We the people of the United States, in order . . . “order” is the only imperative for any State, and this state America is no different than any other, federalist republican-democratic, parliamentarian, totalitarian, fascist, communist, tribal, feudal . . . To what end, though, we might ask do states organize? For what purpose, we might wonder? Always a more perfect union?
What is more perfect in the mind of any agent of the State, someone who has come to believe or has been made to believe through his training that to serve the state and only the state is the highest social ideal he can uphold. Any bureaucrat is of one mentality, and that is a mind that thinks of the state for the state, and all thoughts by the state, so help him God, or many instances, the State.
Bureaucracy is in itself always, and remains, in its raison d’etre, the singular guardian of the state. In America, though, we suffer a delusion that bureaucracy is here to serve the people, but it has been the people themselves an institution of society that has been undermined, allowed to stand on faulty foundation.
We the people of these United States endure a gross and vulgar naiveté about our standing as a people, about our irreducible personhood, and the meaning inferred by this shift in thinking. All civil service agents, all governmental administration and every organizational agency simply pumps out the propaganda of their serving the people while they in fact protect the bureaus from the people at every turn. There is only a state that mildly serves a public in America, the latter itself a transformation of the people into state serving domestic animals. Bureaucrats are public minded in this way alone sometimes, if at all.
In as much as we under educate at every turn in our standard public education, we do not have nor will we have soon a people savvy enough to understand their place or the role the state has them play. Controlled at every other turn and feeding the controllers at every one between, we have now a system of government in itself aligned with a program of service that does not serve—but the public has been acculturated to expect this. This has been so since the New Left had departed ways with the old Left, leaving behind along with older establishment ideas about order and rule, the notion of service that at least was the heart of the New Deal. Ask not what your country can do for you is still the mantra of liberal American politics, right through the Obama Administration.
The direction of government has never been more strongly set at serving the government itself, or power and/or moneyed elites, particularly the corporate capitalist and economic institutions of America and the borderless empire of international investment capital.
All thought and action is of the State, by the State and for the State. Nowhere do we find a feeling for people, not in a poltique that has learned its rhetorical strategies from marketing; Madison Avenue and Wall Street corporate executives the new founding fathers of American politics. As in all contemporary marketing, product is second to package if that at all. Where then do we think the people in this design—how many bubbles burst economically in the last ten years and especially over the last two that Goldman Sachs has been not involved in, but the perpetrators of, and yet we have sent none of their executives to jail, and they were instrumental in the twenties for bringing on the Great Depression. But then Obama has four of his Treasury Secretary’s top aides from this company and others involved in bringing the economy of America to virtual collapse.
When it is the public, however, and never the people, that takes second place to the packaging of state, you and I are never missed, not lost.
But we are closer to the New Deal’s 100th anniversary than we are to its inception, and thus we have fallen victim to a particularly American, and no les virulent for being American, socio-political virus, the Cult of the New in the religion of Now. Anything we have politically today, including political nothing, is newer than the too old for us now New Deal. So whatever we have now is therefore better in the simian-minded average American—and this includes one or another lot of American college graduates, even those who call themselves liberal.
Now we have a state bureaucracy only a little more than “functionally literate,” which is just what the average high school graduate is expected to achieve—and note well that graduation is in itself the achievement. It does not matter that half of New York City High School graduates cannot read on grade, or even attempt, in any credit bearing course, the work most college freshman used to be able to handle on arriving in university, let’s say twenty-five years ago, let alone fifty. And this is in spite of Mayor Bloomberg opposing social promotion. We’ve just lessened the expectations.
We are not likely to produce the kind of literacy we once sponsored, but then I am of the mind that thinks it is not possible to democratize literacy, which is to say, that higher levels of literacy as we had encountered as givens in university are not likely to be broadened at base, certainly in society, but almost assuredly not even in the middle of society. But then that’s what we mean by levels, by grades, by stages, all of them hierarchically arranged in an ascension of achievement. Toppling the hierarchy an allowing every one to move along a level field, easily moving from one stage to another as from one square on the sidewalk to another is far from achieving advanced literacy.
Our solutions have consistently been, for the last forty years, to reduce the standards or requirements of what is expected. In one short decade I saw CUNY make its entrance writing exam a lot easier to write, and in addition, twice as trouble-free to pass. Norming sessions in grading the entrance writing exam became all about how not to fail too many of the students. From needing two passing grades, it went to needing one of two. From having to write a thesis driven essay on a topic that required thinking like a freshman university student had been expected to think, it went to writing a letter expressing agreement or disagreement on a proposal in itself delivered as a thesis, something on the lines of writing a letter to the editor of the daily news, itself written on the fourth grade level, or thereabouts.
Still, the passing average is only around thirty per cent. I had had a seventy per cent pass rate from students in my remedial classes on this very exam, the ACT, yet I ran into trouble with the Deputy Chair of the English Department, one from which I have been left with a permanent distaste for Community College Academia.
Can a semi-literate person, one barely above functional literacy, graduate from any of our Community Colleges in New York City? The answer is most likely yes—nonetheless, he would have to make strides to achieve what he should have in High School, what most used to achieve upon graduation, otherwise graduating did not happen.
We do applaud everyone, believing that even those who can’t must be told they can in order to boost self-esteem; and of course, once self-esteem is boosted, the one who couldn’t will become a future can. This mentality more than any other mind, any other rhetorical strategy, proves that no one is special, which is pretty much what we’ve been getting, yet we fail to make the appropriate correlations between how poorly we read and write with how we teach, how we teach with how we continue to mismanage our lives socially and politically.
However, and herein allow me to go off on a tangent, the political and the literary have for always been mutual antagonists, at least metaphysically—and yes, there is metaphysics. I know, it is just another dirty word even among academicians, and one we recoil from as much as we do the word, nigger.
Nonetheless, politics will for always remain an adversary to the leading role that literature could play in the advancement of democracy, the highest achievement of those democratic ideals we once stood for and think we continue to stand for (mistakenly). That is, in any theater of being, the literary stands at the vanguard of all civil liberties.
Yet, no sane person could ever think of becoming proficient at a higher than perfunctory level in both collaterally, not likely if love is at the heart of ones expression in either. For any of us who do aspire to higher literary expression than most of what we read seems able to sustain, and I’m not talking about what we read that has no business even trying to achieve higher literary election, but that which we parade as literary. Nevertheless, there is a way of making even the perfunctory writing we do more literate—I note at every turn a debilitating ineptness in literacy skills, even from among those required to read, even those who guardianship is literacy.
Few of us who respect the literary enough to love her too much, so it should be no surprise that writers and governments have always had a tenuous relationship at best, certainly precarious and mortal in the worst of times. Writers have often found themselves hanging by a precipice whenever they have been too closely scrutinized by political leaders, or those agents of government who maintain loyalty to their state in counterbalance to any fidelity to art, or to the people. But then a bureaucrat’s only link with intelligence is a base and state serving pragmatism. Theirs is the cleverness of the businessman or the criminal, one and another of the three, all of piece.
The soul of the people and the anti-soul of the governmental administrators—and soul is as self-evident to me as mind is to most educated Americans—are mutually exclusive; they share nothing in common; each one cannot tolerate the other’s existence long before the move is toward annihilation. They are as close to matter and anti-matter in physics as any two things could be in this universe.
Fascist and communist, for instance, are more like salt and water than the literary and the political are when mixed; the public good is only ever a debasement of what is best in the people, yet the people in the worst of times will always trade their liberty, barter with their freedom for a few more crumbs. This has been evident from some of the most advanced and intelligent societies—presumably—but mostly societies basely literate, as in the case of Nazis Germany, a society that voted for the Nazis. This is the excuse most Russian Ashkenazim offer for having been members of the Communist Party: I had to be a member, they forced me if I wanted to make more money for my family.
A better standard of living for a lot less than is always significantly more than nothing—which is why we used to compare ourselves always to the most horrible places on earth; even our charities broadcast by fundamentalist Christian organizations here in America, often the most conservative politically, are always propagandizing the suffering around the world against a better life here. The fundamentalist right works on the imaginative interplay of America being the best of all possible worlds. We are fast going from the last best hope of humankind to the first best delusion of a future world order of elites, powerful and moneyed. Big Brother has nothing on the kind of Matrix-like control we will soon see and have been seeing in part from our mass media popular culture; the aftermath of Michael Jackson’s death for example.
Look at how lucky we are to be here in America.
This is not to say that there is no genuine charity, and that we shouldn’t feel grateful for our blessings—I believe that we should, that there is a kind of arrogance that takes for granted whatever we have that is beneficial for living rather than merely surviving. But don’t tell me there isn’t propaganda too in the messages delivered through the media any time you see an infomercial about famine somewhere in the world. And we shouldn’t take our need to be grateful for what we have as a signal not to advocate for change where change is necessary. Now of course I recognize that it is just this idea of what is and is not necessary that is at the heart of how much change happens in a society, and we must be aware that there are hundreds of thousands if not a few million people living in America for whom a far less gentle America than I remember, or a far less generous social serving America than we once knew, is still a lot better than where these millions come from, so however America might change for the worse, complaiint is not only thin, but gratitude exponentially greater.