The New Deal meets the New Enlightenment
January 23, 2008

Last night I saw James Humes on cable discussing his book on 'Eisenhower and Churchill - the partnership that saved the world' and found it to be a memorable presentation.

Check him out: James C. Humes - Authors - Random House 

Humes is as rotund and huffy-puffy as Sir Winston ever was, and does an excellent job impersonating him.

The conclusion of his presentation before the English Speaking Union was especially moving when he described how Ike made a visit to Churchill as the latter lay on his death bed 'in hospital' as the Brits say. Americans don't say that--we do say 'in college', but not 'in university' or 'in hospital', there is little logic in language. Anyway, for 14 wordless minutes these two valiant men instrumental in saving Western Civilization simply held each other's hands, and what must have gone throught their minds no one will ever know. But the deep friendship they displayed for each other was movingly portrayed by Professor Humes in his recounting of the story. If he is as good a writer as an entertainer, his book should be a great read. 

Before Eisenhower there had of course been FDR and he too had an interesting relationship with Churchill, which was complicated by the reluctance of the American electorate to enter into the war at a time Britain desperately needed our support. Check: Documents Related to FDR and Churchill .

These remarks are meant to help me get going in the right direction (by association) as wanted to I write on the topic of directed thinking and associative thinking again. The two are quite different of course, but go well together. By themselves, they don't really have the same impact. 

FDR had proven himself to be a giant already well before Pearl Harbor, because of the New Deal, a very 'nuts and bolts' affair that put Americans back to work and went very far in enabling the country shortly thereafter to mount the many challenges involved in the war effort. Imagine what things might have been like if FDR had been less successful with the New Deal recovery--if disunity and even class warfare had been allowed to take over in America at a time when we desparately needed to be united. The conservatives considered FDR a traitor to his class, much as LBJ would be considered by many Southern Democrats a traitor to his race becausae of the enactment of the Voting Rights Act. 

The hatred of FDR and the New Deal and the bad memories of WWI caused a reaction among Americans against any efforts the Roosevelt Administration might have made to enter the war on the side of the allies prior to the day that lives in infamy. Even to this day many Republicans are convinced, or at least claim, that Roosevelt knew about the impending attack beforehand, but allowed it to happen so he would be able to overcome resistance to entering the war. That in itself is an infamous suggestion unworthy of Americans.

If we have learned anything from our experiences as a nation it is that the ends never justify ignominous means. A lesson the Bush Administration has obviously forgotten in its rush to torture. 

There of course are crazies on the left as well as on the right--I for one thorougly disapproved of the Move On ad defaming General Petraeus--and today some left wing crazies are suggesting that Bush not only may have known about the impending 9/11 attack beforehand, but that elements of his administration may actually have been instrumental in it.  I don't subscribe to that idea anymore than I believe what the crazies on the right were accusing FDR of.  And yet...there are some very puzzling aspects not only with regard to 9/11, but also regarding the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and MLK. We may never know for sure what happened in those turbulent times. By the same token, I find it hard to believe that we will ever know for sure what happened in the equally turbulent times at the beginning of our common era.... But that is another set of stories one can either believe or disbelieve, or take with a grain of salt, or two.  Gullible people today see prove in the fact that 'it was on the internet' just as when writing technology was still relatively new, people saw prove in the fact that 'it was written.'  New technologies often gain great cachet.

The hatred of LBJ and The Voting Rights Act Of 1965 - among Southern Democrats lost LBJ's  party the south and made the Republican ascendancy of the Reagan-Bush years possible, just as had happened during the Eisenhower Nixon years on account of the hatred of FDR and the New Deal.  It is an aspect of the law of nature that there always be a reaction to any action. Nature is cyclical, or at least that's what most non-Semitic religions and philosophies have taught. It is always an over-reaction that causes the wheel to turn again.

We read into history what we already tend to be predisposed to see in it. That predisposition can be good or bad, but it is always instrumental in changing the facts on the ground eventually. It is what people call the battle for the hearts and minds. That battle is not one of nuts and bolts, but one of hopes and dreams.

People tend to be volatile, meaning they take flight quickly upon the slightest occasion, without thinking deeply, like those little urban dinosaurs that you can feed practically out of your hand by slowly gaining their trust, but who will take flight the moment you make a sudden untoward move. Some people refer to them as urban rats, but I like to sit and watch them as they go about their business of picking little morsels from the sidewalk. I have to tell you though that I once saw this picky bird on Haight, who refused my crumbs, because, though Tassajara, they were not sourdough. Picky, picky, picky those SF birds, I tell ya.

Thus it is with people, sometimes they will refuse what they are offered because they want something better, so they frequently end up with nothing.

It reminds me of ideological puritsts like Ralph Nader, who can see two or three perfectly good candidates, but is reluctant to support them because 'though Tassajara, they are not sourdough.'  In this election we have the rare fortune of being able to choose among several good candidates (at least on the Democratic side) rather than be constrained to pick the lesser of several evils (as the Publicans must--judging from the polls--some hate Mitt, some hate McCain, some detest everyone but Ron Paul.) I donlt think any democrats would be displeased to see any of our major candidates this time around in the White House.

The local Feldwebelin is back (here at the Alliance Française) and disturbing my train of thought with her chit chat. Besides, it is getting to be 12. 30 and maybe I can find a better place to do my typing--in Brahm's office downtown. So let me take a break at this stage and give him a call. He should be back from Sacramento by now.

I am in Brahm's office now to continue.

The reason I picked the title I did for this journal entry, is because the New Deal seems extremely relevant again, after many decades of bad mouthing. That's because the current economic climate for many Americans has taken a severe downturn. People are talking about recession--and it wont take much to turn it into a real life depression if things in Washington and the world don't change. One significant natural disaster like Katrina (especially if incompetently handled) one more major terrorist attack, an outbreak of some new epidemic, and you may kiss the health of our economy and the well being of our society good bye. That's why we need the most competent leaders in Washington that are available--not an ideological never never land choice who has no chance of actually being elected, or even if elected, could not unify the country.  Bush by the way did turn out to be 'a uniter, not a divider'--he clearly united the country against himself. We ought to give him credit for that at least.

Many people suddenly have woken up from the American Dream implemented by the New Deal. The free market ideology is busily cannibalizing itself, and threatening to make democracy its dinner date.

But we must realize that the New Deal was born from a world of ideas about genuine social reform, which in Europe took the guise of socialism and even communism. Woodie Guthrie, Pete Seeger and others gave voice to these hopes and dreams of the dispossessed. It is to his credit that FDR saw the dangers of subscribing to those ideologies and by his hands on policies did somehow manage to steer clear from them.

That is the American genius at its best.

When the Enlightenment began to alleviate the strangle hold of religion and the church on a class ridden and highly disfunctional society (that of the anciens regimes in Europe)--it was the Europeans, notably of course the French,  who took the path of 'ideological purity' (or rather extremism)--even if it meant using the guillotine to commit a few mass murders. Very efficient, very brutal, very self-defeating.

The Americans take on the Enlightenment was less pure, more pragmatic--and managed not only to last, but to create a society of checks and balances and gradual improvements in society. The American Revolution was more evolutionary than revolutionary.

What we need today is a renewal of the spirit of Enlightenment, assisted by that most American of qualities: pragmatism. Stay clear from those who want to do everything by the book, whatever that book may be. Books record the past, may be useful in the present, but they must not become the dictators of our future. 

It is the interaction of intellect and circumstance that must be part of our system of checks and balances.

If something does not work, don't try to fit a square peg into a round hole, even if  some book tells you it must be done that way. Just because something was written, does not make it an infallible truth. Try it out and see if it works in practice. Adjust your approach as you go along. Acknowledge mistakes and try a new approach. That was the American nuts and bolts response to the hopes and dreams of the Enlightenment. It should continue to be our approach today.

Unfortunately, due to the mess our educational system is in, few people even have heard much about the Enlightenment and how it made this country what it is, with its Declaration of Independence expressing hopes and dreams still not yet fully realized, but the possiblity at least still open. So what we need in reforming our education is a renewed awareness of the original Enlightenment, and a renewed impetus to do the nuts and bolts work to make significant progress towards implementing not just the old hopes and dreams so far unrealized, but to do the hard work necessary for a New Enlightenment, one that takes into account the untold new discoveries of science asbout the nature of our reality, of our universe, of our planetary environment, of our relationships to all of our fellow creatures on this earth--with whom we share a common ancestry as exhibited in our genomic closeness.    

It is high time we understand that we are on the cusp of significant changes--changes which don't broach intellectual laziness on the one hand, nor intellectual fastidiousness on the other.

When in a few decades we finally discover for sure that there are other planets with a biosphere, lets not go there with the idea of teaching them how to sing the Wilhelmus, or The Star Spangled Banner. They may be so far ahead of us that we might be better of never to have encountered them. At least that is the advice of Stephen Hawking. I think it is very sound advice. The psychological blow to our frail human ego when we discover we have been Johnny come latelies in exploring the Universe, that man is not the crowning glory of Creation, that some other extraterrestrial civilizations may be a million, a few thousand or even a few hundred years ahead of us, perhaps even have been studying us for millenia--such a blow may do things to us and our ideas about reality that our laggard theologians so far have simply not prepared us for.

While it is unlikely we will find other intelligent life in our own solar backyard, it is increasingly viewed as almost inevitable that in the next few decades (should we still be around) numerous so called 'goldilock planets' will be discovered in our galactic neigbourhood--that life is likely to be so prolific in the cosmos that we find ourself greatly in need of a reassesment of our hopes and dreams, to say nothing of our primitive nuts and bolts.  It is time such reflections are incorporated in the curriculum we bestow on the new generations.

That effort would have to live up to the name of The New Enlightenment--it cannot just be a rehashing of the old  Enlightenment.  That would in fact be unenlightened.

Brahm is getting antsy--he wants me to help him move a desk somewhere. So I better stop for now. Ciao!