Tower of Babel, USA

by Kirby Urner

First shared via wholesys-l, an email discussion list, June 30, 1995, responding to a thread suggesting We the People launch a new round of Federalist Papers. Last modified (slightly): April 20, 2000.

I find any talk of The Federalist Papers Part II uncomfortably removed from the fact of some two hundred years of intervening history. The USA, as signifier in the algebra of narrative accounting, no longer has anything close to the meaning it had back then. That was an era of looking ahead whereas now we can look back and see a long record, and that makes a big difference.

I don't go for political analysis much but here's my basic take: the left is grappling with a "torn discourse" wherein it wants to send "USA" towards the sunlight of high ideals (e.g. freedom and democracy), but has a viewpoint overlooking a vast battlescape of carnage and destruction, with "USA" playing anything but an heroic role in this tragedy. The right has an easier time, finding the will of God dictating a brave new way ahead for our shared symbolset (flag, coins, monuments, military).

Forgiveness and salvation are integral to the born-again landscape, but from the leftist viewpoint, the possibility of redemption appears far more remote. After Guatemala, Indonesia, Vietnam, El Salvador, Panama... the story simply cannot be given a happy ending. The age of nation-states was brutal and horrific beyond repair. Its perpetrator characterset (USA being a chief term) needs to go the way of Latin and ancient Rome, into the history books, where we ("we" being the as-yet-unborn) can breathe a sigh of relief that history has since moved on to a new, more promising chapter.

Of course I oversimplify, especially in my characterization of the right. Again in religious terms, the newly militant USA/NRA public looks at DC as demon-possessed, perhaps by UN/Trilateral Commission/CFR and very much in need of exorcism. So it shares with the left this sense of lurking evil, undermining even more deeply than the national debt.

Going for psychoanalysis over political analysis, I see a Jungian scenario: our desire for security, expressed through ownership of consumer products, combined with our ignorance about how to attain sanity in our lifestyles, leads to a planetary economic system that kills humans for profit. Human sacrifice is nothing new of course, nor has it diminished in any way-only the rituals have changed, and the justifications. Our shakey, misinformed egos are in no condition to accept any measure of personal responsibility for the trail of corpses left in our wake, especially since we see no solution to the economic puzzle, so we create a tremendous Evil wherever our defenses will credibly base it: in the Federal Government, IMF/World Bank/ WTO, Fundamentalist Fanatics, Elitist Media, Corporate Headquarters. The ego's best defense is to project itself as powerless, a victimized, innocent bystander to the holocaust. The circle is vicious: a self-righteous, abused "little me" is a painful thing to be, begetting a stronger need for comforting palliatives and escapist blockbuster fantasies.

Do I see a way out from my self-spun web of analyses and perceived pathologies? As a writer, I find ego-power in authorship, and project Language as a potentially healing vista, provided we reinvent it continually, recognizing our competence to do so as our heritage and birthright. The grammatical conventions handed down to us, in the form of legalese especially, need to be reworked and made newly transparent. Our grasp over the concepts that govern our lives is tenuous at best, and the belief that people at the top of the Ivory Tower, or the Bank Tower, have a significantly stronger grasp is unfounded, simply because much of what drives our moneymaking apparatus is nonsense, garbage from another time and place, reduced to empty jargon and cant. We live in a GIGO economy (garbage in, garbage out). The overspecialization of the disciplines has made of our culture a Tower of Babel, where the highest language of all is total BS.

A movement towards self-evaluation is gaining momentum in academia these days, self-suggesting that the curriculum, if relevant and vital, needs to prove itself in the field, in the form of better designs for living. A curriculum subjected to heavy-duty reality checking generally finds itself rewriting its own manuals. I look for a Renaissance in education, following a prerequisite period of demystification and deobfuscation. We need to see, once again, that the emperor is naked.

Bottom line: I think new invention in Language will permit the emergence of new forms of human collaboration that is less Babel-like by many orders of magnitude. We might actually start getting some real work done, in a dramatic change for the better, instead of wheel-spinning idly while watching the sun go down. I don't look to political discourse to lead the way, but to the everyday communications of ordinary human beings concerned and engaged with the challenges before them. I look to computerized networking, to our free-wheeling e-lists.

The first step is to see the Sea of Ignorance in which we toss, and then for each one of us to place a hand firmly on the tiller, to "take control" even when we do not see the results of our efforts. Causation is no simple matter in the real world. Of course every sailor knows that "control" is a relative term on the high seas, and humility before Nature is another meaning of sanity. Humans live and die by the same rules as stars and moons. Steering is not an experience of "forcing" but of keeping an open heart and mind in the faith that a way ahead will open.

The future is not up
to "powers that be"
if that means anyone
but you and me.

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