Posts Tagged ‘polarization’

The Breakdown of Society

June 3, 2012

It starts with polarization. Is that okay, or not?

Polarization between left and right; or between conservative and liberal; libertines vs. disciplinarians; religious vs. atheist; sinners vs. saints; Democrat vs. Republican; libertarian vs. socialist;  communist vs. fascist; And of course there’s the original  human version, and most fundamental one of all: right vs. wrong, also known sometimes as “us” against “them.”

Is your personal identity, or mine, defined by one’s decision to take a position on “one side or the other”? Philosophers and sociologists call this way of classifying stuff as dichotomy, an insistence on believing that everything is either one thing or its opposite thing.

In reality, of course, we are all composites of both. I suppose that makes us all mixed up.  Why, my own chosen faith framework, Christianity, teaches that we are all sinners, while we can be, even at the same time by God’s grace, saints. Consequently, we discover that everywhere you look in this world we find, not so much black and white, but shades of gray. Shades of gray in every societal, political, and religious entity and institution that is out there.

And most important of all: shades of gray within my own (formerly) damned self.

Where does this endless diversity of contentions take us? What’s the world coming to? And how will little old me end up in it?

Over my sixty years of life, especially in the last half-decade or so, I have noticed a certain suspect predisposition within myself, and it disturbs me. To describe it simply, I would have to say it can only be called a kind of death-wish on society, because the world is so screwed up. It’s a perverse reasoning that if society–or the nation or the world–were to fall apart because of so much dysfunction and injustice, then conditions would spontaneously emerge that would somehow facilitate my self-actualization as a person,  and hence my fulfillment with a meaningful role in the new society.

But this is madness. I mean, this was Hitler’s problem. And look what happened there.

Furthermore, in research and reading that I have undertaken in the last year or so, I have discovered that I am not the only one who experiences this feeling of delusory self-justification at the expense of societal downfall. There are many others out there whose attitude toward the world is reflected as what some have called “apocalyptic.”

As I  am presently writing a novel, Smoke, which is set in the year 1937, I encountered this word, “apocolyptic” as descriptive of the fascists in Britain during that convulsive period of pre-WWII history. These desperate extremists didn’t care if their movement would bring about the downfall of British society, because they were so convinced that they were right and everybody else wrong, especially the communists across the street (in East London). And Britain’s experience of this polarization was minimal as compared to the Continental manifestations of it just across the Channel.

The whole European world was, at that time, attempting to divide itself according to the two opposing apocalyptic, or revolutionary, movements of that day: fascists vs. communists: fascists in Germany and Italy, Communists in Russia, eastern Europe and possibly Spain. There is so much to say about this, I cannot possibly do it here, so I’ll continue dealing with it in the book I am writing. But I would like to bring to your attention this passage about Germany in 1930, from page 15 of World Crisis and British Decline, 1929-56, by Roy Douglas (St. Martin’s Press, 1986.):

“Economic misery was matched by political chaos. At the General Election (in Germany) of September 1930 there were eleven parties each with a dozen or more representatives, and no single party held as many as a quarter of the total. The Nazis, who had only won twelve seats a couple of years earlier, became second party of the state with 107; while the Communists advanced from 54 to 77. Both of those parties believed in revolutionary solutions, and were perfectly willing to allow the state to collapse in ruins, in order to rebuild from their own preferred foundations. Thus they had no interest in making the economy work as well as possible, and every interest in refusing to cooperate with anybody.”

Sound familiar?

What they had back then was a failure to agree, and consequently, movements of both formerly-centrist positions toward extremes. Ultimately, the only reconciliation of those polarizations was one hell of a big war.

So, is the lesson of history that failure to agree may lead to apocalyptically chaotic rearrangemets of society? It could happen, but I’m not looking forward to it. When I was younger, I thought I might be awaiting some kind of apocalypse. I thought it was beginning in the fall of ’08. But we’re still here, all of us plodding along.

So, in this sixth decade of my time on earth I’m hoping and praying that the world does not fall apart. How about you?

Glass half-Full

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The one thing that stops politics

January 22, 2012

A politician was talking about the unfortunate condition of his government:

Since the economic had begun…

…growing numbers of Agrarians maintained that the state was ungovernable without their participation, and that their party was the only one capable of managing the state…In the summer of 1933, Beran himself was of the opinion that the rising root of aggravation was an exaggerated school education, and (that), for a child subjected to education, a country person ‘began to stink of horse piss.’

‘We have the most educated proletariat…the government has to perform miracles, so as to be able to maintain an army of tramps who mainly despise work…so that an unemployed worker would not have to leave town for the countryside and ask a farmer for a job.’

The state would never get out of its difficulties without reducing lavish unemployment benefits, ‘this social monster which the socialists have created…’

The politician who presented this position was Rudolph Beran, a leader in the Agrarian party of Czechoslovakia during the 1930s. His assessment was supported largely by rural folks who populated a region known as Sudetenland. Many of the these Agrarians were ethnic Germans whose loyalties were gravitating, during the ’30s, toward support for German occupation of their region of the Czech lands. The passage above was quoted from The Life of Edvard Benes, 1884-1948, by Zbynek Zemen with Antonin Klimek (Oxford, 1997)

However, after a while the extremist rhetoric didn’t really produce much benefit to anyone. In 1939, all the polarizing politics that had been cranked out between fascist and communist extremes in eastern Europe went up in smoke, because Hitler’s war blew all the manipulative politics to smithereens.

Europe in the 1930s was a festering boil of political infection and belligerence that eventually erupted as World War II. At the  core of the contagion was a warm-up war of opposing ideologies:  fascism and communism. Fascism was being force-fed by Germany and Italy.  Communism was perpetrating through the nascent Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, led by Russia.

Pretty much the whole developed world was suffering through an economic depression. The democratic nations, primarily France, Great Britain, and their smaller allies, were grasping at security straws. In their faltering attempts to preserve peace and what was left of prosperity, the liberal democracies were attempting to follow a political course between the two extremes of fascism and communism. This was no easy agenda, given the extremities with which Nazi Germany and the Soviet Russia were polarizing their own internally bloody pathologies along with the other nations under their influence.

The most fervent expression of these death-wish ideologies was being hammered out in eastern Europe. Czechoslovakia and Poland, two regions or “nations” that had long been areas of exploitative manipulations between the larger powers, were destined to become the flash points of the world’s next “great war”–the one that the last “great war” (1912-1918) had purported to avoid.

Czechoslovakia was a fledgling democratic republic during the ’20s and ’30s, having been established in the remnants of the Austria-Hungary empire that had dissipated after 1918 and the end of World War I. But this new Czech nation was a fragmented check-list of ethnic groups: Czechs, Sudetan Germans, Slovaks, Hungarians, and a few others.

A multiplicity of political identities in 1930s Czechoslovakia generated a swirling frenzy of discontents. The most intense Czechoslovakian rivalries were in the western border districts,  the Sudetenland, where a  plurality of ethnic Germans held to Deutschland traditions and loyalties. This hotbed of opposing discontents is where World War II found its first militarized eruptions.

During 1938, Hitler’s impudently pagan will-to-power intimidated British and French politicians into submissive strategies of appeasement. The Munich Pact conceded Sudetenland to the third reich, and assigned the Czechs to an impotent role as pawns in the game. Czech leaders had not even been consulted; nor were they present when the sellout deal with the devil was signed in Munich in September. The Nazi wehrmacht‘s ensuing occupation of Sudeten Czech lands set the terrible stage for Hitler’s invasion of the Czech lands in March 1939.

But Czechoslovakia was just a wehrmacht warmup for the full-scale blitzkrieg of Poland that came in September of ’39. That’s when the Allies finally woke up to smell the smoke of hitlerian deception and destruction. Then they began to mobilize the Allied resistance that ultimately became successful by 1945. But World War II was no walk in the park.

A lot has changed in our world since then. Today our politics and war rationalizations display a few discernible parallels with those turbulent times past. Now the players on the stage are the same, but different. European ideological extremities have synthesized somewhat, a la Hegelian dialectics, morphing to “the West.” Meanwhile in Eurasia the old kid on the world block–Islam–rises as a newly energized force-field. It will exert  polarizing effects to religiously neuterize our old ideologies into kaffirific irrelevance. Could be a volatile situation, especially if you factor in the spark-breathing dragon in the far East.

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress