Death Cult of American Individualism – II

Divided States of America: Notes on the Decline of a Great Nation
The article is substantially correct in its analysis.

“America” has always been an idea, not a place. For all their flaws, and the flaws in their implementation of the republic, the founders conceived of an “America” in the very epitome of Enlightenment thinking: “liberty and justice for all.”

You’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere in the modern United States where such thinking gets more than a passing nod in any discussion. The modern United States is dominated by a new conception, “individualism,” which wasn’t even on the conceptual horizon of citizens 250 years ago.

The founders believed that the individual was important as a citizen, as a member of the community, local and national, and the necessity of liberty was that it enabled the individual to best fulfill his obligations thereto. By fulfilling his obligations (aka responsibilities) as a citizen, the individual benefited and the community — all the other individuals — benefited, as well. The modern “individualist” is motivated by a simple ethic: “I’m alright, Jack, fuck you.” Anything which is not immediately to the benefit of the individual is of no consequence; and, indeed, is threatening.

This country was founded with a mixed agrarian and mercantile economy. Capitalism, with its promotion of naked greed, exploitation, and resource stripping, had not yet arrived. Therefore, nothing the founders did, wrote, or said, in any way prepared the new nation for what was coming in the 19th Century. Indeed, I’m of the opinion that a new “America,” promoting “liberty and justice for all” as the grand scheme, could not be founded in a region dominated by capitalism. The founders simply hit the historical sweet spot.

The new cult of individualism, with its contempt for community and shared ethos, now so dominates public policy in the United States that I’m doubtful that we’re any longer capable of avoiding outright totalitarian government.

After I asked him what he meant, he replied that freedom consisted of the unimpeded right to get rich, to use his ability, no matter what the cost to others, to win advancement.
— Norman Thomas

That quote from over 60 years ago sums up the new ethos of “individualism” in America. Capitalism doesn’t depend on the form of government. Capitalism flourishes in China, as it flourished under the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile and the military junta in Argentina. Enough Americans now define themselves purely as cogs in the economic system, and are motivated by personal gain rather than by responsibility as citizens, that inevitably they’ll turn blind eyes to authoritarian actions by the government, as long as those actions don’t interfere with their accumulation of property.

A former coworker recently took to Facebook to express his outrage that the FDA was filing charges in court against a “small businessman” who was labeling and selling a home-made skin cream as a cure for cancer. “Government overreach!” he shrieked. Thus, he was pleased with Trump’s proposal to severely curtail the powers of the FDA by cutting its budget drastically, and reducing its enforcement purview. Welcome to modern “America,” where selling snake oil is good business and “liberty and justice for all” is a line on a tombstone.

End of the Line on My 67th Birthday

Selfie at 67
Selfie at 67

I came into the political multiverse of the ballot box with the election of Richard Nixon, in 1972. I’m going out, it seems, on the election of Donald Trump.

They’re alike in being conscienceless men whose only goal, politically, was achievement of power. They achieved that goal by appealing to the most base of human emotions. Nixon appealed to racial hatred of blacks, and Trump appealed to racial hatred of blacks, the Brown Horde, and Jews. Trump, more particularly, appealed to hatred of women, as well. “Such a nasty woman,” he said, because she wouldn’t acknowledge his male superiority. At another point in the debates, he stalked her around the stage, standing right up next to her, or behind her, trying to intimidate a 5’7″ woman with his 6’3″ bulk.

A majority of voters approved of Hillary Clinton, but a majority of Electoral votes will go to Trump, because his approval margins were spread more widely among the states. Arguments about the EC right now are silly. The damage can’t be undone, and no kind of legislative action can be taken to remedy the situation in the near term. It’s an argument for a time when rationality and decency have been restored.

I will continue to try to be a decent person, and do what is right. “Love God, and keep his commandments.” Take care of my family, and yes, worry about what is going to happen to them. And keep referring back to Amos, when things really seem to be going into the toilet.

Judgment on Israel
Judgment on Israel

Make America Great

Like all men of weak character, he placed great stress on not changing one’s mind. – Somerset Maugham

I make mistakes, I admit them. Sometimes, it’s excruciatingly painful, and I think, “Well, I could just not say anything, and keep going.” It’s bad at work; I think, “If I say something, I might get fired.” Still, I am a strong believer in, “You can fix the blame, or you can fix the problem.” So, I do my best to focus on the problem, and take my lumps.

Sometimes, in meetings, people get bogged down arguing over blame, finger pointing. And I say, “I’ll take the blame, now let’s fix the problem.” (Yes, I really do.)

I had an exchange last night with a guy, who epitomizes in his response to me the perils of admitting a mistake. I made the mistake, according to him, because I was a “failure” and my admitted mistake proved I “lacked the capacity” for nuanced thought. Period. Everything I write is wrong because I admitted I had been wrong in the past.

In my experience and observation, quite a number of people think this way. Once you’ve admitted that you were mistaken in the past, everything you say or do going forward is suspect; you’re not to be trusted.

This thought pattern leads to one of the peculiarities of American political life, the politician’s nearly complete refusal to admit a mistake. Watching some of these characters, and their surrogates, walk ten miles around a subject to avoid admitting a mistake, one can’t help but think — “Damn, just say you were wrong and get on with it!”

But, this atrocious and irritating behavior has a sound psychological basis. Because, once admitted, a mistake becomes a permanent attribute of the politician’s career. The admission of error is considered a weakness, proof of unreliability, and exploited as such. In America, politicians are not credited with approval for having admitted a mistake. They’re condemned for being “unreliable.” Admission of error is actually more contemptible than error itself.

I have a handful of passages from the Bible that deeply influence my thinking. One of them is the story of Peter, who “denied the Lord three times before the cock crowed.” Surrounded by Roman soldiers and unsympathetic Jews, Peter denied that he was one of Jesus’ disciples. Not once, not twice, but three times he was accosted and three times, he denied it. Should we believe that we are more than the rock upon which the church is founded?

America is not a landscape, nor a government, but an idea, and each of us represents a part of that idea. The way to “Make America Great” is to remember that we are all Peter — yes, even the politicians and bureaucrats.

The Reality-Based Universe

 

I strongly believe that Hillary is the most qualified candidate for president.

– Peter Edelman, December 2015

What you won’t find in the catalog of complaints about Hillary Clinton’s supposed dishonesty is any such litany from people who have worked with her or for her. Peter Edelman, who has known Hillary since her collegiate days, quit the Clinton administration in outrage over the “welfare reform” bill. He doesn’t call her dishonest, nor in any way question her morals.

Nor does Theresa Loar, formerly Senior Coordinator for International Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State (1996-2001). “I honestly think Hillary Clinton wakes up every day thinking about how to improve the lives of women and girls. And I don’t know another world leader who is doing that,” she told Newsweek in 2011.

Many people who have worked with her have objected strongly to some of her policy beliefs and decisions, including Edelman and his wife, Marian. They’ve blistered her publicly for some of her decisions and statements. They have not, however, questioned her character.

During her term at State, she built an infrastructure to make women’s rights and children’s rights core elements of American foreign policy. This infrastructure implemented what became known as The Hillary Doctrine — “The subjugation of women is a threat to the common security of our world and to the national security of our country.

Every trip Clinton made as Sec’y of State included in its itinerary an excursion out of the diplomatic bubble. She visited women’s shelters, orphanages, opposition newspapers or radio/TV stations. During the unrest in Egypt, she made an unannounced entry into a discussion forum at a popular Egyptian news site, and answered questions from all comers. Over three days, more than 6,000 Egyptians asked questions in the forum, eager to get a response from the American Sec’y of State. In Cambodia, she visited a shelter for victims of sex trafficking. The woman operating that shelter credited Clinton with getting the Cambodian government to take the trafficking seriously, saying Hillary Clinton “…by her work has saved many lives” of victims in Cambodia.

Those are facts. Facts. You can look them up. You can ask, “What do people who have worked with her, think of her?” You can look at the facts of her career. Or, you can continue in your ideological bubbles, fantasizing that one day a Clinton email will turn up in the Kremlin, so you can smugly declare, “I told you so.”

Hillary Clinton Gets My Vote, Part II

A collection of quotes by and about Clinton. A kind of summation of what most people don’t know about her career. Her first job out of law school was at the Children’s Defense Fund, and her career from there on has been focused on and motivated by helping women and children.

The subjugation of women is a threat to the common security of our world and to the national security of our country.

The Hillary Doctrine

I honestly think Hillary Clinton wakes up every day thinking about how to improve the lives of women and girls. And I don’t know another world leader who is doing that.

— Theresa Loar, 2011, The Hillary Doctrine

If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all. As long as discrimination and inequities remain so commonplace everywhere in the world, as long as girls and women are valued less, fed less, fed last, overworked, underpaid, not schooled, subjected to violence in and outside their homes—the potential of the human family to create a peaceful, prosperous world will not be realized.

— Hillary Clinton, 1995, Beijing

Investing in the potential of women and girls is the smartest investment we can make. It is connected to every problem on anyone’s mind around the world today … There are people who say, well, women’s issues is an important issue, but it doesn’t rank up there with the Middle East or Iran’s nuclear threat or Afghanistan or Pakistan. I could not disagree more. I think women are key to our being able to resolve all of those difficult conflicts, as well as provide for a better future.

— Hillary Clinton, 2010

One thing I would urge, if you do get a chance, is to visit a shelter, a site where trafficking victims have been rescued and are being rehabilitated. I recently was in Cambodia, and it is just so overwhelmingly heartbreaking and inspiring to see these young girls. One girl lost her eyes—to punish her, the owner of the brothel had stabbed her in the eye with a nail. She was the most optimistic, cheerful young woman, just a tremendous spirit. What she wants to do when she grows up is help other victims of trafficking, so there is just an enormous amount of work to be done.

— Hillary Clinton, 2011, State Department meeting

Excerpts from The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy, by Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl.

In a speech at the 2012 Women in the World Summit, the actress Meryl Streep recalled her own experiences: “And all weekend long, women from all over the world said the same thing: I’m alive because she [Hillary Clinton] came to my village, put her arm around me, and had a photograph taken together. I’m alive because she went on our local TV and talked about my work, and now they’re afraid to kill me. I’m alive because she came to my country and she talked to our leaders, because I heard her speak, because I read about her.” p. 82

Somaly Man, who established one of the most effective shelters for trafficked women in Cambodia despite backstory issues, told of how her government only began respecting the work of her shelter after a visit by Clinton: “She protects our lives … Our people never paid attention. Hillary has opened their eyes, so now they have no choice; by her work she has saved many lives in Cambodia — our government is changing. p.83

We used extensively [Hillary Clinton’s] speeches and articles to … influence our own government. p. 80 (Lena Ag, of the Swedish feminist advocacy group Kvinna till Kvinna)

 

Excel Tricks

Courtesy of Dennis Taylor at lynda.com.

I need an intervention, to stop me from watching “fun with Excel” videos in the evening, when normal people are watching murder/sex and crime TV shows.


  • Have a column of items which are the same, and need to have some modification of contents? Say, a department ID number, and you have 100 people listed in that department. You would like to add hyphens to it. So, 123456 becomes 123-456. Select the items to be changed. F2 to edit the active cell. Make your change. Now, instead of pressing ENTER to save your change, press CTRL+ENTER. Your change will be propagated down the entire selection.

Caveat: remember that this change is propagating the entire contents of the changed cell, so all the selected items are being overwritten by the contents of the active cell.

  • Have some cells in which you have made some calculations, but for which you only need the values? Indeed, in many cases a thoughtless copy/paste gives unexpected results, because you get the formula instead of the value. If the formulas are no longer needed, here’s how to get rid of them. Select the cells. Hover the mouse cursor over an edge of the selection, so that the four-headed “move” arrow displays. Right click and drag the selection to another location, and then without releasing the mouse button drag the selection back to its original place. Release the mouse button. A context menu appears, one item of which is Paste values only. Select that item, and the values overwrite the formulas.
  • Have some codes or product identifiers that have leading zeroes? Then you know how Excel thoughtfully strips leading zeroes. To pad numbers with leading zeroes to a specific length, use the TEXT formula. To pad to six digits, =TEXT(A2,”000000″) (six zeroes) will turn number 12345 in cell A2 into text string 012345.

Pro Tip: to repeat a formula down the column, hover the mouse cursor over the lower right corner of the cell, until the cursor changes to the cross, and double click. The cell will be repeated as far down as the data in the adjacent left column.

The Religion Card

Among the zillions of people who irritate me, those who play the “religion card” are near the top of the list. Whenever violent behavior comes up — e.g., in the aftermath of the slaughter in Orlando, the claim is made and remade that religion is the root of most of the violence of

  • the human race
  • modern times

They believe (or claim to believe) that human beings would stop being violent, and stop killing each other in massive numbers, if religion were somehow stamped out. I find it hard to credit these people with significant intelligence.

I was reading about ancient Carthage, and branched out to consider the history of the Roman civilization, both Republic and Empire, which lasted roughly 800 years.

One reason often advanced for the longevity of the Roman civilization is that the Romans didn’t care a whit about the religion of the vanquished. As long as taxes were paid, and civil order maintained, the conquered country could do pretty much as it pleased, including worship. That may be, but the Romans were far from pacific overlords.

Looking just at the major wars of the Roman conquests, the Romans killed around 6.3 million people in those wars. If you run out the numbers, the Roman armies killed, on average, more than 10,000 people a year to maintain their imperial control for the purely rational purposes of tribute and resources. And that number includes only the deaths from major wars: not from the dozens of “brush fire” rebellions, in which whole villages might be razed, and inhabitants slaughtered.

The siege of Carthage is famous, of course. The Roman army besieged the city for two years; breached the outer wall, and for several days fought house to house against the remaining inhabitants. In the end, a total of 350,000 Carthaginians were dead from fighting, disease, and starvation. The remaining 50,000 were sold into slavery. The interior of the city was burned, and the walls pulled down.

And not a whisper of religious motivation. Carthage and Roman were are war over money. Carthage had it, and wouldn’t give it to Rome.

The moral lesson should be obvious. Gold, glory, and power have always been the driving force behind the most brutal civilizations, from Sennacherib to Stalin. Religiously motivated “warriors of God,” past and present, can’t hold a candle before the blinding lamp of nationalism, resources, and political control. Less naive people understand that religious justification can be a convenient social cloak for dastardly deeds, but its absence in no way impedes the death march.  They don’t play the religion card. They may irritate me in other ways, though.