My dad, the hegelian

I was born in 1987, and that puts me in some off place between the generation Xers and the millennials. I remember 9/11, but wasn’t yet an adult when it occurred. It was frightening, but not existentially dreadful.

My father has been a constant voice of politics in my ear my entire life. If you were to casually describe him as someone who watches copious amounts of Fox News and hates Barack Obama (who doesn’t these days) you wouldn’t be wrong, but you wouldn’t really be right either.  Often he’ll say what i expect from the conservatives of my parent’s generation, but he’ll also often surprise me. In fact, when i think back to various comments he’s made from time to time i find a treasure trove of subjects to give me pause.
For example, i recall a time when he made a comment about communism that today seems totally interesting. I can’t remember how this came up or what solicited this remark, but he said something along the lines of, “Well, you can’t have communism directly after feudalism. It won’t work. You have to move from feudalism into capitalism, then to communism.” Which is pretty fundamental marxist theory if i’m not mistaken. I should mention at this point that my father has a degree in history from Rutgers university, but more on my father later.

While i’m only aware of this after the fact, during the 90’s a book was published called, “The End of History and the Last Man” by Francis Fukuyama that either had a large impact on political theory at the time or was well placed to capture a prevailing ideological trend at the time. Even if this isn’t the case, let’s pretend it was because without this assumption this post would be much less interesting.
Anywho, this book seems to basically suggest that history, in the hegelian dialectic sense, or maybe the materialist dialectic sense, had basically come to an end after the cold war and the fall of the soviet union. The end of the “short twentieth century”, if you will. This isn’t to say that ‘events’ would end, but that the final socio-political form and program had been accomplished in liberal/capitalist democracies and that the only thing left to do was iron out the wrinkles and allow it to come into being everywhere on the globe it hadn’t, as it surely would. Communism had fallen, welfare states were the obvious way to deal with capitalism, and you ought to rock the vote, because vote or die*. I figure the Clinton years before the scandal were the height of this, with a decent economy and few serious boogey-men for the U.S. to get huffy about. The feeling i want to convey here is one of a society breathing a sign of relief that they could sit back and enjoy MTV, debates between republicans and democrats, and the pleasant feeling that their retirement plans were sound while their kids would maybe inch up the socio-economic ladder a tad further than than forebears. But all that symbolically ended in an instant.

Back to my dad. So, for most of my adolescence, my dad repeatedly told me something in various ways. He would say (again, i can’t remember the context to these remarks) that the world i lived in was a dream world. That my life, going to junior high or high school or whatever, was a sort of sheltered hiccup in the way things actually worked. I worried more about video games, girls, and grades than geo-politics, global war, and genocide. And he was right, of course. I didn’t remember the fall of the Berlin wall and had a pretty comfortable lifestyle. But there my dad was, always assuring me that the world was fooling itself into believing this would last, and that the next crisis and grab for power was coming.

I remember when i first heard that it had occured, or, a foolish misunderstanding of it. I was in biology class, i think a freshman in highschool. I was doing some menial worksheet in one of those temporary buildings many public schools had off from the main building. Too many kids, not enough rooms. Houston, even then, was experiencing a boom and tons of people and their kids needed some school’n.
So, i was sitting there, probably trying not to get caught cheating on this worksheet, when my teacher, who i hadn’t heard from in 20 minutes (as was normal) shouts from her desk, “Oh my god! They bombed New York!!”

My dad came to pick me up from school a few hours later, something many parents were doing. I told him it wasn’t really necessary, but he remarked that my mother thought it was best.
While we were driving home i told him that he had been right, that the world was more complicated than i had assumed before, and that shit had hit the fan once again (not in these words, i don’t remember what i actually said). I remember him acknowledging this, not in a “i told you so” way, more of just a sincere (but casual) acknowledgement that i had in some way joined reality. He just nodded and drove on. History had begun again.

From my perspective, my father was the only one who didn’t believe in the end of history.

———————————————————————————————- (David Graeber mentioning the end of history with Charlie Rose and Fukuyama coming up) (around 12:30 in this vid, or start around 10:30 for more context) (A documentary about Cody Wilson and 3D printed guns) (around 13:25 Wilson mentions Fukuyama and the end of history)

* i realize rock the vote and vote or die are both post-9/11. I simply mean to point at the attitude that fixing and streamlining mass state democracy was (and often still is) a common idea. I use contemporary examples of these sort of pop democracy campaigns because they are amusing in a way i remember and still actually experience (i still get rock the vote reminders on my phone).