Santayana’s Curse

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In today’s polarized world, our real enemy is not each other but social media moguls, some in the news media, and some politicians, seeking to divide us for their own monetary greed and political aggrandizement.

Although Hannah Arndt and Rosa Luxemburg couldn’t foresee social media, each clearly saw the mendacity of some media, some politicians, and their use of social and political tools, that were being used (and that have always been used) to try to divide and conquer.

Arndt wrote that isolating people, through suspicion of each other, into their own fear driven corners, was the primary methodology for political forces to control large groups. It’s even easier now that social media, through the use of algorithms, can isolate us, by corralling us further and further into echo chambers which feed our fears. The only personal and interpersonal power we have against such, almost unbridled, social and political control over us, is our own abstinence and mutually agreed upon abstinence.

Luxemburg, who had high hopes for Communism, diverged from that road when she saw censorship methods as not living up to the hype and, instead its usage as the primary way to instill isolation and fear among people, with feelings of isolation and loyalty only to the state as their only form of safety.

When the Communists thought Luxemburg’s views would hurt their cause, they had her assassinated and, to cover their tracks the “movement” (be careful of mendacious causes renamed as “movements”) made a martyr out of her, ironically using her own words, (regarding her high hopes for communism), to support the cause which destroyed her.

That irony is poignant. If you study and understand the slippery, social and news media slope we’re on now, with social media’s ability to censor free speech, through Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act, of 1996, you’ll see that Luxemburg would have made a valiant effort to stop it’s voicing only one side. She would have told us (and we should listen) that if censorship of one side is the game, it’s not the end game…totalitarianism is. And, in that game all are silenced except to bend knees in fealty.

Jorge Santayana (1863-1953), a political philosopher, educated in the US and a professor at Harvard, taught that history will repeat for those who don’t take heed. The problem is that those who don’t take heed usually can’t, because they’re too far generationally, from those who have lived that history, to really understand and appreciate its lessons.

Those of us who aren’t too far generationally have an obligation to try to prove Santayana’s historical insights wrong. We can do this by trying our best, with our last breaths if necessary, to reach the newbies, through teaching them history, with all of its warts (not by tearing it down and re writing it).

Only after teaching historically harsh lessons, can we can ask, hope, and pray that those who will take the reins can learn better ways of living. Our failure to teach the ugly parts of history, with lessons of causation and avoidance, is to abandon new generations to Santayana’s curse.

Photo by Valentin B. Kremer on Unsplash