“Better call on evolution” or, Our Cultural Koyaanisqatsi

ON THIS DAY:

On May 25, 1925, John T. Scopes was indicted in Tennessee for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution.

I always enjoy the chance to invoke the incomparable Bill Hicks.

And of course, I relish any opportunity to break out my favorite image ever:

But it’s not all that funny, really. I mean, we laugh because there is much to laugh at. You have to laugh at these simpletons who want to “bring our country back”, meaning the good old days when blacks and women knew their place, homosexuals dared not show their faces in public and the bible held firmer sway over a greater portion of the populace. Presumably these same tea baggers and bigots don’t want to also bring back cars without air conditioning and houses without running water, smallpox without vaccine and surgery without anesthetics and a few dozen other of our least favorite things from a time when the world was a whiter shade of pale.

And it’s not at all difficult to connect the dots between the type of magical thinking employed by the bible thumpers and the Ayn Rand-obsessed Libertarian lunatics (how perfect –and appalling– a commentary on the cultural Koyaanisqatsi we are currently struggling through that the son of the Libertarian’s savior is named after the most humorless and phlegmatic popular novelist of the 20th Century. Painfully popular. And imperceptive. (And influential. Right Alan? Atlas shrugged; Jesus wept.) Indeed, the only redeeming thing I can think about Ayn Rand is that she partially inspired one of Rush’s great early albums.

It’s times like this that I wish we actually had a Democrat in The White House.

Just kidding. Sort of.

I mean, if there wasn’t a better teaching moment than right now, when has there ever been? Between the ongoing Wall Street debacle (and the toothless “reform”) and the state our the-only-thing-better-than-less-regulation-is-no-regulation former administration left our country in, we are presented with the ultimate, ugly fruit of that mentality, the BP debacle. Or should I say, the still far-from-resolved BP debacle? Actual regulation on the disgustingly rapacious financial, housing and oil industries would have easily obviated all of the recent catastrophes. Catastrophes that we will spend generations paying for. Put another way: the only people who have gotten rich in any of these three arenas are the people who depend upon other peoples’ misfortune to make a profit. And, of course, there are large segments of our country fired up and ready to march defending these sociopath’s unfettered right to exploit and destroy.

See, the thing about teaching moments is that people need to be teachable; they need to be capable of being taught. And a distressing number of Americans right now have already determined that everything they need to know is contained within the (literal) words of the bible, or is best expressed by the (backwards and demonstrably untrue) proposition that there’s nothing the government can do that the free market can’t do better.

Yet, as depressing as it might be to consider how far we have to go, it’s helpful to think about the distance we’ve travelled. Take a look at the recent CNN poll, indicating that 8 of 10 Americans have no problems with gay people openly serving in the military. Could you have even fathomed this possibility back in November, 2004? (That, you may recall, was just after the G.O.P. successfully cock-rocked the vote, whipping up the Red and Blue state hysteria concerning all-things-homosexual. It seems safe to suggest that this disgusting –and disgustingly effective– strategy has finally reached its expiration date, and in our lifetimes we’ll look back in disbelief at how gullible, intolerant and imbecilic we were around the turn of the century. The way most of us today regard our legacy toward civil rights. Right Rand?

So there has been progress. And the good thing about evolution is that no matter how slow it might be, it is inevitable. Although, I wonder if the recent paradigm shift regarding gay rights has less to do with enlightened acculturation and more to do with the fact that in the last six years we’ve gradually discovered every priest and Republican politician is queer as Charles Haley. Just kidding. Sort of.

Therefore on a day that we remember the struggle to teach evolution even as we struggle to teach ourselves how to evolve, I’ll abjure originality and invoke a tune entitled…Evolution. Assessing this great song from the great Cat Power’s great album You Are Free (which I opined was the 4th best album of the past decade), I offered the following thoughts:

But in the end, “Evolution” is the ideal song to close out the set. More, it’s one of the best closing songs on any album, ever. More, it may just be the song of the decade: thematically it is elegiac but in its yearning, deeply human resolve, it is inevitably inspiring. Another duet with Eddie Vedder, I am unable to express the heights this tone poem attains. Just piano and two voices, one sounding like the other’s shadow, Vedder echoes, encourages and reinforces Marshall’s fragile invocation of witness and perseverance. The pair go through the lyrics one time, pause and recite them a second time, ending with a subdued but urgent call to arms, repeating the words “Better make your mind up quick”. They are talking to themselves and, one slowly realizes, addressing anyone else who might be listening.

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Comments

  1. Perhaps your teaching moment should be expanded…

    While you bring up some serious issues the problem(s)- both cause and effect go beyond the typical left vs right, libertarian vs keynsian, etc.

    Our global system has been most negatively impacted by both crony capitalism and rent seekers (http://www.economist.com/research/Economics/alphabetic.cfm?letter=R#rent-seeking)

    This isn’t just true with BP and the veiled impression of regulation (see also Madoff and the SEC) but also the implications that larger govt and greater promised beneftis are a solution (see the country of Greece and to a smaller degree State and Local Pension promises in the US such as NY http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/21/business/economy/21pension.html?src=me&ref=business).

    The proliferation of rent seeking is not homogenous to one party or ideology – it is a result of those that hold the power and that is not based on a political belief or economic stance.

    Unfortunately until it becomes apparent to you, me and the masses that the problems are structural symtoms not singularly guilty actions of just one party or economic belief.

    Sadly the most successful model of the past decade is from the East – China – with a communist govt and a capitalist economy.

    Few of us want that as the model. Its time to man up and see the teaching moment for what it is not an opportunity to assess blame to a political adversary or score points in an argument but to realize our problems are deeper and at least here in the US its time to address crony capitalism and rent seeking.

    The core of that starts with the money funneling to the powers that be – DEM or GOP. Hold the power you hold the keys to that that ails us.

  2. Sean Murphy says:

    Papa:

    Certainly this is not an all-or-nothing scenario. Regulation is not a magic potion for all that ails us, but it certainly serves a purpose (one that, curiously, hard-core Libertarians and corporate socialist Republicans not only deny, but spend significant sums of money seeking to discredit…).

    The thing I find lacking in most of this analysis is the simple fact that history never exists in a vaccum. That is to say, all these “intrusive” regulatory efforts were brought into place over a century ago because our meat was tainted, toxic spillage was uncontrolled and children were working 60 hours a week in factory. Oh and that whole overtime thing?

    You and I, and the rest of the country, could talk endlessly about this but the bottom line is that sensible regulation is meant to regulate, not constrain. Until we have a dialogue that does not put profit above collective safety, we deserve the disasters we continue to create.

  3. Sargent Fury says:

    Enjoyed your piece Murph. Here is my take:

    The errors of the left are in proclaiming that:

    a) profit is bad
    b) politicians and bureaucrats are not profit seeking, they are altruistic and therefore they are the answer to greedy ‘profiteers’.

    There is only one reason that we enjoy the standard of living that we all do and that is via the profit motive. It is the *only* motive that consistently creates wealth (ie. a bigger pie for all) over time.

    *Human beings* are greedy. Another word for greed is self-interest. I would prefer more money to less, a closer parking spot to a further one, better health to worse health, a larger beauracracy to a smaller one, a regulation that benefits my company over my competitor therfore I will lobby for it etc. etc. etc. It is an endless cycle of which all human beings are a part, including politicians and beaureacrats. We can argue about whether or not that is unfortunate (it may or may not be) but it is the reality.

    The errors of the right are (and there are a lot) are in proclaiming that:

    a) The government can do no good.

    This is ridiculous as the government does good all the time. It is a dumb argument to make. The question is at what cost and to whom. All too often, benefits are narrow and defined (ie. this group will get x) and costs are large and dispursed (ie. we all pay an extra 5 cents for peanut butter).

    b) ‘Redistribution’ is ‘bad’. Not all have a fair shake in life and people who are born into wealth generally stay there and those born into poverty (and perhaps prone to a one parent family, drugs, crime and horrible education), generally stay there as well.

    The question is what do do with tax money taken from the wealthy and how best to help the disadvantaged. My argument would be to spend it on fighting crime (crime-fighter!), drugs and in enhancing education.

    SO. The ANSWER is:

    a) acknowledging that government does ‘do good’ but that there are a tremendous amount of hidden costs in what government does and that ‘good intentions’ or worse, selfish intentions that are ‘masked’ as good intentions usually come with many hidden costs, often times to those who they are supposed to help (see today’s Walter Williams article – Actually, I am sure that you hve read it since I know that TownHall.com is #1 on your list :))

    http://townhall.com/columnists/WalterEWilliams/2010/05/26/minimum_wage_cruelty_update

    b) If we can be honest about the true effects of governement policies, not just the desired effects, then maybe as a nation, left and right, we can decide what would be best.

    Cheers, fellow human.

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