Friday, March 10, 2017

Apocalypse, Then

Let us not speak softly now, the hour is getting late...
(Apologies to Bob Dylan)

Iron County, WI


In a somewhat different context during definitely different times, Thomas Jefferson wrote: The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.

Strange, that when leaning on this quote to support whatever agenda, most every supposed patriot urging resistance to tyranny real, would-be or imagined omits the reference to manure.

Gogebic County, MI

Maybe since we've long consigned to history's dustbin the agrarian culture that informed Jefferson, the revolution he fostered and about half the later narrative of the nation he helped found, that line's presumed irrelevant. Simply another right and proper casualty of progress. Like video cassette tape, cursive script and labor unions.

More likely we just don't like thinking of ourselves as America's manure, preferring instead to believe we're its masters.

Delta County, MI

When people honor history, mostly they mean their heritage. The difference may seem academic, but isn't. In fact, like Jefferson's reference to manure, it's operative. And the mistake we make when confusing the two compounds by the day until the truth of who we've been and how we came to be lies buried beneath generations of nostalgia piled high upon self-serving invention. That renders our collective path forward not merely obscure, but necessarily fractious.

After all, when we refuse to accept the full breadth and width of how we got to here, how can we honestly acknowledge who we are in order to build agreement on what sort of people we should become?

What's true is that for myriad reasons – occasionally righteous and far too often not – untold numbers of patriots have refreshed Jefferson's tree of liberty with their blood. But homegrown tyrants, not so much.

Gogebic County, MI

We take such pride in the storied success of American-style capitalism that imagined as much or more than real success defines us. I say American-style because ours certainly isn't the capitalism of Adam Smith, who wrote the original book:

To feel much for others and little for ourselves; to restrain our selfishness and exercise our benevolent affections, constitute the perfection of human nature.

Nor is it the capitalism of John Maynard Keynes, who later rewrote the book for much of the rest of the more or less free world:

The social object of skilled investment should be to defeat the dark forces of ignorance which envelope our future.

Truth is there's scant happy consensus about anything when it comes to economic theory, not even among those who peddle what's basically the same delivered wisdom. That only figures, what with the sand upon which they stake their claim to social righteousness via political power being ever sifted by an omnipresent invisible hand.

Alger County, MI

Funny how that works, eh?

Damned convenient too, that no theorist no matter how exalted need ever get things finally right. In devoted pursuit of their own collective happiness, these worshipers at the altar of data must merely pass their articles of faith on to the next generation of True Believers to go right on mucking around with the lives of all, in perpetuity. No even semi-reasonable endgame to this tinkering with people's supposedly inalienable liberties need ever apply.

Imagine that. An Invisible Hand. Might as well call it God and give up.

So with the caveat that everything depends on who's doing the figuring and why...

Since 1785 we the People have suffered as many as nine economic Panics, five full blown depressions and thirty-four recessions. Including the most recent, now dubbed by some The Great Recession apparently to distinguish it in the historical ledger from our bewildering collection of run-o-the mill recessions. But not including the next recession some economists warn is already overdue.

Anyway, over pretty much the entire political/economic life of the country, it adds up to roughly one fresh economic catastrophe of varying duration and degree every 4.8 years. That recurrent suffering is typically borne not by politicians or their moneyed masters, but by them leaving the rest of us permanently indentured to the increasingly uncertain futures of our children and the nation they'll inherit.

The whole arrangement stinks of wolfish tyranny masked in sheep's tattered hope. A tyranny masked by perennially unfulfilled but always ostensibly patriotic promise. And if in fact true blue American tyranny, whose blood refreshes its corrupt and ever corruptive tree at the Republic's ongoing peril? Mostly regular folk. The long, long list of intermittently hallowed dead patriots included.

What's true is that in addition to multinational corporations, Internet facility, coffee on demand and everyone's metaphorical bootstraps, the result of your average American's faith in their nation's storied economic heritage all but inevitably ends up looking something like this:

Houghton County, MI

And why should anyone be surprised? It's called creative destruction, after all.


The history of the Superior Basin and in particular the Upper Peninsula of Michigan offers an object lesson in the Boom & Bust nature of American socioeconomic politics. An ongoing experiment that sustains the already powerful in a fashion to which they figure they're entitled, whatever the century. That same narrative also tends to leave workers and other common folk from whose labor wealth actually springs entirely on their own to bear the heritage of degraded landscapes, near perpetual poverty and ultimately, multigenerational despair.

From fur to timber, from ore to today's politics of fear, if there's one dominant theme that runs through the otherwise diverse material I've gathered over the years, that's it. So over the forthcoming months we'll periodically examine that aspect of the region's history, along with the peculiarly American heritage it so ably illustrates.

It's in me to do. And the time sure seems right to do it.

Because the clown's eyes are yet again ablaze with reflected red glory delivered via populist obsequience to American tyranny as enforced by it's ever ravenous hellhound, creative destruction unbound by an invisible hand...

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