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The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Question For You

The Logistician , The View From My Tiny Window, has provided me with an interesting proposition. Basically, turn this blog over to the readers for a day. of course, he assumes I have more than a couple of readers and that these poor, misguided, souls will want to opine on some subject.

I am then left with providing a topic, or range of topics, to titillate your imaginations and induce you to put fingers to keyboard. That's a difficult task. After all, I have enough trouble finding something I want to write about. Still, as I have written in the past, I am very much interested in your opinions and learn from them. So, perhaps I will try.

There is one topic that is near and dear to my heart. It is quasi-political so I have avoided it. I will suspend my ban on politics for the day in order to explore it.

I am no youngster. Over the years I have seen changes in this country that have pleased and horrified me. From the Norman Rockwell America of the 50s and early 60s, through the turbulent protest and cultural wars of the mid 60s and early 70s. The Carter years, The Reagan years, the Clinton years, and the Bush years. The thing that bothers me most is the splintering of America. Over those decades, we have been breaking down into groups. And these groups have grown more and more hostile toward each other.

So, here's my question to you:

Are we disintegrating as a nation?

Bonus question:

If so, what can you, or I, do to help patch it up?

29 comments:

The Logistician said...

Great question Douglas. You rose to the challenge. It is also consistent with the musings of a boomer, since our generation challenged so much. Will get back to you with my response later. Thanks.

Niamh B said...

I guess it depends what you mean by disintegrating? And maybe the question should spread beyond ye're nation. The whole world has its problems - alot of them seem to be based on confidence, was just wondering today, is confidence a form of stupidity? and if so, is the world's lack of confidence at the moment, just a sign that it's waking up and getting smarter? Something is definitely disintegrating - not sure whether it's just the illusion we all had that things were better/ worth more than they actually are or if things are really deteriorating. I seem to have asked more questions there than I answered. Ooops.

On the bonus question - you can keep asking questions - provoking thought,

Argentum Vulgaris said...

Douglas & Log...

As a fish looking into the aquarium...

I say "yes" to the question you mooted and reply to the bonus... you have done as much as you can in the interim - opted for changes that Obama seems bent on making. There seems little that the individual American can do, but collectively by the vote you are on the way.

Douglas, you have often vilified my criticisms of the US, and yet you recognise some of these shortcomings yourself, hence the question. I have in past postings supported the election of Obama as the instrument by which America will recover, not only, as a nation, but it's international reputation. All this has already been said in past posts.

I am not an Americanophobe, I don't need to be, America does a fine job on her own... OR should I say has in the past. I am hopeful for you, sincerely.

AV

Steven said...

Guess I'm not old enough to have an opinion.

I do think that out of all our problems, I don't think a lack of homogeneity is an issue.

I'm not going to get worked up into a screed about anything...

The Logistician said...

Ah hah. Steven focused on something immediately when he brought up the issue of homogeneity. When I first read the post, I did something which I try to avoid doing. I subconsciously replaced the word "deteriorate" in place and stead of the word "disintegrate." I did that without thinking because so many today complain about how things have changed to suggest that conditions now are worse than during earlier times. It is arguably a subjective / qualitative evaluation, and depends on what one values and considers important and to be "proper" behavior and conduct.

As I was driving home, I was all prepared to talk about the perceived "deterioration" in society, and that's not what you asked.

Per Webster's, "disintegration" is defined as: "the separation into parts or fragments; the loss of wholeness; disuniting." With that definition, I'm not sure whether I can respond to the inquiry.

As you are aware, I have read Arthur Schlesinger's "The Disuniting of America" and reference it frequently. [http://books.google.com/books?id=8zqPoZG2UYUC&printsec=frontcover&dq=%22the+disuniting+of+america%22&ei=RQ6CSdbwIJ-4lATm05nsBg].

I'm not sure where to go now since disintegration does not have a subjective component attached to it in my mind. It's just "different" and whether that is a good or bad thing depends on your circumstances and whether it works for or against you.

Since Steven used the word homogeneity, it reinforced in my mind that fact that the word "disintegration" can be viewed neutrally, and value free.

Douglas said...

Log - I was (as you suggested) not going to respond to these comments but let the responders discuss freely. But you bring up something that I see I might need to clarify. Disintegration is an important factor, I think, in talking about change in society. And I think that disintegration may be seen as bad or good depending on one's POV. I would like someone to defend it as well as to argue against it, I suppose. My own position is that it leads to deterioration by encouraging a sort of "tribalism". Thought of another way, we define ourselves in multiple identities. With disintegration, the order of those identities get jumbled.

Argentum Vulgaris said...

Douglas, your mention of tribalism, reminds me of a very insightful book that I read around the 70s, The Naked Ape, Desmond Morris. The fact that stuck in my mind most was that man is a tribal animal, and we have outgrown the limits of our "tribe", hence the disintergration of the tribal fabric.

I not also Log's observance of disintergrate as being neutral... Hmmm

AV
http://netherregionoftheearthii.blogspot.com/
http://tomusarcanum.blogspot.com/
http://thingsthatfizz.blogspot.com/

Argentum Vulgaris said...

not = note, but then intelligent people would have realised that...

AV

Douglas said...

To All - Your comments are educational. I see different views on what the question means and that is very good.

Jonathan Bert said...

Douglas, America is coming together as never before. Of all of the problems we face, disintegration is not one of them. Things are still bad, there are still people promoting racial and/or class warfare, but nothing like it once was. The 60's were much worse; racial riots, war protests, drug wars, etc. Remember the Generation Gap? Economic downturns tend to create hate groups, so hopefully things turn around before people start getting shot over it.

The Logistician said...

Hmm. Now this is getting interesting. I'll hold off on further comment until some others have weighed in. Right now, as with most changes in life, I can think of both good and bad ramifications.

Douglas said...

I'd like to leave this going another day... We shall see.

Niamh - I am using the literal definition of the word, not the connotation. Something separating, splitting up into parts. And, you are right, it is happening all over the world. I suppose it is the natural order of things. Group up, move along, separate, re-group into something else, etc.

AV - I don't see you as an Americanophobe. I see you as someone who sometimes allows his emotion to influence his judgment. We in the States have an active faction, mostly disorganized, who have no trouble spreading anything bad that can be dreamed up. We make enough goofs and flubs and do enough bad things without having to have false stories make the rounds. So I tend to factcheck. I will be your conscience.

Douglas said...

Steven - You have a good brain, age has little to do with this. My experience just goes back further.

AV - I also read "The Naked Ape" (back in 1970). I agreed with Morris on many things. Though I would call us more of a "herd animal", I doubt there's a significant difference.

Log - Cultures are formed, historically, along ethnic lines. The US started that way but, through circumstance, tried a different tack. We shed ethnicity (to a degree, Euro ancestry was still important) to focus on, and include, the individual as part of the New culture. We still divided, from time to time, into states, into regions, and that sometimes resulted in violence (see the Civil War) but the central focus was a race that was not A race, not a single ethnicity, not a single tribe. the prior inhabitants of this land didn't do that. If they had, we of Euro descent wouldn't have been able to take the portion of the continent we did. Though we failed miserably to live up to the ideals we claimed, we do keep trying. But I see a constant battle with forces who would divide us along any lines that might work.

Douglas said...

Jonathan - I hope you are right but I suspect, being the cynic that I am, that there's a bit of Madison Ave involved in this cohesion. Does bi-partisonship mean going along with the majority party? Or is it combining methods and ideas from each? We shall see. I was in my early 20s during those turbulent counter-culture, hippie-dippie, protest years and really thought we might be on the verge of a revolution of some kind. I was wrong then. And glad to be. And you are right, it is nothing like that now. But maybe it's just more sophisticated.

The Logistician said...

I come at this a bit differently. I have a tendency to look at human behavior from a minimum 5,000 years back to 13,000 years. I agree with an earlier comment to the effect that societies in different regions of the world go back and forth from solidarity to disintegration and back. Depends on the circumstances.

If times are tense and chaotic, if basic human needs are not addressed, then people are hard wired to act like animals for survival purposes. If the basic human needs are reasonably addressed, then our larger brain suggests that we do something in a collaborative manner.

There is, in my opinion, another force in operation. The greater the quality of life for a people (and thus the less concerned they are about survival), the more likely that they are to dissect and evaluate the seemingly less significant aspects of life. If we suddenly had to go to war, for example, following another terrorist attack, and revived the draft, we'd see a decrease in the divisions amongst our citizens.

Arguably depends on the circumstances. Back and forth, back and forth. In Schlesinger's book, he speaks of the lack or presence of a concept or event around which people can collectively rally. The first Bush president enjoyed something like an 82% approval rating during the first Gulf War. We generally need big reasons to come together.

The Jules said...

I think humans are naturally xenophobic, as it's a beneficial survival strategy to distrust people you don't know, whether it be different cultures, countries, races, the other side of town or even that dodgy half of the family. It's harder to unite, especialy if you haven't got anyone to unite against! I think it's important to overcome my prejudices (not pretend they don't exist) to be as 'good' a human as I possibly can.

We make take the piss out of your oddly white teeth and consumer-based society, but the US is an impressive country to us on the other side of the pond, like 50 odd little countries all getting on quite well.

Keep it up.

Douglas said...

Log - I thought for a moment that you were making contradictory statements. Then I realized that you weren't. That you were only changing the "nature of the threat". A society disintegrates when significant portions feel left out (needs not being addressed). But not individually, in groups. So a society fragments into associative groupings ("have nots" which may, or may not, ally with other groupings to attack the core (always seen as the "haves"). In modern societies, the governing body. Because, after all, no society is truly homogeneous but made up of factions, ethnic groups, ideologically like-minded groups, and much smaller splinter groups. The art of governing is keeping all these diverse groups happy enough with the status quo and (probably) hopeful for advancement within the hierarchy.
It is a delicate balancing act because you do not want any one group (other than your own) to gain too much power. Yet, you cannot simply suppress them.

There are any number of theories about how governments should be run, what form they should take, who should rule and why. I think they are attempts to answer the problems I outlined above.

There is another factor involved, I think. That is that a group may decide, justified or not, that it deserves more power (or all power). If it can convince other groups that their needs are not being addressed sufficiently, it can create sufficient unrest to cause a change to be seen as desirable. Democratic societies handle this through elections, for the most part. And all elections are about "us vs them" if you think about it.

Changes of power are, in general, good for a nation. They change the direction, the focus, of a society. The danger is, however, that they can result in unintended consequences. A primary modern example would be the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Not all change is good.

I think I have rambled on far too long.

Douglas said...

Jules - I rambled while you snuck in and summed it up quite well. I like that perspective (probably because I agree with it so much).

The Logistician said...

Forgot the bonus question: what can be do to patch it up. I'm very conflicted here. I do not want to see people behave like animals merely trying to survive. Consequently, in my humble view, it has always made sense that conditions be "created" in society to ensure that everyone has food, clothing, and shelter. However, I am well aware that not everyone will hustle to the same extent to ensure that they have those things. I worked in my business, of which I was an owner, probably 80-90 hours a week. It was difficult to find employees who would work to the same extent. They were not "sufficiently motivated" to do so.

Everyone in the universe has different levels of ambition, different priorities, and different goals. I'd be all for dividing the country into segments, designating each segment as being composed of certain groups of people with similar goals and motivations, and perhaps allow a period of 100 years for people to gradually transition to the region that most closely approaches their value system.

Now, I'm being facetious here for a reason. However, it is not that far removed in reality.

There has been talk for some time within conservative evangelical circles for their adherents to use South Carolina as their "target state," with a goal of having fellow like-minded citizens relocate there and raise their families, and establish a kingdom of similarly situated individuals. Maybe it is not that far-fetched.

Douglas said...

Log - I am afraid you have reacted more to, and read more into, the word "disintegration" than I intended anyone to do. A society is made up of more than individuals, it is a coalition of groups. A disintegration of a society can, and I intended it to, mean only that the coalition breaks down. A splintering of the common identity (the nation).

Plato had similar ideas as yours. So have countless other philosophers. How to govern man? How to form a near perfect society?
My take would be that, first, we redefine "perfect". Second, that we allow it to evolve through education about ways that didn't work.

Your mention of the evangelicals reminds me of the birth of Utah.
And William Penn. And the early settlers in New England.

Neo said...

reading what I have (not all comments) I would tend to agree with jonathan, with one exception: for change to take place there must be disintegration of what is so it can be replaced
if you study history you will see this happens on a constant and continuing basis, 'out with the old, in with the new' disintegration of old

Michael said...

I read everything said so far and you people are going to be the writers I refer to, much in the same way as you refer to books. They're educational for me particularly as I'm rather naive. I appreciate adults that teach me something, it's a nice change...

What Niamh B said about the disintegration stretching to other parts of the world is very true. Like AV said, Obama will improve international relationships especially, 'cause these bonds affect a far greater population. I know the question was about America but being the world's most powerful nation does imply that this question does apply to all Man on Earth.

I like what Jonathan Bert said, disintegration is not the biggest problem, with references to much awfuller times. I agree with that, integrating only makes deteriorating feel less lonely. We should patch things up, but imagine a world with completely unity... there would still be problems, the decaying Earth and the fundamental issue of limited resources and ever-growing demand. Like The Logistician said (or words to that effect), we have basic human needs constantly. But unanimity, harmony is not one of those needs, so too much concern should not be had for achieving these things.

But okay, okay, if you're ask me those questions, the USA are disintegrating. I can't suggest practical solutions to 'patch things up', I'm not American, I don't know the system.

But taking what I know from Hong Kong's politics, when there is disagreement and separation in our administration, either (enough) Hongkongers protest, or the government officials resign, or both, in either order.

Change happens like that in our small city of 7.8 million, as for America, I don't think that's the way things work there.

Michael.

Michael said...

Of course, we do need harmony to stop us from barbarously throwing nuclear warheads at each other, invading each other, disrespecting the borders that have been set up.

But we need a solution to scarcity now, always, since we began using them thousands and thousands of years ago. We're approaching the last straw.

Michael.

Douglas said...

Neo - I am not one who always welcomes change. I am a cynic (a proud one) and I always question. But, yes, disintegration often precedes change. It often spurs it on. But disintegration comes in two forms: natural and induced.

Michael - You honor us. Thank you. I am in a bit of awe at the world's (and the US's) endowing Obama with such powers. He's a man, a politician at that, he's performed no miracles that I know of. In fact, has yet to actually accomplish anything of great value beyond being elected to president (his earlier political victories were not great feats). A lot of hope and expectation is being laid upon his shoulders.

To understand the disintegration I am speaking of think of a herd of animals. But they are not all sheep or cattle. They are sheep and cattle and horses and llamas and goats. And each smaller herd have their own herders. As long as all the herders work together, the entire herd will be guided (herded) to their destination. But if the shepherds want to take a different trail and the cattlemen another and horsemen and llama herders each want another. The destination is the same in all cases, the paths are different. And the herders no longer work together. The herd disintegrates and the destination may not be reached.

You are right, things are done differently in the US but protests do work from time to time. Our politicians rarely resign. It takes a sense of honor to do that. I sometimes wonder if we should have refused to accept the resignations of those few of ours that have resigned. Well, except for Nixon.

When I was young, I thought borders were barriers to human evolution. I thought they could be done away with. I wasn't so cynical then. I have come to realize that the world is more complex and needs borders. We haven't evolved to the point where we can do without them. We probably will not ever reach that point.

Niamh B said...

Just realised, like an eejit I totally misread the question, but thanks for your kind response anyway. Look forward to the next one, will try and pay closer attention in future...

The Logistician said...

A number of us participated in this discussion about the decline or disintegration of society some time ago.

Much has been made recently of the perception that America is becoming increasingly polarized, as reflected in the recent presidential election, and the events leading up to the enactment of the economic stimulus package. Later today, Saturday, February 21, at 6 pm EST, C-Span will air a discussion concerning Robert Putnam's book, "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community."

http://booktv.org/program.aspx?ProgramId=10240&SectionName=Encore%20Booknotes&PlayMedia=No

The Logistician said...

A number of us participated in this discussion about the decline or disintegration of society some time ago.

Much has been made recently of the perception that America is becoming increasingly polarized, as reflected in the recent presidential election, and the events leading up to the enactment of the economic stimulus package. Later today, Saturday, February 21, at 6 pm EST, C-Span will air a discussion concerning Robert Putnam's book, "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community."

http://booktv.org/program.aspx?ProgramId=10240&SectionName=Encore%20Booknotes&PlayMedia=No

Douglas said...

Neo - I am not one who always welcomes change. I am a cynic (a proud one) and I always question. But, yes, disintegration often precedes change. It often spurs it on. But disintegration comes in two forms: natural and induced.

Michael - You honor us. Thank you. I am in a bit of awe at the world's (and the US's) endowing Obama with such powers. He's a man, a politician at that, he's performed no miracles that I know of. In fact, has yet to actually accomplish anything of great value beyond being elected to president (his earlier political victories were not great feats). A lot of hope and expectation is being laid upon his shoulders.

To understand the disintegration I am speaking of think of a herd of animals. But they are not all sheep or cattle. They are sheep and cattle and horses and llamas and goats. And each smaller herd have their own herders. As long as all the herders work together, the entire herd will be guided (herded) to their destination. But if the shepherds want to take a different trail and the cattlemen another and horsemen and llama herders each want another. The destination is the same in all cases, the paths are different. And the herders no longer work together. The herd disintegrates and the destination may not be reached.

You are right, things are done differently in the US but protests do work from time to time. Our politicians rarely resign. It takes a sense of honor to do that. I sometimes wonder if we should have refused to accept the resignations of those few of ours that have resigned. Well, except for Nixon.

When I was young, I thought borders were barriers to human evolution. I thought they could be done away with. I wasn't so cynical then. I have come to realize that the world is more complex and needs borders. We haven't evolved to the point where we can do without them. We probably will not ever reach that point.

Douglas said...

Log - I am afraid you have reacted more to, and read more into, the word "disintegration" than I intended anyone to do. A society is made up of more than individuals, it is a coalition of groups. A disintegration of a society can, and I intended it to, mean only that the coalition breaks down. A splintering of the common identity (the nation).

Plato had similar ideas as yours. So have countless other philosophers. How to govern man? How to form a near perfect society?
My take would be that, first, we redefine "perfect". Second, that we allow it to evolve through education about ways that didn't work.

Your mention of the evangelicals reminds me of the birth of Utah.
And William Penn. And the early settlers in New England.