Friday, September 24, 2010

America is like that guy in the movie, “Memento.”

Remember that movie from about 10 years ago? It was about a guy (played by Guy Pearce**) who had lost his ability to remember anything past about the last ten minutes. Short-term memory was all he had. Somewhere along the line, he realized he had this problem, so he came up with a solution. He wrote notes to himself on his body so that the next time he blacked out, he would know what was going on. Look up this link in IMDB if you want to know more about it.

America is like that guy. We have lost the ability to remember anything past the last news cycle, it seems. We certainly don’t remember anything, past the obvious, from the 90’s. Clinton got a blowjob. That’s pretty much what is left in our collective memories from that era. We, and that includes the national media, apparently do not remember that Newt Gingrich was a disgraced politician who was forced out of his job as Speaker of the House of Representatives. We don’t remember that he essentially shut down the government in a fit of pique that most people attribute to the fact he was mad at President Clinton for making him ride in the back of Air Force One and not up front with the President. We apparently don’t remember how badly that went over with the American people at the time.

America apparently doesn’t remember the 80’s. Ronald Reagan is apparently a god now. But many people in his own party disliked him. His approach to economics was called “supply side economics” and was also referred to as “trickle down.” That theory went something like, if you hand rich people everything they want, then good things will eventually trickle down to all the rest of us. That’s how the theory went, anyway. We, and that includes the national media, apparently don’t remember that the national debt under Reagan ballooned to the largest in American history. George H.W. Bush, during a debate with Reagan (people apparently don’t remember that they were running against each other at one time) called Reagan’s approach “voodoo economics.” Many Republicans at the time did not believe that this was a viable approach.

We certainly didn’t remember the Vietnam War and the rest of the 60’s, except for all those dirty fu*king hippies. That’s the only thing that remains in our collective memories. We certainly love our wars, even when the parallels to our very recent past should have been so obvious as to reach out through the pages of time and smack any self-aware person in the face. But, no. We want to fight wars. We want to subdue entire populations who we were supposed to actually be helping out. We didn’t remember that fighting a guerilla war where the enemy can just melt away and blend in to the local population really doesn’t work. Our military people start being suspicious of every single person that isn’t one of them. We forgot how we slinked away in defeat in Vietnam.

We certainly don’t remember the bad parts of the 40’s and WWII. Oh, we remember the good parts well enough. We remember that was “The Good War.” We certainly remember Adolf Hitler. We remember the name of Neville Chamberlain, although we don’t seem to remember much else about him. We remember V-E Day and V-J Day. We remember we were the good guys and went in and saved the world from Evil. But we don’t remember that the United States interred thousands of American citizens in armed camps surrounded by barbed wire fences just because they happened to look like the enemy. We don’t remember the hatred and suspicion of anyone who didn’t “look American.” We don’t remember that burning books is something that societies built on fear and anger do, that societies built on free speech, open communication and trust don’t.

The early 20th Century, also known as The Gilded Age, is much to far in the past to be part of our collective memory. We don’t remember what the very rich will do with all the accumulated wealth and power of a country and how the workers in this unfettered free economy were treated something akin to cockroaches. Workers were killed in mines and factories on a daily basis. Salaries were barely above a subsistence level. Workers borrowed money from “the company store” so much that they ended up owing the company more money than they were likely to get paid and therefore were, in essence, indebted to the company for the rest of their lives.

Human psychology is a very mysterious thing. As thinking beings, you might think that we would use all the information at our disposal to come up with logical solutions to our problems. Yet, we seem to be driven solely by self-interest and tribalism. Another movie analogy comes to mind. Our society seems to have devolved into the groups of apes during the opening sequence of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” We cower in the dark, afraid of all the scary, unseen things outside our little cave. We scream and make threatening noises at each other from opposite sides of the watering hole. And if you remember how that particular act of the film ended, it didn’t take much of an external push for one group to start clonking the other group on the head with clubs.

Selective memory is such a wonderful tool. It can be used to justify just about any position a person might want to take, because they refuse to acknowledge anything that might suggest that they are wrong.

Perhaps we should start writing ourselves notes on our bodies so that we actually remember what actually happened.

**Corrected, many thanks to Athenawise. I should be ashamed. I call myself a movie buff and get the actor wrong, even after I looked it up in IMDB. Shame on me. I blame the sinus medicine....

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