For People Who Think

December 29, 2011

What I Learned This Year…by Dan Lynch

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 8:05 pm

If you reach the end of a year and you haven’t learned or noticed anything new, you’re in trouble. As a lifetime student of the democratic process, and living now in the hardest economic period that I’ve ever seen, I’ve noticed and learned some things in 2011 that both encourage and depress me. Here are a few of them:

1) Historically, we Americans have always been an optimistic people with faith in the future. That seems to be less true today than in any other period in my lifetime. The polls show us that. We’re not supposed to be that way. Most of us need to buck up a bit and buckle down on digging out of this hole we’re in.

2) Too many of us seem to think that our path to a better future lies in reverting to the past – in many cases to a past that none of us really lived through and view through a filter of ignorance and political lies about history. This was not a better country before unions came along. In fact, it was a better country when unions were stronger. This was not a better country before the income tax or before Social Security. This was not a better country before ordinary people had the means to get medical care. This was not a better country when only a handful of us could go to college to put up with left-wing professors challenging our parents’ value systems. College, whatever its failings, taught us how to sort out all that.

3) Some things were better in the past. We were better off when we forced kids in school to learn or flunk rather than just pushing them through regardless of what they didn’t learn. We were better off when we weren’t producing so many out-of-wedlock babies, when the family was stronger. We were better off before widespread drug use. We were better off before the poverty-stricken nations of the world began to industrialize and compete with us so vigorously. We no longer have to eat everything on our plates because people are starving in China, although too many of us do that anyway. We just weren’t ready for any of that.

4) I haven’t belonged to a political party in 30 years or so. The left wing of the Democratic Party got so wacko then that I couldn’t be part of the same crowd. Both parties are different as we enter 2012. The old Democratic Party coalition of urban left-wingers, blue-collar workers and Bible-thumping, hard-core racist rural southerners is no more. The southerners and many of the blue-collar people are now Republicans, and the moderate Republicans of the suburbs are now independents or Democrats. Independents like me, the fastest-growing segment of the population, can go either way in a general election. Ultimately, we tend to go with whichever candidate seems the least stupid and/or crazy.

5) This would be a better country if more people knew its real history. The lying politicians don’t help with this. Not long ago, Newt Gingrich, who holds a doctorate in history, falsely claimed that the U. S. Supreme Court in the Dred Scott decision “ruled that slavery extended to the whole country.” It did not. The Dred Scott ruling stated that Congress had no authority to ban slavery in new territories, but it stopped short of applying the ruling to all states. Blacks had been free, voting citizens in five of the original 13 states. Gingrich also claimed that President Lincoln “explicitly instructed his administration to not enforce Dred Scott.” By the time Lincoln had assumed office, about a half dozen southern states already had seceded, and the Civil War broke out about five weeks later. Lincoln never told anybody in his administration to ignore Dred Scott. Instead, he told everybody to take cover.

6) Politics was uniquely nasty in this country during the 1800s, but it’s nastier now than I recall it being during the 1900s. These days, fewer and fewer people – ordinary people, not just the lying politicians – seem able to conduct a political conversation on its merits. Instead, they attack anybody who expresses an idea or view with which they disagree as an evil person. You see that in blog comments on every Web site. The non-thinkers don’t muster data to refute arguments they dislike; instead, they call those ideas and the people who hold them vile names. That’s precisely the sort of thinking found in terrorists – people who believe that the rightness of their cause makes anybody who doesn’t see the world precisely as they do an evil person. And that evil, of course, makes it okay to say or do virtually anything to them. Many right-wingers are like that. So are some left-wingers, but there are fewer of them to begin with.

7) Anybody who believes that everybody to the left of them is a liberal or anybody to their right is a Nazi is nobody with whom you should attempt to hold a serious conversation. They just aren’t up to it emotionally.


  1. Can’t argue with much of this, except for it being a better country if people knew its history. The facts are available, have been freely available for some time. Very few of us learn from mistakes.

    Aside from technology, there isn’t any reason to be optimistic. Democracy here isn’t even a ‘mere shadow’ of true democracy, at least not in the way that candidates are selected.

    We can hope for a political miracle, contribute to campaigns, join OWS or similar groups, write letters or blogs, but that’s about it. Crawling out of this, is going to take a long time. I think it’s just as likely that our entire political structure is going to change drastically, rather than find itself reformed in 10 years.

    As far as the economy goes, there is absolutely no hope that we will go back to the way things were. Even aside from political realities and the continued existence of banks that can be claimed ‘too big to fail’, automation is going to take over more and more of the role of human productive labor. That might not be a curse, in the long term. But the adjustment period is excruciating, and it’s duration is unpredictable.

    Comment by DCWhatthe — January 1, 2012 @ 3:55 pm | Reply

  2. Neat Post. On each:

    (1) Well, it depends on whether or not our optimism was realistic. I think many of our current problems stem from five or six decades of unrealistic optimism. However, collective depression doesn’t solve a whole heck of a lot either; you’re certainly right on that point. The question is, how do we overwhelm our social melancholy?

    (2) Eh. Periods of expansion were generally better than periods of contraction and stagnation. It’s true the “good ol’ days” did not exist and had their own problems, but I also think we’re fairly blind to our current problems. Example: the “most free nation on Earth” incarcerates more people than any other nation on Earth. We house 25% of the world’s prison population, while we only have 4% of the global population. The majority of those incarcerated are poor or black or both. 1 in 3 black men will be in prison during his lifetime; 1 in 2 that are in prison will suffer a serious sexual assault while there. So it appears to me that we really didn’t “solve” a whole lot of the problems of race and class from the 50’s and 60’s, we just put rich black people on TV.

    (3) Here I agree. I strongly feel that we’ve lost our religious and philosophical moral base. This could be possibly due to the decadence problems. Economic freedom breeds a free, liberal society, but too much can lead to moral degradation, imho.

    (4) Oh phoo. They just tell the people most likely to get out and vote what they want to hear. Doesn’t seem to impact their governance.

    (5) What’s “real history”? History’s a Rorschach at best, and with the current political climate even something as simple as the civil narrative of our founding turns into either “evil, horrible white MEN out for world domination” or “Gabriel and his angels trumpeted, and lo the British dun run home. Hallelujah!” Neither of which are particularly useful.

    (6) YES. This is a problem, I totally agree. Even very simple words and language is a problem – pro-choice? Pro-abortion? (And does it matter? Morally, maybe, but I passingly note that the success of empires has never appeared predicated on whether or not abortion is legal. Debt, deficit and over-consumption of resources seems like bigger players to me.)

    (7) I think the Nazis were a syncretic philosophy, but I get your point. Also there are more than two ways of looking at things. Why is a libertarian considered “right,” but two steps over into minarchist or anarchist and you’re “left”? Nonsense terms, imho.

    Also, cute pic for your post. I can’t decide if you look more like Mephistopheles or Mork. 😀

    Comment by Chris Honeycutt — January 3, 2012 @ 1:02 am | Reply

  3. Hey Dan,
    Thanks very much for speaking for those of us who feel very much like you do but could never express it nearly as clearly and concisely in so few words. Let others analyze everything to the point when nobody listens any more. Just keep on keeping it simple for us.

    The eloquence is in the brevity.

    Comment by Jim Whiting — January 5, 2012 @ 6:24 pm | Reply

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