“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”
British politician Winston Churchill and economist John Maynard Keynes both have been credited with this phrase or variants of it, although their attribution does not survive scrutiny. Probably it dates to a 1970 interview with an economist named Paul Samuelson, who may or may not have thought he was quoting Keynes:
Well when events change, I change my mind. What do you do?
Rest easy, dear reader. I’m not about to endorse Slick Jeffie for a third term. Actually the phrase came to mind this morning when I caught myself saying, “Well, I used to think that … “
There’s no need to complete the sentence because I say it at least once daily, as pertaining to a wide range of topics. It fits nicely with “there was a time when” and “I was absolutely clueless back then,” emphasizing a never-ending learning curve as a planetary inhabitant.
I suspect the vast majority of human beings are readily capable of acknowledging the need to adjust their thinking to changing circumstances, so long as doing so constitutes perceived material benefit. If not, millions of smart phones would be packed away in Asian warehouses, untouched. Doctors would be treating broken legs with leeches, and instant Ramen noodles might never have been invented.
However far fewer are willing to hold the same yardstick to what they’d undoubtedly refer to as their core “beliefs.” This word alone should tell us something.
Tangible, tactile reality is infinitely swappable, whether mutating from horse-drawn carts to automobiles or insipid Lite beer to an inspired Bavarian Kellerbier. Those only vaguely verifiable (if at all) “beliefs” are tantamount to the enduring human stain, as writer Philip Roth tagged it. Religion, race relations, the role of the sexes; occasionally we’ll permit experiential evidence to erode our pre-conceived notions, but far less often than we “upgrade” our redundant devices for communicating – ironically, a task that renders us increasingly isolated from human all direct contact.
Rock music radio commentator Eddie Trunk was talking about this a few days ago in response to a question about the future of rock as we know it. Trunk offered pros and cons in response, and in my view he correctly identified the digitalization of music in the internet era as a double-edged sword.
It makes all music available at any time, thus theoretically broadening exposure to different types of music and educating listeners about it. Maybe they’ll stop listening to hip hop after hearing Ten Years After or Ratt – or so this notion goes.
At the same time, according to Trunk, the digital revolution has deprived listeners of the joy of waiting anxiously for new music to be released, then rushing to the mall (his reference) to be the first in line for an album or CD, before hurrying back home with friends to crack the cellophane and listen while enjoying a microwaved pizza roll.
Trunk previously has lamented the evolution of outdoor music fests, observing that young attendees seldom are riveted to the music; instead, they’re wandering the grounds consuming gourmet food, craft cocktails and multimedia experiences – if not spending every moment documenting the scene for “live” transmission.
Why don’t they care about the music? I’d say they do, albeit in a different way than during my own youth. The problem is that no one these days wants to pay for it (see journalism, death of), including me, even though I know better.
It occurs to me that while Trunk’s perspective is as dated as my own (he’s in his early 50s), he’s also missing the central element that ties together his case: the communal joy of pre-digital listening.
For better or worse, rock and roll — the post-WWII cultural phenomenon that morphed into the voice of the Vietnam and Cold War generations worldwide — became the musical equivalent of a mass political rally, perhaps reaching its apogee in 1985 with the global transmission of Live Aid by means of just then emerging satellite technology.
It is said Freddie Mercury was reluctant for Queen to appear until Bob Geldof reminded the singer that the gig was what he’d always sought: the whole world as attentive audience.
So it was, and one’s like or dislike of Queen aside, Live Aid made possible the band’s subsequent career, before and after Mercury’s untimely death in 1991. By then the baby boomers were well along their way toward rejecting the political and economic lessons of the 1960s, maintaining cultural bona fides with an attachment to increasingly corporate rock while otherwise subscribing to fascism, or Live Aid with swastikas.
But I digress.
All of Trunk’s lamentations point to the same phenomenon, beginning in the 1990s with the availability of home computers and expanding exponentially in the 2000s with smart phones and the like: Progress is isolating us from the communal, shrinking our sense of the collective, and diminishing human contact.
It’s an isolation born of the digital revolution, but it is sadly abetted each time an angry white male (and yes, that’s what they tend to be) sprays a crowd with gunfire. Of course your fear of shooters, Muslims, diseases, dark people and gays cannot be completely dispelled in the comfort and safety of your home, where statistically most accidents continue to happen, with or without purposefully discharged weapons.
Rather, we seek to be reinforced by those of like mind, which in turn means cocooning with Netflix and the Imbecile Supremacy Channel of the moment, handily closing ourselves off from facts capable of changing our minds.
As for me, well, when the facts change, I change my mind.
What do you do?
It shocked me at first that Donald Trump had been elected president, although in time the accumulated evidence convinced me to change my mind because Trumpism is not shocking at all. It isn’t an exception, a mutation or an aberration.
Trump as a poster child for capital accumulation, and consequently as the best available conduit for every evasive maneuver in history deployed by the oligarchy to maintain its pre-eminence, is in fact the fruition of American history to the present age, a sum total of founding hypocrisies about race, money and power, as supported full-throat by the GOP, the political party singularly better suited to elites, and only nominally “opposed” by the second of two monopolist political parties, which suckles the very same teats but has grown damningly adept at pretending it doesn’t.
It sucks, and loudly, yet it’s exactly who and what we are.
This brings me to the notion of “resistance,” a word I’ve heard less often as Trumpism has become normalized – and don’t kid yourselves; it has.
To repeat, Trumpism is a natural consequence of our survival-of-the-fittest variant of capitalism. You see, one needn’t have studied botany to know that tomato seeds seldom produce asparagus. Systemic conditions presupposing the manifestations to which one objects cannot logically be altered by any single presidential election cycle.
Most of us, myself ruefully included, have spent the past few decades accepting a default way of living which supports the superstructure of oppression with virtually every transaction. How exactly does one resist a system while continuing to live according to the system’s dictates – with which we otherwise remain in full cooperation?
If you’re in full cooperation with the purely intentional exploitation engendered by robber baron capitalism in its current form, exactly how can you resist it?
You’re accepting and opposing at the same time, but your compromises invariably result in acceptance, not resistance. So, while you’re prattling about your rights, perhaps it might be time to pause and consider whether Americans possess an inalienable right to be entertained around the clock to the exclusion of consciousness about the real nature of things outside, beyond reach of your streaming device?
“Trumps sucks! Oh, by the way, I’ll be holed up for the next 18 hours gaming, screwing and binge-watching pure fiction, and I simply can’t make time to toss a Molotov cocktail at yonder one-percenter.”
In many places and at various times in history, those undertaking to resist, dissent or rebel have gone into the fight with a clear understanding of the sacrifice involved – often although not always the “supreme” sacrifice, but at the very least grasping the potential price of non-conformity. They’d be giving up comfort, security and much else in order to bring about necessary change and secure a future for their kids.
Returning to social media to make yet another slam-dunk of a riposte visible only to the denizens of our hand-elected silo didn’t free the slaves or bring down the Berlin Wall, yet for today’s “resistance” it’s the risk-free strategy for … what?
You can color me skeptical.
Here in New Albany our self-styled local “progressives” surrendered any notion of “resistance” to The Donald when they refused to acknowledge that one of their own is just as capable of being foul as one of “theirs.”
Local “progressives” surrendered the moral high ground as fast as their minivans would carry them by refusing to get involved in Jeff Gahan’s public housing takeover … and David Duggins giggling about TASER jokes … and more recently, the demolition of the homeless camp by Silver Creek as ephemeral beautification projects everywhere are endowed with fat cat funding … and yet again by looking the other way at Gahan’s cash-stuffed political patronage machine … and seriously, the list of Dear Leader’s undemocratic transgressions stretches from Rustic Frog to the loading docks at Mejier’s, and while just about every component of Gahan’s reign has included set pieces borrowed from right-wingers, these so-called “progressive” Democrats can’t move themselves an inch to see how ridiculously little their snarling darling has done when it comes to supposedly core Democratic platform values like seeing to the betterment of the community’s most vulnerable citizens.
Of course, these purportedly “Democratic” platform planks guaranteeing the right to luxury are tethered just as tightly to moneyed elites as the GOP’s. At the end of the day I suppose the cognitive dissonance is just too much for otherwise well-meaning folks who have no intention of negotiating their privileges, irrespective of imagined party affiliation, because after all, the two aisles share common roots by regarding as inevitability of the well-off confiscating value from the underprivileged (capitalism) rather than the other way around (socialism).
As a wee lad, I bought into the bilge. I’ve been changing my mind ever since, not because the facts have changed all that much, but because eyes wide open are capable of seeing far more than when they’re glued shut.
Consequently, when it comes to the approaching round of municipal elections, I’ll be voting for … nah, let’s wait another week or two for that.