Thursday, October 22, 2009

One Party Rule

I recently had dinner with some thoughtful friends. Many expressed disappointment in the Obama administration. Most of us agreed that we hoped for more change. Many of the failed policies of the Bush administration are continuing. We came to the conclusion that the two parties are, sadly, run by corporatists, and the country has become a plutocracy.

Consider the following statements: “The old parties are not only dying but they deserve to die. [Democrats] resemblance to the Republican party is more than superficial. In the ranks of both the Republican and Democratic parties may be found the millionaires, those speculators and middlemen, who, in the years since the war, have made themselves not only rich but hated. To men of this stamp, principle is little, profit much. In other words, their interests are so permeated by the poison of our time that they must unite.”

Or still: “We believe that the money of the country should be kept as much as possible in the hands of the people. The land, including all the natural resources of wealth, is the heritage of the people, and should not be monopolized for speculative purposes. We have witnessed for more than a quarter of a century the struggles of the two great political parties for power and plunder, while grievous wrongs have been inflicted upon a suffering people.”

Were those statements written by my friends yesterday evening, expressing disappointment at the current state of politics? No. Those writings denouncing the current two party system were written in 1892 by my great-grandfather. He established a People’s Party newspaper in southeast Nebraska. In 1892, the country was entering a deep depression. People were disgusted with the Democrats as well as the Republicans. General Weaver, the Populist party candidate, carried five states. He was the only third party candidate in American history to do that. Eventually the Populist party fizzled, and its members joined with either the DFL (the alliance of Democrats, Farmers, and Labor), or in the case of my great-grandfather, the Socialists.

Today, over one hundred years later, are the two parties still the same? Yes and no. The Democrats say the right things, but usually fail to deliver. The Democrats have been largely bought and paid for, just as the Republicans are. President Obama raised more money than any candidate ever: in America, the one who raises the most money wins. Always. America is a plutocracy, a corporate run entity. The first settlement, Jamestown, was founded largely by the East India Tea Company. It’s our history and our legacy.

That said, there are differences between Dems and Republicans. If Gore had been allowed to win, there would have been no Iraq War. There may not have even been a September 11. The world would have made progress on global warming. The Bush administration has been the most corrupt presidency since Grant. From Abramoff to Delay, the Bush Republicans are in jail or headed there.

I could end this with an exhortation for Dems to take back their party. I could encourage us to join the Greens. The more things change, the more they stay the same. What was true in 1892 is still true. It’s discouraging. But you know all this. And chances are, you know what you can do, and are doing it. The struggle goes on for you, for me, for all of us.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

In Praise of Doubt

In a recent article in the Nation magazine, Marielle Lindstrom, former coordinator for USAID, said this of a Christian Fundamentalist/Evangelical organization: “I’d much rather say that God tells me to do this [work]. It would be easier…” Lindstrom went on to express concern that “there’s no self-doubt.” We had eight years of a president who was confident God was giving him personal instruction. It was a disaster. Doubt, self-doubt, it seems to me, is undervalued in certain circles.

Freud, who is himself undervalued today, makes a simple distinction between neurosis and psychosis. According to one reading of his work, the goal of therapy is to help people come to terms with neurosis. Analysis rarely helps the psychotic. A neurotic can recognize inconsistencies in thought: a psychotic can’t see inconsistency. As a proud neurotic, I have many dark moments when I see the problems in my politics and world view. For instance, I am a theoretical vegetarian who wears a leather jacket. That’s inconsistent, and I know it. I believe in tolerance for all beliefs, but I am intolerant of people I consider closed-minded. If there is an afterlife, I am a universalist, but I believe that certain people, Hitler, Stalin, Bush, deserve to go to hell. I am inconsistent. I have trouble making up my mind, and this leads to paralysis of action.

Freud’s first case study was of a doctor he would later label “psychotic.” Dr. Schreiber believed he was gradually turning into a woman, and would give birth to the Messiah. Dr. Schreiber was a respected physician, who worked until very late in his illness. When the doctor looked in a mirror, he didn’t see a middle-aged man, but someone whose features were becoming ever more feminine. He believed he had been impregnated by the sun, and was with child. When I first read this case study, I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Dr. Schreiber could not be talked out of his convictions. Everything he saw confirmed his belief. He eventually had to be hospitalized.

Doing research on America’s three hundred years of miscegenation laws, I was struck by the psychosis of this country’s racism. The term “mulatto” comes from the word “mule.” It was believed that offspring of an interracial couple could not procreate. This was used to buttress laws forbidding interracial marriage. Now, I can sort of understand “scientists” who believed that the earth was flat, and doctors who denied the germ theory of disease. These beliefs, while wrong, aren’t contradicted by the observation of the naked eye. Children of interracial couples certainly can reproduce; otherwise Jim Crows wouldn’t have become ever more hateful, and there would have been no Plessy vs. Ferguson. (In the 1890’s, the Supreme Court ruled that someone with 1/8 African blood could be legally discriminated against.) If those who signed miscegenation laws, using the reproductive argument, really believed children of interracial couples could not reproduce, no one could have had one great-grandparent who was black. Japanese-Americans with 1/16 Japanese blood wouldn’t have been interned. Hence, racism is psychotic, because reason and observation could not dissuade these genius legal minds.

What would it be like not to doubt? There are some, apparently, who never do. Freud had no problem labeling these religious zealots “psychotic.” If you turn on the a.m. radio, you will hear preachers who yell at you not to question. In other words, don’t be human, don’t use your mind, don’t trust your instincts. Aspire to psychosis. I hope to come to the place in my own life when I can accept the inconsistencies in my religious and political beliefs.

I believe that humans are perhaps graduating towards a better place. In spite of poverty, hunger, and illness, I believe society can work for the common good. I believe in a transcendent goodness I call “God” for lack of a better term. I am hopeful for the future of the planet and the human race. I might well be wrong.