Saturday, November 28, 2009

English Romanticism and Early Modernism’s Warnings for the 20th & 21st Centuries.

The poems of English Romanticism warned of the dangers to mankind as we moved away from nature to indulge ourselves in the industrial revolution. The “Romantic Crisis” was seen as the loss of imagination as we disconnected with nature. John Keats said “Beauty is truth and truth beauty…”, and in the century that has passed since he wrote those words it is clear that western society no longer can recognize neither truth nor beauty. Worse, society no longer even seems to care that it cannot grasp these concepts, and it seems perfectly happy fabricating its own truths, and its own definition of beauty. The Romantic Crisis bore itself out at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century. This is best witnessed in the writings of James Joyce, and in the early work of Ernest Hemingway. Joyce’s “The Dubliners” is a stark, depressing look at life in Dublin at the turn of the last century. People are without joy, they have lost their faith in their church, their families, and themselves. There are repeated themes of emotional paralysis as we see people not only unable, but unwilling to improve their lives by reaching for better things. Hemingway’s “In Our Time” is a collection of short stories that revolve around the zeitgeist of disillusionment. Disillusionment of home, marriage, family, and society are explored in brief vignettes. This paralysis and disillusionment by society at large would open the door to Communism, Fascism, and Nazism in the 20th century.
The First World War had a devastating impact on western societies both in Europe, and the United States. In Europe cities were destroyed, and in both Europe and the US lives were destroyed. Men returned home to the United States changed by the Great War. In Europe after the war, veterans of both sides wandered the cities and countryside of France, Spain, and Italy. The popular notion is that these men were mesmerized by the pleasures that these places offered, and were not in a hurry to return home to Kansas or West Virginia. The truth was that they needed to come to grips with what they had seen, and what they had done as soldiers in the war. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was called “Shell Shock” in those days, and has taken almost a full century to be understood. The men didn’t know that they might be sick, but they sure knew that they weren’t well. So they wandered Europe trying to find themselves before they returned home. Adolf Hitler was one of those men, who like Hemingway, was wounded in the war, and found himself disillusioned after the war. Hitler chose to fill the void of disillusionment with anger and hatred. In Munich, Germany, Hitler would find other disillusioned war veterans to sell his vision of a new Germany to.
The danger of mass disillusionment of a segment of a population is that as they reject a belief system, they will embrace another almost without question. Hitler was a decorated war veteran, in the mind of those wayward German vets he had earned his bones, and thus they gave him the benefit of the doubt. Hitler took their disillusionment in their government, and turned it into anger towards their government. Hitler took advantage of the universal anti-Semitism in Europe to further fix (or put a face on) the target of all the things that were wrong with Germany and the world. Earlier, while the war was going on, Communists took over Russia in a fairly popular revolution. The Russian people had grown disillusioned with the Czar and his many failing, and the Communists were able to take advantage of this just as Hitler would sixteen years later.
Today there is much disillusionment again in the zeitgeist of America. Our economy has failed because smart people in finance bought into an economic model that was a lie. We will have spent seven years in Iraq after been told that their former government had stockpiles of WMDs. Many people view 9/11 as a failure of religion. So they want to throw the whole thing out.
All I ask is that you be careful that you think about what you are going to replace it all with before you throw the NOW out.
Let’s look at the Tea Party movement. The root of this movement is disillusionment of the government. Last summer over a million people converged on Washington DC to protest with little or no external organization. A second, smaller demonstration was convened a few months ago almost on the spur of the moment. The mainstream media belittles them, and barely mentions them in their broadcasts. They should be looking at this because just as in Munich in 1921, there is an opportunity to turn disillusionment into anger. In Arizona, some Tea Party folks showed up to a Presidential speech with their AR-15 assault rifles.
What if the million + that went to Washington DC last summer had all been armed? How would the government stop them if someone yelled “Charge!”.
I’m sure that most of the Tea Party people are fine, honest, and patriotic Americans who want to work for change in the government. I support this. Yet there has been a fracture within the movement because some do not believe that it is aggressive enough. They want to take more action. At the moment, the Tea Party movement has no direction, but that can change. All they need is a leader. One man or woman who can relate to the disillusionment, and then turn it into anger, and then things will get interesting.
We have become lost in our synthetic world. We no longer recognize truth, and we are blind to beauty. These are most dangerous times, my friends.

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