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It’s All History

As we prepare to inaugurate our nation’s second genuine psychopathic president, Andrew Jackson being the first, it’s better to look back on happy times.  Back in 2009 Barataria was celebrating by … well, strangely looking forward to something like today.  Judge for yourself.

During the many lulls in inaugural coverage, CNN knew what would dazzle ‘em.  They had their satellite image of everyone standing around in the cold waiting for The Moment – the time when Obama would formally be worn in.  Huddled around giant screens you could see the black specs, which the CNN crew dutifully told us “look just like ants!”  Yes, from a distance, we are small, but doesn’t that miss the point just a little?  It seems to me that when the great Wheel of History appears to be turning, we have one day where we should not be focusing on where we are on the rim, but on the progress of the great Wheel itself.

That’s why I started rummaging though all the ancient texts in my library.

Ibn Khaldun, as honored on a Tunisian stamp.

Ibn Khaldun, as honored on a Tunisian stamp.

It didn’t take me too long to come to one of my favorites, a quotation from the 16th century Tunisian Ibn Khaldun.  His perspective always had a feel of the eternal in it, a touch of the connections of spirit made by a people who had to carve their own sense of civilization out of the place where the sands met the lush Mediterranean.

In the early stages of the state, taxes are light in their incidence, but fetch in a large revenue. .. As time passes and kings succeed each other, they lose their tribal habits in favor of more civilized ones. Their needs and exigencies grow … owing to the luxury in which they have been brought up. Hence they impose fresh taxes on their subjects … [and] sharply raise the rate of old taxes to increase their yield … But the effects on business of this rise in taxation make themselves felt. For business men are soon discouraged by the comparison of their profits with the burden of their taxes … Consequently production falls off, and with it the yield of taxation.

This is often used to justify the Laffer Curve, but that’s never seemed to me to be the story.  What he is describing is the strange process by which Empires seem to rise and fall and how technologies that appear to provide a tremendous advantage gradually become a burden to the people who are dependent on them.  The infrastructure and the demands constantly increase to the point where they cannot be met; replace ‘taxes’ with ‘debt’ and you’re there.  Certainly, it doesn’t appear to be inevitable, but  Khaldun describes the process by which many empires have fallen.

The glory daze of the British Raj.  Not so glorious, eh?

The glory daze of the British Raj. Not so glorious, eh?

I propose that what is happening right now is that we are charged with proving that a Democracy can break the old cycles of Empires and remain stable and prosperous.

There are other examples of this working out, certainly.  Anyone from the UK will tell you that post-Imperial Britain is not a bad place at all.  Some would even argue that my own calls for another New Deal show that we’ve already demonstrated that we can do it.

I agree that there’s a lot of reason to think this will work out.  But the American Empire has always been a bit strange as Empires go, given how deeply the roots of Democracy ran in the nation that created it.  Many of you have told me that it’s hyperbole to say we were an Empire at all, and I agree that it’s stretching the point a bit.  Yet we certainly have functioned like an Empire to the people we have bossed around and shot at, even if it didn’t feel like one at home.

The way forward is, as can expect on the great wheel of history, very much like the way back.  We have in us and around us all that we need to succeed.  It’s a matter of understanding what’s happening not just here and now, but across the globe and across time.

We look like ants from the satelite, but up close many of those people looked nothing more than sleepless and worn down from all the giddiness.  If we insist that we have to focus on ourselves, let’s start with that.  What makes us so weary?  I think Ibn Khaldun has a good answer.

14 thoughts on “It’s All History

  1. I personally watch all around me, and can point out multiple points in history where the people who comprise to make an ‘Empire’ – make the same mistakes, over and over – given what I know, on my own, as not a PhD’er in history – 😀 – BUT…I still think, the greatest strength of any “Empire” building are those that build, who know enough to realize, “Um….yeah…..You are nothing if me and my compadres aren’t working at to make you so – or supporting you” – In this, i do like to believe America and those who see themselves as Americans can hold the line and pass/fail on their own – Not because we are smarter, or harder-working, or more efficient – or anything – but simply because, America is built by those who came here looking for better – and….we are suckers for Cinderella and/or Underdogs – we may fight amongst ourselves, BUT I still believe, we have an inheritant gene of, “By gummy! We Can Do Better” – we rest on our laurels when complacent, but are quick to forge ahead when we decide, “Okay – THIS! is just not working! Get Real!” – Oh, and we are usually armed – either with intellect, charisma and/or fire power – Not all options are seen as ‘the Holy Grail’ by various factions, but in the end, it’s hard to herd an entire populace as varied and diverse as ours – and anyone who tries to, foreign or domestic, has their work cut out for them – we sometimes barely tolerate our cultural, religious, educational, class, political differences – but in the end – I like to think – we have the compassion & empathy to speak up, “OhhhKaaayyy – you just messed with us! Guess what? We will do our best to come to consensus on what To DO! but you just surely picked a fight with the wrong dog – ” – -:) And the dogs our own elected officials choose to target – well – guess what? They are the wife, hubby, brother/sister, cousin, coworker – etc – cuz if nothing else….we’ve been through this ball game before and we decided more efficient to turn outward than to fight each other – I still believe, with the sham, drudgery and attempts by those who truly think they can mold public opinion given enough strong arming and sensationalist beliefs, Americans are used to thinking for themselves – overall – Push us past complacency? Oh yeah, ya just entered the store aisle containing canned Whoop-Arse – – and From Scratch – cuz we ain’t afraid of blazing new trails – if need calls for it – LOL shoot – we are less than 100 years out from the wild fronteir – ya think we fear this?!? LOL

    Sorry – but, I’ve watched, listened over years – and I still will bet on a strong heart and love of community/relationships forged, every time – and America is full of such things – and we are young enough to not be scared of a fight – 🙂

  2. I just know we have to pray a lot, voice our concerns to Congress, and never be silent. We have a mission to stand for those who are outsiders, who are “the least of these,” as Jesus spoke of in Matthew 25. We must remind Congress that is their job now, too.

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