Gore Vidal and Us

I had a bit of a wait at the Denver Airport and a long trip back to Nova Scotia --- and nothing but my own thoughts rattling in my brain. I needed a distraction. There it was, the cheapest paperback I could find, Inventing a Nation by Gore Vidal. Vidal's insightful portrait of the inventors of the American Constitution is peppered with wit and seering commentary on contemporary politics.

Towards the end of his treatise, Vidal quotes Thomas Jefferson writing about his Declaration of Independence: "May it be to the world what I believe it will be... the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government... The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God..."

To which Vidal appends a modern viewpoint: "Science! To us that means total surveilance, electronic devices to track others, weapons of mass..."

Wow! That's science? Look us, it was science when William Shokley invented the junction transistor and published his monumental work on solid state physics. All that "total surveilance stuff" has nothing to do with science and everything to do with political intrigue and zealous policemen. As for the "weapons of mass...", well that's just a bunch of military entrepreneurs and their pet politicians trying to shock and awe ya.

Jefferson had it right. Science is a way of thinking that briefly lifted humanity, and some politicians, above ignorance, superstition, and ordained foolishness. Whatever his faults may have been, Jefferson was obviously a clear thinker by comparison with us.

I don't believe for a second that Gore Vidal includes himself as one of us. Indeed not. The us must surely be those swayed by a view antithetical to that of Jefferson. Jefferson was swayed by reason so he embraced science as a method. There has been a long dreary decline. The modern politican is swayed only by the number of votes that can be bought with other peoples money. And this is seen, by us, to be a great virtue of our pseudo-democratic ways?

Modern politics is a popularity contest more pathetic than a Canadian Idol rerun. Appearances are everything and deception becomes a much more effective tool than honest science. Such political creatures harmonize deliciously well with do-nothing bureaucracies that care only for procedure. Indeed, "doing something" is probably the one thing that can get a bureaucrat into trouble!

Once upon a time leaders were drawn from the field of action and accomplishment. Contrast George Washington with the latest George Dubya. General Washington wrestled a nation from the most powerful foe of his time. George W. Bush had at his command the most powerful military machine ever and he made it look silly chasing a bunch of Hillbillies. Contrast Thomas Jefferson with Barak Obama. Jefferson, an accomplished horticulturalist, inventor, archeologist, paleontologist and part-time politician. Obama, the master of being a nice guy with a slogan. Obama says "let's have a mission to Mars" ... Ho hum. Talk, nothing but talking and spending other peoples money! Kind of reminds me of our Dear old Mayor, Stead the Munificent. It seems that he has found $80,000 left over from last years budget. So what does he do?

And that, Dear Us, is how The West was won and how it is being flushed down the drain.