Wednesday, April 29, 2009


We seem now to be getting strategic plans from the scripts of B-level horror movies. General Petraeus, as reported by H.D.S. Greenway, has come up with a plan called ‘Anaconda’.

But the General would like Us to think not about B-level movies (and actors) but rather of General Grant.

Unhappily, as Greenway relates it, the General reports that he has “often fallen asleep at night ‘reading about Grant in tough times’”. One might have hoped that Grant’s exploits might have been enough to keep the General awake, but I can certainly imagine that a mind constrained to come up with the boggling sentences and vaguely upbeat nostrums of his CEO ‘philosophy’ would need a whole lot of time to recover.

I get the queasy feeling last felt in Reagan’s first administration: it was ‘morning in America’, although a morning that looked not forward to the future that America could master, but to the decades of the 1920s through 1940s, Reagan’s and America’s ‘salad days’. Suspenders came back in, conspicuous consumption to signify the return of Robber-Baronry, and a company began making expensive cars that were simply re-makes of the old Cords and Duesies of a bygone era.*

Petraeus, when he gets to military thinking, goes back to the Civil War, which happened – for those who have joined Us recently and gotten a thoroughly modern college education – even before Reagan was born.

The ‘Anaconda’ plan was not Grant’s. It was Scott’s – Winfield Scott, the military’s commander-in-chief who in 1861 was already too old and fat to mount a horse. But he came up with a plan to defeat the Confederacy, and quickly: strangle it by cutting off its sources of overseas supply through blockade of the Atlantic and Gulf ports and by controlling the Mississippi basin and its ancillary river systems. Then wait.

Lincoln couldn’t afford to wait that long. Public opinion required a more forceful government response. Armies would be raised and sent against the Confederacy and its forces. Grant finally emerged as the one general able to beat the rebels in the field, and by 1864 he had enlisted his friend Sherman to continue a deep invasion of the South while he himself would go back East and take the Army of the Potomac against ‘Bobby Lee’.

But the Navy, in the meantime, was increasing its ability to effectively blockade the South as Scott had wanted years before.

And it worked, eventually, after stupendous casualties in battle after battle.

Petraeus is interested "in the strangling part”. In the terrorist-wars, or whatever they are calling them this week, he wants to cut off the supplies of the terrorists. He is wise enough to realize that much of these ‘supplies’ are not of a military nature, but are rather matters of political support, economic resources, and judiciously made and effectively maintained alliances. Which is a good insight. If not particularly insightful, it is accurate – which is still head-and-shoulders above the dreck that the Beltway and its uniformed Pentagon minions have come up with so far.

What seems most significant, I think, is that this is not a plan you would expect a general to come up with. This is a comprehensive foreign-policy plan that you would expect from – ummm, oh say – an expensively-maintained, mature, competent political leadership.

But no.

And for many reasons.

Among which I would include: First, that maturity and competence have not been hallmarks of American political leadership for quite some time. Second, that accuracy and efficacy have not been required characteristics of plans or laws for quite some time. Third, that as they have increasingly insulated themselves from the interference of The People and then even from the consequences of evading The People, the Beltway elites have no motivation to undertake strenuous change, let alone self-change. Indeed, probably quite the opposite.

And fourth, an America maturely and judiciously pursuing a Plan among the governments in that part of the world will seriously diverge from the plans of a certain ‘realm’ to which the Beltway pols have for decades and for great reward indentured themselves. And will seriously annoy the bloody-minded bosses of that ‘realm’, who – from a certain early-20th-century-Chicago point of view – may rightly feel that they are being cheated out of something which has been bought and paid for.

It is a sad commentary – and here I understate – on the condition of Our political affairs, and Our governing elites, that a worthwhile plan, in a crucial matter of national interest, must be broached by a general because the pols want ‘cover’.

Nor can We neglect the possibility that even if they start moving in the direction called for by the new Plan, they will try to have their cake and eat it too by still trying to keep their de facto masters in that ‘realm’ happy. And that will be impossible to accomplish.

Petraeus is no Grant, and has proven himself simply shrewd enough to latch onto an idea that somebody else came up with long ago. But he will have to do.

But no general can be allowed to have the power to do what it will require to carry ‘Anaconda’ to whatever success it might achieve.

And it is a profoundly disturbing question whether there are any members of the political class, elected and sworn, who can muster the character to do (what should be) their job up front and upright.


*I recall thinking at the time that Yes, these souped-up hotrods are all very nice, but by now cars were supposed to be able to fly.

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In the current edition of ‘The Wilson Quarterly’ one Arthur Herman has an article entitled ‘The Pessimist Persuasion’.

Lots of people have talked about America’s decline before – as far back as the generation immediately following the Revolutionary-Founding generation, who felt – perhaps in the accents of Alexander – that there were no more worlds to conquer. I think that’s always a problem: you look at the previous generation and figure that there’s nothing left to do. (But then there were the Boomers: they looked at the previous generation and figured that there was everything left to do – and to do right now – and that, sportsfans, is how they went off the rails.)

Folks who felt that virtue was declining were, Herman thinks, the original traitorous clerks. And it was the Romans – or at least, traitorous Romans. That sounds like something they’d like to hear at neocon think-tanks and ‘The Wall Street Journal’, which are venues that have published some of Herman’s work.

But Herman points out that there is a “breathtaking” record of such traitorous maunderings, and he’s got a little list. Sallust, after the defeat of Rome by Carthage in 146 BC, claimed that Romans before that time “had been better and nobler” – and their armies more competent; “To such men no toil came amiss, no ground was too steep or rugged, no armed foe to formidable; courage taught them to overcome all obstacles”. Their goals in life were glory and honor; “at home they lived frugally and never betrayed a friend”. Then came the growing lust for cash and power.

Livy saw the entire history of Rome from its founding as “the decay of national character … until it reaches in these days in which we can bear neither our diseases nor their remedies”.

Historians following Livy saw the entire Imperial era as a depraved decline from ancient ideals.

Tacitus saw a “trickle-down” effect that started at the top, with the emperors (Nero and Caligula, certainly, could play that role); and long before the trickle reached the common folk, Rome’s best families were corrupted. (One recalls here that a full fifth of the officer corps of the SS were German titled aristocrats, and that Hitler’s ‘gift logs’, meticulously kept, showed that he showered his most competent but less-than-fanatic generals and field marshals with frequent gifts of cash and goodies).

Now it gets interesting. Herman snidely notes that while Tacitus was regretting the fall of Roman virtue, the Empire had increased to 2.2 (nice touch, the decimal place) million square miles with 120 million inhabitants, 50,000 miles of roads, and all sorts of new folk from Greece, Syria, Africa, and the lower regions of now-Central Europe infusing fresh talent and vigor into “the Roman government and Senate”.

Yes, but no.

He shrewdly slides by the fact that by the time of the great Imperial expansion the Republic had gone. And the Senate’s storied role was – at best – hugely reduced, the Senators truckling to the emperors – who themselves were an unpredictable when not deranged lot. And by the last couple of centuries, few “Romans” were actually left in place.

But Herman sees it as a trahison that “when Rome did run into problems beginning in the third century, its best and brightest reacted with resigned despair”. Of course, the moral rot had set in before that time, and it had been noted acutely, even if the policies and decisions made under the influence of that rot did not bear their poisoned fruit until the beginning of the third century AD.

Augustine, he noted, retreated into Christianity, and since Rome had lost the loyalty of its elites “at the height of material success” there was no elite skill it could call on as things started to slide.

But Augustine joined the old stodgy pagans in thinking that the gods punish moral rot. And that, thinks Herman, is simply a reprehensible fairy-tale to discourage the robustly enterprising.

I think one could as rightly say that moral rot punishes itself. And still hold that the gods or God work at one remove, through the ‘natural dynamics’ of moral rot.

Herman gives his game away: “The Roman example illustrates how a belief that the best days are behind us can take hold in the midst of success and prosperity”. Apparently, Nero and Caligula and the rest of the bad emperors – and their name was Legion – are still to be classified as parts of the “success and prosperity”.

Which indicates to me that Herman’s definition of “success and prosperity” is … well, kind of materialistic. And isn’t the lustful materialism of the past two decades, especially among the elites, what has brought Us to the present unhappy situation?

“The sense of decline from ancestral standards”. Herman sees it also in Habsburg Spain, and in the US of the early 1800s and the mid-1800s. James Russell Lowell mentioned “mediocrity”; the entire post-Civil War generation felt irreparably inadequate to the truly momentous exertions of the Civil War soldiers and citizens.

But Twain decried the moral corruption of the Gilded Age and the Robber Barons, an era that Herman and the WSJ no doubt look upon as a glorious era of success and prosperity, as the ‘Journal’ also saw the 1980s and 1990s and 2000s (or … most of them). Dreiser and Tarbell limned the effects of all that moral decline, and even Teddy Roosevelt saw that something had to be done (although, following McKinley, he also reached out to grasp and grab ‘coaling stations’ throughout the Pacific, including the Philippines).

The “idea of declension” is very real. There is moral decline and there is material decline. They do not follow the same rhythms; one could be in trough and the other at peak. But over time, eventually, they might come together. And then what?

Or, in the very best possible outcome, the moral can ascend as the material descends. But that’s only in certain individuals. For such wondrous maturing to work on a critical mass of an entire nation’s citizenry … that’s a pretty tall order. And to work on a critical mass of this nation’s elites, so called and as presently constituted, is even more improbable. Perhaps the best that can be imagined is that a Remnant will emerge. Refined in the fire, tempered, ripened.

There is, of course, nothing written in stone insisting that material success and moral maturity cannot exist simultaneously.

Although Jesus did mention that bit about the camel through the eye of the needle easier than the rich man get to heaven. But the ‘eye’ was actually one of the smaller City gates of Jerusalem, and so the meaning was not that it was ridiculously impossible, but that it would take some serious extra care to accomplish the thing.

But taking serious extra care with one’s moral maturity is not something that can be reasonably expected in postmodern America. There is a monstrous undertow pulling Us out into a trackless, bottomless sea of meaninglessness, where the only options are Rorty’s pathetic adolescent just-don’t-take-anything-seriously or Identity Politics’ permanent revolution and war, especially against Men, Reason, Virtue, Knowledge, and anything else that smacks of solidity.

We no longer live on solid ground; We are trying to hold Our lives and Our culture and Our society together while standing on quick-sand. It isn’t working and it will never work. Even if all the material wealth lost in the past two years comes back, and all of the pre-eminence in world industry and trade, and even if We were to ‘win’ all the present (and perhaps the future) Overseas Contingency Operations including Iraq and Afghanistan, it will never work.

Is it a matter of either decency or power? Either material success or integrity? Were Twain and all the rest right 130 years ago?

If We are to get through the eye of the needle, We will need to do more than pretend that ‘decline’ is only in the mind. It is real, just as the soul and character are real. Soul and character are not in essence socially constructed, nor can they simply be socially deconstructed. We have a long postponed rendezvous with that destiny. With, as Tolkien would say archaically, that ‘doom’.

But the archaic ‘doom’ was not a fore-ordained disaster. It was a destined challenge that could not be avoided without derailing one’s life and one’s very self. It had to be met. But it could be turned to a successful outcome, if one had the chops to deal with it correctly. So it’s about chops.

Yes, fewer pork chops for a while, but that might give a better shot at concentrating on the more important chops. If We have them. If We can develop them.

And the good news is, you don’t have to be ‘elite’ – not in any way known to postmodern theory. In fact, to get through the eye of this needle, that’s going to be an advantage.


*Nor does Herman deign to mention that in the middle of the 2nd century the Empire launched a major military invasion – needlessly – into Parthia, a desert land far from Rome. Although after great exertion and expense and casualties the Romans won, the returning army brought back the plague. And subsequently, the population of the civilized and urban Empire (and the army) was hugely killed off. Which in turn prompted the German tribes to rebel against the greatly reduced forces holding the Danube frontier, which resulted in the German tribes invading the Roman heartland. Subsequently, the Roman treasury was so reduced that Emperor Marcus Aurelius had to hold a sale of the furnishings of the imperial palaces. Leading a combined punitive-defensive expedition beyond the Danube against the tribes, with Romans still afflicted by the plague, the bookish and thoughtful Aurelius lost his health, and took to jotting down his ‘Meditations’. Having put down the tribes in that instance, the Romans would never be free of the unending pressure of occupied tribes and coalitions of tribes, put down with increasing violence against women and children as well as military-age males, which over wore the Empire down to a final frazzle, though not before the citizenry of the Empire had been reduced merely to being a grain and tax source for increasingly ragtag and patched-together legions, composed no longer of the citizen-legionaries of old but of any ‘barbarian’ or tribesman who could be induced into service. Desperate to keep some traditional order, the failing Aurelius appointed his under-age son, Commodus, as emperor-to-be, and that did not work out well for Rome at all. Parthia as it was then known is presently known as Iraq.

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Monday, April 27, 2009


Michael Lind answers in the negative on Salon. Yes, but also no. First of all, there’s the definition of “Christian”: does it mean the classical tenets of Christianity that reach back two millennia; that have been key in the development of the West and its civilization?

Or does it mean that code word for modern American Fundamentalism, a mostly non-urban reaction sparked in the very late 1800s by the secularization and urbanization of the country under the combined forces of industrial-corporate capitalism and Liberalism?*

The Fundamentalist ‘Christianity’ has pretty much taken over – if not hijacked – the term ‘Christian’, much to the satisfaction of socio-political liberal opponents who have had an easy time making fun of its admittedly outré assertions. And in the religio-political brew cooked up in the past 30 years or so of American political maneuvering, the Fundamentalists have also taken (their version of) Christianity into a bright but confused alliance with the nationalist and neocon Right, while the un-Godded liberals have taken their secularism into an (incomplete and somewhat illusory) alliance with the classic American political principles of Democracy and a Constitutional Republic.

But there is still a classically Christian conceptual base embedded – and also buried - in the admittedly distorted Fundamentalist version of Christianity. Just as there is a Liberal conceptual base embedded – and deeply buried – in the evolved, also distorted, ‘liberalism’ of Our contemporary scene.

The nation was Framed and Founded at an interesting Moment in the history of the West. The Enlightenment sought to raise up Reason and the ability to think for oneself over the ‘mystical’ and hierarchically mediated Truths of a Christianity that had picked up a complex Church and the various characteristics of a world-religion along the way of its journey through time since Christ’s life on earth.

But the Enlightenment generations were still, like a planet just-formed but still not so distant from its parent star, rather close to the warmth and gravitational pull of organized Christianity. The thinkers of the Enlightenment were inclined to Reason rather than ‘Faith’, but they still very much carried along the belief that there were indeed truths; that there was a reality outside of – if not also Beyond – the human mind; expressed through individuals or groups of individuals; and that the human mind was capable of accessing – with greater or lesser accuracy and completeness – those truths and that reality.

And they could count on the fact that everyone alive, everyone who would be a Citizen, would also presume all that – as if human beings came pre-programmed with that capability and those assumptions.** Which, in that era, was true. And the fact of that commonly-held set of assumptions was very much similar to the Church’s bedrock assumptions: that there was a reality Beyond the individual human being and Beyond the total grasp of human beings, but that it was accessible to the human mind and to human reasoning.

The Enlightenment more or less downplayed the further Church assumptions: that the said Beyond was presided over by a God who loved humanity and helped humanity along its pilgrim way in this Vale of Tears, this almost-Chosen world and its peoples. And also the part about Christ, the Holy Spirit, the power of prayer, and a host of other additional insights. So even as they sought to free the mind from hierarchical subjection, both to Church-mediated religion and monarchically-controlled political governance, the Enlightenment gentlefolk could and did assume a ‘commonality’ based in the afterglow of Christianity’s bedrock insistence on a Beyond which assisted, and judged, the actions of this world and its peoples.

The Enlightenment’s Liberal programme, outlined above, was seeking to create space for humans by lessening greatly the space taken up by Church and Monarchy. And in the warm brightness of that afterglow of pre-Enlightenment Christianity, even the idea that God was merely a Watchmaker who created the mechanism of the world, and then left it to the laws He built into it, was not so terrifying.

Which was good because humans, since the beginning of recorded history and probably long before, had demonstrated a robust and stubborn need for belief in a Beyond – whether hostile, or unpredictable, or loving, whether distant or intimately caring and involved, whether a single Being or a whole gaggle of divine beings. In fact, without it … well, no civilization had or has ever developed without some concept of a Beyond in its core matrix.

While some few speculative Enlightenment thinkers might allow themselves to pursue the imaginary scenario of human beings completely alone in Existence, with no Beyond whatsoever – and see the benefits possible in such a scenario – the practical Enlightened Framers realized that human beings – somewhat unreliably committed to their best selves and to the higher end of their range (as the social workers might burble), and prone to want to get their way regardless of the rights of other individuals or groups – were well-Shaped (and contained) by the beliefs still glowing from Christianity’s hegemony.

With the trellis of those beliefs removed, the plants would grow wild, the garden would become a jungle, the tilled field would go to seed; without the perimeter fencing and the care of the Farmer, the herds would run wild and revert to a more primitive existence. And you couldn’t build a participatory democracy on beings thus regressed or reverted.

But in the course of time, things changed. The seductions of a stupendously successful material science, whose insights were embodied in inventiveness and amplified by the organization of industry on a scale never before seen, outshone any sense of that Beyond. Some thinkers took such success as an indication that there might not be a Beyond worth thinking about at all, let alone allowing one’s possibilities to be contained or Shaped, hindered or obstructed, by It.

The Russian Revolution’s (manipulatively illusory) ‘successes’, stupendous in what they were purported to have achieved, further assaulted any abiding certainty that the Beyond was necessary to make any lasting sense of this world; the Soviets, it seemed, had by themselves made heaven on this earth, in this world.

The Second World War’s stupendous evils and bloodshed further assaulted the foundations of any belief in a Beyond that was both powerful enough to sustain this world and benevolent enough to care. Dozens and perhaps hundreds of millions were killed. The shock to humanity’s sensibility was profound and is with humanity still.

Existentialism arose: the belief – though called a philosophy – that human beings are on their own, perhaps even that each individual human being is on his/her own in this world, and that the genuine and authentic individual was the one who could face that stunning abyss and still keep on through sheer power of will and self-assertion.

Post-modernism built on that. Its core assumptions: there was no Beyond, there was no ‘reality’ anywhere, and individuals must base their own lives and their common life merely on whatever they could agree would be a workable set of guidelines, and nothing more. Essentially, it Flattened human ‘existence’ and Boxed it into the Present; there was no Beyond, there was no Past, no Future – just a self all on its own and locked into a perpetual Present that could end or change at any moment and that was connected to nothing else. Locked in with a bunch of other similarly bereft selfs.

As these ideas, first developed in Europe, migrated to America, they blended with America’s only home-grown philosophy, Pragmatism. The Pragmatists, an airy bunch of blue-blood men of letters and Ivy professors, figured to make a virtue of American culture’s necessities: if it works, it’s ‘true’ and if it doesn’t work, then it isn’t true (or ‘real’). Ideas ‘work’ if they succeed in attracting enough people who will accept them – think of believers as ‘customers’; otherwise, the ideas are discredited and discarded.

The idea that this world might be Shaped by Ideas grounded in some Beyond that not even ‘science’ could deal with, and that this world needed to accept this immaterial but ‘natural’ reality about itself or else run the risk of destroying itself, like a locomotive that tried to run without tracks or a sailing ship that tried to sail against the wind … that idea didn’t find many ‘takers’ so was judged to be useless and not-true.

Imagine a 747 pilot asking his passengers to take a vote on whether the jet would fly in reverse, and if enough voted and agreed that it could, then putting the engines into reverse at 35,000 feet – that sort of thing.

In the Sixties, when ‘revolution’ seemed to have reached a fullness as the guiding liberation of the age, post-modernism wound up in sync with the Boomers’ callow but groovy assumption that nobody over 30 knew what they were talking about or what they were doing, and that youth and ‘luv’ were perfectly capable of bringing about heaven on earth.

The more ‘realistic’ revolutionary students dismissed that as childish; clearly Chairman Mao and Lenin were the only models for how to improve the world, and their ‘successes’ clearly outshone the American Establishment’s failures in Vietnam.

And in the Seventies, the remarkably shrewd Ideological Feminists, borrowing from Lenin the idea of a revolutionary elite that must organize in order to impose the ‘good ideas’ of the revolution upon the lumpish masses who ‘just didn’t get it’; and from Mao the idea of a Long March that was going to take time and would not yield success overnight or easily; and from Hitler the idea that in an already-evolved democratic society the best revolution is a ‘legal one where you take over the legislatures and courts and the schools that educate the young; and from Goebbels the idea that propaganda is essential to ensure that in a literate and evolved society folks are lulled into always thinking you’re doing ‘the right thing’ and in a ‘good cause’’ and that people who disagree with you are pre-emptively discredited or shouted down before anyone can listen to them …. the Ideological Feminists distilled all the ‘wisdom’ of the early and mid 20th century into a super-blueprint and stuck to it.

Post-modernism played a huge role. It served as a powerful acid that when shpritzed or poured on the foundations of a society, reduced them to almost a powder or a mush, dissolving the ‘grounds’ of any possible objections to their agenda and their demands. That post-modernism would also reduce individuals to a helpless state in the face of the perennial abyss of meaninglessness that has always haunted our species was not seen as a negative; it would force people to turn to their Identity-group (and its elites) for support, companionship, status, and for meaning itself. What was not to like?

And the Democrats, desperate to find new voters to replace the white Southrons and the Northern industrial workers, would believe as many impossible things as necessary before breakfast in order to woo new voters: race, gender, youth, the so-called Jewish vote … anything to ward off their extinction as a viable political Party.

But when all the electrons are knocked loose and simply buzzing around in high agitation or slowing almost to a stop in baffled confusion, it’s hard to hold any structure and shape together. Post-modernism turned out to be not just a great dissolver of otherwise solid obstructions, but – who knew?! – turned out to be a Universal Solvent: it would corrode and consume and reduce to dust anything whatsoever that it touched. Like the gas cloud on the Western Front in World War I, post-modernism could kill those who launched it as easily as those who were supposed to be its targets – it all depended on which way the breeze was blowing, or whether the breeze suddenly shifted.

You can’t keep a Constitutional Republic if a critical mass of the Citizens are reduced to agitated electrons or stampeding cattle or wild weeds. A society and a culture cannot keep its shape if its very building blocks start to break away and the energies that bond its components together start to dissipate. The Founders saw that.

And they did what they could to create a machinery of government that would provide as many opportunities as possible for preventing such a stampede to dissolution, based on common-beliefs that – they were certain – were fundamental and essential characteristics of human beings and that could always be counted upon, in any era, to operate.

They did not count upon the weakening of Christianity’s structural ability to ground and anchor and connect individuals; nor on the sustained assault on any sort of Shape or structure or Beyond whatsoever; nor on the ‘free press’s infatuation with ‘advocating’ such ‘progress’ by amplifying it and suppressing the voice of objection; nor on the government - in all the Branches – actually aiding and abetting such assault, and for decades. Especially not that.

Certainly the Framers expected that the government would not always consist of impressive legislators or Chief Executives. They knew from their study of history that governments always sought to expand themselves at the expense of their own citizens. They even knew that – people being people – there was also a great danger from the citizenry: masses of people do not always act maturely, especially when the fit is on them. They knew all that. They built-in all the clanky speed-bumps to prevent such a ‘perfect storm’ from happening.

They might never have imagined that, under the influence of revolutionary thought and the manipulations of industrial-level propaganda and of political exigencies so urgent that a major Party’s very political survival was at stake … that all that would happen at once and with such power that all the components would be deranged simultaneously.

But that’s what has happened.

Liberalism sought to reduce the power of hierarchy and authority – represented in its founding era by Church and Monarchy – in order to expand the authority and possibility of the ‘common’ (not born into the aristocracy) people. In its struggle against the ‘divinely-instituted’ Church and the ‘divine-right’ Monarchy, there was always latent in Liberalism a ‘secularism’ – a reduction of the influence of Church in society and politics.

But that did not automatically mean a rejection of the perennial human sensibility concerning the Beyond. ‘Liberals’ were secularists, but they were not ‘atheists’, let alone post-moderns who refuse to even accept that there is any possible dimension in which it might be legitimate to have to choose to believe or disbelieve; the whole scenario is, to the post-modernist, beyond impossible.

To the post-modernists, the question of believing or not-believing in God is as ridiculous as being asked whether one believes or not in the Ele-whale, a combination elephant and whale that walks and swims: it’s so senseless and impossible a fantasy that you insult any intelligent person by asking them about it at all, let alone asking them whether they believe or dis-believe it.

With postmodernism, the game has proceeded to an ominous new level or intensity. Is America a Christian nation? Wrong question; yesterday’s question. We are not threatened most lethally by those who ‘don’t believe’ in Christianity. We are most lethally threatened by those who don’t think there is any Beyond at all, and that humans and even We The People, are just bunches of isolated biogenetic stuff with a weak will of some sort, staggering around all alone in a wide and dangerous world and best herded by those stronger-willed elites who ‘get it’.

And the two noxious forest fires, once considered not only separate but opposed and incompatible, are now burning toward each other to combine into a monster fire: the government that wants to run the lives and futures of the hapless bipeds who pay taxes, and the ‘elites’ who want to run the lives of those who ‘just don’t get it’ so that they can reshape the lives of the hapless bipeds into a heaven on earth, but a Politically Correct one. A fire like that could burn everything away: Constitution, Republic, and democracy.

Somehow, though, I’m thinking that Christianity will remain; the 20th century Rome may go the way of the 5th century Rome, but human beings can get along without a Rome; they can’t survive without a Beyond.


*The word ‘Liberalism’ itself also has to be defined, since it can mean anything from the Enlightenment-influenced approach to politics (against monarchy) to the ‘liberalism’ (small-L, and for a reason) that has evolved in the past 40 years in America and spread – on American wings – throughout the West. Before you start toying with equations you have to make sure of the uniformity and integrity of the variables you’ll use in the equations, or else – on the blackboard – you’ll wind up with weirdness and – in the lab – things will start to blow up in your face.

**It’s another question whether human beings also come hard-wired with the Sense of the Beyond. Social constructionism will say that a culture can so early on inculcate certain assumptions into its children that they grow up not even realizing that their ‘assumptions’ are there, and might mistake them for a free-standing ‘reality’. But ‘hard-wired’ means that human beings are born with the circuits for the Sense of the Beyond. And that raises the interesting possibility that some ‘Beyond’ built those circuits into the human at Creation.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009


I’m very careful with the word “outrage” – it’s reely reely been overworked this past forty years.

It’s not healthy for folks to be trying to go through their day in a permanent state of outrage. You can get distracted. Distracted from everything else going on around you, focusing instead on the one thing about which you are outraged. Focusing to the point of obsession. *

And that has unhealthy effects on societal life.

It also has unhealthy effects on the self. You can – as they used to say in the Pacific War – “get pulled down to the deck”. Aircraft carriers not only launched attack aircraft in waves; when operating near the enemy, they also kept a passel of defensive aircraft circling high above them – called the combat air patrol (CAP). The task of the CAP was to intercept enemy aircraft high above and relatively far away, bringing them down or driving them off before they got with damaging-range of the carrier itself. But if enemy aircraft got in close enough, and went low to drop torpedoes or dived with bombs, then the CAP would have to leave its high altitude and follow them “down to the deck”, close to the surface of the sea and to the ship itself.

In a self, one is always – ideally speaking – trying to operate, as the social workers are fond of putting it, ‘at the higher end of one’s range’. That means, at the higher range of one’s possibilities, operating beyond and above one’s more primal and less-evolved emotions and instinct-controlled attitudes.

This has become a lost art in the past forty years. The Hippies and ‘love children’ felt that the whole idea was off: ‘natural’ was good, anything that smacked of deliberation or planning was ‘inauthentic’, ‘repressed’, and ‘conformist’. The country had hardly recovered from that hash when the Ideological Feminists (not to be confused with the ‘equality feminists’ who were simply looking to negotiate a fairer shake for women) declared war; the IFs were former antiwar activists of the 1960s who ‘changed wars’, from a no-hold-barred, anything-is-justified ‘war against the (Vietnam) war to a no-holds-barred, anything-goes, do-whatever-it-takes war on ‘men’. And ‘men’, famously, were ‘vertical’ thinkers, oppressing creation (as it were) with their rationality, heterosexuality, societal institutions, Constitution, and all the other paraphernalia of the Evil Patriarchy. Oy.

So where the Hippies and flower-kids simply set up their own counterculture (defining ‘culture’ rather broadly), the IFs set themselves the tasks of a Long March through the institutions and a Long War against ‘patriarchy’, which would include ‘men’, rationality, deliberation, and – was nobody paying attention? – the Constitution. In effect, the whole of American culture – and its Constitutional ethos – would have to go. The Framers, most certainly, ‘just didn’t get it’, so all their pomps and works must be swept away as quickly as might be managed. Of course, as We saw in Russia in 1917, in this Vale of Tears called human history, one set of pomps and works is swept away only to be replaced by another, and often worse, set. Selah.

So I’m kind of careful around “outrage”, and around its less-vividly garbed cat’s paw, called “offensensibility” (in Opus the Penguin’s superb characterization). I treat the stuff like the nitroglycerine, the Universal Solvent, that it most essentially is.

But now comes Harvey Silverglate, outspoken and acute attorney for whom I have developed a high respect, after reading what he has been writeing for quite a few years. He writes a couple of days ago about ‘stepping back’ from “torture outrage”.

My first reaction is to disagree. I’d like to see the erosion of the Constitution kept in front of every Citizen’s mind for the forseeable future, or at least until We can effect repairs to the corrosion and corruption of the past forty years – whichever comes first.

But I put my reaction on hold to see what Silverglate wants to say here.

He points out that compared to the Nazi and Soviet era tortures (and worse), what was effected in Our time (and on Our watch, as so many erstwhile militant patriots are fond of saying) was baaad, but doesn’t rise to the premeditated and purely gratuitous infliction of permanent maiming.

And in light of the ‘emergency’ (of 9-11, of Sadaam, of ‘global terrorism’) decent and well-intentioned operatives of this and that government agency might indeed take their orders, and the legal memos issued to support them, as legitimate instruction, to be obeyed in accordance with their oaths and commissions.

While acknowledging the rightness of the Nuremberg Principle – that in certain actions the defense of ‘only following orders’ is inadmissible, because the action was considered so naturally repugnant to human decency – Silverglate observes, with the weight of his professional training, experience, and deliberation, that nothing done since 9-11 rises to the level of the Nazi crimes against prisoners , civilians, and all the vast multitude, dead at their hands, whose blood cries out from the earth. And further, that he doubts any jury in any American jurisdiction would convict them. **

“Unless we are prepared to allow the war on terror to inflict further damage on our legal system, we need to step back and ask if perhaps better sense, and cooler heads, should prevail in the face of righteous outrage at our government’s conduct.”

I'm not sure that the greater damage to the legal system isn't the damage to its ethos when sworn and armed agents of that system can presume that the Leader can 'authorize' them to break not only the law, but some of the most fundamental laws, in the land.

Yet, look what laws, what principles of law, have been lustily fractured by Democrats eager to please 'bases' and 'constituencies' and 'demographics' and by Republicans eager to wrap themselves in the flag.

I’ve always been concerned about that “damage” to Our legal system (and to Our Constitutional ethos itself). Although I’d go back forty years, rather than eight.

But of course, to keep a “cooler head” and to “step back and ask” whether “better sense” should prevail, in the face of “outrage” … that has in the past forty years come to be equated, in ‘elite’ discourse, certainly, with lack-of-sensitivity and as indicative of a mind that not only ‘just doesn’t get it’ but is also a mind darkly in collusion with ‘oppression’.

A citizenry comprised largely of ‘victims’ is a sheepfold requiring a shepherd, a Protector or a ‘saving elite’, and is incapable of usefully exercising the liberty of competent rational and deliberative agency. And thereby any ‘rule of law’ is ‘quaint’ and not-required, since the poor sheep couldn’t distinguish ‘law’ from not-law anyway, and in the ‘emergency’ of their victimization and oppression their ‘pain’ must be heard, not-questioned, and immediately assuaged – by any means necessary.

Which is a recipe for … a government OTC (other-than-Constitutional). Oy gevalt.

Silverglate, much to his credit, raises the point raised by Robert Bolt’s mid-Sixties play and film, “A Man for All Seasons”, about Sir Thomas More’s refusal to truckle to Henry VIII’s demand that he agree to Henry’s divorce of Catherine of Aragon. There is a law higher than the King’s, says the Catholic Moore – and he doesn’t mean simply the Pope’s ‘law’, but rather God’s law. More, for all his lawyerly shrewds, could not bridge that awefull abyss between King and conscience, between King and – if I may – God.

No government – repeat no government – wants its citizens acknowledging an authority higher than or other than its own. The Founders saw that, but presumed that in this shining New World, the chance existed that a Citizenry would be raised up, The People, whose personal commitment to such a Higher Law, and the government’s members’ personal adherence to that same Law, would prevent any such an abyss from opening up between the Beyond and the polity that would be the United States of America.

In the script, More’s younger friend and protégé, William Roper, urges More to arrest one Richard Rich, known to be plotting against More in order to secure the King’s favor. “For what?” asks More. “That man is evil” replies Roper (and no gender feminist could put it better, except to omit the limiting adjective). Roper asserts that if the laws of England were a forest, and the devil were hiding behind a tree, then Roper would cut all the trees down to get at the devil.

“And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you – where would you hide, Roger, the laws all being flat?”

Point, set, and match.

God – being all-knowing and (famously) having created the whole thing – can do without human laws when it comes to His own operations. But humans, not being divine, must allow themselves to be contained always by Law; otherwise anybody who felt that they had a shot could simply exercise force – their own, their followers’, or the government’s if they can manage to control it – to get what they want: power, money, status, the Millennium (their version of it, anyway), or all four.

And, with the exception of the actual Devil – who with diabolical cynicism almost never reveals his presence in any way admissible in a court of law – humans aren’t really authorized or equipped to go around declaring other humans to be the very Devil. Not even Fundamentalists or Ideological Feminists are so equipped or authorized, except in their own mind.

Silverglate quotes More in Bolt’s rendering: : “I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!”. A sentiment grounded in the long struggle to establish the Rule of Law among humans, and very very Western. Indeed, one of the very foundations of Western culture and civilization at its best.

As opposed to the Divine Rights of monarchs (the grandparent of the Unitary Executive) and the right of revolutions to abolish their ‘enemies’ (as in the Terror that followed the so-well-intentioned French Revolution).

Legislation by “outrage”, a government whose only jobs are to pander to the “outraged” and to prevent “outrage” … these have now taken Us far enough down a darkling path that even a child can see how uncontrollable the government and the laws have become.

Indentured to the “outraged”, the government may well not be able to muster the strength on its own to pull back from the abyss and turn off the path.

We had best focus all Our energies and attention on helping out.

If there is ever a healthy obsession, this would be it.


*And if, on top of that, your outrage has been – knowingly or not – misplaced … well, why go there just now? But give it some thought when you’re feeling up to it.

**I’d further qualify it: any civilian jury. Military juries, serving a ‘justice’ system which by its own admission ‘serves the command’, will at least 95 times out of 100 find what they are supposed to find. Unless they have a professional and career death-wish.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009


Associated Press’s Mark Lavie reports from Jerusalem that Israel’s Prime Minister has stated that the “supreme duty of the State of Israel “ and “the supreme duty of the Prime Minister” is to prevent another Holocaust.

Who could deny the wisdom of avoiding another Holocaust? Or of preventing another one?

It rang a bell in my mind, though, one of those obnoxious clang-clangs that are used on ships to alert everyone to a particularly dangerous situation.

It came to me that this was exactly what the former President Bush started saying when justifying his (failing) wars in the Middle East. Even at the time certain sober minds observed that what the Leader had actually sworn to do, and was bound by oath to do, was to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and see that the laws be faithfully executed. ‘Protecting’ the citizens was not included in the Oath (nor, as far as anybody knows, did he file a ‘swearing statement’ modifying the Oath after he took it).

There was a whiff of some sort of cheap carnival shell-game, that what the Leader said he was supposed to do was not what he had freely taken the Oath to do. In fact, as We are continually discovering, he most certainly did not do what his Oath required him to do. Instead, neatly, he did what he wanted to do, under the guise of accomplishing an objective that was not only not in the Oath, but actually betrayed the terms of the Oath. (The Founders referred to such a gambit rather candidly as “treachery” and considered it a prime ground for impeachment.)

The Constitution and the Framers did not erect an office of “Protector” or “Chief Protector”; they knew very well what England had gone through the century before with the “Lord Protector”, Cromwell.

No, they were willing to risk a certain amount of ‘harm’ and ‘pain’ in the rough-and-tumble of history – that, after all, was why this life was called a Vale of Tears.

What they were not willing to risk was that one person, and the government that served him (or her), would presume to control the lives and minds of The People, under the guise of ‘protecting’ them. The People were not a sheep-herd that needed to be protected by shepherds and dogs.

The People was a society of free, independent, serious individuals in whose service and upon whose authority the government was erected, elected, and – frankly – hired to handle the administrative chores.

The People would be led by their own common wisdom, achieved through careful and attentive deliberation, and communicated to their responsive elected representatives. The People would rise or fall on the basis of the efficacy of that common wisdom, but that was the nature of democracy. There was never a guarantee – express or implied – that the Framers and their Constitution would generally or largely prevent ‘pain’ and ‘harm’; the Framers were very happy, thank you very much, just to be able to prevent the lethal and fundamental political ‘pain’ and ‘harm’ of tyranny.

You couldn’t ask much more of a guarantee in life, and History was famous for taking bad bounces.

I wondered: did the Israelis get this idea from Bush’s baaaad example? Or did Bush actually get it via Beltway pillow talk from the Israelis?

After all, America was founded in comparative safety, almost an invulnerability for all practical purposes. Nor were Americans paranoid. They were acutely aware of the imponderables of History, and they were even more acutely aware of that perennial human tendency – especially when near power – to lust for more of it, and to ‘do whatever it takes’ to get more of it as well as to keep what you’ve already gotten your mitts on. They took steps in the constructing of the Constitutional machinery to make sure that that very realistic danger was provided for. But they weren’t paranoid and there were no enemies hovering just across the way with the power to deliver a lethal blow forthwith.

The State of Israel in an altogether different story. It was founded by folks who believed, long before there ever was a Holocaust, that they had a right to a piece of real estate from which they had been ejected after a failed revolt against Rome, two thousand or so years before. Such are the ups and downs of human history. The Mormons, ejected somewhat rudely from Illinois, simply packed up and set up shop in Utah, and in doing so displayed a remarkably Western practicality and flexibility.

That is not how non-Western folks do things, however. Feuds and claims to actual slabs of real-estate can go on for decades, centuries, millennia. ‘Compromising’ is a sign of weakness, not an indication of a societal and sociable maturity.

That was those Israel-founders even before the Holocaust.

The Holocaust, of course, emitted a fog of outrage, shock, repugnance that nicely blanketed the fundamentally rigid and not particularly Western obsession with the millennia-old religious and tribal feud. Western peoples who would not care for a moment to descend into taking sides in such a feud were much more easily persuaded to be sensitive to the admittedly profound outrage perpetrated upon European Jewry by the admittedly odious and repugnant Third Reich.
And under cover of that blanket, the ancient feud smuggled itself in.

Or, rather, invaded. Following a programme of assassination and bombings that were intended to destabilize the British forces assigned to the Protectorate of Palestine, including the bombing of a hotel housing them, a larger force of armed invaders landed in Palestine from the sea, and forthwith ejected the natives – their villages destroyed, and not a few women and children killed.
You would not need a crystal ball to predict what would happen if the British left or if the invaders stayed. The British did leave, as quickly as they decently could. The invaders set up the State of Israel, and the Americans – with an eye to domestic politics and facing a difficult election – recognized the State forthwith. They did not repeat the British mistake of actually having their own troops on the ground; but various indulgences were issued: looking the other way as arms and materiel were brought in, and then providing foreign aid in various forms.

The Israeli government, born in blood and gunfire - most of the gunfire its own and most of the blood somebody else's - and swathed in the bloody shirt of the Holocaust, was destined to be a permanent war-government from the moment of its inception. And the distinction between its government’s ‘civilian’ and ‘peaceful’ pursuits and objectives and its government’s military responsibility to maintain sufficient capability to repel all violence with violence … that distinction was blurred from the outset.

Once the American election of 1948 was satisfactorily resolved, Israel was left somewhat on its own. In 1962 another American President took a very dim view when it was discovered that the Israelis were quietly but vigorously pursuing a nuclear capability; the introduction of such an element – officially acknowledged or not – into the Middle East equation, in a world already bethump’t by the thermonuclear stand-off between the USA and the USSR, did not seem to him a very wise idea.

But then suddenly he died – violently.

His successor had other concerns and somehow it came to him that having the State of Israel as a reliable square on the Great Chess Board, situated in a Middle East that was seeing a bit too much Soviet attention, appeared a very good idea indeed. And, being from the great oil-producing state of Texas, that President may also have realized that in the not too distant future (it would be 1969) America’s domestic oil production would be insufficient for its needs, and all the oil sitting underneath the Middle East would become a very significant national interest indeed.

Anyhoo, the American government wound up welding itself to the State of Israel, not out of any particular emergent concern that the Third Reich would rise again to have another go at world Jewry, but rather for its own national interests and its domestic political concerns.

The Israeli government, as evidenced by its acquisition of atomic-nuclear capability, was not going to permit anything – not international law, not treaties, not international opinion, not any concept of international justice or morality, not any ‘larger picture’ – to interfere with its acquisition and retention of the whole parcel of land deeded in the Bible. In the service of that abiding goal, and the defense now virtually guaranteed to be necessary unto the Latter Day, the Israeli government – as it eventually found it useful to admit – would ‘do whatever it takes’.

Just how profound and unboundaried that ‘whatever’ really is has constituted one of the more painful learning curves of the modern world.

And in some dark and lethal synergy the ‘weld’ between the US government and the government of Israel has now resulted in the American Presidency becoming infected with the Israeli concept that a government exists – and exists only – to ‘protect’ its people. And that in the service of that ‘protection’, any government worth its salt must be prepared to ‘do whatever it takes’, against external enemies or even against internal dissenters whose thoughts would complicate and reduce the efficiency of the ‘whatever it takes’ stance.

This is a not a Western philosophy of government; the West grew out of, in great part through the experience of Cromwell, and certainly after early-20th century experience of ‘Leaders’ like Mussolini and Hitler.

But this approach to government is not only simply not-Western. It is hell-and-gone from, and utterly antithetical to, the American Constitutional vision of the role of government.

‘Emergencies’ and ‘victims who need permanent protection’ … these are the tools of a terrible regression in the American political ethos. You cannot maintain a Constitutional Republic on the assumption that most of the citizenry are ‘victims’ that need nothing so much as to be ‘protected’.

It was precisely the effort to ground the legitimacy of its permanent-war stance in the victimization of the Nazi Holocaust that has led Israel to its profoundly compromised project. And it was precisely the embrace of ‘victimization’ and the ‘need to protect’ – eerily, in the same forty-year span that saw the LBJ-initiated ‘weld’ to Israel – that has led the Beltway to profoundly compromise the Republic, by casting The People as helpless sheep, and so removing the most fundamental check on unbridled government power, a check built into the Constitutional vision from the moment of the Founding.

Some serious re-thinking is in order. And very soon.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009


A few Posts back, in “Law Naturally” I had touched upon the philosopher Richard Rorty’s “liberal ironism”, the ‘stance’ of anybody who really ‘gets it’: there really isn’t anything out there in existence that has such a strong reality of its own that it can be called There. All we humans have got is what we agree that we’ve got (although he sort of leans toward what all the folks who ‘get it’ agree that they’ve got , and that the rest of us should get).

This approach of his relies on a concept called “social constructionism”, which some other thinkers then erected into a theory called “social constructivism”.

“Social constructionism” is the fruit of an observation made about humans: that to some extent and in some ways we all wind up – consciously or without much thought – agreeing on certain things, which we then lump into the general working mental file called ‘reality’ that each of us keeps, and since we all have the same ‘agreed-upon’ stuff in the file about this or that particular thing, then that becomes ‘real’ for us as a group.

So, for example, “gold”: the stuff on its own is worthless; but because we all ‘agree’ or have been taught to ‘agree’ that it is valuable, then it has become a material of great value to us; ‘gold as valuable’ is a ‘reality’ for us, and constitutes part of our daily working ‘reality’. It’s possible, if we all put our minds to it, that one day gold would cease to be valuable, and some other material (iron, say) would be considered the benchmark of value.

(This can get kind of complicated: if the world’s governments one day decide that the US dollar isn’t a sufficiently stable currency, then they could all agree to go and find some other currency to ‘agree on’ and make that currency the world’s reserve currency. Thus ‘reality’ could change in a lot of ways very quickly. But there’s a lot more involved, and here I’m just using this as a vivid example of social constructionism, not making economic predictions.)

This social-constructionist thought works a lot better in the realm of social sciences and literature and such non-material fields; rocks, after all, are not ‘solid’ just because people ‘agree’ that they’re solid; water doesn’t freeze at 32 degrees F just because people ‘agree’ that it should; nitroglycerine won’t not-explode just because folks nearby ‘agree’ that it would be a bad thing if it did. But it works in matters of ‘opinion’, ‘conventional wisdom’, and the myriad things about which we do usually ‘agree’ just in order to keep what we experience as ‘the world’ and ‘life’ predictable enough so that we can get things done and get through the days.

It has to be used carefully, though, because you can never be sure when the ‘layers’ are going to shade over into something with more ‘essence’. ‘Reality’ is like a house: some walls are ‘decorative’ or non-essential – they can be moved or punched through if you need to or want to. Other walls, though, are ‘carrying walls’, and if you mess with those then the structural stability of the house is weakened - which you don’t ever want to do. Not, anyway, without a lot of serious planning and supervision.

It doesn’t work so well, then, in the physical sciences because the physical sciences deal with ‘things’ that have a certain ‘reality’ that is independent of what humans ‘agree’ about.
You can get some interesting cross-over in the theoretical sciences : quantum physics and cosmological theories – dealing with the very smallest quanta of matter and the very largest – wind up using a lot of commonly-agreed-upon concepts (among the relevant scientists, anyway) that aren’t actually proven to exist, at least at this point in time. Various named subatomic particles aren’t actually there to display in the museum; and String Theory’s ‘strings’ aren’t actually known to exist; but they are concepts that seems to ‘work’ as a provisional working hypothesis for understanding some things as best we can at the moment.

Social constructivism, however, has taken that fairly astute and useful set of observations and drawn some huge conclusions. This ‘constructivism’ is at the heart of the ‘postmodern’ take on life and the world and on reality. This ‘constructivism’ says that there is nothing, whatsoever, at all, that is ‘real’ in and of itself, and everything is all just something we all agree on, whether we know it or not. Sort of like Scrooge calling Marley’s ghost “an undigested bit of beef” (which is a diss I’d never make to a ghost when I’m standing there in my pj’s). What people take for ‘reality’ is simply what – whether they know it or not – they have ‘agreed to’ call reality. And, the postmodern theory goes, if that’s all ‘reality’ is, then it ain’t but a thang to change it. Folks just have to change their minds, or be made to (for their own good, of course), and ‘reality’ or ‘history’ or ‘life’ or ‘people’ will change. Poof – presto, as the carnival magicians used to say.

This may all sound kind of ‘cutting edge’ and high-falutin’, but there’s an old Eastern Indian story that dealt with this sort of thing quite some time ago, The Ten Blind Persons and the Elephant. Once upon a time, ten blind persons came upon a large elephant in the jungle. One of them touched its tusk and reported that the elephant was hard and smooth and pointed at the tip; another touched its trunk and said that the elephant was long and sinuous; another touched the ear and said that the elephant was like a huge leathery butterfly; another touched its stomach and said that it was like a leathery house; another the leg and said that it was like a tree; and another the tail and said that the elephant was thin and twisty like a snake. (Yes, they rather seem to have missed some parts along the way from stem to stern, but perhaps the Indians left that out of the story out of a respect for delicate Western sensibilities.)

Now they could never all agree on what the elephant was; at least not on their own – it would take someone with sight to explain to them that they were all ‘correct’ in their observations, and then – if they were an agreeable bunch – the ten of them could settle on a ‘reality’ about the elephant.

But in no way, ever, would they have concluded that there was no elephant at all, just a bunch of their ‘observations’. Nor would they ever have simply gotten into a team huddle a few yards away and agreed to agree that the elephant did not exist at all. One of the good things about being a peasant is that you sort of have a gut sense of what is ridiculous, and dangerously ridiculous, and you learn very early on to avoid such crap – or else you don’t survive to pass your ignorance on to a new generation. Even if you can’t figure them out, some things exist – and don’t take kindly to being dissed.

Alas, university professors (and Beltway pols) don’t have to worry much about the consequences of ridiculousness. Unlike peasants, they are very nicely insulated, thank you very much, and if there are consequences stemming from anything ridiculous that they might say or pass a law about … well, consequences, famously, flow downhill (which is maybe why the Capitol was built on the top of a hill).

So ‘social constructivism’ is a more or less ridiculous conclusion made from a relatively astute set of observations.

Once you get away from the physical sciences, as I said, things can get a little iffy: what we generally take to be ‘real’ about non-material stuff can in some ways be available for change if we all agree: we may all agree that ‘gold’ should be replaced by some other metal as the benchmark of value; we may all agree that 18 year-olds can drink alcoholic beverages (although it gets even more dicey if we ask if they should drink alcoholic beverages); we may all agree to drive on the left-hand side of the road like the Brits.

But there are certain things that the sane among us would never ‘agree’ to: you can’t fly a jet aircraft in reverse; you can’t fly a 747 like it was a fighter jet, or load a hundred tons of passengers and cargo on an F-16; you can’t stay dry if you jump into a lake. Some areas of ‘reality’ seem to include ‘essences’ that are independent of human preference and will and opinion.

This makes for a complex – as they say in the military – Operational Space. You really have to know what part of the OpSpace you’re operating in, so as to know just where your ‘will’ might have some input, and just where it won’t. Like submarine captains who realize that there are layers of water to the undersea ocean and different layers of water behave differently and can cause your instruments to behave a bit oddly (so you have to compensate for that or avoid the area).

But all this complexity is bad for a revolution: when you’re in the business of whipping up usefully large groups of people so that they will reliably agree with you or at least do your will, you don’t want complexity screwing up the process. And when you’re dealing with pols, you’re also usually better off not getting too complex.

Social constructivism has never caught on in areas where folks have to deal with hard, independent realities – chem labs, practical physics, engineering, and that sort of thing. But it caught on big about 35 years ago in literature and philosophy departments, where the subject matter is much less ‘material’.

“Facts” can be played with like play-doh in those precincts of the university; Marley’s ghost can be laughed at in the bright, cheerible, perky noonday light of a social science or literature or philosophy classroom in a way that it can’t be laughed at in the chill midnight light of a physics or geology lab. Which might seem strange in a way, since many of the folks who made the literature, the philosophy, or the history all those centuries ago were very independent, and insightful. But since they’re not here now, they can – by a certain type of temperament – be ignored just as if they were only that undigested bit of beef.

So where the constuctionist will always be alert to the possibility that some matters, many probably, that folks would call ‘reality’ are actually to some greater or lesser degree a result of that ‘agreement’ we discussed above, the constructivist will say that there are no ‘facts’, nothing that has a ‘reality’ independent of what people agree to give it. And that therefore people can – and will – ‘get it’ and change the terms of their agreement.

You’d imagine that such an obnoxious and – face it – more than a little ridiculous ‘school’ of thought wouldn’t last long in a country of educated folk, and in universities where a lot of people have spent a lot of their lives trying to think and experiment and get a solid grasp on life. And ordinarily that would be a reasonable assumption.

But as has been said many times on this site, forty years ago the Democrats were desperate for reliable political voting-blocs, and they were pretty much willing to swallow anything so long as they could be sure of votes. They adopted the ‘postmodernists’ because the Ideological Feminists made up the most clever and determined representatives of what looked to be 51% of the nation’s voters – which is a huge cushion of safety to a pol; it’s like a lion being assured of a permanent, static herd of gazelles right there near the waterhole, always available for dinner without too much exertion and the running and the chasing and the claws and all that. What’s not to like?

So postmodernism and social constructivism got the quiet but full support of the Beltway and all its powers.

Now there are a lot of social issues that can be affected by people changing their minds: Southerners no longer think that ‘reality’ includes, or requires, that black folks drink from different water fountains or ride in the back of buses or in separate railway cars on trains. And that was a good change in the terms of ‘agreement’.

But then you get to matters that are not so much social as they are Matters Beyond. So, for example, if we keep the ten Indian persons and the elephant in mind: if everybody has a different idea of ‘virtue’, can it really be decisively concluded that there is no such thing as ‘virtue’? If, for that matter, there are many different ideas of God, does that decisively demonstrate that there is no God? Perhaps we are at this stage still too ‘blind’ to have put the whole thing together into a working ‘picture’ upon which everyone can agree. But, it seems to me, it’s not a good idea to do to God what would be a baaad idea to do to the elephant or to Marley’s ghost.

As you can see, you can quickly reach a point where you’ve passed beyond the useful tinkering with group perceptions and ‘agreements’, and started to pull the rug out from under the entire human enterprise. Because no human civilization has ever gotten along without some picture of, some openness to, the Beyond. And while you want to have a certain respect for persons called Professors at universities, you don’t necessarily want to take a literature or philosophy professor’s advice on whether there is a Beyond. If they told you there was no elephant, would you walk up and kick it … somewhere?

So there are some areas or layers of existence that seem to be ‘essential’, that seem to have an ‘essence’ of their own, regardless of what humans might think or wish. The good submarine captain needs to know the layers confronting the vessel … and deal with that accordingly.
Social constructivism can rapidly turn from the ridiculous to the dangerously ridiculous. Jean Paul Sartre pooh-poohed what he called the human “spirit of seriousness” as did Friedrich Nietzsche when he condemned the human “spirit of gravity”. People, these two meant, can take things too seriously; they can consider mere concepts to have an existence independent of human will; they can thereby wind up ascribing more power to ‘history’ than to human will; and by making the mistake of accepting that there are absolute and objective realities independent of human will, they can undermine or shortchange the role of human will in shaping the world and making history.


They meant well. But that’s never enough. Not hardly.

First off, it gives people the impression that you don’t need to take life seriously. And I’ve mentioned on several occasions that this country, for one, seems to have lost its ability to be serious – it can kill and imprison and invade , yes – but it doesn’t seem to have the old personal, professional, moral and adult seriousness as previous generations have had (no, I’m not including the Boomers as ‘serious’).

Second, they oversimplify the OpSpace. There are indeed layers of life, of existence, of being, that have much more ‘essence’ to them and not so much play-doh. We humans can’t quite ‘totally’ figure those layers out, but that doesn’t mean they’re not out there. And some of them may well be out There. I wouldn’t want either Sartre or Nietzsche commanding any submarine I was on. Or any plane: there are layers of ‘air’ that very much have their own ‘essence’ as well, and you don’t just put a plane in ‘drive’ and figure that it goes from Point A to Point B without any complications from the layers of air that it may pass through. That’s why you can’t just figure that if you can drive a car you can fly a plane just as easily.

Third, they give the impression that if humans set their mind to it – or are forced to change their minds – then just about everything of importance in existence and being and history can be changed, and changed just exactly the way people would like them to be changed, with no complications. This ‘dimension’ humans inhabit is a lot more complicated than that.

Fourth, thinking that they have ‘figured it all out’ makes them cocky and overconfident, and maybe even proud. And that’s not a really good attitude for facing the wide, booming, buzzing world. History can turn on you like an elephant that’s been kicked once too often in the behind.
I’m not saying that humans can’t often easily effect changes, and improve life (if they’re lucky). I’m saying that humans need to know the OpSpace and know what will change with reasonable probability of success, and what won’t. And some ‘change’ may actually work out to make things worse; there’s no guarantee that all change will turn out for the best, or according to a ‘best-case scenario’.

It’s a verrrry demanding business: figuring what needs to be changed, what can be changed, at not too terrible a cost, and with a reasonable probability that it will turn out more or less the way we’d like it to. You learn that quickly enough in a chemistry lab, or in an operating room in a hospital. When SUVs were a new thing, a lot of them rolled over because a lot of folks didn’t really take seriously just how much they did not handle like a regular automobile – their size and shape gave them, so to speak, something of a ‘mind of their own’, and a driver, especially at highway speeds, had to take that difference seriously.

You can get mighty cocky if you have convinced yourself that there’s nothing out ‘there’ except what you can see and what you have come to expect. Existence, history, and life bounce more like footballs, kind of unpredictably. For that matter, so does the human self.

With all due respect to the late Mr. Disney, this world is no place for children. And you should not remain one very long. Nobody should.


There’s a decent and readable extended discussion of Social Constructionism and Social Constructivism on Wikipedia, with suggestions for further reading.

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On the morning of the evening when General David H. Petraeus will address a gathering of notables and military officer candidates (his son included) at Harvard’s Kennedy School Forum, the ‘Boston Globe’ runs a couple of interesting pieces on its ‘Opinion’ (Op-Ed) Page.

He’s not the first General to come a’visiting. A long couple of years ago a predecessor in the position, General Abizaid, showed up – in plain field uniform , the camouflage uniform with the trout-like stippling and the pizza-flop beret. Whether he was trying to mock those who brunch at the Kennedy School (I’m a soldier in the field and you’re not, hah hah) or impress upon them that he was a successful field commander and not just a desk general (though he wasn’t really successful and he was driven around in a Mercedes) is anybody’s guess.

Or maybe he was going for the Ulysses S. Grant effect: in command of armies totaling more than Abizaid’s field force, Grant was photographed, leaning up against a tent pole, a plain blue uniform with just the three (three!) star shoulder straps of his rank (he was the first general officer to hold that rank since Washington himself). If so, the effect was lessened by Abizaid’s being photographed against the bosky background of Hahvahd (and with the pizza-flop hat) rather than in the field like Grant, who at the time was waging a hard but successful field campaign. Oh what tangled webs we weave, when first we practice to strike the right pose.

Anyhoo, back to the Op-Ed Page. The top quarter of the page is a text-only piece by H.D.S. Greenway entitled, acutely enough, “Dying for the throne, far from home”. Greenway astutely connects numerous dots. The previous day was Patriot’s Day in Boston – recalling the day in April 1775 when the Redcoats were ordered to march to Lexington and Concord and preemptively confiscate the powder and ammunition the local militia units had stored there. Three British soldiers died trying to hold the North Bridge in Concord, to prevent colonial reinforcements from heading east to help the militia in Lexington. Two of them are buried in a small tomb on the ‘British’ end of the bridge.

It reminds Greenway of other British graves, especially in Afghanistan, of soldiers sent to wage some sort of war for some vague reason of state by a government whose members could not find the place on an office globe without help.

It also reminds him that precisely 200 years later, on Patriot’s Day, 1975, the last two US troops died in Vietnam as the choppers were making the last lift-offs from the last few square yards of American sovereignty. They were brought home for burial, as befits a hegemon that need not leave its dead in unknown holes in unknown places. One of those last two is buried not far away, in another colonial town, Woburn. Upon him, and all of them, be much peace.

No great earth-shaking insight. Just a connecting of some dots most folks wouldn’t have sufficient time or memory to notice. But it is powerful – because it speaks to something in Us far deeper than words, concepts, or the solemn (but not serious) gobbledygook of imperial reasons-of-state.

But the whole piece is intensified in effect when the eye catches what is beneath it. The central half of the Page, half above and half beneath the fold, is pinned to a large photo of General Petraeus, not affecting the ‘simple warrior’ pose of Abizaid, but rather, three-quarters frontal, in full service-green uniform: shirt, tie, and a jacket topped by the four-stars on each shoulder, and almost littered down the rest of its length (in the photo) with ribbons, medallions, and assorted insignia, all proclaiming Been there, done that, as they say in the military.

Alas for His Generality, in seeking to send a different message from Abizaid, he also sends a different message from Grant. Grant the simple fighting general, no ribbons, no medals, no nothing – just the shoulder straps, and between them a head turned like a warship’s gun turret, straight at you, the two eyes – even in grainy black and white almost a century and a half old – boring into you, as if he had a hell of a lot more important things to do than get his picture took for the Eastern papers.

Petraeus, when you unfold the paper to its full length, is revealed holding an impressive-looking file with four stars imprinted on the cover under his left arm, his right arm outstretched – Caesar statue style – holding (wait for it) a pen. Or maybe a PowerPoint pointer. Or a dry-erase board marker, come to think of it. But of course.

The show only gets better.

The piece accompanying the photo is entitled ‘Leadership, Petraeus style’. It is by one Paula D. Broadwell. Ms. Broadwell is, the blurb at the end of the article reveals, by amazing coincidence a Major in the US Army, currently “a pre-doctoral research associate at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership”. Ah that is indeed a mouthful . One can only imagine that she will cause less danger to the troops there than elsewhere. Although whether ‘leadership’ is anything she can handle – or a school saddled both with ‘Harvard’ and ‘Kennedy’ can teach – is anybody’s guess. There’s an element of ‘character’ to the thing, y’see, and ‘character’ smacks of elitism, meritocracy, patriarchy, and general hierarchical oppression. So it’s kind of hard for Harvard to teach it – on soooo many levels.

Nonetheless, the Major buckles down in best military fashion to the task of ‘improving her position’.

She reveals that she has spent “100 hours” interviewing “Petraeus, his mentors, peers and subordinates”. Which makes you wonder whether she had nothing else to do, found herself with a lot of spare time on her hands, or was sent to Harvard specifically for the purpose of writing the Op-Ed, by merest coincidence, the morning of the evening of Petraeus’s speechifying.

Interviewing his subordinates … this is akin to an NKVD agent asking a Party member – for attribution in Pravda – what the member thought of Comrade Stalin, aka The Granite Bolshevik, The Brass-hard Leninist, and generally The Peerless Savior and Protector of the Soviet Masses. And also, He-who-sends-to-the-Gulag-with-a-mere-nod-of-his-leonine-head.

But perhaps Petraeus has already been selected by Harvard and/or the Pentagon as the “preeminent soldier, scholar, and statesman of his generation”, as the Major quotes Secretary of Defense Gates. If so, then Broadwell is perhaps going to do her thesis – assuming they still write the things – on Petraeus; if so, it’s a sure bet Harvard will accept it and Petraeus will ‘remember it’ when promotion and assignment time comes around. What’s not to like?

Petraeus, Broadwell ‘reports’, will “underline the importance of adaptive leaders in today’s complex national security environment”. But of course. In other words, Broadwell is telegraphing the spin the General would like put on his speech, while he himself will be defining the urgent national need for someone with … precisely his qualities. You can’t beat that for military efficiency. How, one wonders, are we losing at all? With PR and speeches like this, shouldn’t the imperial forces be winning on all fronts? But the Germans asked themselves the same question even while listening to Goebbels’s finely honed speeches after the summer of 1942. Ach.

And, no slouch she, the Major actually draws the conclusion, for those not so quick on the uptake: “A common theme is that Petraeus models the very principles of adaptive leadership that he advocates.” But of course. And if there’s some doubt as to just what advantages ‘women’ bring to the military, it is crystal clear that one expectation of which We must disabuse Ourselves is that they will reduce the K-Quotient. *

And yet what does all the nice word-age mean? The ‘complex national security environment’ is composed of a bankrupt treasury, an industrial base all but pissed away, an acquisition process that can’t even order a steak knife without putting bells-and-whistles on it, to say nothing of a definition of the ‘national interest’ that now extends around the globe, an American public that has to be made to understand that World War Two was quaint and now the kids will be dying for less obvious – though truly great – reasons, and a soldiery that needs to understand that sometimes doing good means doing what seems to be bad (but, if the Fundamentalist chaplainry be trusted, is truly God’s world-whacking will).

Oh, and the two wars – currently ‘works in progress toward an eventual successful outcome’. Ja!
Oh, and the indenture of the Beltway to the Israeli state, which is tugging on the leash to make its very large but failing pit-bull take on the Iranians before it runs out of steam altogether.

What is going to be required in this ‘complex national security environment’ here is somebody who cannot be pinned down on any front – not the military front, not the PR front, not the political and Beltway front. A ‘character’ that flexible will have to be something just short of invertebrate. And perhaps that’s just what Harvard is ‘teaching’ these days.

It would be tedious to analyze the ensuing paragraphs chock full of the vague, abstract, distantly upbeat and can-do buzz-wordage that are more akin to any of a hundred dozen ‘corporate leadership’ how-to books. OK, one example: “Adaptive leadership is a set of strategies and practices that can help organizations and the people in them break through gridlocks, accomplish change, and develop the adaptability to thrive in complex, competitive, and challenging environments.” This text, I submit, not only possesses a stratospheric K-Quotient, but is not the Major at all, unless – as a good bobby-soxer – she is channeling Petraeus while looking at his photo over her word-processor in her room at night (in which case, Judy Garland did a lot better job for Clark Gable).

In fact, it makes me wonder if – in a sublime example of military misdirection – Petraeus has arranged the whole thing, the Major included, for the actual purpose of auditioning for the job of tenured Professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership. (And with Feith a tenured Professor at Georgetown … who can justify saying No to him?)

In support whereof, he does mention, as his field-grade stenographer notes, that his approach “differs from many leadership perspectives in its core premise that one can learn good leadership”. Yah. Don’t bet on it. And certainly not at Hahvahd or anywhere having anything to do with the last of the Kennedys.

Do these people think We are all complete imbeciles?

Here is a man who never went to Harvard and learned his leadership by failing, and coming back, and having a go at it again: “Sir: Yours of this date, proposing armistice and appointment of Commissioners to settle terms of capitulation, is just received. No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works. I am, sir, very respectfully, Your ob’d’t se’v’t, U.S.GRANT, Brig. Gen."

Now that’s a soldier speaking, and a general.

I’m not saying that We must demand “immediate and unconditional surrender” to all of Our desires in all of Our foreign undertakings, but I am saying that if We are getting Our military involved in undertakings where such a possibility is inconceivable, then We shouldn’t be sending Our military into such situations to begin with.

And I will tell you this: if We persist in the type of murky, mushy, ‘military’ adventures that seem to be all the rage nowadays, then We are not going to get any Grants – We are going to wind up with Petraeus and all his spawn. The Major, she no doubt imagines, included.


*Take the letters ‘r’, ‘a’, and ‘p’ in that order. Put them together. Place the letter ‘K’ in front of them. Say the resulting letter-combination out loud.

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Monday, April 20, 2009


In the current issue of ‘The Wilson Quarterly’ (the link is to the contents of the entire current issue available online; many articles are worth the read), Kishore Mahburani has a meaty article entitled “Can America Fail?”.

Imagine that that ‘fail’ is refers not to anything specific, but is a universally defined ‘fail’.

The piece begins acutely by quoting an interview the author had with one of the three ‘founding fathers’ of Singapore, whose voters, in 1981, ejected the founding People’s Action Party: “We failed because we did not even conceive of the possibility of failure”.

Bang. You couldn’t imagine George Bush the Lesser (a purely relative term) saying that. On the other hand We all saw him actually do that. Interesting times indeed.

The author ticks off the most urgent and fundamental shortcomings: First, groupthink. It has been for half-a-century now a key element in the diagnosis of any mass society. It is more or less latent in all groups and all individuals: you want to be in concord with your group so that you are not cast out into the outer darkness; the group wants its members to think as one (so to speak) in order to maximize its unity – though that often turns out to be merely uniformity, a much less useful but far more seductive trait.

But America, even after the ‘freedom’ binge of the later, luv-besotted, Hippie Sixties, is now so frighteningly a groupthink place that it looks to the military for ‘independent’ thinking. Oy. How did this happen? Identity Politics (IP) requires not individuals, but rather members – of the Identity; they must act and speak uniformly because IP is in the politics business: it needs adherents to give it the clout to sway legislators to give it what it demands. And it’s been remarkably successful. Of course it’s had the help of a Democratic Party (and later a complete Beltway) that would provide a police escort for all its demands, and a media that would – to avoid pissing off female ‘consumers’ – report as fact whatever press releases were faxed over.

And of course, as a perfectly predictable consequence of endowing ‘pain’ with the power to trump any rational argument or objection, folks now hear ‘pain’ and no countervailing reason – you try to raise a kid by simply giving in to every squall with no attempt to introduce a little bit of rationality and before very long you will have an uncontrollable and un-self-controlled little dickens on your hands. Which is where Our pols find themselves now: unable to say No to what they have spoiled for decades by giving the ‘pain squall’ trump power over any rational, careful, accurate, and comprehensive deliberation. Consensus is no longer an objective of Our politics; indeed it is classified as an enemy, as ‘obstruction’, as ‘re-victimization’ – by the pain-based lobbies (if I may).

Second, the author asserts, is “the erosion of the notion of individual responsibility”. But again, politics in the IP-era is achieved not by individuals but by the group, the Identity. And the seductive element that lures individuals into such a group is the assurance that ‘you are not at fault’, and more – that it or they are at fault for your pain. A charming two-fer: you need not shoulder the ancient human burden of selfhood nor of responsibility to deal with your life’s assorted challenges because it’s somebody else’s fault and it’s somebody else’s responsibility to fix it for you; and you enjoy a solid status in a powerful group without having to earn it, just because you claim ‘pain’. With an ‘out’ like that, why would anyone exert him/herself to get up and go up on deck to master their vessel against the chill, stormy sea?

Of course, structuralism played a part in all of this: the idea that individual failures don’t cause the trouble in a society, but rather ‘structures’ too large for any individual to ‘handle’, too subtle for any individual to fully comprehend. Where Teddy Roosevelt set the government against corporations and the Robber Barons, the postmodern lobbies want to set the government against ‘structures’ far more subtle and in-woven than a mere corporation or even a network of corporations. The government, in the lobbies’ eyes, is to start pulling apart the very warp and woof of the nation’s culture – to get at the ‘deep structures’. Meanwhile, the ‘less important’ mega-rich and corporations could go play in the sand – which they actually proceeded to do, with catastrophic results.

And, of course, in a culture and economy that now not only invite, but actually need everybody to go into debt so as to consume as much as possible, then any inner prompting to stop and ask yourself ‘Is this trip (or purchase) necessary?’ – that clarion question that framed the lives of the generation that won World War Two – is not only ‘quaint’ but colorably traitorous.

Americans don’t ask if they can afford it – they buy it and then go call the bank or the mortgage and refi folks. Well, right up until a year or so ago, anyway.

The author observes that while America has the world’s most successful democracy, it “may also have the most corrupt governance in the world”. What, Us a banana republic? The author continues quickly with a superb zinger: “The reason most Americans are not aware of this is that most of the corruption is legal”.

Nice. It also used to be a trademark insight of the reportorial philosophy of ‘The New Republic’ before the egregious Peretz took that fine journal down a dark and perhaps fatal path: the most interesting crime isn’t what’s illegal, but what’s legal.

In a Beltway where for almost forty years now the game has been to pander politically to whatever ‘base’ is in ‘pain’, while collecting cash from corporations whose bidding you have guaranteed to do, and while simultaneously re-districting so that you and your pals can never be voted out or – often – even credibly challenged … in a Beltway like that you cannot seriously expect to encounter many persons of integrity. Like albinos, individuals so afflicted would be naturally culled from the gene pool before they spread their weakness among the healthy.

And if one of those PACs and one of those outstretched hands belongs to a foreign nation which has consistently refused to sign a treaty of alliance with the US, but promises to ensure that a chunk of monies sent to its ‘aid’ are returned to the pols that voted it through the PACs – well, the pols are open to that too. Not even the Roman Senate in the decadence of the Empire lowered itself to that level . But the Romans are ‘quaint’ now, certainly in terms of their snotty ‘virtues’ and patriarchal Stoicism. Pained moderns on the make have no time for such obscure and abstract stuff.

Americans don’t see any of this, the article opines, because all of the problems are seen as coming from somewhere else, and America only provides solutions. It’s a great little PR meme for a corporation’s advertising campaign, but it’s no basis for a philosophy of national maturity or international relations.

As the author diagnoses: “The net effect of this corruption is that American governmental institutions and processes are now designed to protect special interests rather than national interests”. Yes, I’d say that’s about it, Beltway-wise. The Telecommunications Act immunity for the telecoms, the Military Commissions Act immunity for all those who aided and abetted the criminal – constitutionally treacherous – skullduggery surrounding the Iraq invasion and torture, the repeal of all the regulatory structures that kept the banking and financial sectors honest (so to speak), the gutting of criminal, civil, and constitutional law and philosophy in order to wage the preferred wars of the Identities against their preferred enemies among the rest of the citizenry … decades of this type of thing. And in the matter of a certain foreign ‘realm’, the assiduous earning of the monies involved something that easily passes for constitutionally-defined ‘treachery’ and may well shade sharply into treason itself. “But they are all honorable men” (generically speaking, of course). And they do it all on national TV, as used to be said.

But they do it all on national TV because they have learned – from the early Nazi era of propaganda and the sustained propaganda successes of the early Soviet Union – that if you can drape your purposes in ‘good’ intentions, then you can get away with … well, ‘murder’ is too small a concept for what you can get away with.

The best way to rob a bank is to own it; the best way to get away with crime is to legislate the criminal law. And maybe distract everybody with a far more visceral class of crimes – the kulaks went to the wall in their hundreds of thousands, while the Five-Year Plans and collectivization were killing millions of citizens through starvation. But the elites who thought it up were never at a loss for vodka and caviar, and without fail their paragons took the salute of the massed divisions in Red Square every October, bundled warmly in fur and driven over in shiny limos.

Are Americans going to be able to compete with foreign workers in the global market?

Generations and age-cohorts have now grown into a mushy adulthood, convinced that they need only express their ‘pain’ and ‘outrage’ to the government in order to make that pain go away, as it were. But while the pandering game worked when it was confined to the domestic arena, the government cannot pander when the causes of the ‘pain’, in their eager billions, live beyond the reach of a friendly court decision or a law passed with elephantine trumpeting that only runs as far as the West Coast and the East Coast and no further.

The author quotes Obama, in his book ‘The Audacity of Hope’, where he recounts ruefully the 96% rate of re-election in the House even when public opinion of “politicians” is low. He thinks the rascals should be thrown out? But how?

In short order any 2nd Lieutenant arriving in-country with an agenda of cleaning up the company would wind up suddenly blown into fractals in his tent or while squatting on the latrine. Any Marshal of less stature than John Wayne who took over Dodge with the express plan of cleaning it up would wind up on Boot Hill forthwith.

In fact, thinking about it, I can’t help but notice the coincidence – in itself not dispositive – that JFK opposed a certain Middle East ‘realm’ in its secret and illegal efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. And then suddenly he was gone. Back then that ‘realm’ was seen as a poor David, merely struggling to make some plants grow on a patch of sand it ‘acquired’ in compensation for the ‘six million’ destroyed by the odious Hitler. We know, now, just how ruthless that ‘realm’ is and always has been, in its determination to ‘do whatever it takes’. When I think of LBJ’s utter horror at upsetting that ‘realm’ a short four years later, even allowing that ‘realm’ to kill US sailors in broad daylight over the course of hours, even calling back jet fighters sent to their rescue, I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t only international political rivalry with the USSR that so agitated him. After all, even after the USSR went into the ICU, never again to emerge into the light, US policy remained as subservient as ever. Did LBJ fear that any opposition to that realm would get him the same nasty surprise as his predecessor?

The curse of interesting times indeed.

The author intones that “American leaders must add an important word when they speak the truth to the American people. The word is sacrifice.” Oh, well, now. You can’t say that in this town any more, stranger. A decade after JFK’s Inaugural Address, the word sacrifice was already passé. Worse, the concept was considered not only ‘quaint’ but downright traitorous: to your self, to your race or gender, to the whole postmodern project. You didn’t ‘suck it up’ and ‘get on with it’; you raised as much hell as a shrewd two-year old when Daddy’s got the boss over for dinner; you sit right down and open up those little lungs and let loose and you don’t stop until you get what you want. Sacrifice is not a word in the two-year old’s vocabulary. And it’s not because it’s polysyllabic. It goes against the whole operational plan.

And in postmodern philosophy there really isn’t anything ‘real’ enough to sacrifice for – not ideals, not tradition, not posterity. There’s you and what you want and what you can manage to get for yourself. That’s all. It sounds eerily like the Flat and shriveled moral world left to the ‘New Soviet Man’ (generically speaking, of course).

Now, in the revolutionary handbook, there is indeed something worth sacrificing for – indeed, there is only the one thing: the revolution. But for that, and about that, and in the service of that – you’d better be ready to sacrifice anything and everything. And show no patience with or mercy to those ‘who just don’t get it’. That’s the only way to make a revolution work.

But any other sacrifice, nope. Nyet. And if you don’t get that, then you’re going to get it for sure.

So if it all hinges on sacrifice, then it’s anybody’s guess how much hope there is to be had.

But if these are interesting times, humans are interesting people, and who knows for sure that We won’t be able to do whatever it takes?

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