Everyone Doesn’t Suck, Everything Isn’t Broken, and 2014 Will Be OK

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There is no room in the city
for respectable skills . . . and no rewards for one’s efforts.
Today my means are less than yesterday; come tomorrow
the little left will be further reduced. So I’m going to make for
the place where Daedalus laid aside his weary wings

         –Juvenal, Satire 3

 

About this time every year I reread the Third Satire of the famous Roman poet, Juvenal. This is not because I think that Juvenal got everything right, but because I am quite sure that he got almost everything wrong. And I find the spectacular wrongness of one of the Ancient World’s greatest writers comforting when I see so many people getting exactly the same things wrong in exactly the same ways.

Juvenal wrote at the end of the First Century AD. His major theme in the Third Satire is that Rome just isn’t the city it used to be. For one thing, the Greeks have ruined the culture. For another thing, the Jews (which, for Juvenal, included the Christians) believe silly things. And everyone (see Satire 2 for more details) is apparently a pervert. It is time to get out of the city before it is ruined completely.

He was wrong, of course. Rome remained strong for another 300 years, and its forging together of Hellenistic and Hebraic ideas—the very things that Juvenal despised—continue to exert a powerful influence around the world. The Rome that Juvenal despised was actually doing just fine to anybody who was looking at the big picture.

But, that’s never been how human beings see the world. We don’t see big pictures; we see our pictures, and we come from a long line of anxiety-filled mammals who survived best when they perceived threats behind every bush. The sky is always falling. Things are always getting worse. Extreme pessimism is an unfortunate part of our evolutionary heritage.

This, I suspect, is why two-thirds of Americans now believe that the current Congress is the worst one ever. It is why there is an almost ironclad consensus in some circles that Obama is the worst president in American history.

Without going too deeply into the presidencies of Millard Fillmore or Franklin Pierce, or the Congress of Preston Brooks and Charles Sumner, I would just like to point out that every generation in American history has thought largely the same things. Every election has been presented as the most important one ever. Every president has been described as history’s worst by those who oppose him. Every Congress has been broken. And the Constitution has been hanging by a thread since the early 1790s.

Often, I think, we have a hard time distinguishing between “dysfunctional gridlock unlike anything the nation has ever seen” and “things working slowly because they were designed to work slowly.” The difference is crucial. Legislation is supposed to take a long time to pass. The Constitution is supposed to be hard to change. The Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches of government are supposed to fight a lot. Our Constitutional system was designed to work slowly and with high levels of conflict. It is the trains to dictatorship that always run on time.

And, of course, a lot of people make a lot of money by shouting about how broken everything is and how close we are to the brink of really bad things. They know how to punch our buttons and activate our limbic defense by framing every political disagreement as a constitutional crisis and every sustained debate as a sign of the Apocalypse. They have been with us always, on the left and the right, and everywhere in between. They can even be fun to listen to, but we should not mistake their brand of grim entertainment for anything like the truth.

I rarely watch TV or listen to the radio, so I often miss the highlights of the Great American Outrage Machine. But I recently spent a depressing half hour in the Current-Events section at Barnes & Noble counting the number of books with subtitles like “How (Obama/Republicans/The Tea Party/Liberals/Conservatives) Are  (Destroying/Trashing/Eviscerating/Ruining) the (World/Constitution/Country/America/ Our Rights/ Our Society/ Everything Good). There were twelve, but I’m sure I would have found a lot more in the online catalog.

And yet we keep surviving, and in many ways flourishing. Outside of the Current Events aisle, the world just isn’t that bad. There are decent people everywhere who go out of their way to be good friends and neighbors. Children play, people laugh, families love, and glimpses of everyday grace keep poking out from the corners of our red-in-tooth-and-claw world.  Even in the political realm, things move forward at about the speed that they were designed to move. There are trees of green, red roses too. And Robert Louis Stevenson was not completely deluded in his “Child’s Garden of Verses” when he wrote,

The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.

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  1. Ben Hardin How shall we go about it?
  2. Matthew J. Becker I agree DC gridlock is a great thing look at the budget deal they just passed it was garbage. 3 more years of gridlock is what I pray for
  3. DDM3 Yes, I see your point about how hard it is to get things done with federal government structured as it is. Yes, there is a tendency to see things in apocalyptic terms, which is a largely innate human trait. And, we have lots going for us including, e.g., the dollar as the world's reserve currency (we can print money to finance debt, no one else can do that), we are much less corrupt and more transparent than most of the rest of the world, our courts are relatively independent and moderately consistent, as a country, we are more innovative than any other country, we have a higher education system second to none, we have massive wealth contained within our country, we have zillions of tons of natural gas and oil that is now economically recoverable due to recent American innovation (fracking), we have a huge, flexible and dynamic economy and we have a relatively entrepreneurial society. Governments and societies tend to be far more resilient and stable than appearances would tend to suggest, e.g., it is really hard (almost impossible) to knock a big, powerful country flat on its back. Even with weak, corrupt countries, experts predict major changes or revolutions far more often that actually occurs. Based on all of that, we just about have it all and everyone else should be frettin' over getting their lunches eaten by us.  Yeah, you are darn right, 2014 will be just fine. That is of course, unless it isn't.Alas, the world is complex and nuanced. Circumstances we face today are unique, because circumstances are never the same at any two points in time. Once in a blue moon a thunderbolt flies out of nowhere and blows someone's socks right off, leaving them with scorched hair that smells funny. More often than rarely, really bad things that appear on the horizon do come to pass more or less as expected.We may have already passed a point beyond which our economy can recover, e.g., due to some shock that causes out debt holders to lose confidence in our ability to effectively govern ourselves and manage our debt, given our difficult for of government and a broken two-party system. We may have already passed a point at which global warming enters into a self-sustaining warming cycle, e.g., ocean warming thaws frozen methane (a powerful greenhouse gas), which in turn causes more ocean warming, which causes more thawing, & etc. If that happens, 2014 will be just fine but we could wind up extinct 5,000 years later, e.g., because the ocean goes anoxic. We could perish in 2014 after all-out nuclear war with China after some trivial triggering incident over some uninhabited rocks in the South China Sea. Heck, we could even nuke ourselves by accident (http://reformpartyca.org/when-government-hides-truth-from-americans/), making 2014 a less than optimal year at least for those in the blast zone.  Over long periods of time, unlikely events become more likely. Stuff happens and we can't always see it coming. But that doesn't mean reasonable, prudent measures can't be taken to anticipate or blunt effects of adverse events. Unfortunately, those measures are essentially impossible to take under the current polarized, poisoned atmosphere. 2014 will be another wasted year. So will 2015 and 2016, because the presidential elections will be in full on mode. And, the years drift lazily by . . . .Looking at the two-party system and how poorly it has performed in recent decades, there is not much reassuring about there being anything different and better on the horizon. That is maybe unless someone or something like IVN can come along and toss a few dead bugs into the two-party punch bowl. Consider where we were at the end of WWII and where we are now (http://reformpartyca.org/two-party-politics-and-recent-history-2/). Circumstances are different, to say the very least. We have fallen a lot since then. We still have not won the war on drugs, the war on cancer or the war in Afghanistan. The two party's track record can be used for insights into how things might go in 2014 and beyond. Things will move slow or not at all. Our politics usually moves very slowly, especially for the big, contentious issues we now face. Maybe we have the luxury of time (a generation or two, which is what it will take) to slowly work things out. Maybe we don't. It just doesn't hurt to nudge things like this into a broader context. This isn't an expression of pessimism. It is just an ideologically unbiased perception of reality.
  4. Bob Stewart Well said
  5. Bubby Bass Taking time to debate the issues is their job and is precisely the way it's designed. But the gridlock in DC has nothing to do with discussing/debating issues for the good of the country, rather unflinching school ground children refusing to even listen to one side or the other.
  6. Bubby Bass Taking time to debate the issues is their job and is precisely the way it's designed. But the gridlock in DC has nothing to do with discussing/debating issues for the good of the country, rather unflinching school ground children refusing to even listen to one side or the other.
  7. Tim Brown Intetesting perspective
  8. Stephen Salkin It has ground to a halt. There is going to be a hell of a time restarting it. However I believe long before that happens we will have riotiing in the streets.
  9. Matthew Crockett If the branches are supposed to argue, the place where it is currently broken is that no one assumes the negotiation of a cease fire. They sneer at the prospect of actual Work and spew deranged bombast about the supposed "victory" of brainlessly no-voting against whatever their "enemies" propose.
  10. Sharon Young Happy talk ~ doesn't work.
108 comments
Matthew J. Becker
Matthew J. Becker

I agree DC gridlock is a great thing look at the budget deal they just passed it was garbage. 3 more years of gridlock is what I pray for

Bubby Bass
Bubby Bass

Taking time to debate the issues is their job and is precisely the way it's designed. But the gridlock in DC has nothing to do with discussing/debating issues for the good of the country, rather unflinching school ground children refusing to even listen to one side or the other.

Stephen Salkin
Stephen Salkin

It has ground to a halt. There is going to be a hell of a time restarting it. However I believe long before that happens we will have riotiing in the streets.

Matthew Crockett
Matthew Crockett

If the branches are supposed to argue, the place where it is currently broken is that no one assumes the negotiation of a cease fire. They sneer at the prospect of actual Work and spew deranged bombast about the supposed "victory" of brainlessly no-voting against whatever their "enemies" propose.

Brooks Jones
Brooks Jones

The system we have now is a tragical farce. The ones who sit in power are neither interested in the welfare of the people nor in anything slightly resembling governance. The people who enter "public service" are only interested in individual gain. The young who are the well from whence revolution normally springs are eerily apathetic while ironically incredibly oppressed. Who can blame us? I often think that's the point of two party politics. To so frustrate the motivated with seemingly unfathomable impotence until motivation becomes the despair that nothing can change. The fact we the people (the workers) keep electing the rich and expect things to get better is a joke in itself. Until we the people start squeezing back on Washington to reinstitute harsh legislation on corporations, break up monopolies across the board,punish Wall Street for its avarice, disband the party system, redraw county voting lines before they were rigged and start voting based on populism nothing will get better. It will all remain a sick joke dreamt up by a madman bent on his own destruction.

Doug Wedul
Doug Wedul

That's my point, Kim Sloan-Maynard! We've endured 428+ filibusters and a $24 B Gov't. shutdown at taxpayer expense. 428+ filibusters since 2009!!!! The highest number, by leaps and bounds, ever!!! LBJ's Congressional sessions had 4 filibusters by comparison!! We've had 5 years of complete legislative stalemate and one party determined from the outset, and successful (in light of the 428 filibusters) in completely decimating the current President's election platforms. Result = NO SOLUTIONS to ANYTHING and every problem this country is facing still everpresent. About the only minor successes have been in very minor unemployment decreases, which is a misnomer, considering the jobs created are primarily min. wage jobs or jobs with wages far below what is considered a 'livable wage'. Time for solutions?!? Absolutely! We've had 5 years of NOTHING in Congress. Obama's only real claim to victory is the health care bill, which, in itself, is a largely whittled down version of his intended health care bill. Obama has been stymied at every turn and every step of the legislative way. The filibuster the New Protocol and by too many...the one that is now deemed acceptable and not extremely harming to this country.

Doug Wedul
Doug Wedul

The filibuster is 'broken'?!? There have been 428+ filibusters to date, since 2009!!! The highest in the history of the Republic of the United States! Ever! Are you kidding me?!? Yeah, it's broken alright...a nonstop filibustering exercise ad nauseum on every piece of legislation, every Bill introduced into Congress, to the extent, we've had to endure a $24 B Gov't. shutdown and a total standstill at Legislative progress at any rate whatsoever. Again: 428+ filibusters since 2009!!! LBJ's Congress, by comparison, had 4 filibusters!!!

Kim Sloan-Maynard
Kim Sloan-Maynard

Ouch!?! You are right in your assessment of course, no denying your facts. But with all due respect, isn't it time to find solutions?

Doug Wedul
Doug Wedul

With all due respect, towards your right to an opinion, Kim Sloan-Maynard, I couldn't disagree more with your assessment and also this article's assessment. IMO, the bar has never been set lower, the expectations thus morphed to a lowest common denominator ever, and the urgency to get things done never more important! The necessary change does not lay with the contituents to adjust expectations of our failed Congressional legislative performances since 2009, but rather, with each and every member of the House of Representatives and the Senate to finally do their jobs and legislate, from which they are handsomely paid, and to avoid things such as a $24 Billion Gov't. shutdown at taxpayer expense, while still collecting their salaries! The sky isn't falling?!? Ummm....totally disagree. Apathy firmly entrenched and a "new acceptable protocol" persists and is everpresent and extremely damaging and costly to each taxpayer of the United States.

Kim Sloan-Maynard
Kim Sloan-Maynard

Still, with distance, our aims have never been higher, our outrage more inclusive. Problems arise where there is no easy answer, and no one will be satisfied completely. Sometimes we have to take responsibility and not lay it all on politics. Big change can come from one person at a time. Just sayin... And regardless, still good to know the sky isn't falling... tonight. :-)

Tim Tveten
Tim Tveten

impeach obama so we can start healing our country

Doug Wedul
Doug Wedul

There is no rationalizing the completely ineffective, most unproductive sessions of Congress the United States has witnessed, EVER, in the entire history of the Republic of the United States!!!! 428+ filibusters since 2009!!! An unparalleled, historic high for the U.S. THE. MOST. UNPRODUCTIVE. CONGRESS. EVER.!!!!! The $24 Billion Gov't. Shutdown?!? Hello?!? Anybody home?!?!?!!!!!? Shame on all of them!!!!

Rob Tatro
Rob Tatro

IT IS TIME TO HAVE ELECTED OFFICIALS READ ALOUD AND SIGN THEIR JOB DISCRIPTIONS AND START HEAVY FINES FOR F****ING OFF. ABSOLUTE TRANSPARENCY! When was the last time anyone, from either side of the aisle been FIRED? MOST LIKELY, NEVER.

George Bleick
George Bleick

ALL bills brought before congress MUST be read before a vote can be taken. &/or: A bill will be read before a minimum of 3/4ths of the House & the Senate!! Congress NEEDS to know what is in a bill and it's consequences!!!

Julie Esposito
Julie Esposito

YES. Which is why legislators should be thrown out when they sign Bill they have not read!!!!!!

Paul Roetto
Paul Roetto

And Somehow the World continues to turn!

Glenn Clayton
Glenn Clayton

problem is that the republicans pay for some independents to run against a democrat like they did to get little bush elected!!!

Earl L Kerr
Earl L Kerr

Well, I certainly certainly hope so!

Tony Fig
Tony Fig

My wisdom is exclusive for now haha I'm more at a crossroad with my opinions..so I just wanted to see if you could help me shed light on them

Jorge de Ulloa
Jorge de Ulloa

I was hoping you would share it with the world. Your wisdom should be enjoyed by all. Call you later, gonna go to the store now. Talk to you later buddy Tony Fig

Tony Fig
Tony Fig

call me for an answer heeeee

Jorge de Ulloa
Jorge de Ulloa

Tony Fig sure big guy, take all the time you want...

Forrest Harless
Forrest Harless

Time to ignore all we've been systematically conditioned to believe! The Two party system is finally starting to split open and people can see (if they choose) how criminal this whole thing is!!

Tony Fig
Tony Fig

give me time to think about this

Alan Einhorn
Alan Einhorn

Every law Congress passes should effect them (the employees) as well as the taxpayer (the employer). Every bill should be debated such that everyone knows what they are voting for. Get rid of the notion that the more legislation passed, the better job government is doing (someone got that backwards at some point). Limit the ability of officials leaving office to work for lobbyists. Don't forget that nowhere does it say we are to be a two party system. We need more differing opinion at the table.

Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner

This is the problem with generalized statements. Bills that we seriously need, such as tax reform, or infrastructure investment, get tied up. Bills to spy on American citizens, bomb Libya, or arrest "terrorists" and detain them without a trial...well those trains have no trouble running on time.

Charles Isildur
Charles Isildur

It does take time, when bills are flooded with the demands of the "special interests", on one side or the other. If "they" do not get what they want, the entire bill does not move, or gets killed

Mark Gangle
Mark Gangle

DeNeice Kenehan this is the kind of dialog we need and working toward solutions. Party bashing and such will solve nothing. I wish more people would wake up to the real state of affairs with the understanding you have expressed here. I do have to say this thread has been the better debates on this page I have read in a long time.

Terry Sternaman
Terry Sternaman

2014 can be a great year , If the people will stand together and make it so. But it looks like there are to many people who just don't care

Conrad Gosciminski
Conrad Gosciminski

Whenever you hear a individual or a political say that it is to important to move slowly and read a bill that should run cold shivers up your spine. The Constitution was written to protect us from what is happening now and we need to elect those who will honor the guidelines put forth in the Constitution.

Randee Head
Randee Head

You are not kidding. Ignorant people keep throwing terms around, and they have no idea what those terms mean. It gets very tiresome.

David Prowse
David Prowse

Da neice funny Soros wasn't mentioned. A billionaire leftist with direct links to many media Giants. He uses the press to putz his agenda to the tune of at least 50 million since 2001.

Rex King Jr.
Rex King Jr.

I think the link is completely off. I have a "big picture". I grew up overseas during the late Cold War, and got news not propaganda. I went to private schools not government run conformatories. I was educated to think, not to conform. What the writer doesn't realize is that the literature was written near the beginning of the Roman Empire not the end. Secondly he seems to advocate "Don't worry be ignorant, uh happy that is". Rome turned from a republic into and absolute dictatorship with less freedom. Who cares how long a dictatorship lasts??!! I want to be free not safe, there is no real safety. A government who cannot successfully run a whorehouse, the late Mustang Ranch, has no business trying to run our lives. Obama has MORE power than any other president i the history of our country. If a government can't make money from the two oldest vices in the world the what makes you think they can successfully run anything?? Like a healthcare network?? Tell all the people who were barely making it before O-care where that they should be happy now that they have been priced out of the healthcare system entirely, and will be penalized for the privilege.Our government is supposed to REPRESENT US!!! It is not supposed to ram it's agenda down our throats!!! If we raised the voting age back to twenty-one years of age it would be a good start. If you cannot be trusted on alcohol or with a handgun the you shouldn't be voting either.

DeNeice Kenehan
DeNeice Kenehan

Someone upstream ranted that "America is Socialist," which means that the government now owns the banks, airlines, oil companies and Walmart, I suppose. ALthough we do have some socialism -- the post office, military, policing, emergency management, drug and medical device approvals, meat inspections, park management -- I observe more Corporate Fascism, eg TPP, no Wall Street prosecutions, tax shelters, industry subsidies (eg BigAg, Obamacare, MIC). I don't see you all as The Enemy at all-- but I do see the very wealthy people and large transglobal corporations who run our government as my political AND ECONOMIC adversary.Henry Giroux describes why I feel this way better than I ever could:" Twenty individuals in the United States, including the infamous Koch brothers, have a total net worth of more than half a trillion dollars, about $26 billion each, while "4 out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives." More than 40 percent of recent college graduates are living with their parents while mega corporations and wealthy farmers get huge government subsidies.We blame the poor, homeless, unemployed and recent graduates suffocating under financial debt for their plight as if individual responsibility explains the ballooning gap in wealth, income and power and the growing state violence that supports it. Poor people end up in debtor jail for not paying parking tickets or their bills while the corrupt heads of banks, hedge funds and other financial services who engage in all manner of corruption and crime, swindling billions from the public coffers, are rarely prosecuted to the full extent of the law."I am very far from being a political scientist...but this does not sound like "socialism" to me, friends.Peace, DeNeice

DeNeice Kenehan
DeNeice Kenehan

I'm not "mad." I'm worried. The US Navy says the Arctic will have no ice in the summer in 2016...and our "liberal"government is selling fracking to the whole world. In California, where I live, we have drilling on 130 sites within 30 miles of MAJOR faultlines. And we know that the water infusion causes small earthquakes in areas that have NEVER had earthquakes.Also, 25% of the children in this country are living in poverty. Do we want to adddres that?No?And does it bother you that money is running the show now? That both parties will do whatever they are instructed to do...by maybe a few dozen individuals, banks, lobbies?I think that WE really should be doing something. Not celebrating that our government is inert and corrupt. If we don't get off these keyboards and to the streets, we are in trouble.

DeNeice Kenehan
DeNeice Kenehan

I don't condone calling someone an idiot. A year ago I had very different politics because I believed partisan propaganda and corporate media messaging.We can all evolve philosophically if we stay open-minded to new information.And I agree, otherwise, what you said, Timothy about the corporations BEING our government now. There are differences in the veneers of the two parties, how they MANIPULATE us, but they both serve the same ECONOMIC interests.We really IMO should just FOLLOW THE MONEY. If we would all do JUST that, I think we'd discover that we actually Get ALong and Agree on our conclusions.We need to UNITE--we gotta get the MONEY out of government and back to the streets, my frends.Peace.