Apotheosis of Devolution

The devolution whose apotheosis we witnessed last night was indeed the work of generations. The US did once have rules of political and civic conduct that were universally embraced. At that time, about half a century ago, we were also a virulently racist country (yes, moreso than today), women’s place beyond the kitchen was just being discussed in public discourse, and we were still somewhat unified — annealed by the traumas of WW II and the Cold War. Then came the Great Divergence — the working and middle class headed downward and a new technocracy headed for unbounded wealth. We diverged socially as well. Suburbs separated classes and races. Urban cores died. The Dodgers left Brooklyn. We came apart as culture wars were kindled.

Meanwhile in our schools we stopped teaching civics. Or history. “Don’t know much about history” was vaguely funny when sung in the Fifties. It isn’t at all funny now. “Holocaust”? A band? World War II? The ninetheenth century?… You’ve seen the shocking ignorance of our kids. It’s way, way beyond appalling. Constitution is a club in Tucson. The founders were pretty clear that an informed citizenry was not just the bulwark of democracy; it was the pre-requisite.

In the Seventies and Eighties we got rid of requirements that those who use the ether speak honestly, or at least offer a podium to opposite opinions. Rush Limbaugh and Fox became inevitable. So now we have uninformed kids subjected to day-long bombardment by bombastic racists who are then echoed and amplified by social media channels. Not only can you be uninformed; you can select your version of reality and stick your head into an impenetrable barrel. Not optimal for civic discourse.

The neoliberals — including Pres. Clinton — added accelerants to the inequality and attendant class divisions, the public sphere — from schools to unemployment offices to election machines — were starved as private interests claimed ever larger shares of the commonwealth. And then the debt bomb of 2008 detonated. Tens of millions of people lost homes, incomes and life savings. No one paid. No one went to jail. In the comparatively teensy Savings and Loan scandal of the late Eighties, over 800 bankers went to jail. Not in 2009. Some of the architects of the cataclysm were brought into the government to “fix” the debacle. People noticed. And they fumed.

Then came 2016 and the reckoning. Hey, if things are so utterly fucked up, why not take a chance? Sure he looks like an asshole, and he’s clearly a misogynist and racist, but he’ll break things. Don’t they deserve to be blown up?? The schools didn’t get better at civics education, or much else. We separated into our bitter corners. And here we are.

The road back has lots of steps, Chas. We need to legislate what were considered “norms.” Some big things — besides candidate tax returns — will be enforced desiderata. We’re going to have to revisit how our creaking government operates, and the election system that betrays us regularly. We have to reinstitute rule by the majority — what a concept! We must reimpose the Fairness Doctrine — which will alter Fox and Sinclair’s business plans. And we have to teach Civics like our future depends upon it. Because it does.

Do all that — it’ll take over a decade if we sprint — and you might not have to witness a disgusting spectacle like last night again. Step by step. This starts with the transition. Even amidst the noise and danger of post-election spasmosis, we have great work to do. If you think struggling against a dime store Mussolini was fun, check out shaping government for the long term.

Roll up your sleeves. Tell your kids to study the Constitution. And let’s Do This!

Marty

Indivisible Media City

The devolution whose apotheosis we witnessed last night was indeed the work of generations. The US did once have rules of political and civic conduct that were universally observed. At that time, half a century ago, we were also a virulently racist country (yes, moreso than today), women’s place beyond the kitchen had just entered public discourse, and we were still somewhat unified — annealed by the traumas of WW II and the Cold War. Then came the Great Divergence — the working and middle class headed downward as a new technocracy headed for unbounded wealth. We diverged socially. Suburbs separated classes and races. Urban cores died. The Dodgers left Brooklyn. We came apart as culture wars simmered.

Meanwhile our schools stopped teaching civics. Or history. “Don’t know much about history” was vaguely funny when sung in the Fifties. It isn’t funny now. “Holocaust”? A band? World War II? The ninetheenth century?… You’ve seen the shocking ignorance of our kids. It’s way, way beyond appalling. “Constitution” might be a club in Tucson. The founders were pretty clear that an informed citizenry was not just the bulwark of democracy; it was the pre-requisite.

In the Seventies and Eighties we got rid of requirements that those who use the public airwaves speak honestly, or at least offer a podium to opposite opinions. Rush Limbaugh and Fox became inevitable. So now we have uninformed kids subjected to day-long bombardment by bombastic racists echoed and amplified by social media channels. Not only can you be uninformed; you can select your version of reality and stick your head into an impenetrable barrel. Not optimal for civic discourse.

The neoliberals — including Pres. Clinton — added accelerants to the inequality and attendant class divisions. The public sphere — from schools to unemployment offices to election machines — were starved as private interests claimed ever larger shares of the commonwealth. Then the debt bomb of 2008 detonated. Tens of millions of people lost homes, incomes and life savings. No one paid. No one went to jail. In the comparatively teensy Savings and Loan scandal of the late Eighties, over 800 bankers went to jail. Not in 2009. Some of the architects of the cataclysm were brought into the government to “fix” the debacle. People noticed. And they fumed.

Then came 2016 and the reckoning. Hey, if things are so utterly fucked up, why not take a chance? Sure he looks like an asshole, and he’s clearly a misogynist and racist, but he’ll break things. Don’t they deserve to be blown up?? The schools didn’t get better at civics education, or much else. We separated into our bitter corners. And here we are.

The road back has lots of steps. We need to legislate what were considered “norms.” Some big things — besides candidate tax return disclosure — will be enforced. We’re going to have to revisit how our creaking government operates, along with the election system that regularly betrays our will. We have to reinstitute rule by the majority — what a concept! We must reimpose the Fairness Doctrine, which will alter Fox and Sinclair’s business plans. And we have to teach Civics like our future depends upon it. Because it does.

Do all that — it’ll take over a decade if we sprint — and you might not have to witness a disgusting spectacle such as last night’s. Step by step. This starts with the transition. Even amidst the noise and danger of post-election spasmosis we have great work to do. If you think struggling against a dime store Mussolini was fun check out shaping government for the long term.

Roll up your sleeves. Tell your kids to study the Constitution. And let’s Do This!

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Interactive video and immersive technology pioneer, activist and social justice warrior. Teacher, writer, producer and painter.

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Martin Perlmutter

Interactive video and immersive technology pioneer, activist and social justice warrior. Teacher, writer, producer and painter.