Comments: None Now Live Who Remember It

The observation that as the living experience dies out, practical memory of a serious event is lost. We do not learn from history, and I doubt that we learn from fiction.

I use the San Francisco earthquake as my example. When I arrived in San Francisco in 1957 the tallest building was the Flood Building, on Market St, IIRC. It was 12 stories. I was barely 21, just discharged from the Navy. An older co-worker told me that San Francisco's Earthquake Code prohibited more than 12 stories.

Now consider the Code from the realtor's point of view. San Francisco is a tiny peninsula, about 7 by 7 miles, bound by the Golden Gate, the Bay, the Ocean, and Daly City to the south. Despite filling a lot of Bay and Golden Gate for more space, if you are going to grow your profits from office buildings, you have to increase the height.

It's modern technology now (1960s), a 12 story limit is ridiculous. We could build 20 stories earthquake proof. There are old timers who still remember 1909, and they object to adjusting the Earthquake Code, but they are fewer and fewer. We consider them old fogeys who cannot grasp the advances of today. There are too few old fogeys to influence decisions. There are the realtors saying it's ok. There are their hired architects with math degrees saying it is ok. There are civil engineers with tons of math and science saying it is ok. Of course, they are all employed by money interests, but science is science, right?

After the Earthquake, there was serious study of the causes, and how to mitigate the damage. After the Great Depression there was serious study of the causes and how to prevent and/or mitigate it. But those who lived through it and KNOW, become geezers and die out. A few of us still know, but from history books, and we have various opinions on the causes due to our own economic and political biases. And, most of us don't read.


Bubble? Someday ask me about the emu bubble in Texas. Ever since the Phoenicians invented commerce there have been bubbles.

Posted by JohnT at October 9, 2008 09:06 AM

I have a number of friends who are in the position to remember the 20's and 30's quite vividly. One, a lovely young (at heart) lady named Ruth has been cautioning me for the last couple of years that things WILL get tough and the the feeling in the air reminds her of the pre-depression times, when she was quite young, but not too young to perceive exuberance that plummets into fear.

Ruth is 93, bright and beautiful and has a lifetime of wisdom very much worth listening to. Maybe I'm particularly lucky with my neighbors, to know her. There are plenty others.

The information, in other words, is out there. What wasn't out there? Perhaps the will to heed it.

Posted by Dena Shunra at October 9, 2008 11:02 AM

the One Ring never had lots of right-wing think tanks whose job it is to make people forget everything important

Yes, it did, they were called Barad-dur and Orthanc, aided by the So-Called Liberal Palantiri.

Posted by derek at October 9, 2008 11:06 AM

We've still got all the depression-era songs. Perhaps they'll come back.

Grab your coat and get your hat
Leave your worry on the doorstep
Just direct your feet
To the sunny side of the street

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
Say, don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?

We're in the money, that sky is sunny,
Old Man Depression you are through, you done us wrong.

Etc.

Posted by Don Bacon at October 9, 2008 01:01 PM

...whispers of a nameless fear.
"No lie," said Goodgulf gravely. "The Nameless No-No is spreading again, and the time has come to act."
After searching online for several minutes for this text, I gave up and found it in my paperback 1969 edition of "Bored of the Rings" which I keep handy in case I have need of it.

Posted by Monkay at October 9, 2008 01:10 PM

Naomi Klein spoke recently at the University of Chicago; I listened to her talk on Democracy Now. She quoted from Milton Friedman to the effect that, when crisis strikes, people tend to pick up whatever ideas are lying around.

In a general sense, I often think that a Depression-level crisis in the US might be good for the world and good for humanity - if, for instance, it caused us to abandon our planet-encircling garrisons and nuclear weapons. But this quote scares me.

In the thirties, there were communist newspapers and socialist mayors and memories of the Debs candidacy and the Homestead strike. That is, there were powerful leftist ideas "lying around". (Chomsky makes this point about anarchism and the Spanish Civil War, btw.) Today? Eh. If a New Depression does come to pass, the ideas which we have available to draw upon only frighten me.

Posted by Aaron Datesman at October 9, 2008 03:18 PM

NORRIS: I don't know anybody who expected this to happen.

This is a kind of talk that pisses me off so hard. All part of the imaginary setting where America as a whole is spoken of as "we": we were greedy, we never saw it coming...

Utter ignorance of the world outside their strata of business.

Posted by Cloud at October 9, 2008 04:06 PM

When I started reading this I thought the picture was of a cloudy night sky with a few stars and something else in it. To turn out to be something completely different is striking.

I was to echo Mr. Derek: There were people expending a lot of resources to make people forget the one ring and to confuse people about the real danger. This was mostly successful and almost lead to the destruction of the world, and in a way did just that but not in the way the designers of the plan had hoped it would. Those who are planing how humanity will be herded into a new paradigm fail to realize the most powerful forces effecting human nature. The world will look different 50 years from now but not in the way that the people with power today will want it to look like.

Contrary to what Mr. Norris may believe there were plenty of people who expected this to happen. I don't think that he or others who make that claim are lying but are merely so egregiously arrogant that they hardly know anything about the world but think they know everything. I don't think that they know enough about history to see that comparing what is going on so far to the Great Depression is complete nonsense. These people are still in charge of the most powerful institutions even through this crisis so it should be no surprises when it is revealed that the attempts to solve the crisis made things worse int he long run. If we will experience another depression in this country anytime soon it would be precisely the overreaction to what is going on now that will cause it. I have dealt with a lot of crisis in my short life and those handling it today are doing everything wrong.

Posted by Benjamin A. Schwab at October 9, 2008 04:39 PM

We've still got all the depression-era songs. Perhaps they'll come back.

I know I've been getting a kick out of listening to the 'O brother where art thou' soundtrack. Now I just need to find that big rock candy mountain place.

Posted by Fledermaus at October 9, 2008 05:21 PM

'None Now Live Who Remember It'

The closing paragraph of a piece by historian David Kaiser at his blog History Unfolding:

'All this feels so much like the great depression that I wish I could talk to someone who lived through it, at least as a young adult. But I can’t—that generation has passed away. That, of course, is part of the generational dynamic that makes these catastrophes take place. Those who had lived through one depression were determined to prevent another—and they did. Their children, like front line soldiers going into battle for the first time, assume it cant happen to them,— so it does.'

Kaiser locates the essential problem in the difference between the entitled and coddled Boomer generation and the more cautious Silent generation that preceded them. He posits a general contempt for the timidity of the ancients among the risk-taking Boomers, and subscribes to Strauss and Howe's theory of history which asserts a regular 80 year cycle in world affairs, basically caused by these inter-generational conflicts of approach.

'NORRIS: I don't know anybody who expected this to happen.'

This reminds me of the standard line from US politicians and media as it became clear that there were no WMD in Iraq - 'I don't know anyone who expected this to happen', when of course there were literally millions of us. Or the same sort of response from the same people when confronted by the catastrophe of the war and occupation 'I don't know anyone who expected this to happen' Or indeed the general revulsion now felt by the same people toward a president who as a candidate was going to bring adulthood back into American governance - 'I don't know anyone who expected this to happen'.

The one thing US elites appear to be good at is not knowing what is brutally obvious to everyone else. Or pretending not to.

SteveB, that quote from Rubin is, like some of Greenspan's avuncular cluelessness lately - chilling. He's basically saying 'I was Sec of the Treasury but you know, I had no actual power to like, do stuff or anything'

'In the thirties, there were communist newspapers and socialist mayors and memories of the Debs candidacy and the Homestead strike. That is, there were powerful leftist ideas "lying around".

Yes there were. The totalitarian brand of anti-communism that marked US behaviour at home and abroad for a generation had not yet become entrenched, and unions like the Wobblies were held in high regard by a lot of people.

But there were a few other things lying around in the thirties that we don't have now - billions of barrels of undiscovered oil for one thing, thousands of family farms and hundreds of thousands of people with the age-old skills required to work them, the goodwill and respect of the rest of the world. Etc Etc.

There are some good ideas lying around right now but it is the American way to ignore them til it's too late. They tend to involve some measures which are unpalatable to the point of anathema for US elites, who have been born and bred into an economic dogma that resembles an ideology in it's aversion to any common sense that might challenge it. Measures like partial public ownership of banks, massive tax credits to lower income earners, huge national infrastructure projects -basically an ordered redistribution of wealth to more sustainable levels. Some very influential Americans would resist moves like these with every fibre of their being.

Sosalism!

‘I know I've been getting a kick out of listening to the 'O brother where art thou' soundtrack. Now I just need to find that big rock candy mountain place.’

Yeah, me too. Did you know that Harry McClintock, the Big Rock Candy Mountain man, was a well-known Wobbly union organizer before his songs made him famous? He’d been a hobo himself, and a cowboy before that. They don’t make ‘em like that any more. He’d have been a hero in nations not afflicted by that viral anti-communism. His relative obscurity is par for the course.

If you like that music, and you don’t already own Will the Circle be Unbroken, do yourself a favour. It’s a record of the last practitioners of that music from that time and I find it’s innocent rambunctiousness something of a salve right now. Not quite as good as gin, but if you combine the two…

Posted by Glenn Condell at October 9, 2008 08:56 PM
Some very influential Americans would resist moves like these with every fibre of their being.

As the real American's they'd have to.

I've been watching the fascists screech at McCain today during a rally. Oh my, but we're headed toward interesting times.

Posted by Labiche at October 9, 2008 09:40 PM

My parents lived through the Great Depression as a young couple with four children. My father was a civil engineer and had a master's degree, but nothing was being built and there were no jobs. My parents and my father's siblings and families moved back to the family farm together. They grew food, took odd jobs, sold things, and made do. Finally, the economic climate eased and they prospered; my twin sister and I were born then. My parents told me this and I remember my father saying, "Never borrow money, save for what you want." Foolish man, wasn't he?

Posted by Rosemary Molloy at October 10, 2008 06:29 AM

"the One Ring never had lots of right-wing think tanks whose job it is to make people forget everything important."

Are you saying that there are right-wing think tanks trying to make everybody forget the Great Depression ever happened? I've heard of Holocaust deniers, but never Great Depression deniers.

A lot of the current problem was caused by good intentioned government regulations that pushed banks to make loans that they otherwise would not have been making (too great of risk). Enough of those loans got out there, and sure enough, the risk _was_ too great -- too many of them defaulted for the system to sustain itself.

Many in Washington _did_ see it, but it was too hard eight or five years ago to rally their fellows to vote _against_ a regulation meant to put poor people in houses. "Feel good" politics won out over common sense.

Posted by Stephen R at October 10, 2008 10:47 AM

A lot of the current problem was caused by good intentioned government regulations that pushed banks to make loans that they otherwise would not have been making

I see the right-wing think tanks have already done their job for the most recent period of history.

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at October 10, 2008 10:55 AM

Stephan R said:
Many in Washington _did_ see it, but it was too hard eight or five years ago to rally their fellows to vote _against_ a regulation meant to put poor people in houses. "Feel good" politics won out over common sense.

Oh nuts! We put poor people in houses 60 years ago with VA loans. Nothing down, and subsidized interest, handing out taxpayer dollars to the poor. It was denounced too by conservatives, but they couldn't muster the strength to block the GI Bill.

Of course, VA loans were had strict requirements and were government regulated. No wonder it was a success.

Posted by JohnT at October 10, 2008 12:33 PM

Shadow. I hear that word often now. The shadow army or the shadow banking system or even the shadow economy. All I know is that we have fallen into shadow. And unlike the times we fell into shadow before there are no bootstraps with which we can pull ourselves up.

Posted by Last Redoubt at October 11, 2008 03:25 PM

You are all being faced with the failure and irreveocably mean-spirited nature of "Western Civilization", and being the unsustainable whorehouse it always was and still is... Well, let's just say the looks on your cleptomaniac, capatalist fuck muderers faces is priceless.:}

Viva la Chavez! Death to two-faced facist America!

Posted by Commander Zero at October 13, 2008 09:58 AM