Brother, Can You Paradigm?

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What
does the unemployed scholar say to passerby on the street?

"Brother,
can you paradigm?"

Instead
of "Brother, can you spare a dime?" Get it? A song by
that name was a big hit during the Great Depression.

Yes,
it's a bad joke.

But
to create new "paradigms" is the ambition of every young,
aspiring professor. It's a matter of creating "systems,"
or philosophies of ethics, action, and history, that can all be
developed by one person – that very same aspiring professor. A paradigm
is a system of thought, normally attributed to the one founder of
the system (anyone from evolution's Charles Darwin to Christian
Science's Mary Baker Eddy). To be a professor at a college means
that you are trying to establish a new paradigm, or that you desire
to be the leading proponent of somebody else's paradigm.

No
matter what we personally think or want, the era we live in seems
to have a prevailing paradigm. And it is beyond our grasp, our own
knowledge, let alone our own control.

Neville
Chamberlain is currently the Whipping Boy of history: the guy who,
by "appeasing" Hitler, gets as much if not more flak than
Hitler himself. I'm not going to try to justify or excuse Chamberlain,
not now at least. That's not the point. But I will say one thing:

Chamberlain
didn't know the Anti-Fascist Paradigm that future scholars would
put him in. He is condemned for this.

Why
do the neo-conservatives love Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan so
much? Because they supposedly understood the Cold War Paradigm even
as they lived it.

And
this, above all, is what is lost on the neo-conservatives: their
inability to recognize that we might be living under a different
paradigm. The future's historians will determine our moral fate – they will make up their own paradigms. American history is essentially
in their hands.

Much
of what I've seen about the supposed "War on Terror" is
retrograde War on Poverty and War on Drugs b.s. – a bi-partisan
effort to keep the problem alive, not a bi-partisan solution. The
rest of the "War on Terror" is even worse – it operates
not on today's realities about American interventionism, but on
yesterday's paradigms against fascism and communism.

But
we don't live under the Cold War paradigm, or the anti-fascist paradigm
by which we condemn Chamberlain. We live under a different paradigm – a paradigm we don't yet know or understand. A foreign policy that
wages the War on Terror based on the paradigms of World War II and
the Cold War is dubious at best.

September
8, 2004

James
Leroy Wilson [send him mail]
lives and works in Chicago and is a columnist for the Partial
Observer
. He also has a new blog, “Independent
Country
.”

James
Leroy Wilson Archives

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