9 Ways the Right’s Ayn Randian Experiment Screws Over the Young

Blog for Our Future, By RJ Eskow, June 17, 2013

Conservatives keep claiming liberals want a “cradle-to-grave nanny state.” That rhetoric has distracted us from the real social re-engineering taking place all around us. The right, along with its “centrist” collaborators, is transforming our nation into a bloodless and soulless Randian State.

Their decades-long assault on our core social values is on the verge of consuming its first complete generation of Americans. Born at the dawn of the Reagan era, Millennials were the first to be fully subjected to this all-out attack on the idea that we take care of each other in this country, and they’ll pay for it from the cradle to the grave.

Some of us are the parents of Millennials. Who’ll fight with them, and for them?

The Psychosis

The Simpsons made a running joke out of Springfield’s “Ayn Rand School for Tots [3],” where toddlers fend for themselves in playrooms whose signs say things like “Helping is Futile.” That’s very funny. What is happening to our country isn’t.

A successful social contract has bound us together since the FDR era. The Randian State is an effort to dismantle it, replacing our nation’s web of mutual trust and support with a lifelong helplessness and dependence on the whims and generosity of corporations and ultra-wealthy individuals.

The Randian State is built in the morally depraved mold of right-wing über-heroine Rand, who reviled the less fortunate – and even those who tried to help them – as “parasites [4],” while at the same time idolizing sociopathic killers.

That last statement isn’t rhetoric. It’s reporting. “He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman,” Rand wrote admiringly of child murderer and dismemberer William Edward Hickman. “He can never realize and feel ‘other people.’”

As Mark Ames [5] points out, this echoes Rand’s description of her hero in The Fountainhead:  “He was born without the ability to consider others.”

Hickman’s actions were certainly not those of a “nanny.” But, while most conservatives undoubtedly disapprove of his deeds, the glorification of sociopathic selfishness represents the mentality with which the Administration is perpetually seeking “compromise.” It has infected everything from the Beltway’s “bipartisan” consensus to the content of our national media.

Where’s Julia?

Conservatives went into rhetorical overdrive last year after the Obama campaign released an “infographic” ad called “The Life of Julia,” depicting ways Obama’s policies help women throughout their lives.

A typical reaction came from self-declared moralizer, former Reagan official, and chronic excessive gambler [6] William Bennett. Bennett intoned [7] that “Julia’s entire life is defined by her interactions with the state … Notably absent in her story is any relationship with a husband, family, church or community … Instead, the state has taken their place and is her primary relationship.”

That’s deceptive, of course. The presentation focused on government because it wasabout government.  The Obama campaign wasn’t proposing to marry her or drive her to church. But reason rarely intrudes on such arguments. The Romney campaign quickly prepared a counter-slide show and the “socialist” debate was on.

Obama won.

Curiously, “Julia’s” story seems to have disappeared from the BarackObama.Com [8] and Organizing For Action websites now that victory’s been achieved. Old links to it are dead, and attempts to click on this introduction [9] only lead back to the site’s main page.

Anti-Social.

Bennett’s phrasing was drawn from conservative avatar Margaret Thatcher [10]. Thatcher represented a radically un-American vision of life which lacks either our sense of community or our bonds of mutual trust, and which denies even the existence of society itself.

“Who is society?” demanded Thatcher. “There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families …”

Conservatives went searching for evidence that centrist Obama was really pushing cradle-to-grave socialism. The only target they could find for their faux outrage was Michelle Obama’s campaign [11] to encourage breastfeeding, an embarrassing right-wing misfire which suggests there may be Freudian overtones to their “nanny” outrage.

Instead of pushing “cradle to grave” statism, the Administration pivoted immediately after the election to government-shrinking Grand Bargains. A “sequester” agreed to by both parties began slashing services on both ends of life. And the Administration’s attempting to end the sequester, not by calling for its straight repeal (as it should), but by offering cuts to Social Security at the later end of that “cradle to grave” span.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s why “Julia” has disappeared from the Obama website.

The Manifesto

The Randian State’s first manifesto may have been the startling document produced by Ronald Reagan’s “blue ribbon” education commission in 1983, which proposed to use schools as factories for more effectively turning Millennials – and every generation that follows – into usable raw material for corporate production.

The commission approached American education in a self-declared state of crisis, saying it was asked to address “the widespread public perception” – held by whom, exactly? – “that something is seriously remiss in our educational system.”

The sternly ideological report which resulted was called “A Nation At Risk [12].” Though right-wing in content, it reads like a Soviet proclamation on industrial production. Students are redefined as inputs in a system to maximize American corporate competitiveness, productivity and profits.

“History is not kind to idlers,” says the report. “We live among determined, well-educated, and strongly motivated competitors. We compete with them for international standing and markets …”

The rhetoric is hectoring and fierce:

“(T)he educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”

The “problem” was stated in terms that were both militaristic – “We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament” – and moralistic: “Our Nation’s schools and Colleges … are routinely called on to provide solutions to personal, social, and political problems that the home and other institutions either will not or cannot resolve.”

That was an assault on an idea that had been uncontroversial among Americans of all political persuasions for generations: that education can and should help children learn to participate more effectively in society. The authors had more concrete objectives in mind.  Like Communist commissars plumping next year’s wheat harvest, their goal was productivity, productivity, productivity.

“Knowledge, learning, information, and skilled intelligence are the new raw materials of international commerce,” wrote the Commission.  And by “raw materials,” Millennials, they meant you.

The rest of the Commission’s report is largely taken up by a) platitudes, and b) statistical studies which soon challenged aggressively [13].  But the Randian State moved on, Millennials firmly in its maw. And while A Nation At Risk only targeted students, it soon had Americans of all ages in its sights.

Birth School Work Death

During the Thatcher years a British punk group called The Godfathers put out a song called “Birth School Work Death.” Here are nine ways the Cradle to Grave Randian State is harming Millennials in those four stages of life.

1. Prenatal Nutrition

For some the new regime began even before they were born. The Reagan Administration moved to cut nutrition funding [14] for 600,000 pregnant women, a particularly hypocritical act for a movement which claims to be concerned about the rights of unborn children.

2. Early Childhood Nutrition

The same cuts also lowered food budgets for children in 4.6 million households, eighty-seven percent of which lived below the poverty line.

3. School lunches

The National School Lunch Act of 1946 and the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 both promoted healthy meals for America’s schoolchildren.  Seems benign and even wise – unless you’re a Randian, of course. The Reagan Administration added to cuts in 1980 budget, then passed into infamy when it stated that ketchup and pickle relish [15] could be considered “vegetables” when designing a balanced diet.

Few, if any, parents adopted this approach at the family dinner table. “Kids, finish your vegetables!” never became “Kids, finish sucking the factory produced, sugar-drenched condiments out of those little folding packets!”

4. Cutting education funds.

The Reagan Administration’s cuts to the Department of Education, some occurring under Education Secretary William Bennett, eventually totaled $19 billion.

The right has continued to mount an assault on school funding at every level ever since, from local school boards up to the state and Federal level. They’ve been joined by “centrist” Democrats like Rahm Emanuel in their efforts to demonize teachers and privatize schools.

5. Making college unaffordable.

The University of Virginia’s Miller Center conducted a study for the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education and found that “Since the mid-1980s” – roughly the start of the Millennial Generation -”the costs of higher education in America have steadily shifted from the taxpayer to the student and family.”

Median family income have risen by 147% since then, while college tuition and fees rose 439%, a tripling of education costs in real dollar terms. The impact has been greatest on lower-income families, sounding a potential death knell for social mobility.

From the New York Times: “Among the poorest families … the net cost of a year at a public university was 55 percent of median income, up from 39 percent in 1999-2000.”

6. Leaving graduates drowning in debt.

The misguided ‘privatization’ of Sallie Mae, the government’s student loan enterprise, led to a series of political and financial scandals. (See “Sallie Mae’s Jets [16].”) It also contributed to an explosion of student loans, many of which went to highly dubious ‘colleges’ which issued high-cost, worthless degrees. Many other students went to more legitimate institutions, but found themselves drowning in debt.

Now 7.4 million students [17] are about to see a doubling of their interest rates unless something is done.  Elizabeth Warren [18] has proposed given them access to the Fed’s ultra-low rates for banks, while more modest proposals would keep current rates in place.

The student debt situation for Millennials would be morally unconscionable even if rates remain at current levels.  Anything else is shocking to contemplate.  The UPI reports today [19] that Sen. Lamar Alexander said the President and Republicans “agree” on what should be done.

That’s not reassuring.

7. Massive unemployment.

There are 10 million unemployed young people [20] in the United States. The official youth unemployment rate is 16.2 percent, the adjusted rate (including discouraged workers) is22.9 percent [21] – not much better than the Eurozone’s – and the anemic ‘jobs recovery’ is even weaker for Millennials.

The crisis covers everything from high-school-age summer and after-school jobs to employment after graduation.

Studies show that youth unemployment lowers income for the rest of a person’s life. That means this crisis is urgent as well as massive. Every passing month harms the future of an entire generation. What immediate, major measures are being proposed to address this emergency?

None.

8. An increasingly inequitable, wage-stagnating economy.

When Millennials do find jobs – hopefully – they’ll enter a marketplace and economy plagued by historic levels of wage inequality and stagnation.

That’s not an accident: It’s policy.Tax rates favor inequality [22].  Right-wing Republicans and “centrist” Democrats have savaged unions, an effective counterweight against growing inequality. And both parties have served the growing financialization of our economy (although the GOP does it with more gusto), making things worse for everybody except Wall Street.

9. Greater fear and insecurity in old age.

Now the President has proposed cutting Social Security benefits through the cynical “chained CPI.” The “Chain” is also a tax increase, but only on income below the highest level, which means it will aggravate the inequalities that are hurting the vast majority of Americans.

Every generation will suffer if it passes, including those who have already retired. But for Millennials it will be a final late-life kick from the Randian State.

A Letter to Millennials

The year was 1984. Wham! and Cyndi Lauper were topping the charts.  The top movie of the year was, appropriately enough, The Terminator.  And the nation was re-electing Ronald Reagan. Americans are now suffering from birth to death as a result of this triumphal year for Randians, which plunged us deeper into a red-in-tooth-and-claw world and left millions struggling with its social consequences.

As they used to say back then: Have a nice day!

Dear Millennials:  We tried to stop them. We failed. We’re sorry.  Now we need a party – and more importantly, a movement – that will refuse to allow the continued destruction of government’s vital role in our social fabric.

Until we do, every generation will suffer. But you, the Millennials, will continue to carry the dubious distinction of being the first generation of Americans to have been assaulted from the cradle to the grave. For your sake and everyone’s else, you must fight back.

This Father’s Day, here’s a promise: Some of us will be right there beside you.

(This piece has been edited slightly since first published, mostly to replace the awkward phrase ‘Rand-y’ with ‘Randian.’)

 

See more stories tagged with:

rand [23],

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Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/ayn-rand-0

Links:
[1] http://www.ourfuture.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/rj-eskow
[3] http://simpsons.wikia.com/wiki/Ayn_Rand_School_for_Tots
[4] http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/129091-the-man-who-attempts-to-live-for-others-is-a
[5] http://exiledonline.com/paul-ryans-guru-ayn-rand-worshipped-a-serial-killer-who-kidnapped-and-dismembered-little-girls/
[6] http://www.thecarpetbaggerreport.com/archives/474.html
[7] http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/09/opinion/bennett-obama-campaign
[8] http://barackobama.com/
[9] http://www.barackobama.com/truth-team/entry/the-life-of-julia/
[10] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/commandingheights/shared/minitextlo/prof_margaretthatcher.html
[11] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/15/michele-bachmann-michelle-obama_n_823604.html
[12] http://datacenter.spps.org/uploads/sotw_a_nation_at_risk_1983.pdf
[13] http://www.edutopia.org/landmark-education-report-nation-risk
[14] http://www.csmonitor.com/1983/1108/110814.html/(page)/3
[15] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ketchup_as_a_vegetable
[16] http://www.ourfuture.org/node/44840
[17] http://blog.ourfuture.org/20130531/99593
[18] http://blog.ourfuture.org/20130508/congress-should-pass-elizabeth-warrens-bill-lowering-student-loan-rates
[19] http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2013/06/15/Alexander-GOP-Obama-agree-on-fixing-student-loan-rates/UPI-83531371323368/
[20] http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/report/2013/06/05/65373/americas-10-million-unemployed-youth-spell-danger-for-future-economic-growth/
[21] http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2013/04/06/number-of-the-week-youth-unemployment-at-22-9/
[22] http://www.nationalmemo.com/inequality-rising-all-thanks-to-government-policies/
[23] http://www.alternet.org/tags/rand-0
[24] http://www.alternet.org/tags/ayn-rand-0
[25] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

The Biggest “Takers” and Societal Parasites Are the Rich, Not the Working Class and Poor

by Paul Buchheit, Buzzflash at Truthout, May 13, 2013

Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged” fantasizes a world in which anti-government citizens reject taxes and regulations, and “stop the motor” by withdrawing themselves from the system of production. In a perverse twist on the writer’s theme the prediction is coming true. But instead of productive people rejecting taxes, rejected taxes are shutting down productive people.

Perhaps Ayn Rand never anticipated the impact of unregulated greed on a productive middle class. Perhaps she never understood the fairness of tax money for public research and infrastructure and security, all of which have contributed to the success of big business. She must have known about the inequality of the pre-Depression years. But she couldn’t have foreseen the concurrent rise in technology and globalization that allowed inequality to surge again, more quickly, in a manner that threatens to put the greediest offenders out of our reach.

Ayn Rand’s philosophy suggests that average working people are ‘takers.’ In reality, those in the best position to make money take all they can get, with no scruples about their working class victims, because taking, in the minds of the rich, serves as a model for success. The strategy involves tax avoidance, in numerous forms.

Corporations Stopped Paying

In the past twenty years, corporate profits have quadrupled while the corporate tax percent has dropped by half. The payroll tax, paid by workers, has doubled.

In effect, corporations have decided to let middle-class workers pay for national investments that have largely benefited businesses over the years. The greater part of basic research, especially for technology and health care, has been conducted with government money. Even today 60% of university research is government-supported. Corporations use highways and shipping lanes and airports to ship their products, the FAA and TSA and Coast Guard and Department of Transportation to safeguard them, a nationwide energy grid to power their factories, and communications towers and satellites to conduct online business.

Yet as corporate profits surge and taxes plummet, our infrastructure is deteriorating. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that $3.63 trillion is needed over the next seven years to make the necessary repairs.

Turning Taxes Into Thin Air

Corporations have used numerous and creative means to avoid their tax responsibilities. They have about a year’s worth of profits stashed untaxed overseas. According to the Wall Street Journal, about 60% of their cash is offshore. Yet these corporate ‘persons’ enjoy a foreign earned income exclusion that real U.S. persons don’t get.

Corporate tax haven ploys are legendary, with almost 19,000 companies claiming home office space in one building in the low-tax Cayman Islands. But they don’t want to give up their U.S. benefits. Tech companies in 19 tax haven jurisdictions received $18.7 billion in 2011 federal contracts. A lot of smaller companies are legally exempt from taxes. As of 2008, according to IRS data, fully 69% of U.S. corporations were organized as nontaxablebusinesses.

There’s much more. Companies call their CEO bonuses “performance pay” to get a lower rate. Private equity firms call fees “capital gains” to get a lower rate. Fast food companies call their lunch menus “intellectual property” to get a lower rate.

Prisons and casinos have stooped to the level of calling themselves “real estate investment trusts” (REITs) to gain tax exemptions. Stooping lower yet, Disney and others have added cows and sheep to their greenspace to get a farmland exemption.
The Richest Individuals Stopped Paying

The IRS estimated that 17 percent of taxes owed were not paid in 2006, leaving an underpayment of $450 billion. The revenue loss from tax havens approaches $450 billion. Subsidies from special deductions, exemptions, exclusions, credits, capital gains, and loopholes are estimated at over $1 trillion. Expenditures overwhelmingly benefit the richesttaxpayers.

In keeping with Ayn Rand’s assurance that “Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue,” the super-rich are relentless in their quest to make more money by eliminating taxes. Instead of calling their income ‘income,’ they call it “carried interest” or “performance-based earnings” or“deferred pay.” And when they cash in their stock options, they might look up last year’s lowest price, write that in as a purchase date, cash in the concocted profits, and take advantage of the lower capital gains tax rate.
So Who Has To Pay?

Middle-class families. The $2 trillion in tax losses from underpayments, expenditures, and tax havens costs every middle-class family about $20,000 in community benefits, including health care and education and food and housing.

Schoolkids, too. A study of 265 large companies by Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) determined that about $14 billion per year in state income taxes was unpaid over three years. That’s approximately equal to the loss of 2012-13 education funding due to budget cuts.

And the lowest-income taxpayers make up the difference, based on new data that shows that the Earned Income Tax Credit is the single biggest compliance problem cited by the IRS. The average sentence for cheating with secret offshore financial accounts, according to theWall Street Journal, is about half as long as in some other types of tax cases.
Atlas Can’t Be Found Among the Rich

Only 3 percent of the CEOs, upper management, and financial professionals were entrepreneurs in 2005, even though they made up about 60 percent of the richest .1% of Americans. A recent study found that less than 1 percent of all entrepreneurs came from very rich or very poor backgrounds. Job creators come from the middle class.

So if the super-rich are not holding the world on their shoulders, what do they do with their money? According to both Marketwatch and economist Edward Wolff, over 90 percent of the assets owned by millionaires are held in a combination of low-risk investments (bonds and cash), personal business accounts, the stock market, and real estate.

Ayn Rand’s hero John Galt said, “We are on strike against those who believe that one man must exist for the sake of another.” In his world, Atlas has it easy, with only himself to think about.

 http://truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/item/17960-the-biggest-takers-and-societal-parasites-are-the-rich-not-the-working-class-and-poor

Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, a writer for progressive publications, and the founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org).

Ayn Rand’s Gospel of Selfishness and Billionaire Empowerment Is Plaguing America

Thomhartmann.com / By Thom Hartmann [1], Sam Sacks [2]  February 7, 2013

Thirty years after her death, Ayn Rand’s philosophy of selfishness and billionaire empowerment rules the world. It’s a remarkable achievement for an ideology that was pushed to the fringes for most of her life, and ridiculed on national television in a notorious interview with Mike Wallace.

But, it’s happened. And today, the United States and other independent governments around the world are crumbling while Ayn Rand’s billionaires are taking over.

With each new so-called Free Trade agreement – especially the very secretive Trans Pacific Partnership, which has less to do with trade and more to do with a new law of global governance for transnational corporations – Ayn Rand’s reviled “state” (or what we would call our democracy, the United States of America) is losing its power to billionaires and transnational corporations.

Ayn Rand hated governments and democracy. She considered them systems of mob rule. She grew up in Russia, and as a child watched the Bolsheviks confiscate her father’s pharmacy during the Russian Revolution. Likely suffering from PTSD from that incident, Ayn Rand devoted her future writings to evil government, including the “evil” of its functions like taxation, regulation, and providing social services to the poor and sick.

She divided the world into makers and takers (or what she called “looters”).

On one side are the billionaires and the industrialists. People like Dagny Taggert, a railroad tycoon, and Hank Rearden, a steel magnate. Both were fictional characters in her book Atlas Shrugged, but both have real-world counterparts in the form of the Koch Brothers, the Waltons, and Sheldon Adelson. According to Rand, they are the “Atlases” holding up the world.

So, in Atlas Shrugged, when the billionaires, tired of paying taxes and complying with government regulation, go on strike, Ayn Rand writes that the American economy promptly collapsed.

On the other side are the “looters,” or everyone else who isn’t as rich or privileged, or who believed in a democratic government to provide basic services, empower labor unions, and regulate the economy. They are the leeches on society according to Rand (and according to Mitt Romney with his 47% comments). And, as she told Mike Wallace in in 1959, they do not even “deserve love.”

To our Founding Fathers, looking out for the general welfare of the population was an explicit role of the government, one of its most important and the reason this nation was created when we separated from Britain.

But to Ayn Rand, a government that taxed billionaires to help pay for healthcare and education for impoverished children was not just unwise economically, it was also immoral.

Nature abhors a vacuum – both in the wild and in politics.  So, when people, organized in the form of a government, are removed from power, then money organized in the form of corporations and billionaires moves into the vacuum to take power – which is exactly what’s happening today, worldwide.

In the thirty years after her death, the United States crept closer and closer to Ayn Rand’s utopia. Reagan dramatically slashed taxes on the rich and went after labor unions. Clinton deregulated financial markets for the rich, ended welfare as we know it, and committed our nation to one globalist corporate free trade agreement after another.

And, under Bush and Obama, we’ve seen the rapid privatization of our commons, the further erosion of social safety nets, and more losses of national sovereignty with more so-called free trade agreements.

In Europe, we’re seeing sovereign governments neutered by Conservative technocrats. According to Ayn Rand, the rich can never be asked to sacrifice. So instead, it’s working people across the Eurozone who have to pay for the bad investments that the banksters made in the run-up to the global financial collapse.

As we saw in Greece in 2011 with the deposing of Prime Minister George Papandreou, and all across the state of Michigan over the last few years with financial managers laws, when democratic governments are unwilling to do the bidding of the rich, they’re immediately replaced by corporate lackeys who will.

The Taggerts and the Reardens are holding the reins of government today.

Which explains why Corporate America paid an average tax rate of just 12% in 2011 – the lowest rate in 40 years. It explains why 400 billionaires in America now own more wealth than 150 million other Americans combined. And it explains why fewer impoverished Americans are getting less federal assistance than at any time in the last half-century.

Ayn Rand envisioned a world without governments – a world where the super-rich are free to do as they wish.

We tried that during the so-called Gilded Age of the late 19th Century – before Ayn Rand was alive. If she’d watched the ruthlessness of the Robber Barons like she did the Bolsheviks, she may have reached different conclusions.

She may have realized that American Presidents like Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower were right when they made sure that wealth was more evenly distributed and the Billionaire Class was held in check.

Or she may have come to understand that corporations and billionaires owe their wealth to the state and not the other way around. Without favorable patent and copyright laws, a court system, an educated workforce, and an infrastructure to move goods about the country, then no one would be able to get rich in America.  We’d be like the Libertarian paradise of Somalia.

As Harry Moser, the founder of the Reshoring Initiative,argued [3] in The Economist, “Corporations are not created by the shareholders or the management. Rather they are created by the state. They are granted important privileges by the state (limited liability, eternal life, etc). They are granted these privileges because the state expects them to do something beneficial for the society that makes the grant. They may well provide benefits to other societies, but their main purpose is to provide benefits to the societies (not to the shareholders, not to management, but to the societies) that create them.”

Sadly, this understanding of how democratic republics work – and why – has been lost this generation.

And Ayn Rand’s disciples are making sure the next generation never finds it again.

Idaho State Senator John Goedde, who chairs that state Senate’s Education Committee, introduced a bill this week that would require all students to read Ayn Rand’s book “Atlas Shrugged” before they can graduate. Goedde explained that the book made his son a Republican and that it “certainly gives one a sense of personal responsibility.”

Between stupidity like this, and the re-birth of Ayn Rand through corporate-funded think tanks and Hollywood movies, the Billionaire Class wants to make sure the next generation buys into a toxic ideology that’s quite literally destroying the world as we know it.

They don’t want the 21st Century to be “America’s Century.” They want it to be the “Billionaire’s Century.” And if they succeed, then the middle class in America – and through most of the developed world – will go extinct.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/economy/ayn-rands-gospel-selfishness-and-billionaire-empowerment-plaguing-america

The Case Against Romney: At Heart, He’s a Delusional One-Percenter

By Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine, 10/31/12

Every election is a choice between imperfect alternatives. I will examine both choices in turn, but the first one, Mitt Romney, has rendered the normal analytic tools useless. The different iterations of his career differ so wildly, yet comport so perfectly with his political ambitions of the moment, that it is simply impossible to separate his panders from his actual beliefs, the means from the ends. It is easy to present Romney’s constant reinventions as a character flaw, but all politicians tailor their beliefs to suit the moment; Romney’s unique misfortune is that he has had to court such divergent electorates — first a liberal general electorate in Massachusetts, then Republican primary voters of an increasingly rabid bent in 2008 and 2012, and finally America as a whole after securing the nomination.

One can plausibly imagine Romney as a genuine right-winger, first implanted in hostile deep blue territory, hiding his arch-conservative beliefs in order to secure the brass ring he coveted before he was liberated from running for reelection and unmasked himself to his fellow Republicans nationwide as the “conservative businessman” he always was. One can just as plausibly imagine him as his father’s true political heir, covertly plotting to move his party sharply leftward, a turn he would execute only once he had burrowed undetected beneath its ideological perimeter.

The true picture is a mystery, probably lying somewhere between these points. Undoubtedly, what Romney believes in above all is himself. As a friend of his told Politico last month, at a moment when his campaign appeared hopeless, Romney approaches politics like a business deal: “Just do and say what you need to do to get the deal done, and then when it’s done, do what you know actually needs to be done to make the company a success.” (This was the reporters’ paraphrase, not the friend’s own words.)

He meant this not in the spirit of exposing Romney’s fraudulence, but in an elegiac way — a lament for a great man who would do good if only given a chance. From a certain perspective, there is an understandable and even admirable elitism at work. Romney truly believes in his own abilities and — unlike George W. Bush, who was handed every professional success in his life — has justification for his confidence. He is a highly intelligent, accomplished individual.

Some version of Romney’s own fantasy — that, once in office, he will craft sensible and data-driven, and perhaps even bipartisan, solutions to our problems — surely accounts for his political resurrection. Starting with the transformative first presidential debate, Romney has wafted the sweet, nostalgic scent of moderate Republicanism into the air. Might he offer the sort of pragmatic leadership that was the hallmark of his party in a bygone era — a George H.W. Bush, a second-term Reagan, an Eisenhower, a Nixon minus the criminal paranoia? Some moderates supporting him, like reformist conservative Ross Douthat or the Des Moines Register editorial board, have filled the many voids of Romney’s program with some version of this fantasy. It is an attractive scenario to many, and one worth considering seriously.

This hopeful vision immediately runs into a wall of deductive logic. If Romney were truly planning to govern from the center, why would he leave himself so exposed to Obama’s attacks that he is a plutocrat peddling warmed-over Bushonomics? The election offers Romney his moment of maximal leverage over his party’s right-wing base. If he actually wanted to cut a budget deal along the lines of Bowles-Simpson, or replace Dodd-Frank with some other way of preventing the next financial crisis, or replace Obamacare with some other plan to cover the uninsured, there would be no better time to announce it than now, when he could sorely use some hard evidence of his moderation. He has not done so — either because he does not want to or because he fears a revolt by the Republican base. But if he fears such a revolt now, when his base has no recourse but to withhold support and reelect Obama, he will also fear it once in office, when conservatives could oppose him without making their worst political nightmare come true as a result.

And so the reality remains that a vote for Romney is a vote for his party — a party that, by almost universal acclimation, utterly failed when last entrusted with governing. Romney may be brainier, more competent, and more mentally nimble than George W. Bush. But his party has, unbelievably, grown far more extreme in the years since Bush departed. Unbelievable though it may sound to those outside the conservative movement, conservative introspection into the Bush years has yielded the conclusion that the party erred only in its excessive compassion — it permitted too much social spending and, perhaps, cut taxes too much on the poor. Barely any points of contact remain between party doctrine and the consensus views of economists and other experts. The party has almost no capacity to respond to the conditions and problems that actually exist in the world.

Economists have coalesced around aggressive monetary easing in order to pump liquidity into a shocked market; Republicans have instead embraced the gold standard and warned incessantly of imminent inflation, undaunted by their total wrongness. In the face of a consensus for short-term fiscal stimulus, they have turned back to ancient Austrian doctrines and urged immediate spending cuts. In the face of rising global temperatures and a hardening scientific consensus on the role of carbon emissions, their energy plan is to dig up and burn every last molecule of coal and oil as rapidly as possible. Confronted by skyrocketing income inequality, they insist on cutting the top tax rate and slashing — to levels of around half — programs like Medicaid, food stamps, and children’s health insurance. They refuse to allow any tax increase to soften the depth of such cuts and the catastrophic social impact they would unleash.

The last element may be the most instructive and revealing. The most important intellectual pathology to afflict conservatism during the Obama era is its embrace of Ayn Rand’s moral philosophy of capitalism.Rand considered the free market a perfect arbiter of a person’s worth; their market earnings reflect their contribution to society, and their right to keep those earnings was absolute. Politics, as she saw it, was essentially a struggle of the market’s virtuous winners to protect their wealth from confiscation by the hordes of inferiors who could outnumber them.

Paul Ryan, a figure who (unlike Romney) commands vast personal and ideological loyalty from the party, is also its most famous Randian. He has repeatedly praised Rand as a visionary and cited her work as the touchstone of his entire political career. But the Randian toxin has spread throughout the party. It’s the basis of Ryan’s frequently proclaimed belief that society is divided between “makers” and “takers.” It also informed Romney’s infamous diatribe against the lazy, freeloading 47 percenters. It is a grotesque, cruel, and disqualifying ethical framework for governing.

Naturally, this circles us back to the irrepressible question of what Romney himself actually believes. The vast industry devoted to exploring the unknowable question of Romney’s true beliefs has largely ignored a simple and obvious possibility: That Romney has undergone the same political and/or psychological transformation that so many members of his class have since 2009. If there is one hard fact that American journalism has established since 2009, it is that many of America’s rich have gone flat-out bonkers under President Obama. Gabriel Sherman first documented this phenomenon in his fantastic 2009 profile in this magazine, “The Wail of the 1%,” which described how the financial elite had come to see themselves as persecuted, largely faultless targets of Obama and their greedy countrymen. Alec MacGillis and Chrystia Freeland have painted a similar picture.

The ranks of the panicked, angry rich include Democrats as well as Republicans and elites from various fields, but the most vociferous strains have occurred among the financial industry and among Republicans. All this is to say, had he retired from public life after 2008, super-wealthy Republican financier Mitt Romney is exactly the kind of person you’d expect to have lost his mind, the perfect socioeconomic profile of a man raging at Obama and his mob. Indeed, it would be strange if, at the very time his entire life had come to focus on the goal of unseating Obama, and he was ensconced among Obama’s most affluent and most implacable enemies, Romney was somehow immune to the psychological maladies sweeping through his class.

Seen in this light, Romney’s belief in himself as a just and deserving leader is not merely a form of personal ambition free of ideological content. His faith in himself blends seamlessly into a faith in his fellow Übermenschen — the Job Creators who make our country go, who surround him and whose views shaped his program. To think of Romney as torn between two poles, then, is a mistake. Both his fealty to his party and his belief in his own abilities point in the same direction: the entitlement of the superrich to govern the country.

http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2012/10/case-against-romney.html

The Conservative Psyche: How Ordinary People Come to Embrace the Cruelty of Paul Ryan and Other Right-Wingers

By Joshua Holland [2] AlterNet [1]  August 14, 2012  |  

Earlier this year, Democratic operatives looking for the best way to define Mitt Romney discovered something interesting about Paul Ryan’s budget. The New York Times reported that when the details of his proposals were run past focus groups, they found that the plan is so cruel that voters [3]simply refused to believe any politician would do such a thing.”

In addition to phasing out the Earned Income Tax Credit that keeps millions of American families above the poverty line and cutting funding for children’s healthcare in half, Jonathan Cohn described [4] the “America that Paul Ryan envisions” like this:

Many millions of working-age Americans would lose health insurance. Senior citizens would anguish over whether to pay their rent or their medical bills, in a way they haven’t since the 1960s. Government would be so starved of resources that, by 2050, it wouldn’t have enough money for core functions like food inspections and highway maintenance.

Ryan’s “roadmap” may be the least serious budget plan [5][5]ever to emerge in Washington, but it is reflective of how far to the right the GOP has moved in recent years. According to a recent study of public attitudes conducted by the Pew Research Center, in 1987, 62 percent of Republicans said “the government should take care of people who cannot take care of themselves,” but that number has now dropped to just 40 percent (PDF [6]). That attitude was on display during a GOP primary debate last fall when moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul what fate should befall a healthy person without health insurance who finds himself suddenly facing a catastrophic illness. “Congressman,” Blitzer pressed after Paul sidestepped the question, “are you saying that society should just let him die?” Before Paul had a chance to respond, the audience erupted in cheers [7], with some shouting, “yeah!”

Ryan’s motives aren’t purely ideological; he’s been a magnet for dollars from big GOP donors for years (the $5.4 million [8] in his House campaign account is among the largest war-chests for any representative this cycle). But what about the ordinary people who embrace this kind of ‘screw ‘em, I got mine’ ideology? How can presumably decent people on the Right – people who care about their families and their communities – appear to be so cruel? Don’t they grasp the devastating real-world consequences of what it means for a society to just “let him die”?

While some answers to that question are relatively straightforward, even intuitive, research into the interplay between cognition and ideology offers a deeper understanding of what appears on its face to be an extraordinary deficit of basic human empathy.

Drilling Down

The simplest explanation for this apparent disconnect is the increasing polarization of our media consumption. People on the right tend to consume conservative media, and if you get your news from Fox and listen to Limbaugh, you too would think that Ryan’s roadmap is simply a “serious” proposal to cut the deficit (never mind that it would cut taxes at the top by so much that the budget wouldn’t be balanced for decades to come).

But it goes a bit deeper than that. The contempt a good number of Americans hold for the social welfare state has long been understood through the prism of race. In his classic book, Why Americans Hate Welfare [9], Martin Gilens found that while significant majorities of Americans told pollsters that they wanted more public spending to fight poverty, many were opposed to welfare programs because of widespread “perceptions that welfare recipients are undeserving and blacks are lazy.”

That finding has been confirmed in a number of studies since then. But more recently, psychological research – and some neurobiological studies – have found something else: Liberals and conservatives don’t just differ in their opinions, they have fundamentally different ways of processing information, which in turn leads them to hold markedly divergent sets of facts.

Even more frustrating for those who view politics as a rational pursuit of one’s self-interest, facts don’t actually matter that much. We begin evaluating policies emotionally, according to a deeply ingrained moral framework, and then our brains often work backward, filling in – or inventing — “facts” that conform to that framework.



Dueling Morality Tales



It’s long been understood that people evaluate policy ideas through partisan and ideological lenses. That’s how, for example, a set of conservative, market-oriented healthcare reforms cooked up at the Heritage Foundation and pushed by Republicans for years can suddenly become a Maoist plot when embraced by a Democratic administration.



But according to George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist at UC Berkeley, one has to look beyond mere partisanship to really get the differences in how we process information. Lakoff describes what might be called a hierarchy of understanding, beginning with our conceptions of morality and then evaluating the details through that lens.

In The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic [10], Lakoff and co-author Elisabeth Wehling explain that the human “brain is structured in terms of what are called ‘cascades.’”



A cascade is a network of neurons that links many brain circuits. All of the linked circuits must be active at once to produce a given understanding.

Simply put, the brain does not handle single ideas as separate entities: bigger context, a logical construct within which the idea is defined, is evoked in order to grasp its meaning.

Cascades are central to political understanding, because they characterize the logic that structures that understanding.


While liberals and conservatives often see their counterparts as horrible people these days, the reality, according to Lakoff, is that they’re processing information through very different, and often diametrically opposed moral frameworks.



In a recent interview [11] with AlterNet, Lakoff said, “Conservatives have a very different view of democracy, which follows their moral system.”



The basic idea in terms of economics is that democracy gives people the liberty to seek their self interest and their own well-being without worrying or being responsible for the well-being or interest of anybody else. Therefore they say everybody has individual responsibility, not social responsibility, therefore you’re on your own. If you make it that’s wonderful. That’s what the market is about. If you don’t make it, that’s your problem.



But it’s not just about the moral imperative to be self-sufficient – that’s always been central to the right’s moral worldview. But beginning in the early 1960s, with the advent of the Right’s deeply flawed “culture of poverty” narrative [12]*, a defining morality tale about the public sector has been about how it does nothing but foster “dependency.” This, according to today’s conservatives, makes virtually every form of government intervention in the economy profoundly immoral, as it keeps a segment of the population mired in poverty for generations.



This powerful story has only become more deeply entrenched in the conservative worldview with the growing influence of Ayn Rand. Randwasn’t only a schlock novelist, she was also the progenitor of a sweeping “moral philosophy” that justifies the privilege of the wealthy and demonizes not only the slothful, undeserving poor but the lackluster middle-classes as well. Her books provided wide-ranging parables of a world made up of “parasites,” “looters” and “moochers” using the levers of government to steal the fruits of her heroes’ labor.

While Ryan recently disavowed [13] Rand’s philosophy, he’s on the record saying that Rand “makes the best case for the morality of democratic capitalism.” On another occasion, he said, “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.” 


This philosophy is constantly reinforced. According to Lakoff, most people have both liberal and conservative moralities that vie for prominence as our brains process information. One “neural circuit is in mutual opposition to another neural circuit” he told AlterNet, and “each of those two inhibit each other.”

For the Fox News crowd, the circuitry of conservative moralism is charged again and again every day. “When one of those circuits is activated over and over, more than the other, the stronger it gets and the weaker the inactive one gets,” said Lakoff. “The stronger one of these circuits gets, the more influence it’s going to have over various issues.”



Shutting Down the Thinking Brain



Princeton psychologist Daniel Kahneman refined earlier theories about how the brain functions on two levels – one instinctive and very quick, the other slower and more deliberate. He described the first as intuitive processing, or “system one cognition,” and the other as a process of reasoning, or “system two cognition.”



And the key point here is it appears that when system one is active, system two shuts down. Or, to put it another way, when we perceive an issue in emotional terms (system one), we make a quick judgment in which we don’t think much about the details. This is common in our daily lives, but takes on real signifigance in our political culture, and while this tendency isn’t limited to a particular ideology, some research suggests that political conservatives are more likely to rely [14] on the kind of snap judgments associated with system one cognition than liberals.



(In his book, The Republican Brain [15], Chris Mooney suggests that there may be powerful evolutionary benefits for having an instinctive, knee-jerk process take over at times. If you were an early human wandering on the savanna and heard a rustling noise in the brush, it was to your advantage to instantly assume there’s a lion coming and have your fight-or-flight instinct kick in. If you paused to weigh the evidence of whether or not it might be a lion, there would be a good chance that you wouldn’t pass your genes onto future generations.) 



Given the cascade of cognition – from a broad moral frame, to the way a specific issue is framed in our discourse and finally to the nitty-gritty details that most people ignore – and given how the fast, instinctive processing can overwhelm our more deliberative, reasoned cognitive process, it’s easy to understand how so many people on the right could be immune to the real-world consequences of doing things like cutting healthcare for poor children. It simply follows – from the overarching moral frame of dependency — that this kind of “tough love,” while perhaps painful in the near term, is ultimately beneficial for those feeling that pain.

Isn’t That a Contradiction?



It is a contradiction in one sense. But researchers have long observed that humans have an excellent capacity to hold contradictory beliefs. A recent study [16] at the University of Kent, for example, found that those who believe Princess Diana was murdered are also more likely than most to think her death was faked.



A number of researchers have posited that we stave off painful cognitive dissonance by a process called “motivated reasoning,” whereby we seek out plausible explanations for complex phenomena in order to make things fit into our previously held belief systems.

Drew Westen, Pavel S. Blagov, Keith Harenski, Clint Kilts, and Stephan Hamann at Emory University describe ([17]) motivated reasoning as a process by which, “people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe.” This, say the researchers, results in “a form of implicit emotion regulation.”



Writing in the New York Times [18], David Redlawsk, a political scientist atRutgers, explains that “we are all somewhat impervious to new information, preferring the beliefs in which we are already invested.



We often ignore new contradictory information, actively argue against it or discount its source, all in an effort to maintain existing evaluations. Reasoning away contradictions this way is psychologically easier than revising our feelings. In this sense, our emotions color how we perceive “facts.”



Everyone does this, but some research suggests [19] that political conservatives, perhaps because they are more set in their views, and more averse to cognitive dissonance, tend to display more motivated reasoning than liberals.



When you hear someone like Paul Ryan proposing, for example, to shift $4,700 [20] in health costs onto the backs of seniors living at the poverty level by 2022, it’s important to understand that the consequences of those actions – the factual, real-world results of these policies – are often inconsequential to like-minded people on the Right not because they’re (necessarily) bad people, but for the simple reason that the consequences don’t register. 


While a half-dozen analyses paint a sharp picture of the cruelty inherent in the Ryan plan, it is this process of motivated reasoning that allows conservatives to simply block out any details that contradict their ideas about the need to avoid fostering a “culture of dependency.”

And here, one of the apparent differences between conservative and liberal cognitive styles comes into play: the “backfire effect.” The term was coined by political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler, who found that when conservatives’ erroneous beliefs were confronted by factual rebuttals, they tended to double-down on those beliefs. The same dynamic wasn’t observed with liberals (they weren’t entirely swayed by the facts, but didn’t show the same tendency to believe false information more strongly after being presented with them).

This is not to suggest that Ryan’s plan – now effectively Romney’s as well, despite some efforts to distance himself from it — won’t prove toxic to most people when they get a sense of what it does. That’s because, as Lakoff notes, there are very few people who hold a primarily conservative or liberal moral framework – most have a bit of both. But it does help explain why seemingly ordinary citizens can embrace such such cruel public policies. It also suggests that Ryan’s vision can’t be attacked with facts and figures alone; it has to be challenged with a progressive moral vision of a society that values fairness and understands that in a modern economy, the public sector serves and sustains the private.

* Cultural explanations for why some groups do better than others go back a long way, but the modern iteration of the “culture of poverty” narrative originated with sociologist Oscar Lewis’s 1961 book, The Children of Sanchez.


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/election-2012/conservative-psyche-how-ordinary-people-come-embrace-cruelty-paul-ryan-and-other-right

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/joshua-holland
[3] http://digbysblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/they-refused-to-believe-any-politician.html
[4] http://www.tnr.com/blog/plank/106029/ryan-romney-vp-budget-cuts-medicare-medicaid-voucher-tax-cut
[5] http://maddowblog.msnbc.com/_news/2012/03/20/10780200-the-opposite-of-seriousness
[6] http://www.people-press.org/files/legacy-pdf/06-04-12%20Values%20Release.pdf
[7] http://www.mediaite.com/tv/cnntea-party-debate-audience-cheers-letting-uninsured-comatose-man-die/
[8] http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/summary.php?cid=N00004357
[9] http://www.powells.com/partner/32513/biblio/9780226293646
[10] http://www.amazon.com/The-Little-Blue-Book-Democratic/dp/147670001X
[11] http://www.alternet.org/module/printversion/156057
[12] http://www.alternet.org/teaparty/151830/debunking_the_big_lie_right-wingers_use_to_justify_black_poverty_and_unemployment_/
[13] http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2012/04/26/ryan-now-rejects-ayn-rand-will-the-real-paul-ryan-please-come-forward/
[14] http://www.alternet.org/story/155210/why_is_the_conservative_brain_more_fearful_the_alternate_reality_right-wingers_inhabit_is_terrifying
[15] http://www.amazon.com/The-Republican-Brain-Science-Science/dp/1118094514
[16] http://kent.academia.edu/RobbieSutton/Papers/1275313/Dead_and_alive_Beliefs_in_contradictory_conspiracy_theories
[17] http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/jocn.2006.18.11.1947
[18] http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/04/21/barack-obama-and-the-psychology-of-the-birther-myth/a-matter-of-motivated-reasoning
[19] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/14/AR2008091402375_pf.html
[20] http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3473

http://www.alternet.org/print/election-2012/conservative-psyche-how-ordinary-people-come-embrace-cruelty-paul-ryan-and-other-right

Civilization – Uptown Neighborhood News Sep 2012

Commentary by Phyllis Stenerson 

“There is as yet no civilized society,
but only a society in the process of becoming civilized.
From this standpoint, we can now speak of a collective task of humankind.
The task of humanity is to build a genuine civilization”.
Felix Adler

It’s time to talk seriously about big issues, really big issues like the future of civilization. When Mahatma Gandhi was asked what he thought about Western civilization, he said “I think it would be a good idea.” Now some 60 years later, one can only imagine what he might say.

By most measures, the United States of Americais moving in reverse. Poverty, homelessness and inequality are increasing. Access to opportunity through education and a middle class lifestyle is decreasing. The 2012 Global Peace Index from the Institute for Economics and Peace shows that the U.S. ranks 88 of 158 countries. Climate change is undeniably a critical issue yet corporate power has prevented us from addressing this very real threat to civilization.

“I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world
not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.”
John F. Kennedy  

The 2012 election for President presents a real choice for American voters. The two parties and their candidates represent sharply contrasting worldviews on really big issues. One of the biggest differences of opinion is about the role government.

When Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as President 30 years ago, he said “Government is not the solution. Government is the problem.” The mantra became less government, no new taxes, a free marketplace. Trickle-down economics was the way to shared prosperity.

The fact that the United Statesnow ranks 31st out of 33 nations in income disparity indicates that didn’t work out so well. OnlyMexico andTurkey are worse. Yet, the right wing message machine persistently markets the myth that government be minimal and the free marketplace be dominant.

“If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”
Moms Mabley

The ideological divide between today’s conservatives and progressives is so drastic that we basically do not understand each other. They offer no proposals for helping those who have fallen into poverty through no fault of their own but because of a marketplace run amok? To me, this is unconscionable.

The distinctly different worldviews are applicable to everything, particularly the role o government in solving problems and making change. It’s about our philosophy of civilization. Is it “We’re all in this together” or “You’re on your own?”

It’s become well known that newly selected vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan cites novelist Ayn Rand as a major influence. She is a thought leader in the “you’re on your own” category.

“Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good,
you ask for your own destruction.
When money ceases to become the means by which men deal with one another,
then men become the tools of other men. Blood, whips and guns–or dollars.
Take your choice–there is no other.”
Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged

The contrast to Gandhi’s philosophy said is extreme.

“Democracy must in essence, therefore, mean the art and science
 of mobilizing the entire physical, economic and spiritual resources
of all the various sections of the people in the service of the common good of all.”
Mohandas Gandhi

Millions of ordinary people around the world are committed to bringing Gandhi’s vision closer to reality. A few thousand elites are doing whatever it takes to hang onto their power and privilege, some citing Ayn Rand as inspiration.

The 2012 election is pivotal. Big challenges need big thinking – as big as the idea of democracy – government of the people, by the people and for the people. It’s the way we work together for the common good.

“Somebody has to do something and it’s just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.”
Jerry Garcia

Phyllis Stenerson is the recently retired Editor of the Uptown Neighborhood News. Her website www.ProgressiveValues.org provides context for this Commentary and related material.

Paul Ryan’s Biggest Influence: 10 Things You Should Know About the Lunatic Ayn Rand

Jan Frel, AlterNet  August 12, 2012 

“The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand [3].” That’s freshly minted GOP vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan talking — statements he would eventually [4] recant — at a party celebrating what would have been the prolific author’s 100th birthday,

Rand’s books are a big driver in the long-term right-wing campaign to delude millions of people into believing that there’s no such thing as society — that everyone must look out only for themselves. Lately, Rand’s work has enjoyed a major revival of interest. Besides Ryan, she’s inspired yoga-wear company Lululemon [5] to publish her quotations on its products, and she’s even made inroads into the North American semi-socialist enclave of Canada [6].

AlterNet has kept the pace with Rand’s resurgence, doing our best to educate people about what a nutcase she was and how harmful her ideas are. These 10 articles, previously published on AlterNet, shed light on why Rand’s influence on Ryan is so dangerous.

1. How Ayn Rand Seduced Generations of Young Men and Helped Make the U.S. Into a Selfish, Greedy Nation [7]

“When I was a kid,” AlterNet contribuer Bruce Levine writes, “my reading included comic books and Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. There wasn’t much difference between the comic books and Rand’s novels in terms of the simplicity of the heroes. What was different was that unlike Superman or Batman, Rand made selfishness heroic, and she made caring about others weakness.”

Bruce Levine’s explanation of how Rand has captured the minds of so many is a must-read. “While Harriet Beecher Stowe shamed Americans about the United State’s dehumanization of African Americans and slavery, Ayn Rand removed Americans’ guilt for being selfish and uncaring about anyone except themselves. Not only did Rand make it ‘moral’ for the wealthy not to pay their fair share of taxes, she ‘liberated’ millions of other Americans from caring about the suffering of others, even the suffering of their own children.”

2. Rand’s Philosophy in a Nutshell [8]

The bloggers at ThinkProgress explain that the philosophy Ayn Rand laid out in her novels and essays was, “a frightful concoction [9] of hyper-egotism, power-worship and anarcho-capitalism. She opposed [10] all forms of welfare, unemployment insurance, support for the poor and middle-class, regulation of industry and government provision for roads or other infrastructure. She also insisted [10] that law enforcement, defense and the courts were the only appropriate arenas for government, and that all taxation should be purely voluntary. Her view of economics starkly divided the world into a contest between ‘moochers’ and ‘producers,’ with the small group making up the latter generally composed of the spectacularly wealthy, the successful, and the titans of industry.”

3. Ayn Rand Railed Against Government Benefits, But Grabbed Social Security and Medicare When She Needed Them [11]

AlterNet’s Joshua Holland has the goods: “Her books provided wide-ranging parables of ‘parasites,’ ‘looters’ and ‘moochers’ using the levers of government to steal the fruits of her heroes’ labor. In the real world, however, Rand herself received Social Security payments and Medicare benefits under the name of Ann O’Connor (her husband was Frank O’Connor).

4. Rand Worked on a Movie Script Glorifying the Atomic Bomb [12]

According to author Greg Mitchell,  Rand called the nuclear weapon capable of incinerating entire cities “an eloquent example of, argument for and tribute to free enterprise.”

5. Billionaires and Corporations Use Rand’s Writings To Brainwash College Students [13]

Pam Martens reported that Charles Koch, who pushes “millions of dollars through his foundation into economic programs at public universities and mandating approval of faculty and curriculum in some instances,” partnered with the “southern banking giant BB&T … mandating that Ayn Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged [14] is taught and distributed to students.”

6. H [15]ow Rand Became the Libertarians’ Favorite Philosopher [16]

Author Gary Weiss explains how the “Rand movement, which was little more than a cult when the Atlas Shrugged author died 30 years ago, has effectively merged with the vastly larger libertarian movement. While many differences are likely to remain … this means that Objectivism, Rand’s quasi-religious philosophy, is going to permeate the political process more than ever before.”

7. Ayn Rand in Real Life [17]

Author Hal Crowther writes, “For an eyewitness portrait of Ayn Rand in the flesh, in the prime of her celebrity, you can’t improve on the ‘Ubermensch’ chapter in Tobias Wolff’s autobiographical novel Old School.  Invited to meet with the faculty and student writers at the narrator’s boarding school, Rand arrives with an entourage of chain-smoking idolaters in black and behaves so repellently that her audience of innocents gets a life lesson in what kind of adult to avoid, and to avoid becoming. Rude, dismissive, vain and self-infatuated to the point of obtuseness — she names Atlas Shrugged as the only great American novel — Rand and her hissing chorus in black manage to alienate the entire school, even the rich board member who had admired and invited her. What strikes Wolff’s narrator most forcefully is her utter lack of charity or empathy, her transparent disgust with everything she views as disfiguring or disabling…”

8. Red-State ‘Parasites,’ Blue-State Providers [18]

Ayn Rand loved to throw around the word “parasite.” If you aren’t a psychopath billionaire, in Rand’s eyes you’re a parasite. It’s a psychology totally in keeping with the myths of blue-state/red-state America, as AlterNet’s Sara Robinson explains [18].

9. Ayn Rand Was a Big Admirer of a Serial Killer [18]

No exaggerating here. Mark Ames writes, “Back in the late 1920s, as Ayn Rand was working out her philosophy, she became enthralled by a real-life American serial killer, William Edward Hickman, whose gruesome, sadistic dismemberment of a 12-year-old girl named Marion Parker in 1927 shocked the nation. Rand filled her early notebooks with worshipful praise of Hickman. According to biographer Jennifer Burns, author of Goddess of the Market, Rand was so smitten with Hickman that she modeled her first literary creation … on him.”

10. We’ve Already Had a Randian in High Office (Alan Greenspan), and It Was Devastating to the Middle Class [19]

“The most devoted member of [Rand's] inner circle,” George Monbiot writes, “was Alan Greenspan [20], former head of the US Federal Reserve. Among the essays he wrote for Rand were those published in a book he co-edited with her called Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal [21]. Here, starkly explained, you’ll find the philosophy he brought into government. There is no need for the regulation of business – even builders or Big Pharma – he argued, as ‘the “greed” of the businessman or, more appropriately, his profit-seeking … is the unexcelled protector of the consumer.’ As for bankers, their need to win the trust of their clients guarantees that they will act with honour and integrity. Unregulated capitalism, he maintains, is a ‘superlatively moral system.’”]
.
Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/paul-ryans-biggest-influence-10-things-you-should-know-about-lunatic-ayn-rand
Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/jan-frel
[3] http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/43705712.html
[4] http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2012/04/26/ryan-now-rejects-ayn-rand-will-the-real-paul-ryan-please-come-forward/
[5] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/28/business/media/combines-ayn-rand-and-yoga.html
[6] http://thetyee.ca/Books/2012/07/19/Ayn-Rand-Nation/
[7] http://beta.alternet.org/reproductivejustice/153454/how_ayn_rand_seduced_generations_of_young_men_and_helped_make_the_u.s._into_a_selfish%2C_greedy_nation/
[8] http://beta.alternet.org/culture/150680/the_truth_about_gop_hero_ayn_rand/?page=entire
[9] http://thinkprogress.org/2011/04/18/truth-about-ayn-rand/
[10] http://www.playboy.com/articles/ayn-rand-playboy-interview/index.html
[11] http://www.alternet.org/story/149721/
[12] http://beta.alternet.org/culture/152268/revealed%3A_ayn_rand_worked_on_a_movie_script_glorifying_the_atomic_bomb/
[13] http://beta.alternet.org/economy/154327/resurrecting_ayn_rand%3A_how_corporate_money_pushes_economic_poison_on_campus/
[14] http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0452011876/counterpunchmaga
[15] http://beta.alternet.org/news/156231/ayn_randroids_and_libertarians_join_forces%3A_will_her_noxious_philosophy_further_infect_america/
[16] http://www.alternet.org/story/156231/
[17] http://beta.alternet.org/module/printversion/151674
[18] http://beta.alternet.org/visions/154338/ayn_rand_worshippers_should_face_facts%3A_blue_states_are_the_providers%2C_red_states_are_the_parasites/
[19] http://beta.alternet.org/economy/154451/how_ayn_rand%27s_bizarre_philosophy_made_the_new_right_so_toxic/?page=2
[20] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Greenspan
[21] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitalism:_The_Unknown_Ideal
[22] http://www.alternet.org/tags/ayn-rand-0
[23] http://www.alternet.org/tags/paul-ryan-0

 

Machiavelli’s disciples

 What Would Machiavelli Do? The Big Lie Lives On by Thom Hartmann CommonDreams.org, August 26, 2004  – There is nothing new about the Swift Boat ads. German filmmaker Fritz Kippler, one of Goebbels’ most effective propagandists, once said that two steps were necessary to promote a Big Lie so the majority of the people in a nation would believe it. The first was to reduce an issue to a simple black-and-white choice that “even the most feebleminded could understand.” The second was to repeat the oversimplification over and over. If these two steps were followed, people would always come to believe the Big Lie…The Big Lie is alive and well today in the United States of America, and what’s most troubling about it is the basic premise that underlies its use. In order for somebody to undertake a Big Lie, they must first believe Niccolo Machiavelli’s premise (in “The Prince,” 1532) that the end justifies the means…
Believing that the end justifies the means is the ultimate slippery slope. It will ultimately kill any noble goal, because even if the goal is achieved, it will have been corrupted along the way by the means used to accomplish it…
like George W. Bush repeatedly asserting that he had to invade Iraq because of WMDs and because Saddam “threw out the weapons inspectors”…trying to accomplish a “good” by using the means of an “evil” like a Big Lie inherently corrupts the good.
Now the Bush campaign and its allies are encouraging a new series of Big Lie techniques to assail John Kerry’s Vietnam War record…Swift Boat ads…Thus, there is no equivalence between the MoveOn (and other) ads and the Swift Boat ads, moral or otherwise. Truths and issues — however unpleasant — cannot be weighed on the same scale as lies and character assassination, explicit or implicit…Techniques, interestingly enough, that have an uncanny resemblance to character smears used by the Bush family against Michael Dukakis in 1988, against Ann Richards in 1994, against John McCain in 2000, and against Max Cleland in 2002…Lee Atwater, on his deathbed, realized that the “ends justifies the means” technique of campaigning he had unleashed on behalf of the Bush family was both immoral and harmful to American democracy.…Atwater’s spiritual and political protege, Karl Rove, soldiers on. Big Lies are emerging from Bush allies with startling regularity, and old Big Lies are being resurrected almost daily, most on right-wing talk radio. The most alarming contrast in the election of 2004 isn’t between the conservative Bush and liberal Kerry. It’s between those who will use any means to get and hold power, and those who are unwilling to engage in the Big Lie.  History tells us that, over the short term, the Big Lie usually works. Over the long term, though, the damage it does — both to those who use it, and to the society on which it is inflicted — is incalculable.

How America’s Demented Politics Let the GOP Off the Hook for Their Giant Mess by Bill Moyers and Thomas Frank, Bill Moyers Journal, published on AlterNet.org, January 19, 2010

How Ayn Rand’s Bizarre Philosophy Made the New Right so Toxic By George Monbiot, The Guardian, March 7, 2012

Machiavelli’s President by Bob Burnett, Huffington Post, October 17, 2005

Bush’s failed Machiavelli messes up big time

How Bush Gets Away With It by Paul Krugman, Rollingstone.com, October 2003

Conservative Southern Values Revived: How a Brutal Strain of American Aristocrats Have Come to Rule America By Sara Robinson

AlterNet, June 28, 2012

Excerpt

It’s been said that the rich are different than you and me. What most Americans don’t know is that they’re also quite different from each other, and that which faction is currently running the show ultimately makes a vast difference in the kind of country we are.

Right now, a lot of our problems stem directly from the fact that the wrong sort has finally gotten the upper hand; a particularly brutal and anti-democratic strain of American aristocrat that the other elites have mostly managed to keep away from the levers of power since the Revolution. Worse: this bunch has set a very ugly tone that’s corrupted how people with power and money behave in every corner of our culture. Here’s what happened, and how it happened, and what it means for America now.

North versus South: Two Definitions of Liberty

Michael Lind first called out the existence of this conflict in his 2006 book, Made In Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics. He argued that much of American history has been characterized by a struggle between two historical factions among the American elite — and that the election of George W. Bush was a definitive sign that the wrong side was winning.

For most of our history, American economics, culture and politics have been dominated by a New England-based Yankee aristocracy that was rooted in Puritan communitarian values, educated at the Ivies and marinated in an ethic of noblesse oblige (the conviction that those who possess wealth and power are morally bound to use it for the betterment of society). While they’ve done their share of damage to the notion of democracy in the name of profit (as all financial elites inevitably do), this group has, for the most part, tempered its predatory instincts with a code that valued mass education and human rights; held up public service as both a duty and an honor; and imbued them with the belief that once you made your nut, you had a moral duty to do something positive with it for the betterment of mankind. Your own legacy depended on this.

Among the presidents, this strain gave us both Roosevelts, Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy, and Poppy Bush — nerdy, wonky intellectuals who, for all their faults, at least took the business of good government seriously. Among financial elites, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet still both partake strongly of this traditional view of wealth as power to be used for good. Even if we don’t like their specific choices, the core impulse to improve the world is a good one — and one that’s been conspicuously absent in other aristocratic cultures.

Which brings us to that other great historical American nobility — the plantation aristocracy of the lowland South, which has been notable throughout its 400-year history for its utter lack of civic interest, its hostility to the very ideas of democracy and human rights, its love of hierarchy, its fear of technology and progress, its reliance on brutality and violence to maintain “order,” and its outright celebration of inequality as an order divinely ordained by God…these elites have always feared and opposed universal literacy, public schools and libraries, and a free press…perhaps the most destructive piece of the Southern elites’ worldview is the extremely anti-democratic way it defined the very idea of liberty. In Yankee Puritan culture, both liberty and authority resided mostly with the community, and not so much with individuals. Communities had both the freedom and the duty to govern themselves as they wished (through town meetings and so on), to invest in their collective good, and to favor or punish individuals whose behavior enhanced or threatened the whole (historically, through community rewards such as elevation to positions of public authority and trust; or community punishments like shaming, shunning or banishing).

Individuals were expected to balance their personal needs and desires against the greater good of the collective — and, occasionally, to make sacrifices for the betterment of everyone. (This is why the Puritan wealthy tended to dutifully pay their taxes, tithe in their churches and donate generously to create hospitals, parks and universities.) In return, the community had a solemn and inescapable moral duty to care for its sick, educate its young and provide for its needy — the kind of support that maximizes each person’s liberty to live in dignity and achieve his or her potential. A Yankee community that failed to provide such support brought shame upon itself. To this day, our progressive politics are deeply informed by this Puritan view of ordered liberty.

In the old South, on the other hand, the degree of liberty you enjoyed was a direct function of your God-given place in the social hierarchy. When a Southern conservative talks about “losing his liberty,” the loss of this absolute domination over the people and property under his control — and, worse, the loss of status and the resulting risk of being held accountable for laws that he was once exempt from — is what he’s really talking about. In this view, freedom is a zero-sum game. Anything that gives more freedom and rights to lower-status people can’t help but put serious limits on the freedom of the upper classes to use those people as they please. It cannot be any other way. So they find Yankee-style rights expansions absolutely intolerable, to the point where they’re willing to fight and die to preserve their divine right to rule.

Once we understand the two different definitions of “liberty” at work here, a lot of other things suddenly make much more sense. We can understand the traditional Southern antipathy to education, progress, public investment, unionization, equal opportunity, and civil rights

The Civil War was, at its core, a military battle between these two elites for the soul of the country. It pitted the more communalist, democratic and industrialized Northern vision of the American future against the hierarchical, aristocratic, agrarian Southern one. Though the Union won the war, the fundamental conflict at its root still hasn’t been resolved to this day. (The current conservative culture war is the Civil War still being re-fought by other means.)…

post-war Southerners and Westerners drew their power from the new wealth provided by the defense, energy, real estate, and other economic booms in their regions. They also had a profound evangelical conviction, brought with them out of the South, that God wanted them to take America back from the Yankee liberals — a conviction that expressed itself simultaneously in both the formation of the vast post-war evangelical churches (which were major disseminators of Southern culture around the country); and in their takeover of the GOP, starting with Barry Goldwater’s campaign in 1964 and culminating with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980.

They countered Yankee hegemony by building their own universities, grooming their own leaders and creating their own media. By the 1990s, they were staging the RINO hunts that drove the last Republican moderates (almost all of them Yankees, by either geography or cultural background) and the meritocratic order they represented to total extinction within the GOP. A decade later, the Tea Party became the voice of the unleashed id of the old Southern order, bringing it forward into the 21st century with its full measure of selfishness, racism, superstition, and brutality intact.

…Buttressed by the arguments of Ayn Rand — who updated the ancient slaveholder ethic for the modern age… — it has been exported to every corner of the culture, infected most of our other elite communities and killed off all but the very last vestiges of noblesse oblige…

 

We are withdrawing government investments in public education, libraries, infrastructure, health care, and technological innovation — in many areas, to the point where we are falling behind the standards that prevail in every other developed country.

Elites who dare to argue for increased investment in the common good, and believe that we should lay the groundwork for a better future, are regarded as not just silly and soft-headed, but also inviting underclass revolt. The Yankees thought that government’s job was to better the lot of the lower classes. The Southern aristocrats know that its real purpose is to deprive them of all possible means of rising up against their betters.

The rich are different now because the elites who spent four centuries sucking the South dry and turning it into an economic and political backwater have now vanquished the more forward-thinking, democratic Northern elites. Their attitudes towards freedom, authority, community, government, and the social contract aren’t just confined to the country clubs of the Gulf Coast; they can now be found on the ground from Hollywood and Silicon Valley to Wall Street. And because of that quiet coup, the entire US is now turning into the global equivalent of a Deep South state.

As long as America runs according to the rules of Southern politics, economics and culture, we’re no longer free citizens exercising our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as we’ve always understood them. Instead, we’re being treated like serfs on Massa’s plantation — and increasingly, we’re being granted our liberties only at Massa’s pleasure. Welcome to Plantation America.

Full text

It’s been said that the rich are different than you and me. What most Americans don’t know is that they’re also quite different from each other, and that which faction is currently running the show ultimately makes a vast difference in the kind of country we are.

Right now, a lot of our problems stem directly from the fact that the wrong sort has finally gotten the upper hand; a particularly brutal and anti-democratic strain of American aristocrat that the other elites have mostly managed to keep away from the levers of power since the Revolution. Worse: this bunch has set a very ugly tone that’s corrupted how people with power and money behave in every corner of our culture. Here’s what happened, and how it happened, and what it means for America now.

North versus South: Two Definitions of Liberty

Michael Lind first called out the existence of this conflict in his 2006 book, Made In Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics. He argued that much of American history has been characterized by a struggle between two historical factions among the American elite — and that the election of George W. Bush was a definitive sign that the wrong side was winning.

For most of our history, American economics, culture and politics have been dominated by a New England-based Yankee aristocracy that was rooted in Puritan communitarian values, educated at the Ivies and marinated in an ethic of noblesse oblige (the conviction that those who possess wealth and power are morally bound to use it for the betterment of society). While they’ve done their share of damage to the notion of democracy in the name of profit (as all financial elites inevitably do), this group has, for the most part, tempered its predatory instincts with a code that valued mass education and human rights; held up public service as both a duty and an honor; and imbued them with the belief that once you made your nut, you had a moral duty to do something positive with it for the betterment of mankind. Your own legacy depended on this.

Among the presidents, this strain gave us both Roosevelts, Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy, and Poppy Bush — nerdy, wonky intellectuals who, for all their faults, at least took the business of good government seriously. Among financial elites, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet still both partake strongly of this traditional view of wealth as power to be used for good. Even if we don’t like their specific choices, the core impulse to improve the world is a good one — and one that’s been conspicuously absent in other aristocratic cultures.

Which brings us to that other great historical American nobility — the plantation aristocracy of the lowland South, which has been notable throughout its 400-year history for its utter lack of civic interest, its hostility to the very ideas of democracy and human rights, its love of hierarchy, its fear of technology and progress, its reliance on brutality and violence to maintain “order,” and its outright celebration of inequality as an order divinely ordained by God.

As described by Colin Woodard in American Nations: The Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, the elites of the Deep South are descended mainly from the owners of sugar, rum and cotton plantations from Barbados — the younger sons of the British nobility who’d farmed up the Caribbean islands, and then came ashore to the southern coasts seeking more land. Woodward described the culture they created in the crescent stretching from Charleston, SC around to New Orleans this way:

It was a near-carbon copy of the West Indian slave state these Barbadians had left behind, a place notorious even then for its inhumanity….From the outset, Deep Southern culture was based on radical disparities in wealth and power, with a tiny elite commanding total obedience and enforcing it with state-sponsored terror. Its expansionist ambitions would put it on a collision course with its Yankee rivals, triggering military, social, and political conflicts that continue to plague the United States to this day.

David Hackett Fischer, whose Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways In America informs both Lind’s and Woodard’s work, described just how deeply undemocratic the Southern aristocracy was, and still is. He documents how these elites have always feared and opposed universal literacy, public schools and libraries, and a free press. (Lind adds that they have historically been profoundly anti-technology as well, far preferring solutions that involve finding more serfs and throwing them at a problem whenever possible. Why buy a bulldozer when 150 convicts on a chain gang can grade your road instead?) Unlike the Puritan elites, who wore their wealth modestly and dedicated themselves to the common good, Southern elites sank their money into ostentatious homes and clothing and the pursuit of pleasure — including lavish parties, games of fortune, predatory sexual conquests, and blood sports involving ritualized animal abuse spectacles.

But perhaps the most destructive piece of the Southern elites’ worldview is the extremely anti-democratic way it defined the very idea of liberty. In Yankee Puritan culture, both liberty and authority resided mostly with the community, and not so much with individuals. Communities had both the freedom and the duty to govern themselves as they wished (through town meetings and so on), to invest in their collective good, and to favor or punish individuals whose behavior enhanced or threatened the whole (historically, through community rewards such as elevation to positions of public authority and trust; or community punishments like shaming, shunning or banishing).

Individuals were expected to balance their personal needs and desires against the greater good of the collective — and, occasionally, to make sacrifices for the betterment of everyone. (This is why the Puritan wealthy tended to dutifully pay their taxes, tithe in their churches and donate generously to create hospitals, parks and universities.) In return, the community had a solemn and inescapable moral duty to care for its sick, educate its young and provide for its needy — the kind of support that maximizes each person’s liberty to live in dignity and achieve his or her potential. A Yankee community that failed to provide such support brought shame upon itself. To this day, our progressive politics are deeply informed by this Puritan view of ordered liberty.

In the old South, on the other hand, the degree of liberty you enjoyed was a direct function of your God-given place in the social hierarchy. The higher your status, the more authority you had, and the more “liberty” you could exercise — which meant, in practical terms, that you had the right to take more “liberties” with the lives, rights and property of other people. Like an English lord unfettered from the Magna Carta, nobody had the authority to tell a Southern gentleman what to do with resources under his control. In this model, that’s what liberty is. If you don’t have the freedom to rape, beat, torture, kill, enslave, or exploit your underlings (including your wife and children) with impunity — or abuse the land, or enforce rules on others that you will never have to answer to yourself — then you can’t really call yourself a free man.

When a Southern conservative talks about “losing his liberty,” the loss of this absolute domination over the people and property under his control — and, worse, the loss of status and the resulting risk of being held accountable for laws that he was once exempt from — is what he’s really talking about. In this view, freedom is a zero-sum game. Anything that gives more freedom and rights to lower-status people can’t help but put serious limits on the freedom of the upper classes to use those people as they please. It cannot be any other way. So they find Yankee-style rights expansions absolutely intolerable, to the point where they’re willing to fight and die to preserve their divine right to rule.

Once we understand the two different definitions of “liberty” at work here, a lot of other things suddenly make much more sense. We can understand the traditional Southern antipathy to education, progress, public investment, unionization, equal opportunity, and civil rights. The fervent belief among these elites that they should completely escape any legal or social accountability for any harm they cause. Their obsessive attention to where they fall in the status hierarchies. And, most of all — the unremitting and unapologetic brutality with which they’ve defended these “liberties” across the length of their history.

When Southerners quote Patrick Henry — “Give me liberty or give me death” — what they’re really demanding is the unquestioned, unrestrained right to turn their fellow citizens into supplicants and subjects. The Yankee elites have always known this — and feared what would happen if that kind of aristocracy took control of the country. And that tension between these two very different views of what it means to be “elite” has inflected our history for over 400 years.

The Battle Between the Elites

Since shortly after the Revolution, the Yankee elites have worked hard to keep the upper hand on America’s culture, economy and politics — and much of our success as a nation rests on their success at keeping plantation culture sequestered in the South, and its scions largely away from the levers of power. If we have to have an elite — and there’s never been a society as complex as ours that didn’t have some kind of upper class maintaining social order — we’re far better off in the hands of one that’s essentially meritocratic, civic-minded and generally believes that it will do better when everybody else does better, too.

The Civil War was, at its core, a military battle between these two elites for the soul of the country. It pitted the more communalist, democratic and industrialized Northern vision of the American future against the hierarchical, aristocratic, agrarian Southern one. Though the Union won the war, the fundamental conflict at its root still hasn’t been resolved to this day. (The current conservative culture war is the Civil War still being re-fought by other means.) After the war, the rise of Northern industrialists and the dominance of Northern universities and media ensured that subsequent generations of the American power elite continued to subscribe to the Northern worldview — even when the individual leaders came from other parts of the country.

Ironically, though: it was that old Yankee commitment to national betterment that ultimately gave the Southern aristocracy its big chance to break out and go national. According to Lind, it was easy for the Northeast to hold onto cultural, political and economic power as long as all the country’s major banks, businesses, universities, and industries were headquartered there. But the New Deal — and, especially, the post-war interstate highways, dams, power grids, and other infrastructure investments that gave rise to the Sun Belt — fatally loosened the Yankees’ stranglehold on national power. The gleaming new cities of the South and West shifted the American population centers westward, unleashing new political and economic forces with real power to challenge the Yankee consensus. And because a vast number of these westward migrants came out of the South, the elites that rose along with these cities tended to hew to the old Southern code, and either tacitly or openly resist the moral imperatives of the Yankee canon. The soaring postwar fortunes of cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta fed that ancient Barbadian slaveholder model of power with plenty of room and resources to launch a fresh and unexpected 20th-century revival.

According to historian Darren Dochuk, the author of From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism, these post-war Southerners and Westerners drew their power from the new wealth provided by the defense, energy, real estate, and other economic booms in their regions. They also had a profound evangelical conviction, brought with them out of the South, that God wanted them to take America back from the Yankee liberals — a conviction that expressed itself simultaneously in both the formation of the vast post-war evangelical churches (which were major disseminators of Southern culture around the country); and in their takeover of the GOP, starting with Barry Goldwater’s campaign in 1964 and culminating with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980.

They countered Yankee hegemony by building their own universities, grooming their own leaders and creating their own media. By the 1990s, they were staging the RINO hunts that drove the last Republican moderates (almost all of them Yankees, by either geography or cultural background) and the meritocratic order they represented to total extinction within the GOP. A decade later, the Tea Party became the voice of the unleashed id of the old Southern order, bringing it forward into the 21st century with its full measure of selfishness, racism, superstition, and brutality intact.

Plantation America

From its origins in the fever swamps of the lowland south, the worldview of the old Southern aristocracy can now be found nationwide. Buttressed by the arguments of Ayn Rand — who updated the ancient slaveholder ethic for the modern age — it has been exported to every corner of the culture, infected most of our other elite communities and killed off all but the very last vestiges of noblesse oblige.

It’s not an overstatement to say that we’re now living in Plantation America. As Lind points out: to the horror of his Yankee father, George W. Bush proceeded to run the country exactly like Woodard’s description of a Barbadian slavelord. And Barack Obama has done almost nothing to roll this victory back. We’re now living in an America where rampant inequality is accepted, and even celebrated.

Torture and extrajudicial killing have been reinstated, with no due process required.

The wealthy and powerful are free to abuse employees, break laws, destroy the commons, and crash the economy — without ever being held to account.

The rich flaunt their ostentatious wealth without even the pretense of humility, modesty, generosity, or gratitude.

The military — always a Southern-dominated institution — sucks down 60% of our federal discretionary spending, and is undergoing a rapid evangelical takeover as well.

Our police are being given paramilitary training and powers that are completely out of line with their duty to serve and protect, but much more in keeping with a mission to subdue and suppress. Even liberal cities like Seattle are now home to the kind of local justice that used to be the hallmark of small-town Alabama sheriffs.

Segregation is increasing everywhere. The rights of women and people of color are under assault. Violence against leaders who agitate for progressive change is up. Racist organizations are undergoing a renaissance nationwide.

We are withdrawing government investments in public education, libraries, infrastructure, health care, and technological innovation — in many areas, to the point where we are falling behind the standards that prevail in every other developed country.

Elites who dare to argue for increased investment in the common good, and believe that we should lay the groundwork for a better future, are regarded as not just silly and soft-headed, but also inviting underclass revolt. The Yankees thought that government’s job was to better the lot of the lower classes. The Southern aristocrats know that its real purpose is to deprive them of all possible means of rising up against their betters.

The rich are different now because the elites who spent four centuries sucking the South dry and turning it into an economic and political backwater have now vanquished the more forward-thinking, democratic Northern elites. Their attitudes towards freedom, authority, community, government, and the social contract aren’t just confined to the country clubs of the Gulf Coast; they can now be found on the ground from Hollywood and Silicon Valley to Wall Street. And because of that quiet coup, the entire US is now turning into the global equivalent of a Deep South state.

As long as America runs according to the rules of Southern politics, economics and culture, we’re no longer free citizens exercising our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as we’ve always understood them. Instead, we’re being treated like serfs on Massa’s plantation — and increasingly, we’re being granted our liberties only at Massa’s pleasure. Welcome to Plantation America.
Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet’s Vision page. Follow her on Twitter, or subscribe to AlterNet’s Vision newsletter for weekly updates.

http://www.alternet.org/story/156071/