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July 2, 2011
HG Wells (that sci fi guy) and the forecast for the Fourth of JulyBy Greyhawk
John Hinderaker asks: "does celebrating the Fourth of July turn you into a Republican?"
Don't be too quick to consign that question to the silly file. He only asks because a recent paper from two researchers at Harvard University says it is so. From their abstract:
Do childhood events shape adult political views and behavior? This paper investigates the impact of Fourth of July celebrations in the US during childhood on partisanship and participation later in life.
And by golly, they conclude that not only does a good old Independence Day celebration lead young Americans to "shift adult views and behavior in favor of the Republicans," it will "increase later-life political participation," too.
There's much absurdity in that, but it's well blended with large doses of truth. (Truth and absurdity, of course, aren't mutually exclusive descriptions of anything.) I'm not comfortable with the obvious corollary to their finding - that the Fourth of July is a bad day for Democrats - but to better understand why celebrating American independence might somehow benefit Republicans, it might be worthwhile to take a look at it from a decidedly non-Republican point of view.
To that we turn to H.G. Wells, author of Time Machine, War of the Worlds, and a lengthy shelf-full of other works that earned him a reputation as a founding father of modern science fiction. Although he's not as well remembered as a father of modern socialism, it's a title he equally deserves. While less visible, his influence in that arena persists today even more so than the works mentioned above, which only appear on movie screens in state of the art versions at intervals designed to thrill each new generation. The quote below comes from one of his lesser known works, but its blend of socialist worldview and futurist thought makes it an important part of the cannon. However, like most highly-acclaimed literary paeans to socialist utopia, its gawdawful unreadability combined with its author's naive worldview makes reading it a chore, rendered even more unpleasant by its outdated language and style. That latter complaint is easily resolved in modern screenplays for his better-known works, but modern versions of the philosophy revealed (if not born) in Well's The World Set Free - written in full knowledge of the century of failure in any attempt to create the sort of world Wells called "free" - aren't improved by any translation. Garbage is garbage, even in HD3D with full surround sound.
Nonetheless, bad ideas persist. The World Set Free has had a direct and notable influence on a wide variety of "thinkers" since it was published a century ago. Whether they ever knew it or not, non-Republicans including Leo Szilard, Charles Manson, Cloward and Piven, and Barack Obama owe much of their political philosophy to this work.
So, back to the influential original. A brief set up for this scene: war (atomic war, even) has all but destroyed the world, when at last the elite among national leaders choose to gather and set things right. Just when all seems hopeless, the best and brightest cast off the shackles imposed upon them by the unwashed masses, and determine to force upon the unenlightened the benefits of paradise only they were capable of seeing as possible.
Among Well's heroes, the King of England (did I mention this was stupid yet?), who discusses his vision for the future with a skeptical underling on the way to the grand council meeting that will make it all possible.
You might find it hard to believe, but Wells was not writing satire here - he actually believed this stuff.
Likewise he was writing in full denial of the knowledge that the American Revolution was the one people's revolution that had worked. Europe had seen well over a century of failures in that regard between 1776 and his day - when World War One was about to mark a turning point, the beginning of another century of more and greater failures, far beyond the borders of Europe, each with more than enough bloodshed to make those with which he was familiar seem almost harmless in comparison.
And here we get to the point. Wells' view of American exceptionalism, something that existed even then - whether acknowledged by those whose utopian dreams (often combined with Armageddon fantasies) led to failures on a horrific scale or not - is likewise revealed in The World Set Free. It's a point of view still popular today. At the council meeting, after the elite had solved all the world's problems in a way only they could (if only they were allowed to before it's too late) the King must turn his attention to the ridiculously infantile (though fully on-board) American...
Wells - and everyone who's followed him in this line of thought - has everything about his topic exactly backwards, thus exactly wrong. There actually was one - and exactly one - people's revolution in modern history that worked. If the result thus far hasn't been a utopia - especially for those who imagine themselves the only persons imaginative enough to imagine their own personal version of one - it remains something worth celebrating for ever and ever more.
Unfortunately for them the weather forecast is fine for my town in America, and the wife and I and a few thousand neighbors are taking the kids out to celebrate that anniversary to our hearts' content.
Posted by Greyhawk / July 2, 2011 12:36 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
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