Saturday, February 07, 2009

TRIUMPHANT OR BETTER

In ’Commentary’ magazine for January 30, 2009 the former colonel and now BU professor Andrew Bacevich writes “American Triumphalism: A Postmortem”.

Our present circumstances with the myriad frakked up aspects of national life – economic, military, diplomatic, maturational – certainly invite such an analysis. “Postmortem” strikes the right note of jarring urgency; something has died, and unless History utterly repeats itself or a large Hand suddenly reaches down from the sky and sweeps back the past forty or so years, then it ain’t coming back. There will be no resurrection.

But then, We’ve always had a kind of childish view of resurrection. It’s not a replay of what was, except with all sorts of cool extra powers. It’s a rebirth of a fundamental spirit and vitality that is beyond this-world’s power, will, or effort to achieve or bestow. It’s a living-further, rather than a living-again. One lives ‘beyond’ that level of being one previously experienced. One grows in ‘resurrection’.

Of course, you can’t get at this philosophically. Philosophy works with ‘ideas’ and not with ‘stuff’, but at the same time it is bound by a human ability to think and ‘reason’ that is still very much bound to the rules and shapes of ‘this world’.

Resurrection is a spiritual reality – meaning that it is grounded in the vitality (let’s not say ‘power’, it gives too many folks the wrong idea) of another world, another level of being. It ‘comes to’ this world.

But when it gets here, and especially when it’s ‘allowed’; when humans, like competent junior-grade infantry officers keep their LZ (landing zone) clear and open; when humans, like competent aircraft carrier captains keep their ship headed into the wind … well then, amazing things happen.

It’s not a matter of simply sitting around the yard like the proverbial ‘cargo cult’ folk, waiting for some magical silvery bird to come along and drop goodies out of the sky. It takes a lot of work to carve a landing strip out of a desert or a rocky island, and keep it ‘operational’ at all times. It takes a job of work – 24/7, in all weather, ‘in season and out of season’. But that’s how it works.
And it’s a team effort, though every individual has to do his and her part.

Resurrection is spiritual. But its vitality is capable of transforming the ‘stuff’ of this world.
So, you may well imagine, paying attention to ‘resurrection’ is a key task of being a denizen of this world.

None of that will make any sense to a materialist – to someone who, whether they’ve given much thought to it or not – pretty much works on the assumption that the ‘stuff’ of ‘this world’ is all there is, and you do what you can and then it’s over. Marx and his more vigorous followers figured that if this world is all there is, then a whole hell of a lot has to be done, and done now, and there’s no time to waste debating the matter. Of course, only a certain few knew just what had to be ‘done’, and everybody else either got with the program or they would simply ‘get it’ in the neck and be shoved over the side of ‘this world’ into the abyss. Oy.

If Americans have been living pretty much as materialists – regardless of whether they go to church or not – then Our present situation is going to feel like being on Titanic’s fantail as it starts to rear up for one last look at the sun. Nor will there by a band playing ‘Nearer My God To Thee’ – although there will be a lot of helpless but furious tapping on Ipod or Blackberry touchpads.

Too bad. ‘Nearer My God To Thee’ actually gets Us much closer to the heart of the matter. Which is not death but – wait for it – resurrection.

But forty years being banged around between a revolutionary materialism and a cargo-cult Fundamentalism takes a lot out of a People. ‘There is no God for any practical purposes’ is as soul-killing as ‘There is nothing but God and you just have to do what He says’. Life’s a high-wire act, and whether you go off the left or the right side of the wire … well, that’s just quibbling.

Obama is certainly an improvement over what went before. Nor did We just ‘luck out’ – he was elected, although if a few things had gone differently, that might not have happened. But a new captain is only as good as the essential sea-worthiness of the ship: after she’s been run at high speed through a berg-field at night and then ripped open below the waterline for half her length like a tuna-can … well, the oddsmakers aren’t going to see any reason just yet to be popping open a bottle of champagne or rot-gut. Or even for brewing a pot of chamomile.

Saving a deeply hurt ship is a total effort; all ‘souls’ on board have to pitch in and there’s only a modest distinction between ‘crew’ and ‘passenger’. The idea of retreating to the saloon or the pool until ‘the crew’ solves the problem or until ‘the coast guard’ or ‘help’ comes … that’s not the relevant paradigm here. Everybody pitches in. Sort of like those wagon-train days (with all respect to Native American sensibilities) when only babes-at-the-breast were excused from the unending challenges of what was pretty much an unending succession of tasks and chores, punctuated by moments of terrifying exertion.

It’s enough to make a body take up organized religion. Which is precisely what the elites of the left have been trying to stamp out, while the elites of the right have been trying to turn everybody into God’s army – which God, equipped with more legions than the Caesars could dream of (the most they could ever manage was thirty-three, until Varus lost three of them in an afternoon in the Teutoborg), has no pressing need of.

And actually, God has other plans for humans, if We want to step up from materialism and take a better look around.

So We have a rendezvous with destiny after all. Just not the one propounded, as Bacevich acutely limns, by a long line of well-heeled, brassy, neocon chest-thumpers. Or the one propounded, I would add, by assorted ‘revolutionary’ liberals (a contradiction in terms, if you think about it – the true Liberal abhors ‘revolution’ and engages in a vigorous and vital politics in order to prevent such a catastrophe).

They are going to write about Us in the not-so-distant future. The cohorts of the current American ‘generation’ are in for the challenge of their lives, surpassing in its way the prior Depression and World War Two. And at the end We still may not be able to achieve in Our time a return to Our former prosperity and international stature. Nor may Our descendants.

As Paul Craig Roberts records on the Counterpunch site, even Putin, head of the Russian state (how far things have fallen from the fall of the USSR a brief 18 years ago) observes matter-of-factly that “the existing financial system based on the American dollar and American financial hegemony has failed”. The Marines, bless ‘em, are not going to be able to solve this, unless in an updated replay of the old Banana Wars We try to send them around the world holding up banks and corralling rival currencies and assets.

Consequences, consequences. It’s been one hell of a binge, the last sixty years, or forty, or – most narrowly – eight.

But I still look to those remarkably sturdy, gimlet-eyed generations of yore who got themselves into and through the Civil War and its aftermath.

They did it in the sure and certain hope that ‘resurrection’ worked. I don’t think they could have accomplished or put up with what they did if they didn’t have such sure and certain hope.
So that’s the job now. ‘Resurrection’ – the old-fashioned way.

“Let Us therefore brace Ourselves to Our duty, and so bear Ourselves … “

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