The “Two Americas”: Further Reflections

Last month’s lengthy post received some worthy feedback. I’d discussed the clash of two cultures in America (and elsewhere, but America was my focus). They both claim legitimacy for themselves but deny it to the other.  There is a distinct power-asymmetry, as the “blue” culture of the cities, the corporations (especially the banks), the centralized federal government, etc., has far more of it than the “red” culture outside the cities and suburbs. My suggestion was that these two cultures are not just incompatible but incommensurable, and that they cannot exist indefinitely under a single governing structure without eventually pulling that structure apart. Hence we need to begin thinking about the forces and factors that will eventually partition and dismantle the U.S. Empire, with an eye to its happening as peacefully as possible; although in a lot of cases it is clear, peaceful separation won’t happen, as no one obsessed with power gives it up willingly.

A friend of mine posted a lengthy response on Facebook. I invited him to copy and paste it here, but he never did. I’m not assuming he wants to be identified over here, so I’ll respect his privacy by not doing so. His response still seems to me worth discussing, a month later:

… [w]hat about those of us who seem to be crossovers, or some fractional combination thereof, of your diametrically opposed Blue and Red people?

We get left out of the equation, most of the time. We drink whatever tastes best to us, our drug of choice is reality after having decided to give up drugs entirely years ago in order to raise families, we have degrees as well as work with our hands, we embrace diversity, we fight racism, sexism, and whatever the hell you call fear of LGBT and poly people. We are legion, we are neither blue nor red, but we blend the best virtues of both while rejecting utterly the hate one may have for the other. And we are ignored, largely, by both blue and red as outcasts, lepers, unclean because we have no hate to bring to the table.

The first thing worth noting: dichotomous thinking is a philosopher’s occupational hazard. The history of the discipline is full of dichotomies, and any good dissection of them and of their dangers would require a separate post that would probably be longer than anything I’ve done so far! And so no, it wasn’t my intention to imply an absolute dichotomy between “red” and “blue” cultures, or that there aren’t people who mix and meld aspects of each according to their own judgment, tastes, proclivities, and so on. There are, of course, people who live in cities and embrace its values who work well with their hands; and people who enjoy small town life who reject what they see as unconscionable intolerance. They are embracing aspects of both cultures, that is. There are large swaths of the American population that fit my original description, especially those associated with universities and large mass media corporations, but there are also people who don’t fit completely into either camp.

I probably don’t, either, when you get right down to it.

I tend to identify with the ideals of independence and self-reliance championed by those in the “red” culture, but to me this doesn’t warrant whatever “hatred” they may bear for those in the “blue” culture. I certainly don’t want homosexuals persecuted or beaten up, as some in the “red” culture might well do. And when some deranged soul like Dylann Roof walks into a black church and murders nine innocent people, we are as horrified as anybody! Those in the “blue” culture surely mean well in rejecting discrimination, intolerance, hatred; and likewise; but this doesn’t translate into an endorsement of their implicit belief that they know what is best for those in the “red” culture in any general way. One of the features of the  “reds,” after all, is weariness at being told what to think and what to do.

But too many of them would describe me as “too intellectual” or simply “too educated” (or maybe “overeducated” or just “too longwinded” for them). Many of the “blue” people would reject my thinking as too unconstrained for them, as I have no problem entertaining and sometimes experimenting with (without actually endorsing) ideas they reject out of hand, in some cases as horrifying. Their professors would describe my approach to the world of ideas as undisciplined and irresponsible; I would answer that it reflects healthy pluralism and an awareness that I at least am aware, I don’t have all the answers. But like a curmudgeon, I don’t mind barbecuing an occasional sacred cow!

Finally, I certainly did not mean to imply that all or even most members of either culture have a “drink of choice” or a “drug of choice.” Again, there are enough members of each to make the idea meaningful, but there are also plenty of others who, as this gentleman put it, “decided to give up drugs entirely years ago in order to raise families …” which, I happen to know in his case, he has done so with great success, and in my response to his post I told him so.

He’d continued:

Politics embraces hate for whatever other the red or blue sees in their fantasy opponents. The world is neither red or blue, black and white value judgements strictly enforced by whatever temporal power that happens to have control from moment to moment. The world is infinite shades of whatever elitist color wheel the political hacks deem most useful to obtain power. And we are not amused by the antics of global power elites, or racist elites, or any pseudo-populist elites who wish to decide what is best for us “cattle.”

In many respects, politics is a Grand Illusion. Iconoclastic libertarian psychologist Thomas Szasz distinguished between work which “pushes matter around” and politics which “pushes people around.” Sin comes in many manifestations, which affect the sinner differently: some, as I’ve noted in multiple places, are obsessed with power and drawn to it. They sometimes use ideas to rationalize what they want to do; sometimes just symbols such as waving a flag or other symbol.

Although I’m not a theoretical anarchist, I understand why some philosophers are. The theoretical anarchist believes there is no rational or moral justification for a special institution to be invested with a monopoly on the exercise of force: the state. The theoretical anarchist believes governance — order (social, economic, etc.) — can be had without any such institution. If he’s erred, it’s in looking for some universal justification for the state which numerous philosophers claim to have found: some obvious statists such as Plato or Hobbes but others well within the proto-libertarian pantheon of thinkers such as John Locke or John Stuart Mill, finding that such absolutist views fall short, and condemning the whole project. For better or for worse, in practice as opposed to theory, states tend to have the legitimacy we give them.

Even so, there may be reasons for not giving them or their appendages any legitimacy! Our remote ancestors made a horrendous discovery we have been paying for ever since. As toolmakers able to use an ever-widening variety of tools to build agrarian communities, they discovered they could do more than use tools to move matter around. They could turn people into tools to be used:

They could invent institutions devoted to turning people into tools: educational, corporate, and so on. That way lies the development of the corporate state, which merges corporate power derived from an obsession with obtaining wealth as an end in itself into the state derived from an obsession with power as an end itself. And as twentieth century political philosopher Leopold Kohr observed, the larger such orders get, the more they tend to turn to bullying to accomplish their goals. The more they can assume their victims have no means of organizing and retaliating, the more abusive they get.

But in fact, no abusive state has ever ruled easily, and nor do their heirs. Populations do have breaking points, as King Louis XIV of France learned the hard way. Our gentleman’s post ends ominously:

Do whatever you wish. Boost the economy, or ruin it for your own mere score-keeping dominance games. We find your power games boring. You elitists have lost track of the larger vision, the proverbial Big Picture. Once you have “ultimate power,” what will WE allow you to do with it? Best case scenario for you? We, the people, ignore your existence and your power-mad bloviating. Worst case scenario for you? Study the French Revolution, then multiply that by 300 million pissed off “cattle” who can reach out and touch you from miles away. You want to rule? Uneasy rests the head which wears a crown. And if you kill us, just whom would you have to lord it over during your rule? Think carefully. Choose wisely. A cash cow can be milked for it’s entire lifetime, but if it is butchered for meat? It provides only a limited number of steak dinners before the meat is forever gone.

I have elsewhere written about rising global technofeudalism as the most plausible name for the system of political economy the globally-minded elite that has greatly (and deleteriously) influenced the “blue” culture is working to advance. I note, in that place, that like any form of empire, technofeudalism would have a distinct life span. It would be vulnerable to all the weaknesses of its creators and maintainers (and their over-indulged offspring). Their corruption could bring it down from within, as factions unavoidably begin to appear and start quarreling amongst themselves. Or the system’s downfall could be its rulers’ inability to respond effectively as a natural disaster destabilizes some region. Or, finally, the sense of massive inequity between rulers and ruled over could simply undermine the willfulness of the latter to continue producing for it. If they find their own leaders, which they will invariably do even under conditions of surveillance, and their situation is made clear to them, that is when the pitchforks will come out. Only in the future, they may take the form, e.g., of hackers able to compromise and torpedo telecommunications systems from great distances away.

Some believe this last is what happened to the Democrats prior to this past election. While I won’t go into my reasons here for thinking the Russians weren’t involved, it is clear that this mindset has enemies able to subvert from within, which saw the Clinton campaign as worth subverting. Clinton drew her main support from the “blue” culture. But Trump, whose main visible support came from the “red” camp, has hardly proven himself to be free of elite influence. His proposed cabinet is filled with former Goldman Sachs employees. Goldman Sachs is as “blue” as “blue” gets! A pseudo-populist? We’ll have to wait and see, although to prove he’s the real deal, here is a good list of goals Trump will need to begin pursuing during 2017 to prove it. Otherwise he’ll be the one to deal with the  “300 million pissed off ‘cattle’ …”

About Steven Yates

I have a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Georgia and teach Critical Thinking (mostly in English) at Universidad Nacionale Andrés Bello in Santiago, Chile. I moved here in 2012 from South Carolina. My most recent book is entitled Four Cardinal Errors: Reasons for the Decline of the American Republic (2011). I am the author of an earlier book, around two dozen articles & reviews, & still more articles on commentary sites on the Web. I live in Santiago with my wife Gisela & two spoiled cats, Bo & Princesa.
This entry was posted in Culture, Election 2016 and Aftermath, Political Economy, Political Philosophy, Where is Civilization Going? and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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