~ Deconstructing reconstruction.
When the Great Depression hit Hoover did not immediately perceive that it was more about a crisis of consciousness than one of cash. FDR penetrated the vale and conflated all the conversations about ‘old ways’ and ‘new directions’ into the catch-phrase of “fear”. And he put an end to the discussion by vilifying even the thought of conversation in his famous “nothing to fear but fear itself” characterization of the times. He wanted people to walk freely and willingly away from the past, the way things were. Not to walk away was “fear”. He wanted people to freely embrace his vision of the New World and what the new world would be like. To not embrace was “fear”. In reality things were not so simple.
History as we know it, as we have been taught it, is too often colored by the perceptions of politics and economics and the self-deception of too fondly embracing our own (false) created myths about ourselves, our values, and who we really are. Upon reflection one might reasonably assume that everything, every premise that we know and once were taught about the Great Depression is wrong – fundamentally wrong. Let’s explore this hypothesis, investigate the merits of the argument, reflect on what was really going on. The conclusions may certainly have a relevance for today.
Lincoln never lived to oversee the ‘reconstruction’. If he had it well might have had a different shape, a different form, a very different outcome. This point is worth remembering; ‘history’ is never fixed (unless the ‘fix’ is in – we remember the assassination, the plot, the investigation and the cover-up). The point of “reconstruction” was to reinvent the south, like the later reConstitution of Japan (after the second world war); to dispose of the institutions and attitudes and economic ways and byways, the customs and the practices that had made the whole enterprise of The South possible, plausible, and to many “downright pathetic”. Like with Caesar, let any good (of Southern ways and culture) be interred with the bones, the ashes, the nostalgic players with their Stars and Bars (or in irony do I somewhat jest?).
The twenties in America was too a time of conflict, convulsion, and revolution. The merits of the old ways and old days were being greatly challenged by a new Industrial Revolution, a new consolidation of industries and power, a new science bringing with it revolutionary things. The change had started a decade earlier, but the changes had been misperceived, the misgivings of the revolution put aside, most if all change had been integrated and embraced. But by the twenties there was a new vision of the future, Mussolini and the Italians perhaps saw it first. Japan saw it too, a bit differently, but clearly a break from the old order of the past. And then of course came Hitler, and Stalin with their visions of the “super-state”, and the super-man and super-girl and super-mom that in their careful conforming could make it all possible, happen, happen now.
The new models were dissected, discussed, symbolized and propagandized. Propaganda of course was what made it all possible; the new radio, loudspeakers, amplified sound, the talkies. There were too many newspapers, too local, too ‘old style’, too many points of view. The new style was the ‘Fuhrer-prince’ (the leadership principle), the theory of ‘top down’ oligarchy and the theory of the oligarchy’s ownership of the state – “One nation, one God, one leader, one people”. And the new medium for the new leaders to spread their propaganda of this new age uniformity was the radio address, the “fireside chat”, the venue of the mix of program; speeches, talks, commentary, patriotic music, patriotic patter, the constant drone of paternalistic and materialistic and enticingly spiritualistic pose and prose.
It is not new to propose that FDR was our own Nationalistic Leader. But what we do forget is the message, the agenda, the transformation of everything under his administration of ‘hope’ and what hope brought us, and what we lost from “hope” and why it is once again so important to us today. The uniform rallying cry was of course “infrastructure”. Mussolini first made the trains run on time, then he started new work on the Rome centric roads, then he moved on to the monuments, the public plazas, the reconstruction and realignment of everything basic and central to everything that everyone ever knew. The fascia was the symbol; like on the FDR dime, like in the Senate reconstruction under FDR, like on the Lincoln throne of FDR’s Lincoln Memorial. Like a thousand other places and public places where the new symbol was engraved, took hold, replaced the old symbols of the age before. We live with them still, everywhere like the Swastika, like on the building friezes, like on the Senate seats, like they all came with such a zeal and abandon in America, in FDR’s America, as if they were the universal symbol of ‘change and hope’. These “thirties buildings” were still everywhere till recently, many still exist, walk the streets and see – you will see them.
In America we had a hundred times more trains than Italy, a thousand times the miles in track. The nation was run by rail and not by roads and cars and the oil companies and oil. Hitler changed all that. With Ford he invented the autobahn, the super highway, the “peoples car”. He put an end to rail, rail was for cattle, cattle cars, boxcars and freight. The future would move by car, as in ‘automobile’. Millions of marks went to building the new infrastructure. Templehof was the great new airport, FDR built National (now known as Reagan). There were many others, the future would be the plane. New Deal artists repainted all the nations theaters for free, better to go see the talkies, the “newsreels”, the clips of each new presidential speech and address. No one spent a dime on saving papers, every day a new one folded, mostly those too critical of FDR.
Another new symbol was that of power, of electricity, of the swift transformation of lightning and lightning bolts and lightning warfare and the SS symbol of the surveillance that will make you free. FDR (in lockstep) built his dams; Boulder, Shasta, TVA, Grand Coulee, a hundred others. The idea was to electrify America, electrify the skies, make radio and even TV happen, a propaganda box in every home
and a central power authority as metaphor for central power. Who ‘threw the switch’ from Washington to light a thousand homes in Tennessee? America soon learned from where came the face and force of power, literal and figurative, the FAA, the FDA, the FCC, the FBI; the Federal controlled it all and the power was in Washington and FDR was the head.
In the thirties everyone wanting a job fled to Washington, or to Sacramento and the other sub-Capitals of power, the places that Washington (FDR) favored. The places to where the money flowed. (Right) Government everywhere was rapidly expanding, new buildings, new places, new land cleared of simple homes and houses (uncooperative businesses), old things in the way. He planned the Pentagon (of power). He built the new Golden Gate (Bridge), the Bay Bridge, maybe a thousand more. All for cars, not really for walkers, for pedestrians, for people who might want to see the sea (or travel on it). The ferry boats soon were gone, the simple pleasures, the things that kept people from their cars equipped with radios (too far from the propaganda, too many minutes spent all alone in thought, thinking for oneself). Did you know that the early planes in the thirties were all equipped with a radio, the stewardess would turn it on so you might really “enjoy your flight”, might listen and might not read (poor light, too many bad vibrations).
I grew up taking this new world for granted. I never knew another. My images of Lincoln were the Monument, the throne, the symbols of FDR. I marveled at the Golden Gate Bridge, was proud to visit Hoover (not Boulder anymore) Dam. The new Capitol in Sacramento was anybody’s dream. National Airport and so many others were so interesting, so full of symbols, so much like I’d always seen in all the movies. I had thoroughly memorized the script. I knew what to see and what to think and how to feel about it all. What a great country in 1954 or 56’ or 60’ – One Nation, one God, one Leader, one People. All it took was one look at one dime and a dime would buy a Dilly Bar at Dairy Queen and wasn’t that enough?
Of course there were a few scratches on the record. I had a grandmother or two. People to set me straight, who had known a different world and a different life and were not so easily taken in by all the images. Sure, they watched TV, but they didn’t think that I should. Maybe they were right. “A little maybe, but too much will do a child no good,” one heard it everywhere from those now so obsolete, not a part of the new order, not content to buy a pie when one could easily make one; wood stove with sagebrush or cedar burning, no oil, no need for oil or electricity or permission from the president. Didn’t like FDR, Ike wasn’t too much better; but then don’t talk about politics – too much for the kids, they will figure it all out in time. “Our children may have gotten conned, but the grandchildren will turn out all right.” That was their ‘hope’.
Ageing has its purpose. To wish for childhood, to seek only youth is folly. Age gracefully. Age gracefully whether you are two or twelve or twenty; age more gracefully if you’re 29 or more. The nation depends upon it; and if not the nation, the world; and if not the world then your friends or family. Life is more about the simple things; not electricity, not power – though a little in moderation might be OK, local power, the electric current from the sun (wind is from the sun). It’s not about the money, land and water will get you by – grow your own and trade a bit and you’ll always be surprised by what the neighbors bring. There are marble monuments in Rome, in Berlin, in the old USSR, in Washington and in Japan. But there are also monumental trees and monumental forests and monumental deserts, Death Valley is a monument not a park. I think I make my point.
Work will not make you free. It’s not about the paycheck. It’s about the taxes that the paycheck brings, about the cars, about the oil, about the wars that all the oil and cars and taxes bring. About the wars, both foreign and domestic. Just walk away. Don’t drive, just walk, or maybe take the train, or maybe find a ferryboat across the water, the river of our lives. Find one somewhere, and experience for a few quiet minutes what we’ve lost; coastal steamers, riverboats, streetcars rolling down the street and out to the country with orchards passing by – clean laundry flapping in the wind hand washed in simple houses. “Simple” did get them by.
Don’t ever say that this nation never sent the “old” off to war. The Boomers are really ageing, fast and furious, and many really are rather furious. We did not choose or make this war, it was thrust upon us. We have no choice but to rally to the fight. We will fight for what they’ve taken, we will fight for what’s been lost. We will fight for our families and the memories of our families and for the lives that our families lived, or might have lived had the enemy not stormed the gates. We have been isolated and codified and bar-coded into near oblivion; co-opted, opted-in and opted-out until we have screamed or were made ready and left to die. We have been toxified. We have been poisoned both in body and in mind. But one word of warning. We will not take it anymore. We will not take it anymore!
If you pretend to be a soldier don’t pretend to fight for me, or for my freedom. You are more the enemy, you fight for my oblivion, you do not fight to make me free. You were never born with any real freedom, you don’t know what freedom is. You do not sing a freedom song. You do not fight with freedoms weapons. You are but a weapon of the war. You are in it only for the paycheck, the monetary benefits, the free housing for your spouse – just a mercenary soldier. Real patriots fight for free. Do I make myself perfectly clear? Real patriots fight for free. Will you please join the fight for “free”.
When I was young I was taught that a nation, a world could not endure with one half slave and one half free. The message was right, the dividing lines were wrong. I do not know if one half the world still is free, I do hope for a new birth of freedom though; freedom from war and modern warriors; freedom from bureaucrats and bureaucracies; freedom from the false hopes of politicians and other despots; free from big business, banks, and media. I am not afraid of ‘want’, I do not need freedom from want; I want to be free. And one day I hope that this country will not be half slave, half free. And I hope to live among the truly free.
[2009.02.10 / Martian (chronicles) day – Hope Revisited]