- May 8th, 2013
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I was a bit late reading Ron Unz’s Our American Pravda over at TAC, but got to it this morning. Unz’s thesis won’t be shocking or even all that interesting to this backwater of the internet, but I was struck by the comments which seemed to miss his primary point altogether. Here is his concluding paragraph:
Consider the fascinating perspective of the recently deceased Boris Berezovsky, once the most powerful of the Russian oligarchs and the puppet master behind President Boris Yeltsin during the late 1990s. After looting billions in national wealth and elevating Vladimir Putin to the presidency, he overreached himself and eventually went into exile. According to the New York Times, he had planned to transform Russia into a fake two-party state—one social-democratic and one neoconservative—in which heated public battles would be fought on divisive, symbolic issues, while behind the scenes both parties would actually be controlled by the same ruling elites. With the citizenry thus permanently divided and popular dissatisfaction safely channeled into meaningless dead-ends, Russia’s rulers could maintain unlimited wealth and power for themselves, with little threat to their reign. Given America’s history over the last couple of decades, perhaps we can guess where Berezovsky got his idea for such a clever political scheme.
Unz does an excellent job of laying before us an assemblage of worthy and disturbing stories that have not aroused the ire of the American public to the extent they deserve. He indicts the journalistic establishment for not pursuing or investigating these stories sufficiently. It’s not clear that if they did, there would be much interest in them anyway, and he tells us why:
A likely reason for this wall of uninterest on so many important issues is that the disasters involved are often bipartisan in nature, with both Democrats and Republicans being culpable and therefore equally eager to hide their mistakes. Perhaps in the famous words of Benjamin Franklin, they realize that they must all hang together or they will surely all hang separately.
As of this morning, there were 45 comments on the post. Few of them were in response to the actual point of the piece. I’m not sure what to conclude from this. There were a number of conspiracy minded comments. I’m more open to conspiracy theories than I used to be. I was upbraided on Twitter by Ohtarzie a few weeks back for making the point that we don’t need conspiracy theories when so much evil is done in plain sight. But as he rightly pointed out, if anything the fact that immoral behavior is the norm and goes unpunished ought to increase the likelihood of conspiracies. That is, if powerful people do evil things in plain sight, what would they be willing to do to cover up behavior that’s even worse?
I wish something good could come from this type of essay. The internet has opened up access to alternative sources of information for so many, myself included. But consider the difficulty of effecting real change. Of the whole population of the country, only a minority are politically engaged. Of those, the vast majority get their information from outlets “licensed” by one of the partisan factions. The rest are scattered across the landscape and self sort themselves into miniscule ideological camps from far right to far left. This disaffected group is most likely to recognize the fraud of government, but has so little influence that it might as well be invisible. Mass movements like the Tea Party and Occupy [fill in the blank] are quickly exploited and absorbed into the political structure.
If anything good does come from this type of essay, my hope would be that it helps chip away the intellectual barriers to rational honesty. By that I mean the creation of political ideas that stand on their own outside of the historical spectrum. It means that we must reject incrementalism. There is no hope of reform of the system in place today. It will, as it must, completely fall away. Those of us waiting anxiously for that day will still be surprised when it comes. But perhaps not as surprised as everyone else. In meantime, we must do what we can to imagine what a better world might look like. No doubt we will be wrong about most things, and the species will have to figure things out as well as it can. Recognizing that the emperor has no clothes is nothing to brag about. Learning to live without the emperor is vastly more praiseworthy.