Imagination, Creativity, and Neoconservatism22 July, 2008
Yesterday, I posted some quotes from Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune, published back in 1976. One of the reasons I love this sci-fi series is his comments about religion — he views religion as a tool used by government and the ruling class to control society. One of my favourite quotes:
“Religion is the emulation of the adult by the child. Religion is the encystment of past beliefs: mythology, which is guesswork, the hidden assumptions of trust in the universe, those pronouncements which men have made in search of personal power, all of it mingled with shreds of enlightenment. And always the ultimate unspoken commandment is ‘Thou shalt not question!” But we question. We break that commandment as a matter of course. The work to which we have set ourselves is the liberating of the imagination, the harnessing of imagination to humandkind’s deepest sense of creativity.”
Neoconservatism (and its fellow traveller, religious fundamentalism) holds as its ultimate unspoken commandment, “Thou halt not question!” We are told that Christianity is the only source of morality, but we are also told not to point out the contradictions or hypocrisy — don’t question. We are told that extremely low taxes benefit all, but we are also told that any questioning of this is renascent creeping communism. We are told that limiting our liberties will increase our freedom, but we are also told that to question the current regime is to coddle the terrorists. And, worst of all, we have been told, again and again, that America is incapable of the imagination or creativity which could mitigate or solve our most painful problem — energy (which includes education and poverty).
America lacking imagination or creativity? That can’t be right.
After all, we are the nation that took that great step into the unknown, creating the world’s first modern democracy. We fought one of the most powerful nations on earth to a standstill (with, admittedly, an enormous amount of help from France). We expanded (through war, purchase, theft, and confusion) across an entire continent. We fought the bloodiest war of the century to end slavery (and before anyone pipes in with the ‘states rights’ argument, I would ask, ‘What other difference, other than slavery, was so intractable that it could lead to war?’). We expanded to the Philippines, Hawai’i, Cuba, and Alaska in a bid for empire. We provided the material and manpower to break the gridlock of the Great War. We protected the governments of Central America and the Caribbean from insurgents. We expanded the franchise to women. We created the Hoover Dam, the Grand Coulee Dam, the Mississippi River lock system, the transcontinental railroad (not just once, but seven times), the Panama Canal, and the works of the CCC. We defeated fascism (with massive help from the Soviet Union) in Italy and Germany, and a perverted militaristic dictatorship in Japan. We helped found the United Nations. We declared war on poverty, split the atom, explored the deepest trenches of the ocean and the highest reaches of the atmosphere, visited the moon and visited the idea of equal rights. More patents. More Nobel prizes.
Sounds like a society which thrives on imagination and creativity. Yet there has always been a fraction of our society, usually (and this is a POMA guess) around 30%, which has resisted these advances. The high school principle who argued that the high speed of trains was ungodly. The naysayers who called Alaska ‘Seward’s Folly.’ The isolationists in both world wars. The Dixiecrats. And now, the neoconservatives.
Neoconservatives, the new conservatives, are not new. They are descendants of the reactionary conservatives in all of history. One thing that is new, though, is their argument that Americans are incapable of adapting, are lacking in the creativity to deal with new challenges, are incapable of imagining a better world. Neocons insist that any solution to any problem would require intolerable sacrifice.
Dealing with anthropogenic global warming would hurt America by eliminating jobs dependent upon the exploitation of non-renewable fuels. Dealing with peak oil would hurt the car companies and the oil companies. Dealing with poverty would mean that millionaires would have a little less money to spend on luxury imports. Dealing with the health care crisis would mean rationed care (we ration care now, based on money rather than need, so there would be litle difference). But solving, or at least mitigating, any of these challenges would mean that the United States Government would have to take the lead and push us toward the long-term good while avoiding short-term expediency.
We have also been taught, through 30 years of propoganda, that progress, wealth, security, and liberty are painless. Neoconservatism preaches that cutting taxes raises revenue (never happened, not even once). Wars can be won without sacrifice. The poor cannot be helped, so why try. If you are rich enough, there are no problems. It is a self-centered worldview, a prepubescent ‘me-firstism’ elevated to political ideology.
During World War II, we created the atomic bomb through a government program. No private industry was capable of the investment necessary wedded to, as all private industry is, pleasing the stockholder this quarter (nuclear bombs do not produce profit (though they did keep the peace for 45 years of Cold War)). During the 1960s, we put men on the moon, again through a government program. Again, no private industry could afford the long-term investment. Private industry was involved in these great programs, but as contractors, not the developers. Computers, vaccines, aircraft design (NACA), the internet, and nuclear power were all developed with the leadership of Washington. Politicians willing to listen to the advice of the professional civil servants.
Why was government leadership necessary? Government is uniquely positioned to be able to take the lead in long-term, high-risk projects. The President of the United States does not have to show a profit every single quarter. The CEO of any company must produce profits in the short term — immediate profitability trumps long-term investments which may someday pay off. Only governments can take those risks.
But Neoconservatism tells Americans that the government is always wrong, the government is always the problem, the government is evil. Then, to prove they are correct, useless sycophantic appointees, whose only claim to a job is ability to contribute money, are put in charge to overrule the civil servants who have made government their life and mismanage any challenge put before them. Neoconservatives, wedded to a wordview based on belief rather than reality, would rather see America become a third-world slum run by a wealthy oligarchy with private armies than admit that one of the jobs of government is to supply the leadership to liberate the imagination and harness the creativity of humankind.
Neoconservatism has robbed America of greatness. We used to be a nation capable of incredible things when faced with a challenge. Now, after 30 years of neocon propaganda, we are a nation of whiners. “It’ll never work” has become our national motto thanks to Cheney, Reagan, Limbaugh, et al. McCain fits right in. No matter the problem, hide your head in the sand, spout patriotic drivel, and pray it will go away.