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September 26, 2005

You Say You Want A Revolution?

Between the media coverage of the war and the farcical hurricane broadcasts, I've been thinking a lot lately about the great, yawning gap between the way ordinary Americans see the world and how the media seem to view it. Two incidents this weekend really brought this home to me.

Friday evening, whilst sitting in the car outside a local beverage establishment, I waited for the Unit to procure some Liquid Refreshment to take to a gathering we were en route to. The news anchor was bloviating about how there weren't enough shelters designated for every single resident of the greater Houston metropolitan area. Shockingly, only certain people were being evacuated. The whole thing, to hear him tell it, was a complete travashamockery.

My mind drifted back to the 3 years I lived in North Carolina, my three years in South Carolina, and my two years in Pensacola. I don't recall, once in all that time it ever crossing my mind that the federal, state, or local governments owed me shelter, food, or anything else. When a hurricane came, I taped or boarded up the windows and left. Or didn't leave. I bleached and filled the tub with water and made sure I had plenty of food, fresh water, batteries, sterno, and oil for the oil lamps. I made up beds for the kids in the center hall in case there were tornados. My husband was invariably in the field - the man was never once home. It never occurred to me that he should be home - he was deployed. My neighbors sometimes would complain that the Marine Corps wasn't sending them home to "take care" of us. I always thought this incredibly stupid - they were working. It's not like their presence was going to change anything. The storm would still come, with or without their presence.

I bought an extra saw for tree limbs. But I didn't waste time worrying about what the government's role was. The only time I ever interfaced with the government was when I looked up where our lot was on the flood plain down at City Hall, and that was only when I was trying to decide whether to evacuate. I also recall 'riding out' a wildfire in the desert that came within a mile of my house while my husband was in the field. I had the car loaded up and was all ready to leave with my boys when the wind shifted and the evacuation order was called off at the last minute. I don't recall thinking the government owed me anything then, either. I had made hotel reservations down in Palm Springs. We had this interesting thing called a savings account. It was for emergencies. We had one when we were first married, and poor, too. It was even more important then, because we had no insurance.

But the media seem to take the exact opposite tack. Turn on the TV or the radio and they are inciting us to panic and encouraging us to depend on the government instead of being self-reliant. You don't see them telling us how to make a survival kit, the way they used to ten or fifteen years ago. Now they piously lecture us about how the government has failed the least fortunate among us, and how helpless we all are without government assistance.

Everyone's making a big fuss about this BBC piece:

Reason for revolution?

Rita and Katrina have both been events of massive force, sweeping away an awful lot, but Katrina - because of the ghastly failure of the authorities to prepare and to rescue those at risk - is thought by some to have done more than physical damage.

Bill Clinton is among many eminent Americans who wonder whether Katrina's biggest impact might be psychological, political.

The real question - putting it baldly - is whether there is going to be a revolution.

Will the American social and economic system - which creates the wealth that pays for billionaires' private jets, and the poverty which does not allow for a bus fare out of New Orleans - be addressed?

It has been tinkered with before of course, sometimes as a result of natural disasters. There were for instance plenty of buses on hand for this week's Rita evacuation.

But the system's fundamentals - no limit on how far you can fly and little limit on how low you can fall - remain as intact as they were in the San Francisco gold rush.

But aside from the fact that the piece reads like something out of The Communist Manifesto, there really isn't much that separates it from hundreds of similar pieces this side of the Atlantic.

Grim has no problem with the article:

Still, the important and notable thing about the article is not that the fellow said that "the real question, to put it baldly, is whether there is going to be a revolution."

The real thing to note is that he answered his question: No, there won't be. When he looked hard and honestly at America, what he saw was no mob of discontents fomenting violence. He saw a nation spurring itself to ever greater acts of charity and goodwill. He saw a people who would not and did not ask their government to fix things for them. He saw a man with a chainsaw and two handguns, who had put up his house once before and was going to do it again.

That's the America I want people to see. I've got no problem with this author. Whatever I may think of his politics, and whatever he thinks of mine, I respect the fact that he has eyes that are not blind.

That's true, but I don't think that was the point this fellow was trying to make. He's not lauding a resilient and strong people, but lamenting a backwards and stubborn people who still refuse, forty years later, to do the right thing and make redistribution of wealth mandatory:

In the book of From Our Own Correspondent dispatches that marks this programme's 50th anniversary, my illustrious predecessor, Charles Wheeler, wrote that one of the tragedies of the Vietnam War had been, as he put it, "the dismemberment of America's infant welfare state."

Fellow Americans opened their homes and their businesses to help hurricane victims

"The war", he said, "stopped social reform in its tracks and today, with the budget deficit huge and growing, there is no prospect that a windfall of money released by the war can suddenly be applied to the needs of the poor in the cities."

There is a huge gap between the media and ordinary citizens in terms of values. The media spend all their time telling us the federal government is bloated, inefficient, corrupt, power-mad, and untrustworthy. But then they do a complete about-face and tell us to ignore their constant warnings - inexplicably, we should place the welfare of society's weakest and least powerful members totally under the control of the corrupt, untrustworthy, power-mad government. It's the right thing to do.

This makes sense only if you ignore history; if you believe that the disadvantaged have no willpower or ingenuity of their own - that the human spirit is incapable of overcoming adversity.

When we raise our children, we do not go on feeding, housing, and clothing them for life. At some point, we expect that they will get jobs, move out, and begin taking responsibility for their own lives. We expect this because we have faith in them. We don't secretly look down on them. We believe they are just as good as we are - if we could do it, so can they, even if they have to struggle a bit first.

A generation of young people have begun moving back in with their parents despite the fact that as a society, we are more prosperous than ever. This is no accident: it is a response to lowered expectations.

The truly alarming thing in a mass media society is that the influence of the media is so pervasive. Children no longer have the patience to read anything more challenging than watered-down comic book versions of the classics with 'updated' moral punchlines that have been politically corrected so as not to offend today's anything-goes culture. By and large, the great moral teachings we cut our teeth on are being replaced by the television, and the overwhelming message on television, whether it be on the TV news, cable, or prime time television seems to be moral relativism and lack of personal responsibility.

When I look at what we're being urged to adopt as our models, I wonder where we're headed. Just as a generation of news viewers urged to depend on government are unlikely to be ready for the next disaster, somehow I very much doubt SpongeBob SquarePants, amusing though he might be, is going to produce the Thomas Aquinas or Aristotle of tomorrow.

The media seem, increasingly, to be agitating for some kind of revolution and the agenda seems to be getting more and more open and in-your-face. We look at the BBC and cry 'socialism' but there isn't all that much difference, really, between the BBC and the NY Times or even the Washington Post when you look at the underlying message: it is government's job to insure against all evils that can possibly befall mankind and if that doesn't happen, our 'institutions' have 'failed us'.

Do we not have any duty to ourselves? Are we all powerless flotsam on the river of life? How utterly depressing - especially when one considers that the "government" we are urged to depend on is, in the end, "us" in the aggregate. A confederation of helpless dunces.

When even conservatives like David Brooks are jumping on this idiotic memewagon, I have to wonder where this country is headed. I keep hoping the majority of Americans are smart enough to resist the metamessage, but there are days when I have my doubts.

Posted by Cassandra at September 26, 2005 07:44 AM

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Comments

Nicely done.

Posted by: Billy Hank [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2005 10:58 AM

Cassandra,
You're being such a Cassandra today. Really.

And until every American has two handguns AND TWO chainsaws, we cannot rest. I only have one handgun and one chainsaw. My brother-in-law has several of both (and he's a Democrat!).

Government is ALWAYS a mess. Christ on a crutch, reading about the graft and corruption during the Civil War makes me wonder how the North won (and there was plenty of corruption in the Confederacy too).
Money and power will always corrupt some people, and it really makes great copy and sells newspapers and nowadays, boosts blog readership. But free elections, Constitutional law and creamy peanut butter (wait, not that!) are all checks on just how stupid we can be.
If the worst thing to happen in government this month is that Julie Myers got nominated to head INS, geez, how bad is it, really?
Remember, a really first rate legal mind (in a man's body, no less) is about to be confirmed as Chief Justice by the Senate. A small victory.

Michael Brown was doing fine as head of FEMA (several hurricanes last year in Florida), until the big wind blew into the Big (stupid and corrupt) Easy. The real story there is just how incompetent government is in Louisiana. Yow.

Sorry, no revolution in the near future. We're too busy watching "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives". And that, as they say, is another story.

Posted by: David at September 26, 2005 11:05 AM

The strange thing to me is perception's apparent victory over reality. If you look at the poverty rate from 1959-2004 (PDF), it's now a lower percentage than it was:

- During much of the 1960s
- During much of the 1980s
- During much of the 1990s

The 1970s were the only period with a lower rate for a sustained period of time. And I'm sure everyone pines for the economic golden age of the '70s. Or maybe not so much.

Despite this historical comparison, people are projecting a vision of a rapidly growing underclass chafing against the bonds of oppression. The only way you could factually claim that poverty is a hugely growing problem is to emphasize the growing disparity in relative wealth between the poorest and the richest. While that might be a fair point when discussing taxation schemes, it's not evidence of increased poverty in the absolute sense.

Posted by: Hubris at September 26, 2005 11:26 AM

Hubris,
You got graph!

And left - handed too. Wow.

Posted by: David at September 26, 2005 11:50 AM

You whiner. How dare you tell the world at large that your husband left you in the lurch while he was working? That just smacks of self reliance and indepedence and we can't have that.

Posted by: Cricket at September 26, 2005 11:53 AM

Take heart, Cassandra. The fellow himself gives you your answer as to how resistant Americans are to the message. He tells you outright -- nothing in America's thinking about the relationship between citizen and government has changed since Charlie Wheeler's time, forty years ago.

I'm not concerned that a writer from the BBC agrees with me, or doesn't. That's too much to ask. All I want is that he should be able to look at me and see me for what I really am. He can think I'm stubborn (and indeed, I am). He can lament that I don't believe in socialism (as indeed, I do not).

Still, he can see the Americans 'with two guns and a chainsaw' as fundamentally decent people, standing up for themselves and helping their neighbors. That's more than a lot of our countrymen can do. It's true that the author has a certain knee-jerk reaction to redneck slurs and stereotypes -- a fact we know about him because he honestly reports himself to us. Yet he is able to see past that, to the tender good in people of whom he doesn't approve and with whom he doesn't agree.

That's what I meant when I said he has eyes. That's all I ask from any journalist -- honest thought, honest reporting, and an up-front clarity about what their biases are. I think he did a fine job. If the rest of the BBC could do as well, it would restore my confidence in the organization.

Posted by: Grim at September 26, 2005 11:53 AM

Well, after he said that, I will just keep my husband home. He was asked to go help (again) in Mississippi. How dare the American people volunteer instead of sitting on their butts and letting the government nannies take care of them?
After all, that is what we pay taxes for, right?

You see, if the people did that, they won't get help until late fall, which is a rainy time of year for the Gulf states. Socially, it makes more sense for us to help one another without the blessing of government.

Posted by: Cricket at September 26, 2005 12:39 PM

You whiner. ...

Heh.

You say that, and I guess I just haven't really been paying attention, but that is when it just hit me like a 2x4 between the eyes.

I just got so pissed listening to this idiot jawing on about how outraged he was about how the government was only picking up SOME people and TAKING them to shelters! Good God.

I can remember living in NCarolina when I was 23 and thinking what dipshits some of my neighbors where (I'm sorry, but that's how I felt) b/c they were getting all in a lather about some stupid storm and how the Corps had the NERVE not to send their husband home from the field. Like it makes sense to clog up the roads with a convoy of slow-moving vehicles when people are trying to evacuate. Idiots.

Honey. Let's think on this for a second... the idea is to get people OUT OF THE AREA... *Maybe* it's NOT SUCH A SMART IDEA TO BRING EXTRA PEOPLE *INTO* THE AREA, you twit. Did you suddenly lose your ability to drive when the barometer dropped?

I think that was the first time I understood the old saw, "If the Marine Corps had wanted you to have a wife, they'd have issued you one".

That's when you take an extra ration of Kahlua into the hall with you. Forget the water.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 26, 2005 12:58 PM

The thing is, too, that every Marine (my husband included) would just kill to be home taking care of their wife and kids. My husband has always tried to do everything he could possibly do to make my life easier.

But sometimes they have a job to do.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 26, 2005 01:02 PM

You are preaching to the choir...oh could we have a snarkfest on the bitching! But I won't. I think the only time I really lost it when the Engineer was over in the sandbox was at 3 am. I had an old Compaq PC, the drivers were failing and we had a chat scheduled for his lunchtime shift...took me 45 minutes to boot up and then the Army's server would crash.

I was so freakin' pi&&ed off that I almost kicked the PC out the bedroom window. That was one time I think I did cry.

I didn't cry when the basement got flooded...I just organized the Child Labor Units and got everything out of there and cleaned up the mess.

Then later on that afternoon I went to an FRG meeting...oh don't get me started! Oh well, why not. Heh. The general consensus was that the Army guys were gone, the houses were falling to hell and no one was there to hold their hand.

Boo hoo. Isn't that why Home Depot exists? Or Lowe's? My litany of what went wrong while he was gone would make anyone laugh, but it is Mrs. Murphy's Law that if anything goes wrong, it will while he is gone.

The update: The flooding is not An Issue due to the installation of a french drain. The drywall has been repaired, the kitchen faucet and dishwasher replaced, the garbage disposal installed (I sneaked that one in as a perk), the plumbing is working (things were backing up and I had drained the septic tank a week before he left...), and the toilets have been replaced. One had a cracked tank and the other one a cracked bowl. Need I say more?

Oh, and the washer and dryer are fine now...

Heh.

Posted by: Cricket at September 26, 2005 01:35 PM

Last good idea the French ever had, the French drain. I've dug many of them.

Posted by: Grim at September 26, 2005 01:51 PM

You know it.

The last time he was in Japan (about 4-5 years ago) I had just moved across country by myself from a huge house in Cali into a tiny townhouse in Rockville. I decided to use the basement rec room as a storage room and piled it sky high with boxes, floor to ceiling, planning to move them up three flights of stairs as I got time to unpack them.

Of course, the drain pipe from the air conditioner got plugged and overflowed, then it leaked under the floor, across the bathroom floor and into the carpeted basement, which was completely full of furniture and boxes.

My landlady was Iranian and NOT an understanding person. I had to completely unload a flooded room, tear up the carpet and padding, suck as much water out of it as I could with a carpet cleaner, drag it up three flights of stairs and out on our deck to try and treat it and dry it.

Then try to unpack and move an entire room full of wet furniture and boxes and keep that from getting mold and mildew on it. In the middle of this, the hose from the dryer fell out of the ceiling and there was no way to put it back, so I had to cut a hole in the ceiling to reinstall that.

The third day when I was still pulling water out of the carpet and I went into the bathroom and noticed that the flooring under the toilet was discolored from the flooding, I think I cried too because I knew I was going to have to fight with the landlady over that, too. And I did :)

Posted by: Cassandra at September 26, 2005 02:44 PM

That one was totally sucky, Cass.

We own a shop vac and it is worth its weight.

We also have a dehumidifier and a couple of fans, and well, there was something about the damp carpet hanging to dry that just got me...right in my stomach. To do a room that size was over 500.00
from a water recovery business.

Posted by: Cricket at September 26, 2005 03:19 PM

I ended up getting a dehumidifier too, and I had fans going the whole time. The basement took weeks to dry out - I must have sucked gallons of water out of there.

I didn't have the money to call a water recovery business. That was right after I sent my oldest boy to college and my beagle was in process of dying of cancer and I was taking her to the vet every week trying to find out what was wrong with her at the time - she had dislocated her leg and it wouldn't stay in the socket. It was just awful.

That was not a very happy time. As you pointed out, everything tends to go wrong when Dad leaves. That was when I finally gave up and went on the depakote every day after fighting it for ten years - it just wasn't worth it anymore.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 26, 2005 03:46 PM

You know, at the meeting, I heard a totally whiny person cry about the fact that she had no family nearby. Oh, really? None of the rest of us did either. Sorry, but I am inclined to be rather unsympathetic. You love him, so you put up with the gypsy lifestyle.

Back to the flood: I was lucky in that we own this place, so no landlady of uneven temper. Well, uh, maybe. Heh. The water was a recurring problem until the drains went in, so the basement was inordinately clean. Gee, wonder why?

All the carp was upstairs. It has now worked its way down into a cozy library, a nice storage closet and a decent family room. I honestly believe that the Curse of the Military Family is that you will move when you utter the fateful phrase: "I have my house/domicile/quarters just the way I like them, and all the furniture fits."

Posted by: Cricket at September 26, 2005 04:29 PM

How dare the American people volunteer instead of sitting on their butts and letting the government nannies take care of them?
After all, that is what we pay taxes for, right? - Cricket

And on top of that, how dare the American people give all that money to charity when they could be using taxation to force other people to be giving to charity too? If you really cared about them, you'd care enough to make others help too. After all, if Katrina taught us anything it's the efficiency, and timeliness of gov't efforts.

Posted by: Masked Menace© at September 26, 2005 04:37 PM

Gezackly. I actually don't mind paying taxes for things like emergency services, use of a library
and police protection. But after seeing this, we have to look at what people spend their money on.

Being prepared is a screed that many of them will now take to heart after learning a hard lesson.
I wonder how many are going to realize that taxes don't buy everything?

A garden is going in where the late unlamented rose bushes were. They were pretty but fussy and time consuming to care for.

Posted by: Cricket at September 26, 2005 05:13 PM

Like the 2 of everything thing. Only have 1&1
on the handgun and chainsaw. In Cali. we have to
be on guard all the time. Most all/everything is
not PC approved. A while ago they tried to outlaw
BBQ's and the "lawnmower", cause of the environment. Whenever it rains here the anti mold
gang comes out with their laywers. It's a stretch, but big money in that for them, anyway.
How can we stop this nightmare. Keep up your good
work. I'm proud of you.

K

Posted by: Jake at September 26, 2005 08:44 PM

Veering back to the topic: I just may be the only one who sees that word (revolution) and thinks it would be a grand idea...if it was everyone versus the left wing traitors. Only in a just world...

Posted by: Lisa at September 27, 2005 08:59 AM

I remember those NC Marine Corps days. Used a USMC blanket once to put out a fire in the kitchen and had to fill out forms in triplicate explaining why I'd destroyed govt property...

We non-issue wives did learn to stick together, though. Never was it truer that otherwise you'd hang separately.

Except for my former husband, those were good days....btw, my 82nd Airborne brother came over to Cherry Point and was utterly amazed that women could walk around without fear of being harrassed or assaulted. Made him realize he was in the wrong outfit.

Posted by: dymphna at September 29, 2005 05:45 PM

We non-issue wives did learn to stick together, though. Never was it truer that otherwise you'd hang separately.

That's what I always used to tell my wives. The best thing about the Marines Corps is other wives. The second best thing is Marines - they take some getting used to at times, but they are really a special bunch of people. Not always easy, but worth the trouble.

Posted by: Cass at September 29, 2005 07:15 PM

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