Friday, November 27, 2009


The number of military suicide is continues to grow.

Trying to address is it is going to be verrrry difficult. The complexities are not only deep but certain to be politically uncomfortable for one or another ‘viewpoint’ or interest group.

Of course, the Standard Operating Procedure that has evolved here in the past few decades is to simply pick the most politically advantageous position, cherry-pick only the factoids that will support it and make it look reasonable, and then enforce Political Correctness to prevent further discussion of the possibly large and essential elements that were left out in order to achieve what passes for ‘consensus’ and policy now.

This has been a plague throughout Our civic life for decades now, and its consequences – those evil turkeys of Truth – are coming home to roost.

But the military setting promises a particularly acute forum: there are things the military has to deal with – warfighting and its consequences – that cannot be spun or repressed or wished or theorized away.

A Thanksgiving Day newspaper article skims the surfaces, but to the practiced eye of a reader who is willing to borrow the skills of the old Soviet readers of news, the awful outlines start to loom up with a little more clarity than most folks – and certainly ‘interests’ – would probably like to see.

The key difficulty is this: how do you as the military show more sympathy for “mentally fragile” and “emotionally frail” soldiers without undermining the entire military valorization of the ‘soldierly qualities’.

In this regard you might consult the most recent Star Trek movie for a rather concise Vulcan assessment of the matter: the young Commander Spock is indicting the cocky cadet James T. Kirk for undermining a key Starfleet Academy command-problem scenario. The objective of the scenario-test, Spock reminds everybody, is to confront a potential commanding officer with a literally hopeless situation, in which there are no good outcomes, in order to test and develop the cadet’s ability to simultaneously confront hoplelessness and probable death squarely, while simultaneously maintaining his self-control and emotional discipline and determination in order to maintain command of himself and his crew so that the mission, however it is to end, will be carried out – for better or for worse – with discipline.

Discipline among a crew and an officer corps, it is clearly implied, depends on self-discipline – and every crewmember has to have some ability in that regard, and the officers and the commanding officer most of all.

This is true of military affairs – at least where the rubber meets the road in combat, if not in the bureaucratic and organizational ‘office’ world of the rear-echelon and higher-echelon (Pentagon and Beltway most of all) sub-worlds of the military world.

You can see right off the bat that the military has a problem, given the way American society and culture has been heading these past decades. A ‘consumerist’ culture has always been a dangerous rival to the military ethos: giving yourself what you want right now is hell-and-gone from self-denial, postponement of gratification, sacrifice of self (not just through death but in a host of smaller self-denials) for a larger purpose and responsibility, and all the other similar requirements for soldiering. (Which, by the by, are many of the classical indicators of what used to be called ‘maturity’ and even ‘character’ before those concepts, starting in the later Sixties, were taken off the road and put up on blocks.)

Mussolini saw the Americans as “a mongrel nation”, and more to the point both Hitler and the Japanese saw Americans as ‘soft’ because of their many comparative ‘luxuries’. In the event, let’s not be fooled, the Japanese and German soldiery (and the Russian, Our allies at the time) proved formidably self-disciplined and capable of sustaining and undergoing monstrous terrors and deprivations. Americans were able to rise to the occasion, but their national industrial and technological capacities were available to close the gap in soldierly qualities.

I mean no disrespect to the Greatest Generation, but pound for pound their Japanese and German opponents were at an advantage: they had been raised from childhood by militarist governments who formed them precisely for their military roles. And I’m not suggesting that this country should embrace a militarist government in order to make sure that its kids are the world’s most formidable individual soldiers.

Still, the blessings of consumerist capitalism do exact a price.

And in the past few decades, the country has trended strongly toward a more self-indulgent or self-sensitive approach to child-raising. And as aforementioned, ‘maturity’ and ‘character’ have been pretty much retired for all practical purposes. Certain strands of feminisim and victimism and even Identity Politics have contributed largely to this, and not by accident but rather by design: their objectives from the get-go have been to ‘deconstruct’ and ‘devalorize’ so-called ‘macho and male characteristics’ in favor of a ‘sensitivity’ and an acute and brassy awareness of one’s preferences, desires, hurts, feelings, preferences and dislikes that cannot but undermine a whole lot of stuff vital not only to a certain maturity but also to the very quality of the youth upon whom the military must rely. (So you can see why bringing in recruits from other cultures and nationalities has been increasing – as in the later Roman Empire.)

And the valorizing of ‘youth’ since the Sixties has contributed as well: the young are not automatically born with access to their highest and most mature potentials and must be shepherded carefully in those formative but vitally deficient years before the most complex and uniquely human parts of the brain reach their full biological development.

And the addled effort to ‘feminize’ the military – demanded as a political expedient by the Beltway – have proven a multiple-warhead danger to the entire military ethos and the capacity to make the rubber meet the road and keep it there when combat is required.

In the first place, the military ethos has been assaulted with gleeful and arrogant zeal by feministicals who are happy to claim that “it’s not your father’s or your grandfather’s (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force – fill in the blank) anymore”.

Worse, that the types of officers required for those ‘old’ wars aren’t required any longer. Although, of course, the ship, plane or combat gadgetry has not yet been invented that will not require officers of competence and deep maturity – and troops will always need leadership (including non-commissioned officers). So the idea of a non-combat military is a political pipedream; and imposing it upon the military has been something not so very far in effect from outright insanity if not treachery.

Worse, the concomitant stratagem of greasing the skids for all this by claiming that the military is primarily an ‘employment opportunity’ (or ‘right’) has had monstrously corrosive effects on the military’s and the public’s sense of just what the frak it is all about and what it’s there for.

The military is not just another corporate employment opportunity like IBM or General Motors (used to be). It is – even more than the local domestic emergency services like fire and police – an organization that must be ready on short-notice to draw upon deep skills of self-discipline (individually and organizationally) in order to sustain the most demanding combat missions. And in Fourth-Generation Warfare (a Fifth seems to be in the offing) the combat challenges are even more stressing and frakulous than in the bad old days of WW2 and Korea, or even Vietnam (and upon all those dead be peace).

Nor has it helped that the national leadership – from both Right and Left – has gotten Us involved in the most incorrigible and refractory ‘wars’, and ones that promise – for lack of any clear enemy and the lack of any overall strategic objectives – to last for years, decades, and possibly generations. Generations of Fourth and Fifth Generation Warfare are going to demand a whole lotta maturity and self-discipline from the troops and their officers ‘in theater’ (and from the products of the Service Academies, and from the ROTC programs and from American society itself).

And these national developments (emphasis on the ‘de-‘) have affected psychology and clinical practice as well. I have written about ‘stress’ and ‘stress in the military setting’, here most recently. Mainstream psychology has had a difficult enough time with ‘stress’ in the civilian setting, but in the military setting the problem assumes exponentially more difficult proportions.

You might for a moment wonder if all this interconnection of seemingly unrelated trends can really have burned together in the national woodland to create such a specific and frakulous wildfire. I recall Rory Stewart, for a while a UK Foreign Service honcho in the Southwest Asia theater, mentioning in a 2006 book* that he could only marvel at “the pomposity of his American bosses, who in the safety of their secure headquarters plan to create ‘a multi-ethnic, decentralized state, based on human rights, a just constitution, a vibrant civil society, and the rule of law’ as if they were constructing a new shopping mall rather than dealing with a 5,000 year-old civilization”.** Funny, funny, funny that the Pentagon has started to try the same type of ‘culture wars’ that have so profoundly corroded the American domestic scene for decades. But hardly a coincidence.

In order to maintain a certain group-sense and group-support of the soldierly qualities, especially among hordes of youth, there is an unavoidable ‘valorization’ of emotional as well as physical strength (also something devalorized by the feministicals) and of the ability to ‘suck it up’ and keep focused not on your fears, pains, and problems, but rather on the mission. (Though I am not here implicitly approving the frakkery of the missions that have been assigned to the troops by the Beltway of late.)

As any high-school athletic coach could (or until recently could) tell you, it’s pretty much a given that the kids – trying to keep themselves on their best ‘edge’ – aren’t going to have much patience with those who are having trouble keeping it together on the field. This may sound ‘insensitive’ but I don’t intend it that way; if your first reaction on reading it is one of distaste or disapproval, I suggest that such a first-impression is an indicator of just how things have changed in the country in the past few decades.

So now We are seeing a military – for decades trying to de-macho itself in response to intense political pressure and the general trend of American society – desperately trying to keep its troops on their best edge in order to sustain at least some respectable level of combat competence and capability while trying to ‘valorize’ or at least not be insensitive to those who cannot – for whatever reason – handle the intense pressures.

This is a problem of the most awful complexity, and there can be no easy solutions. If you make it ‘easy’ on those who can’t handle the pressure, you run the risk of undermining those who are making every effort to try to hold themselves together and keep things going. On the other hand, you can’t simply submit the ‘emotionally fragile’ to ongoing opprobrium and fail to provide some level of services. On another hand, you can tie up an awful lot of resources trying to adequately provide such services. (Military medicine’s costly re-jiggering to provide the politically requisite amount of medical, let alone psychological, services to female troops is a story that has not yet received adequate notice.)

And on another hand, given the type of frakkery inherent in Fourth Generation War you are going to have emotional and psychological problems with even your most dedicated troops. And all of this is exponentially intensified if the troops generally start to get the idea that they have been committed to another Vietnam, or something close enough to it.

The neat but criminally witless Fundamentalist solution – if you just believe God works through the US government and ‘the powers that be’ then your ‘faith’ is all the ‘help’ you need – is probably starting to lose steam with the departure of Bush the Egregious, but after 25 years of Fundamentalist Ascendancy in the military (since 1987 and Reagan’s second administration at least) there’s still a lot of that going around.

So you see the problems.

And this is even before the parents, relatives, and advocates of military suicides and the “emotionally fragile” military members speak their piece.

To try to make a gesture such as giving “equal honors for survivors of military suicides” in military funerals is going to create as many morale problems among the troops as it ‘solves’ among the parents, families, and friends of the deceased. There is difficulty enough with the development (in the Canadian fashion) of special medals for those who ‘thought’ or ‘felt’ they were under attack by the enemy and suffered physical or emotional or mental ‘wounds’ as a result.

Should the President send a letter of condolence to the immediate survivors of military suicides as is done for those killed in action? Again, what effect will it have on the military members still trying to keep themselves going? And what effect will it have on the expectations of potential recruits whom the military will need to sign up? It is already heavily influenced by recruits who signed up in the sure and certain knowledge that military service was merely an ‘employment opportunity’ and a ‘right’ not much more complicated than deserving a drivers license – and then they got deployed … into a Fourth Generation War.

How do you maintain the vital and indispensable appreciation for self-discipline and a certain emotional toughness and resilience, while also demonstrating from the highest levels on down that ‘frailty’ is ‘OK’?

This is a turkey from Hell, come home to roost from the early days of the military’s truckling to the feministical demands that it re-make itself into a feministical-friendly employment-opportunity organization while officially and formally maintaining its insistence that such ‘changes’ would not, and do not, and could not adversely affect morale and operational competence.

As with credit-cards, it was all a great time … until the bill came due.

And so it has.


*Stewart, Rory. “Occupational Hazards”: Picador, 2006.

**For that matter, I recall a Buddhist leader, Shunryu Suzuki, commenting decades ago on the 1960s-1970s fad of setting up an American Buddhism; he opined that trying to transplant Buddhism “is like holding a plant to a rock and waiting for it to take root”.


Having said all that, let me broach a topic that’s even less PC. Again, I’m not insensitive here, but when you’re looking at stuff that has to be looked at clearly even though it’s not PC, you’re going to have to ruffle the feathers too quickly smoothed by PC proprieties.

In all of this military stress stuff, there’s the ‘moral hazard’ element as well.

You have seen the phrase ‘moral hazard’ before: it means a policy’s effect (intended or unintended) of creating what used to be called a ‘temptation’ to game the system.

You’ve seen it applied in reference to the subprime mortgage crisis. The high-living financial ‘wizards’ (more like cheap conjurers) were unregulated and that non-regulation created a moral hazard for them. And it appears they fell right into that temptation.

The poor or impecunious, offered unbelievable deals with seemingly limitless credit for mortgages, also rode right into the valley of the Little Bighorn.

In all matters of the ‘stress’ diagnosis, there is also a moral hazard. Since the diagnosis is kind of fuzzy, it’s not hard to claim stress and there’s no real way that your claim can be verified by an observer or evaluator. It’s built into the whole ‘stress’ diagnosis: you claim a) to be under pressure and b) as a result of such-and-such an experience.

Now it’s possible that your reported ‘stress’ is purely ‘emotional’ and its ‘pain’ ditto – in which case there’s no way for an independent observer – one trained but still ‘outside of’ you – can examine that for validity. Yes, perhaps your ‘stress’ is causing some clearly verifiable medical or psychological problems; high-blood pressure or some such. But ‘nightmares’ can’t be independently confirmed, nor can ‘behaviors’ that – alas, given human nature – can be mimicked or staged.

But on top of that, (b) is verrrry hard to establish: so that even if an evaluator can decide that Yes, you ‘have stress’, s/he can almost never conclusively connect (a) to (b), can almost never conclusively say that your ‘stress’ is a result of such-and-such an ‘experience’.

That’s been the trouble with all ‘stress’ and PTSD diagnosis, even in the civilian sector: establishing the link between (a) and (b).

And then on top of that, ‘stress’ has been expanded from its original context of PTSD resulting from (mostly) Vietnam-War-experience to ‘stress’ and ‘trauma’ caused by various gender and sex issues and – at this point – by just about anything at all.

Now, even worse, how can you 'cure' such 'stress'? Because 'victimism' (a noxious brew comprised of the quiet political alliance of radical feminism and law-and-order Rightism), forbids suggesting that an individual is somehow responsible for his/her well-being or self-managment or self-improvement - to say such a thing would be 'blaming the victim'. So what options are left to you as a care-provider? Drugs, cash payments, government health care that promises to burn eternally because the 'therapy' can never reach the 'source' of the problem? Such a deal.

And it’s been like this now for at least two decades.

Now imagine this problem as it manifests in the current military situation. Generations of youngsters (and not so young), raised to be acutely alert to any unpleasant stimulus that may ‘stress’ them, are now put not only into military life (which in its day-to-day Stateside form has become sort of average-corporate employment with a dress code) but put into combat, and Fourth Generation War combat at that, and on top of it all, a losing war (or two).

Now military life and one’s military ‘commitment’ and ‘responsibility’ become not only an unpleasant stimulus, but potentially very dangerous as well.

There is – is there not? – a rather significant possibility that less-than-robust troops will be tempted to declare themselves ‘stressed’.

Thus commanders are once again over a terrible barrel: to respond to all ‘stress’ reports as if they were unquestionably valid is going to quickly have two dangerous results: i) significant fractions of troops (perhaps increasing fractions) are now unavailable for operations and ii) troops trying to keep up their responsibilities see how easy it is to get out of them.

This is NOT to imply that all ‘stress’ issues are ‘fake’. But there is precious little way to officially and conclusively distinguish the ‘genuine’ cases from the – ummmm – ‘moral hazard’ cases.

Add that the predominant default position in the country for the past few decades has been to ‘believe the pain’, and the military commander is put into an almost impossible position.

And like so many of combat’s consequences, these are problems that cannot simply be ‘spun’ or ‘re-visualized’ away. It’s no longer a matter of ‘reframing’ a ‘text’ or merely ‘changing an attitude’; these are real, intractable, demanding problems that require real solutions (not the Beltway’s preferred mode of action these past few decades, alas).

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Monday, November 23, 2009


I just read the 2006 book “Split Decisions” by Janet Halley, a professor at Harvard Law School.

I try to keep up with feminist thinking, as you can tell from prior Posts. Feminism has been one of the most substantial influences on the way things have gone in the country these past few decades (the Biblical 40 years and heading toward half-a-century, now) and since it mostly receives a very Politically Correct kid-glove treatment in the mainstream media, it seems to me that it needs a much more careful and not so cream-puffy an examination.

The subtitle caught my eye: ‘How and Why to Take a Break from Feminism’. Now that, I thought, is something you don’t see every day. Especially from an established and prestigiously placed feminist and female author.

It’s never been my position that women (not to be equated with feminists, nor vice versa) should be considered nothing more than the docile herd in the deerpark of male sexual conquests, nor do I hold any brief for males who define themselves, their lives, and their ‘success’ in terms of sexual conquests, especially violent ones. Such a habitus does no good for the maturational prospects of any male, as well as harming any female who comes within range.

So I read the book last night and have a few thoughts. This is not a formal review, of course, so I’m only covering the thoughts that strike me. I’ll give page numbers from the text* when I quote a major point.

She quotes a couple of feminist slogans: “I’ll see it when I believe it” and “I’ll see it when I can theorize it” (p3). These seem to refer to the valid enough epistemological insight that if you don’t have a category for something, you may well not even notice it.

It’s not a bad insight. I recall when I first heard an electronic siren (the whoo-whoo, woop-woop) that began to replace the old mechanical sirens (that sounded like smaller versions of the air-raid sirens of World War 2): I didn’t hear it at first, but rather I felt it – I realized after a bit that my eardrums seemed to be vibrating. Focusing on that odd sensation, it was only then that I realized that something was making a noise, and it turned out to be the local fire chief, whose 1960 Pontiac was coming up the street with its red bubble revolving and this strange contraption on the roof apparently making the noise. The chief was having a hard time moving along, since most drivers didn’t seem to realize what his cutting-edge, state of the art, new-fangled siren was (long before the end of that decade, all Americans who watched the TV news came to know the sound very well).

I didn’t have a mental file for that sound, so I actually didn’t hear it – I only felt its effects (on my poor eardrums). But after that I had a file and I heard them for what they were. That’s epistemology for you.

At the same time, though, I hadn’t studied meteorology and knew what thunder was, so some stuff seems to come almost pre-loaded in the human brain, or it’s learned so early – before the capacity for self-awareness is fully operational – that it seems like you’ve known it all along.

But that part about ‘theorizing’ adds an extra layer of complication: it’s one thing to encounter a strange new machine and put together for yourself what the thing does. It’s a different level of life’s Vulcan chess game to interpret for yourself what an idea or a ‘concept’ is and what it’s all about and what it does. And then to assume that your take on that idea or concept (not physically real like the machine) is the full and accurate take to be had about the thing. And then another step to assume that other folks should agree with you. And then another step to assume that if they don’t, then they just don’t get it and need to made to agree with you.

You see where these things can go. As Bilbo tells Frodo there in Bag End, taking a single step outside your door is a momentous and freighted thing: you never can tell where the Road will take you. (Did you think it was just a movie or just a fiction?)

Halley mentions “the thrill of liberation from the self”, which I think she is defining when she goes on to say “the complexly constituted erotic self”. I can’t be comfortable with any implication that the self – the marvelous human self – can be reduced to its (admittedly complex) sexual aspects and potentials. If for no other reason, I think that the Framers imagined a Constitution that would provide a framework for the political affairs of a citizenry who were indeed individuals who were – according to their individual gifts and lights – efficaciously committed to maturing the self that each of them possessed, thus then coming together to deliberate about their public affairs, thus both grounding and holding accountable the government that the Framers were oh-so-carefully limiting and structuring through the actual Constitution.

If no complex, dynamically maturing Citizens, then no way that the Constitutional machine itself could keep going; like a Ferris wheel (not invented, I agree, at the time of the Framers) that required struts to keep it solidly and stably anchored if it were to perform its marvelous movement.

In the Constitutional vision, The People is/are the struts that hold the great machine up and also anchor it against the various momentums of its own movements. Otherwise you get the vivid result so neatly imagined by Steven Spielberg in his 1978 film “1941”, where the Ferris wheel, shot free from its struts, rolls drunkenly along a pier and over the edge into the sea. You might have realized the same sensation yourself in recent years, watching national policy and the Beltway careen ever more drunkenly. There is an edge out there, ahead of Us, somewhere.

In order to be credibly feminist, any approach has to accept the following stipulations, says Halley: a) that there is a distinction between male and female; b) that the female is subordinated to the male; c) that opposition to that subordination is required (p17).

I can see that and I can accept it as an approach to construing American civic life. I would be verrry uncomfortable if the primary unity, the core identity, of Americans as Americans, was subordinated to that, however. If for no other reason than the threat posed to the integrity of The People in the vital role of holding up and holding steady the great machine of the Constitutional arrangement. Once ‘gender’ (or any other aspect of anyone’s complex identity) functionally replaces ‘American’ as the most important definition, then for the most fundamental political purposes at least, We in a heepa trubble.

And if a theory insists that “subordinated sexuality” is the most important and immediate aspect of fully one-half of the Citizenry’s identity, then not only as individuals but as a Citizenry We are taking a mighty limited view of Ourselves, as human beings and as a People. And there will be consequences, just as surely as deconstructing the struts on a Ferris wheel will yield rather inevitable consequences.

Haley muses that by the early 1980s much feminist theorizing – not all of it congruent and easily meshed – had already been done. But then three things happened: a) AIDS; b) ‘power feminism’s’** determination to focus on domestic violence and sexual violence; c) postmodernism (p28).

About (a) I simply note that a thoroughly ‘liberated’ (which is to say unlimited and un-Shaped) sexual range can have profound, even if unintended consequences – although the effects on the maturity and genuine human development of the individual are, though less obvious, even worse than the disease itself.

About (b) I would note that in that same decade of the 1990s that Halley will call “the decade par excellence of governance feminism”*** (p32) this country adopted a host of police-state tactics, including registries (domestic violence and sex offense), arrest without warrant on the simple say-so of another citizen (domestic violence), special courts (domestic violence), and the widespread government-sponsored certification of an entire group of citizens as incorrigible and recidivist monstrosities (sex offense) that allegedly required not only extensive police monitoring but widespread public notification (sex offense). I would also note that the Constitutional difficulties with the sex-offense laws have increased exponentially, rather than declined, in the two decades since their inception and now include traditionally conservative elements such as the Cato Institute and the actual State governments and police agencies themselves.

This can hardly be an unintended consequence when so much of feminist thought considers “male sexuality to be a vast social problem” (p27). Or, as Lacanian linguistic theory would put it: all of a sudden, almost one-half of the Citizenry of this nation were, in the blink of an eye, and with the politicos' eager support, 'problematized'. Now that is something you haven't seen too often in human history, and that's probably not just coincidence: governments and nations who embark on such a path aren't going to last too long. Or, as one dead white male has put it, echoing some other dead white male: "a house divided against itself cannot stand".

It is thus a recipe for profound public, civic, political damage, when – especially with the connivance of the elected officials of the government – almost one half of the nation’s citizens are conceived of as a vast social problem almost overnight. It reminds one of the sudden Soviet attitude and policy toward the Kulaks; but more relevantly to a democracy, it clearly promises to rend the polity jaggedly and profoundly. You find yourself asking: what democratic government in its right mind would undertake to support such a program? And so enthusiastically?

And, of course, having once fractured The People so profoundly, the limits on overweening government built into the Constitutional ethos are themselves effectively fractured as well. As We have been seeing of late.

About (c) Halley herself describes postmodernism’s “anti-foundational, libertine, irrationalist, anti-moralistic” elements (p29). How could it escape anybody that such a caustic dissolvent would most likely corrode much of the machinery and the struts of the Constitution? Would most likely corrode and even corrupt the maturity and civic competence of the individual Citizens themselves?

Halley reports herself “happy” that governance feminism made certain problems “visible” and showed “reality” while “making life better, even if marginally – for women” (p32). About the Constitutional ramifications, and the ramifications for many individuals – most of them males - ever more intensely coming to light, Halley has nothing to say, nor is there even an entry for ‘Constitution’ in a comprehensive Index at the back of the book. Which, as I have been saying recently, is one of the gravest problems with the entire feminist enterprise as it has been embraced and fulfilled by government policy, regulation, and – oy – criminal law.

She quotes admiringly Catharine MacKinnon, early theorizer and icon of in-your-face feminism (although Halley quickly notes that MacKinnon has a mellower later phase as well): “My consciousness is true, yours is false, never mind why”(p44). This is quickly followed by a second bon mot: “I know I’m right because it feels right to me, never mind why”.

As the Brits would say: So there it is then. In the proverbial nutshell. Never mind why. How carry on a democratic politics, how conduct any sort of civil or civic discussion at all? Nor is it enough to say that this is from her ‘early’ period and perhaps later disowned, modified, or de-emphasized; this was the type of stuff that overran such conceptual and intellectual defenses as the Beltway in the Reagan era might have mustered.

It’s a sign of precisely the approach – Never Mind Why – that has resulted in the destruction of a politics (or political class) based on deliberation and gravitas, and the erection (as it were) of a politics (and political class) of emotional assertion and thorough-going anti-intellectualism. Let’s not think that Rush Limbaugh is purely a product of the Right; the launch skids were greased for that behemoth by MacKinnon and her brassy and cocky (as it were) sistern (male and female).

The media lapped it up like catnip.

And this goes a great way toward explaining that jaw-dropping media moment in the now infamous Duke Lacrosse gang-rape when, as the prosecutor's case started to cave in by the chunkful, almost one hundred of the faculty stated officially to the media that "facts don't matter". The Theory had convicted these 'males', these 'men', and - as Goebbels was fond of telling the German people, "that's all you need to know".

It was MacKinnon’s insight to “use the law to resist male domination” (p56). Now male domination, except in the most overt cases of rape, is something that – in feminism’s own schematic – you have to believe in and theorize in order to ‘see’. Something so deep – if it is, and subtle – as it apparently is, and long-lived – as it is claimed to be … something that complex is not something against which any rational government deploys the short, sharp, blunt-edged tool of the criminal law. But again … the Beltway did. And is still doing.

Which is not to say that ‘male domination’ doesn’t exist. But granted that it does, in some form, and to some extent rather short of ‘total’, then it was going to take some careful and extensive deliberation to get to work on it. Which is neither the European revolutionary way, nor the impatient attention-challenged American way – and the feminists had drunk deeply from both tainted wells. Enter then the vote-addled Democrats, certain that the female demographic was too frakking big to lose and that the ‘white industrial male’ demographic was most certainly going the way of the dodo, courtesy of the corporate biggies who were paying handsomely into the Beltway’s PACs for the privilege of ‘outsourcing’ as fast as they could line up cheap labor in the paddies, fields, and backstreets of the Third World. Those were the days.

In short, MacKinnon’s plan – espoused by the vote-addled politicos – was to “use law to undo gender” (p56). Once again, it may seem strange that a democratic and Constitutionally-limited government would seek to deploy its carefully constrained authority in order to undo with Law what millennia of human history, tradition, and experience indicated might be a substantial human reality, but as it worked its way through the Looking-Glass the Beltway lost track of just what ‘strange’ might be. Which was the plan; it was Incorrect to be judgmental and categorize things, especially in an insensitive and negative way. Those were the days.

Cultural feminism holds, in Halley’s taxonomy, that “women have a distinct consciousness and/or culture”, although then this consciousness might derive either from their biological situation or from “their historical oppression by men” (p58). Which leaves a lot of blank space to be filled in on the map.

Halley uses an interesting and useful example: imagine that women make good mothers. An ‘essentialist’ analysis would say that women are naturally maternal, while a ‘social constructivist’ analysis would say that men made women do all the mothering so they just sort of got good at it. When last I got a memo on the subject, you could lose your job or wind up in front of some sort of adjudication if you proposed that the former might well be the case (although one never gets all the memos in an ongoing revolution that bids fair to become permanent … sort of like wars that are forecast to last generations – although I don’t think that anybody planned the Hundred Years War with that particular timeframe in mind).

As I’ve said before, from everything known about Evolution, its Modus Operandi – verrry well established – is to provide deeply for the most important purposes. So, in something as primary as the reproductive survival of the species, and in a species that has the largest relative brain of all the animal kingdom and takes the longest time to mature to full brain potency, then the big E would probably want to ensure steady and reliable care. It would ensure that by preparing the child-bearer as deeply and complexly as possible. And perhaps the lumpish Fred Flintstones of the earliest hominid communities realized exactly what Wilma seemed to be able to do with kids; perhaps they weren’t such cartoon characters as they have been made out to be.

To imagine Evolution looking at both the male and the female adults of the species and merely dismissively waving its hand in a Yeah, Whatevvvvverrrrrr sorta way … I don’t think so. Evolution, unlike Americans nowadays, doesn’t just wave its hand dismissively and leave it up to the meat-sacks. It takes steps – verrrry specific steps. I’m jus’ sayin’.

Halley quotes Robin West, author if 1997’s “Caring for Justice” and, Halley opines, “one of the legal academy’s most articulate and theoretically astute cultural feminists”: “There is such a thing as patriarchy - ‘the social system when men’s interests trump women’s whenever they conflict’ – … [and] no society is utterly free of it, even this one ” (p60).

Which says a lot less than it looks like it’s saying. No society is utterly free of anything, and surely the contention that America is one of the most horribly patriarchal of them all has become gospel (you should pardon the expression) among American elites and among all those kiddies whose parents have recently shelled out two-hundred and fifty large for a first-rate education.

But according to this theory, feminism is also “an irrepressible human reality” – which kind of jars since the last memo I saw was to the effect that the afore-mentioned patriarchy had repressed it all since just a few minutes after the beginning of recorded human history. So it leaves you wondering how an irrepressible human reality was so repressible for so long and more or less so thoroughly. I’m jus’ sayin’. Is it at all possible that it was so repressible from the get-go since even the most benighted cave-folk got the impression that to the best of their observation that’s the way things worked best for the species?

Which is not to say that therefore the world should go back to the cave (although you could say that most of it has never left Plato’s Cave, but let me not digress). But it is to say that if something has been chugging along since about the beginning of human history then you might not want to just haul off and rip it out by the roots on the basis of the most trendy theories, no matter how forcefully asserted. Some serious deliberative thought might be in order. It’s not as if it were as clear as, say, the blatant injustice of the old Jim Crow laws.

Further, for MacKinnon – who was riding pretty high in elite circles during the 1980s – male domination was not a “moral” issue (p61). I take this to mean that it was not a matter of individual males acting illegally or immorally; rather, the thing should be seen as a deep-seated gender-wide issue that required the hammer and sickle of the Law, as hefty and robust as the Beltway could wield them. The hammer and sickle, that is to say, to be struck at the roots of the male sex as a class – which has more than a vaguely Commie ring to it. (Funny, that as the Soviets and their ideas and their political system were lurching toward utter implosion and dissolution ‘over there’ their illuminations were being taken up as the new gospel ‘over here’ – funny, funny, funny).

Women, it was said – and I am not in complete disagreement with this – were not simply discriminated against but were “subordinated” and “undervalued” (p62).

Personally, I think – and this is hardly original, I agree – that one of the greatest candidates for the term ‘original sinfulness’ is the perennial human tendency to undervalue the human species in all its powerful and marvelous potential. This is truly a profound and abiding human tragedy, and the seedbed of catastrophes great and small; nor is each small or individual instance of it any less significant merely because of its ‘small’, ‘individual’ site. A human being, truly, is a terrible thing to waste. And, I believe, the entire species pays for such losses.

There are, it is said – and no doubt this was impressed upon the less-then-profound politicos – two diametric sexes, and they are set against each other, and that is absolutely the fundamental human (and political) reality; there are “gendered harms” (p63) that women suffer and men, precisely, do not. And it is the government’s responsibility – the politicos were told in season and out of season – to fix that.

About harms males may suffer for being male, nothing is said. Which is as it should be – feminism is an advocacy after all, and you expect an advocacy to speak highly and vividly about its clients’ concerns. But all of this has been presented – over the past few decades – not as an advocacy position looking for some purchase on the political ground, but rather as the hugest and most awful discovery ever to be made in the history of the species. Intellectual hubris or P.T. Barnum exaggeration or a shrewd Goebbelsian shot in the air that will spark a public stampede (and a stampede among the halls of the government) … you can take your pick as to the relative proportions of each in the recipe.

West is continued: “Virtuous sexuality is feminine sexuality and it has a decidedly infantile, lesbian, and caring shape” (p64). This foregoing is asserted proudly. The theory, it seems, is that young girls develop a deep love for older women in their lives (their mothers, one imagines, first of all) but are too soon ripped away from that caring and nurturing experience in order to define themselves by and conform themselves to their roles in the domination-subordination script imposed by patriarchy as an established concept and by sex-crazed, thoughtlessly assertive and violently aggressive ‘men’.

And once again, one wonders: it’s a theory and deserves a careful look, but would any democratic government in its right mind simply throw the weight of its authority, prestige, and the consensus of its very legitimacy behind such a vision? No wonder that even after Bush the Egregious frakked up the economy and started two losing wars, the Democrats were just able to squeak by in the last presidential election.

Halley will quote the feminist writer Adrienne Rich who posits “a redemptive, feminist, intrinsically lesbian sexuality”, even “infinitely redemptive” (p64). And another feminist writer, Ellen Bass, who posits the “redeemed sexuality of the original desire” (meaning the original attraction of the young girl to the older female). Is it just me or am I right in thinking that if this statement were about males, then such an assertion would bring you dangerously close to the NAMBLA position?

And I’m still not in agreement that ‘sex’ and the having of it somehow constitutes the essence of being human and the epitome of human achievement, self-awareness and self-definition. Where would We be if Homer and Dante and Michelangelo and Theresa of Avila and Elizabeth I**** followed such a philosophy of self and of the human? Of course there was Catherine the Great (the empress, not the feminist philosopher) … but her mark on history was not as great as the possibilities of her position might have provided, and there was that stuff about the Guardsmen … and something about a horse.

But now Halley gets to some material that I think contains crucial information, relevant to the situation the country faces today.

In 1982 the psychologist Carol Gilligan wrote the book “In a Different Voice”. She asserted that the moral development of females and males differed. The boys developed an “ethic of justice, predicated on the understanding of human beings as individuated and separate, and on the rule of logic and the rule of law”.

The girls, however, “saw that the world is not made up of separated, self-seeking individuals but rather of interrelations, connections webbing everyone together in communities of concern”; further, that “they made moral decisions not through abstract reasoning from rules but by balancing the infinitesimal and acute needs of everybody concerned” (p69). (Italics mine) This, Gilligan said, is an ‘ethic of caring’.

The boys’ “ethic of justice” was contrasted to the girls’ “ethic of caring”.

THIS, as the kids would say, is HUGE.

If you think you can hear oblique echoes of the Sotomayor confirmation hearings, I think what you have here is the American start of it all.

But more fundamentally, I think what you have here is the dark beating heart of the intensifying Constitutional corrosion that has been going on for decades, for which the Bush Era skullduggery is not a cause or source, but merely a symptom and a result.

If you look at what the boys are doing, you will see the essential philosophy underlying the Constitutional ethos: individual persons, responsible for themselves and their development, responsible as well for their actions, but they will be judged – if such be required – according to the logic of cause and effect and according to the rules of the applicable laws. The government, of course, is as contained in its powers and the responsible use of them as the individual citizens are contained by their responsibilities under the laws.

The girls – in Gilligan’s schematic – entertain a vision that is hell and gone from that. It’s a more maternal (!) approach: whichever baby is crying is to be helped along and soothed, regardless of whether there is a ‘reason’ for it to be crying. It’s a fine approach for dealing with still undeveloped infants still helplessly subject to the waves of their passions and emotions’ they can’t be expected to use their ‘reason’ to self-modulate their emotions.

But a nation is comprised of adults who are responsible. Or should be. Or perhaps must be.

The ‘ethic of caring’ works perfectly well for infants. But the ‘ethic of justice’ is what works for adults. If you’re going to have a Constitutionally envisioned limited government, grounded by a Constitutionally envisioned mature Citizenry.

Any government that is going to appoint itself as the Fixer of All Pain is going to be taking on the role of God and the angels – and will demand that much authority (it can never attain that much wisdom). Bill Clinton’s nifty soundbite – I feel your pain – stems ultimately from this schematic of Gilligan’s, I think.

It seems to me that Bush the Egregious merely took advantage of the Constitutional deformities already enshrined by the Left’s or reputedly liberal emotionalism, applied it to the emotional situation created by 9-11, and the rest is history – although a history still bursting even now.

And his puppet Attorney General, Gonzales, surely was not intelligent enough or observant enough to declare the Constitution “quaint”. I would say that the Constitution was rendered unworkable the moment a quarter century or so ago when Gilligan’s ‘ethics of care’ began to gain traction inside the Beltway and in the law schools (whence prosecutors, US Attorneys, politicians, and judges of all ranks have now sprung).

Halley doesn’t go into the downsides. She does mention the “dark side” of feminism, and that there is – and of necessity – “blood on its hands” from where things had to be done (though she doesn’t go so far as to repeat the old Communist saw about the eggs that have to be broken to make an omlette). More on that in a moment.

When she gets to the gist of her main point, fully expounding it towards the end of the book, she does remarkable work. Without rancor, supportively and yet firmly, she suggests that it’s time to Take A Break From Feminism (pp.341-ff).

And then she unpacks that.

Feminists need to stop repeating the “subordination mantra”, that women are subordinated (thus oppressed) by men. She calls it the “politics of injury” (I would call it ‘victimism’, but I can see where she’s trying not to be too inflammatory and, following the best advice of Gilbert and Sullivan, seeks to “gild the philosophic pill”.) She bravely adverts, nonetheless, to the follow-up phase in the Politics of Injury: questioning an assertion made by one of the injured is tantamount to re-injuring her.

Feminists have to stop seeing the “brain drain as a good thing”. Here she refers to something you don’t often see discussed in the media: that women who in their reflections and thoughts and observations come up with conclusions unacceptable to feminist orthodoxy are hounded or frozen out of the feminist ranks. She herself shares the feeling that when she wondered about the damage that available prostitutes might do to men she immediately felt that “it seems somehow not-feminist to suggest it”.

Feminists need to resist bad faith. The wide and frequent deployment of the Injury Triad (female injury plus female innocence plus male immunity) has to be acknowledged for what it does. It does not eliminate consequences and costs simply by removing those costs and consequences from women; it merely shifts those consequences and costs to others. And feminists who claim that they can exercise broad and deep political power without causing injury to – she dares to say it – men must stop such posturing, stop operating in such bad faith.

Feminists need to minimize moral perfectionism and their magical-realism style of thinking. They cannot claim that women, being oppressed and victims, can never themselves oppress and victimize others once they exercise power. Feminism, especially in the exercise of long-sought power, cannot hold itself as “morally immaculate” (p344).

Feminists need to deconstitute women’s suffering. Might it not harm a woman – she suggests – to insist that if she has been raped she is now so traumatized that she may well never recover? Is it always ‘blaming the victim’ to inquire whether in a particular case any activity of the female might have been contributory? Does it do women any good to dogmatically remove them from any responsibility for their experiences at all? Is the standard and required feminist “rape discourse” (subject-verb-object, man-raped-woman) sufficient to all situations and does it respect the complexity and integrity of human experience? Is it possible that in affirming and identifying with female “injury” feminism is actually intensifying it?

These are splendid questions. I’d have to say that they should have been asked long ago, but that is not the particular fault of Halley, whose book – with full and due regard for feminism’s acute sensibilities – asks questions that must be considered.

In fact, this whole concept of Theory needs to be looked at. It’s all very well for a bunch of humanities and literature types to think up ways they can play with a text like kids’ play-clay, but an actual living nation is not a ‘text’, nor is a society, and while the Constitution is a document, it’s a hell of a lot more than simply another piece of fiction to be parsed and cut-pasted.

In that regard, I recall what Frederick Crews said; he was speaking about Freudian theories, but it could apply to all this material here as well: “Freudian concepts retain some currency in popular lore, the arts, and the academic humanities, three arenas in which flawed but once modish ideas, secure from the menace of rigorous testing, can be kept indefinitely in play”.*****

Many of the foundational assumptions and assertions of feminist theory – in all the dense and indeed jungle-like tangle of its diversity – are very much still “in play”. For that matter, the entire country, the entire nation, the entire society, the entire culture, the entire ethos of Western civilization is very much a playing board, for games political as well as Theoretical.

Which does not, for all its brash and frizzy excitements, bespeak a becoming gravitas about just what an amazing but fragile construction has been bequeathed to Us. We may well improve upon it; but We are fools to ‘deconstruct’ it.

Still and all, Professor Halley has done a great and worthwhile service here. And I don’t know if anybody outside the charmed circle of feminist true-believers could do it with any chance of being heard. I am reminded of the observation that “only Nixon could go to China”, although I mean thereby no disrespect to Professor Halley.

I’d conclude this, however, by connecting another dot from beyond her book. An article by Joshua Kurlantzick, examining the curious and surprising persistence of the Communist Party in China despite the formation of a respectably endowed urban middle class, comes to the conclusion that – contrary to the conventional wisdom that the emergence of a middle class facilitates a move toward democracy – the Chinese urban middle classes are actually rather supportive of authoritarian government … because it seems a more reliable protector of their gains.

It seems to me that this is somewhat of the same problem that Obama is facing here, and one of the main reasons that he has been unable to fulfill so many of his campaign promises and – I believe – his own goals: too many who have gained much from the Identity Politics regime of the past forty years do not want to see too much change. And in that, for all practical purposes, such groups are natural (if silent) allies of the wealthy who also do not want to see what they have placed at risk of redistribution.

How Obama can overcome resistance from both sides – as it were – of the current political spectrum, from both remaining sources of the Beltway’s power (Identity Politics and corporate PAC contributions), is a very sobering question indeed.

In that sense, finally, I think Obama is in the same position as the Constitutional ethos itself: it’s under fire from both sides. The Identity Politics advocacies want to see it ‘reformed’ in order to remove its obstacles to their politically useful ‘politics and ethics of caring’ while the law-and-order Rightists want to see it diluted so as to ensure more ‘order’ than the traditional American vision allows the government police power to impose.

And surely, if the feminist visions of slavering male sex-addicts and the wealthy’s visions of a demanding and enraged and suddenly impoverished citizenry are allowed to run free, then they will both converge in an engorged police state, the better to regulate and control their respective bugbears and nightmares.

And if the Sixties insisted that there were no limits and no bounds and no Shapes to which any individual must conform – either in order to accept an external obligation or to fulfill an interior nature – then after several generations, such an unripened and immature citizenry must be both incapable of governing its government and in need of that government’s police power in order to enforce whatever civil order remains possible.

These are dark trajectories indeed.

Halley’s suggestions are certainly an excellent place to begin a desperately needed change of course.


*My copy of the book is the Princeton University Press edition of 2006.

**With no disrespect to Halley, it’s like reviewing old Soviet history to read her enlightening list of assorted feminisms: power feminism, governance feminism, cultural feminism, liberal feminism, difference feminism, postcolonial feminism, sex-positive feminism, structuralist feminism, essentialist feminism, social constructivist feminism, convergentist hybrid feminism, divergentist hybrid feminism … one can’t help but think of Mensheviks, Bolsheviks, Old Bolsheviks, Trotskyites, Zinovievists, Narodniks, legal Marxists, primitive accumulationists, polycentrics, Titoists, permanent revolutionists, right deviationists, left deviationists, and a ghostly host of others including, of course, that greatest creator of ghosts, Stalinism. I suppose you could, if you were so inclined, describe this all this as “intense, theoretical productivity”.

***Who may be said to have abandoned the outsider-revolutionary approach, and instead concentrated on changing things from within the government and the major institutions (law schools, the judiciary, universities, and such).

****At one point in this book, Halley refers to Elizabeth – the queen who ruled England in the 1600s … or words to that effect. My immediate thought was that she could simply have said “Elizabeth I” or “Elizabeth I of England” but then it occurred to me that at this point in elite academic history, a substantial amount of her readers (even the Harvard ones) might not be able to place “Elizabeth I” either as to timeframe or place. I am not referring to the Ivy frosh who were recently discovered to reach the hallowed halls secure in the knowledge that Lincoln beat Hitler or the Kaiser and Kennedy followed Roosevelt. But then, they were all men, and dead white men at that.

*****Crews, Frederick. “Follies of the Wise”: Shoemaker-Hoard, Emeryville, CA; 2006. Page 16.

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Friday, November 20, 2009


I can’t help thinking more and more about 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall (that led, by the end of 1991, to the dissolution of the USSR).

One Central European thinker* asserts that “the role of ideas in the demise of Communist regimes can never be stressed too much".

He quotes another noted scholar, Martin Malia, that those “ideocratic partocracies” were unable to survive once their ideological underpinnings – those utopian, visionary ‘concepts’ that were imposed as ‘revolutionary truths’ which were beyond discussion – were discredited as much by the innate Western European cultural sense of its imprisoned citizens as by the clearly catastrophic results which such urgent visions (not to call them well-reasoned systems of ideas) produced.

And after a while, even the ‘elites’ of those “ideocratic partocracies” lost faith in them (although, the ‘revolution’ being their bread and butter, and their acts in the service of that revolution being liable to judicial scrutiny if they abdicated and the Party no longer controlled the courts, the nomenklatura and apparatchiki found themselves, by 1989, with a wolf by the ears and they couldn’t figure how to let go).

So in the end, it was their own bethump’t citizenries that demanded an end to it all – and increasingly throughout the 1980s the demoralized Party hacks could not drum up the authority or the willpower to call out the troops and riot police and decisively put the ‘masses’ back in their proper place as merely the cattle on the great revolutionary Ponderosa.

So much for revolutionary ‘elites’ who were convinced that they knew what the blundering herds of the common masses (only politely and for form’s sake called ‘citizens’) were far too lumpish to ever embrace: the sure and certain glory of the revolution’s hype-excited illuminations, on the basis of which so much ‘creative destruction’ was wreaked over the course of many years.

“It was the revolt and the revival of the mind – and not just among dissidents but among disenchanted Communist intellectuals – that killed the Communist Leviathan.”

Well, what a stupendously marvelous Moment in world history it was. Many of Us may still remember it.

Of course, throughout those same 1980s We were most likely distracted by the ‘many revolutions’ (to use Gerald Ford’s hapless 1976 phrase, pathetically channeling Mao from a decade before) over here. Those ‘many revolutions’ didn’t simply attack the Western ‘mind’ (and male ‘reason’ and ‘abstraction’) but actually sought to ‘deconstruct’ the very concept of the mind and of ‘ideas’, replacing them with the ‘political power’ that Mao had insisted only flowed from ‘the barrel of a gun’ but which – thanks to a then-still working American and Constitutional ethos – required the many cadres of the many revolutions over here to do their Long March through the creatively-destroyed institutions of American culture, politicking furiously every step of the way.

They succeeded.

Until now, when We face over here the same sclerotic and catastrophic hash of ideological rigidity, disastrous outcomes, and the repression of dissent and ideas that so many Central Europeans had finally overcome over the amazing course of their 1980s.

Where revolutions assert unlimited powers to achieve their unlimited (but, ‘trust us’, reely reely good) objectives, the ‘velvet revolutionaries’ of the 1980s sought the limited but essential objectives of restoring a genuinely human democratic dynamic of robust thought, equally robust dissent and deliberation, and wide-spread participation by the citizenries in determining the shape and trajectory of their national culture and affairs.

Precisely what was being side-stepped and creatively deconstructed and destroyed over here during the same 1980s.

Do you still recall 1980's Solidarity (Solidarnosc) trade union headed by Lech Walesa? It was “a self governing trade union inspired by a vision of liberty, rooted in truth and a respect for human dignity” (and supported with awesome results by the authority of the Polish Pope, John Paul II).

The piece quotes the memoirs of one staff member of USSR Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. When their boss took calmly the reports of the satellites breaking away from the USSR, the staffers – in swimming trunks, standing on a beach (nicely!) – conferred anxiously among themselves at what was probably going to happen: “We are going to lose our allies – the whole Warsaw Pact. These countries will go their own ways. We will suffer. We will lose our jobs”.

Just so. The revolution ‘been bery bery good’ to them – and now the Party – on sooooo many levels – was over.

“But we did not think it would come so soon.” No, and that’s what gets me thinking of the Beltway (it is useless at this point to maintain the fiction of Democratic and Republican Parties – they have congealed into a Capitol Hill and Beltway nomenklatura, as has the military brass, the corporations and the banking elites, the educational and university elites, and just about every other major establishment that the ‘many revolutions’ set their sights on).

I’d say that in the USSR and the upper levels of the Communist Party by 1975 or so they had all figured out that the whole thing was a fraudulent mess and they all just hoped to keep feathering their own nests until they could retire with their accumulated swag and spoils and ‘get out of town’, loaded with cash, honor, and immunity from investigation and prosecution.

Not so very different from the Beltway elites at present.

But I still say that there remains enough of the American ethos so that “corrective mechanisms” may still be able to reassert some degree of useful repair (but We are never going to be able to recover the full integrity and vitality of what has been ‘creatively destroyed’ and deconstructed over the past decades of the ‘many revolutions’).

Another thinker refers to the Party nomenklatura as an “uncivil society” – having repressed all serious threats posed by honest, accurate, and widespread public deliberation, they were free to simply keep their own conceptually bankrupt game-plan going and – even as things got worse – hope for the best and – like Dickens’s Mister Micawber – hope that “something will turn up” to re-fund the Party and keep things going.

I’d say that any ‘revolution’ (in the European as opposed to the remarkably careful and prudent American variant of 1776-1787) is and pretty much has to be anti-civil. You can’t trust the masses or the mob; like large hooved mammals they have to be herded and penned, or they’ll run around all over the place and mess up the ‘vision’. Corral them so they can provide meat, motive power, or milk and then those who ‘get it’ can get on with their elite self-appointed mission of doing things the right way.

Yet, as in Central Europe, ‘civil society’ was never and could never be completely stamped out. The ancient ethos of Western culture and civilization, the values distilled somehow from millennia of experience going back to the Romans and the Greeks before them and aged for so long in the massive but not inert cask of Christianity … never lost its hold on the people.

And once the Communist vision had ‘won’ enough so as to reveal its profound flaws, to reveal those flaws so clearly that not even modestly intelligent Party members could deny them … once that had happened, then the citizenries could find just enough solid ground to wield a lever against the massive structures that had been constructed over and against them.

And the rest is, as they say, History.

Perhaps now, as I’ve suggested in a prior Post**, that time is fast approaching here, at long last.

It won’t be a moment too soon.


*Vladimir Tismaneanu, in his article “They wanted to be free”, in the ‘Times Literary Supplement’, October 30, 2009, pp. 12-3 (Subscription or purchase required).

**See here.

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Friday, November 13, 2009


Macolm Gladwell has an article in the August ‘New Yorker’ magazine and it raises some interesting stuff.

Using the character of Atticus Finch in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ (film made from the book, 1962, Gregory Peck as Southern small-town lawyer representing black man accused of raping a white female) Gladwell wants to look at “the limits of Southern liberalism”.

It’s hard to recall that there was such a beast once roaming the American scene, but there was. The Southern progressive and populist liberal existed in the pre-1960 era; s/he was of the ‘decent Christian’ opinion that both races were created equal and there was absolutely no reason for mistreating black folk.

The trouble, Gladwell observes, is that – being Southerners – the Southern progressive and populist liberal was first and foremost an intensely “local” sort of person, committed to the peace and quiet and order and decency of their small, local venues where everybody knew everybody else. Being all squished together on a small boat (not to say a lifeboat) the good Southern progressive and populist liberal was inherently wary of any amount or type of movement that would rock the boat that the whole town was on.

They networked, did their very decent and upright best, sought to give good example (often courageous) in their own lives, while never forgetting that too much change would overturn the entire craft. In a way, they had a rather hearts and minds approach to the problem of racial inequality that was all around them: do good things, give good example, always be respectful and decent, and work to change and improve in ways that would not overturn the entire craft – which, to their mind, would be culturally and humanly suicidal as well as self-defeating. What use if ‘liberty’ or ‘equality’ if you’ve overturned the fragile craft of ‘society’ which is the vessel that everybody needs to navigate the watery chaos of history and events?

An interesting question – and never fully liberated, much less answered.

Gladwell notes that the problem with their approach was the pervasiveness and insidiousness of Jim Crow – not simply the laws, but the heart-set and mind-set which, like a miasm, was in the very air that the members of that society – young and old – breathed in, constantly and from the beginning of their lives (folks didn’t move around so much back then).

To get at such a deep level of awareness, of consciousness even, much stronger medicine would be needed. The good intentions of the “Jim Crow liberals” weren’t going to be enough.

It was for that reason that liberals began to become – in terms of postwar racial issues – Big Government types: they couldn’t see how the slow and gentle approach of such decent folks as happened to reside in a locality could reliably produce any sort of equality large enough or quickly enough.

Stronger measures would be required. ‘Surgery’ – and ‘heroic’ surgery, as the docs like to say – would be required, and lots of it. The gentle lifestyle medicines of the Southern progressive populist liberal was too little and its effects would take too long, such as they might be.

And so the ‘civil rights’ liberalism of the race-age (before gender, orientation, disability, or the five official government ‘races’ – a much simpler time indeed) became a Big Government matter. The ‘Great’ in LBJ’s Great Society wasn’t simply a moral evaluation; it was a flag that a great amount of government was going to be required.

You can see here some of the most significant challenges residing in the entire American effort to resolve the race issue: local good intentions applied in such a way as not to rip apart the entire fabric of the local society vs. Washington-mandated and enforced large-scale and immediate and profound changes.

You can see the upsides and downsides of both sides, I think, and much more clearly than they are usually seen nowadays.

Then you add that the government not only exhorted, but issued Regulations and exerted its huge and multivalent authority and power through regulatory leverage and fiscal leverage, but even through the criminal law and law enforcement.

Now once you’ve started to turn this vast and hefty panoply of powers loose on a small local society, things are going to get broken. Yes, the general Jim Crow ethos will be ripped out, but in so ripping out those tares, then the wheat of a decent and stable social ethos also gets ripped away.

It’s always been something of a Tares-and-Wheat problem: to what extent should a society (local or national) allow the tares to wither away, and to what extent should overwhelming force be quickly applied to rip them out – regardless of how much wheat is ripped up and the essential soil with it?

Not an easy problem and I pretend no easy answer here, but this was the monstrous challenge facing the country and the government back then in the late 1950s.

Gladwell notes that in the rush to ‘solve’ the problem ‘moderate’ and ‘progressive’ Southern voices were drowned out as the impatient forcefulness of the Big Government ‘liberals’ ignited the most extreme of the Jim Crow die-hards (interestingly, he notes that Bull Connor – the Birmingham police chief who turned police dogs and fire hoses on civil rights demonstrators) – had enjoyed a poor reputation, being considered a race-extremist and ‘not a gentleman’ … until the destruction of ‘the center’ of Southern politics sucked him and his ilk from the margins to the center of events and public influence.

Demonization on both sides, appeals not simply to emotions but to passions, the confusing of issues so that they congealed into molten masses of ‘excuse’ or ‘justification’ … abetted by a media that started off meaning well but increasingly became addicted to melodrama: here’s the good guys, here’s the bad guys, they fight, and the good will win.

The influence of the ‘local’ was overwhelmed by the power of the ‘national’; a ‘uniformity’ – intended to be liberal and enriching – replaced the uneven moral diversity of regions and communities. That was the intention, anyway.

But events began to take on a life of their own; We lost control, as the nuclear engineers might say, of the reaction.

In the relatively simple schematics of the 1960s Southern race challenge, you can see what seems only a skeleton of what the country then went on to face in the later Sixties and Seventies: because where the Jim Crow and racial equality challenges were clearly more than enough for a country to put onto its plate and try to successfully digest, almost immediately the ‘race’ issue was followed by the ‘gender’ issue (which was followed by the orientation issue and fill-in-the-blank and fill-in-the-blank and fill-in-the-blank).

And all the problems inherent in the 1950s racial equality conundrum were then spread to each of the newly hatching follow-on ‘equality’ revolutions.

And intensified exponentially. The second, Northern, urban phase of the civil-rights movement – which had already begun to displace Martin Luther King’s spiritual and national-unity approach as early as 1966, was fueled by the ‘revolutionary’ mindset; Mao – that murderous loon – became the Great Model and his Little Red Book became to some a bible. Determined cadres, not decent citizens, would now run the revolutionary ball to victory. And that victory would be made to come swiftly and thoroughly, no matter how many eggs had to be broken to make the omlette. That was the plan anyway.

And the feminist plaint raised an even more profound ground that was contested: not simply the political rights of women (won with the vote in 1920) but the profound change of societal arrangements that – by the feminists’ own admission – had been around as long as ‘patriarchy’, which is to say since the dawn of human history.

You might have imagined that such a breath-taking ‘change’, altering arrangements devised by the species at its inception, would have to be undertaken carefully and with a whole lot of deep and careful thought. But no. ‘Revolution’ didn’t work that way, and it was actually not a sign of recklessness if not imbecility and hubris that such huge changes were to be implemented immediately by that Big Government. In fact, merely the fact that you were taking on such a monster program was touted as per se a sign of creativity and vision on a stunningly impressive scale.

And so, on and on, one ‘revolution’ after another.

It can be no surprise that American politics has become so unbalanced now. The experience of local governance, the sense that the ‘average citizens’ know best how to change their own polity, the awareness that no matter how much you may want to fix or improve your boat, it’s still on the water and full of ‘souls’ so you can’t just be taking an axe to the offending timbers … all those essential pre-requisites for a democratic politics and polity were cast aside and literally deconstructed.

I hold no brief for racism nor for political inequality.

But you don’t have to look around much now to see that some vital national elements have been lost and now the whole thing is lurching queasily from one side to another, or pulled from both sides simultaneously (which is a dynamic that cannot but weaken a vessel’s hull).

This is not a plea to turn back the clock. But much damage has been done – even for the best of intentions if not with much serious thought – to very vital and essential elements and even the foundations of the polity.

To read Gladwell is not simply to recall the repugnant practices of Jim Crow. It is to get a sense of a nation of citizens – all fallible humans, but there’s no way to get around that quickly and easily – living and ordering their lives together.

Nowadays, in ways even more thorough and profound than in the ‘conformist’ days of the 1950s, Americans have become ‘conformist’ in the most awful way: going along with what is imposed upon them because they haven’t got the ability or even any longer the vision to order their own affairs. And that Big Government, once imagined to be the fell instrument of the corporations, and for a Moment in Time the instrument of a more just and equitable Deal for Americans, has become something worse than a Government – it has become a Parent and a Shepherd, for helpless and befuddled and bethump’t little sheep that cannot find their way or even themselves.

This cannot end well. And the damage may not ever be fully repaired. But the article is worth a lot of thought.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009


It’s Veteran’s Day and a good time to consider the plight of Our troops – especially given what they’ve been tasked to do in the service of The Greater Southwest Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Tara McKelvey has a readable and substantive article in ‘The Boston Review’: is religion an obstacle to therapy for PTSD?

I’ve Posted on this recently, but it’s worth approaching the subject again from this slightly different angle.

She starts with the case of an Army chaplain (!) who had to report for PTSD treatment because he had reached a spiritual abyss after his recent tour over there and could no longer stomach hearing the phrase that ‘God is watching over you’. His wife and children afforded no effective consolation to him either.

I am always a bit wary of clergy – this one appears to be some flavor of Protestant – who ‘lose their faith’ when they run into the rough waters. Clergy – especially in the military – are supposed to be sort of like a spiritual Coast Guard: they’re always ready for the rough weather and boiling waves ‘out there’, and indeed sort of imagine that being able to provide service in precisely that dangerous and roiled environment is what the Coast Guard is all about.

So when one says that after running into some really rough weather s/he has lost the faith, then I begin to wonder if the individual was really clergy-chaplain material to begin with.

But then again, especially in this country of late, a sort of happy-face ‘summer sunshine’ sort of God, a glorified concierge there to fulfill one’s every wish, has been the usual image of the Divinity, and a sort of happy-face ‘summer-sunshine sort of life has been the usual expectation about the type of world such a God would set up (sort of like the Flower Children imagining that all of life was basically a dope-and-booze-and-sex-filled summer afternoon in San Francisco or Southern California).

But as a lot of folks and a lot of traditional theology and religion could have told them: it ain’t necessarily so … not hardly.

She refers to a recent study of Vietnam vets that indicated how many of the ones who had ‘lost their faith’ in God (and apparently the war) were most liable to return to the States and seek psychiatric counseling.

But of course, if you’ve lost your faith – to use the phrase – and thus don’t believe in God or religion any longer (and perhaps not in the goodness of the nation’s policy or the military brass) then you already defined ‘God and religion’ as being no longer of any help, even though what you have (your loss of faith) is primarily a spiritual problem.

Former students of a certain age may recall being taught that there are different types of fires, and so different types of extinguishers, so that – say – if you find yourself faced with an electrical fire, it won’t do any good to be putting water on it from the trusty water-based extinguisher.

But here, in this combat-stress matter, you have an electrical fire for which – since you’ve lost your faith in chemical powder – you’re going to try to put water on, turning to the water extinguisher by default as it were. Indeed, it may be a magnesium fire, for which water is not only an ineffective extinguishing agent, but will actually aggravate the fire and make it much worse.

This is a primarily a problem in the ‘rectification of Names’, as the ancient Chinese would say. Before you come up with the solution, you’ve got to accurately classify the problem.
But this has always been the problem of the ‘stress’ diagnosis from its inception about 30 years ago.

At the moment, the VA administration is still home to many hold-overs from the days of Bush and the ‘faith-based’ approach. That approach was a neat synergy between a government that didn’t want to waste money on cleaning up the consequences of its own actions and a Fundamentalism that essentially identified the country and the military and all their pomps and works with God: if you believe in ‘God’, the Fundamentalist whackery has it, then you believe in the country and the military and the war(s) and you shouldn’t be having any ‘stress’ at all. Your discomfort, in this approach, indicates a lack of faith.

Thus many chaplains – and they are so often Fundamentalists now - will start giving lectures on the Bible or – for those who are ‘with it’ – such current popular works as ‘The Purpose-Driven Life: What you need, soldier, is simply a stronger sense of purpose, not simply your own but the one God – through the President and your chain of command – has thoughtfully provided for you. So stop whimpering and start believing.

Oy. Oy gevalt. Oy and frak.

But accurate as it is to note the obnoxious and almost looney ‘ministry’ of Fundamentalist whackery, it is insufficient to stop the analysis there.

This ‘stress’ problem is a doozey of entangled developments: cultural and medical and political as well as religious and spiritual.

The VA hierarchy notes even now that the ‘stress’ diagnosis is a dubious one, and one that has unsavory political roots. There’s something to that.

In the later 1970s the Vietnam vets organizations started to carve a small place for themselves among the wider feminist push for ‘sensitivity’ to ‘pain’ – whatever pain a person (for the radical feminists, always a woman; for the multiculturalists anybody not ‘white’ and ‘mainstream’) might say that they felt.

This was considered to be a form of ‘empowerment’: instead of being told by a doctor (so often in those days a ‘man’) what your problem was and how to make it better, you would get to be listened to, and then your wishes as well as your pain would be ‘respected’ and you would thus be ‘empowered’.

Whether you would actually get better is another question, but then again this theory worked best with stuff that you ‘felt’. Broken legs and ruptured appendixes weren’t the best type of problems for this theory to prove itself; ‘pain’, however, worked very nicely: you felt it and you could declare when you no longer felt it (which was an outcome that didn’t seem to happen very often).

So the Vietnam vets started to get involved with this, casting their board on the rising surf.

Not that they didn’t have some frightening experiences. War itself, for the combat soldier anyway, is a frightening and awful cauldron. You can suddenly wind up ‘seeing’ an awful lot: not only carnage, but the darker side of nations, militaries, soldiering, and even your buddies.

And perhaps even yourself: if ‘seeing’ awful things is certainly a pressureful experience, even more so is ‘doing’ awful things – a cause of PTSD that, especially nowadays, isn’t mentioned much. Although I, for one, wonder just how many sufferers haven’t just ‘seen’ awful stuff but are haunted by what awful stuff they themselves might have done.

(A certain stock response to that insight is that it’s really just a form of ‘blaming the victim’, but if you can’t get an accurate cause of the pain (which is itself mostly self-reported and not accessible to scientific testing) then you can’t really devise an accurate treatment. If somebody, say, reports terrifying nightmares and crippling ‘depression’, and says that it is all from what s/he has ‘seen’, but you as a therapist don’t know that the person actually ‘did’ some really upsetting stuff as well as ‘saw’ stuff, then things aren’t soon going to get put right. And if you ‘witnessed’ some awful stuff but can’t report it because you want to be ‘loyal’, yet you still need to make the pain and stress go away … well, ditto ditto. You see where these things can go.)

So there was always a certain political element to this entire ‘disease’ called PTSD. Indeed, while the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual’s 1980 3rd edition put down some careful parameters for the particularly awful stresses generated by the combat experience, the 4th edition in 1994 expanded and diluted those parameters (to include some stressors, especially those connected with ‘men’, that the feminists’ clients – reputedly ‘all women’ – had to put up with). And the band played on.

But then there is a host of scientific problems with the diagnosis.

First, it has to be clearly isolated and differentiated from such other problems such as micro-sized brain damage (a current injury rampant in the current combat theaters): explosions such as those caused by IEDs and mines can cause tiny bits of damage in vital elements of the brain, causing all manner of physiological and psychological consequences. These injuries can now be seen on scanning equipment.

This is not PTSD, which is a far more fuzzy problem, since it appears to be a purely psychological and emotional response – by some soldiers but not others – to experiences they have had in the combat theater. Yes, the stress-released neurochemicals can, especially if the patient is exposed over a long period of time, cause physiological damage, but the neurochemicals are released by the individual’s sense of being ‘stressed’ in the first place. And we’re back to the individual and his/her ‘sense’ or ‘feeling’ of being ‘stressed’.

And then there’s the problem of self-reporting: if you can’t independently verify the existence of the ‘pain’ that the soldier is claiming, then you can’t really be sure of what you’re dealing with. The ‘solution’ to this conundrum – so popular in the victim-oriented 1980s and 1990s – was the simple and simplistic rule: believe the sufferer, since sufferers – through some metaphysical Law not previously published – do not lie or make mistakes.

This is conceptually a piss-poor professional standard of therapeutic practice. And especially in a situation where a putative patient stands to derive financial benefit – or in a military combat setting where a patient might be able to avoid ‘returning to the front’, then the possibilities for – ummmmm – mischief are huge. And of course, as victimism took hold in American culture, simply claiming the status of ‘victim’ was some sort of ‘benefit’, and to some might appear an actual achievement.

The solution precipitated out of the interaction with another development of the latter half of the 20th century: the development of numerous powerful drugs (and, it has to be said, the expansion of the drug and pharmaceutical industry). The most ‘efficient’ solution for a practitioner – and the one least likely to cost him/her a job – was to prescribe some drugs and get on to the next case of the day.

But as I said, if you’re dealing with primarily a spiritual or moral crisis – perhaps one induced by doing – rather than merely ‘witnessing’ – some awful stuff, then drugs were not really going to get to the cause of the problem. And if you’re dealing with a personality already weakened by immaturity or poor parenting and childhood experience (an increasing if disturbing probability in this country nowadays), then the introduction of drugs (and all their side effects) could only complicate an already complicated and somewhat nebulous situation.

And there is an organizational element to all of this in the military setting: a therapist is him/herself a sworn Service member, perhaps even a commissioned officer. So when the chain of command says that You will do this or You won’t do that … then your professional judgment has to take a back-seat to your orders. Unless you want to get court-martialed or be dismissed from the Service (which never looks good on a resume).

And in the current setting of combat operations the chances of ‘stress’ are very high indeed.

First, the nature of the combat: we are more or less losing, or at least involved in precisely that “long twilight struggle” that no American military commander has ever welcomed (We are a quick-and-total victory sort of nation). Worse, this is a war with no ‘front-line’: there is no in-theater ‘safe zone’ where you can be sent for a little R&R. Nor can the military afford to be shipping big bunches of troops to Europe or wherever for such R&R (it isn’t the Golden Age of 1945-1970 any longer). So the stress-inducing experiences never stop.

Second, the average American munchkin is not really conditioned to a lot of pressure. Preserved from a childhood of drinking water from garden hoses or riding bicycles without helmets, alert to the smallest official disregard of their ‘rights’ or their preferences, and wayyyy too sugared-up, there are just a whole lotta munchkins and munchkas that aren’t used to running up against a stern and implacable reality, like – oh, sayyyyy – war and combat.

And for far too long the military has catered to that cultural shift by watering-down the ‘stern and implacable’ side of training. Indeed, the feminist lobby insists that military service is primarily an ‘employment opportunity’ and since ‘it isn’t your father’s or grandfather’s (fill in the blank: Army, Navy, Air Force) any longer’, then it isn’t their type of ‘war’ either. Although if the lobby imagined that War itself – that awesome and aweful Horseman – was going to be as easily cowed as the US Congress, they were laboring under a delusion of truly world-historical proportions.

And then, coming full circle, there are now the Fundamentalists, who under the Bush Administration swelled to an Ascendancy in the military chaplaincies. They did so because they were far more government-friendly than any other faith-group, including the Catholics: in the simplistic Fundamentalist schematic, God appointed and deputized ‘the powers that be’, which is the government and the military chain of command, and so all the soldiery has to do to ‘get right with God’ is to follow orders. Ach!

Unfortunately, the same Congress that breezily pandered to ‘youth’ and other pushy lobbies over the course of decades, also signed off on a ‘war’ that bids fair to force all of the favored demographics into that “long twilight struggle” on the darkling, blood-red fields of Ares Ferox et Atrox.

Hence the possibilities for stress are legion.

And to complicate it all with one last infernal twist, the Fundamentalist chaplainry is actually making some good noises about self-discipline and responsibility that have been sorely deconstructed of late. (Which is not to say that I subscribe to any Fundamentalist vision of ‘maturity’, especially since their idea of history stops about 6,000 short years ago and their vision of the earliest hominids has those bipeds sharing turf with the dinosaurs, as was proven by that decisive historical evidence, “The Flintstones”.)

So it’s not hard to see where military therapy providers as well as service personnel are under a lot of pressure.

But the elements of the whole thing are numerous, convoluted, and present a massive and molten cauldron of complexity. And Americans have never been known to handle that type of challenge well.

If all this gives you a headache, I recommend that you don’t take an aspirin, but instead stay with the pressure and the pain and try to work through it. The more folks that get into that habit, the better the chance that somehow the country can come up with a reasonable analysis and some modestly effective solution.

Do it for the troops. God knows We owe it to them.

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Monday, November 09, 2009


The cultural historian Jackson Lears mentions in a recent ‘New Republic’ article that Jimmy Carter had actually not used the word ‘malaise’ in his July, 1979 speech to the American people where he opined that the American people faced a “crisis of confidence” and urged that Americans engage in a sort of national spiritual renewal wherein they would find a non-material sense of meaning and purpose. Carter even quoted William James’s poignant and seductive phrase “the moral equivalent of war”.

James in the first decade of the 20th century had been trying to figure a way to incite the full energies and focus of human beings without having to light the darkling and voracious fire of war. War, James had seen, had a way of galvanizing and catalyzing people; it could lift them out of the humdrum everyday-ness of ‘life’, and even move them to develop beyond their humdrum and everyday ‘self’ and into a sharper, clearer, even perhaps more morally alert and acute ability to be and to do, to live and to accomplish.

The old Romantic philosophy, echoing the era of knighthood, saw in war and in fighting the epitome of life: war provided a ‘moment’ in which all the extraneous and unnecessary distractions of human life and being were suddenly dissolved in the bright, hot flash of critical and lethal challenge: war was, to use a term that didn’t come along until much later, an ‘existential’ opportunity that blessed those who faced it well with the revelation of a more intense, focused, vital self.

James, philosophically and psychologically inclined, sought to achieve that same Sense, but without the death-dealing frakkery of war itself. Was there, he wondered, a “moral equivalent of war”? Is there not some way to achieve such a heightened Sense of oneself and of existence without having to tap into the primitive instincts unleashed in the individual by war?

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with the American frontier fading and many Americans now living in cities holding salaried jobs in offices and factories and shops, there was a dim ‘malaise’: without the opportunity for doing ‘great’ and ‘heroic’ things like taming the frontier and warring against enemies (the Indians, the massive struggles of the Civil War – whose young soldiers were now in portly later-middle age) was there now no way for Americans to maintain that bright, crisp edge of their higher and more genuine consciousness?

Did becoming ‘civilized’ mean that you had to wither into a pale simulacrum of what it truly means to be a fully-alive, highly-evolved human being?

Did the grounding of a self and a life in the more fully human brainparts, and away from the more primitive brainparts and their turbulent passions, mean that one must become a conformist wraith, a shadow?

Was all ‘thrill’ primitive? Or was there a way to achieve or induce a ‘higher high’? Was it merely a matter of being high in a primitive way or being mature in a boring and deadening way? Could there be such a thing as a mature ‘high’? Could one get ‘high’ on maturity?

Were the robust founding and frontier generations now to be replaced with pale drones? (It probably didn’t help that even Jesus was pictured popularly as ‘the pale Galilean’, a sort of early-Victorian gentleman who never wore a proper hat but was otherwise quite clubbable.)

This was a splendid question to ask. Dostoevski had given the world the character of Raskolnikov, who truly sought that ‘high’, but could only see his way clear to achieve it by killing an old woman – the act of killing being to Raskolnikov’s limited moral imagination the most perfect catalyzer of a sense of being alive. That clearly wouldn’t do.

Carter had seen the same thing in 1979. And he made a decent stab at a diagnostic observation: “Owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning”. Which adds a complication: if you can’t find such a high Sense simply among the things of this world and its shiny surfaces, then where to go?

Which isn’t at all a bad question to have to face. And spiritual experience throughout the relatively brief history of the species had amassed quite a bit of insight into the matter.

But folks don’t like to hear such things from their President. From a King, maybe. Certainly from a preacher, so long as the point isn’t belabored to the point of discomfort. But America had always been a this-worldly kind of place, and it was precisely in taming and mastering the things of this world that the generations of early Americans had made their mark in and on their world.

And America in the later 1970s hadn’t quite realized what was happening to it. The Golden Age of the postwar American predominance in industrial and economic might had ended somewhere around 1970. Surely Nixon’s floating of the dollar in 1971 was the first unmistakable sign that the dollar, bolstered by American productivity under the terms of the New Deal and the Detroit Consensus, was no more.

And Vietnam – supported by far too many middle-aged World War Two vets as a replay of their own salad days – had turned out to be far less of a definitive victory than anyone had imagined possible.

And by 1979 the country had been roiled for a decade by all sorts of social ‘change’; indeed the agitations of the later Sixties had only intensified. What looked to have been the great civil-rights victory of July 1965 quickly proved itself to be some sort of floodgate (or watertight door?) suddenly opened, through which an increasingly turbulent stream of demands came from all over the place, and the country found itself ‘guilty’ of more oppressions every time it looked at the news.

Proposing a high jump into the spiritual realm is always an iffy proposition. Not for nothing did Kierkegaard reflect that genuine religion was not for everybody, maybe not even for most people. It’s a hard slog, climbing up the ladder of the self and relying on a Beyond that in its genuine nature is not an easily graspable material thing, but rather an immaterial spirit. For that matter, one’s own soul is kind of an iffy proposition.

And suggesting to people that they need to limit themselves is a hard-sell in any era; in the Me-decade, flush with revolutions and liberations and a lot of big cars and big hair and big clothes it was almost a guaranteed non-starter.

Carter’s speech – a decent enough effort – went nowhere.

And worse.

Challenging Carter for the Presidency in 1980, Ronald Reagan began preaching that “any such talk about limits was un-American”. Limits weren’t American, Reagan said; America was defined by the fact that it had no limits. He would follow that up with the Greed-is-Good decade, Kennedy’s Camelot without the classical music but a lot more good wine.

It was an impressively shrewd bit of politics. By signaling that there no limits, Reagan let the business and finance demographics know that ‘regulation’ would not be a problem – which also gave them the flexibility to try and come up with a new way for America to keep itself solvent and happy; and it gave the wealthy the high sign that the filthy-denim Sixties and the polyester Seventies were over and it was OK to be classy again.

But at the same time, he slyly and almost invisibly aligned himself with a brassy radical feminism that was at that moment trying to ‘deconstruct’ all the old legitimacy of ‘limits’ and ‘shape’ in order to blast open fresh space for its various visions, even as the multiculturalists were looking as well to erase the traditional ‘shape’ of what it meant to be American.

None of which would bode well for American maturity.

It’s a terrible thing to suggest that there are no limits. Under any circumstances it is a baaad thing for humans to start believing such dreck.

Psychologically, the human infant needs to develop a robust and lively sense of just what can and can’t be done, just what is ‘real’ and what is ‘fantasy’, just where the limits are.

And not only for the purpose of restraining and containing the little dickens.

But also for the purpose of imparting some Shape to the self. Limits limit, but they also contain – they channel the vitality and the energies of the human self into paths where they won’t be simply dissipated and shot off into the air in a thousand bits and in all directions.

But they also define, they impart a Shape. They are not simply a fence, but a container and, more dynamically, a vessel, a vessel capable of carrying one’s energies and abilities, one’s very Self, across the uneasy ocean of human events.

It’s interesting to look at how Shapeless America became, especially after the dawn of the Reagan era. It wasn’t so much that Reagan intended to impart a new Shape, but rather that he sought to re-animate an old one. And not simply the ‘old’ one of his own youth and salad days, but also one that could no longer sustain itself in the post-1970 world.

He solved the problem of ‘sustaining’ by turning loose the financial folks to work their ‘magic’. But the corporate environment of Reagan’s presidency wasn’t that of J.P. Morgan, who commanded oceans of solid dollars generated by legions of solid factories and stolid workers that poured forth oceans of actual goods and products. The ‘dollar’ of the Reagan Era was far more symbolic (not to say phantasmagoric) than the dollar of J.P. Morgan’s day. And it didn’t get better as time staggered on.

And Reagan borrowed, cashing in on America’s still glowing status on the world scene. And the corporations sold off the factories and outsourced to places where workers didn’t have the option of standing up for themselves and the natives would take what pay they were offered.

Why argue with Congress demanding quotas for women as well as racial minorities? Say yes with a smile and in the meantime outsource all the production to places where the Congressional writ didn’t run. And let whoever wanted to strut around in a new suit do so – for as long as the cash held out.

And when the Soviet Union went – and its Wall fell – then one of the great Shapers of postwar America fell with it. The Soviets had provided a sort of identity-on-the-cheap: America was not-Russia. The barbarians had indeed been a sort of solution. And then suddenly they were gone.

It’s always been a less heroic way of defining yourself: I am me because I am not you. The more heroic, more substantial, more demanding path is to develop yourself and Shape yourself so that you don’t need to lean up against somebody else and say I am me because I am not you. That was the dark and weak path of racism, which exacted such a terrible toll from its practitioners: I don’t have to improve myself because I’m not one of those (fill in the blank). As if by virtue of being born with a certain color skin then you were born perfected and needn’t give self-mastery any further thought or effort. A fairy-tale and a fantasy from Hell.

Increasingly Shapeless currency bathed an increasingly under-Shaped population and society.
And a society of people who have not Shaped themselves sure as hell won’t be able to impose a decent Shape upon their government.

And the government promptly began to go off the Constitutional rails. Which was to often called progress and patriotism. How after all, do you continue to justify and ground the American vision if - thanks to deconstruction, multiculturalism, and identity politics - there are no 'truths' to hold, no 'We' to hold them, and they are not in any way self-evident? Can it be any wonder that one of the underexamined results of deconstruction, multiculturalism, and identity politics - especially in the service of 'feminist law' - has been a gutting of any robust aliveness on the part of political and legal elites (let alone academic elites) to the urgent and perennial value of the Constitutional vision?

It takes a Person to be Patriot. It takes a highly developed adult to be a Citizen, someone Shaped and in possession of his or her best self and its capabilities and qualities. (And no, that doesn’t require an Ivy League or even collegiate education; in fact such adventures would probably constitute a distraction nowadays.)

Otherwise you just get a bunch of extras in the crowded street scene outside the Chancellery, waving little flaglets and cheering themselves hoarse, glad to have somebody in charge.

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