Monday, December 20, 2010

"c"onspiracy vs. "C"onspiracy in american history..,

MorrisBerman | American history can be seen as the story of a nation consistently choosing individual solutions over collective ones. One American who did dissent, however, was Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. In Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions he wrote: “The philosophy of self-sufficiency is not paying off. Plainly enough, it is a bone-crushing juggernaut whose final achievement is ruin.”

And “ruin” is the operative word here. While there is certainly an upside to these four isms–the sunny side of technological innovation and the Yankee “can-do” mentality, for example–in the long run these unconscious mythologies, in dialectical fashion, began to turn against those caught up in their magic spell. It surely cannot be an accident that 25% of all the world’s prisoners are incarcerated in American jails (1% of the entire US adult population); that two-thirds of the world’s consumption of antidepressants occurs in the United States; that 24% of the American population say that it’s OK to use violence in the pursuit of one’s goals, 44% support the torture of alleged or suspected terrorists, and 39% want Muslims in the US to be required to carry a religious ID on them at all times (why not just make it a yellow star, and be done with it?); that the country has the greatest percentage of single-person dwellings in the world, the highest homicide rate, the largest military budget (by several orders of magnitude), and the greatest number of square feet of shopping malls on the surface of the planet. The data on ignorance, which I have documented elsewhere, are breathtaking, and Robert Putnam’s description (in Bowling Alone) of the collapse of community, trust, and friendship is one of the saddest things I have ever read. Dialectically, and ironically, American “success” became American ruin; the crash of October 2008 was merely the tip of the iceberg.

The power of isms, certainly in the American case, derives from the fact that they are unconscious, embedded deep in the psyche. They constitute Conspiracies in that those who hold them are like marionettes on strings, screaming “Obama!” (for example) without realizing that the new president can no more buck the elites running the country than he can dismantle the mythologies that drive its citizens–himself included. As for the individual, so for the nation: the only hope is to see ourselves as we are seen, from the outside, as it were. And therein lies the paradox. For the four Conspiracies close in on themselves, forming a kind of mirror-lined glass sphere that does not permit any dissonant information to enter. Sandel, Mills, Rothkopf, Bellah, Mead, Leach, Appleby, Putnam–America’s finest, really–will never become household words, and if they did, it would probably be as objects of contempt. For this is finally the most terrifying thing about isms or Conspiracies: we do not choose them; rather, it is they that choose us.