Richard Kline: Thoughts on July 4th

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By Richard Kline, a Seattle-based polymath and poet

1 Whispers 3 Summering 10

The idea of America is . . . tremendous. Few as good; fewer better. Freedom. Equality. The room to strive. Justice in equal measure. Live and let live, and do harm to none. In our day, it is the execution that is wanting; which effort is slack miserable, misaimed, selfish, deranged. A failure to live up to our best and a purveyance of all the worst we have to offer.

And the worst part in this execration of the ideals which we claim to profess, and at times have embodied in part and whole, is that it is we who fail ourselves. Our delusion, our venality, our lies, forced on us by nothing and no one else. No foreign master or occupation, though we bring such to others thoughtless. No leaden obligation to another folk or failed cause which drags us down. No shortage of wealth, of resource, of enterprise, of education, of alternative. No; unforced we err, we cringe, we accuse falsely, we embrace the worse and leave the best undone; double failure, redoubled down: of ourselves and all around. We are in a Hell of our own devise, some few think it Heaven; some few who profit midst the misery of others, all the rest . . . .

On the 4th day of July, I stood on a high place and watched explosions in the sky; bright, pretty things to look up to, live up to. I looked down and saw a rat in darkness venture out for supper and for fortune. That rat and its kindred: they’re social and intelligent creatures, full of enterprise, who care for their own let the world or some putative God(s) think what they will. Those rats, they treat each other better than do we Americans each other; better far than do we treat others who never asked for the receipt of our unwisdom. They only eat the dead, not make them so.

What we need, we Americans, is to look down and learn from these least beings; to leave others to make their own way untormented by our avarice and self-deceptions; to love wealth less and each other more. That is the one, the only revolution worth having. My brothers and sisters, be it soon; make it now.

—from the daybook
for my fellow citizens
Richard Wyndbourne Kline

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  1. koshem Bos

    It’s about time for us to stop thinking that the “The idea of America is . . . tremendous.” People came to this land, stole the land, killed many natives and started a union with some great ideas. Democracies comes in many colors and shapes; many countries are free successful democracies. Not every country had slaves, not every country had a civil war. Very few democracies have a lousy justice system like we do.
    Worse of all, we moved away from democracy to oligarchy. Corporations are way more important than you and me. About half of us still live in the 19th century. Very few democracies, if any, have two political parties one of which is destructive to everyone and everything not rich or belongs to the rich.
    We do have hard working people that are absolutely great and nice, but the people don’t count for much nowadays.

    1. Richard Kline

      Don’t think I’m blind to the criticisms you raise: I know them all, and many more, in detail. It is as wrong, however, to see us as the worst we do as it is to see us only as the best. Not all who came here stole. Not all who came here killed. Not everyone who lived here before the European Advent were just or peaceable by any stretch of the imagination. Fill in the picture, koshem, but all of it. And when I say ‘the idea of America,’ I don’t refer to the failures and bigotries that were brought. We only treated the indigenes here, after all, as we did with the policies test-forced upon the Irish, for example. But many came for a better life with a better idea and a better will, too. And surprisingly much of that perspective is embedded in our political, our legal, and our social tradition. I’m speaking to this.

  2. Dwight Baker

    Sitting at home waiting on another flash flood— July 4th 2010
    OP ED
    By Dwight Baker

    One thought after another has filled my day, I thought a bit to call a halt to the need to write down my views, but decided between me myself and I to just go ahead.

    Not often in my years of living have I had such what I believe profound conclusions drawn on history HATS OFF for the credit is due her. Our language has been stolen and is being used today by the same bunch that stole it to keep us from seeing the forest for all the trees. The riddles rhymes and miss connections are used by them to keep us in the dark of things and many just throw up their hands and say ‘How can I ever understand’ well folks that is a good sign you are about to arrive. Meaning when you have time to reduce the spoken word to a page do so.

    Then little by little take your yellow line out maker and start to reduce the words said to just nouns and verbs.

    Now to get a clue what you are about to do is separate out the SEE YAW OF LAW taught and learned rhetoric lawyers use to confuse. Yet when through you will finally get to see some common sense understanding. Then like most times you will find the con going on.

    That is just how our Federal Government does things. OH NO if SO our nation is in deep trouble— now you got it.

  3. Neil D

    Never have so many had so much in all of human history. And yet, it’s still not enough. This is America – a land of individuals out to screw anyone who gets in their way.

    Cue Rod Dreher:

    But there’s something else going on, I think. Depending on the crowd, I guess, a certain number of people just don’t know how to behave. About 10 minutes before the fireworks began last night, a group of about eight older teenagers, the guys covered with tattoos, pushed to the front of the section where we were so they could see. People — some elderly, many with kids, had arrived two hours early or more and held that spot, but these teenagers just did what they damn well pleased, and everybody else just had to deal with it. The frustrating thing about it was everybody simply had to accomodate them. I don’t think it occurred to any of the rest of us to tell them to back off, that they were being unconsiderate and unfair to everybody else. Why borrow trouble — especially if you have kids with you? That group of teenagers — boys, mostly — made it perfectly clear by their manner that they were going to do what they wanted to do, and if you had a problem with that, you’d have the whole lot to deal with.

    Read more:

    1. Richard Kline

      I’ve been called worse with less justice, and it’s also true you can’t please ’em all. But now we know what you think, and we’re better for that. Aren’t we?

    2. KFritz

      Hey Gonzalo:

      A lot of the replies to your posts are better and kinder than that. The grotesque ad hominem responses further along tell me that Mr Kline has a good idea or two, at least.

  4. charles 2

    Let’s not trivialize the term polymath. It requires more than uttering some gobbledegook like

    “Our tools are yet poorly matched to the natural phenomena we wish to understand. I will pose it as a truism that processes which appear disjointed or broadly nonlinear do so when they are viewed from perspectives which are or lower dimensionality than are the structures observed; Flatland views of Squareland trajectories. Tensor analysis may prove sufficient to effectively analyze some complex processes; perhaps. Since most of us cannot execute it competently, nor are the guidelines clear by which to operationalize available data into tensor matrices, we will have to sharpen our ‘complex reasoning’ to make heuristic judgments better suited to the data-events instead. ”

    A few examples to give you an idea of what polymath really means :
    even more recent.

  5. anon48

    Nice piece Richard, a real pick me up, when so much is going wrong all around. Perfect time to remind us, that centuries ago, a small group of men created a vision that was exponentially greater than anything they could have created individually. Based upon the universal, eternal and inspirational set of core values that you describe, that vision provided a framework for how citizens should conduct themselves. It still provides an enduring standard against which we can measure our own individual contributions. And you’re right, if we do that in an open and honest fashion we should be ashamed.

    It is true, we have “…No shortage of wealth, of resource, of enterprise, of education, of alternative.” We have abundance- mostly it’s us. Working together we can accomplish anything-and we should project that mentality in everything we do. Most importantly, we can take our cue from the lowliest of creatures, and try to be more humble as we go about our business. Seems to me humility, more than anything else, will allow veil that we’ve constructed from our own biases, prejudices and beliefs , to drop from our eyes like a stone.

    You’ve made a difference for at least one person. Happy 4th!

  6. Dan Duncan

    Is this post a joke? Richard Kline as Francis Scott Key, witnessing rats lit by a star spangled sky? And extolling us to “Learn. Learn from the rats.”

    C’mon. In the spirit of Wimbledon, let’s go with a Johnny Mac: “You cannot be serious!” Is this what Leftist/Progressive thought has devolved into?

    Somehow, if one manages to cut through the self-indulgent introspection, I suppose Kline champions the notion of The Noble Savage. “Mankind in naturally ‘good’ and it is civilization that has warped our natures into something perverted and evil. It is a modern ethos that causes us to fail to take care of our own. We need to learn from these most basic of creatures, wipe the slate clean and start over.”

    Otherwise, he’d be acknowledging that the things he laments are all part of our base instinct…”to never be satisfied”…”to always want more”…”to be paranoid of all tribes different from our own”. And in this acknowledgment of a lesser-base instinct, he’d be saying that we need to rise above our beast-like natures. “We need to be better than our wiring, and to be better than mere rats.” But that’s not what he’s saying.

    Thus, I find his sentiment of a Rat Pack to be both trivial and infantile. The only thing remarkable about this Lennon-like “Imagine” view of the world is that it manages to be an intellectual, philosophical and evolutionary dead-end all at once.

    But that is the problem with modern Leftist/Progressive thought. It seeks to be profound and provocative at the expense of maturity. It’s stunted, having never left the 10 grade. Thus, we get vapid profundities like “Thoughts on the 4th”.

    Think about it: Richard Kline actually called the US in 2010 as hell on earth.

    What a narrow-minded, vapid, narcissistic, self-indulgent lack of perspective. And this from Naked Cap’s “resident historian”, no less.

    Get over it, man. Yes, we’ve got problems; and definitely of our own doing. And maybe we do a major overhaul to the point of revolution.

    But “hell on earth”? No wonder why “everyone hates us so much”.

    Leftists are all about critical self-examination. “I criticize our country because I love it”.

    But this is a lie.

    Yves Smith and most of this community despises the United States of America. [No reasonable, objective person would look at the Naked Capitalism archives and conclude otherwise. As Yves always says: “Empiricism don’t lie.”]

    The US may have deviated substantially off course, but so has Liberalism (and Conservatism, of course).

    The US was founded on some radical, liberal values. Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press and Freedom from government totalitarianism are the stuff of good old Libbos.

    But modern Liberalism is a distorted perversion. It’s taken healthy self-analysis to the neurotic and beyond. “We are so bad. We are worse than mere rats! My God, how I hate the USA. Oh, but at least my open-minded self criticism is the sign of a higher awareness. In fact, it really is patriotic of me to hate my country. How I love my hatred!”

    Modern Liberalism is like an autoimmune disease…an overactive immune response that prompts an attack against its own cells.

    On this 5th of July, take a break from criticizing your country…just for a day. Rather than reflecting on your bile-spewing bitterness and how much you hate what the US has become, reflect, instead, on whether you can honestly and effectively reform that which you utterly despise.

    1. psychohistorian

      Dan Duncan said: “Yves Smith and most of this community despises the United States of America. [No reasonable, objective person would look at the Naked Capitalism archives and conclude otherwise. As Yves always says: “Empiricism don’t lie.”]”

      This is the big lie technique by Dan

      Yves and this community (IMO) are motivated by love for what America was designed to be and railing against what it has become, the theocratic fascist thug of the world. Dan would have us feel bad about ourselves for speaking truth to anti-humanistic power.

      Thanks for the posting Richard and your guts to endure the slings and arrows of our uncaring breathren.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Your remark is completely predictable in its style and substance, mischaracterization and ad hominem attack.

      And as for America hater canard, stuff it. It appears you shut your mind to the notion, “To whom much is given, much is expected.”And we all WERE given a great deal, given the age group of the readers of this blog, when we were born, America was the richest country on earth.

      As Frederick Douglass said, “A true patriot is a lover of his country who rebukes and does not excuse its sins”.

      And you are unfair to rats too. I’m told they make very nice pets.

      1. Progressive Ed

        Isn’t Kline’s post/essay basically an ad hominum attack? Wasn’t I supposed to conclude that rats are superior to me and my neighbors. I’ve come to expect Yves to pick essays at a rather more sophisticated level for her readers to consider and comment on .
        Hopefully NC can get back on track once the holiday juice has lessened its influence.

      2. not a rat hater

        Go girl!
        Read Robert Sullivan’s “Rats”, then we’ll debate their virtues.

        In the meantime, thanks Mr Kline for this thoughtful piece.I’m not sure rats were the right metaphor to make your point, but the first paragraph struck home for me.

        And Yves, if you can produce a classic “MMT for dummies” post, your position may be clearer to those of your readers who are missing the main point, which I think is that,

        Money is created (and destroyed) by the gov’t. In a fiat world it should serve the society that has the capacity to create and destroy it. As long as the money is spent within the country (US or China)we can each prosper (or at least get by) as we settle out trade imbalances.

        (If i’ve misunderstood I’ll refrain from commments till I get it)

    3. Moonbeam McSwine

      That Dan Duncan he sure makes me moist. He loves our country no matter what kind of medioker crooked chicken slave crap it goes down inta. Don’t matter to him if our Yuman Development Index, Transparency Index, Whatnot Index goes creepin’ down and down, all the grades just goin down down down from Harvard U. to Regina Lektrikbroom U. levels, he loves him some America. The same way I would love him forever like his momma no matter how medioker he is, and never ask nothin of him.

    4. Anonymous Jones

      “No reasonable, objective person would look at the Naked Capitalism archives and conclude otherwise.”

      You are such a tool.

      What you don’t realize is that it is precisely because you believe such outlandish nonsense (it is virtually impossible that *every single* person who “concludes otherwise” is either unreasonable or lacking objectivity) that you will forever be looked at as what you despise the most…a second rate intelligence with nothing important to say.

  7. Siggy

    I love this country. I am first generation American. I love this country most because it is a country whose contract for government says that it is to have a government of, for and by the people. It is a contract that calls for a federal republic.

    Could we dispense with the democracy crap and get back to being a republic as our contract calls for?

    As to Mr. Kline, he gets to say what he will and I get to mostly ignore him. That is one of the really great attributes of this country. You mostly get to choose. Some of the things that you can’t choose relate to what our representatives do when in Congress. That is a place where we need serious corrective action.

    This coming November I urge you all to seriously consider voting out your local incumbent. I say consider because your local guy may well be doing a reasonable job of representing you; however, in more cases than not I suspect that you are not represented at all. Also, the alternative may well be the election of another poltroon and, well, better the devil you know than the one you don’t.

    1. KFritz

      Speaking of canards, ‘Republic’ is a ‘subset’ of the larger set ‘Democracy,’ meaning government ‘by the people,’ by election. A republic is a ‘delegated’ democracy. It happens when a polity becomes too large for all the people to vote on every issue on every occasion when there’s a choice or a decision. When last I read, there were still a few very small, remote New England municipalities which made all important choices at a scheduled town meeting, at which every attending citizen voted. No elected delegates. The fabled ‘New England Town Meeting.’
      Please can we have better ‘civics’ and ‘VERY simple set theory’ education?

  8. brazza

    I’m not a US citizen; I was born in Padua, near Venice, in the late 50’s. I lived, schooled, and worked in 8 different countries, including the USA for almost a decade. I appreciate the effort at self-analysis, even as I realize that similar admonition would be relevant to the people of the entire planet.

    Having said that … there is no denying that my generation, almost universally loathes the spectacle that America has provided of late. The world is not disappointed with the lost promise of capitalism, its angry at having lost its moral standard-bearer . Growing up under Pax Americana, on a steady dose of Gary Cooper integrity, the USA presented itself as a country rooted in humanistic values, in decency – not afraid of using force, but as a last resort, and only in defense of the needy. The imperialist cultural spin-doctors did their job so well, that in my 50’s, now worldly and worn, able to clearly see idealism from realism, I still feel the pangs of paradise lost. It hurts … and America gets the blame. The USA claimed a role of leadership on the basis of its moral values, and instead it behaved like …. well any, vanilla, imperial power throughout history.

    I know … many will rue the day Yves made space for Richard, and poetry, and the heart. Yet, as Prechter and Socionomics suggest, moods ultimately drive markets – not a soothing realization, but a humbling one. The question I hear Richard ask me, a planetary citizen with ties to the USA, is: “Has the accumulation of wealth de facto become my/our all-encompassing life-objective? Is it a valid raison d’etre? If not, lets really try something different!” Man, I miss Gary Cooper!

  9. justaperson

    Richard: There will always be those who cannot find compassion in their heart. There will always be those who choose to look the other way while others suffer. There will always be those who lack the imagination to imagine a better way. In this case Dan Duncan comes to mind.

    Fortunately, there will always be poets to offset all of these human tendencies. Thanks for giving it a whirl.

  10. HalifaxCB

    This is definitely a keeper; it has to be one of the most amusing bits of self-indulgence I’ve read in awhile.

    As for rats, I can see why the author (who should definitely be considered as a case study for Sowell) might adore rats; they kill and then often eat their young, and they freeze into tonic immobility when threatened outside the pack. Sounds quite Progressive to me….

    1. KFritz

      In desperate situations, human beings eat their own deceased.

      I used to care for lab rats. They ARE pleasant animals. Unlike yourself. You wouldn’t even make a good pet.

      1. HalifaxCB

        Alas it’s true, KFritz, I don’t make a good pet, I think I’ve gone feral. But I am glad for you that you feel you might. Enjoy all the pleasures of pethood – from neutering to euthenasia, and be sure to enjoy the kibble!

        1. KFritz

          I’ve eaten kibbles. Just to see what they tasted like. A little better than cardboard. But you can help me. I need your experience. Do they taste better than excrement?

  11. Tom Crowl

    Well said!

    It’s tragic actually. I believe the American people are far ahead of their supposed leadership. And have greater capacity for fair decision (in aggregate) than the ‘professionals’ who’ve usurped governance.

    You can look at polls on any number of issues… from medical care (most would favor a public option or single-payer) to immigration (there’s been long-time consensus regarding both workplace enforcement, decent minimum wage, secure borders AND a path to citizenship for those already here… there’s no meaningful support at all for mass deportations).

    We have a critical failure in feedback systems here. And concentrated forces work hard to keep us focussed on our lizard-brains for making decisions.

    It can be fairly effective… for a while.

    It’s just not true that your neighbor wants to vote himself a million dollars… and vote you under a bus.

    But there are important and powerful interests with a status-quo to preserve… a fatal flaw for a nation.

    Personal Democracy: Disruption as an Enlightenment Essential

    Our party politics is currently childish and stilted… (as is MSM for the most part since BOTH focus on emotional buttons and ‘sport’ rather than substance since it has a strong hold on the lizard-brain… and BOTH the Left and Right do this)

    P.S. Our lizard-brains are killing us. Most of us have it handled fairly well on the individual level… but on the group level… its not going well at all.

  12. Blurtman

    These were great ideals for a smaller country in a simpler time fighting against a larger superpower. And not all Americans sided with the colonists.

    The US is so complex now, and run by powerful bodies, that the citizens are along for the ride, and relatively powerless, voting notwithstanding, i.e. Coke or Pepsi?

    The USA had a blatantly transparent unindicted (as of yet) felon as the last Treasury Secretary. Nuff said.

  13. Ronald

    Quite a varied reaction Richard, it definitely turned a few head, thanks for the effort and to Yves for giving you the space. Was thinking this afternoon that most if not all those who initiated the split with the King and later established the Republic believed that citizens entitled to vote and conduct business were by law white property owners.

  14. jennifer

    For the last few months, Naked Capitalism has been coming ever closer to jumping the shark with increasingly trite political tirades, rather than the usual smart articles on economics. With this “article” (America is a great ideal, but we have turned it into Hell, we compare extremely unfavorably to rats, let’s do better….), NC has not only jumped the shark, it has pole vaulted over the shark.

    I shake my head in wonder. What happened, Yves? Are you okay? I hope so….

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Your condescension is not welcome. If you don’t like the blog, no one is holding a gun to your head to read it.

      As for politics, economics was originally called “political economy.” Economists have gone to considerable efforts to rebrand it as a science when it isn’t and can never be. Any decisions about how a society resources itself inevitably involve value judgments. Do you give greater priority to efficiency or equity? Those are POLITICAL decisions, not economic ones.

      The discussions of MMT and austerity programs are hardly “trivial”, as the contraction, likely depression, they will produce in Europe will soon demonstrate. Whether the rest of the world follows depends on what policies are implemented, which makes highlighting this massive error imperative, your views to the contrary.

      In case you were asleep in 2009, we just witnessed the greatest theft from the public purse in history. Whether you recognize it or not, the effort to take ground back from financial oligarchs is the struggle of this age. I am of this view precisely because I have an intimate knowledge of the financial services industry and can make an informed assessment of its claims and tactics.

      Whether you want to wake up and smell the coffee is your choice.

      1. Progressive Ed

        “…the effort to take ground back from financial oligarchs is the struggle of this age”. Didn’t the federal government just loot the citizenry. Isn’t the federal payroll rapidly expanding while jobs are still being lost in the private sector. Didn’t the government just put a plan in place just as they promised(“health care reform”)that represents a way station toward national health care (You know, like in the mother country: service providers as gov. employees and service provided at gov. hospitals). Ms. Kagan, who will be our new supreme court justice is on record as saying it’s o.k. with her that the gov. ban some books, as long as they are political and “extreme”. And you’re worried about “financial oligarchs.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          You look at the puppets and not the puppet masters. I also suggest you read up on the law and economics movement, a deliberate right wing creation, which has proved to be breathtakingly successful.

          As for the bailouts, please. Follow the money. Go read Tom Ferguson who had been following campaign donations (he does meticulous data compilation) by industry. And Simon Johnson, if you somehow missed his The Quiet Coup. And who benefitted from the bailouts, exactly? I don’t recall multi million checks going to the personal accounts of Congressmen, while the bailouts, both overt and covert, went very directly to record 2009 Wall Street bonuses.

          1. Progressive Ed

            Thanks for your response. Could you give me a reference to the “law and economics movement”. I’ve never heard of it.
            Also, my particular area of expertise is the rise of fascist movements. My research has forced me to conclude that the puppets are the corporations and their masters are the government elites, not the other way around as the Marxists want us to believe. Yes, the money is important, but I think power is the higher value for the elites. Exhibit One: Didn’t I see Goldman Sachs executives groveling in front of a gov. committee having to answer for some of their decisions?

          2. Yves Smith Post author

            You can start by Googling “law and economics” as well as “Henry Manne”. I discuss it a bit in ECONNED, I wish I had not been space constrained, it is a really really important development that perilously few people know about. Truly evil stuff. The neoclassical economists set out in a very deliberate way to colonize legal education and the judiciary.

            I differ with you on fascism. I see our current situation as very much like Mussolini style corporatism.

            As for Goldman execs getting roughed up, that’s theater, and that in large measure due to pressure from the media, specifically, Matt Taibbi, Gretchen Morgenson, and blogs. But had there been no MSM component (Taibbi and Morgenson, and Mark Pittman before his death), even that wouldn’t have happened. The only party that might lay a glove on Goldman is the SEC, and even then, it’s a mere civil suit. The SEC can’t bring criminal charges; it has to get the DoJ to do that.

  15. moslof

    I descended from the wife of an indentured servant who arrived in Boston in 1638. She had 10 kids and lived to be 75. I bet her life was more like a rat’s and probably many aspects were more satisfying.

  16. ray l love

    I’m all too familiar with generalizations regarding US citizens… but the assumption that rats are any less prone to selfish, greedy, destructive, behavior than what Americans are… is nonsense.

    Rats may not have the military mite that Americans do, and they may not have discovered the advantages of labor exploitation via ‘sound’ economic theories, and no, they don’t have a sophisticated trade escalation framework, but rats do defecate on that which they do not usurp.

    Americans rarely defecate on that which they leave behind and, when they do… they do so for a reason: profit. Conversely, rats crap on everything they come in contact with, and rats lack the short-term proficiency that some Americans excel at because: some Americans have their food served to them by others; and rats only enjoy this advantage in cages. (naturally, 25% of the world’s prison population are American’s, and of course they are served food by others, but ‘these’ Americans are not the ones being referred to here. The point is, there are no rats ‘livin’ large’)

    Neither rats nor Americans differ much in regards to long-term thinking skills perhaps, though some Americans are familiar with terms such as ‘negative externalities’, so… all things considered, a comparison between rats and Americans, based on one anecdotal reference of one rat:”a rat in darkness venture out for supper and for fortune”, and the unsupported claim of:”they’re social and intelligent creatures”, a claim written by someone who apparently perceives the repeated act of defecating in the food supply as acceptable “social” behavior… well, this all seems a waste of time (this comment included).

  17. fit to be tied

    Progressive Ed: And who are these government elites that you claim are the masters behind the corporations? Let me take a guess: any legislator who supported PPACA? An expert in fascist movements you clearly are not.

  18. Rob

    I’m very late to the party, but I have to say Mr. Kline knows little about rats. They are pretty sharp animals, but they’ll fight and kill each other over territory, and they don’t care for their own, other than females for their babies. Hell, males will kill the children of a female in order to bring her into heat faster.

    Not that we wouldn’t do well to be better to one another, but that’s not a lesson you want to learn from rats.

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