Ira Chernus is a Professor of Religious Studies at U/Colorado in Boulder.
He’s got a book out entitled “Monsters to Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin”.
Chernus’s schematic vision is that the neocons are steeped in a change-averse, independence-averse, weak minded ‘conservative moralism’ characteristic of the pre-‘counterculture’ days of the Sixties, and that the ideology that they have developed to console themselves and insulate themselves from the pain and challenge of newness, freshness, change, and creative personal and societal thinking and mores … that ideology (and one would almost have to say ‘pathology’, in Chernus’s schematic) requires neocons to live in a world where Good and Evil exist, where an individual and a society must constantly struggle in that battle, and where self-definition and identity as well as an overarching purpose in life are achieved by having “monsters to destroy” against whom they can constantly wage war and thus simultaneously prove themselves, reaffirm their weak identity, and repress their abiding fear of ‘change’. And, Chernus feels, the present American situation is the result of the neocons’ – since they sorta lost the culture wars here – having to go abroad in search of fresh ‘monsters’ against whom to struggle and get their pathological and addictive ‘fix’; hence their demonization and invasion of this and that people in this and that country.
Neat. Many birds with the one theoretical stone: decrying the objective moralism against which the ‘counterculture’ and ‘radicalism’ (he often uses the terms interchangeably) of the Sixties struggled and still struggle; showing how all of those who believe in objective Morality are essentially weak and pathological unripes, and all their ‘ideas’ and ‘beliefs’ are fit only for psychotherapeutic intervention; explaining how the current wars in the East are all the Republicans’ fault through that Party’s embrace of the neocons (thereby absolving from war-guilt the Democratic Party, original embracer, enabler, and daddy-warbucks for the counterculture’s and the radicals’ Long March and the toxic brew of ideology that underlies the whole radical project).
And working in some of the Sixties’ trademark themes and thought-patterns: that ‘morality’ is whatever an individual chooses to believe, and does not exist outside the individual and cannot be forced upon an individual from the outside; that therefore no individual can be ‘judged’ or forced from the outside; that so much of what seems ‘real’ is actually just a matter of what you choose to believe and assume, so that if the neocons assume ‘sin’ and ‘evil’ and obsess over objective ‘morality’ then if only they would change their attitude then the world would be a better place; that there is no justification for presuming that human beings are prone to great evil, and so therefore any sustained concerns for ‘morality’ and ‘defense’ are merely symptoms of deep but self-serving pathology; and that any amount of disagreement with any of the foregoing constitutes the pathologically significant symptom of ‘denial’ and fuels what is merely ‘backlash’.
I think that there is great fruit to be gleaned from considering Chernus’s book.
First, to get a clear picture of (what Chernus sees as) the neocon development.
But to do that, a couple of definitions and clarifications:
A) I distinguish between i) the ‘countercultural’ movement of the Sixties and ii) the ‘radical’ movement. The counterculture were the Flower Children, making love – not war, usually high on pot, but beyond having ‘free love’ in or out of long-unwashed dungarees in shabby VW buses, they really did feel (it never got to the ‘thinking’ stage) that the world could work by everybody just groovin’, being nice to each other, and getting in touch with their ‘feelings’, and that – smaller being better - communes were the best form of social organization and ‘family’, preferably away from cities and structure and conformity and industry; it was a youthy, idealistic, golden sorta thing, strongly influenced by Romanticism. But hell and gone from that, the ‘radicals’ here were the youthful heirs of late 19th and early 20th century labor agitation (not a bad thing in itself, certainly), socialist and anarchist streams of thought and of the methods of revolutionary change that by the late 1960s flowed in a strong stream comprised of old Anarchism, Leninist and Maoist revolutionary praxis, and also a strain of shrewd propagandistic self-presentation and the manipulation of public opinion that derived in great part from the propaganda praxis of the Third Reich (which itself – wheeeee! – had gotten some great pointers from the early-20th century American advertising ‘genius’, Edward Bernays). Given all of this, Chernus’s failure to distinguish between ‘the counterculture’ and ‘the radicals’, is conceptually weak and improper; his subsequent lumping the two much-different phenomena together, and then declaring them ‘good’ as opposed to the ‘evil’ of the ‘conservative moralism’ of the ‘neocons’, is duplicitous.
B) When seeking to define or understand ‘liberalism’ I would divide the Sixties into two distinct halves: up to 1965 we have a ‘traditional’, and a genuine American liberalism, seeking through a democratic politics and a sustained civic engagement to fulfill Justice and Liberty for a segment of the population – the ‘Negro’ – generally acknowledged (except by Southerners) to be greatly wronged by the national social arrangements that had been in place for centuries; this ‘struggle’ not only united the bonds between black and white Americans (again, those intractable Southerners much excepted) but strengthened the essential public faith in American goals and the American vision as enunciated by Martin Luther King (with his indispensable grounding in scripture and religious faith) as well as such figures as Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln. After 1966 and certainly as a result of 1968, we have a ‘liberalism’ that is really a radical politics of agitprop and ruthless pressure in the service of alleviating problems about which there existed no such seasoned national consensus and which prompted vast amounts of public skepticism and hesitation and opposition – to such wide and sudden change, if not to the actual proposed goals themselves; and in response to which the radicals declared everything not fully supportive of their agendas to be benighted backlash, and proceeded to deploy every stratagem to manipulate, stampede or sidestep altogether public deliberation and discourse, choosing instead to ‘force’ government and courts to accept and then impose their agendas. And by this point, ‘liberalism’ has also undermined independent, robust reporting and coverage by ‘the press’ or the ‘media’, seducing with telegenic melodrama a mainstream ‘press’ already frightened by the declining reading capacities and habits of the American public – whence ‘political correctness’, which could never have existed without the press and the media. Consequently, as he once again performs his trademark lumping-together, Chernus confuses a genuine and traditionally American and ‘classic’ liberalism of pre-1965 with the radical and profoundly undemocratic (even anti-democratic) ‘liberalism’ of 1968 and in doing that he fails to inform and he actually veers toward purposeful manipulation.
Those ‘definitions’ being clarified, getting on with the first observation, I’d say that the ‘neocons’ went through several distinct periods. The first period, during the Sixties, was a period of often acute insight into the conceptual weaknesses and societal consequences of the counterculture and the radicals’ assorted agendas.
Chernus’s extensive quoting from Irving Kristol’s work written during this period reveals Kristol's as a literate and informed concern for the un-grounding and disconnection from the humanizing and maturing structures of objective ‘right and wrong’ and of ‘good and evil’; and from the constructive limitations that can shape a growing ‘self’, a developing individual, into a competent, responsible citizen and parent whose work contributes to the general welfare, to the common weal as well as to familial and personal enhancement.
Kristol in this phase mounts a reasonable critique of the eminently critique-able countercultural nostrums and half-truths and incomplete visions which threatened to literally fragment not American society (that would come in the Age of the Identities starting in the ‘70s) but a national societal consensus about the legitimacy and authority of moral standards, virtues, sin, and the moral and existential projects in general. This is the first phase of the ‘neocon’ presence on the American scene, and it is far from evil in its intent or its content.
Even Kristol’s reinforcement of the values of the traditional ‘religious’ and Judeo-Christian worldview, with their schematics and dynamics of envisioning oneself and one’s world as being imperfect, to some degree capable of a potential evil is well within bounds. And the resulting necessity of being watchful and cautious as to one’s own passions and thoughts as well as those of one’s neighbors and of strangers is equally valid, within the vision of that world-view.
Overall, in this first phase of neoconservatism, an intelligent and vigorous defense (more than was mounted by the churches at the time, certainly) of a matrix of beliefs that shaped and grounded and even fueled American society, was not only within bounds but – in light of Our current situation – as prescient as Solzhenitsyn’s.
In neoconservatism’s second phase, during the later ‘70s and into the ‘80s, a darker note is sounded. Reflecting the growing and intensifying public unease over the societal and ethical and moral consequences of the Democrats’ Identities and their Advocates, who preemptively sought to disable social and political opposition by claiming that there was no ‘objective’ or ‘greater’ or ‘higher’ reality that could stand in judgment upon their numerous and counter-intuitive demands and agendas, a raw political energy of great strength was now loose in the country, generated in response/reaction to the concentrated and bumptious political force honed and deployed by the Advocacies and their Democratic godparents; the Advocacies called it ‘backlash’ in order to try to cage it within a narrative advantageous to themselves, but this political energy was not so much reactionary as it was skeptical, concerned, and – ominously – tremendously anxious and disappointed: Did the Democrats really know what they were doing? Did all these new ‘ideas’ really work? Could the fundamental structures and grounds of American society and culture sustain so much ‘change’ all at once?
Neoconservatism began to trim its sails to take advantage of this tide, and one starts to sense the toxic and noxious infusions from sources such as Falwell and assorted fundamentalists, with whom the neoconservatives were now prepared to join in a political alliance as well as a conceptual affinity. From sagacious, prudent and acute comment on the moral, psychological, philosophical, and spiritual state of affairs in the country, the neocons were going to ‘take to the field’, doing what needed to be done to reach out, form alliances, and wage a public and political counter-struggle against the radical Advocacies.
Here we start to see the neocons making some far less universally acceptable assertions, and engaging in tactics that sacrifice wise sensitivity to the complexity and nuance of the human predicament in favor of unthinking ‘support’ of simplistic, least-common-denominator slogans, caricatures and by-words.
And in neoconservatism’s third phase we see a movement that now seeks to reach beyond American domestic affairs, to form alliances with the national-security Rightists and Nationalists, the imperially-minded defense contractors and industry, the equally though for a different reason ‘energy resources’ imperialists, the socially conservative and patriotic pro-military folk, and with the abiding interest of the Israeli state and its American supporters in pumping up the American protector into an aggressive, indeed preventive warrior, ready to intervene anywhere (but most especially in the Middle East) in the name of freedom and liberty (or at least under cover of same). And this is a monstrously dark – even reprehensible and corrupt - incarnation of neoconservatism indeed.
But my point is that there are different phases of neoconservatism. And that – even more to the point – that first phase was characterized by perceptive and acute and substantive critique of vast and almost wild forces loose in American society in the late 1960s, post-1968.
And it has to be remembered that a huge operative factor, not fully grasped at the time, was the Democratic Party, which in the later-60s threw its still-considerable weight and influence behind the Identities.
And therefore – willy nilly – behind the profoundly and potentially corrosive, though on its surfaces and in its intent inchoately ‘positive’, ‘deconstructionist’ theory that was purposely and deliberately devised (in France a decade and more before) precisely to undermine established structures of thought and practice in order to create conceptual confusion and thus ‘space’ for different (‘new’, ‘fresh’, creative’) combinations of social and political power among emerging post-colonial ‘minorities’ among the postwar post-empires of Europe.
That ‘deconstuctionism’ had quickly been tossed out of France as intellectuals and politicians realized that it was a ‘universal solvent’: a substance capable of eating its way through any material, so that no container could hold it, and any container that did try to hold it would be eaten away. Thus, that any society and government that embraced deconstructionism and thus tried to wield it and deploy it, would find itself societally and politically corroded, to the point of lethal weakness and even of collapse.
This was the vampire the Dems invited into Our national house, by not checking the intellectual baggage of their newly-adopted Identities. Its very essence and purpose is to confuse, to weaken, to delegitimize any established order or structure, with which it comes into contact. That’s why it was devised, by men who wanted to help the oppressed by giving them a conceptual tool to weaken the legitimacy of the ‘structures’ theoretically oppressing them.
The huge danger lay in consequences a couple-three steps down the road (and does this sound familiar, in the light of the Iraq War?): the deconstructionism that destroyed an established matrix of power so that some ‘oppressed’ group could make its way into power, would then start to undermine the legitimacy of whatever that ‘oppressed’ group tried to establish in its own favor. And therefore, either the newly-former ‘oppressed’ group would have to permit itself to be delegitimized in its own turn or else it would have to – in an act of brute political force and repression – simply declare an end to the process of ‘change’ and declare itself ‘the establishment’, the incontestable and unopposable ‘power’.
Thus, as the French sorta sensed (and the Dems didn’t), ‘deconstructionist theory’ led sooner rather than later to an anti-democratic politics, to a repressive authoritarianism and elitism. That the new authoritarian and elitist establishment is ‘saved’ by being composed of the formerly ‘oppressed’ … this point is not only irrelevant but from the point of view of democracy treacherously stupid. And – We shall soon find out – perhaps fatally so.
So Chernus’s gambit here is to bundle the ‘flower children’ of the mid-60s counterculture together with the radical and deconstructionist Identities of the late-‘60s and early-‘70s, and call the whole thing ‘liberalism’, and then oppose to that a monolithic lump of ‘neoconservatism’ that a) denies the ‘freedom’ of the individual and on the basis of deep psychopathology and moral deformity opposes positive social change and b) leads in a straight line from repressing innocent young free love and sex to perpetrating the invasive assaults of the Iraq War.
It’s too too neat. And, it seems, completely erases the Democratic Party as the source of any of the problems currently bethumping Us. Could any sober observer agree to so sweeping and convenient an analysis?
Chernus also understates the objectives of ‘the counterculture’, and leaves the reader to wonder whether he is actually so simple-minded as to believe what he is writing. “All the Sixties wanted to do was trade in traditional values for new ones – peace, love, sensuality, diversity, ecological harmony”. Once again, he’s not distinguishing between the ‘flower children’ and the ‘radicals’, conveniently (so I have to think shrewdly, too) mushing them together as “the Sixties”. The cutesy, barefoot wish-hopes of the Flower kids – which did not even rise to the status of ‘ideals’ (that would have required a serious, and therefore a limiting, commitment) – are blended with the radical, deadly earnest (however incoherent or shortsighted) revolutionary agenda of those radicals who formed the nub of the ‘70s Revolutions of the Identities and their accompanying Advocacies.
Then he minimizes the Sixties, making them cuddly and innocent: “All (they) wanted to do …” But then the mean, old neocons entered stage right and began beating on the Sixties kids to make them put their clothes on and not trust one another as if they were all just kewpie dolls on a carnival rack and to stay sober and – gack – take a shower a couple-three times a week.
Now I didn’t support the war, I didn’t appreciate being lied to every time a Pentagoon gave a briefing on the evening news, and I don’t much like conformity; and I have never ever liked to drink anybody’s Kool-Aid. But I sensed even back then that if you’re going to sail outside the normal shipping lanes, then you are not therefore free of the responsibility of being a competent navigator and sailor, but instead you have to accept responsibility for being an even better one.
Because life – like the battlefield, but also like apples hanging on trees in country gardens – is to some extent shaped by forces that both cannot be changed and that cannot prudently be imagined to not-exist. Tell yourself any ‘narrative’ you want: but if you stand under a tree then you’re going to get hit with a falling apple because apples fall because Gravity exists. The wise sailor doesn’t presume to make or choose a ‘different’ ‘narrative’ of what reality exists out there on the open ocean; rather, he/she masters him/herself and concentrates on learning what those forces are. And doing so not for the purpose of surrendering one’s humanity, liberty, freedom, uniqueness and individuality, but rather for the purposes of most efficaciously shaping and wielding one’s humanity in the service of some goal that will serve, in a large or small way, humanity. You get out there on Life’s ocean and you want to be able to understand those forces so as to use them to your advantage as best you might. And thus get to your voyage’s destination.
Which brings us to Chernus’s “traditional values”: given the tremendous presence of Judeo-Christian and classical ‘values’ in Western civilization, and thus in the America of 1968, the only way to be ‘fresh’ and ‘creative’ was to call all those values ‘old-fashioned’ (Chernus does) and come up with whatever ‘values’ you can find that are not-traditional.
So: ‘sensuality’(Chernus proposes it) … as a value? Yeah, maybe, but only after you’ve built the firm foundation of a self and a life using some rather more essential building-blocks. Don’t pick out the paint-scheme for the first-class saloon until you’ve got the hull really really figured out. ‘Sensuality’ is nice (and they do say now that masturbation can help prevent prostate cancer in males) but mostly just ‘feeling’ (in any sense of the word) does not a mature adult make.
And ‘love’ is now so confused a word that we have to distinguish between “a groovy kind of” it and the fierce burning faithful love of the Old Testament God and the unblinking and courageous respect-love of the New Testament and the almost superhuman love that stems – as the theory has it – from a love of Christ Who Himself loves all humans and then even the all-weather loving-kindness sustained throughout.
“How should we acquire our moral values,” – he asks – “through independent inquiry or by accepting some external authority?” Ah, the plaintive voice of the Sixties in the accents of grammatical precision and a certain wise authority. But the question indicates a throw-back, a regression back beyond the hard-won state-of-the-question that had already been achieved in Western culture long before the Sixties pop-eyed ‘searchers’ learned how to toddle. A human being can exercise independent inquiry in order to personally arrive at the deeply perceived and deeply felt realization that there is a Beyond, perhaps even a personal, ethical God, and with the conclusiveness of that sense of personally achieved ‘independent inquiry’ thus Ground him/herself in a Beyond that would become as a rock, thereby building the human self – and the community of human selfs – not on ever-shifting, ever-changeable ‘sand’ but on solid, sustaining ‘rock’ – as a certain image famously puts it.
To regress the question back to the either-or that was primitive even in the Sixties, to embrace a level of posing a question that was childish and immature even then … that was one of the great sleights of hand of the Sixties and its Advocates. And a double-sleight: they not only made it seem ‘fresh’ and ‘creative’; they made it seem like it was accurate. And a triple-sleight: they made it seem like a wondrously workable basis on which to ‘change’ and ‘govern’ an entire society and culture. Yah. That sure worked. Have We noticed how frakked up things have gotten since the Sixties? Since the ‘kids’ of the Sixties made their mark on national policy and government?
And can there be any doubt that this cognitively primitive ‘either-or’ is precisely the same infection that regressed the neocons and Republicans to bloody-minded chimpery after 9-11: either they’re with us or they’re against us. Oy.
Nor is it enough to say that it’s ‘creative’ for any individual to pick out whatever ‘values’ s/he thinks would be good for him/her. The sea isn’t quite that flexible.
Of course, maybe we aren’t ships, and there is no need to master any skills because life is not a sea and we aren’t captains of anything and maybe there isn’t or we don’t choose for there to be in our lives any destination and so the days and hours of our lives are not part of any ‘voyage’, let alone a ‘mission’, nor do we necessarily need to feel responsible for any cargo or for any smaller ships in company or even for how we handle our own ship.
Yeah. And thus you see the corrosiveness of deconstruction when it’s taken to the very heart of human be-ing. Even when it’s taken there for a ‘good’ purpose, for a ‘liberal’ purpose, for a ‘creative’ purpose, for a ‘liberating’ purpose. How do you shape a Self if there’s nothing ‘out there’? How do you shape a community of un-Shaped selfs? Or of selfs shaped according to no commonality beyond – say – eating and having sex?
How do you Shape a ‘self’? How can you Shape a ‘self’ if there is no acknowledged ‘shape’? If there is no acknowledgement that there are certain parameters and characteristics to which the ‘self’ has to be conformed – like a ship to the sea – in order to work at all?
How do a gaggle of un-Shaped selfs or largely under-Shaped selfs form and sustain a common weal?
For that matter, how does any group of humans so conceived and so dedicated maintain and sustain a society and a culture if any ‘commonality’ is instantly and loudly deconstructed as ‘oppressive’?
Chernus repeats the Sixties mantra that there are many rich, fresh new values ‘around’ us, waiting to be chosen or found or whatever. This is Flatness, no matter how groovy. How can mere mortals sustain their lives without some connection to an Above, a Beyond, (or in my use of the Greek term here) a Meta? How can any adult continually and faithfully haul oneself out of bed in the morning if there is no Ultimate Sustainment? And when the litheness and un-responsible day-glo days of teen-hood are gone, and when children and society and the common weal depend on one, how be ‘faithful’ if one be not Sustained?
How handle the pressures generated by Incompleteness and Imperfection and even Sin and Sinfulness if one be not Sustained? By simply living one’s life in permanent and utter ignorance and denial of what is happening to Us? By simply living in permanent and utter ‘outrage’ at whatever hyped ‘crisis’ is tossed to Us? By getting in touch with the Inner Chimp, the Inner Berserker? (That indeed is the awefull challenge facing so many of Our troops now, sent by Our inadvertence or ignorance into the maw of Fourth Generation War, saved from the inappropriate caresses of Dionysus only to be delivered proudly to the bloody, claw-like, death-grasping gauntlets of Ares Ferox et Atrox).
And “peace” wasn’t a ‘value’ in ‘traditional’ Western history? And “love”? Forget the Flower Children: does Chernus actually think this? Does he seriously think that ‘the Sixties’ were right to imagine that they were creating something totally new under the sun?
The Revolutions and the entire acid-action of ‘deconstruction’ were precisely in need of ‘change’ – lots of it, all deconstruction all the time, because the objective was to ‘deconstruct’ just about any structure of ‘power’ and ‘authority’; in effect, decapitating the target culture and society in order to take it over with one’s own head-full of visions and rules, laws and authority.
Nor did it occur to too many of the radicals that their ideas weren’t so much ‘fresh’ and ‘new’ as they were previously-rejected, by societies and cultures who saw how uncontrollable this deconstructive reaction, once initiated, could and would become. But it occurred to some; they overruled prudence. Prudence, after all, doesn’t make for successful revolutions. Ask Lenin, ask Mao. Don’t – it’s ‘unhelpful’ and ‘negative’ – ask their victims.
And ‘boundaries’ and ‘limits’ – well, they aren’t friends of any revolution, and they aren’t friends of kids – from the kids’ point of view. And the very word ‘shape’ pretty much implies limits. So it was necessary to have a limitless society; one with no boundaries (except for certain newly-hatched classes who can fully be abused); that Our society has started to lose Shape, to tend toward Shapelessness, psychologically, ethically, morally, spiritually … well, who knew? The very observation – harrumph – is ‘negative’ and probably ‘oppressive’ and definitely ‘offensive’ to … somebody. Thus We stagger on.
But of course, the Sixties (the later years, anyway) coincided with a moment in History when the Democratic Party was smarting from its failures in Vietnam, terrified that the wondrously uplifted “negroes’ of 1965 were not going to remember the Party that risked so much to pass the Civil rights and Voting Acts, and desperate to raise up new voting blocs to replace the Southern whites (male and female) who – as Southerners seem inclined from time to time to do – renounced their old allegiance and set up shop on t’other side of the river.
And as the deconstructing Identities began to multiply in the ‘70s, and the Dems found themselves trapped by the pressures of groups they themselves had raised up, and more and more sober-minded folk began to doubt the Dems’ ability to govern in the interests of the common weal, or even to stand up for any traditions or any national centrifugal forces at all, and as each Identity identified its own “monster to destroy” and the Dems set out after those thus-identified with the full force and power of the government … the Democratic Party in its deepest counsels came to figure that the only course left was to keep trying to go forward with its old plan. Sorta like Vietnam, actually.
It hadn’t worked: the new Identities didn’t simply open their newly-hatched eyes and gently select a spot on the grounds wherein to set up their tents and hearths and make sure to vote for their creators; they each had more and more demands; and when they didn’t get what they wanted then they threatened their Democratic creators with the loss of votes, even as those creators began finally to tally up the number of possible votes lost by their embracing this or that Identity in the first place. Doing the math simply agitated the addled Democrats even more.
Finally they gave up everything – honor, integrity, responsibility, the common weal – and simply tried to keep getting themselves elected, holding on – they told themselves – until that day when through the workings of time and death there would be no more to recall how it used to be, and fresh generations would have no memory nor education to realize how it used to be, and new arrivals would have no conception of whatever it was that used to be, and they could all start from scratch.
Interesting, if unimpressive, plan.
But now the Republicans, equally if differently debauched, have created such a disastrous mess that the Dems cannot but scent the possibility of a massive victory by default. And a massive victory – to a professional pol – is a great victory, nor is there any shame than being the default-party nor in being elected ‘on the rebound’, as it were.
But it’s worse even than that. Whatever the country may be in 2012, there may not be enough to keep things going until death and time and new arrivals so dilute ‘old’ visions as to make them mere phantasms. The Dems may wind up presiding, but over a nation so diminished that there will be precious little to offer as rewards to faithful voting blocs.
We are in dire straits indeed. A house divided by the Democrats and their radical and very demanding creations, a house put down as collateral by war-drunk Republicans in what looks to be a losing hand – and a doubling-down on a series of losing hands.
And far too many citizens with nothing to fall back on but the breezy wishful daydreams of the teens of a now vanished age – that Sixties when they not only had their youth in all its shallow but effervescent and perky confidence, but a country still cohesive and strong and able to provide a future for them – try to keep afloat, day by day.
This is not the spirit that built the West. This is not the spirit that sustains the West.
We have been seduced as a People, thanks to elites who knew less than they ever let on, into trading in a sturdy ocean-worthy vessel for a cutesy water-park duckie-float.
Yet still We face the sea. No elites and no fresh, new, creative ‘narrative’ can change that.
We must go down to Life’s sea – and in worthy ships. And We must do it quickly. The sea is rising.
I neglected to include one other very significant point in Chernus’s treatment: he accuses the neocons and the ‘conservative moralists’ of being the unique perpetrators of what the Advocates of the Identities have been doing to Us for decades now. In psychiatric terms he ‘projects’ onto the neocons and ‘conservative moralists’ precisely what his favored Dems and Identities pretty much invented as standard political tactics.
As example, on page 5 he goes after that truly jaw-dropping assertion reported by Ron Suskind and popularly presumed to be from the pudgy lips of Karl Rove himself: “We create our own reality”. But isn’t this exactly the type of thing Chernus is plumping for when he urges that humans can “choose their own values”? Aren’t – in the ‘liberal’ or the ‘progressive’ story – all humans simply browsers at a massive buffet, filling their personal plates with a scoop of this ‘value’ and a forkful of that ‘value’? Just as now – the hot ironies! – the Bushist Imperium sees the entire planet as a large buffet, with the agents of the US government simply browsing around the room, ladling this and forking that? Yoooo-hooooooo ….
Chernus continues: “Living within the safe shelter of their story, they see only the parts of reality that already fit into their story. They don’t test the truth of their stories by testing them against facts. The story comes first. … Instead of seeking out the facts, they create their own version of the facts.” No peeking now: tell me if this refers to A) the neocon imperialists or B) to the ‘liberals’ of the Sixties and their Advocacies. Or, worse by sooo far: C) both. Chernus would insist that the only answer can be (A). But I think that precisely the key point is that the answer is irrefutably (C). And that We are now in so much trouble because simply letting Bush leave office or dis-electing the Republicans is not going to put out the fire. We are at sea, on fire, and We don’t quite know just where the fire is or what kind of fire it is (Will water put it out or intensify it? Do we need sand? Chemicals? And if We need water, then We face the next problem of fire-fighting at sea: the whole idea of a ship is that you most certainly do NOT want to be putting water into it, because if you do, then … no matter what ‘story’ you have chosen, the ship is going to sink and you are going to have sunk it.
As may thus be clearly inferred: command at sea is not for the immature nor the faint of mind or heart, nor for the groovy nor for the perpetually outraged. And lest this seems like a sneaky commercial for the Republicans as that lost breed is presently and repugnantly construed: command at sea is not for those who would take a half-sinking ship and go and start unnecessary shooting-action just to prove that they can still do it.
But I’ll also say this in the interests of full disclosure: John Wayne, even on his worst day, would never have done it either. Nor Clark Gable nor Gregory Peck … well, Peck did take the Pequod on her fateful journey … so forget Peck.
Labels: "Monsters to Destroy", 1968, deconstructionism, Democratic political strategy, Election of 2008, Ira Chernus, Irving Kristol, neoconservatism, radical politics, religion, the Sixties