Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Cracks In The Veneer

Civilization is but a thin veneer over the seething mass of humanity.

That outlook on the human condition is attributed to German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and shared by others, myself included. A more recent example would be William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies,” that novel baby boomers had to read in school. It resonates with me still and more so lately. For the unfamiliar I’ll summarize the plot: A plane crashed near a remote island. On board were early-adolescent British boys and some teachers, but only the boys survived. They had to stay alive on the island without adult supervision, and how well or badly they did that is the main theme of the book. Mostly, they devolved. Their innate savagery emerged and became stronger than the civilizational constraints with which they had been imbued.

Golding obviously believed humans to be innately prone to savagery, able to overcome it only by the constraints of civilization which they receive through western tradition, and which is maintained by the supervision of elders within that civilization.

An opposite view of humanity held by many in the west would be that of the “noble savage,” the idea that humans in their natural state are given to peaceful coexistence. Such adherents would write a different kind of novel - one in which the boys shared and cooperated on the island rather than fighting and killing one another. Anarchists within the “Occupy Wall Street” or OWS movement would hold such a view - that without the constraints of government to control them, the default mode of humanity would be one of sharing and mutual cooperation. It was interesting to observe their naive attempts at uber-democracy such as their cult-like chanting repetition of a speaker’s remarks, and their refusal to move in any direction unless there were a
group consensus supporting it.

During the short life of OWS, the notion that we’re all inherently good and nice when not influenced by capitalist greed was not being borne out. Fights, assaults, rapes, thefts, drug overdoses, and vandalism abounded in virtually every camp across the country. In nearby Portland’s relatively peaceful “Occupy Maine” camp, three were arrested when one beat on his drum to wake up the rest of the campers in Lincoln Park, only to be choked by another and hit with a hammer by still another who wanted to sleep in. The western mainstream media heralded the “Arab Spring” as a renaissance of secular democracy against oppressive military dictatorships across Muslim North Africa. I wrote weeks ago how Van Jones, President Obama’s disgraced “Green Jobs Czar,” declared OWS to be an “American Autumn” in the spirit of the Arab Spring, as if it were comprised of smiling happy people holding hands in blissful anarchy, but none of that is panning out either. Egypt’s recent elections have given over control of the country to radical Islamists who will impose Sharia on everyone. It won’t be long before Egyptians start pining for the relatively blissful days of Mubarak’s military control. A year or two should suffice. Ask the Afghans. Ask the Iranians. I wouldn’t want to be a Christian, a woman, or a homosexual in Egypt when the Muslim Brotherhood takes over.

The British government is preparing for riots when the Euro collapses - and they’re not even in the Eurozone. Greeks are rioting already - and they’re not in default yet. What will happen when they are? Western democracy is a wonderful thing, the highest attainment of western civilization, but it’s not sufficient by itself. If democracy were imposed on the island described by Golding in his novel, who would win power? It wouldn’t be the civilized Ralph.

Jack, leader of the savage group, would prevail and then what? There wouldn’t be any more elections, that’s for sure. Hitler, remember, attained power in a democratic Germany. The majority in any democracy can elect a government that President Reagan described as like a baby: “an alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other,” a government that will tax, borrow, spend and print money until everyone is destitute. That is what’s happening in Europe and in the United States. When those governments collapse it won’t be pretty. What will it be like? Look at Somalia. Look at Afghanistan before we invaded. That’s what it will turn back into when we leave too. Authority will be in the hands of whomever controls the most men with automatic weapons riding in the back of pickup trucks. That thin veneer of civilization is showing cracks in Europe as hard times approach, and we’re likely see more in 2012. What scares me is that we’re on the same path Europe is, just a bit further back. If we don’t change direction soon, look out.


Bradley said...

Tom, you are correct! We're on the road to a big change in our daily lives. I expect to get up some morning to findout the economy has collapsed. What then? Gold and guns will be our currency and only the strong will survive. If you have not done it yet, you may want to renue your relationship with God.

Laurie from Bartlett said...

Tom..What a thoughtful oped. I really appreciate your ability to discuss this important issue academically. We are in for quite a ride. Our citizens have lost touch with the importance of our constitution and the tenants of faith in supporting a civilized society w/out which we become a "savage nation". Thank you..great read!

Anonymous said...

"Afghanistan before we invaded" what are you talking about? We never should even have entered that country!!
You are saying we " fixed" Afghanistan? really?

Winston Smith said...

CHEERSTA"...Jack, leader of the savage group, would prevail and then what? There wouldn’t be any more elections, that’s for sure. Hitler, remember, attained power in a democratic Germany..." Exactly. Your irresponsible view of our history has you touting 'democracy' as the original vision of the founding fathers. Wrong! We are, or are supposed to be, a constitutional republic. Big difference! Democracy is nothing more than rule by majority----take a lynch mob for example. One group wants to hang a man the other doesn't. The majority votes to hang. That's democracy in action. It is a mob mentality form of rule. And our founders saw this and wanted to avoid it.

Unlike a pure democracy, in a constitutional republic, citizens are not governed by the majority of the people but by the rule of law.

The original framers of the United States Constitution were notably cognizant of what they perceived as a danger of majority rule in oppressing freedom and liberty of the individual. For example, James Madison, in Federalist Paper No. 10, advocates a constitutional republic over a democracy to protect the individual from the majority.

And as far as elections go---if you think after the election of 2000 that your vote means anything? Well, then I have some ocean front to sell you in Bangor.

Social unrest and protest are utterly American means of conveying unhappiness with our leaders. It is what this country was founded on--the idea that we have a say, a voice. But when the media, which is now owned by a handful of corporations, the same corporations that buy your politicians and presidents, well, then it is up to the individual to sift through the bs for the truth.

Winston Smith said...

"The Occupy movement is the force that will revitalize traditional Christianity in the United States or signal its moral, social and political irrelevance. The mainstream church, battered by declining numbers and a failure to defiantly condemn the crimes and cruelty of the corporate state, as well as a refusal to vigorously attack the charlatans of the Christian right, whose misuse of the Gospel to champion unfettered capitalism, bigotry and imperialism is heretical, has become a marginal force in the life of most Americans, especially the young. Outside the doors of churches, many of which have trouble filling a quarter of the pews on Sundays, struggles a movement, driven largely by young men and women, which has as its unofficial credo the Beatitudes:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons and daughters of God.
Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

It was the church in Latin America, especially in Central America and Augusto Pinochet’s Chile, which provided the physical space, moral support and direction for the opposition to dictatorship. It was the church in East Germany that organized the peaceful opposition marches in Leipzig that would bring down the communist regime in that country. It was the church in Czechoslovakia, and its 90-year-old cardinal, that blessed and defended the Velvet Revolution. It was the church, and especially the African-American church, that made possible the civil rights movements. And it is the church, especially Trinity Church in New York City with its open park space at Canal and 6th, which can make manifest its commitment to the Gospel and nonviolent social change by permitting the Occupy movement to use this empty space, just as churches in other cities that hold unused physical space have a moral imperative to turn them over to Occupy movements. If this nonviolent movement fails, it will eventually be replaced by one that will employ violence. And if it fails it will fail in part because good men and women, especially those in the church, did nothing.

Where is the church now? Where are the clergy? Why do so many church doors remain shut? Why do so many churches refuse to carry out the central mandate of the Christian Gospel and lift up the cross?".......(con't)

.........By Chris Hedges
........Continued at

I urge you all to read the rest of this piece.

Anonymous said...

I feel so much hate here both in Toms writing and the comments that it was hard to finish reading it all.

I hope there is a God and he really does love us else we are all doomed.

Tom McLaughlin said...

I do not think we've fixed Afghanistan. Only the Afghans and the other ethnic groups who live there can fix it - if they have the will.

Even though it's a war zone, it's better for the average citizen that the Taliban are not in charge. They soon will be again, however, when we pull out.

I'm not against pulling out either. It's poor turf on which to be fighting our enemy - radical Islam. Drones and covert ops would be more effective, but we need bases in the area for that.

Anonymous said...

Wow....First of all, we never should have entered afghanistan. They had nothing to do with 9/11. Saudi Arabia did. Furthermore, it is a ridiculous 'war' we can never win! Do you have any idea whats going on over there at all? Anything? How many vets have you spoken with? Where are you getting your 'facts'?

The Taliban? Uh, you mean the organization the CIA funded? The Taliban, I love that one. Just another US backed terrorist group we denounce when they turn on us. But, hey, believe what you will.

The only enemy we have is, as you pointed out earlier, is ourselves. Radical Islam? My god I thought that by now most people would realize the how inane this is. Your solution would be to drop bombs from drones that would inevitably kill innocent women and children? And you call yourself a Christian? War mongering? Duped by the fox/cnn fear machine?

And I assume you are aware of the heinous and unimaginable crimes being committed by our troops in afghanistan? And iraq?

And you certainly did imply that we have fixed afghanistan. Ask any afghani civilian how much weve helped them..Ever see Restrepo?

They have you convinced that we need to invade Iran, Syria, Afghanistan. etc. etc. Do you ever stop and actually think about it?

We put Mubarak in place, then took him out, now look at Egypt.
Great job.

Yet, the truest threat is in Mexico. But that wouldnt be nearly as profitable so we'll ignore it.

Anonymous said...

Never thought I'd say it but Ron Paul seems like our only chance.

Anonymous said...

Winston; Talk to your doctor and have him check your medication levels. We need to double your dose of "Quitchabitchen"

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful piece, Tom. Will this country ever wake up? I think not! We are going down the tubes. The next couple years will prove that. The current occupant of the White House is a Moslem and Islam and a republican democracy cannot co-exist. The Koran forbids it. The United States is the only country in the world that does not recognize Obama for what he is, a Moslem. This country is the "Great Satan" and the Koran orders Moslems to "kill the infidel (us) and the Jew where you find them. Obama is doing his best to destroy this country. Obama and his puppet master, George Soros who is funding the Occupy movement are doing their best to accomplish this. Wake up, America!

Harvey in North Baldwin

Winston Smith said...

Sorry anonymous, you're right.

Nearly three hundred of our troops were dumped in a landfill and fox news just tried to use violent footage of protests in Greece as coming from Russia.
Congress just agreed that an American can de detained with no reason indefinitely. And the fed continues to operate illegally while we pay the bill.

But hey, what's to bitch about? I'll just go back to my tee vee and turn off my mind.

Silence Dogood said...

Harvey, you are a certifiable nutcase.

Mr. Sax said...

"During the short life of OWS, the notion that we’re all inherently good and nice when not influenced by capitalist greed was not being borne out."

You mean the OWS that is still alive? Thought so.

So, according to you, the movement is about what we act like without corporate greed? Hmm. Certainly suits your elusive thesis.
I thought it was about standing up to big banks and big corporations? But you're saying its really about raping, taking drugs and being lazy? ok. Got it. That makes sense. And the proof is overwhelming.

And, by the way, democracy was employed in Lord of the Flies. Majority rules? You know.
And the idea of the 'noble savage' is used exclusively in works of fiction. Like Moby Dick. Meaning it isnt true.