Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Why did they know, and you did not?


I've written about my grandparents on here several times and what wonderful, homespun Populists they were, and not the wacky right wing kind either. That was for their siblings to take up, they're thickos.

My grandmother was literally from the dirt. Her Scotch-Irish parents were monsters who tried to pump their kids with religion, neglected them, and beat them. They were literally hillbillies living in the Ozarks in the 1920s-30s, and they were poor, very poor. I'm pretty certain that my grandmother had her religious beliefs, but she had a very interesting mistrust of "preachers," as she called them. She was an Ozarks Cinderella who went to a "seeing woman" to guess the sex of her one child, my mother, while she was pregnant.

"A preacher should get a real job," she would insist when we even casually talked about organized religion. Was it just her opinion that swayed me against all forms of organized religion? No, it was the experience of it and how inhuman, uncaring and revolting most of it is. I hate virtually all organized religion and look at it as an abomination before all humankind.

"The preacher man doesn't know any more than you do about what comes after this." she would often follow-up with. I couldn't have agreed more with her then or now. What's interesting is that this is a heretical belief, yet she thought of herself as a very religious and spiritual person; she just didn't trust people to do the right thing in groups, and she certainly didn't trust the preacher man. Neither do I, and never will. In fact, I see just about all of them as hopelessly deluded and corrupt, like most people when they're given just a smidgen of power, and ultimately, that's what this series of observations is all about, power and how it makes people who hold it and the people they hold it over to lose their ability to reason. Most of them came pre-damaged anyway and were budding authoritarians before any boss told them what to do. But others think for themselves, reject their upbringing, and grow-up and out of it.

My grandfather lived in rural Kansas. His father worked on the railroad as an engineer, and at one point, the family owned a hotel that burned down during the 1920s. His father was a patriarchal nimrod who rarely communicated with his children other than with his belt or his ring-festooned backhand. By the early 1930s, this idiot was fired from what was a very good-paying job at a time when there were almost none, and dragged his family to Arkansas to be...a dirt farmer, and at a time when family farms were failing. Father knows best. It was a disaster, but somehow he found other work. As far as I can tell, they were typically religious for the time, and he was a stern patriarch who isolated himself to his den and read all the time, the only thing I can give him credit for. Children were to be seen and not heard. As far as I can recall or ascertain, my grandfather finished high school while my grandmother did not.

What did they do for a living? My grandmother picked cotton to buy her wedding dress. They worked in factories for their entire working lives, first in munitions plants during WWII and the Korean War, then various other industrial occupations over the years. They worked very hard at work and at home and were very industrious people, but they weren't intellectuals and didn't have expansive educations. They were just working-class people who did the best they could and treated others as they would have liked to be treated; they followed the "golden rule" better than any other people I have or will ever know in my life. I was lucky: my immediate family on my mother's side weren't users, manipulators, or liars. But the rest of them were, so my grandparents left Kansas after WWII for the industrial North.

Again, these weren't really well-educated people at all, but they were sharp and smart, and they knew the score when they saw it. They were staunch unionists, and they were generally progressive. This wasn't atypical. The fact is that they were--and still are in their death--mainstream America. This is the real America, the good side. From the 1970s when I was a little kid reading about the Great Depression thanks to a childhood illness and a curiosity for human history, my grandparents continued the same mantra until their deaths during this current decade: "You watch: these dummies [most voting Americans] are going to vote the Republicans back in [as a majority], and we're going to have another Depression all over again, they'll make it happen again, you'll see." So they have, so they have.

My earliest memory of my grandmother saying this comes from 1978. Think about that for a minute. This wasn't an economist saying it, this was an ordinary working-class person who actually lived through the Great Depression (for real, the hard side of it) as a child, and therefore, knew what she was talking about. Why would she understand what caused it (lack of proper regulations, as she often told me herself many times) when she never lived with electricity or running-water as a little mountain girl? She bore witness to her era as her husband, and they didn't have dust in their eyes or shit in their ears, they didn't miss much, if anything. They stayed civically and politically engaged their entire adult lives because they knew that if they didn't, catastrophe for future generations was all-but-inevitable since the business jackapes are always waiting at the gates to abuse government. But their kids weren't carrying their share of the load after them and most were ignorant of how things had been before the New Deal and the accomplishments of organized labor. They were critical even of the "union bosses," but had good words for labor leaders like Walter Reuther of the UAW, of which they were both members.

They understood that you must be eternally vigilant against corruption in all its forms, especially political, since the government at least is theoretically capable of being held accountable, while corporations are not without that reasonably clean and strong government. Yes indeed, they supported the New Deal. If you ask--and you'd better do it fast now--anyone with sense who lived through that era (and I mean really lived through it and can remember it) and they'll tell you what an "idiot" Republican President Herbert Hoover was for his inaction during the worst years of the Depression, and it was common currency with these folks. Most of them used far less polite words for him, even decades later.

Why do you think it took five decades to create a "Republican majority" (that rapidly imploded)?

Why, then, did my grandparents "get" it--that you don't blindly accept authority at its word and that another Great Depression was coming when so many others claim not to have? First off, many of these people today--these "experts"--were part of the corruption on Wall Street, in Congress, the White House, and in our Courts, so they're either lying or were too close to it to see anything except dollar-signs. My grandparents were just working-class people who saw the reality on the ground and knew bullshit when they read, heard, or saw it, and the GOP was always bullshit to them. They learned the lessons of their time. The truth is that the baby boomers lived through unprecedented prosperity and forgot these lessons and were slow learners when it came to constructively taking on an oligopoly that's running this nation into the ground while simultaneously destroying its soul, its spirit. Like any generation, they've overstated their accomplishments.

It didn't take a genius to see all of this coming. The cheap credit, the wholesale deregulation of the business and financial sectors by both major parties, and a runaway corporate crime spree and war profiteering, made the mess we're in inevitable. Only a ten-year-old or someone very old could have seen it--at least someone who wasn't or isn't an old fool. The rest tend to be a glob of self-serving, brainwashed turds. It takes a good education to become indoctrinated by a bad system, just ask the Einsatzgruppen units that slaughtered Slavs and Jews on the Eastern Front during WWII (but do it quick). Most of them were college educated. A fool with a degree is a still a fool, and an criminal sociopath will always be a criminal sociopath regardless of how much you shave and primp them and put them in a nice, new suit. But there are good people in this world. Not only were my grandparents warm and kind to me and my family, they were smart and actually gave a damn about their neighbors and society. This is why democracy works. The average person is smarter than the leadership and the loud-mouths they rook in to drown everyone else out. They are the real threat to America, forget terrorism.

None of this is to suggest that learning is bad. Quite-the-opposite. But you had better learn where you come from if you want to know where you're going. How can you know where you are, when you don't know where you've been? It's not hard to understand why children are so troubled about having an identity: we're not giving them one, we're not transmitting the lessons of the past to them enough. People must know who they are and where they come from to be whole, to be reasonably at peace with themselves. In these areas, we're failing our children again, and again, and again, in our assembly line educational system. We can always do better, and we should always keep trying to make a better world for the babies as well as the adults. What is a society for if not for us all to band together to help each other survive? To suggest, for example, that there's no need for a safety-net for the unemployed is antisocial, sociopathic, so it must come from the business community and high finance. Find yourselves and where you have really been.