Number 278 November 19, 2004

This Week:

Quote of the Week
About the Election, and About Supporting Nygaard Notes
The Power of Action (Part 3 in the who-knows-how-many part “How Not To Get Depressed” Series)


There are a whole lot of new Nygaard Notes readers coming on board this week – Welcome! I’m sorry that you happen to be starting in the middle of a Nygaard Notes Pledge Drive. Pledge Drives happen twice a year, and they are sort of like the well-known Public Broadcasting pledge drives. That is, they’re sort of an interruption of the usual programming. However, I try to make my pledge drive articles interesting in their own right, and I think you’ll see that this is the case this week. Anyhow, I always tell new readers to give it a few issues before forming your final judgement. Nygaard Notes is a work in progress, and the ideas kind of build on one another, blah, blah, blah. Anyhow, Welcome!

This week I talk a little bit (a LITTLE bit) about the just-completed elections, and I connect them to what Nygaard Notes is all about. That’s the longest article this week. The other one is the third in the How Not To Get Depressed series. (To see the first two, all you new readers, go to the Nygaard Notes website and check out issues #266 and 268.)

Until next week,


"Quote" of the Week:

Four “Quotes” this week, the first three about Iraq, and the last one a simple Pledge Drive-related self-promotion.

This first three (!) “Quotes” of the Week are all about the U.S. attack on the Iraqi city of Fallujah:

National Public Radio, November 10: “The [U.S.] military has not issued any civilian casualty figures at all.”

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, Australia), November 12: “No civilian casualty figures have been made available.”

The New York Times, November 15: “Military commanders point to several accomplishments in Falluja. A bastion of resistance has been eliminated, with lower than expected American military and Iraqi civilian casualties.”

See, this is what you get when you “embed” reporters with one side in a conflict.

And here, for the second week in a row, is a special self-promotional “Quote” of the Week:

This hand-written note came wrapped around a $50 pledge of support for Nygaard Notes that arrived a few days ago:

“Hey, Jeff – In these times, we need clarity and passion and deep thinking and REAL moral values.
So thank you for giving ALL THESE AND MORE to your readers!”

There you have it: more inspiration, if any is needed, for you to send in your pledge to Nygaard Notes today!

About the Election, and About Supporting Nygaard Notes

While elections are important moments, they are just that: moments. Readers may have noticed that I wrote far less about the recent elections themselves than I wrote about how people were thinking about the elections. This has to do with what I think is the motivating idea of Nygaard Notes. And that is this:

I think that one of the big reasons why the Individualist and Competitive (IC) ideology (as personified by George W. Bush) is so dominant right now is that there has been a conscious, long-standing effort on the part of people who agree with this ideology to make their ideas acceptable to large numbers of people. Starting in the early 1960s, the IC folks put their money into publishing books and magazines, funding “think tanks,” doing direct mailing, and all sorts of other things to get their IDEAS into the world, packaged in a way that would make them visible and attractive to large numbers of people.

They started this when the “other side” – that is, the Democratic Party – was seemingly dominant in this country. Behind and beneath that dominance lay popular movements that were perceived by the IC crowd to be very serious actual or potential threats to their way of doing things. The Civil Rights movement was at the forefront, and Lyndon Johnson was talking about a “Great Society” to build on the legacy of the New Deal. The Medicare and Medicaid systems were being developed and implemented, and the Republican candidate for president in 1964, Barry Goldwater, was crushed when Johnson took 61 percent of the popular vote, the largest percentage since 1824. After the 1964 election, Democrats held 293 of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives and Democrats won 27 of the 35 seats up for election in the Senate.

All of these things were symptoms of the power of the underlying movements that were based on a different vision of the United States, one which I have called a Social and Cooperative (SC) vision.

Were these not dark days for the Republicans? Yes, they were. But did they spend their time mourning? No. They got organized, and started working on a long-term plan. We are continuing to see the results of their long-term plan.

Not the Individual, But the Context

Now let me quote Napoleon. (Yes, that Napoleon!) Something like 200 years ago, he said (and try to overlook the sexist language): “Mohammed’s case was like mine. I found all the elements ready at hand to found an empire. Europe was weary of anarchy, they wanted to make an end of it. If I had not come probably someone else would have done like me . . . I repeat, a man is only a man. His power is nothing if circumstances and public sentiment do not favour him.”

Here’s another one. In a book called “The Scientific Method of Thinking: An Introduction to Dialectical Materialism,” author Edward Conzé spoke of what he called the “great men” of history. He meant the ones who are the recognized leaders, the guys who fill our history books. (He mentioned Napoleon, in fact.) Anyway, here’s what he said (again, the sexist language was in the 1935 original – sorry!): “The goal for which he fights is not created by the great man himself. For many years it has been the desire of the many. It was felt long before the man himself appeared on the scene. When he was young he was one of the many who were filled with the aspiration to which he was later to give shape. He was thrown up by the many, and he remains standing upon them. It is by fulfilling a social need that a man acquires greatness. He must be soaked in this social need and his power and success depend on his capacity to fulfil it.”

Think about that idea of “aspirations” that fill our young people, tomorrow’s leaders. I can assure you that the IC crowd thinks about that, all the time. That’s why they set out many years ago to change the intellectual “lay of the land.” They decided to always go beyond current issues to talk about philosophy and vision. In the beginning they seemed like nut cases to many, if not most, United Statesians. Now we have George W. Bush. And, as the above quotations indicate, if it were not specifically George W., it would be someone very much like him, since a president is always “thrown up by the many, and...remains standing upon them.” And, as Bush attempts to consolidate his power in the coming months, we would do well to remember that he will only be able to do that to the extent that “circumstances and public sentiment ... favour him.” The extent to which that is true depends, to some degree, on you and me.

Now here’s a more recent quotation, this one from Noam Chomsky on November 9th: “The Vietnam war movements were extremely important, but they didn’t displace presidents. Nixon was elected in 1968 and 1972, the years when the movement finally reached substantial scale. They did affect the war, very significantly, but in other ways. Finger pointing is a waste of time. Understanding what is happening, organizing and acting, are anything but a waste of time.

“The tasks now are exactly as they were before, and as they would be if a slight shift in votes had shown that the other party’s imagery was more effective in the marketing campaign – which was run at about the level of selling toothpaste, as one would expect in a society where ‘marketing’ is understood to be a massive exercise in deceit, for quite substantial and understandable reasons. We shouldn’t have paid much attention to the elections in the first place. They can’t be ignored. They take place. But there are much more important things to do, before and now.”

And this, in a nutshell, is the motivation for Nygaard Notes. To be a part of a burgeoning movement of people who have roughly similar values – mine are Solidarity, Justice, Compassion, and Democracy – who are willing to challenge what is currently the conventional wisdom. That is, the “wisdom” of Free Markets, and the Ownership Society, of Privatization, of so-called Globalization, and all the rest. And not only to challenge them, but to propose an entirely different vision with an entirely different set of policies and programs that will guide us into a future that belongs to all of us.

Nygaard Notes does not have – and does not seek to have – the “answers” to anything. What you are supporting when you support Nygaard Notes is simply one small part of a movement. It’s a part that I hope is entertaining, stimulating, and empowering. Oh yeah, and funny. Please send in your pledge of financial support, in whatever amount you can afford.



The Power of Action (Part 3 in the who-knows-how-many part “How Not To Get Depressed” Series)

Often, when talking to people about media and/or politics, I get this question: “How can you do this all the time? It’s just so depressing.” I hear them, but I am always aware that it is not depressing to me. Part of the reason is my orientation toward action.

An essay appeared in the online magazine Salon on October 7th, by a man who had found himself “scared and angry” about the upcoming election, and so decided to volunteer for one week to help get out the vote in Pennsylvania. Toward the end of his essay he said, “The old saw says that when you are suffering, find someone to help. Volunteering or any act of social engagement works the same magic. To act is a balm, a restorative, and simple contact, even that as minimal as mine, has been a powerful antidote to alienation.”

Simple. True. If you “do something” to make the world more aligned with your values, you will feel better. And here’s another take on this theme – this one a little more complex and provocative – by historian and activist Howard Zinn, from his recent article “The Optimism of Uncertainty,” in The Nation magazine:

“I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards have been played. The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world. There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people's thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible.”

What Zinn is talking about, I believe, is faith. Since I’m out of room for now, so I’ll have to wait until next week to talk about the nature of faith, and its relationship to thinking and action. What? You assume that “thinking” and “faith” are two separate things? Tune in next week.