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History and Belief Systems

Post-Modernism seems to be firmly in control of our belief systems; a sort of vague, ill-defined and un-considered relativism pervades every attempt to make a reasoned decision, and I’ve become frustrated (hasn’t everyone?) by watching the most powerful nation on earth (so far—I still mean the US) stumble through a political election driven entirely by psy-op propaganda and with no content whatsoever. From either side. A pox on both their houses.

Meanwhile, in other news, the Middle East is in turmoil—on the edge of catastrophic change—and the environment—I mean the whole world—is now deteriorating at a speed that is no longer noticeable only to polar bears. Yet most Americans cling to belief systems—and I don’t mean Christianity—that have little or nothing to do with the world around them. The quickest troll through Facebook will reveal a degree of willful ignorance that makes a study of Medieval Philosophy feel like a refreshing stroll in the intellectual park by comparison.

I’d really like to write a blog about history—about something fun I’m reading, all the Byzantine tactical manuals I’m plowing through, Runciman’s lovely last book on the Late Byzantine capital of Mistra in the Peloponnese; Byzantine costume, translating Kantakouzenos from Greek; about my friend Guy Windsor’s development of a new translation of Vadi’s treatise on the long sword, and how much martial arts has influenced the way I write. I’d like to, but I decided to use these lines to try and kick even one person to wake up and question their assumptions. Think critically. Question everything. Ask yourself how often you choose the easy answer—the one you want to believe—over the fairly obvious answer—because, to be frank, accepting the truth would mean you’d have to take action.

Me too.

Ah! My friend Trajan has shown me that the statistics quoted (from a CBC piece) below are probably deeply flawed and may invalidate that argument. To which I say—thanks! Always happy to be corrected!’

So read the following as an example of propagandistic journalism—into which trap I happily fell.

“In 1912, the average middle-class family’s energy costs were about 16% of their budget. That’s a ‘fact’ open to a really wide area of interpretation—what constitutes energy in a horse drawn economy in Iowa? But for the moment, leave it be.

In 2012, the same family’s energy costs are about 4% of family budget—that’s with things like distance commuting in your SUV. Just think about that—what cheap energy has given us, and where it is taking us.

OK, second factoid. In 1919, Education was roughly 17% of the total budget of the United States of America. Again, this is an easy figure with which to argue—so let’s just put it this way. Any way you look at it, national education and it’s subordinate systems at the state and local level took up about a fifth of the tax base in 1919.

Want to guess what we spend today? Anyone want to guess? I’ll bet it’s less than one percent of the tax base, but I’d love to have someone prove me wrong.”

I’ve spent the last few years living in Canada—supposedly a socialist country—and visiting Finland (most enthusiastically Socialist—and gun owning, but that’s another rant) and Greece (merely corrupt) and England) heavily more Socialist than the US). I’ve watched the words ‘socialist’ and ‘Marxist’ return to 1980’s levels of invective. Public schools are ‘socialist.’

Hello? Our fore-fathers, the ones who won WWII (Sorry, Ivan, this is an American rant) and beat the depression and built the world empire—they WENT to those public schools—the ones underwritten by 1/5th of the national tax base. The ‘Greatest Generation’ had superb schools. Just for fun, read some of the things that the French and the Germans said about American doughboys in France in 1917. And again in 1944.

Conservatives claim to want to protect the best of society form needless change. OK—I’m a conservative. I’d like to return the United States of America to spending 1/5 of the total national tax base on education. With that kind of funding, it, frankly, WILL NOT MATTER whether teachers are gay or straight or teach Darwin or the bible. Spend the money, attract the talent, and give average kids the best education we can buy them.

History says so. And history matters.