Friday, October 11, 2013

End of the Experiment

Once again the greatest representative democracy the world has ever known finds itself in a maelstrom of confusion and insanity.  Thanks to the shamefully stupid Tea Buggers and their lethal demagoguery, the whole entire US government is shut down, brought to its knees, spinning its wheels while nearly a million federal workers are idle, national parks and recreation areas are closed, and numerous programs that provide real help to real people are shut down.  Welcome to the end of an experiment.

Our system of government has always been a social experiment on the grandest of scales.  Imagine a form of government born of the ideas of freedom, liberty and equality for all.  Something quite like that had never really been seen on this planet prior to the 18th century.  Thousands of years ago when primitive humans were first starting to gather together and form settlements, one of the first governments to evolve was a monarchy, a "king" to rule the others.  This ran through a couple of permutations, such as an oligarchy (rule by a small, chosen group of people) or plutocracy (rule by the wealthy) or theocracy (rule by religious leaders) but by and far it proved a fairly workable way to keep a bunch of farmers and shepherds kind of toeing some sort of line.

For a long time monarchies worked well, and still do in a number of countries in the present day, but as large number of people became more educated through technological advances such as the printing press, they soon outgrew the confines of royalty and royal lineage.  As the world expanded, wealth (and resultant power) became more distributed, government likewise expanded and adapted.  People were demanding more of a say in how their lives were run, and various forms of representation were created.  General assemblies, or bodies of citizens representing other citizens, began to take root in Europe, one of the earliest being Iceland's Althing, created in the year 976.  Eventually hybrid systems of government were created, merging kings with prime ministers and parliaments and a new form of representational government took hold.

The US government was born at the confluence of a number of serendipitous forces.  Initially formed by those fleeing religious persecution, it was a brand new world, full beyond measure of immense natural riches, free from the limited land mass and resources of Europe and the stifling weight of history and their stodgy traditions.  America was a clean slate, a chance to start anew, to get it right, to create the most perfect form of government that humans could possibly dream up. And dream they did.

The Constitution that came out of the late 1700s has become the gold standard of good government.  Not perfect, but better than anything else that has been around.  Even though it has been amended 27 times (with a 28th amendment proposed - one that would make all laws applicable to everyone), these adjustments have allowed the government to change in response to a rapidly changing world.  Some of them have been foolhardy (No. 18 - Prohibition) but others have been true to the finest expressions of the best of humanity (No. 13 - Abolition of Slavery and No. 19 - Women's Suffrage).  The great social experiment that is the United States of America was in full bloom, and doing very well indeed.

Scientists will tell you that the best experiments are those which are conducted in a closed system; that is, an environment where everything is carefully controlled and random outside forces kept to a minimum.  Even under the best of circumstances, a running experiment will start to degrade as entropy creeps in and wear and tear causes deterioration.  Our government has been beset with destabilizing forces from inside and out, from those which occur in nature to those created by our own shadow natures.

It seems the worst forces that befall our nation and disrupt our constitutional government are those created by ourselves.  In the past century, two devastating world wars, a number of smaller but still very significant skirmishes (Korea, Vietnam, Iraq) have caused great stress.  The threat of nuclear annihilation or environmental catastrophe has been shaping policy through most of this century.  But most insidious, it seems, are the forces of greed and religion.  They form a double-headed serpent, and it is at the nexus of those two where the most damage is done.

The past two decades have seen the ascendency of greed and religion in our government at a level that can scarcely be comprehended.  Like some kind of virulent zombie virus, it has taken over vast segments of the population and most of Congress, turning them into blathering idiots, and malignant ne'er-do-wells.  Complicated by a Supreme Court that has some of the most backward-thinking, regressive conservatives around, the complete corruption of our government by money has been aided and abetted by heinous, abominable rulings such as Citizens' United, which virtually assured the democratic system will be irretrievably choked and debased by an enormous influx of special-interest monies and corporate meddling.

Religion, and in particular Christian fundamentalism, has also insinuated itself into our legislative system at all levels.  Like a many-headed Hydra, it manifests itself in an appallingly large number of ways, from advocating to pharmacists to refuse to dispense birth control because it violates their "freedom of religious expression", to taking over school boards and forcing changes to their curricula to include bogus, intellectually untenable pseudo-sciences such as "intelligent design", to doing everything they can to prevent certain segments of the population from exercising their right to vote.  Using their religious beliefs like a shield, they cowardly pass preposterous laws designed solely to prevent women from exerting control over their reproductive destinies by forcing them to undergo unnecessary medical procedures such as ultrasounds, and enacting biased, draconian regulations that make it nearly impossible for planned-parenting agencies to legitimately and lawfully provide needed and wanted services.

We have seen the wealth of this nation being concentrated into the top 1% of the population, while everyone else considers themselves lucky if they just tread economic water.  This has caused this wealthy segment to tighten and consolidate their control over the Republican party, which is essentially working for the Koch brothers and the Dick Cheneys of the world.  Wars are started under the flimsiest of pretenses, bolstered by blatant lying and disinformation, and private corporations rake in the profits.

Sure, there are many evil people in this country who will gladly take this nation down a pathway to complete destruction if it meant getting their political agenda in place. All this is ultimately made possible by an uneducated, disinterested electorate, for whom critical thinking and skepticism are unknown concepts.  Too many people are more than willing to let Fox News or Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh or dozens of other conservative blowhards tell them exactly what to think and do.  They find it much easier to hate people who are different from them, and they make these "other people" convenient, easy scapegoats for the awful things their legislators - who they themselves had voted into office - do to the quality of their life and the complete ruination of the future of their children.  They just don't give a crap, and are too stupid to care.

The drama going on in this country now - the government being held hostage by a gang of 30 or 40 zealots, blinded by their own radical ideology to the damage they're doing - and the upcoming threat of a debt ceiling crises - which nearly all knowledgeable economists in this country agree would be a complete and unmitigated disaster on a global scale - is unprecedented, certainly in my lifetime.  I have never seen the country so thoroughly polarized, even back in the worst days of the Vietnam war, when our society was nearly ripped apart by a costly, tragic war which we eventually lost.  These Tea Baggers don't care how much damage and hardship they inflict on millions of people, or the millions and millions of dollars that will be shamefully squandered by a completely unnecessary government shutdown.  The only thing they care about is getting their own way, and they don't care how many lives are wrecked in the process.

Sadly, I'm beginning to think the great social experiment in representative democracy that is the United States of America is starting to wind down, to sag and break apart under the weight of its own misdoings and corruption. Our system of government is being poisoned by right-wing ideologues and religious zealots, who are pulling everyone down into their toxic cesspool of psychotic paranoia and dissolution.  I don't see a way out for America to save itself.  We may come out the other end of this somewhat intact, but we will be so changed that we will no longer be the America we once were.

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