All Rights Reserved © 2001 Thomas W. Day
In PBS and Ken Burns' latest documentary series, Jazz, A History of American's Music, the great clarinetist/band leader, Artie Shaw, comments on the Glenn Miller Band's high standard of performance. According to Shaw, the Miller band "never made a mistake" in their concerts or on their records, because "they weren't trying." What they weren't trying for was creativity. I'd guess that, if you were allowed to hang out with Artie Shaw for any period of time, you could learn a lot about "trying" for something great. But his comment on Glenn Miller's style of music is worth a Rat Rant, all on its own.
From our new Presidential election burglar, GeeWiz, I think we're about to see another four to eight years of the kind of "perfection" we got from the Reagan/Bush administrations. We've already seen the economy stagnate, as it usually does in Republican administrations, at lightning speed. (Is stagnating at lightning speed an oxymoron?) Bush's misunderstanding of the status quo will lead him to do what he believes to be the safe thing with every action he takes. The safe thing, being the obvious thing, will more often than not be the wrong thing. The perceived big advantage to playing it safe is that no action will cause an immediate reaction, of any sort. The reality is that, when things are falling you have to do something quick to catch them. If he just holds out his Presidential hand, in a fair imitation of a millionaire Texas Ranger pretending to care about a slightly out of reach fly ball, the country and the economy will quickly slip into recession/depression. For some reason, this is often perceived as being "comfortable" by many Americans. They like watching Republican Presidents flail, impotently, at the world's problems.
For all his faults, you have to give Clinton some credit for occasionally skirting the edges of safe territory. The safe thing, for Bill Clinton, would have been to accept the common liberal belief that welfare is a Democratic institution that should be left alone or reinforced. Clinton ran against that grain and reformed the welfare system so that it did one somewhat unexpected and important thing; it revised the core reproductive habits of people on economic assistance by eliminating the economic incentive. In the long run, this reaction might be the most important memory history retains of the Clinton administration. Eventually, humans will be forced to admit that national and world overpopulation and depleting resources are linked. Duh. When that happens, anything that slowed the flood waters of human population growth will appear much more significant.
In all human activity, art and business and government and philosophy, the safe path is doomed to be, eventually, wrong. But the familiar and predictable is always comfortable to the masses, right up until it runs them off of a cliff. Even then, a lot of people appear to prefer falling over the edge to changing directions. So it goes that nobody who's trying is going to make the average Joe or Jill comfortable is going to be right This is the fatal flaw in conservative philosophies of all sorts; political, spiritual, and artistic.
If I were elected Emperor of the World, I might be inclined to make everyone watch the Ken Burns program to help get that concept across. After that, I'd probably introduce the world to a whole collection of people who screwed up more often than they got it right; Lenny Bruce, Richard Prior, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Ralph Nader, and Jack Kennedy would be good for openers. On second thought, as Emperor of the World, I'd have the Burns program redone to include a couple of living artists, since Burns copped out, entirely, when it came to discussing any innovating activity in jazz that occurred since 1970. Is Burns yet another conservative?
Traditionally, conservative politics are reserved for old folks. This isn't an original thought, but I believe that's because old people generally have more to fear from change than they have to gain. Old people, like me, tend to believe that they have less time and fewer personal resources, so they have more personal hysteresis to compensate for having a lower error tolerance.
In a historical view, however, it's hard to find an instance when conservatives were on the right side of an issue. In our country, conservatives were the driving force for inventing and maintaining witch hunting, Manifest Destiny and the genocide of native Americans, slavery and racism, Prohibition and the War on Drugs, the 1950's communist witch hunt, the rape and pillage of the taxpayer during the Cold War and S&L-gate, and the opposition of any issue involving protecting the environment. A kid, recently, reminded me that a conservative's favorite self-description is "someone who wears both a belt and suspenders." It's easier for me to identify conservatives by the simple fact that they're usually wrong about any issue.
But it seems to me that more young people are conservative, these days. I have absolutely no documentation to back that up, but among the young people I know only a few of them would be considered particularly liberal. Almost none of those would be radical. I'm really going out on a limb here, but I suspect that's because there is an underlying cultural belief that we are all running out of time and resources.
The world has experienced rapidly compressing cultural evolution cycles, especially since the turn of the last century. We've gone from doubling the world's accumulated knowledge every fifty years to making the same jump every three years, since 1900. It's possible that the time from youth to old age has experienced the same evolution, regardless of our increased life expectancy. A conversation with a 20 year old ultra-conservative is one of the most depressing experiences I have ever had. It was like talking to my father, who was disguised as my child.