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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Still Crazy after all these years.



I have been reading the history of America, starting with the late 15th century and moving chronologically forward, I am up to the middle of the Civil War, the winter of 1862/1863. One theme that stands out in our history is that we are crazy. The crazy theme plays in virtually every generation. The Salem witch trials, the American Revolution, the war of 1812, the Civil War, all have direct parallels to today’s crazy.
There is always a small percentage of crazy in any population. Europe, Asia, and Africa all have crazy citizens in their population. In America we institutionalized the crazy, the founding fathers fear of “the tyranny of the majority” has resulted in today’s tyranny of the minority, we guarantee the rights of the minority, our institutions give a small group of crazy people outsized powered. The other advanced nations chose a governing structure that forces the crazy people to form coalitions, which creates a limit to their power.
A relatively small group firmly believes that government should be bankrupt and incompetent. This small group uses the rules and procedures of government to force their wishes onto the nation. Being crazy allows them to dismiss objective data and facts; they can explain that this approach hasn’t worked because we aren’t crazy enough. Just a little more crazy and all will be fine.
This is not new, being crazy is a politically protected American behavior, historically we have kicked the can down the road until the can eventually explodes, the worst example being the American Civil War. The history books explain the Civil War as a conflict between north and south wealth, between uneven political powers, about the unresolved issue of slavery. Some history books cite the south as being counter-revolutionary, struggling to maintain an aristocratic society against the emerging proletariat society that came to dominate western civilization.
As I read the statements of antebellum congressional leaders, the news paper editorials and diaries of soldiers, I find mostly crazy. A common statement from the south was about liberty, the liberty to own another human being. I’m going out on a limb and calling that crazy. Repeatedly I read speeches that can only be labeled as crazy. I find this same pattern of behavior in the Salem witch trials and the War of 1812.
Putting the crazy people in charge is a long established and time honored American tradition, it just doesn’t end well.
I listen to today’s political speeches and talk show host, I watched all the debates before last year’s election, I read the newspapers and periodicals and online blogs and think, “That’s crazy”. Sometimes I will try to understand the basis of the proposition, I will check the claimed factual underpinnings, at best the facts are twisted, but more often they are wrong or made up. This is a continuing two hundred and fifty year history of being crazy.
Historically the crazy people blow up society and the normal people have to repair the damage. Measured over generations the destruction and rebuilding results in a greatly improved society, unfortunately things are really bad for the generations during and just after the explosion.
Maybe I am being hopelessly optimistic and seeing what I want to see. It seems that more and more normal people are questioning the crazies, we can only express our will at the ballot box, but, the signs are encouraging.

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