Sunday, January 14, 2007

For Martin Luther King Day

Posted by olvlzl.
Any method of scholarship has the potential to distort what is being studied. The necessity of abstraction and reliance on schematics in order to analyze and publish have the inherent danger to force things that are only similar in some way to be put into the same category and treated as roughly equivalent, for example. The practice of doing this starts in necessity, becomes the required methodology, turns into an academic virtue and ends in becoming a bad habit. Rarely does the system acknowledge the distortions it creates*.

Unfortunately, a similar habit of distortion has caught on among the general public in ways that have real world consequences, though these days it’s the practices of the media that instilled the corruption. For too long the supporters of George Bush were able to relegate those of us who opposed his crimes and idiocy to the bin marked “anti-American”. That was the label assigned by the media and the scribblers and alleged thinkers who feed that machine. And too many voters fell for that line of tripe. It’s an old one, going back to the beginnings of the country but its use as a means of political control seems to have ripened in the past sixty years.

There is a review of a book defining different anti-Americanisms in the paper today. Making the word a plural is certainly a step up from the typical use of the term. The review says that the authors have identified different aspects of American life that receive different receptions among different people in other countries. Some people who love one aspect of America hate another aspect of it. It’s a good beginning at getting a better handle on anti-Americanism.

But it works the other way round too. I’m struck at how the business practices are most admired in countries which don’t seem to be on the verge of real democracy, some of which don’t seem in much danger of gender, racial or religious equality. Please put me in the box assigned to one particular anti-Americanism, our economic system stinks and it distorts our politics. Americans don’t have to like everything about their own country. Not liking everything is a birth right of every person, everywhere.

Another thing in the review that was interesting is that it could seem remarkable to anyone that people resent an enormously powerful country imposing its will on other people. That is something that people in the United States don’t understand? That is our founding story, it should be entirely understandable to everyone who is a citizen of the country. It’s clear, our own history has been suppressed in the name of Americanism.

The great virtues of the United States don’t lie in its wealth and power, they lie in the evolving attempts to put into effect the Bill of Rights, the Civil Rights amendments. The assertions of equality are the quest we were set on, perhaps accidentally**, by the words of our founding documents.

Whatever greatness we manage to achieve doesn’t reside in the flawed theories of the balance of powers and the dangerous fixed terms and federalism of the constitution. They don’t reside in the various doctrines of contracts and business. The promises of equality of opportunity and equality of freedom are not dependent on the “founding fathers”. They practiced slavery, subjugation of women, class inequality and numerous other evils while and after they were writing the words of the founding documents. The economic elites have always tried to enforce inequality in its own interest. An effective majority of the “free press”, owned by those elites have fought every aspect of equality that would threaten the elites.

The promises of equality and freedom have and are becoming gradually true, always, in every single case, due to the actions of The People. Not the people united, The People oppressed who refused to remain oppressed. They are the ones who did the decades of work to convince the unconvinced to join them, who took opportunities to advance their cause and who kept on when the inevitable reaction and setbacks came. Presidents and Court Justices hardly ever got on board until they had little choice. It has been The People in the minority struggling to advance our best intentions who have done the real work to oppose various American ways and to replace them with new ways that delivered the unfulfilled promises that had been made. In every single case they opposed entrenched aspects of “Americanism”, habits and practices and entire codes of law. Every single time they were accused of disloyalty and subversion and called the entire catalog of invective. Their flaws were magnified and flaws they didn’t have were assigned to them.

And what is true of American reformers is also true of those who oppose American imperialism abroad. The United States is only as great as it is good and it has a long way to go towards greatness.

* Spending a lot of time last year arguing with people who couldn’t seem to accept that people don’t have to be either scientists or religious beievers but that many people proved that they could be both, helped clarify this. Behavioral scientists seem to be among the most immune to this kind of objective self-observation. The author of the review, not withstanding.

** Hearing some idiot scholar gassing on about the conflict between equality and freedom and how it’s more “American” to favor freedom over equality has put me in a bad mood this week. The history of the United States is a demonstration that freedom only comes with equality, they are inseparable.