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Standing Together in a House Divided.

Watching events in Washington D.C. on January 6th, the 'House Divided' comment in my New Year's email seems even more appropriate.

I'd been talking about a house divided over the Covid issue, of course, suggesting we look beyond the immediate to what may be just around the corner on the economic front.  The drama on Capitol Hill highlights how divided our culture has become, and we have to wonder how this will all play out. With the 'Great Reset' and the so-called 'Fourth Industrial Revolution' fast approaching, there are many questions to be asked.  

One of the most important of these questions concerns the failure of mainstream media (their failure to tell us about the World Economic Forum's 'Covid is our opportunity' agenda, for one). The worse network news gets, the more people turn to the internet and social media. Here, as the population fragments into 'filter bubble factions,' social cohesion inevitably breaks down.

On a more positive note: more people are searching, asking questions and engaging in critical discourse. Some are taking action, in constructive ways, and otherwise incompatible groups, almost miraculously, are finding common ground (or common cause, at least). This is something we must return to this later.

Over the holidays, I finally found time to watch the documentary Social Dilemma. A friend first mentioned this to me in August 2020, then another, and another; the film clearly struck a chord.


One of the key points made is that social media has had a massive detrimental impact on the political process. Tim Kendall, former president of Pinterest, goes so far as to predict that Civil War will be the near term outcome in the United States. He's not the only one, so recent events are unsettling; nevertheless, again, there is some reason for optimism.


As Abraham Lincoln stated in his famous 'House Divided' Speech, June 16, 1858:

“ 'A house divided against itself cannot stand.' I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall –

but I do expect it will cease to be divided.”


Lincoln was guardedly optimistic because he saw past the immediate division of his country (a division greater than exists today). He understood there was a deeper reality, and it was there he saw the solution to the dilemma confronting his nation. Ask virtually anyone: what was the aim of The American Civil War? The response will be, almost invariable: “To end slavery.” Lincoln was playing a kind of three-dimensional chess, though history books generally do not talk about the other 'dimensions' of this conflict. The biggest issue of the day, the supposed cause of that conflict, actually appears to have been incidental.

As Lincoln explained in his own words:


'If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that'

—  Greeley letter

In reality, then as now, money was both the root cause of a problem, and the solution. I must share more details of the Greenback story (beginning 1861). We can return to this in the future, though you may want to check out the wiki account of this for now, for some background.


The reduction of our history (including future history, currently unfolding) to a simplistic, 'one-dimensional' narrative – or worse, entertainment – is detailed in the 1964 work by Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. The postmodern era, in fact, might well be considered the apotheosis of that one-dimensional culture Marcuse describes.


In One-Dimensional Man, the author also coined the term 'warfare state'. He felt that mass-culture diminished the population's ability to see beyond the surface (dimension) and that this has made the wholesale deception of the society possible, allowing such institutions as the military industrial complex to thrive. The function of mass media (the culture industry) is to present a curated view of the world, and to make it as convincing as possible, using all manner of techniques that 'exploit human psychological vulnerabilities' (as Sean Parker describes the function of social media). All these media take advantage of a natural predisposition to 'take things at face value' while, very often, something more important is going on behind the scenes:

"As long as the press sees sex and drugs behind the left hand you can park a battle carrier behind the right hand and no one's gonna f--king notice."


Charlie Wilson's War

'The face of things' is described in many cultures, in fact, as being a kind of deception itself. The 'Veil of Maya,' as it is known in Hindu mythology: a 'magic show, an illusion where things appear to be present but are not what they seem.' Popular culture and social theory, both, draw on this analogy: “The veil that is pulled over our eyes. . .” And yet, it seems to be humanity's fate to continually fall for this 'trick;' to be transfixed by the illusion, as Plato describes in 'The Cave,' while paying no attention to 'the man behind the curtain'  - revealed in The Wizard of Oz.

Former Design Ethicist with Google, Tristan Harris, speaks of such magician's tricks in the documentary, Social Dilemma:

I was like five years old when I learned to do magic, and I could fool adults; Fully grown adults, with PHDs. . .  A magician understands something, some part of your mind that you're not aware of. That's what makes the illusion work.” 

The understanding of psychology that makes an illusionist's trick possible, Harris explains, is what makes social media so effective, and it is also the thing the makes it possible to hide anything – including a battle carrier – right in front of our eyes. Like the famous 'Invisible Gorilla' experiment, it's all about diverting attention while something else is happening behind the staged distraction.

Distraction can take many forms of course. Entertainment is a huge component of this in our western, postmodern culture, where even the news has become a kind of entertainment (See:  Neil Postman's, Amusing Ourselves to Death). But the divisiveness of our increasingly polarized world, and the conflicts that arise from this, are more than just a distraction; they impact our lives in a direct, and negative, way.  Finding workable solutions become increasingly difficult in this environment – where issues are perceived in stark black and white terms: this or that, us and them, for us or against us. Sadly, our politicians have become part of problem, exploiting these divisions to their advantage.

Perhaps the problems of our day are so complex that politicians must default to simplistic interpretations; and the audience, so accustomed now to receiving information in entertaining sound bites, no longer has the patience for more in-depth analysis. Winning over the other side – conditioned as they are to their way of thinking – is less important than mobilizing more of those who already subscribe to your own ideology. It's a race to the extremes, but this can also be useful: the strategy of 'Divide and Conquer' is as effective a methodology in the political arena as it is on the battlefield. Left and right today, it seems, are just two sides of the same bad penny.

Irreconcilable opposites don't reconcile, of course, they clash. And so any situation can be played out indefinitely, should this be the goal. If the issue is important enough, and sufficiently intractable, conflict of one kind or another is bound to arise; from the storming barricades in Washington D.C., to Rolling Thunder over Vietnam.

When so much is at stake, it almost doesn't matter if politician are operating with insufficient knowledge (as the Freeland - Poilievre's exchange seems to suggest) or if they're fulfilling some another agenda (while carefully crafting an illusion for their audience), the effect will be the same. We (everyday people at least) all end up the poorer for it. 

Why is it that Canada and the United States, with a combined population of over 400 million souls,  cannot find just two people of Lincoln's calibre? Should we blame the media? Should be blame social media? Or, are we to blame? Do we deserve the politicians we get?  As was said by many, four year ago when Trump took office. Will we be saying the same of Biden, four years from now?

Tim Kendall suggests a culture fractured by social media is the root cause of the ills in our world. Gust Avrakotos, the CIA agent in Charlie Wilson's War,  suggested indirectly that the press is to blame. In keeping with the theme of Kulturkampf  I would suggest our Postmodern culture is to blame.  In this case, as history demonstrates, there is a ready made solution: Regionalism – 'covert resistance,' as Lucy Lippard describes the perennial movement.

Next time, on a positive note: 'A House United'

David Ward    Jan 21st, 2021

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