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Monday, October 22, 2012

Neanderthal Blood

George McGovern just died.

We were in Toronto during the 1972 election and, watching Canadian TV, simply could not understand his landslide defeat. We knew that Johnson's civil rights achievements had already abandoned the slave state South to the changed and more reactionary Republican Party. But still the Watergate story had broken. Vietnam was scene of hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths of young soldiers and civilians. The civil rights movement had gained great victories. How could it be that the American people could not see this, many of our Canadian friends asked.

We realized watching from Canada that you can fool most of the American people most of the time. Many Americans today will not admit this, even though most Americans now see the Vietnam war as a tragic mistake and civil rights as an important forward step for America.

But out of defeat came some victories. Many young people, disgusted with the injustices, turned from resignation, depression, and violence to political activism in and out of political parties. Even Nixon was moved to civil rights, environmental protection, worker and women's rights, earned income tax credit, fair housing and more.

Yet Vietnam raged on for more years because of the macho marine mentality of presidents Johnson and Nixon, both of whom knew better (we see from their archives), but were afraid to be seen as weak, thus demonstrating their weakness.

A few days back we watched a Nova presentation on the Neanderthals. DNA analysis has shown that Europeans and their descendents have Neanderthal blood. Maybe that is what makes us Euro-Americans, "white people," a little slower to grasp things.

I joke--but history seems ripe with examples of far-sighted persons and movements that the masses catch up with only in succeeding generations. Opposition to scientific breakthroughs, but also to progressive politics regarding slavery, women's rights, homosexuality, child labor, public lands, liberal democracy, public health are great examples of the righteous and reactionary Neanderthals in our midst.

Now it is the emerging new economy based not on GDP, but on fairness and true wealth, a less exceptionalist, imperial foreign policy, and a culture of tolerance and scientific secularism that the Neanderthals oppose.

I have faith in the human ability to think and to transcend the neanderthalisms of our past. George McGovern and we his followers were defeated in one election. But much of what we fought for has come to fruition.

But I also realize that we humans have chosen badly in the past and set ourselves back generations and sometimes centuries, and could indeed annihilate ourselves. There are Talibans among us, usually Christian Talibans, trying to set us back to an earlier darker age in the name of God and Country.

So I for one take the passing of Senator McGovern to commit myself to progress over reaction and to the ideals to which he and all progressives aspire. No matter what happens this November.

Thank you, Senator.