, and the community.  Today, we can add the mass media and state schools to the list.  The conscious and unconscious instructions from these architects are then reinforced through repetition and experience within a social context.
If we think of the human mind as a computer,  Nature provides the hardwired pre-installed software and Nurture is the additional software installed through social conditioning.  So in a sense, we are all brainwashed in that we all have been programmed through external forces.  Ideally, a person reaches a level of maturity where they take control of their programs, but many still run with the basic software.
The process of social conditioning is largely haphazard and accidental with limited focus.  But what if an institution chose to take control of the process in order to program individuals within society to a particular worldview and for a particular purpose?
When we look back over history we find that certain periods had particular prevailing attitudes, worldview, and set of social programs running.  This is called zeitgeist, or “spirit of the age”.  I like to think of it as the culture of an era, after all, the past is a foreign country.
In each particular zeitgeist, we find a prevailing political point of view.  I call this the political sphere for that era.  So for example, the 19th Century was dominated by Classical Liberalism (not to be confused with modern Liberalism).  As the dominant political sphere, any questions of left or right politics existed within the parameters of this sphere.  This is different from the modern dominant political sphere which is Socialism.  Today, any questions of left or rights exist within this sphere.  I'm using the term socialism in a very broad sense as the acceptance of the premise of the necessity for central economic and social planning and not necessarily strict by the book Marxism.
Political debate in the British media today is dominated almost exclusively by the question of how the government is running people’s lives and never the question should it be running people’s lives.   As an American living in the United Kingdom for the past thirteen years I find this exclusion extraordinary.  The question of “should” is simply no longer in the public political debate anymore.
Classical Liberalism, the political ideology that dominated British and American political thought throughout the 19th Century is still alive in America through libertarianism, but has been almost completely eradicated in Britain.  I find this absence not only in the media, but also in the education system and in the understanding of the people.  However, they are well versed in Socialist theory.  Several years ago, BBC Radio 4 had a listener’s poll asking who the greatest philosopher of all time was.  Karl Marx won.  I also find it interesting that Karl Marx is taught in Scottish universities in Sociology courses.  In America, Marxism is considered political theory and Sociology is considered a science.  When I point this out to people that I meet in Scotland they see no issue.
I find it amazing that Victorian political writers described and warned against our current political sphere, but we today cannot even conceive of their zeitgeist outwith stereotypes.  Likewise their arguments against the dangers of over-reaching government do not even exist in the current political debate.  Again, the debates focus on the “how” and not “should”.
Now, one may argue that the Victorian views are irrelevant in today’s social context.  And yet when you read them you find them to be uncannily appropriate.  For example, Samuel Smiles wrote in 1859:
Whatever is done for men or classes, to a certain extent takes away the stimulus and necessity of doing for themselves; and where men are subjected to over-guidance and over-government, the inevitable tendency is to render them comparatively helpless.
According to the Scottish Government’s official website:
The Scottish Survey of Adult Literacies (SSAL) 2009 represents the biggest survey of adult literacies levels undertaken in Scotland. The survey measured three dimensions of literacy skills (prose, document and quantitative) for almost 2000 people living in Scotland.
The survey found that:  73.3% of the Scottish working age population have a level of literacies that is recognised internationally as appropriate for a contemporary society; around one-quarter of the Scottish population (26.7%) may face occasional challenges and constrained opportunities due to their literacies difficulties, but will generally cope with their day-to-day lives; and within this quarter of the population, 3.6% (one person in 28) face serious challenges in their literacies practices.  SSAL found that one of the key factors linked to lower literacies capabilities is poverty, with adults living in 15% of the most deprived areas in Scotland more likely to have literacies capabilities at the lower end of the scale.
So, one in four Scots are at best functionally illiterate and that this illiteracy is most pronounced among the poor.  However, this is a socialist country.  These so-called poor might just as well be called the underclass.  The people most dependent upon socialists programs, such as benefits and free education, are also the most illiterate, despite all of the support and opportunities that they have been given, which can be seen as an indicator of social helplessness.
I do believe that Samuel Smiles predicted this would happen, but that is not my point here.  My point is that there is a point to be debated and discussed that is not being addressed.  In a similar vein, the prominent Victorian jurist A.V. Dicey supported the idea that those dependent upon state benefits not be allowed to vote because it constituted a conflict of interest.  The beneficiaries would vote for whichever politician or party promised them the biggest share of the public purse.  We see this happening in politics today.  A politician is judged by his position on public services more than public policy.  But this alternative view is not only ignored, it is as if it never existed.  Let us call this the crime of omission.
Then there is the crime of misrepresentation.  In his book, Inventing the Victorians, Matthew Sweet makes the case that the popular stereotype image of the Victorians is largely slander concocted by early 20th Century socialist to discredit Classical Liberalism as a viable political ideology.  Today, any promotion of Classical Liberal tenants, such as free markets and limited government, is met with invocations of alleged Victorian social horrors and Dickensian living conditions.  Yes, there was poverty, but the Victorian era saw the greatest reduction of poverty in the history of the world.  This fact is ignored.
Finally, there is the crime of verbicide, a word coined by Oliver Wendell Holmes to describe the twisting of language.  George Orwell in his appendix to 1984 discusses New Speak and uses the example of the word free.  The word free originally meant to be free from something.  As in, this cat is free from fleas.  In political discourse, freedom meant to be free from government coercion.  Today, free means free to an entitlement from government at the expense of the public at large.  One of my favourites has always been the use of the word “the people” when they really mean those elected from the ruling political class, in other words, the government.
What I have laid out here is the concept of social conditioning with the people of each culture or zeitgeist being conditioned to be part of their unique place in space and time.  I then contrasted the dominant political spheres of the 19th and 20th Centuries.  Finally, I covered the crimes of omission, misrepresentation, and verbicide.  Now you may be wondering what all this has to do with brainwashing a nation.
There are three key features of a cult.  One is banning any knowledge not consistent with the views of the cult.  The second is discrediting those who have not embraced the cult.  The third involves the manipulation of language in order to control how people within the cult conceptualize and discuss reality.  I see all of these features active in the United Kingdom and even in the United States. We see this same process illustrated in Orwell’s 1984.
  This brings us back to the question I posed at the beginning of this essay. “What if an institution chose to take control of the natural social conditioning process in order to program individuals within society to a particular worldview and for a particular purpose?”
When I discuss politics with people in Scotland and get either knee-jerk emotional responses or clich├ęd answers taken from the party playbook, I start to get a bit concerned.  When I watch news programs and hear nothing but pro-government control positions, I worry.  When I see student protestors take to the street demanding more government regulation, I begin to think the world is up-side-down.  They may protest a particular party, politician, or policy, but their proposed solution is to give more power to someone else over their lives.  I thought student were suppose to be rebels.
The primary agents of social conditioning are parents, the community, churches, mass media, and the state educational system.  So let us suppose that the education system teaches one point of view exclusively, such as socialism in Scotland.  Those children grow-up and become parents, members of the community, teachers, and creators of mass media. 
Let’s suppose a quarter carry the state’s message as unquestioned reality into the world.  They pass it on consciously and unconsciously to the next generation.  They mature and pass it on.  Now you have a new zeitgeist.  A view of reality accepted by the majority and constantly reinforced by society itself rather than some ominous external force.  Any vestige or memory of the old zeitgeist is either ignored, forgotten, omitted, or misrepresented in fact and in language.

In 1994 I worked in a copy shop.  One day a teacher came in with the pictures that her  students made for Earth Day.  The topic was, "What can we do to save the planet".  Sounds pretty benign.  However, what she is telling the children is that the planet is in danger.  Today, those kids are probably pushing thirty and probably accept the theory of man-made climate change without question, even though seventeen years later it is still a highly debated issue.

The problem is not whether the theory of man-made climate change is valid or not.  The problem is that the children were being socially conditioned to believe a very specific worldview at the exclusion of opposing points of view and before their reasoning faculties had fully developed. I believe this process is occurring throughout the education systems in both the US and Britain.
I know what it is like to move from one culture to another.  I know what it is like to move from your native land to an entirely different society with completely different social rules that you have not been socially conditioned towards.  I have lived in Scotland for thirteen years and I still feel like an outsider.
It gives you a different perspective.  I can see what the Scots take for granted.  I hear the background music of their lives that they no longer notice.  I know what they do not know that they don’t know.  This perception isn’t due to anything special on my part.  It’s simply because I do not share their social conditioning.  I just haven’t been brainwashed in the same way so I do not blindly accept the things that they accept without question.  I ask “Why?”
That is the key.  I mentioned at the start that despite social conditioning there comes a time when an adult begins to take responsibility for his own programming.  This means looking for answers outside the box that you have been given.  It means questioning what you believe to be true.  It means taking responsibility for your mind.  This process marks the difference between an adult and a child, between a human being and a sheep, and between a free man and a peasant or a slave.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

It's Only Natural

Romanticism is taught in literature courses as having a strong connection to Nature, in fact it is one of the defining features.  Likewise among philosophers such as Rousseau Nature is seen as pure and civilization corrupt.  But really Romanticism has a sort of love/hate relationship with Nature.
I’m reminded of the story of the Californian and the Oregonian going for a walk in the forests of Oregon.  The Oregonian shows the Californian all his favourite spots for fishing, hiking, and the best river for swimming.  The Californian is awe-struck by the beauty of it all and says, “You know, we could build a road up here so it is easier to get to, and maybe a visitor’s centre, and maybe some cabins, and….”
This story illustrates the origins of the word, “Californicator”.  It means, “Whatever a Californian touches; they fuck it up.”   California was settled by Romantics eager to make a better life for themselves either through gold, oil, oranges, or movies.  The settlers of Oregon and Washington State were more salt of the earth farmer-types, pioneers with families.
Here we have two very different approaches to Nature.  Should Nature be used for maximum benefit or should it be honoured and enjoyed?  I think a true Romantic can make both arguments.  This means that there is not one clear-cut answer and each question has to be examined individually.
You may have noticed that I have been capitalising the word Nature.  This is because I am not just writing about the birds, flowers, and trees.  I am writing about the order of Reality.  I am writing about the ecosystems of the birds, flowers, and trees, but also the Laws of Nature, and Natural Law, and Human Nature, and Individual Nature.
Sir Francis Bacon summed it up when he observed that “Nature to be commanded must be obeyed.”  We are simultaneously the masters and servants of Nature.
When it comes to the Natural world, no construction can take place these days without assessing the environmental impact.  This is because the Natural world is something that we can see, touch, and experience.  However, when it comes to Human Nature or Individual Nature we are in a state of denial that such a thing even exists.  This arrogant disregard is what leads to unintended consequences.
In October 2003 calamity struck the show of magicians Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn at the Mirage in Las Vegas.  Their act is famous for its use of white tigers and in this instance the tiger was seven year old Montecore who had been raised from a cub by Roy Horn. 
According to reports, Montecore was distracted by a woman in the front row with “big hair”.  She foolishly attempted to pet the tiger and Roy Horn intervened.  In doing so he tripped over the cat’s paw prompting stage hands to come to his rescue.  Montecore assumed that Horn had been injured and tried to drag him to safety as a mother tiger would do for a cub.  Just like a mother house cat, this is done by grasping the kitten by the neck.  Horn suffered severe neck trauma, loss of blood, and partial paralysis.  Fortunately, he survived and the duo performed their farewell show in 2009.
There is order to the universe.  All things can be understood and once understood we can work with that knowledge to make life better.  Montecore the tiger is a great illustration of Nature.  Roy Horn understood the tiger’s nature.  The big haired woman in the audience did not.  A tiger is not a tame pet like a cat or dog, and even then some dogs bite strangers.  And despite all its training and conditioning, Montecore acted according to his Nature.
When Jamie Oliver tried to improve school lunches, the kids went to the burger vans outside the school for lunch.  They acted according to their Nature.  When governments impose regulations on trade, the businesses find a way around them by hook or by crook.  They act according to their Nature.  When men in positions of power have affairs with hot girls, they are acting according to their Nature.
Nature can be restrained, retrained, or reconditioned, but it will always find a way to assert itself, maybe not every time or in every situation.  Some kids don’t go to the burger vans, some businesses accept the regulation, and some people restrain their impulses.  This is usually due to fear of consequences or lack of opportunity.  When that force is no longer applied the rubber band will bounce back into shape.  Nature will always reassert itself.
There is a documentary series called Life After People.  The premise is that all humanity has mysteriously vanished from planet Earth.  The series shows through the analysis of scientists and experts how the buildings and monuments of the world finally collapse as Nature reasserts itself.  For example, without a regular paint job and maintenance the Golden Gate Bridge would face metal decay and rust and eventually collapse.  Some segments include how various domesticated animals either learn to fend for themselves or die.
The series serves as a reminder that humans are constantly in the process of bending Nature to our will by working with Nature.  Should we stop applying that process, then all that we take for granted and arrogantly call “Reality” will fade back into the natural state from which it had come, like that rubber band returning to shape.
The Artificial Reality, either material or social, only exists because of human production, that combination of time, energy, skill, and will.  Without these factors there can be no production and without production there will be no human race. 
Of course it will not come to that.  Rather we should remember that our quality of life is dependent on the production of the whole.  I have a relatively inexpensive laptop and big screen television because people in China are mass producing these luxuries for a global market.
Scientists who understand the Nature of physics, chemistry, and electrical engineering make these products possible.  Programmers who understand the Nature of computer systems give the machine a soul.  Businessmen who understand the Nature of global markets and manufacture make and distribute the products.  Advertisers who understand the Nature of human psychology sell the products.  Understanding Nature improves the quality of life.
We can understand the Nature of nature.  We can understand the nature of human construction and human social systems.  What about human nature?  A core tenant of the Romantic is free will.  People prefer to deny that like Montecore the tiger we are subject to our Nature.  Or rather they may see others acting by Nature, but deny it in ourselves.
Men who have become experts in pick-up will tell you that if you employ certain techniques that you can pull almost any girl.  Of course women find this offensive and demeaning.  It implies that if you push all the right buttons a girl will respond in a particular manner regardless of her free will, not unlike entering a code into a computer to get a pre-programmed result.  The sad truth for women is that these men are gettting the result they claim.  What they have done is come to an understanding of a woman’s Nature and applied it to get consistent results.
There is such a thing as Human Nature, those natural impulses true of both genders.  Then there are the differences between the Male Nature and the Female Nature that have resulted from evolution and 10,000 years of gender roles.  Finally there is the Individual Nature, something unique to you.
Nature is the hardwired template that we have inherited from our ancestors and by virtue of our respective genders.  For example, I read of a recent study of newborn babies in which baby girls responded to the image of a person’s face and baby boys responded to a hanging mobile.  This study indicates that women are more socially oriented while men are more mechanically oriented.
I think most people would immediately accept this conclusion, however when we take it further we find the conclusions not so appealing.   If the nature of the female mind is more inclined towards subjective social dynamics and the male mind towards objective constructions, then men are the builders, the creators, and the architects of the Artificial Reality and women simply inhabit that space.
When we look back to the age of the hunter/gatherers we see that women most likely invented language.  It was important for them to be able to indentify plants, for example.  A feminist might see this as a point for their team.  In pre-school, we see girls forming complete sentences while the boys are still grunting.  However, part of the division of labour was that women were engaged in routine, menial, repetitive tasks.  They would sit around the camp and engage in what today we men call a “stitch-n-bitch”.  This behaviour in women has been going on for 10,000 years.  So we might say that it is in woman’s nature to enjoy menial, routine, and repetitive task.  Men see this as work but women see it as fun.
Men on the other hand were hunters.  They had to be clever, imaginative, brave, and strong.  They had to be able to work as individuals within a co-operative group to track, catch, and kill game; then they had to work out the logistics for skinning and transport back to camp.  Men did not talk much, as silence was imperative, but they did communicate through sounds and hand signals to co-ordinate their efforts.
When they got back to camp they relived their adventure like this:  “So there was this mammoth and he was all ‘aaaaargh’ and like Grod was all ‘aaaargh’ and I thought he was totally done for.”  Probably not much lofty communication going on there, but after hundreds of generations of this lifestyle the male pattern for creative problem solving and action orientation was set.
It was not until the advent of agriculture and eventually cities that men started to expand their skills.  They became merchants, craftsmen, and politician.   Men had to master language and skilled manual labour. 
And yet even though agriculture was invented 10,000 years ago, my ancestors did not start inhabiting Roman cities and diversifying labour until about 1,500 years ago.  They were not hunter/gathers but rather the next stage of production called agrarian/pastoralists (small farmers and animal herders).  There are people living in our cities today whose grandparents were either hunter/gatherers or agrarian/pastoralists.   These states of Nature are not that far away for some.  My grandfather worked the railroads in America while the grandfathers of the wealthy oil sheiks were literally living in tents in the desert as pastoralists, just as their ancestors had done for thousands of years before them.
The American Indians lived a nomadic lifestyle for thousands and thousands of years before Europeans arrived.  The Europeans had not lived a similar lifestyle for maybe about 3,000 years or more.  Concepts like law, land ownership, and rule by a removed government were all part of the European Nature, but these complex abstract ideas were not part of the Indian’s programming.  They could only conceive direct use.
Factors like being human, gender, and cultural heritage all play a factor in the programming of our Natures as individuals with some being more deeply ingrained than others.  But this is literally only half the story.  According the researchers, factors like intelligence are only 50% determined by Nature and the other half by nurture.
When discussing individual Nature, I can only look at myself.  On my mother’s side I am descended from British royalty and nobility.  Those who came to America created a line of impoverished writers.  Only my great, great, grandfather’s nephew made the grade as one of the Fathers of American Literature, Oliver Wendell Holmes.  The rest simply wrote journals or articles for local papers.  My mother taught me how to write and I have been creating stories and writing for my entire life.  You might call it my Nature.  So when I am praised for my writing I am of course grateful, but on the other hand you may as well praise a bird for flying.  It is only acting according to its Nature.  I have no publishing deadlines and I receive no wages.  I just write because that is what I do and have always done.  I feel most fulfilled and confident when writing.
In psychological tests measuring brain gender I always fall on the male-side of the middle.  So you might also argue that my Nature is androgynous.  So if we say that the female brain favours the social and subjective while the male brain favours the mechanical and the objective, then what happens when you mix the two?
I’m really not concerned with how machines work.  I cannot fix a car and I do okay in DIY and home repair.  I am more concerned with the mechanics of reality as found in the Humanities: history, politics, and social studies.  I am not fond of sports, but I do enjoy action films.  So the male fundamentals are there, but they express themselves in a female manner.
A woman may love the emotional dynamics of a pop song.  I may be able to appreciate it as she can, however I deconstruct it like a man would want to tear down an engine.  I see the song in the context of pop history, I see the message, and I see its social effects.  If I had more musical talent, I might see its construction. Most girls could care less.  They just love the superficial aspects of it and perhaps how cute the lead singer is, that is, how he makes her feel.  
Someone with a more pure masculine brain might not care about either my interest or the girl’s point of view concerning a pop song.  Men are naturally wired for production so everything is judged in relation to that standard.  Does this song inspire me to action or provide temporary distraction?  Will liking it help me get the girl?  No?  Then it’s irrelevant.
The important conversational bonding of women, the stitch-n-bitch, has been described by men for centuries as inane prattle because men look for solutions in conversation.  They may discuss sports along the lines of how a team should be managed or politics in how the country should be run.  Men sit around the coffee shop table, or in the pub, or in the gentleman’s club, or around the campfire and “solve the world’s problems” whether or not they have the power, influence, or even skill set required to implement their schemes.  Despite my androgynous nature, I have more affinity to the male pattern than the female.
Arrogance is an attitude derived from the misguided belief that you are better or more capable than you are.  An arrogant man acts as though he can defeat any other man in a fight despite the fact that he has never fought another man in his life.  An arrogant person believes that they are better than anyone else but they have accomplished nothing to prove this to be fact.  A character like Sherlock Holmes is often depicted or described as arrogant.  This is incorrect, because he consistently proves his superiority.
In regards to Nature, mankind has shown its arrogance in its constant attempts to be the master of nature despite the fact that he has never succeeded.  We believe our cities to be eternal even though the ruins of past civilizations say otherwise.  We believe that we can create political and economic systems that thwart nature, despite evidence of failure.  We believe we can pass laws to make people better or equal, and those fail.  Even personal attempts at self-improvement through religion or therapy fail without taking individual Nature into consideration.
This brings us full circle back to Sir Francis Bacon.  “Nature to be commanded must be obeyed”.  We ignore it, deny it, and choose ignorance of it at our peril.  Only by accepting and understanding it can we negotiate with it to get what we desire from it, and thus become the people we want to be in the society we want, and living in the world we want to inhabit.

A brief addendum, I just became aware of the shooting of Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.  I know nothing of her, her politics, or the circumstances surrounding the shooting.  The news article I saw simply quotes the responses of various political leaders which illustrate my points regarding Nature and human arrogance.
President Obama:  "We do not yet have all the answers…What we do know is that such a senseless and terrible act of violence has no place in a free society."
House Speaker John Boehner:  "An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve…Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society."
Arizona Sen. John McCain:  "Whoever did this, whatever their reason, they are a disgrace to Arizona, this country and the human race, and they deserve and will receive the contempt of all decent people and the strongest punishment of the land."
Are they right?  Do people kill each other?  Do people kill political leaders?  Do people kill political leaders in the name of freedom?  Sic semper tyranis!  People do not like to be pushed, pulled, and meddled with.  If they feel trapped and without recourse, they may kill.  That is human nature.
I am not saying that Gabrielle Giffords was a tyrant, or a bad person, or even what motivated the shooting.  I honestly have no idea.  Nor am I condoning the actions of her murderer.  I am rather criticising the arrogance and foolishness of political leaders who have forgotten that despite America’s relatively peaceful political history it does not change reality. 
As for Obama’s statement that such an act has no place in a free society, well history shows that you are more likely to see political assassinations in a free society than in an authoritarian one.  Chairman Mao ordered the deaths of 36 million Chinese, and yet it was John F Kennedy who was assassinated.
To John Boehner’s claim that acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society, I say that such is the Sword of Damocles.  Public officials should be afraid or else they become arrogant, complacent, and act out of self-interest and convenience rather than courage.
It is preferable to have a nice warm home, but make no mistake.  That home is artificial, man-made, and therefore transient.  The Natural state may be a patch of grass subject to wind, rain, and cold.  Your house may stand for hundreds of years in peace, comfort, and warmth, but one day it will be a ruin and then naught but a patch of grass.  The same holds true of human social constructs as to human material constructs.
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”  

Friday, 7 January 2011

1929 -- The Year the World Ended

A very common error among budding eschatologists is not appreciating that when many cultures wrote of “the end of the world” that what they were actually predicting the end of an age.  The 15th of September 1830 has been described as “the day the world took off”.  On this date Stephenson’s Rocket, the first steam powered locomotive began the Industrial Revolution.  However, the steam locomotive needed a steam engine.  The first commercial steam engine went into operation in 1776.  That same year, its inventor James Watt’s friend, Adam Smith, published The Wealth of Nations, and across the sea, the Declaration of Independence began the American Revolution.  This age, from 1776 to 1929, is what I am referring to when I write and speak of the Romantic Era.

From the ideological foundations laid by Sir Francis Bacon and John Locke in the 17th Century to the writings of Voltaire and Rousseau, who both died in 1778, this world was born.  Call it “the modern world” if you like.  I prefer to think of it as our inheritance from the previous age.  An inheritance so vast that we have been spending it for the past eighty years with each generation finding less and less of it remaining.  Now it is nearly gone.

The best way to understand this age is to look at the book ends.  During the Medieval period, very few, if any, members of society outside the aristocracy did much of anything worth noting.  During the Early Modern Period, there was a bit more activity from this segments of society, but not much more than a trickle.  But that trickle was a steady one that grew and grew until it exploded into a rushing torrent after 1776.

In the first chapter of the 1859 book Self Help by Samuel Smiles, the author makes an argument for helping ones self.  This takes the form of a few well reasoned observations, but the bulk of the material is examples of great men of genius in a variety of fields of endeavour who all came from working or craftsman class backgrounds.   It is hard for us to comprehend that this was something worthy of note, but prior to 1776 this level of accomplishment emerging from the so-called “lower” or “humble” classes was unheard of.  What changed?  People became free to pursue their goals without governmental regulations, controls, or restrictions.  This was the age of the Self, the Individual, the I.  Each man was expected to both do for himself and work with others to accomplish individual goals.

The world changed in 1929.  Over the preceding decades, the foundations were laid for another age based not on independence but on dependence.  The motto was not “can do” but “cannot do”.  We might say that it started with Karl Marx and then the Fabian Societies.  But the full flower did not bloom until 1917 with the Communist Revolution in Russia.  From that beachhead more and more ground was gained with the rise of authoritarian governments throughout Europe.

The horrors of World War I brought the old age into question, but the world had bounced back during the Twenties.  However, it was the fall of the stock market in 1929 that seemed to herald to the world that the Classical Liberalism of the Romantic Age marked by free markets and free people had failed.  The people looked to their governments to save them and in doing so relinquished their freedom.  The freedom bought in 1776 was sold in 1929.

In the United States during the Twenties, the socialist party could achieve six percent of the vote in their best year; however of the economic policies put forward in their election platform in 1928, every single one was adopted in law within fifty years.  Or to phrase it another way, between 1928 and 1978 America became a socialist state. While the people waved the flag and spoke of freedom, each generation gave more and more freedom to their government in the name of security.

Samuel Smiles observed, “Whatever is done for men or classes, to a certain extent takes away the stimulus and necessity of doing for themselves; and where men are subjected to over-guidance and over-government, the inevitable tendency is to render them comparatively helpless.”

My father’s barber served in the Spanish-American War of 1900.  This man told my father a story which my father told to me.  I heard the story third person, but it has crossed a century.  I find that amazing.  How a story can cross time like that.  We tend to conceive events of the past as more distant than they really are.  My father was born in 1927, two years before the world ended, but he carried in him the influences of my grandparents and their age.  This is my lost birthright.

The American generation born before my own are the infamous Baby-Boomers, born between 1945 and 1960.  They have been called the most spoiled generation in American history.  They were also the first generation raised with the new values of dependency upon the state.  They are also the generation that will bankrupt the United States as they retire and demand their Social Security and Medicare checks.

My generation, born in the wake of the Boomers, have been called Generation-X, the 13th Generation, and the Slacker Generation.  We were the first generation to not do as well financially as the previous one.  We were the first to go from university to retail jobs.  If I may generalize, we are a cynical lot.  We grew-up under constant threat of nuclear annihilation from the Soviets, but unlike previous generations our response was “fuck it, then let’s party”.  This is illustrated in the song 1999 by Prince and the Revolution.  “Yeah, everybody's got a bomb we could all die any day, but before I'll let that happen I'll dance my life away.”

We were followed by the Millennial Generation, foolishly called Generation X also (because the name was too cool to let go) and Generation Y (because it follows X).  These were the folks born between 1982 and 2000.
In their 1992 book Generations, William Strauss and Neil Howe laid out a pattern in American history of recurring generational types born during either an Awakening, Unravelling, Crisis, or High .  Here is an excerpt from Wiki explaining it.

Prophet/Idealist. A Prophet (or Idealist) generation is born during a High, spends its rising adult years during an Awakening, spends midlife during an Unraveling, and spends old age in a Crisis. Prophetic leaders have been cerebral and principled, summoners of human sacrifice, wagers of righteous wars. Early in life, few saw combat in uniform; late in life, most come to be revered as much for their words as for their deeds.

Nomad/Reactive. A Nomad (or Reactive) generation is born during an Awakening, spends its rising adult years during an Unraveling, spends midlife during a Crisis, and spends old age in a new High. Nomadic leaders have been cunning, hard-to-fool realists, taciturn warriors who prefer to meet problems and adversaries one-on-one.

Hero/Civic. A Hero (or Civic) generation is born during an Unravelling, spends its rising adult years during a Crisis, spends midlife during a High, and spends old age in an Awakening. Heroic leaders are considered to have been vigorous and rational institution-builders, busy and competent in old age. All of them entering midlife were aggressive advocates of technological progress, economic prosperity, social harmony, and public optimism.

Artist/Adaptive. An Artist (or Adaptive) generation is born during a Crisis, spends its rising adult years in a new High, spends midlife in an Awakening, and spends old age in an Unravelling. Artistic leaders have been advocates of fairness and the politics of inclusion, irrepressible in the wake of failure.

To put this in a more recent perspective, the Boomers are a, Idealist generation, followed by my Reactive peers, and then the Heroic/Civic Millennials.
Now these are a recurring cycle: Idealist, Reactive, Civic, Adaptive, and then repeat.  The last group of Reactives were the last true adult Romantics (born 1883-1900) and between the ages of 29 and 46 during the end of the world in 1929.  To get some perspective, these were the guys who fought in World War I, made bathtub gin, drank cocaine, and attended Gatsby’s parties.  They are affectionately known as the Lost Generation.  But they were not the one’s responsible for the end of the world.

The collapse of the stock market was really no big deal.  It was the way that the Federal Reserve attempted to fix it that caused the problem.  It is too complicated to explain here, but suffice to say that the Fed should have left it alone, but on top of that it raised interest rates when it should have lowered them.  This decreased the money supply so there was not enough money in relation to the level of production.  This caused the Great Depression.

The problem was further exacerbated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.  The banking system through the Federal Reserve destroyed the economy.  The people were desperate, so the government began giving hand-outs.  This created the illusion that the Fed and the US government solved the problem and made the people more dependent on government hand-outs as a normal function of government.  Today, hand-outs account for over half the US budget, nearly all of the national debt, and all of the unfunded liability. This is paid for through taxation, inflating the currency, loans from foreign governments, and monetizing the debt.

What we see in 1929 is the beginning of a fundamental shift in consciousness that has become more and more entrenched with each generation.  This understanding is only possible with hindsight.  Imagine if once a month someone snuck into your house and painted it a slightly darker shade until it was black.  Would you notice?  When we look at the modern dependence on government and the demands for entitlements and attempt to find its source, we find it began in 1929.  We can see the gradual progression from generation to generation on the path to total government dependency.

I read in an article recently that thirty years ago only one percent of entertainers in the British music industry had attended wealthy schools.  Today it is sixty percent.  I do not know how this trend plays out in other fields and in other countries, but if we look at the Nineteenth Century and see the vast numbers of geniuses emerging from the working class and then see the Twenty-first century elite being born to it, we must wonder where things changed.  Yes, we do still see greatness emerging from the working class, but not at the same levels that we saw during the Romantic Era.

The more I learn about the Victorian ideology and zeitgeist, the more I am convinced that I have been robbed of my inheritance.  I feel like Esau selling his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew.  I had a choice.  I could have dedicated myself to the ways of my father and my grandfather.  But I was a slacker and it’s hard to leave the party when there is an open bar.  I have been socially conditioned to a certain pattern of behaviour, and it is hard to break this kind of programming.  In other words, I am a child of the apocalypse.

The past 80 years has seen a steady increase in government control, taxation, and regulation.  There has also been an ever increasing demand from the people for more government control, services, and regulation.  Let’s be honest here, the loudest voices have come from one group – the spoiled Boomers who have dominated American society for 60 years.  Then the Xers and the Millennials say, “They got theirs, where’s ours?”  Sorry kids, all outta money.

The Romantic Era lasted 153 years, though its influences bled well beyond that scope.  I believe that the current age, the Socialist Age, is going to reach its end.  This may take the form of a New Romantic Era or Neo-Feudalism.  There is one factor that will decide which it will be – the will and character of the people.  This was observed by Samuel Smiles in 1859.

National progress is the sum of individual industry, energy, and uprightness, as national decay is of individual idleness, selfishness, and vice. What we are accustomed to decry as great social evils, will, for the most part, be found to be only the outgrowth of our own perverted life; and though we may endeavour to cut them down and extirpate them by means of law, they will only spring up again with fresh luxuriance in some other form, unless the conditions of human life and character are radically improved. If this view be correct, then it follows that the highest patriotism and philanthropy consist, not so much in altering laws and modifying institutions, as in helping and stimulating men to elevate and improve themselves by their own free and independent action.

The government of a nation itself is usually found to be but the reflex of the individuals composing it. The government that is ahead of the people will be inevitably dragged down to their level, as the government that is behind them will in the long run be dragged up. In the order of nature, the collective character of a nation will as surely find its befitting results in its law and government, as water finds its own level. The noble people will be nobly ruled, and the ignorant and corrupt ignobly. Indeed, liberty is quite as much a moral as a political growth,—the result of free individual action, energy, and independence. It may be of comparatively little consequence how a man is governed from without, whilst everything depends upon how he governs himself from within. The greatest slave is not he who is ruled by a despot, great though that evil be, but he who is the thrall of his own moral ignorance, selfishness, and vice. There have been, and perhaps there still are, so-called patriots abroad, who hold it to be the greatest stroke for liberty to kill a tyrant, forgetting that the tyrant usually represents only too faithfully the millions of people over whom he reigns. But nations who are enslaved at heart cannot be freed by any mere changes of masters or of institutions; and so long as the fatal delusion prevails, that liberty solely depends upon, and consists in government, so long will such changes, no matter at what cost they be effected, have as little practical and lasting result as the shifting of the figures in a phantasmagoria. The solid foundations of liberty must rest upon individual character; which is also the only sure guarantee for social security and national progress. In this consists the real strength of English liberty. Englishmen feel that they are free, not merely because they live under those free institutions which they have so laboriously built up, but because each member of society has to a greater or less extent got the root of the matter within himself; and they continue to hold fast and enjoy their liberty, not by freedom of speech merely, but by their steadfast life and energetic action as free individual men.