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The Grand Experiment. 
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Post The Grand Experiment.
To me, America is a grand experiment, as prior to its founding many European societies were governed by some sort of traditional oligarchy. People yearned for self-rule at the time and the subject was a popular topic of philosophical debate. It's my opinion that America sprang from this debate. So, assuming that my opinion is at least somewhat valid, how would you say the experiment is going so far?



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Thu Jan 07, 2021 12:32 pm
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Post Re: The Grand Experiment.
Dhight wrote:
To me, America is a grand experiment, as prior to its founding many European societies were governed by some sort of traditional oligarchy. People yearned for self-rule at the time and the subject was a popular topic of philosophical debate. It's my opinion that America sprang from this debate. So, assuming that my opinion is at least somewhat valid, how would you say the experiment is going so far?

Hello Dhight, welcome to Booktalk. The theme you describe has produced the American mythology of Individual Liberty as the core of ethics. In some views, that includes the right to trash the Capitol due to the view that prevailing opinion lacks sufficient respect for Individual Liberty. That has not gone so well.

Other aspects of what you call "self-rule" include the philosophical principle of personal autonomy, which generated the concept of human rights as modern commerce escaped from the rule of kings. Personal autonomy is an idea with roots in Biblical theology, which has been vastly developed in secular humanist thought, for example with ideas like dignity.

In the French Revolution of 1789, the intertwined modern concepts of liberty, equality and fraternity overturned the traditional hierarchical ethics of obedience to authority. Such values exist in dialectical relationship, since when taken too far (eg trashing the Capitol) ideas like liberty obviously have to be balanced by social responsibility. Rights are in constant conflict.

Liberty has become a rallying cry for conservative politics, while equality serves a similar function for progressive politics. The dialectic of liberty and equality can generate a complex synthesis of integral ethics.


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Post Re: The Grand Experiment.
Thank you, Robert, for an intelligent, well-balanced, and informative assessment of current affairs.Such is incredibly rare and refreshing in this day and age. I'd like to study what you've written further and respond again later. Presently though, I'm a truck driver and it is my turn to back into a dock. Thanks again, Robert!



Fri Jan 08, 2021 6:53 am
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Post Re: The Grand Experiment.
Hi, Dhight. Perhaps the most "experimental" aspect of the new republic was the orderly transfer of power directed by the expression of the popular will. Foreign countries were surprised when Washington stepped away from power, declining to become president for life, and when John Adams submitted to to the voters' will and vacated his office. Those Americans really meant those things in their Constitution, foreigners learned. I don't need to say much about how recent events have stained the American legacy of constitutional government. We were still dealing painfully with the job of living up to the promises of equality in our founding documents, but to then find that what we had assumed to be secure--the sacredness of our elections--was about to be assaulted, came as a body blow.

I'm curious how you would go about answering your own question. Thanks for posing it.



Last edited by DWill on Fri Jan 08, 2021 8:39 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Fri Jan 08, 2021 8:37 am
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Post Re: The Grand Experiment.
[/quote]
Hello Dhight, welcome to Booktalk. The theme you describe has produced the American mythology of Individual Liberty as the core of ethics. In some views, that includes the right to trash the Capitol due to the view that prevailing opinion lacks sufficient respect for Individual Liberty. That has not gone so well.

Other aspects of what you call "self-rule" include the philosophical principle of personal autonomy, which generated the concept of human rights as modern commerce escaped from the rule of kings. Personal autonomy is an idea with roots in Biblical theology, which has been vastly developed in secular humanist thought, for example with ideas like dignity.

In the French Revolution of 1789, the intertwined modern concepts of liberty, equality and fraternity overturned the traditional hierarchical ethics of obedience to authority. Such values exist in dialectical relationship, since when taken too far (eg trashing the Capitol) ideas like liberty obviously have to be balanced by social responsibility. Rights are in constant conflict.

Liberty has become a rallying cry for conservative politics, while equality serves a similar function for progressive politics. The dialectic of liberty and equality can generate a complex synthesis of integral ethics.[/quote]

Robert,
Personal Liberty was introduced as a core ethic for Americans in the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, but you are right, it has always been somewhat of a myth, as it was bestowed only on those who fit within certain parameters, to fit within those parameters required one to routinely attend the right church, drive the right automobile, wear a tie to work, and keep your lawn neatly trimmed. If a person's lifestyle or views fell outside of those parameters they could face at the very least, suspicion from their peers, and at the other end of the spectrum, in America's not too distant past, they might spend the rest of their life as a lab rat in an insane asylum. Those who enjoyed their personal liberties through conformity to 'lock-step' convention in fact, enjoyed only superficial liberties and they obviously knew that and were unhappy with it, as evidenced by peoples passion for tales of people who live 'outside the loop'.

You are also right that liberty must be well balanced with other ethical codes, responsibility, courtesy, respect, and such. The people on the right who stormed the capitol didn't weigh their actions against any other concept except desire, as is the same with the people on the left who block streets and prevent other people from accessing their homes. People are for the most part self-serving and ignorant, the same people who feel entitled to their freedoms are only too happy to restrict or remove other peoples freedoms to serve some fleeting ideology.

Thank you for your reply, Robert. It has given me some food for thought.



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Post Re: The Grand Experiment.
DWill wrote:
Hi, Dhight. Perhaps the most "experimental" aspect of the new republic was the orderly transfer of power directed by the expression of the popular will. Foreign countries were surprised when Washington stepped away from power, declining to become president for life, and when John Adams submitted to to the voters' will and vacated his office. Those Americans really meant those things in their Constitution, foreigners learned. I don't need to say much about how recent events have stained the American legacy of constitutional government. We were still dealing painfully with the job of living up to the promises of equality in our founding documents, but to then find that what we had assumed to be secure--the sacredness of our elections--was about to be assaulted, came as a body blow.

I'm curious how you would go about answering your own question. Thanks for posing it.


Thank you for your reply, DWill,

Yes, the orderly transfer of power directed by the people is something to be cherished, as it is a reflection of an intelligent and dignified populace, and the storming of the capitol was a sad statement on societal devolution. The current state of affairs in the USA was perhaps predictable and inevitable to a student of human nature, as human beings seem to do reasonably well while they struggle to build something, but once the struggle is over, they fall apart, squabbling and creating problems where none exist.

For example, America has always strived to better define which ideals were important to its populace and then define any shortcomings which may have prevented the realization of those ideals. Equal opportunity was obviously important to all, and disparities were identified, then steps were taken ensure that opportunity was open to all, and it did become available to all. There is no inequality of opportunity in our society, though people overturn every rock they can find in search of it.

We've reached a point where there is nothing fundamentally wrong, and there is nobody to blame or hate for anything, except perhaps, we should blame ourselves. For though there are those among us that revel in the creation of good things, most people aren't happy unless they're charging windmills, and a sufficient percentage of our populace will continue to fight imaginary demons until they've proven that people are indeed, incapable of self-rule, and then, the Grand Experiment will have played itself out.



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Post Re: The Grand Experiment.
I am reminded of the words of Arthur Jensen (played by Ned Beatty) from the mini-series, Network:

You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it! Is that clear? You think you’ve merely stopped a business deal—that is not the case! The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country and now they must put it back! It is ebb and flow! Tidal gravity! It is ecological balance! You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples—there are no nations, there are no peoples, there are no Russians, there are no Arabs, there are no Third Worlds, there is no West! There is only one holistic system of systems! One vast and interwoven, interacting, multi-varied, multinational dominion of dollars—petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, Reichsmarks, rubles, pounds and shekels. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature and YOU…WILL..ATONE! Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale? You get up on your little 21-inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America, there is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and Dupont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state? Karl Marx? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, min and max solutions and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments just like we do. We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime. And our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that perfect world in which there’s no war or famine, oppression or brutality. One vast and ecumenical holding company for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock. All necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused.



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Post Re: The Grand Experiment.
A very interesting quote DB Roy, and one that warrants some deeper thought. Perhaps, America is not 'the' Grand Experiment, but is, or was, merely a temporary voicing of dissatisfaction with the larger experiment it is a part of, that of humanity's predictable, inevitable, progression towards its evolutionary limits. As the quote states, humanity's, and America's, present and future were predestined as we follow a path incubated and instilled at a primal level. The quote though, is also a question, as to state that human beings are bound by their nature, is to question that nature, and as long as there are questions, there is the possibilty that the inevitable may be subverted.



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Post Re: The Grand Experiment.
Dhight wrote:
A very interesting quote DB Roy, and one that warrants some deeper thought. Perhaps, America is not 'the' Grand Experiment, but is, or was, merely a temporary voicing of dissatisfaction with the larger experiment it is a part of, that of humanity's predictable, inevitable, progression towards its evolutionary limits. As the quote states, humanity's, and America's, present and future were predestined as we follow a path incubated and instilled at a primal level. The quote though, is also a question, as to state that human beings are bound by their nature, is to question that nature, and as long as there are questions, there is the possibility that the inevitable may be subverted.

Hi Dhight, I read the Network quote from DB Roy differently, not as describing a predestined primal destiny but as a cynical prophetic warning of the danger of collapse into the cash nexus as the sole basis of social relations, a condition that is already far advanced.

Your point about the subversion of an existing trajectory is important, since if the current path presents a bleak and unsustainable future then thinking about alternatives is essential, to avoid waltzing to hell.

America has hardly begun its Grand Experiment in the capacity of the human mind to rise above instinctive desires to create a new world.


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Post Re: The Grand Experiment.
Dhight wrote:
To me, America is a grand experiment, as prior to its founding many European societies were governed by some sort of traditional oligarchy. People yearned for self-rule at the time and the subject was a popular topic of philosophical debate. It's my opinion that America sprang from this debate. So, assuming that my opinion is at least somewhat valid, how would you say the experiment is going so far?

Going right back to your original question, do we now need to evaluate how well our form of democracy is performing, vs. the other major form, the parliamentary? It's true that the U.S. ended oligarchic government in the 18th century, but since then, of course, democracy has spread widely. We aren't necessarily the most successful just because we're the first. I don't have expertise to analyze the question, am just bringing it up.

And to speak again of the Capitol riot, that may be a sign of disbelief in the Grand Experiment itself. In the memorable words of Sen. Ben Sasse, is the Republican party going to become "the party of one weird dude," i.e., a cult of autocracy rather than a party hewing to democratic principle?
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For example, America has always strived to better define which ideals were important to its populace and then define any shortcomings which may have prevented the realization of those ideals. Equal opportunity was obviously important to all, and disparities were identified, then steps were taken ensure that opportunity was open to all, and it did become available to all. There is no inequality of opportunity in our society, though people overturn every rock they can find in search of it.

I don't have personal experience with opportunity being denied me. That is due to my skin color and socioeconomic background. But I hesitate very much to agree that the job of opening up opportunity to all is finished. When did that happen? Racism and its legacy, for one thing, would have to have ended for everyone to have this equal shot.

But I sympathize with your effort to preserve belief in an essential goodness or promise in what we started 2 1/2 centuries ago. This can be difficult to maintain while also completing work left unfinished after the Civil War, but Martin Luther King, Jr. thought we could do it. The 1619 project of the New York Times has drawn a lot of controversy to it. To the extent that the project tries to assert that America's true founding was the slave ship arriving in Jamestown, it ideologizes history. So does the Plymouth Rock founding, in its old, simple form, ideologize history. Can we steer the middle course and neither anoint nor demonize?



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Post Re: The Grand Experiment.
Dhight wrote:
To me, America is a grand experiment, as prior to its founding many European societies were governed by some sort of traditional oligarchy. People yearned for self-rule at the time and the subject was a popular topic of philosophical debate. It's my opinion that America sprang from this debate. So, assuming that my opinion is at least somewhat valid, how would you say the experiment is going so far?
It's interesting that we have had this idealized version of who we are and what we are doing in America for a long time. Gov. Winthrop's "City on a Hill" declaration explicitly cast the Puritan colony in terms of a Biblical narrative of renewal, cleansing and witness. Yet, as we know, the search for religious freedom did not extend to a great deal of religious tolerance. Freedom for us, not for just anyone.

I would want to keep in mind that the great policy experiment followed on the heels of the English Civil War, when Oliver Cromwell brought in a brief and intolerant experiment in popular rule that devolved into dictatorship. The Wars of Religion can be thought of as ending in 1648 with the end of the Thirty Year's War, even though Cromwell ruled for 10 more years. They were, among other things, a revolt of a growing middle class against the military domination by those who used their "legitimate" status in the aristocracy to be able to afford horses. Pikes, and later muskets, led to an end to domination by Cavaliers and the birth of a society of Roundheads. The context also included Protestantism - declaring a sort of independence of conscience by at least opposing centralized authority over conscience.

The thinkers who interpreted that time, including Locke and Montesquieu, asked some pretty basic questions about consent of the governed and how to restrain power with institutions such as Separation of Powers. The Americans sought their independence in a time that was frothy with big ideas, and both Cavaliers and Roundheads of America wanted us to make our own decisions. So they eloquently and bravely set about trying to create a durable Federal Government, and almost immediately found themselves caught up in the even more extravagant experiment with republican self-government in France. The French Revolution did not persist in the face of reaction from the royal powers of Europe, but it did take over politics in the U.S. and we had decisive wins by the Roundheads, first as populists seeking universal White male franchise, then as Northern Yankees imposing union on the planter classes of the South.

It wasn't easy, it wasn't, mostly, about ideals, and it wasn't conclusive. It was new, and dramatic, and continues to determine much about our country and the world today.

DWill wrote:
And to speak again of the Capitol riot, that may be a sign of disbelief in the Grand Experiment itself. In the memorable words of Sen. Ben Sasse, is the Republican party going to become "the party of one weird dude," i.e., a cult of autocracy rather than a party hewing to democratic principle?
I have trouble reading the current rear-guard action by a movement anchored in rural culture and ignorance as anything determinative for the future. I think the very desperation of that subculture, exploited for decades by provocateurs like Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich, grows out of its rock solid attachment to the past and refusal to think realistically about the future. And so, even though there is great potential for hucksters to milk it of money (for example Rupert Murdoch and Steve Bannon,) there is no actual self-interest to anchor it in reality. It will wane, and it will be a ball and chain around U.S. policy for decades, but it doesn't tell you where we are headed except as a reaction against the future.

Sadly, that very reactionary approach consistently obstructs any move by responsible society to confront our challenges. So we will continue to be more Texas, unable to cope with a forewarned cold wave, than Ohio, creating the jobs of the future to hold our society together. Our checks and balances include the ability of a manipulated minority to obstruct reasonable debate and decision, and so we got what we wanted - resistance to domination. What we didn't get was a society transformed by education into one in which reason would dominate.
DWill wrote:
Quote:
There is no inequality of opportunity in our society, though people overturn every rock they can find in search of it.

I don't have personal experience with opportunity being denied me. That is due to my skin color and socioeconomic background. But I hesitate very much to agree that the job of opening up opportunity to all is finished. When did that happen? Racism and its legacy, for one thing, would have to have ended for everyone to have this equal shot.
And neither racism nor its legacy have ended. There is still considerable bias in hiring, confirmed by matched-applicant experiments, and in housing opportunities, similarly confirmed. There is still bias in lending, but even more there is the legacy of racist application of laws and government programs which obstructed the growth of wealth for ethnic minorities. Overt bias in these programs only ended at about the time opportunities for the working class stopped improving and started subsiding. The vast majority of Black and brown citizens never had a chance to get on the escalator of real estate wealth.

DWill wrote:
But I sympathize with your effort to preserve belief in an essential goodness or promise in what we started 2 1/2 centuries ago. This can be difficult to maintain while also completing work left unfinished after the Civil War, but Martin Luther King, Jr. thought we could do it. The 1619 project of the New York Times has drawn a lot of controversy to it. To the extent that the project tries to assert that America's true founding was the slave ship arriving in Jamestown, it ideologizes history. So does the Plymouth Rock founding, in its old, simple form, ideologize history. Can we steer the middle course and neither anoint nor demonize?
I like the way you put that. I think education continues to invite Americans to compare their ideals to the partial success we have achieved. But to bring that to fruition will continue to be a challenge of partial response and partial progress. Of finding the right combination of idealistic rhetoric and practical programs. In the face of obstruction by oligarchic manipulators and reactionary Zero-Sum voters.



Last edited by Harry Marks on Thu Feb 18, 2021 6:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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