“If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed. ” Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson had an amazing insight into “human nature,” if that’s what it is. He foresaw the dangers lurking in the shadows of the new “democracy” he helped create, dangers inherent in a system of government that required the informed participation of its citizens. Despite all evidence to the contrary, he had faith that humans would be able to rise from their limitations and take the reigns of government, exercising the full rights and responsibilities of citizen rulers in a democratic nation.
He recognized that rulers, left unchecked by an informed citizenry, would inevitably move toward despotism in the conduct of their rule. In any social system with a power structure, those who seek power over others naturally gravitate to those positions of power. Any social system that rewards efforts to grab power will foster a centralized authoritarian government.
In the early years since Jefferson’s time, the system worked quite well, with a burgeoning, decentralized, locally controlled education system
providing a basic education for most citizens, coupled with a free and open print media providing access to information. Although the vast majority of people in the largely agrarian United States in the 18th and 19th Centuries were barely literate, they were well informed about local politics and economy and well able to handle local affairs while fending off movements toward centralized federal authority.
Conditions changed drastically in the late 1800s. Following the Civil War, northern industrialists found themselves with excess production capacity, plenty of capital and a huge supply of cheap labor. Conditions were so conducive to industrial capitalism that industrialists began casting about the globe for new sources of raw materials, land to exploit and markets for all their gleaming products. The native conservatism, pacifism and local wisdom of the American people was guarded against in favor of imperialist economic expansion, stronger central government, centralized industrial production and consequent pressure for a conformist, compliant and quiescent citizenry.
Industrialists encouraged a centralized education system, based on the Prussian model, that emphasized conformity, punctuality, separation of disciplines and submission to authority, producing citizens groomed as elite rulers, compliant factory workers or ignorant cannon fodder. Rote learning and obedience replaced understanding and critical thinking, with the clock replacing the sun as the marker of daily activities. Humans were programmed out of their traditional agrarian lifeways into the molds of factory, military and authority. Even in the home, long-term, extended family relationships were discouraged in favor of the “nuclear family,” able to move quickly on demand and individually consume the vast store of new products lining store shelves.
World War I marked the burst of Modernity on the world, unleashing the New Citizen into the world market, setting the model for all that was to come. US industrialists expanded their influence from North and South America to Europe and the Middle East, securing new markets for US industry, new sources of raw materials such as oil, and increased pressure for compliance among citizens of the United States at home. The excesses of a totalitarian US government in the first half or the 20th Century in suppressing dissent were equal to that in all but the most virulent fascist states. Character assassination, deportation, beatings, torture and murder were freely visited on the American public in an effort to maintain the status-quo of corporate domination in the affairs of the United States government.
While it may seem to adults today that popular dissent reached its peak in the 60s, Americans have always resisted imperialism and wars of aggression, such that voters always have to be convinced, through propaganda, disinformation and outright lies, of government legitimacy in prosecuting foreign wars. The government of the United States has increasingly turned against the people in an effort to defend government actions against public knowledge and censure. Secrecy has steadily increased, as have resources applied to internal propaganda, control of access to information and intimidation of groups seen as opposed to the government.
The result, in 2007, is a government ignorant of the cultures of the people occupying the lands it invades to secure desired resources, such as oil, trying desperately to keep its own citizens in ignorance and distraction long enough to consolidate economic and political power throughout the world. With a political process dominated and controlled by economic interests, through systematized bribery of public officials in the form of campaign contributions, the political structure consist of representatives to the government who are not accountable to the people who elected them. In turn, the people feel disenfranchised from the political process, further strengthening the power of the central government.
The United States government no longer leads, it barges forward, dragging a compliant populace in its wake. Through ignorance and fear, the United States has become a mockery of the golden promise of Jefferson’s noble experiment. The people of the United States are prisoners of their own government, unable to understand what is being done in their name, forgetful of the tools handed to them two hundred years ago to create and maintain a democratic government, of the people, by the people and for the people.