Imagination, Creativity, and Neoconservatism

22 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.



  1. It’s essentially like a gang or the mob convincing people the police are bad. That’s all it comes down to. If the cat’s away, or declawed, the rats can play.

    No question they push a black/white worldview. It’s simple and you can easily win over simpletons with it. What’s comical is when they have no choice but to change their position, how they try to reframe things.
    – Talking to the enemy makes you an appeaser, but sending a diplomat to sit in on talks is ok.
    – Having an embassy in Iran would be officially recognizing and opening diplomatic relations with Iran, but opening offices there and calling those offices something else is ok.
    – Time tables for getting out of Iraq emboldens the enemy, but a time horizon is different
    – Torture is wrong, but waterboarding isn’t torture so we’re good
    – Holding people in jail without charges is wrong, and having prisoners of war would mean you’d have to abide by the Geneva convention, but if they’re “enemy combatants”, we’re good

  2. Amazingly enough, with all the economic and energy problems we have now, the neo-cons still cry “its because of regulation. We need less regulation”. Wasn’t it deregulation that got us into this in the first place??

  3. As long as a nation has a ruling class, a political class, that nation will be run by thugs.

  4. Actually, the civil war had very much a “follow the money” proposition and the roots go back to the early periods of American history.

    Slavery was a “beard” for both north and south. The real reasons were pretty much power and economy. It was like the recent “death tax” thing that had a lot of people of my economic in high dudgeon.
    In the south, slavery was eating the “yoeman” and small manufacturer alive, there was very little a free white man could do as a laborer that was not “nigger work”. But, slave ownership was a symbol of success, and plus what would happen if these slaves were freed? The white man knew what HE would do in such a situation, plus, it was ‘good’ for the slave, as everyone knew.
    In the north it was an emotional thing for some, yet the black was under severe strictures as to his movement, property ownership, and assembly rights just to name a few. Some states required a pretty hefty bond to even enter the state plus the sponsorship of a reputable white citizen. When Oregon entered the union it was a “free” state. But, by law, no person of color was allowed to set foot within its borders.
    When secession started, no less than William Lloyd Garrison (read his ideas and breathe a sigh of relief that they never came to pass) and Horace Greeley sighed with relief because the “goose question” crisis was over.
    After the first emancipation proclamation an Illinois regiment said “See ya!” and simply went home, they were not fighting for emancipation. Also, Fremont went about freeing slaves in his theater of operations and was rather sharply instructed to round them up and return them to their owners by Washington. Maryland and Delaware kept their slaves until the second proclamation.
    This freeing was not altruism, just a necessity of war.
    After the war slavery without ownership papers came into practice, sharecropping in the south and the peonage of the factories and mines of the north. The benefits of slavery withlout the costs.

    Secession is trickier. Several states entered the union with assuance of right of secession, some even in the north. During the Mexican war a certain Illinois congressman addressed the representatives of malcontent states who objected to being taxed to pay for it because they were against the war in the first place. He told them to secede from the union as was their right. Changed his tune a while later, as we see.

    Since the 1840’s there was a faction in the north that advocated sending federal troops to the south, exterminating every white man, woman, and child there and replacing them with worthier people. When the federal gov’t, which now includes in its number the secretary of state and speaker of the house who advocated this course wants you to call out your militia and send it away to South Carolina, and allow federal troops to come through your state, what would YOU think?

    The federal gov’t was supported mostly by tarriffs and Lincoln told Charles Russell, that he would collect it to the last penny. It was mostly on the backs of the southerners that this fell since the 1830s. The money boys in the north woke up to the fact that foriegn goods would be impossible to keep out after they hit the gulf coast and went up the Missisippi and they’d lose their shirts and other markets. Mostly, follow the money. Plus, the peculation and profiteering that went on was really on a scale that almost matches what’s going on today.

    On the whole, Lincoln gets to be called “Father Abr’am” because he got assasinated and thus was worthy of martyrdom, and the war seemed to have worked, sort of, after a century. Otherwise he’d probably be lumped with George W. He was, in fact, a corperatist and statist, and the biggest me-firster in the bunch. Robert Lincoln recieved his father’s private papers twenty five years after his death and no one knows what happened to them. It’s said that a friend came to call and found him reading them. After he read one, he’d throw it on the fire. The friend is said to have remonstrated with him, said, “Robert! For the sake of history!” Robert is quoted as saying that’s why they were being burned, for the sake of history.

    If you want a couple of very dispassionate, well researched books on this, read Charles Adams’ “When In The Course Of Human Events” and there’s another by a black historian called, And No Bells Rang. This deals with the slavery and emancipation issues. I can’t find my copy of the book so I can’t tell you his name, but that’s the title.

    Also, read Finley Peter Dunn’s Mister Dooley papers. They’re from a century ago but you’d swear it was today.

  5. (((Billy))) – good post. Neoconservatism has been a nightmare for this country.

    Sarge – great comment. I’ll have to check out some of those books.

  6. Philly: Well said on the hypocrisy end. The slipperiness of language.

    Sabrina: I agree. Deregulation takes more money out of the middle class and transfers it to the upper class. Which is the goal, so I guess it works.

    Ric: But when it was the Democratic thugs back in the 50s and 60s, America was positive and cold accomplish great things. It is all about leadership.

    Sarge: I will have to check out those books. I shorthanded a little bit (okay, a lot) up there. I still, despite many of the theories floated, think that slavery was the one intractable issue. The economics was, ultimately, the reason for the rebellion and the war — slavery happened to be the most visible symptom of the economic difficulties in the North and South. Tarriffs, slavery, the gold standard and protectionism were all a part of it. But slavery was, in my opinion, the one issue over which there could be no compromise.

    Chappie: And the nightmare continues.

  7. () –

    Uh huh. Fifties and Sixties? McCarthy. HUAC. The abandonment of Hungary. Fear and loathing of anything further left than the John Birch Society. Segregation forever. Vietnam, started under Eisenhower. Mississippi Burning. Nixon. Southern Strategy. Watergate. Iran Contra. Etcetera.

    Sure we went to the moon and created the Peace Corps. But the rot and the thuggery just kept going on. We’d be better off with the frigging Mafia running the country. They’re nicer people and more honest than the scum running the government and the corporations.

  8. I also assume that the mafia would, at the least, be more competent. I would also include in the accomplishments things like the anti-polio campaign, the interstate highway system, and other positives which, in today’s political climate, could not even be attempted thanks to the politics of incompetence creatd by the neocons.

  9. Well, mine host, most people do feel that way nowadays, and you are correct as to the fact that it fired people up. Thus, “The ‘goose’ question”.

    I’m saying it clumsily, but it wasn’t the thing itself, it’s what it symbolised. The song “Rally Round the Flag” had an interesting couplet, “…although he may be poor he will never be a slave…” which from what I can read in period letters and papers indicates (in the north) a horror of that condition. That northerners, themselves, would actually wind up in that condition with all its drawbacks and none of its benefits, and actually accept them for almost a century is telling.
    In the south, it is true that the slaves got freed. Then came sharecropping and basicly the same thing was done in both a manufacturing and agricultural basis. The southern white could congratulate himself that no matter what else, he was at least ‘white’… well, as far as he knew, as we’ve found out.

    In researching our civil war music we’ve also found out some things which make you see this in a different shade.

    Dixie was very popular in the south (after the war especially) but you had to be careful what venue it was played in. Most of the border states, Virginia, and parts of Tennessee and North Carolina might express outrage at hearing that song. It came from the north and was a favorite of free negroes, and was not popular at all in many circles.

    The Battle Hymn of the Republic, in the north was trickier. If it was played by a band or you sang it in camp there was a very real risk of getting a beating and maybe being dumped down a latrine. Many commanders forbade any kind of performance of this song in their camps because of the disorder it caused. This was an abolitionist song, and that’s not what they were fighting for, so said the many of the soldiers. There was a group called The Hutchison Family, thirteen brothers and sisters who sang together, they toured the camps entertaining the troops like the USO would. They performed it, or started to in one camp and the reaction was so violent that the provost had to intervene and escort them from camp to keep them from harm.

    Over the fourth of July at Gettysburg I met a gentleman from Canada, Chatham, in fact, and he is a historian of the underground railroad, slavery, and the reconstruction. His family were slaves from Georgia who made it north into Canada, and then came back after the war. They went back to Canada. Had quite a chat with the man from Chatham, wish you could have heard him.

  10. ()-

    Oh sure, point to the anti-polio thing, but don’t mention that it was the brutal and senseless slaughter of a virus that was just minding its own business and trying to make a living.

    And the interestate highway system? Ha! The brainchild of the military-industrial complex to allow rapid access of defense forces should the Irish ever send their navy and army over to invade us. And of course the automakers and the suburb makers loved it, just loved it.

    The Mafia would likely be considerably more efficient, but I’m not really sold on their competence. You can have efficiency without competence, or a modicum thereof, and you can have competence without efficiency. One gets a lot of dead bodies, the other gets a lot of dead organizational wood. Sometimes, of course, it gets the other way around, but more often we get neither, and rarely, very rarely both at the same time. In the current political climate, the goal has been to demonstrate the incompetence of government by putting in charge incompetent and inefficient people, thus demonstrating a competent and efficient way to reach the goal. Thus, dead bodies floating through New Orleans and dead wood in a shattered environment.

    Which brings me back to the polio virus. Competent. Efficient. Thorough. Quiet. ANd still hanging in there. Makes me long for the good old days. Sigh.

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