Post-Industrial Politics

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

The quote is from Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 publication, The End of History and the Last Man, but the view it represents was common among Western elites even while the Cold War was still very much in progress. It could just as easily have come from Daniel Bell’s book, The End of Ideology, published in 1960, as from Fukuyama’s.

The various versions of this world view differ in their details, but they have one principal thesis in common, namely that the Twentieth Century will shortly be (is already) over, and that all of the isms which threatened to lay waste to civilization during the last seventy years of it have now had their day. (Presumably this list of pernicious isms has been updated recently to include Free-market Capitalism, but no one’s quite gotten around to saying so yet, at least not at any length.)

Politics and economics, in this view, are now settled issues, except in the more backward regions of the world, and conflicts in such remote places needn’t concern us, so long as we can isolate them behind a kind of cordon sanitaire, through which we are able to extract such raw materials and human talent as are needed for our own more advanced civilization. Eventually, of course, we’ll get around to extending that civilization to them as well, once we’ve finished tidying up closer to home.

Admittedly, not all formulations of  the end of history are as arrogant as I’m making them out to be here, but the idea that the major problems left in the Twenty-first Century are problems, not of politics, but of management, is common to all of them. In my view, this is not only a profoundly anti-democratic idea, (I’d even go so far as to call it un-American, if I were speaking only theoretically) but it’s also just plain wrong. What it leads to — has led to, in fact — is not a managerial state which selflessly wields the key to the greatest good for the greatest number, but a corporate state, which isn’t the same thing at all.

o see the difficulty, one need only consider that a state which manages things must also of necessity manage people, and that to do so without politics, it must resort within its own borders to demagoguery and propaganda at the very least, while outside them, when it can’t persuade other states to see the world as it does, it must resort to force. To believe otherwise, one must ignore not only much of what has been known for centuries about human nature, but also much of what is already happening in our not-so-shiny new century.

To be fair, Fukuyama doesn’t actually speak of replacing politics with management; he asserts instead that Western liberal democracy is the final form of human government. I would argue that as far as the United States is concerned, this is a distinction without very much difference, in that our version of Western liberal democracy has, since the end of World War II, evolved into something which is neither liberal nor democratic.


What isn’t liberal about it? Here’s a partial, but telling list:

1. The chronic and systematic underfunding of public education. The government has withdrawn funding for the public school system while creating a tax structure which favors the creation of privately-run academies, in many cases religious or ideological in nature, to compete with it.

2. The abandonment of any pretense of support for independent public institutions. The Federal Reserve Bank has become a captive of what, in more candid times, we rightly called the moneyed interests. The balance sheets of banks, however chimerical, are guaranteed, and the effect of those largely unconditional guarantees—a shortage of capital available to the real economy of small business enterprises and wage earners — is ignored. The reports of the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration are censored by appointed political commissars. So are the programming choices of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the funding choices of the National Endowment for the Arts.

3. Institutionalized disrespect for the rule of law. An American President who employed the full powers of his office to conduct what was, for all intents and purposes, a secret war on an opposition political party, was allowed to resign from office when his crimes against democracy were revealed, but was immediately pardoned by his successor. An American Vice-President has openly boasted, on nationally-broadcast television programs, of ordering acts defined as war crimes by American laws and treaties, yet despite his brazen confession, there isn’t the slightest chance that he’ll ever be prosecuted for his crimes, even though he’s now out of office. When compared to the fact that the United States currently incarcerates a larger percentage of its population than any other Western liberal democracy, or many totalitarian states, for that matter—mostly for drug offenses, and mostly poor, or members of minority groups, or both—there’s ample reason, surely, to ask whether or not justice in our country is truly blind.

4. The militarization of law enforcement. Helicopters, combat uniforms, flak jackets, night vision goggles, automatic weapons, armored vehicles, training in counter-insurgency techniques by Blackwater Xe—even the police forces of modest-sized towns and the sheriff’s departments of depopulated rural counties lust after such toys, and many already have, or soon will have them, thanks to the generosity of their fearful neighbors and the rapacity of our ever more diversified defense industries, (While admittedly the Israelis, African dictators and nervous ex-Soviet satellites have more money to spend, capitalism wouldn’t be capitalism if it lost the knack of expanding its markets.) The new equipment and training will, of course, be accompanied by new responsibilities, prestigious and important ones, such as domestic anti-terrorism surveillance, and the enforcement of immigration laws.

No doubt it’s a new and more dangerous world which we inhabit, particularly as we live out the final days of our imperial pretensions, and our egregiously misnamed war on drugs, but surely it wouldn’t hurt if we were a little more careful about what we wished for. In my own town, population 10,000, the newer, beefier police force seems to be engaged mostly in pursuing and harassing teenagers and people who look like Mexicans, and in beating up black people who inadvertently find themselves on back roads after sundown. I’ve encountered any number of such incidents myself. Here’s just one example: eight fully-equipped police cruisers — eight of them — strung out along the shoulder of the road at a major intersection, with the sixteen cops who’d gotten out of them them surrounding what appeared to be a single middle-aged farm worker of Mexican descent in a 20 year-old station wagon with shot piston rings, and all of his personal belongings stuffed into the back. What genuine democracy considers scenes like this an unremarkable part of its everyday landscape?


When I consider a list of achievements as dubious as these, I’m afraid I see neither the end of history, nor the triumph of Western liberal democracy over any possible future politics. What I see instead is power attempting to disguise its appetites as rationality, which is precisely the maneuver which history most often records as the prelude to political chaos.

This is neither an accident, nor—as Fukuyama seems to believe—an unavoidable but temporary station on some uniquely Western via crucis. We’re all creatures of history, and as such capable of accumulating knowledge over the course of generations, yet despite our powers for good or ill, anything even remotely resembling omniscience remains beyond our reach. The impressive intellectual and physical resources now at our disposal are indisputable, yet we’re clearly every bit as vulnerable as our less capable ancestors were to events which we can’t foresee.

For us it doesn’t actually matter whether nemesis arrives as irreversible global warming, a world-wide pandemic or grain harvest collapse set in motion by unsafe economies of scale in agriculture, or even as the failure of the light of reason in our struggle to reconcile irreconcilable differences among the world’s major economic and political powers. What matters is that when nemesis does arrive, it’s unlikely that a managerial state which has already proven itself to be part uncontrollable dynamo and part house of cards will be able to fend it off.

I consider myself a faithful child of the American Constitution. Like many other Americans who share my faith, perhaps even Fukuyama himself — particularly since he’s come to see the moral and intellectual flaws in neoconservatism — I feel a certain native contempt for oligarchs and imperialists, for demagogues and fanatics. Much as I despise them, though, I don’t think that they deserve the blame — certainly not the exclusive blame — for the mess we’ve made of our heritage. Our problem isn’t a lack of virtue in our governing classes, it’s a failure to understand the role of scale in determining the viability of human institutions.


The population of the United States is now more than 304 million. In order to live the way we’ve become accustomed to living, we consume almost 21 million barrels of oil a day. The figures for natural gas and electricity consumption are similarly daunting. In this context, speaking of governance in terms of representative democracy requires more than an act of faith, it requires some knowledge of the dynamics of control systems.

When a society relies so absolutely on a technological infrastructure as large and as complex as that implied by the current energy consumption of the U.S., the legitimate question to be asked is whether it serves us, or we serve it. This isn’t a new question; Marx asked it, Sartre asked it, and so have many others who aren’t embedded philosophically in Fukuyama’s end of history. Frankly, the answers to date have not been reassuring.

It’s hard to understand, after all, how interminable wars in distant places benefit us, why universal health care is unnecessary, or what’s so unique about our modern age which makes civil liberties a luxury we can no longer afford. The real answer, the only answer, in my view, is that democracy has come to be seen as an inconvenient way to manage the large systems — economic, technological and political — which we’ve inherited from the industrial revolution. Since Word War II, this perception has in fact become the governing subtext of our politics, regardless of how scrupulously we avoid mentioning it either in public or in private.

Those charged with the responsibility for managing large, complex enterprises interest themselves primarily in how to accomplish their goals; questions of why they should have such goals are at best treated as diversions from the task at hand, and at worst as irresponsible — questions of interest only to fools who have no real responsibilities, and therefore have the time to waste on trivialities. This is understandable, but it’s also dangerous.

Consider just one example: once a national consensus is established that the key to continued prosperity lies in increasing our consumption of affordably priced fossil fuels, the mining of coal by mountain-top removal in the Appalachians may be looked upon as a welcome innovation. The expense of maintaining the largest mobile military force on the planet, however insupportable, may come to be considered a worthwhile investment, if it guarantees us access to oil which lies, for the most part, in remote and contentious parts of the world.

When, later on, evidence mounts that the negative consequences of this earlier consensus might outweigh the benefits — destruction of the Appalachian ecosystem, a possibly disastrous rise in the Earth’s average temperature, and a Global War On Terror which has revived colonialism and re-legitimized torture, among its other evils — we may find, to our dismay, that the original consensus has hardened into  a military-industrial complex. We may also find an army of lobbyists with satchels full of cash camping out in the halls of Congress, none of whom have any interest in anything except defending what their masters have built.

Even worse, decades of media consolidation now allow the machinery of the status quo to employ all the techniques of mass manipulation pioneered by the advertising industry, and perfected by the unlamented totalitarian governments of the last century, to smother any meaningful discussion of reforms which might threaten its interests. Not all have been as crude as Glenn Beck’s assertion that believing in global warming is treason, but taken as a whole, they’ve been tragically effective.

The problem is that when representative democracy becomes a shadow play, and the supremacy of those who ask how over those who ask why is complete; as the conventional wisdom narrows, and the status quo advertises itself as a self-fulfilling prophecy, we’re all at risk from events which we may be able to see coming, but have lost the power to deflect.

I’m sorry, Professor Fukuyama, but what we have now in no way represents the end of history, unless by the end of history we mean Armageddon. It’s far too monumental, far too brittle, and far too fond of looking admiringly in the mirror at itself.

A true post-industrial politics, one which might be flexible enough to restructure even its most dominant, and most resistant institutions in the face of impending calamity, cannot rely on the benevolence or expertise of a managerial class, be it capitalist, socialist, or teetotalitarian. We must invent new technologies of decentralization, and rediscover the benefits we once understood to be exclusive to democracy — its openness to the contributions of all, and in the collective, its clear-eyed view of the world as it is, unencumbered by the baggage of either privilege or ideology.

If we don’t, we might not be facing the end of history, but what remains of it is unlikely to be as pleasant as you imagine.

American Landscapes — I

First light
beginning clear and violent
in the East.
There is no sound.

All I carry
of the cypresses
                  the dust
                  is here
and the sunflowers
the smell of corn and horses
where I’m walking.

There are towns here too
and in them
men to pass the time.
I know them.

Over their streetlights
over their shadows and voices
quick winds and
darkness when the sun goes
nowhere any water.


Random before-coffee thoughts:

What James C. Dobson, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter want is Afghanistan under the Taliban.

What William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer (foreign policy) and Pat Buchanan (domestic policy) want is Germany under Hitler.

What the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Federal Reserve want is England under the Stuarts.

What the Democratic Party and foreign policy establishments want is Rome under Augustus.

Since we’re not even certain that it still exists, except at the annual reunions of a shrinking handful of octogenarians, what the Republican Party establishment wants is unknown.

What they all say they want is Athens under Pericles. What we’re most likely to get, if we continue on our present path, is Spain under Philip II, and that only if we’re very, very lucky.

What the Viet Nam War Really Cost Us

The post I’ve been working on, Post-Industrial Politics, has been unavoidably detained. The crew has developed a touch of scurvy, we lost a topmast somewhere off Greenland, and almost half our casks of bully-beef have gone rotten.

Never fear, we’ll eventually reach port — Lord willing, etc. In the meantime, have a look at this:

The Triple Revolution

In the course of refreshing my memory for the new post, I went and dug it up after more than forty years. As an example of both the prescience and the foolishness of mid-Twentieth Century American liberalism, it would be hard to top.

I’ll have more to say about this later, but for now, it’s all hands aloft to shorten sail.

A Short Housekeeping Note

To all of you delightfully available young ladies of Kiev, and your clever Internet pimps:

If you’re willing to meet my price, I’ll be happy to set up a little sidebar where you can display your irresistible charms without the slightest hindrance, a kind of Dogtown Reeperbahn all your own.

Otherwise, please note that this is a small blog, without so much traffic that I can’t afford to see and delete your sneaky little contributions within minutes of their arrival. Unless I happen to be asleep, of course, in which case my readers can leaven their more pressing concerns with a modest giggle until I finish my coffee the following morning.

Fair enough?

Obama’s Speech in Cairo

It felt very strange, reading President Obama’s speech just two days after finishing my last post. Very strange, and — I don’t know how to put this without sounding like a sycophant — very inspiring.

What he said desperately needed saying, and I have no doubt now that he means it. How could I, when it resonates with so much of my own thinking? My doubts lie elsewhere. His deeds so far, with the possible exception of his hardheadedness on the issue of expanding Israeli settlements, seem to belie his words.

If he does what he said he’ll do, I’ll support him in every way I can, no matter the cost. If he doesn’t, I’ll oppose him with as much energy I can muster, knowing full well that what comes after him might be even worse. Time is short, and the issues confronting us are grave. This necessarily narrows the ground on which we can base genuine compromises, and threatens us with conflicts which all of us would prefer to avoid. For that reason, if for no other, I hope that the President was telling the truth about what he intends. If he was, I’ll happily pray for his success.

The Summit of Dunsinane

These are difficult times. If you squint a little, you might just be able to make out a grave and solitary figure above us on the battlements, watching the distant consequences of his folly approach.

President Bush? Many of us would like to think so, but that would be far too convenient. Even Democrats have to admit that there’s been no shortage lately of fools and knaves from both parties at work in Washington. No, our sentinel doesn’t have or need a name. It’s the image of a collective apprehension; you might even say that it represents America itself.

The impulse to blame someone or some thing for our predicament is natural, but the sad truth is that it doesn’t matter whether the mess we’re all in — the collapse of global finance, the increasing disparity in incomes, the interminable war on terror — is the result of something we did, or of something that was done to us. What matters is that there will be serious consequences for all of us. We desperately need some clarity about what we can do to avoid being overwhelmed by them.

Unfortunately, what we’ve been hearing so far from both Republicans and Democrats is what we can’t do. We can’t close Guantánamo, not really. We can’t try the people we’ve held and tortured for years, nor can we release them. We can’t withdraw our troops from Iraq or Afghanistan, not all of them, anyway — not for years and years. We can’t let the large investment banks fail, not unless we want them to take us with them into oblivion. We can’t have universal health care — not unless the so-called health care industry gets its cut off the top. We can’t, in short, make fundamental changes in anything. No alternative to the status quo is credible, let alone politically feasible, even though the status quo is arguably what got us into this mess in the first place.

Can this possibly be true? Simply put, no, it can’t be. Anyone who’s watched the implosion of the Republican Party over the past two years must realize that even seemingly unshakeable convictions have to yield to reality eventually, if reality insists — and reality always insists, particularly when it’s in fundamental conflict with those convictions.

This is what makes clowns of would-be prophets like Rush Limbaugh or Newt Gingrich. They don’t see reality, even that small part of it which is given to wiser mortals to see. In fact, they can’t see it; they’re too busy collecting underpants and grinding axes.

At this point in our history, I think that we can safely ignore the clowns, clowns like Limbaugh and Gingrich in particular. The more difficult task is to engage our elected representatives and their list of can’ts. After all, we did put them where they are, and up to now we’ve been willing to accept their assurances that they’ve been acting in our best interest.

We’d do well to begin by ignoring their assessments of what is and isn’t possible. While it’s true that reality always sets an upper limit to our aspirations, and must be respected, it’s also true that what we can do is always at least partly a matter of what we want to do, so long as what we want to do takes honest account not only of our present circumstances, but of our history as well.


And what of that history? Despite the pieties we’ve all had to endure on patriotic occasions, we’ve always been citizens of two Americas; the America dreamt of by what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature, and recorded in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and that darker America best described in our own time by Noam Chomsky — the America of slavery grudgingly relinquished, the America of a cruel, century-long war on our aboriginal peoples, the America of Commodore Perry’s threats to the Japanese and William Randolph Hearst’s threats to the Spanish, the America of the Homestead steel strike and the Manzanar internment camp.

More recently, roughly from the end of World War II to the present, managing this dual citizenship has been easier for most of us than we deserved, largely because we’ve been isolated enough, and secure enough, to avoid reflecting on the incompatibilities between the two. Only when something seriously unpleasant happens to us, and we’re actually forced to confront those incompatibilities, do we encounter what you might call the hidden surcharge of American mythology.

It appears on the bill as confusion, this surcharge, and even the most privileged among us — senators, defense industry CEOs, Wall Street bankers and the like — have to pay it. The cognitive dissonance so evident in our present political discourse has all sorts of ancillary causes, but its roots lie in the fact that we believe things about ourselves which aren’t true, and haven’t ever been true except when expressed — and acted upon — as ideals.

We had to destroy the village in order to save it. They hate us for our freedoms. The government is obligated to honor the bonus contracts at AIG, but not the union contracts at General Motors. What are statements like these, if not evidence of a dishonest and self-serving logic at the heart of our national conversation, yet how many of us listen to the like every day without so much as blinking? Whether we realize it or not, such dishonesties are and will likely continue to be the principal impediment to the future we’ve all promised ourselves, and have been promising ourselves since the founding of the Republic.


The government will do what it likes, of course, at least until we can get our hands on it again. In the meantime, those of us who can actually see Birnam Wood on the move must ask ourselves a question which has been asked many times before in our history: What is to be done?

First and foremost, America must publicly, and unequivocally renounce its pretensions to empire. Phrases like Leader of the Free World, Axis of Evil, Regime Change, Global War on Terror, Extraordinary Rendition, Enhanced Interrogation, and Full Spectrum Dominance must disappear from our foreign policy and military vocabularies, and the attitudes which gave rise to them must be censured.

Other countries, even small and weak ones, don’t belong to us. We have the right to ask them to respect our legitimate interests, as well as the right to defend those interests, even by military force, if they are attacked, but only so long as we understand that others have the same rights, and that we have a duty to respect their rights even as we demand that they respect ours.

We have absolutely no right to threaten the legitimate interests of other countries merely because our military superiority permits it. Neither do we have the right to fund opposition parties in their elections, train expatriate paramilitary forces and send them, along with CIA and Special Forces of our own, to overthrow their governments, assassinate their leaders, and kidnap their citizens off the streets of neutral countries and send them elsewhere to be tortured. Above all, we have no right to bomb or invade another country merely because we have the power to do so.

The United States government has done all of these things in the past. We must not allow it to continue doing them in the future.

We must also demand to know why it is that the national defense, properly defined, requires a dozen nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and the combat and logistical support vessels which accompany them. Why does it also require some 700-odd military bases outside the continental United States, some of which have been acquired by forcibly transporting their indigenous populations? (Diego Garcia, Bikini Island) What purpose is actually served by fourteen nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, with a combined armament of hundreds of thermonuclear warheads?

We must renounce empire not only outside our borders, but within them as well. We must remind our elected representatives that the government is not in business for itself, and that the national interest is not defined solely by geopolitical advantage or corporate commercial interests. When lobbyists come to their offices, checks in hand, they must remember who they’re pledged to serve.

There’s something desperately wrong with a representative democracy, I think, when its elected government consistently enacts laws and sets policies with which the majority of the electorate disagrees, when it spies on its own citizens without affording them the protections supposedly guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, imprisons them without access to habeas corpus, and uses their own taxes to propagandize them — all of which our government has done, and continues to do.

Secondly, the American people have already paid for a very expensive, and very competent scientific establishment. We must demand that the fruits of its research be respected, and consulted whenever they might be of benefit in resolving a debate about public policy issues.

The potential danger of global warming, for example, and its origin in carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion, represents an established scientific consensus which ought not to be ignored simply because it may have a negative effect on existing corporate profit margins, or offends the superstitions of the ignorant. The government must tell us why, given what we know about global warming, it still chooses to invest in military and diplomatic initiatives from Kyrgyzstan to Georgia, not to mention two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a potential third one with Iran, all of which, despite its contemptuous denials, seem principally dedicated to the defense of oil and gas pipelines which, for the most part, haven’t yet been built, and may never be built. For what reason is that investment preferable to investing in solar power development in our own Southwestern deserts?

The systemic threats posed by an industrialized agriculture are also well-established. Closely-confined livestock in large operations act as a breeding ground for new human pathogens, and the waste-lagoons from these operations have also been shown to result in e-coli and salmonella contamination of natural watersheds, streams and nearby crop fields. We must determine whether or not this can be fixed; if it can’t be, we must demand that these practices be ended, and replaced by others which are sustainable.

Cash crop monoculture in developing countries has often resulted in the destruction of subsistence economies, replacing them with a pernicious economy of imported consumer goods restricted to the elite classes, which are typically composed largely of officials of the governments responsible for negotiating the contracts with the agricultural corporations in the first place. We must demand a cost-benefit analysis of such practices which is untainted by the influence of their corporate sponsors, and end them if their benefits can’t be proven, or if proven, can’t be more widely distributed.

The possible danger of genetically-altered crops to human health as well as to the gene pool of existing crops, and to the insects which pollinate them, is difficult to assess because of laws which protect the proprietary interests of the corporations which hold the patents to them. Such laws must be altered to reflect the public interest in knowing the consequences of genetic modifications to our food supply.

Finally, we must address the increasing inequities and injustices in the way income is distributed in America. It’s been said that the genius of capitalism lies in the creation of wealth, not in its distribution. This once made a certain amount of sense, I suppose, back when Pittsburgh’s steel mills were still belching smoke, and industrial unions were beginning their wars with a previous generation of oligarchs, yet the Sears Roebuck catalog still continued to arrive without fail every Spring, complete with a tantalizing new compendium of accessories for that Model T which everyone in rural America was presumed to have in his garage or his barn. Nowadays, looking at the current state of financial capitalism — not just in the United States, but worldwide — this particular nugget of conventional wisdom is beginning to look more and more like a gross oversimplification no matter which way you come at it.

Where to begin? We must demand the restoration of a genuinely progressive income tax, paying special attention to increasing the marginal tax rates on the wealthy. We must make prudent, but substantial cuts in the military budget, and close the revolving door between the Pentagon, the defense industry and the Congress. We must also adopt and fund a single-payer health care system, reform the unemployment insurance system, and substantially increase the minimum wage.

The Fair Labor Standards Act must be strengthened, and we must see that it’s enforced. The Employees Free Choice Act must be passed. Large banking conglomerates must be broken up, and we must insist on transparency in hedge-fund transactions, as well as the right of the government to regulate all financial derivatives, not only those which exist now, but also those which are yet to be invented.

We must also restore and fully fund our public education system, including federal support for low-interest loans for college and university students. We must replace our current welfare system with one which is both sensible and humane. Supplemental funding for both systems must be taken from general tax revenues and administered by the federal government, even though basic funding may come from local and state governments, and the programs themselves may be administered locally. (If religious organizations want to force the poor to sing hymns before feeding them, they should do it on their own dime. If they want to teach Intelligent Design and abstinence instead of evolution and sex education in the classroom, let them pay for their own classrooms.)

We must initiate serious attempts to address the problem of outsourcing, and of free trade agreements which tend to increase the income of workers elsewhere (a good thing) but also, inevitably, reduce the incomes of our own workers (not a good thing.) This seems to me to be a problem which we can’t hope to solve without genuine international cooperation. Perhaps we should think of founding something like a Fifth International, and inviting the participation of governments and global corporations, as well as workers’ organizations from around the world.

Investments in forward-looking infrastructure projects, such as mass transit, solar power and ugraded electrical transmissions systems, universal broadband, reduced carbon-footprint manufacturing, and local attempts to come to terms with urban sprawl, must be put on the government’s agenda, and we must see that they are taken seriously.


All of this, of course, is only a beginning. There are other issues to be explored, other patterns to be documented. — immigration, for example, or sustainable growth, or the war on our underclass represented by our current drug laws.

There’s also the matter of how we should go about doing what we need to do. That’s a subject for another day, I think. For now it’s enough to say that you can’t solve a problem without correctly identifying it, and you can’t speak with any real assurance of your rights and responsibilities until you know who you are.

Karl Marx once wrote that Religion is the opiate of the people, and virtually every book of fundamentalist talking points used to mention it at the beginning of a long screed about Godless Communism. What they didn’t realize, what few Americans of any persuasion seemed to realize, is that proverbs like this made Marx as much a true child of the Enlightenment as Thomas Jefferson or James Madison, who might well have agreed with him in private, if not in public.

Things are more complicated now. Thanks to post-Enlightenment developments in psychology, sociology, advertising, agitprop and the like, we now have an entire range of opiates to choose from, from the original one, religion, to consumerism to…well…opiates themselves — the nasty, illegal kind that you can snort, smoke or inject while scrupulously avoiding your duties as a citizen. If we genuinely want to live in a free country, rather than just faking it by, say, waving a flag on the Fourth of July, we have a lot of work to do. If we really want to avoid Macbeth’s fate, we’ll have to be nimble about it. There just isn’t any other way it can be done.

In Memoriam: Dr. George Tiller

Someone should remind Bill O’Reilly, and all the rest of those whose notions of Christian righteousness are stained with blood today, of this:

And He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Dr. Tiller lived according to these principles. Who among those who’ve borne false witness against him can say the same of themselves?