There’s a lot to think about. Important events are coalescing into trends that are disturbing, challenging, and inciting. I feel anxiety when pondering world and national events. Daily highlights include riots, homelessness, and bigotry. Modern McCarthyism convicts guilty and innocent alike in the Internet Age. Analysts I follow even envisage that low interest rates will go to negative interest rates just prior to the whole credit economy crashing down. What then? Nihilistic predictions cover the gamut of chaos, armed violence, anarchy, and a return to bartering for goods.
I tell myself to take a breath. We’ve been here before. In the 1970s everyone believed the US and the world were ungovernable. Murder rates soared, hijackers were common, and terror was on the march. Then as now dystopian movies flooded the screens with visions of environmental, societal, and economic catastrophe. Then as now we believed our economic and national greatness were behind us. There were fears that representative democracy had run its course and the only solution was centralized ordering of things on a global scale with the individual subsumed into the body politic. Take a breath . . . and read.
I love reading. Reading is my drug and the latest e-book readers give me a continuous fix as long as I can keep my eyes and mind open. I find peace, perspective, and grand ideas emanating from thoughtful prose. As far as perspective, the briefest glance into the 20th Century reveals our resilience. Let’s take a quick look for perspective’s sake.
After World War I, known in the 1920s and 1930s as the Great War, democracy swept across Europe in a belief that the people would never again allow such carnage. Elation reminiscent of the Arab Spring covered the continent with new hopes and institutions. President Wilson took the US into the Great War for just that purpose; to make the world safe for democracy.
We know what happened. Lenin and Stalin instituted the communist command economy in the wake of Russia’s collapse. The Great Depression and resulting economic chaos across Europe led to the belief that democratic institutions with their individualist competing interests were outmoded relics. Order was required. Leaders, described by Nietzsche as ubermensch – supermen, were required to put things right. All across continental Europe was the belief that elites were required in government to impose much needed order. Thus came the fascists.
There may be debate on flavors of fascism but there is no debate that fascists believe in authoritarian nationalism. Fascism got its name from the ancient Roman symbol of authority, the fasces. Fasces is represented as a tightly wrapped bundle of wooden sticks with an axe blade emerging from the center. As each stick would be weak by itself the fasces visibly embodies strength through unity. No individual sticks in that ideology, strength requires the individual submit to the state.
How did the US and its ‘Greatest Generation’ respond? What did FDR say to all this? Our president who did the most to establish big government said, “They who seek to establish systems of government based on the regimentation of all human beings by a handful of individual rulers call this a new order. It is not new and it is not order.” Amen Franklin. Amen.
FDR then tamped down the country’s anxiety in his 1941 State of the Union address where he described the four freedoms. These were later used in the founding preamble of the United Nations: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear. Now we’re talking. Freedom isn’t just for posting in Facebook what you’re eating on a flight from Hong Kong. Freedom enables greatness.
As I exhorted in my last post, let us aspire to be great. Let us concern ourselves with using our freedom to communicate great ideas. The mechanical levers of the machine age have given way to digital marvels which allow us to magnify great ideas like never before. The four freedoms are intact. We don’t need to ‘fsociety’ as the popular hacker television show Mr. Robot asserts. We should relish the freedom we have and the ability of the six inches between our ears to create anew. Innovation and economic resurgence flourish in such societies.
Our society and system is brilliant because it is changeable; it adapts to the challenges of the day. This time is no different. Laws become better as they approach the ideals of: Liberty, Equality, and Justice. If we stumble, we get back up. Our freedom is our salvation.
We’re going to land on our feet. The modern society is empowering as it is bewildering. Perspective shows us that individual voice and power of ideas still reign. Don’t doubt it for a minute. Do what I’m doing. Take a breath . . . it’s going to be okay.