George Orwell famously wrote, “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”
This is especially important in Communist and in post-Communist countries. Because, controlling the flow of information was the principal means of social control of the population by the state, its dissemination is a crucial cultural battleground. As it happens, one of the important demands of the Gdansk strikers in 1980 was the right to build a memorial to their colleagues who died in a similar uprising in 1970.
What does this have to do with the price of tea in China? For those of us who live in the bourgeois world, memory has a different meaning. To a large extent, it is a burden to be escaped. We all have our failures, embarrassments, moments of cowardice and hatred. We earnestly desire that they don't define us. And greatly to our benefit, they don't. With the passage of time, memories are hazy, and we get the chance to define ourselves anew.
But if memories are completely lost, it is not altogether a good thing. Without it, we are at the mercy of others who may not have our best interest at heart, like those living under Communism. Instead, our memories must be purified, that is we must have them because the things they represent are true, and we must align ourselves with the truth. But, we must keep them in a way where they strengthen us or make us better people instead of demoralizing us.
When I was in the United States, I was sure the memories of the end of communism would not fade in Poland for many decades. Now that I am here, I am a little less confident.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
I just got in from the Rynek Glowny, the main market square in Krakow. There was a considerable racket by the tower, and I took a look to see what was going on. It turns out, it was a bunch of high school girls (from where, I don't know) loudly singing in French,
"Au soileil, sous la pluie,
Il y a tous que vous voulez
Au Champs Elysees"
Sort of ironic, as I'm sure those of you who know me understand.
Monday, April 03, 2006
In Witness to Hope, the definitive biography of John Paul II, George Weigel recounts Wotyla's tenure as Archbishop of Krakow. One recurring theme of this period was the struggle for Abp. Wotyla and the local church to get municipal permission to build new churches.
I mention this because after having been here for two weeks, I am actually having some sympathy for the apparatchiks on that score. Imagine being some construction bureaucrat in Krakow, and have the bishop come visit you and there is a need for new parish buildings. It must be the funniest thing you ever heard. There are churches everywhere, to the point where you can't swing a dead cat without hitting three of them.
Physically, many of them seem smaller than American parishes, with very high ceilings but few pews. They are also without many of the accoutrements we might expect of an American parish: no high school nearby, no parish hall or meeting space in the basement under the sanctuary. In America, they might be called chapels instead.
Ok, then if we allow that the conservative grassroots are supposed to be mobilized for something, what exactly is it they should be mobilized for? Immigration is an obvious choice, but I suggest a revolt over the size and scope of government might be appropriate as well. In NFL draft terms, this is a "need" area. The GOP has lost almost all credibility not just with its own base but also with the public at large.
The recent furor over the "bridge to nowhere" illustrates that that the Congressional cultural proclivity towards wasteful spending is strong enough to withstand a fair bit of light. There ought to be a threefold challenge to it, consisting of: 1. A take no prisoners elimination of elimination of earmarks, bridges-to-nowhere, skateboard museums, etc. 2. Substantial cuts in one of the real money hogs, like NIH, Medicaid, student loans, etc. 3. Appropriations process reform, repealing parts of the Budget Act of 1974, leaving a much more conservative budget process.
The point being is that each front needs to be attacked simultaneously. #1 is exhilarating, (though surprisingly difficult to pull off) but doesn't save that much money. #2 does, but taken by itself only mobilizes the special interest whose ox is being gored. #3 is probably the most important going forward, but by itself is boring and tends to give the impression that the whole thing is just a bunch of paper-shuffling.
This would represent a phenomenal change in the culture of the Washington establishment if it were actually put into effect. But most importantly, we can see exactly how much the GOP establishment is willing to accept discipline by the base. If the answer is not very much, then the GOP majorities are probably not worth saving.