Monday, July 6, 2009

Memento, History, and Political Tattooes

First, a couple of new articles not given blog entries: Catholic Inquisition of U.S. Nuns and review of Zonet 16-Port Ethernet Switch.

In the movie Memento the main character, Leonard, has lost his short term memory. The movie runs back through time, showing how how Leonard uses a system of notes, some tattooed to his body, to try to track down the killer of his wife. The problem is that other people realize Leonard has not only lost his short term memory, but that his long-term memory has deficits as well. So they use him for their own ends.

I doubt the writer or director intended it, but this is a nearly perfect metaphor for American politics. It is an even scarier notion than George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which a totalitarian government manipulates people by actually re-writing history as needed. The governance (here I include both the government and corporate decision making) of America is not totalitarian. If you don't like Vista, you can buy OSX or Linux. But it does encourage forgetfulness, History Channel not withstanding.

Lack of long-term memory is at least comprehensible as a human fault. There is a lot of history. Just to survey it takes a huge commitment. For example, there are quite a few nations in the world that I have not read a single history book about. Even if you focus on American history, and just try to get a sense of what really happened in each decade of our history, you have a lot of reading to do. Once you realize how carefully edited most history books are, how they lie by omission, you have a lot of work to do finding books that have critical views. Usually to find a critique of any given nation you must look to histories written about it by other nations.

There is no easy way around the long-term memory problem. We can't all be history majors.

You would think, however, that people would remember what happened in their own lifetime, and learn from their experiences.

If the Democratic Party members over the age of 55 in this rural area of northern California are any indication, we might as well save ourselves the ritual of voting. Sadly, many Green Party members (but not all) have been just as forgetful. We are reliving 1965. I was ten back in that bygone year. I paid minimal attention to news and politics, but I knew Lyndon Johnson had beat Barry Goldwater in the November 1964 presidential election largely by implying that Senator Goldwater would get us into a nuclear war with Russia.

We did not have a war of any kind with Russia, but Johnson bombed North Vietnam and then invaded South Vietnam on the flimsiest of excuses. Not that President Johnson was all bad. He was the first Democratic Party president to break with the racist past of the party in deeds as well as words.

Now we have a black President (but not one whose ancestors were slaves in the United States), and the excitement over that caused otherwise cynical voters to forget everything else. Like that politicians tell you what you want to hear, then deliver unto their major donors.

So now what was the Bush war on terror is wider than ever before. Fighting in Iraq has cooled for the moment because we are happy with our puppet government there. But fighting has intensified in Afghanistan and we are regularly bombing Pakistan. Shades of President Johnson, shades of President Nixon.

And let's not forget about the economy. I predict there will be no real economic reform. The crisis is past, and for a while bankers and investors will be cautious. With no reform, however, the conditions will be in place for another massive round of thievery, with working class Americans, again, as the ultimate victims.

Nor are we getting real reform on environmental issues. The Democrats figure that by being slightly more green than the Bush administration, they can keep their corporate sponsors and trap voters in the old the-Republicans-are-worse recycling bin.

So, ask yourself, what should you tattoo to your body politic?

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