You may only read this site if you've purchased Our Kampf from Amazon or Powell's or me
• • •
"Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show

"Who can really judge what's funny? If humor is a subjective medium, then can there be something that is really and truly hilarious? Me. This book."—Daniel Handler, author, Adverbs, and personal representative of Lemony Snicket

"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

October 16, 2008

New Tomdispatch


Can Obama See the Grand Canyon?
On Presidential Blindness and Economic Catastrophe

By Mike Davis

Let me begin, very obliquely, with the Grand Canyon and the paradox of trying to see beyond cultural or historical precedent.

The first European to look into the depths of the great gorge was the conquistador Garcia Lopez de Cardenas in 1540. He was horrified by the sight and quickly retreated from the South Rim. More than three centuries passed before Lieutenant Joseph Christmas Ives of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers led the second major expedition to the rim. Like Garcia Lopez, he recorded an "awe that was almost painful to behold." Ives's expedition included a well-known German artist, but his sketch of the Canyon was wildly distorted, almost hysterical.

Neither the conquistadors nor the Army engineers, in other words, could make sense of what they saw; they were simply overwhelmed by unexpected revelation. In a fundamental sense, they were blind because they lacked the concepts necessary to organize a coherent vision of an utterly new landscape.

Accurate portrayal of the Canyon only arrived a generation later when the Colorado River became the obsession of the one-armed Civil War hero John Wesley Powell and his celebrated teams of geologists and artists. They were like Victorian astronauts reconnoitering another planet. It took years of brilliant fieldwork to construct a conceptual framework for taking in the canyon. With "deep time" added as the critical dimension, it was finally possible for raw perception to be transformed into consistent vision.

The result of their work, The Tertiary History of the Grand Canyon District, published in 1882, is illustrated by masterpieces of draftsmanship that, as Powell's biographer Wallace Stegner once pointed out, "are more accurate than any photograph." That is because they reproduce details of stratigraphy usually obscured in camera images. When we visit one of the famous viewpoints today, most of us are oblivious to how profoundly our eyes have been trained by these iconic images or how much we have been influenced by the idea, popularized by Powell, of the Canyon as a museum of geological time.

But why am I talking about geology? Because, like the Grand Canyon's first explorers, we are looking into an unprecedented abyss of economic and social turmoil that confounds our previous perceptions of historical risk. Our vertigo is intensified by our ignorance of the depth of the crisis or any sense of how far we might ultimately fall.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at October 16, 2008 05:42 PM

It's a good essay and I pretty much agree with his assumptions. I think, though, that Obama is pretty clear on how bad things are.

The collapse of capitalism may actually bring about socialism, or at least some accomodation with socialism, but it can't happen as long as the MSM continues to lie and cover up for the MIC. The 1963 coup will have to be admitted. Everyone's going to have to make amends with history. Otherwise, it'll be hell in a handbasket.

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at October 17, 2008 12:25 AM

Mike Davis is right to point out that the New Deal was more a response to a massive popular movement than the good will of the elected officials. That remained the case with every significant advance in human rights and dignity, not just in US but around the world.

I harbor surprising optimism in an Obama administration for the simple reason that I believe that it would be more responsive to a mass popular movement, say, on ending the crazy war against "terror".

I recall the many anti-Iraq-war protests, both before and after the invasion, and how resolutely deaf the Bush II administration was to them. Yes, they did have a very significant impact in influencing the public opinion against the war, and raising the level of scrutiny in our conduct of our military operations. But the utter non-responsiveness of the overwhelming majority of our elected officials demoralized many in the movement.

Now would be a good time to rev up the anti-war movement (all acts of aggression, not just Iraq).

Posted by: weasel_word at October 17, 2008 08:30 AM

An Obama administration might be more responsive to activism, maybe. Or it might go for a Clinton 2.0 and concentrate on appeasing the Sane Billionaires. Which is why November 5 might be a good time to start working on a third party.

Posted by: Sajia Kabir at October 17, 2008 10:54 AM

Dammit, we drove for 400 years to get here! You will look at it and enjoy it. And stop hitting your little brother.

Posted by: Monkay at October 17, 2008 02:56 PM