Some Good Back-Fill


I’m not going to quote big swathes of this, because you should just give it a listen.

Scene On Radio podcast’s season 4 has been taking a look at the founding principles of US democracy, and digging out some of the nasty tricks that the founding fathers played in order to keep the people disempowered. I’m biased, I know, because it’s themes that I’ve covered here before, so I guess I am the choir that they are preaching to. But, if you want it pulled together in one place, with great high-quality audio and interesting interviews, it’s just the ticket:

The most recent episode “The Excess of Democracy” is a heart-breaker. [scene on radio] It’s chock full of damning quotes from the great founding fathers, as they discussed how to make sure that the people couldn’t suddenly get an idea and do something. The structure of the house/senate is clearly explained in terms of how the senate can act as a brake on any attempts to change established policy. In the past, I have argued that this system was put in place because slave state politicians basically said “there will be no country at all if we aren’t able to protect slavery as an institution” – a deal which, when finally abrogated by abolitionists, resulted in the slave states’ secession.

One of the things the Scene On Radio episode frames up nicely is the relationship between the establishment of the constitution (in place of articles of confederation) and Shay’s rebellion. They draw a clear line, and I think they are right, between the first US internal tax revolt, and the establishment of a more controlled, federal state. They should not, in my opinion, have called it a “democracy” because it is clearly not; it’s an oligarchy and has always been. If you’re ever talking to a fan of the US and they start to say that stupid, “the US is not a democracy, it’s a republic!” do try to get the word ‘oligarchy’ in there before they finish their sentence.

John Biewen: The new country was in a bad economic slump in the 1780s, and the states had another big problem. To pay for the Revolutionary War, the colonies and the Continental Congress had essentially borrowed money by issuing bonds. Now the bondholders, mostly well-off people, were demanding payment. To get the money to pay off the bonds, some of the new state governments chose harsh austerity, raising taxes on their citizens. At that time, most free people were farmers getting by with little to spare. Massachusetts, under Governor James Bowdoin, raised farmers’ taxes drastically, up to four or five times the tax rates under British rule.In some other states, the people protested high taxes and the legislatures responded or got voted out.

A man of the people

Ah, those ‘conservatives’ and their love of austerity. There’s nothing like sitting on the porch of your plantation in Virginia, enjoying a mint julep, while your slaves work and you extract ruinous taxes from the small farmer up the road who works the land you didn’t want.

John Biewen: Governor Bowdoin was a rich landlord and merchant, and he had a personal stake in the crisis. He personally held war bonds worth more than three thousand, two hundred pounds.

Appropriate that they named a shitty subway station after him.

The episode prior “The Rich Man’s Revolt” [scene on radio] summarizes the view that the founding oligarchs were mostly greedy slave-owning speculators who led a rebellion in order to protect their ill-gotten gains. If you want to, you can picture George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as hyper-libertarian followers of Ayn Rand before Ayn Rand came along to distill their philosophy. The United States is Galt’s Gulch made to work, by basing the labor pool on slavery. I feel dirty even writing that, but that’s what it is. Really.

Give them a listen; you will – I promise you – learn depressing things.

John Biewin and Chenjerai Kumanyika also have beautiful, soothing, voices. I’d listen to them talk about golf, and I hate golf.

Go give it a listen.

Comments

  1. says

    before Ayn Rand came along to distill their philosophy

    There was no philosophy. The whole book (Atlas Shrugged) was just a bunch of rich people whining about how they don’t want to pay taxes on their hard-earned money.

    Ah, those ‘conservatives’ and their love of austerity. There’s nothing like sitting on the porch of your plantation in Virginia, enjoying a mint julep, while your slaves work and you extract ruinous taxes from the small farmer up the road who works the land you didn’t want.

    Notice the double standard. When a rich man doesn’t want to pay taxes, their position is justified. When a poor peasant doesn’t want to pay taxes that they literally cannot possibly afford, then they are just being lazy and unpatriotic.

  2. springa73 says

    I thought it was common knowledge that the US founders did not like democracy, but then I remembered that, unlike me, most people don’t have “reading history books” as their #1 free time activity. Still, it should be pretty clear that the US Constitution was/is a relatively conservative document which deliberately makes it more difficult to make major changes than most constitutions. I think most standard histories make that point, it’s certainly no secret.

  3. springa73 says

    I should say in the first sentence “… did not like too much democracy …”. The House of Representatives was the only popularly elected part of the government in the original US Constitution.

  4. GenghisFaun says

    I’ve listened to these episodes and second your recommendation. Their Seeing White series, which I believe you recommended a while back, is well worth listening to, as well.
    A favorite moment was when John Biewin asked Chenjerai Kumanyika what his patriotism level was on a scale of 1 to 10. His answer was the same as what I was yelling at the car stereo: “Zero!” It’s truly depressing to live in a country so full of blind loyalty.

  5. says

    GenghisFaun@#4:
    A favorite moment was when John Biewin asked Chenjerai Kumanyika what his patriotism level was on a scale of 1 to 10.

    Chenjerai really “tells it like it is.”

  6. cvoinescu says

    There was no philosophy. The whole book (Atlas Shrugged) was just a bunch of rich people whining about how they don’t want to pay taxes on their hard-earned money.

    You forget the dubiously consensual sex. (It’s a lot worse in The Fountainhead.)

  7. says

    cvoinescu @#6

    You forget the dubiously consensual sex. (It’s a lot worse in The Fountainhead.)

    Yes, that too. And it is even worse in Night of January 16th where the protagonist definitely raped his secretary.

    It sure was fun for me to read books in which the protagonist (whom the author wanted me to adore and idolize) was a fucking rapist. /sarcasm tag

    I can only conclude that Ayn Rand probably had a rape fetish.

  8. call me mark says

    “Ayn Rand’s books should not be tossed aside lightly. They should be thrown with great force.”

  9. cvoinescu says

    That’s a little detail that would have been handy 20 years ago, when I first learned about Ayn Rand.

    Thankfully, and I’m not kidding, a good friend pointed me to Pharyngula as an antidote. It worked, and I got better.

  10. says

    cvoinescu@#10:
    That’s a little detail that would have been handy 20 years ago, when I first learned about Ayn Rand.

    It’s appealing stuff. She designed it to be.
    I’ve always felt that was pretty sociopathic of her – basically, she was a manipulative sociopath who normalized her behavior by teaching a lot of other people to see the world the way she did.
    Her success was not due to the quality of her message or her reasoning, but rather that she was preaching to the choir.

  11. says

    I’ve always felt that was pretty sociopathic of her – basically, she was a manipulative sociopath who normalized her behavior by teaching a lot of other people to see the world the way she did.

    For a selfish person, she wasn’t particularly smart. I mean, I am pretty selfish, which is why I prefer something closer to socialism. I don’t want to be unable to afford healthcare. I don’t want to be abused and exploited by an employer. And so on.

    Also, once you normalize murder, the chances are that one day you might be the victim. I strongly suspect that she wouldn’t have admired a murderer if she had been his victim.

    Her success was not due to the quality of her message or her reasoning, but rather that she was preaching to the choir.

    Yes, in my opinion, some aspects of Atlas Shrugged sounded like wish fulfillment and escapist fantasy. The protagonists caused the deaths of millions of people, but all the victims were portrayed as deserving of their suffering, their misfortune was presented as their own fault. Also, natural resources were infinite in Rand’s book. Pollution didn’t exist. And so on.

    It was a fictional world in which you could do whatever the hell you wanted, and your actions had no negative consequences. A world in which you could not give a shit about other people and how your actions hurt them, because they didn’t matter.

    This is something I occasionally see also in games. For example, there are some games in which you can loot resources from other sentient beings or murder countless NPCs, but the game is arranged so that you don’t have to feel guilty, because all these NPCs and their wellbeing doesn’t matter.

  12. says

    Andreas Avester@#13:
    Also, once you normalize murder, the chances are that one day you might be the victim.

    She was too busy spouting her stuff to study Kant, apparently.

    Yes, in my opinion, some aspects of Atlas Shrugged sounded like wish fulfillment and escapist fantasy.

    It’s designed to appeal to everyone (even people suffering from over-estimation of themselves) who has ever felt that their contributions were not appreciated. That there’s truth to that – capitalism tends to produce lots of unappreciated people in the rank and file – is no excuse. It ought to be obvious.

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