No, I’m not talking about my issues. I do in fact, have a “complex” of autoimmune issues that seem to run together – eczema (severe) rheumatic arthritis (not troubling since I’ve been in Colorado and weirdly worst in my teens) and asthma (also not a problem pretty much since my teens, though living in South Carolina brought it back briefly – and is one of the reasons I’m glad we moved.)
So… I have some experience with there being nothing wrong with you except your stupid immune system attacking your own body under the misguided impression that it’s an invader.
This came to mind because the other day Older Son was babbling about auto-immune disorders (younger son is likely to go on about physics. It’s… interesting at the dinner table. I just achieve this zen state where I’m listening to the parts I understand, while plotting at the back of my mind. But you know, considering all the years I babbled plot and character at them, and considering that my beloved is likely to get a notebook in the middle of dinner so he can sketch out some equations that he thinks will solve this problem he’s been having at work – I don’t think we can throw stones.)
As he was describing the basic workings of an autoimmune disease, I thought “that’s what our country has.”
From living with eczema, which is a chronic auto-immune disorder, I can tell you that it much resembles the way we stumbled through from the forties (perhaps earlier. But in the forties, Heinlein described the communists taking over the Democratic party. And considering it took him till the eighties to vote Republican for the first time, I don’t think he can be considered a biased source.) through to 2001 like I live – most of the time – with my eczema: it flares up in a specific part of my body, and it itches like heck, which of course means that I don’t give my full attention to anything much, but because I’ve lived like this since I was one, it doesn’t really bother me or I should say – I don’t know what it’s like when it’s not bothering me.
It can rise to the level of “argh” when it settles in a body part that’s hard to keep clean/dry and free of irritating agents. Since it decided it wanted to live in my hands, last couple of years, I’ve had trouble keeping from having infected wounds – I use my hands for everything and kitchen work is hard when you have open sores. (I’ve been using surgical gloves, but that makes my hands sweat, which aggravates the condition.)
The problem is twofold – first, any “aggravating factor” can cause a monumental flare up, where the condition becomes near-impossible to live with. (Since one of the aggravating factors for eczema is stress and since the airlines live to make my life interesting, those of you who have seen me at Liberty, with eczema all over my body know what I’m talking about. It gets so I can’t sleep and I can’t think, and it impairs my functioning all across the spectrum.) The second issue is that, sleep deprivation and the very fact that my body is – with gonzo-like enthusiasm – attacking itself, means it’s not paying much attention to external enemies – virus and bacteria – which walk right in and settle down, leading to a never ending stream of infections.
And because there is nothing fundamentally wrong with my body, I’m treated to an never-ending stream of people – starting with acquaintances and ending with some doctors, about whom the least said the better – who tell me things like “you just need to stop scratching.” (Trust me on this, while scratching aggravates it, and this is why – to the despair of both my mother and my mother in law – I keep my nails cut almost to the quick, the skin will still flare up – sometimes overnight – with no scratching whatsoever.)
For those who’ve been following our politics in puzzled wonder, it might help if you think of our issues as an autoimmune disorder. Let’s for the moment forget where it came from. Most autoimmune disorders are a bit of a mystery. Yes, part of it was the same bad philosophy that affected Europe at the time, and some of it might have been Soviet agit prop leaking over the ocean (as someone who grew up in Europe and in a fractured country, I know most Americans ignore the chances of that.) Part of it was a predisposition to it. The US and the ancient Israelites are the only people I know of formed on a set of principles and engagins in detailed criticism of themselves over their principles. (Most other nations engaged in a criticism of OTHER countries over their own principles and blame OTHER countries for their own failures. For further study, I recommend Europe.)
Anyway, mostly we’ve been living with it and ignoring it, like I do with eczema. The areas where it was chronic: college campuses, “intellectual” areas were relatively minor. Even when it affected Hollywood, as long as it wasn’t flaring up too badly, most people rolled their eyes and ignored it.
When I came to the States, the situation puzzled me, sort of like it puzzles people who see me going around cheerfully with, say, the inside of my elbows looking like a third degree burn. They flinch and go “What happened?” and I look down and go “Oh, that? Eczema. Never mind.”
You have to understand, I came over expecting this one of the world’s superpowers to be, if not as repressive (I’m not stupid) as the USSR, at least as defensive. I expected it to be considered bad form to trash talk the US or talk up the USSR in public. Because, well… that’s only sane. Imagine my shock when – in the eighties – not just TV personalities, but people who were considered/considered themselves “high class” talking about the “good ideas” of the USSR and talking down the US and particularly “ignorant rednecks.”
It puzzled me, but I could see also that the country was sort of ignoring it. I mean, we discounted the biases on TV and the twitches of the upper class like I discount the (normally) minor itch and skin bubbling up of the eczema. In real life, where things functioned normally, the crazy people were largely ignored.
The problem is this – the flare up continued growing. All through the sixties and the seventies, and the eighties, and yes, of course, the nineties, the flare up of self-hatred grew. And just like the eczema in my hands, it started affecting areas we can’t live without: K-12 schools, business, news.
And it’s not just a little. The news have been biased left for a long time (yes, I know the left thinks they’re biased right, but that’s because the left is to the left of Stalin, while the media are basically propping up a state-capitalism system much like China’s.) If you consider Fascism right, then you’re darn tooting the media is biased right. Since I consider it a misnomer, well…
But more importantly, unlike the manifestations of totalitarian impulse in other countries – Russia, Cuba, China – the autoimmune problems are NOT affecting just out governance or our industry. It’s not a matter of destroying our industry so we’ll all be poor. That would be bad enough. The problem is far worse, though: the problem is that the statist ideology now in control of our government, our media, our education and what passes for “high culture” doesn’t just hate this or that part of us. No, they’ve been told/convinced/brainwashed that what’s wrong with the world is US – that the country and its existence ARE the enemy.
It might be the first time in history where in a non-occupied country flying the flag is an act of daring that in certain neighborhoods can get you shunned by all your neighbors. It might be the first time in history where teaching the good parts of your history in school is considered an act of defiance, and where the higher-class and all the bien-pensants push distorted histories and documentaries that run down the country that hosts them.
The shock of 9/11 beat back the illness for a while. The forces of sanity rallied. But in any autoimmune illness, the more you rally, the stronger the backlash. And it’s come. And it’s worse than ever, to the point kids get sent home from school for patriotic clothing.
So… what to do?
I don’t know. The analogy accurately describes the problem, and to the extent that it applies to the recovery, I can tell you we’ll never get rid of the auto-immune reaction – not fully. But you knew that. The same qualities that allow us to try to improve our governance according to our principles provide an opening to the flare ups. Like a person with a strong immune system is more likely to get an auto-immune flare-up.
But we can’t live with it infecting all of our body politic.
The only thing I can suggest – and it is not going to make me any friends – is that you beat it back wherever you find it. We, like me with eczema, have got so used to the minor flare ups that we ignore them. People at a party saying the US is uniquely back, say, because it was founded in genocide… Beat it back. Explain about germs, and about the fact that at any rate the colonization was all over the Americas and our part of the Americas saw the least abuse. (Mostly what happened to the original inhabitants is that they died of unfamiliar illnesses and THEN were genetically swamped. They’re mostly still here – a bit in everyone.)
Learn our history. Learn economics. Learn the history of ideas. Learn about other nations. Not the prettied up “multicultural” histories they teach our kids in school, but the real histories (the fact this feels like hitting the weak tells you how badly off we are. We are the only ones it’s fair to hit on.) When people start running ourselves down, do a little comparative teaches.
Apply medicine to the flare ups, big and small and try to beat the condition to manageable level. To survive all of us need to do it (however subtly.)
The alternative is a body – or a nation – that can’t function, much less defend itself.
UPDATE: Post on Herding Ducks (and health) over at Mad Genius Club.