Feedback

One cultural movement that I yesterday neglected to include in my list of about ten cultural movements that have arisen over the past 70 years was the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

All these cultural movements arose in response to, or as a reaction to, something that had happened in the past. In an obvious sense the reaction to an event will always be subsequent to it. But the odd feature of many of these social movements is that they arise long after their triggering events. In fact many of these reactions seem to become amplified with the passage of time.

One example of this has been the various women’s movements of the past century. It’s probably true to say that pretty much all women have been oppressed in one degree or other for the entirety of human history. So why is it that it has only been after women have become emancipated in the Western world over the past century that various women’s movements – e.g. Suffragettes – have emerged, and become progressively angrier and noisier with the passage of time. Why has it all come bubbling up now?

The same question might be asked of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Why is it that, 100 years after the emancipation of slaves in the USA, that a new movement pursuing the rights of black people should emerge? And why is it, another 60 years on, that an even angrier and noisier movement has now emerged in the form of Black Lives Matter?

Another example might be found in a social movement that I didn’t include in my list yesterday: Socialism. Here’s another social movement that seems to have only gathered strength long after the triggering event had taken place. And the triggering event for this would seem to have been the industrial revolution that began in the 1700s and that brought factories filled with low-paid workers, many of them children, toiling for long hours in dangerous conditions. When people like Karl Marx were writing about them, the industrial revolution had been under way for over a century, and the condition of the workers was already being alleviated by legislation. Yet for the next century and more socialism, in one form or other, was one of the most powerful (perhaps even the most powerful) social movements in the world.

And what about the environmental movement that is currently one of the most powerful social movements in the world? This movement might also be said to have its origins in response to the the industrial revolution, but this time not so much to the social conditions of its workers, but instead to the smoke and waste and pollution that all those factories generated. Nobody seemed to have been much bothered about it at the time, and it has only been when the factory chimney smoke has been cleaned up, and steam engines replaced with diesel engines (and then electric engines) that more and more people can’t bear the sight of any smoke whatsoever, not only from factory chimneys and steam engines, but also from household fires and now even cigarettes and pipes (and even e-cigarettes). Once again, the reaction to something – in this case, smoke – has been gathering momentum some one hundred or two hundred years after the causal event. And it only seems to get stronger with the passage of time.

Socialism and environmentalism are social movements that began during the industrial revolution, and have been gathering momentum ever since. And in the case of environmentalism it seems to require less and less smoke to trigger panic. And the smoke has furthermore become something almost entirely abstract and invisible: carbon dioxide.

Perhaps this happens because events of one sort or other live on in human memory, and become amplified and exaggerated. The blues music of the American south was taken and amplified on the other side of the Atlantic ocean, and fed back to its source. And this music gradually got louder and loud: it became deafeningly loud. The pop music subculture I mentioned yesterday was itself an electronic feedback loop – the same process that many of its musicians used in their own music.

And maybe all these other social movements are also feedback loops, gradually amplifying themselves. The triggering events that set them humming may have been quite small, but in memory they were gradually amplified. The sinking of the Titanic in 1912 was a shocking event at the time, but a century later, amplified and revisited in countless films and documentaries, it has become far more shocking. So also the assassination of John F Kennedy in 1963: if anything it only gets more and more shocking every year, driven by an identical feedback process. My grandfather, who was briefly a soldier in WW1, used to have a couple of largely, lavishly illustrated books on The Great War which portrayed it pretty much as a jolly game in which lots of battles were fought and ships sunk. But one hundred years later, once again after countless books and documentaries and films, WW1 now looks far worse than it did a century ago. The past seems to become more nightmarishly awful the more distant it is removed.

Last weekend in the USA, mobs began tearing down statues of Robert E Lee, over a century and a half after that general had fought in the American Civil War. Why should anyone want to tear down something as innocuous as a statue, 150+ years after the events it commemorates? Isn’t it that those events – the Civil War and the abolition of slavery – now wax larger in collective memory than they ever did at that time, no doubt once again as a result of countless books, documentaries, and movies? Charles Krauthammer (some sort of conservative, I believe) speaking earlier this week (my added emphases):

“…there was something unique about the history of slavery and racism in this country, that we had to cure this original sin. It was not cured by the Civil War as Lincoln had hoped, because it was followed by 100 years of state-sponsored oppression. It began to be cured with Civil Rights, equality of rights, and this generation the last 50 or so years has done a splendid job in redeeming itself.”

What was unique about slavery and racism in the USA? Was it any different from slavery in any other era in human history, for example slavery in ancient Greece and Rome? Why was it an original sin that required the current generation of Americans to redeem itself? There’s nothing original to America about slavery. And how can the current generation of Americans possibly redeem themselves of a crime of which they are not personally guilty. At what point in the past does something have to be before it becomes forgotten past history? 100 years? 200 years? 500 years?

Unfortunately, people like Charles Krauthammer are really simply adding more noise to a feedback loop, amplifying it with terms like “unique”, “original sin”, “state-sponsored oppression”, and “redemption”. What’s needed are voices that play down the past, rather than play it up.

He speaks 5:00 minutes into the video below:

 

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12 Responses to Feedback

  1. RdM says:

    Socialism and environmentalism are social movements that began during the industrial revolution, and have been gathering momentum ever since.

    Well, I think socialism may go back much earlier, even to Plato and maybe beyond
    http://robertlstephens.com/essays/shafarevich/001SocialistPhenomenon.html
    The introduction alone is worth the entry fee, but the text is worth a read as well. ;=})

  2. RdM says:

    Socialism. Here’s another social movement that seems to have only gathered strength long after the triggering event had taken place. And the triggering event for this would seem to have been the industrial revolution that began in the 1700s and that brought factories filled with low-paid workers, many of them children, toiling for long hours in dangerous conditions. When people like Karl Marx were writing about them

    But was Marx just an agent for the elite?

    http://mileswmathis.com/marx.pdf

    (if impatient, you might skip to p11-12)

    • Darryl says:

      Nice one Clicky. THEY LIVE. One of my favourite films of all time.
      “I have come here to chew bubble-gum and kick arse, and I’m all out of bubble-gum”.

  3. beobrigitte says:

    Another example might be found in a social movement that I didn’t include in my list yesterday: Socialism.
    Socialism goes back a long time and when it kicked off, it gave the downtrodden a voice. What became of socialism? A laughing stock simply because the socialists were trying to fix what wasn’t broken in order to justify their existence after what needed to be achieved.

    One example of this has been the various women’s movements of the past century. It’s probably true to say that pretty much all women have been oppressed in one degree or other for the entirety of human history.
    One degree or the other? Women had virtually no rights.
    And again, when women’s lib started it was a good thing. It gave us women a voice and opportunities. And we still have the equal wage issue to fully address. But women’s lib nowadays doesn’t worry about stuff like that. It needs idiotic issues to address to justify it’s existence. These days I find myself defending the good and honest men. That’s not equal rights.

    Why was it an original sin that required the current generation of Americans to redeem itself? There’s nothing original to America about slavery. And how can the current generation of Americans possibly redeem themselves of a crime of which they are not personally guilty.

    Ok. At least I know the sin I, as a German, have inherited. I have no idea how I can pay for something I, personally, am not guilty of. I have even less of an idea how the current American (and German!) generation can redeem itself of a crime not committed by them. My generation has no idea, either, so I can’t pass on advice, other than to be critical of what you are supposed to believe. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, even though you don’t get an answer.

  4. waltc says:

    So much there to think about. Here’s one general answer to your paradox: When the playwright, Moss Hart, wrote his memoirs (“Act One”), he explained his nervous breakdown at the pinnacle of his success by concluding that you’re fine, focussed and energized when you’re striving for something that you fervently believe will bring you permanent happiness but when you get there, and it doesn’t, you tend to go nuts. I’d apply that to all those rekindled or eternally ramped up Causes. They achieved what they wanted and found they were still miserable. Some simply strike out in anger and disappointment. Others create newer and increasingly higher goals in the illusion that when and if they finally achieve them, Nirvana will follow. (if they can just drive the last smoker off the planet…)

  5. waltc says:

    Many women who achieved the “equality” they sought found they were often just unhappy in new ways. Many Blacks who achieved legal equality and even got the benefits of affirmative action, may not have had the personal wherewithall to use them and –more objectively–for any of many reasons were still trapped in ghettos and doomed to lousy schools. . Equality wasn’t “It,” ; the same misery prevailed so…where do we go from here?

    It really wasn’t really till c the 1920s that blue collar workers started to get a break from lousy conditions and lousy pay which was a good part of the reason for the rise of Socialism (and even Communism) in America in the 30s and, similarly of fascism in Europe. And when achieved to their utmost in Russia, Italy, Germany, they too brought just another brand of misery, more lethal than imagined.

    I’ll defend Krauthammer who I think is one of the better conservative minds in America. By original sin, I think he means it literally, not biblically: slavery was part of the country when it started. It was not cured by emancipation; what followed was Jim Crow and Klan lynchings and, even when not lethal, an almost national sense of white supremacy which only started to change in the last fifty years

    As to my own thoughts on the current madness, I posted a longish essay on my fb page, whose bottom line might be: everyone’s gone insane.

    • natepickering says:

      Feminism, public health, organized labor…all movements that started out with worthy, worthwhile goals, which they duly achieved, after which they metamorphosed into for-profit industries that became obsessed with consolidating political power and telling people what they are and are not allowed to do (and think).

      The most regrettable byproduct of radical feminism has been the wholesale removal of mothers from households. Originally, feminism’s aim was a level playing field for women in the professional world; i.e. women who wish to choose the pursuit of careers over child-rearing and homemaking should have that avenue open to them, and should have no undue impediments placed in their way. This is the world that currently exists and has done for quite some time. No woman anywhere outside the Islamic world get lectured about how she ought to be staying at home with the kids.

      However, as often happens with these things, the *opportunity* that was the original goal has now become religious orthodoxy from which no one is allowed to deviate. Women have been told in no uncertain terms by radical feminism that they MUST work outside the home and pursue their own professional careers. You will give birth, you will take your six weeks maternity leave, then you will dump your kid at day care and get your ass back in the office. Women are practically forbidden to say out loud that they’d rather be full-time mothers and homemakers. Those who do are rewarded with sanctimonious finger-wagging lectures about how their feminist forebears struggled and sacrificed so they’d have the honor of dropping their children at the nearest strip-mall day care center and sitting in a cubicle for 40 hours a week.

      As with the other movements, feminism started out as an effort to afford women the opportunity to make their own choices about their own destinies. Fast-forward a half dozen decades or so, and now it actively deprives them of those same choices.

      • beobrigitte says:

        The most regrettable byproduct of radical feminism has been the wholesale removal of mothers from households. Originally, feminism’s aim was a level playing field for women in the professional world; i.e. women who wish to choose the pursuit of careers over child-rearing and homemaking should have that avenue open to them, and should have no undue impediments placed in their way.
        It’s not a byproduct of radical feminism, it’s due to the average family no longer being able to survive on one wage alone. Maternity leave in this country can be spun out to 1 year, taking a drop in money. Still, all (!) ladies who returned to work after that year were either tearful for having to leave their offspring so soon, or in a really foul mood for the same reason.
        These days 2 wages are needed.
        You will give birth, you will take your six weeks maternity leave, then you will dump your kid at day care and get your ass back in the office.
        It 12 weeks in the US. Unpaid, too. During that time the husband works 2 or 3 jobs. Then he is knackered. Ironically, full day care costs. It’s an industry (e.g. real estate) driven catch 22 situation. There are now 2 wages coming in.

        No woman anywhere outside the Islamic world get lectured about how she ought to be staying at home with the kids.
        In islam it’s perfectly fine to slap your wife, as long as you don’t leave a mark on her. Domestic violence (some men fall victim to that, too!) was one of the main reasons for women to becoming more independent in the first place.

        Women have been told in no uncertain terms by radical feminism that they MUST work outside the home and pursue their own professional careers.
        That, I’m afraid is bullsh*t. The radical ladies are far too busy to get an upper hand on the male population to worry about that. They try to tell me that I can’t, as an individual, look after myself because the bad, bad men are after my body. (These days I look at them over my reading glasses and say: “Really? The next one hitting on me gets the address of the next specsavers”.)
        In short women are now told that they can’t possibly look after themselves and NEED to be organised to get the men. REALLY????
        Needless to say, I gave the ladies a lecture on what I think is equal rights. It didn’t go down too well.

        Sadly, what the whole movement missed is putting across that it’s about equal rights and equal dependence/independence. And not knowing where to stop with demands. Girls, concentrate on equal wages and we’re done. At least in our christian countries.

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