Friday, January 22, 2010

GLENN GREENWALD YES BUT NO

Glenn Greenwald, over on Salon, has a meaty piece about the national public reaction to the Christmas attempt by that gentleman who wanted to blow up an airliner using his underpants.(Which makes the Japanese use of military airplanes to blow up the battle fleet at Pearl Harbor seem not only thoroughly professional but – well … serious, in a grown-up kind of way.)

He makes some excellent points, but he also demonstrates the problem with even good writers, reporters and commentators who for whatever reasons have to keep within certain ideological bounds: unable to ‘notice’ certain causes, their resulting analysis is inadequate, and thus any solutions based on the analysis are going to be flawed, and the solution will not work – and the problem will go on.

Greenwald generously and rightly applauds David Brooks at the ‘New York Times’ (and I am no fan of Mr. Brooks) for Brooks’s observation on “the childish, contemptuous and hysterical” national reaction, which – Greenwald acutely adds – was “egged on, as usual, by the always-hysterical American media”.

The media, of course, have become addicted to the sustained and professionally managed agitprop of the past four decades or so. From the vistas opened up in the era of the first phase of the Civil Rights Movement, when news cameras brought home to every American just what the frak was going on in the Jim Crow South, and through the Vietnam War era when they did ditto as to what was going on in a foreign war touted as necessary for democracy, the media became hooked on the viscerally and visually gripping.

When the assorted Advocacies of the newly-erected Identities, borrowing those brutal but brilliant leaves from the Goebbels playbook (taken home by Americans as spoils of victory), began to stage assorted agitprop scenes literally made-for-TV to demonstrate the ‘outrages’ for which they demanded the immediate granting of their assorted demands and agendas, the media found it hard to say No.

There were all the elements that made both soap-opera and disaster footage so gripping, and after all it was all in a good and ‘liberal’ cause. Good business, good ‘ethics’, and – truth be told – it was intoxicating not to simply ‘record’ history, but actually to ‘shape’ it. Wheeeee.

After several decades of ‘victims’ and ‘stories’ – buttressed by shows such as Jerry Springer and Oprah – the media were not only addicted, but now so compromised by ‘advocacy’ that they couldn’t get off the stuff.

And when the ‘conservatives’ took to using the same playbook, hoping to reproduce the prior decade’s success of the ‘liberals’, all the media could do was to accord the whackery of the Right the same worshipful attention as they had accorded the agitprop of the Left.

Hysteria sells.

Greenwald very rightly limns the symptoms: “A citizenry has been trained to expect that our Powerful Daddies and Mommies in government will – in that most cringe-inducing, child-like formulation – Keep Us Safe”. And when it appears that Government has failed in such parenting, the response “is an ugly combination of petulant, adolescent rage and increasingly unhinged cries that More Be Done so that nothing bad in the world ever happens to us”.

Bingo.

As I have been pointing out as recently as the immediately preceding Post on the defeat of Martha Coakley’s Senate bid up in Massachusetts, Americans have become much more childish (not the same as ‘child-like’); nor has it helped that Political Correctness forbids such Judgmentalism, Ageism, and Elitism and just plain outright discrimination.

But any judgment is in a way a form of discrimination – it’s a sign of discriminating taste or prudence to avoid large puddles while driving, either to avoid dirtying the wax job or avoid wrecking the wheel assembly on a pothole hidden beneath the calm dark surface of the water.

Adults have to make judgments all the time; children mature by learning how to judge – to discriminate – accurately and wisely. Otherwise they wind up doing stupid and sometimes dangerous things; it’s a hallmark of immaturity that one cannot make the type of judgments that enhance life (one’s own or others’) and indeed cause damage to that life or those lives. A husband and father still doing teeny-bopper snowboarding or skate-boarding at an age when his reflexes and muscles aren’t what they used to be … is still not quite ready for primetime.

But of course, once you’ve made commitments – including the huge commitment of making a baby or three – then you’re in primetime whether you really want to be or not.

The recent national solutions have trended strongly not toward increasing maturational competence to face an increasingly complex world, but rather to reduce the urgency of maturity by reducing the consequences of immaturity … and calling that ‘realistic’, ‘progressive’ and ‘normal’. Thus the now semi-permanent national buffet at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

(The Left side of the table, of course, is matched now by the Right, which is convinced that one can export Democracy at the point of a bayonet, blow up the locals, grab their valuable resources, and expect to be greeted as liberators – and to react with petulant dismay when the locals respond with counter-violence and – on top of that – have the temerity to stymie the multi-trillion dollar military which is this nation’s last claim to planetary primacy.)

These are, really, the types of things you expect to observe – with a politely straight face and compassionate but tastefully distant gaze – in the day-room of any secure haven for the permanently or temporarily unhinged.

In addition, of course, there is now the confluence of both streams, such as in the Left’s support for military invasion in order to “stop anything bad in the world” from happening to any other country’s folks where – nicely – the US government feels their pain. When two such roaring fires of frakkery as Our present Left and Right burn toward each other, We are looking at a conflagration of flaming frakkery that will make the Great Chicago Fire (wiki it if you have to) look like a small-town garage going up out on the county road.

So how to “demand that genuinely inept government officials be held accountable” when an increasingly inept (by reason of immaturity and civic incompetence) Citizenry expect no such consequences to apply to them? (Which is not to imply that the Consequence God will allow them such an extended paid vacation.)

Ditto when Greenwald sharply connects the dots between children lying in bed scared of night-monsters and adults lying in bed scared of “scary Muslim monsters”. And that the adults now want to be protected by government just as the child wants to be protected by its parents (or by whatever modern simulacrum applies to its domestic situation).

The Regulatory-Preventive Nanny State doesn’t want Citizens, it wants Children. Just as the Rightist National Security State doesn’t want Citizens, it wants obedient pawns and patriotic fundamentalists.

There is a jingoism of the Identity-besotted Left as there is a jingoism of the Nation-besotted Right. Both seek to control those who ‘just don’t get it’ or don’t own enough to count in the wider glorious vision; and who don’t belong to the society of whichever elite cadres possess like frenzied but determined mandarins the One True Path to the bright, sunny uplands of supremacy, however defined.

Greenwald quotes John Adams, and nicely so, to the effect that “Fear is the foundation of most governments, but it is so sordid and brutal a passion and renders men in whose breasts it predominates so stupid and miserable …” [italics are GG’s]. And I would add that such fear makes people vengeful and so agitated that they stampede like a herd of spooked cattle.

Greenwald continues the quotation: Adams (writing in a now far-distant 1776) is confident that “Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution founded on it”. Well, that was then.

But such Fear has been the staple of American ‘progress’ for four decades now: each Identity provided sustained agitprop vividly asserting that its particular demon-enemy was fearfully and uncontrollably and incorrigibly evil and that in order to alleviate the fear (and the pain) and to bring ‘closure’ and make the Identity ‘safe’ then the government must do ‘whatever it takes’ and achieve such Safety by ‘whatever means necessary’ (to use the charming if ominous Israeli phrases). I need only mention the term ‘sex offender’, for example, to demonstrate precisely what I mean here.

But Greenwald rightly observes with Adams that “political leaders possess an inherent interest in maximizing fear levels” – which no doubt explains why the Identity nightmares have received the sustained support of government at all levels, despite the monstrous threat of simultaneously an engorged government control authority and an increasingly fearful and incompetent Citizenry. The less competent and helpless you feel, the more you are going to feel the pressing need for ‘protection’ – and that old devil Government is always willing to step right up and promise it to you … and you don’t even have to sign on the dotted sulphurous line; you simply have to look the other way as this or that person or group is taken away. Ja!

Of course, all of this is hell-and-gone from Adams’s vision – but he’s only a Dead White Male anyway, so what’s the problem? He ‘just didn’t get it’.

Greenwald makes the fine assertion that “the American Founding was predicated on exactly the opposite mindset … the Constitution is grounded in the premise that there are other values and priorities more important than mere Safety” [that whole last clause underlined in GG’s text].

This is not because the Founders were chimpish males who didn’t care about anybody’s safety but their own; it’s because the Founders were well aware that the most eternal predator in human history is Government, and against its own population even before against others. And as in the best B-level horror fliks, the Founders established the strongest possible protections against the King of Vampires, the strongest and sturdiest wall to keep that monstrous Kong from breaking loose into the village.

It was the abiding fear, I think, of the Founders, that someday the door would be opened and the Thing invited in eagerly, the gate unbarred and the Thing enticed into the light of the hearth-fires. For profit, for a change, for laffs – who knows?

Better to let criminals evade capture, the Founders thought (and Greenwald observes) than to let the Thing invade home and hearth, heart and mind, exerting its baleful and inevitably violent control over the society and culture that is the true heart and health of the country.

But the Founders ‘just didn’t get it’, it was snarkily hooted, and not simply by unwashed villagers in their cups down at the local watering hole. In fact, not by the great unwashed at all but rather by the self-proclaimed elites, basking in the blinding golden beam of Government’s shrewd and shrewdly generous approbation, which made them appear – to hungry but undiscriminating cameras – as rather golden beings and creatures of light themselves.

Those who stubbornly opined that the gold was only gilt were hooted down. And the band played on.

The Founders thought the way they did “because certain values – privacy, due process, limiting the potential for abuse of government power – were more important than mere survival and safety”. You say this on Oprah or if you said it on Springer, you could quickly find yourself the object of wails and screams of offense and outrage … and never invited to make public comment again. Your insensitivity would earn you the virtual universe’s equivalent of a colored Star to be affixed to your clothing and your very soul; or the great crimson letter “I” for Insensitive (or Incorrect, perhaps – take your pick).

Princess Amidala’s wry observation that democracy ends with applause (if I recall that flik correctly) may well be updated by not-too-distant historians: it ended here with screams of ‘pain’ and vengeance and cries for Safety and Protection. And, to keep this thread going a little bit more, thus will pass Democracy, son of Constitution, screaming and wailing and afire from the fire set by himself, until he plunges from the pinnacle of the once-great City, into the hordes of enemies that his own profoundly embraced weakness lured to him and to his people (Denethor, as eulogized by Mithrandir in LOTR 3).

And when I use the word ‘weakness’ I am not implying that We should take the path of endless military conquest or ‘nation-building’. The weakness I am referring to is a national maturational and moral weakness, which even in the LOTR scenario was the deepest cause of Denethor’s awful situation.

Anyway, the military is now so ‘sensitized’ by decades of trying to remake itself (at the Beltway’s behest) as an employment opportunity for whoeverrrrr rather than an agency that must play according to the awe-full rules of Ares Ferox et Atrox that Our days of military sufficiency are sharply numbered. Unless We uncork the nukes and threaten the Mother of All Tantrums … but that way – I hope many can still see – lies madness and an end to all things.

And it is “a central calculation of the Constitution that we insist upon privacy, liberty and restraints on government power even when doing so means we live with les safety and a heightened risk of danger and death” [italics GG’s]. Can you picture what would happen now to anybody who suggested in a telegenic venue that this country needs less safety and more courage? Let me propose this scenario to you: such a person would get as much of a verbal thrashing as a person in 1973 suggesting to an Identity Politics sobfest that all of you should “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”.

How’s them apples? Teddy Kennedy managed to do all his favorite constituencies a world-historical favor by hiding behind his portentous bulk the truly shocking fact that to the causes and ‘dreams’ he was supporting his late brother’s most fundamental vision was gall and wormwood.

And you wonder how the country of MLK and JFK, let alone the Founders and Lincoln, so quickly wound up swilling Chardonnay at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, sandwiched in between the Easter Bunny and a passel of Tooth Fairies?

As Greenwald notes, nowadays it’s “only Government-provided Safety, not the Constitution, [that] matters”.

Indeed, he quotes certain Government types: Michael Chertoff “demanding that we stop listening to ‘privacy ideologues’” – so if you cling to the Constitutional vision you are some sort of whacko “ideologue” now; but haven’t the ‘governance feminists’ been saying the same thing for decades? After all, ‘men’ can hide their ‘violence’ behind Constitutional privacy protections, especially in home and hearth and – not to put too fine a point on it – bedroom. (Not even Adams could have had so gruesome a nightmare as to imagine that, I bet.)

Face it, the Constitution and the Constitutional ethos were undermined the minute that the most important identity in this country was not that you were American (itself a many-faceted, chiaroscuro potentiality) but rather that you were a this or a that, a male or a female, a victim or a perp, good or evil. There’s no getting around that stark, lethal reality. Whether such a consequence was unintended, intended as an acceptable loss, or ignored in light of the 'good intentions' of the Identity Politics crowd ... now you're just quibbling about where the deck chairs go on the Titanic.

Worse, Greenwald concludes with the probably accurate advice that “talking to one’s friends and co-workers is not a reliable way of gauging public opinion on an issue”. Especially if you or your co-workers are under the age of 55 or 60. Because the kids in all the birth cohorts that reached even a modicum of consciousness since 1965 or so have been brought up to accept as ‘the new normal’ the proposition that the greatest enemies are those who cause (fill in the blank) ‘pain’ and those monsters are among us, masquerading as ‘normal’ and ‘good’ folks, but are really – no, not Communists, but rather – (fill in the blank). And those cohorts have grown up accordingly in a civic polity fractured in theory (Identity Politics) as well as in practice.

So that now the only thing that remains to unite ‘Americans’ is fear, threat, and war.

And if you sow that wind, you will reap the whirlwind – Churchill saw that, watching the German people look the other way (or applaud and cheer deliriously) as the little whackjob with the mustache promised them Primacy and Security, and that if they followed him they would get just what they deserved.

And so it came to pass.

So Greenwald has accomplished much in this piece. And I commend him for it.

But those of a genuinely liberal, or American bent, cannot simply reduce all of Our present frakkulous condition to “the past ten years”. I am saying that you have to go back forty years just to have a reasonable grounding in the causes of this mess.

And for a solution, I am going to repeat what I said in the immediately previous Post: the first step would be for Americans to realize that the greatest being in God’s Creation is not The Child but rather the mature, competent, fully human Adult.

After all, you don’t go for a sunny walk in a big field full of acorns and saplings; you go for a walk in the forest, where there are trees (which are much better examples of Treehood and Treeness than are the seedlings, nuts, acorns, and so forth).

And it is utterly and urgently essential that We see that.

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