Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Worst Fascist Dictator Ever

The opposition – which seems to be pretty much everyone, at least everyone who has a voice – seems to be of one mind on one thing – i.e. the only thing they are capable of thinking about these days – namely that Trump is a fascist dictator. Not an aspiring one, mind – or one under construction – but already, just over a year in office, a full-blown dictator in the footsteps and image of Hitler and Mussolini (and a few lesser lights, like... Pinochet, I suppose, or Franco... or whoever runs Latin American countries when they aren't being run by socialists or communists).

Well, if this is true – and try convincing any of them that it's not – then Trump is surely the most failed fascist dictator to ever come down the pike. I mean, think about it – think about all the areas in which he has failed when his supposed role models have succeeded:

  • He hasn't made the trains run on time, a la Mussolini. Hell, he can't even keep them on the tracks.
  • He hasn't come up with the American 21st-Century equivalent of the Volkswagen.
  • He hasn't constructed any gigantic stadiums in which to hold mass rallies.
  • He hasn't yet nationalized any major industries (or minor ones – not even kettle corn stands). Traditionally, this would start with mines, fossil fuels, and defense industries – but no, not a peep. This puts him way behind Obama, who at least managed to nationalize health care.
  • He hasn't taken over radio... or television... or the Internet (which his predecessors would have done in a heartbeat if the Internet had existed in their time).
  • He hasn't turned the film industry into a propaganda apparatus for his administration and his personality cult.
  • He hasn't taken over the print media or the publishing industry.
  • He hasn't imposed censorship on music or the arts (but “not yet!” cry the opposition).
  • He hasn't issued stamps with his picture on them.
  • He doesn't have a hand-picked imperial guard. All he has is the same old Secret Service with their boring suits and skinny black ties, and the White House police with their boring uniforms (which Nixon tried to change, but the pushback was just too overwhelming).
  • He hasn't designed a new American flag, or uniforms for himself and his senior staff.
  • He hasn't come up with a new title for himself.
  • He hasn't come up a distinctive salute, or a substitute for “hello” and “goodbye”.
  • He hasn't established a youth movement named after him.
  • He hasn't established institutions where elite members of the military can breed with racially pure women in order to produce new members of the master race.
  • He hasn't taken over Czechoslovakia or half of Poland (or anywhere else, for that matter).
  • He hasn't built any new palaces or mansions with taxpayers' money.
  • He hasn't cleansed American society of any particular racial or ethnic group (but “not yet!” cry the opposition).
  • He hasn't built any concentration camps (but “not yet!” cry the opposition).
  • He hasn't managed to take control of the legislature, or, failing that, dissolve it, and throw anyone who objects in prison.
  • He hasn't managed to take control of the judicial branch at any level and bend it to his whims.
  • He hasn't managed to put his hand-picked lackeys in charge of states, cities, and localities.
  • He hasn't managed to declare illegal all political parties but his own.

And the list just goes on and on. Not only has he failed to take control of key elements of the government, the media, and the culture, and turn them into a unified propaganda apparatus, he has to deal with dogged resistance, hostility, and what amounts to sabotage from those quarters. And it all goes unpunished! He has to deal with the “deep state”, with the intel community, with the media (especially the “entertainment” sector)... with resistance from the judiciary, and hostility from his own political party. So where are all the arrests and detentions? Where are all the “night and fog” operations? Hasn't he ever heard of martial law? You'd think with all the resources at his disposal he could start asserting himself instead of coming across as a 6' 3” Bobo Doll.

The only part of the government that is not lined up in a monolithic way against Trump is the military – and even then, as retired generals in his administration fall by the wayside, we see that even that might be a mirage. Whereas once the military could be counted on to have, at least implicitly, an “America first” attitude, and to be basically conservative in outlook, that has all changed, I would say, in the years since the Vietnam debacle. Now the uniformed services can be globalists with the best of them, and in terms of social attitudes, two generations of brainwashing by the “agents of change” have taken care of that issue as well. (I well remember when the Army started running out of days, weeks, or months upon which to pin some commemoration or cause or ribbon color – and said causes almost invariably had a decided liberal or progressive taint.)

Far from being large and in charge, Trump is... well, he's not even a figurehead; at least, not one that anyone besides his core supporters recognizes. He is, basically, the uncrowned ruler of a country that doesn't exist – a pretender to the throne, if you will. The U.S. exists, of course, but it hasn't accepted him as leader... whereas the country he thinks he's in charge of is a figment of his fevered imagination. So he becomes little more than the naked emperor of song and story – and the amazing thing about it is that most things pretty much continue on as always, despite this unprecedented and grotesque situation, which is more than you can say of Germany, which started falling apart once Hitler retreated into his reinforced bunker beneath the streets of Berlin. But the Germans were authoritarian, you see – and could no more live without der Fuehrer than a bee hive can live without its queen. We at least enjoy some vestiges of individual autonomy, although it's fast disappearing.

But wait! There's hope! He may yet do something that justifies his opponents' image of him – if he can only get the Washington, D.C. government to grant him a permit for a military parade. Now that would be good, old-fashioned fascism in its finest form! (It would also be communism in its finest form, but we don't want to mention that to the opposition, since they have new champions in Kim Jong-Un and his sister. Who knows, they might get “triggered” by such a statement and have to undergo grief counseling, or raid Toys “R” Us for teddy bears and Play-Doh before the place closes.)

So anyway, the bottom line on all this is that so far, at the point in his administration when Hitler and Mussolini had already piled up major achievements, Trump is pretty much dead in the water. He seems helpless against the opposition, and they seem to grow stronger and more vocal – and more radical – with each passing day. They continue to strike down, resist, and filibuster every one of his initiatives, and subject him and his family to the equivalent of cavity searches going back decades.

And let's admit – to give credit where credit is due – that the staying power of the opposition is much greater than anyone could have anticipated. And think of the self-sacrifice involved! The comedy sector of the entertainment media has closed its doors and been repurposed as a 24-hour propaganda machine. Journalists have given up on journalism and turned into anti-Trump apparatchiks who pursue Trump like hounds, in a non-stop hate fest. Caring not for the respect of the “deplorables”, they have taken to the streets, both literally and figuratively, in order to further the cause. It's enough to put a lump in one's throat (or maybe it's just a rising gorge).

And yet this is not unprecedented – they are reliving the glory days of Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon, when it was, as now, one man against the world. There is nothing like a worthy cause to make the ruling elite and their servants stand up as one man and pit everything they have against what they see as an existential threat.  And they may, in fact, wind up winning what has become a war of attrition; sometime sheer persistence and fanatical energy do win out (and the elders among them have the Vietnam protests to look back on as a model).  

So -- Trump had better up his game before it's too late. He shouldn't have to put up with this BS! Certainly no self-respecting despot of the past would have; why now?

Yes, it's true that the sheer pressure and hostility would have forced a lesser man out of office by now – but then none of Trump's Republican primary opponents would have created this sort of opposition, because they were -- by and large -- bland, harmless, non-threatening empty suits. And – most importantly – members of the establishment... the anointed ruling elite. They would have spent a good part of each day apologizing for not being as compassionate and humane as the Democrats. No, it took Trump to start a revolution... and regardless of how it all comes out, I say that it's a good thing, in the sense that now the American public no longer has any excuse for being ignorant as to who's really in charge, and who's really running things.

  • Clue #1 – It's seldom, if ever, the president (definitely not since LBJ chose not to run for re-election in 1968).
  • Clue #2 – The “deep state” does exist, and it has always existed, but it's not in charge either; it serves as the support system for whose who are.
  • Clue #3 – The intel world – the FBI, CIA, NSA, and so on – have not just recently been politicized. They have always been political, and have always been working for the Regime, and either for or against whoever is nominally in charge, i.e. the president. The legendary J. Edgar Hoover, in particular, gave orders much more often than he took them. Plus, they're perfectly capable of giving any president the “mushroom treatment”, as they seem to have done for – at least – George W. Bush. Do you really think they tell Trump what's really going on in that daily briefing? Please. They throw him a few dog biscuits then exchange high-fives as soon as they get out the door.
  • Clue #4 – Judging by the stock market, some parts of the U.S. commercial sector seem to like Trump's (not yet accomplished, and barely started) program. (Let's hear it for hope and change!) Big business has mixed feelings, and the international banking and financial cartel has stayed strategically silent. (They don't care who's president anyway. To them it's just noise level.)
  • Clue #5 – The globalists at the E.U. and elsewhere are pushing back in a big way, and George Soros, who is the sugar daddy of the opposition, is waging, basically, a one-man war against Trump. (After all, there's only room on this planet for one fascist dictator.) And the U.S., by the way, is just one of Soros' many targets; he attacks whenever, and wherever, he sees a rise in nationalism (AKA “fascism”) and whenever religion shows any sign of sneaking back into politics. On the latter point, the U.S. is going to be a tough nut to crack, but you can be sure he won't stop trying.
  • Clue #6 – Religious leaders are not cozying up to Trump even as much as they did to Obama, to say nothing of “W” or Reagan.

So basically, history is in a kind of holding pattern while people wait to see how this all turns out. No one out there in the wider world wants to commit to Trump to any degree, because what happens to them if Trump winds up thrown out of office (and perhaps into jail)? Talk about losing face, and guilt by association! Foreign policy-wise, both allies and “enemies” also seem to have adopted a wait-and-see attitude. Even Israel is not showing as much positive regard for Trump as they showed hostility toward Obama. (Good thing we have the Deep State and the military, which just keep slogging along with or without orders from the top!)

And in fact, that's another revelation which has come out of all of this – namely that we don't even need a president. If the one we have is incapable of getting anything significant done, and if no one takes him seriously or follows his orders (not to mention “guidance”), and yet things just keep perking along – well, you see what this means. The presidency is obsolete. But it took a president with all sorts of authority, but no real power, to prove it.

Plus, as a sign of the times, the states are starting to reassert themselves as autonomous, independent entities, complete with their own drug policies, environmental policies, immigration policies, and even foreign policies. This can be seen (how can it not?) as eroding the power, prestige, and scope of the federal government – a trend which I personally am all in favor of. (Is it possible that some day the United States will go back to being united states, rather than a hodgepodge of politically useful but arbitrary administrative divisions?)

The next time the question of the Electoral College comes up, as it does every four years, we might also consider throwing into the mix the presidency – as in, let's quit pretending that we need it. Or – better still, perhaps – turn it back into the office as defined in the Constitution, and nothing more. And while we're at it, turn the White House into something useful, like a daycare center (which, actually, the opposition claims it already is). I think a dash of reality of this sort might be downright refreshing. Besides, if we eliminate the presidency, we also eliminate the opportunity for someone to actually succeed in turning the U.S. into a fascist dictatorship. Because, after all, there are plenty of contenders out there, and they would enjoy a lot more support than Trump has.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

"You Oughta Write This Down"

Thus, the heartfelt plea of a close acquaintance some years back, in response to one of my typical bouts of ranting, raving, free association, subtexting, speculating, lampooning, and what not. Not a bad idea, but I wasn't especially attracted to the option of self-published (how else?) books... or of submitting material to periodicals with which I felt some compatibility -- although I did submit the occasional letter to the editor, some of which wound up in print – and I even had an article published (in two parts) in the magazine of a religious order, on the topic of Faust and Frankenstein, of all things. And pamphleteering pretty much went out when the Internet came in – but that was the answer: a blog! Finally, an outlet for all of this pent-up energy (intellectual and otherwise).  And the blog format makes it easy on the prospective reader, since it's free and perpetually available at the touch of a key. And besides that, it offers opportunities for feedback and comments... or for being totally ignored... or for anything in between.  And, oh yes, it can be hot-linked from any social media platform, which is pretty much essential in this day and age.  

I don't think I expected this blog to be so heavily weighted on the side of politics and current events as it has turned out to be, but we do live in interesting times, after all, and the hits just keep coming, as they say. I have ventured into culture, history, sociology, and the arts now and then, along with some introspective meditation, but current events are just too seductive to stay away from. And as for politicians, well – I can hardly do better than their own perpetual self-satire, but that doesn't mean I'll stop trying.

The one rule (aside from passably good grammar, spelling, and editing) that I have tried to abide by all this time is to not be part of anyone's echo chamber, and to not simply parrot what someone else has said – no matter how wise or impressive that may have been. Basically, if I can't bring something new to the discussion, I don't get involved. As I've said on more than one occasion, “Why do I always have to be the one to notice this, and bring it up?” -- referring to a certain point of view, nuance, or alternative to the conventional wisdom or the non-wisdom ginned up by the media. Of course, it could be argued that a person who is constantly coming up with “different” ways of seeing things might suffer from a touch of lunacy. But in my own defense, I have to mention that in a surprising number of cases, something I bring up in a blog post shows up on an editorial page or in a periodical soon afterward – in a few cases on the very next day.  And by a non-lunatic!  So I find that reassuring.

I've also tried to maintain what I call a hybrid libertarian/paleoconservative/traditional Catholic point of view, which is like walking a tightrope at times since there are significant differences among the three world views (especially between libertarianism and the other two). But there are areas of compatibility and opportunities for dialogue, so I find it a fruitful area to work in. And I also take, as points of reference or of validation, the writings of some of the best, wisest, and most insightful thinkers of our time, the most prominent examples being Joseph Sobran, Pat Buchanan, and E. Michael Jones.  I also attempt, from time to time, to restore a modicum of dignity to the English language, in the spirit of Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Joseph Conrad -- when I'm not shamelessly flinging slang terms around, that is.  

Style-wise, I don't pretend to be scholarly or to present air-tight arguments. I do not prepare journal articles or legal briefs, in other words. It's a little more like free association, quite frankly – but I try to keep it coherent and see that it adds up to something (unless all I'm doing is asking questions to which there seem to be no satisfactory answers – yet).

I'll go further than that. I find that blogging is also a way to explore and develop one's thoughts about things – to work through facts and ideas in a (hopefully) logical, if not entirely linear, fashion, and thus to “add value” and come up with something new – not only for the benefit of others but for my own as well. And thus I've always had two symbiotic goals – one to develop and clarify my own thinking, and secondly to share it and thus – or so I hope – help others develop and clarify their own thinking, even if by opposing it to something I have written. Growth through dialogue, if you will. Oh, and I hope to be amusing now and then as well; there are so many occasions in our time when you either have to laugh or cry, and I generally prefer to come down on the side of laughter.

Thus, a few random thoughts on the 10th anniversary of this blog – yes, the first post was on March 14, 2008, and this will be the 943rd post. And the best, almost miraculous, thing is that they are all still available for your leisurely perusal, should you have an idle moment to spare now and then.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Marching Through the Heart of the Deep State

I attended the March for Life in Washington, DC on January 19, as I have pretty much every year for quite a long time – since my oldest kids were in strollers, and that's a long time. The theme is the same every year, of course – but there are always variations in the details, like the location of the pre-parade rally, who the speakers are, the weather (of course), various participating groups, and the overall “vibe”. And maybe it's just me, but it seems like the crowd is getting younger every year – countless groups of high school and college students from all over the country, as well as families, church groups, and pro-life organizations of all sorts. There are senior citizens (ahem!) in attendance, but this notion – popularized by the mainstream media – that the only people who show up at these marches are ancient geezers who can barely walk, and who are the last holdouts for a lost cause, is just not borne out. The overwhelming impression is one of youth – excited, energized, loud and raucous at times... happy they're there and sincere in their beliefs. They are, if you will, the anti-snowflakes of our time.

So I am carried along on, or in, a sea of humanity – and I always like to turn around and look back, when halfway up Capitol Hill, to see how far back the parade stretches. This year, even though I was nowhere near the front of the parade, when I turned around I couldn't see the end of it as it stretched back along Constitution Avenue; that was inspiring.

Part of the overall “vibe” for any given March is – has to be – the reality of who is president. When a Democrat is in the White House, it seems like we're truly marching through enemy territory; when a Republican is in the White House, less so – but there is still the awareness that we are marching through the heart of the “deep state”, which is populated largely by liberals and leftists of various stripes, and who can hardly be expected to be sympathetic to our cause. It's always interesting to see, as we go past what I call the “whited sepulchers” along Constitution Avenue – i.e., offices of the federal government – how many people are looking out the windows. There weren't that many this year, but there were more people than usual standing on top of various buildings – thanks in part to the benign weather. (And no, they weren't all “security personnel” although some were in evidence.)

The speakers this year included the vice president and the president, via satellite (from just a couple of blocks away) – and the contrast with Democratic administrations could not be greater, since the latter prefer to hunker down and sulk, and ignore what's going on under their very noses. So they get to experience a “hostile environment” once in a while as well.

Among many other highlights:

  1. The TFP contingent with their long red banners, brass band, and bagpipe corps
  2. A guy dressed in a skin-tight blue “super hero” costume with two antennae
  3. An Orthodox group singing liturgical hymns as they marched (I made it a point to stick as close to them as possible since I love that music)
  4. A handful of Shriners, which I found intriguing
  5. Two eagles circling overhead as Rep. Paul Ryan spoke (wonder if he noticed)
  6. The Mall and Capitol grounds were nearly entirely accessible, unlike previous years when there were all sorts of barriers and the feeling was like being cattle in the Chicago stockyards. It would be interesting to know who changed the policy and why.

So – as usual, I'm glad I made the effort to attend, and I intend to keep showing up for as many more years as possible.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Impeachment and Revolution

This has to be one of the slowest coups d'etat in history, if not the slowest. I mean, most of the time it only takes a few days... or a few hours... or a few seconds (if the hapless leader in question is slain by his or her opponents). But this one has been dragging on for.... well, actually, since Trump announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015... for two years and seven-plus months. Of course, some fussbudget is going to argue that a bonafide coup d'etat can, by definition, only be launched against a sitting leader, but we can ignore such quibbles, since the planning got underway, it is safe to say, before Trump got back on the escalator at Trump Tower after making the announcement.

And someone else is bound to argue that since impeachment, and the procedures thereof, are included in the Constitution, the removal of Donald Trump from office is not a coup d'etat after all, but a perfectly legitimate, lawful exercise. But again, this is a mere quibble, since if no actual “high crimes and misdemeanors” are proven, then Trump will have to be impeached – call it Plan B – simply for being Donald Trump. (That may, in fact, be a high crime and misdemeanor, but it has yet to appear in the U.S. Code, as far as I can tell.)

The one question no one asks as this process unfolds is: “What happens then?” And by that, I don't mean Constitutional technicalities like who then becomes president; I assume it would be the sanely, and saintly, white-haired Mike Pence. But maybe not! If it should turn out that Trump's presidency is declared illegitimate because he “stole” the election (try finding a legal precedent for that!) then his entire administration would be declared illegitimate as well. And then what? A new election? Or – more likely – Hillary will ride into D.C., climb the White House steps with flag in hand, and declare herself rightful president, in the great tradition of revolutionaries down through history. And who would argue? In any case, I'm sure the Supreme Court would be called upon sooner or later to settle the question. (I should point out that a “Constitutional crisis” is not, as most people seem to believe, something that happens when the Constitution is quite clear as to what course of action to take. It happens when the Constitution provides no guidance.)

That brings us to the heart of the matter. Regardless of how, or when, Trump is impeached, or the rationale thereof, the message to his supporters will be crystal clear: Elections mean nothing; the results of elections mean nothing; your vote means nothing; and you mean nothing. You are, indeed, “deplorable”. Now this message will not fall on the ears of snowflakes and pajama boys; it will fall on the ears of regular people – denizens of flyover country – who preferred a loose cannon named Trump to a known totalitarian and would-be dictator named Hillary. And those people are, indeed, “bitter clingers”, as Obama said – and one of the things they cling to is guns.

I pointed out recently, in another context, that the most dangerous enemy is one who has nothing to lose. What happens when the entire electoral process turns out to be a sham and a lie? What if the results of an election are allowed to stand only if the Regime approves of them – or at least does not strongly disapprove? What if it turns out that any election can be overthrown for any reason if it results in the wrong people taking office (or attempting to)? Aren't we talking here about one of the alleged pillars of democracy? How, in fact, is democracy even possible without legitimate elections? And isn't democracy one of those ideas for which – for better or worse – we are supposed to show utmost reverence and loyalty, even unto venturing overseas and killing perfect strangers in its defense, and possibly getting killed in return? And aren't the “deplorables” the ones who usually wind up doing this – i.e. joining the military and following orders handed down by schemers, plotters, and cynics for purposes which bear absolutely no resemblance to supposed American ideals? Would this not mean that the last mask has been stripped away, and it's “the man behind the curtain” who has been in charge all along?

Well, how would you react? Or – how do you expect the masses of the trodden-upon, despised citizenry -- the ones who don't enjoy any sort of victim status but who are only expected to pay their taxes and shut up -- to act? Sure, they could shrug and go on about their dreary lives, resigning themselves to the newly-clarified reality. But what if they don't? What if even a small fraction of them don't? There are, after all, marches on Washington all the time – almost daily, it seems. And most of them seem to be by the people who are already in charge – or at least whose interests are regularly preferred over the interests of others. And, on occasion, the “under-privileged” march on Washington – but they are still working within the system; they have a well-defined role to play. But what if the system turns out to be totally corrupt? What, then, do those who grew up fervently believing in it do? Has anyone thought about this? Perhaps they have; there is a team of snipers who are regularly assigned to man the roof of the White House in case of trouble (this is when the wrong people are marching or demonstrating).

The Trump voters were characterized by Trump (and by themselves, on occasion) as those who were “silent no more”. But historically, there are plenty of times when those who were silent no more also decided to be passive no more, and to fight back – not just in the voting booth but in the streets – and this is especially likely when the voting booth has turned out to be no more than a pint-sized house of mirrors.

Nothing would serve to confirm what many people, all across the political spectrum, believe – that we have become a banana republic – than a coup d'etat followed by a revolution. I hope that all of this can be resolved peacefully, but when you awaken a sleeping giant one too many times you may not like what happens.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Gimme That Old Time Globalism

“These are the times that try men's....” well, not “souls” exactly, because those have been under siege for a couple of generations at least. How about “reasoning power”, or the ability to think logically and in a linear fashion? That may actually be a handicap in these times, given the preponderance of fake news, news about fake news, fake news about fake news, ad infinitum. The notion – popularized in “The Realist” of fond memory – that “the truth is silly putty” may be the most rational position to adopt at this point. Certainly the meltdown of the mainstream media over the Trump phenomenon has caused many to question how long since said media have even been in their right minds. Or – were they ever in their right minds? Have they always been feeding us propaganda on behalf of the Regime? And has world news ever been any more dependable than the bogus and instantly contradictory news flashes in “1984”? Are we to go back to a more primitive time when we could only trust what is before our eyes, or under our noses – and even be skeptical of much of that? Are we, in short, mere pods in The Matrix, whose life energy is continually siphoned off in order to serve as the power source for the Regime?

Regardless of one's answers to the above questions, it has to be striking that President Trump enjoyed what amounts to a hero's welcome at the annual love fest of the ruling class at Davos. He marched into the belly of the New World Order, and of globalism, and more or less took over the room for as long as he was there. And these are the people who erupted in outrage way back when he announced his candidacy, and have been working non-stop to defeat him ever since – in concert with their allies on the domestic front, of course. During the campaign, he preached anti-globalism, and was thus accused of being – gasp! -- a “nationalist”, but also a “nativist”, and, in short order, a “fascist”. (And this is from people who have plenty of experience with both nationalism and fascism, so they ought to know.) The globalists quaked in their boots until they remembered that, number one, they were still in charge (and continue to be), and number two, had plenty of ways and means of keeping him from winning the election (against Hillary Clinton, an ultra-globalist if ever there was one), and, in the wildly unlikely event that he won anyway (they obviously grossly underestimated the percentage of “deplorables” among the American electorate), from ever succeeding in enacting even the tiniest piece of his agenda -- the latter effort which continues in full force, and which includes most of the executive branch, of which Trump is the titular head.

But now he rides into their midst, knocking over buffet tables piled high with caviar and foie gras, and everyone is all smiles. Or are they? What I really suspect is that those – you should pardon the expression – shit-eating grins are not unlike the ones that greeted Obama or Hillary Clinton every time they descended on Wall Street. They are not expressions of love, or admiration, or support, but of fear. And it's not as if politicians are all that powerful, ultimately – but they can be annoying, especially when they manage to translate their pet peeves into laws which then have to be, somehow, dealt with. The Regime will go to great lengths not to be inconvenienced, in other words; efficiency is key.

There are times when pretended friendship is preferable to open hostility and opposition, and this was, undoubtedly, one of those times. After all – or so they reason – America is still in their back pocket, politically and economically, so do we really have to worry about this... anomalous figure who somehow managed to occupy the White House, for who knows how long? Isn't it better to just “grip and grin” and wait it out? Because, after all, globalism is the wave of the future (as it has been as least as far back as Trotsky), and no power on earth, or above or below the earth, is going to stop it. So why get all riled up? Like some dangerous guest at a cocktail party, it's better to just flatter him and keep his glass full until he gets bored and leaves. Otherwise he might run amok and start breaking things and hurting people's feelings.

Or have they had a change of heart? Well – Trump has certainly tossed his opposition to perpetual and non-winnable war onto the ash heap of political history, and that would certainly cause the globalists much relief. We haven't heard a whole lot about free trade lately; Trump's approach to business is more along the lines of the tax bill, which promises what amounts to one-time amnesty for corporations “repatriating” their overseas profits. (But if the Democrats take over Congress next year, watch them de-patriate those profits so fast it will make your head spin.) I imagine the Regime can take that hit if free trade survives intact, which it seems it will. And on the domestic side – well, the Regime doesn't worry about domestic politics in America; it's “noise level” as long as the programs they care about are fully funded, which it appears they will be.

So it is just possible that Trump has crossed some magic line that divides the enemies of globalism from its friends – not that he's a full-fledged friend, but at least they can expect no serious opposition. (One might say that he wandered onto the reservation.) But if that's the case, why haven't they called off their minions and shock troops in the American media, entertainment, the Democratic Party, academics... and now the psychiatry profession? Because those elements are still fighting the war as if the war is still raging, the way Andrew Jackson fought the Battle of New Orleans after the peace treaty had been signed. Or – maybe they haven't gotten the memo yet. Or – maybe the Regime wants them to continue to exert pressure, just in case Trump gets any funny ideas about wandering back off the reservation. But eventually it's going to dawn on someone that getting rid of Trump is no longer Job One – and that will leave a lot of members of the Resistance without gainful employment.

See, the thing about the Regime is that they care only about enhancing their power, influence, and wealth – and those priorities don't necessarily make them pro-American or anti-American... or pro-Democratic or pro-Republican... or pro-”deplorables” or pro-”snowflakes”. All we are -- and this is true right up to the “highest levels” (which is another word for the presidency) -- are tools, and resources, and capital. As long as we “perform” (the way investments are said to “perform”) we are kept alive, fed, housed, and treated to a perpetual stream of brainwashing and propaganda as to how delightful it all is. But if we should fail to perform, then there are options – one of which is simple extermination, but that seems too crude and ham-handed for our enlightened times. Another option is sucking the life out of a movement through repeated assaults – political, economic, and physical. (It worked just fine for the Black Panthers and the “black power” movement, for example.) Another is letting it run its course while insuring that success is impossible – as witness the Bernie Sanders movement, which was undercut and sabotaged by his “friends” at the DNC. And another is making them think they have won, while fatally co-opting their leaders – and examples of this are many, among them the civil rights movement.

In our time the twin populist movements, “Occupy” and the “Tea Party”, have both been allowed to run their course. “Occupy” morphed into Feel the Bern, which then morphed into the Resistance, or at least a segment thereof. The Tea Party bifurcated into pro-Trumpers and anti-Trumpers, both of which are still actively pursuing their agendas. But the point is that they have been compartmentalized – which is a much better strategy than overt, outright oppression. After all, think of all the revolutionaries who got their start in prisons. Prisons are no place to put politically dangerous people! For one thing, it gives them too much free time; “Mein Kampf” was written in prison, lest we forget. It's much better to just let them do their thing, gather a group of followers, fail to ignite anything of significance, and than fade into pathetic irrelevance. (I note that the Soviets had the habit of liquidating political enemies, whereas Chairman Mao would occasionally send them off for “rehabilitation”. His was the more subtle approach – and guess which of the two regimes survives to this day.)

So, to sum up – globalism is intact and, basically, invincible. It's not the wave of the future; it's the present, and we live there. Trump made a bunch of new friends in Davos, and they will see to it that his path to enlightenment continues – at least until they can replace him with a someone who is more amenable to manipulation. And the best news (for them) is that globalism is now the mainstream position in the U.S., at least among those who have any real say in the matter. The stubbornly pro-Trump segment are scratching their heads more every day – is this what we voted for? They're starting to get that “bait and switch” feeling. And many are falling away. They realize, on some level, that the war they thought Trump was going to fight for them was already lost on Election Day, and in fact had been lost for decades; it only took the election of Trump to confirm that fact. But one could also consider this one less thing to worry about: We are the world, and the world is us. We are living in the dream of the “Dreamers”. There are no borders, and no nations. And we all love Big Brother, whoever he or she is, and wherever he or she resides.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Year to Come in Review

Well, the Peasants' Revolt will be a year old on Saturday – although it could also be dated from Election Day 2016, but we were by no means assured, at that point, that the will of the people was not to be thwarted by the forces arrayed against Trump, including, but not limited to, Obama, Hillary, the “Deep State” (i.e. the bureaucracy), the intel community, Hillary, the Democrats, progressives/liberals of all stripes, anti-Trump Republicans, Hillary, the mainstream media, the entertainment industry... and some other categories I'm probably forgetting to mention. (Throw in the E.U. if you like.) (And Hillary! Wow, almost forgot... ) And by the way, his election gave American Jews a splitting headache, because he is much more pro-Israel than his predecessor was, and yet when they look at him all they see is Hitler, and all they hear is the strains of the Horst Wessel Song and the sound of jackboots tromping on cobblestones. The cognitive dissonance is deafening! But they haven't fallen for the Resistance propaganda any harder than anyone else, particularly if we're talking about the “snowflakes” who infest pretty much every college and university (except, perhaps, those with a serious religious foundation).

(The “snowflakes”, BTW, are a good example of karma, or chickens coming home to roost, since many of them are the grandchildren of my generation, i.e. the restless pre-boomers and boomers, who tirelessly campaigned to make the world safe for neo-Stalinism and Maoism. So for all their efforts on the barricades, in picket lines and protest marches, my generation now has to survey the spectacle of their grandchildren turning into fragile, delicate flowers who are threatened, offended, and “triggered” by everything and nothing. We may regret having raised “sensitivity” up as the highest human value.) (Although now it turns out that many iconic liberal “sensitive men” are every bit as lecherous as anyone else. So perhaps the reports of the demise of testosterone have been greatly exaggerated.)

So what can be said at this point? Trump finally managed to get a major piece of legislation passed and signed, namely tax reform, just in time for the holiday he persists in referring to as “Christmas”, much to the offense and chagrin of the Resistance. And it will be interesting to see if said reform survives the 2018 election, and, if it does, the 2020 election. Anything that Congress can do, it can also undo; that's how it works. Today's “law of the land” can wind up on the trash heap tomorrow. But it will be interesting to see if the Democrats' tactics come back to haunt them in the following way: They knew that if they managed to get Obamacare passed and signed into law, it would create an instant entitlement for millions of people, and that would make it virtually impossible to repeal, reverse, or modify in any significant way. All Trump has been able to do is work around the margins by attacking some of the regulations that were not required by the law but that were ginned up in order to amplify its impact and further expand the bureaucracy. So a lot of the minor annoyances have been dealt with, either partially or in their entirety, but the core of Obamacare remains in place, and is alive and well (if that is the word) despite Trump's protestations to the contrary.

But now the tables have turned, and just wait until the Democrats, if they take back both houses of Congress later this year, try to repeal, reverse, or modify in any significant way the tax reform bill, when it has already (hopefully) demonstrated that it has great benefits not just for the “rich” but for the middle class, who constitute the majority of voters, after all. You want to play the entitlement game? Fine – how about the radical notion that people are entitled to keep more of their own money? How much of a reception are the Democrats going to get this fall when they start telling people, as Bill Clinton did, that they don't trust people to do the right thing with their money? It ought to be great fun to watch.

Frankly, though, there are so many intractable problems facing Trump, and anyone else in a position of political power, that it's hard to be optimistic. If Obamacare was an example of the “ratchet effect” whereby nearly every action taken by the three branches of government only serves to increase the size and scope of the bureaucracy, and said actions are rarely reversed because they include built-in non-reversibility features (being habit-forming for both the beneficiaries and the administrators)... what about the “dreamers”? Now there's the ratchet effect with a vengeance! Take a few million illegal immigrants, including minors who, through no fault of their own, are smuggled across the border by their parents or by people acting in loco parentis, let them grow up here, go to school here, work here, and then try telling them they have to go back to wherever they were born and start over. Impossible! Even if we had had the political will to guard our border more diligently in the first place, it takes a lot more political will to punish the innocent for our negligence. So one way or the other they will be allowed to stay, and, yes, they will pretty much all vote Democratic because, after all, the Democrats are their friends, and the Republicans are the party of hate, racism, etc. etc.

If you adopt a broad historical perspective on the whole immigration issue, you realize that this sort of thing (large-scale migration) has been going on all throughout human history, and probably long before “history” became a scholarly pursuit. What's different in this case is that immigrants no longer wash up on our shores with only the clothes on their backs, and have to work their way up from nothing. No, they are presented with a stunning package of entitlements – said entitlements having been originally intended for U.S. citizens of course, but the courts in their infinite wisdom have decided that that is grossly unfair – let's call it “citizenism”, which will put it in the same category as all of the other bad “isms” floating around – and that a person, simply by virtue of having both feet on U.S. soil, has all, if not more, of the same rights as anyone who was born on said soil. It is already clear that there are many laws that the newcomers are not expected to obey – and the list grows on a daily basis. This is, truly, something new under the sun – and I imagine the long-term effect will be to accelerate trends that are already well underway, by which I mean economic leveling (AKA the gradual merging of the middle and lower classes into one great lower middle, or upper lower, class), cultural dilution and diffusion (referring to the end of what, at one time, could at least be claimed to be the American cultural mainstream, including shared values, a shared sense of history, etc.), and of course the triumph of “diversity”, which, as I've said, is really gray uniformity and, ultimately, slavery disguised as something totally groovy and worthy of “celebration”. (I might also have added, “bankrupting the government”, but that's already the case. Heaven help us if the termites ever stop holding hands... )

Oh, and by the way, how are we supposed to maintain our status as the world's policeman under these conditions? How many of these newcomers are going to be interested in joining the armed forces, for example – with a good chance that they'll be sent back to their countries of origin, this time in uniform and heavily armed, to fight for those people's “freedom”? And heaven forbid the government is reduced to having to reinstate the draft; I can smell the Molotov cocktails and tear gas from here...

Moving right along, we have the Perpetual Warfare State, which Trump seems committed to maintaining, and preferably expanding. His first broken campaign promise – or campaign talking point at least – had to do with getting us out of unnecessary, pointless, and winless wars. Well, he obviously got “the talk” on that issue some time between taking the oath of office and showing up at the first inaugural ball. All that a certain someone had to do was to say “Fuhgeddaboutit!” and Trump, being a New Yorker and knowing full well all that that phrase implies, was quick to snap to. Unfortunate, but for what it's worth Hillary would have done the exact same thing. (Don't you think she dreamed of being the first female war president? Don't you think she still dreams of that?) There are powers as high above the presidency as the presidency is above the wage slave who trudges off to the polls every four years in order to show fealty to his masters. (Who was it who said that any political office that depends on the whims of the voters has no real power?)

And speaking of intractability, how about “climate change”, formerly known as “global warming”, and before that “global cooling”? This is intractable whether we “believe in it” or not. If we do, then we're faced with the fact that, thanks in great measure to our technologies and economic/business concepts which have been spread around the globe, the former “Third World” is now in the throes of building up their economies and their middle class, transportation systems, quality of life, etc., all of which depend to a great extent on, guess what, fossil fuels! See what happens when we set an example? Somehow we expected that the rest of the world could ease gently into the 21st Century while holding on to a 19th Century “carbon footprint”. Once again, “fuhgeddaboutit!”

And for whose who don't “believe in” climate change, the intractability comes in the form of a never-ending battle with those who do... and they aren't about to give up the fight, any more than the Resistance is about to give up the War on Trump. In both cases, the battle lines have hardened, and each side is showing the ability to endure, persist, and hold out. And both battles will continue to rage up to, and beyond, the 2018 election, and up to, and beyond, the 2020 election, if Trump should (1) manage to stay in office up to that point; (2) be nominated for a second term; and (3) win a second term. But even if Trump should, at some point, be kidnapped by aliens and whisked off to some other planet, it would only reduce the panoply of issues by one. Trump is, at present, a convenient symbol and scapegoat for everything that is wrong with... well, pretty much everything. If some “snowflake” stubs his toe while stepping into the shower, he blames it on Trump. Imagine the dismay if Trump should vanish but all the problems now attributed to his baleful influence turn out to be still with us.

And how about the ongoing, and accelerating, cyber wars, when any halfway intelligent high school kid in Russia, Romania, Israel, or Kazakhstan can hack into the Pentagon computer system (not to mention the DNC)?

And you can add to the Basket of Intractables things like pollution of the seas (against which the world community appears to be, basically, helpless), storage of nuclear waste (no, it hasn't gone away, and it's not going to), abortion, the predatory behavior of the international banking/financial cartel, food waste, the American diet, homelessness, obesity, the cost of medical care (which Obamacare seems to have done, basically, nothing to remedy and much to aggravate), racial strife (which, again, Obama seems only to have aggravated), and... well, fill in your favorite hopeless issue here. (And if you're the nostalgic type, you can always bring back that old chestnut, “If we can put a man on the Moon, why can't we... (fix the problem of your choice)?”)

And yet, as insurmountable as these problems are, we still cling to the fanciful notion that there is, indeed, one individual who has the power to fix it all, if only he would stop Tweeting and do something about it. Yes, he is the all-wise, the all-powerful, the omnipotent, the reigning deity of the secular world, namely The President of the United States. He is the one the world looks to to bail them out of any and all predicaments (mostly of their own making). He is the creator of employment, of jobs, of health, of prosperity, and especially of tolerance, understanding, niceness, and consideration for others. He will end war, disease, racism, hate, homophobia, sexism, transphobia... and if we're really lucky, he will end phobiphobia – i.e., fear of phobias.

OK – I admit it, I'm not talking about Donald Trump there (except for the Tweeting part). I'm talking about Barack Obama, and I think you could find, somewhere in his campaign speeches or in the adoring words of the lackeys in his administration and the media, references to pretty much all of the above qualities. His awesome powers were nowhere better demonstrated than his having been granted the Nobel Peace Prize on his first day in office. And what's even more amazing, his “legacy” is constantly touted as being the Best Ever, even with ample and growing evidence of apathy, mediocrity, incompetence, and corruption. Not to mention elitism! A radio talk show host recently commented that Obama considered the presidency beneath him; so true!

And yet, this set of expectations is pretty much standard fare when we're talking about the president, whoever he (or, in theory, she) might be – and it's always a grave disappointment when the holder of that office turns out to be, after all, simply another member of homo sapiens and has nowhere near the powers that people anticipated or that they feel ought, by rights, to come with the office. So we have moved on from the Obama Era, when a demigod inhabited the White House along with his demi-demigod wife and demi-demi-demigod children, to a situation where, according to the daily talking points of the Resistance, the Oval Office has been taken over and occupied by a fraud and usurper, who lied, cheated, and stole his way to the presidency with the help of a mere handful of ignoramuses in flyover country who would have voted for a yellow dog rather than for Hillary (and they would have been perfectly correct in making that choice).

You see, the problem with a democracy is that we still long for a king – and the problem with a secular society is that we still long for a deity. So we project these deep longings onto the president, no matter how hapless an individual that turns out to be. So the president becomes the sin eater for the rest of society, and, in fact, for the world. And he is, as a result, expected to spend most of his waking hours apologizing to the world for the great and many sins and offenses of America (past, present, and future) – and, in fact, this was the part of the job description that both Bill Clinton and Obama spent most of their time performing – and probably enjoyed more than any other duty, aside from bombing innocent civilians overseas.

Oh sure, a president may get credit, on occasion, for some real or alleged achievement, but his real value is as a scapegoat. What would the Great Depression be without Herbert Hoover to blame? It would just seem like a random event – a blind catastrophe. But thinking of it as, basically, the work of one man brings things into focus – it fulfills, again, a deep longing. The war in Vietnam was all the fault of Lyndon Johnson if you're a Republican, and of Richard Nixon if you're a Democrat. Once again, clarity and simplicity.

So, again, it must be a sure sign of insanity to even want to be president. The office doesn't drive men mad, it just takes the madness that is already there and amplifies it. And how many of them turn down the opportunity to run for a second term? (LBJ, to his credit, was one of the few who bailed.) So... the Resistance is right, in the sense that we have a madman in the White House. But we always have a madman in the White House; it just goes with the territory. It's how we've allowed things to evolve, morph, and mutate over the years. The longing for a “strongman” is hard-wired into the human race in the aggregate. The French killed their king and wound up with an emperor. The Russians killed the czar and wound up with a parade of dictators. And so on. Show me a society without a strongman and I'll show you a society of people who are truly capable of self-government and whom their neighbors are, at least for the time being, content to leave alone; examples of this are rare indeed. (We were an example up until the Civil War, at least.) 

I guess a sign of the merits of the Constitution is that it is still, at least nominally, in effect after all this time. But that could also be taken as a sign of its weakness and ambiguity – that it's capable of being stretched, interpreted, and massaged to an extreme degree without having to be actually replaced. Or, as someone put it, the minute you start calling the Constitution a “living document” you've killed it. This may be; we may be running on pure inertia at this point, and yet things continue to tilt in the direction of bigger, more powerful, all-consuming government. It is a gravitational force like that coming from a death star, and is augmented by the percentage of the electorate who have, basically, given up on the American Experiment, and who now long for a return to a more ancient model. Call it political masochism if you like – and that was, without a doubt, a big part of Hillary's appeal.

The Trump Era may be seen by future historians as a temporary setback to this process along the same lines as the Reagan administration. Or – Trump may not even be able to stay in office long enough to constitute an “era”; we may be talking more about a Trump Episode, or a Trump Minute. This might actually be a collective nightmare, from which we will awaken to find Hillary comfortably ensconced in the Oval Office while Bill hangs around the White House swimming pool channeling the ghost of Hugh Hefner. This is certainly what the Resistance is hoping for. In fact, they are grievously offended that Trump has managed to hold on this long. But regardless of duration, this administration does represent something significant in our political history – possibly the last gesture of defiance by those who were “silent no more” before we are finally drawn into the black hole of totalitarianism.

Friday, January 12, 2018

A Meditation on the Benedict Option and Community

My attention was recently called to an article* in the New Yorker (of all places, since they are the foremost promoters of the terminally hip urban lifestyle, which seems incompatible with serious spirituality) on Rod Dreher and his book “The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation”. The term is defined in the article, not unfairly, as including the following ideas:

  • “... places where faith, family, and community form an integrated whole”
  • “(Dreher) urges Christians... to remove themselves from the currents of modernity. They should turn inward, toward a kind of modern monasticism.”
  • (quoting Dreher) “I believe that politics in the Benedict Option should be localist.” (Catholic social teaching refers to this as “subsidiarity")
  • “Christians should consider living in tight-knit, faith-centered communities, in the manner of Modern Orthodox Jews.” (to which I would add, the Amish and certain Mormon offshoots)
  • “Surviving this new age of darkness might call for the construction of local forms of community, where a realist approach to morality lives on.”
The same idea can be found in some of the writings of the late John Senior, Catholic educator extraordinare:

  • “Now we have come to another bitter time of discontent; and the age of Saint Benedict has returned.” (from “Hidden Grace”)**
  • “In times of great crisis, in the spiritual life of persons and of nations and the Church, anything but flight is folly.” (in a discussion of Newman in the same essay)
The New Yorker article, while biographical to a great extent, and anthropological as well (since the author seems highly bemused by the whole concept as well as the various versions of its implementation), does outline the numerous issues and dilemmas surrounding the Benedict Option, and I do recommend it as at least an introduction to the issue.

I was familiar with Dreher because of his work on The American Conservative, which is, BTW, one of the few truly conservative media outlets. (Most of the ones self-styled “conservative” are actually neoconservative, the critical difference being that the neocons advocate a “muscular” foreign policy, which is another way of saying we are the world's policeman – and we see how well that has worked out.)

As to The Benedict Option, I had heard the term before, and I always enjoy thinking about my older son, who has elected the Benedict Option in the literal sense by becoming a Benedictine monk. And the first thing that I think of in that regard, from the social, political, and economic points of view, is the self-sufficiency of the Benedictine monastery. It is not total – i.e. they are still “on the grid” to some extent – electricity, phone service (but virtually no cell phone service and very little Internet activity). But they are moving (it's still a fairly new place) toward ever-increasing self-sufficiency when it comes to food, drink, and various maintenance issues. (Once a given part of the monastery is built – it's happening in stages – the maintenance falls to the monks. They have no live-in, on-site secular employees.)

I guess one could think of that as one “extreme”, on the end of the continuum, although in times past the monastic life was considered quite normal and not at all freakish. Of course, self-sufficiency in general was pretty much the rule in the old days; even my home town was a far more self-sufficient place when I was a kid than it is now. And most of the people who worked there lived there, and vice versa (except for the guys who drove in to work in the “plants” on the outskirts of Buffalo). But it was a true community in that people knew each other, and you could go a long time without ever seeing a “stranger”. (By contrast, I see people I've never seen before every day right on my street. And no, it's not Alzheimer's where you meet new people every day.)

But to call my home town a “community” is not to imply some sort of uniformity. There was religious diversity within the Protestant mold... a large Catholic contingent (anchored by Poles and Germans, with some Italians in the mix)... two Jewish families... and, I'm sure, plenty of skeptics, unbelievers, and the otherwise “unchurched”. Politically, it was a Republican town in the sense that the dominant middle class were pretty much all Republican – although I suspect that some of the blue-collar folks had Democratic leanings (especially the union members).

The other major vector when talking about the Benedict Option, besides community per se, is what some refer to as the “culture wars”. The premise – or one premise -- behind the Benedict Option is that the culture wars have been lost, so rather than keep fighting in vain it's time to retreat, get off the battlefield, and get back to basics – spiritual as well as material. Of course this motive was behind all of the countless Utopian communities that sprang up, particularly in upstate New York, in the 1800s. Already at that early date there was a feeling that some sort of purification was in order, and the way to accomplish that was to get off what at that time passed for “the grid”. But speaking of purification, let's not forget that the Pilgrims and Puritans (hence the name) had the same motive; for them the way to renewal was to get out of Europe and settle in the New World, where it was just them, God, and nature. And, oh yeah, a few Indians.

So you have this motive that recurs so many times in history that it almost seems like part of human nature. It's certainly part of human nature in the collective – but it's also always a minority opinion. Most people are content with things as they are – or if not content then at least willing to put up with it. In the modern era you had the hippies, who rebelled against materialism (as well as war and what Wilhelm Reich called character armoring) – first on campuses and in the cities, and then in the form of communes which sprang up everywhere, but especially in California. And they too had given up – at least for a while – on the mainstream (AKA “square”) culture. Some of the communes survive to this day – usually because they came up with some marketable goods and services. Others pretty much evaporated. But the same is true of the Utopian religious communities.

But this raises the interesting question of religious vs. secular communities. So many of the dynamics and motives, and trajectories, are similar, and yet there is this one significant difference – that the older communities were, pretty much without exception, motivated by religious or at least spiritual ideals, whereas the communes were more about getting away from the establishment juggernaut and finding peace and tranquility (and a place to get high without getting hassled -- “Tune in, turn on, drop out” being the mantra). And yet for the latter there was a “spiritual” -- if I can stretch the definition a bit – element. Many of those involved had become interested in Buddhism, for example – and that has a long monastic tradition as well. Others were more into the general, somewhat catch-all and at times nebulous, New Age “thing” -- which persists to this day, of course, becoming more mainstream all the time. (Next time you walk past a GNC store or pass the large yogurt section in the supermarket, thank a hippie.) And even that didn't start with the hippies; there were communities of the old school that dabbled in what we would call holistic health, alternative medicine, esoteric sexual practices, and Spiritualism (and many kindred pursuits).

It would be tempting to say that the old timers paved the way for the hippies... and that the Old World monasteries paved the way for the old timers. Again, if you want to talk about human nature in the collective, there are many parallels. But the European monasteries were all Catholic, whereas the New World Utopian communities were, as far as I know, all either Protestant or somehow spiritual and humanistic, but definitely not Catholic. And the hippie communes don't seem to have gotten the idea from the Utopian communities, although I recall there was a certain degree of interest there – especially in the Shakers, which is ironic since the Shakers were celibate whereas the hippies were anything but.

What I'm saying is that any continuity that appears in a historical survey is based more on human nature than on the direct descent of ideas. Like so many other social or political movements or ideas, there is a kind of cyclic phenomenon whereby a given idea first becomes widespread and implemented in a variety of ways, then the initial energy wanes a bit and we have a period of stability, after which things tend to kind of fade and the whole idea goes underground again (except for a few isolated proponents) until the next “wave”. There are very few phenomena, whether one is talking about politics, religion, or culture in general, that are not subject to this cyclic pattern – which leads one to imagine that there is a kind of long-term drive toward homeostasis in human history. We talk a lot about “pendulum swings”, and I think that refers to something quite real and quite embedded in the human psyche. Things go too far in one direction, and then there is a correction, and then things head off in the opposite direction. (I also imagine that the Hegelian concept of the dialectic, or thesis/antithesis/synthesis, is another way of expressing the same idea.)

The Benedict Option clearly refers back to St. Benedict himself and the establishment of the monasteries – although as metaphor, it could certainly describe any movement away from the “business” (busy-ness) of the world and toward a simpler form of existence. And I'm not claiming that it's always motivated by a feeling of giving up, or despair, vis-a-vis the world at large. It could boil down simply to choosing something better. However, if someone who is traditionally-minded and who is also religious in a traditional sense were to keep a scorecard with wins and losses in the culture wars, it would definitely seem that the floodwaters are rising and that it's time to flee to the hills (figuratively at least). The current political war is certainly a case in point, although not a clear one. For one thing, Donald Trump is not a conservative in the strict sense, although he does seem to have traditionalist leanings. But his opposition, AKA the Resistance, is definitely that which Dreher seems to be advocating we avoid. For they have won the culture wars on pretty much every front – and this is not to say that they have won all “hearts and minds” -- far from it. What they have managed to do is take over the culture – and there is nothing sudden or overnight about this; the campaign has been waged for many decades – lifetimes, even. And they have not taken over everything; there is still a remnant – a few voices of opposition left. (They don't seem to have had much of an impact on NASCAR yet, for example. But the NFL counts as the most recent casualty.) What is shrinking more than the number of people who believe in “values” is their opportunities to make their convictions known, and their status in society in general – and I don't see the Trump Event as more than a temporary slowing down of the overall trend. The “forgotten Americans” stood up and voted Trump into office, but they and their values are no less under siege now than they were prior to the 2016 election. Congress is helpless to do anything about it, and the Supreme Court can't be totally relied on even with a “conservative” majority.

Now, it has to be said that for many people this is all good news. They are 100% on the side of “progress” and “social change” and all the rest of it, and the events of the past few decades, despite the occasional setback, can hardly be anything but an occasion for rejoicing. Catch a Hillary supporter fleeing to the hills! Why should they? The mainstream culture is going their way, and getting better every day. They are happy as pigs in stuff, as the saying goes.

No, clearly the Benedict Option is for the “bloodied but unbowed” veterans of the culture wars who have grown old and weary of fighting, and convinced that much more can be accomplished on the local level, and in a community of like-minded people, and with family, home and hearth at the center. I believe this myself, of course – and try to live it out as best I can given my particular circumstances. One can always do the right thing. Even someone in prison, in solitary confinement, can practice righteousness.

I should insert something here on the issue of planning, as in “planned”, vs. “organic”, communities. Organic communities just sort of happen – they grow up – there is a history there, having to do with agriculture, or industry, mining, transportation, whatever... but the community as community is not the result of a blueprint (other than the ones used by the real estate developers). It winds up being a collection of people that appears quite random at times; even if the original settlers were of one mind, relatively speaking, can that be said of their descendants? Not unless there was a serious, well-established and overt cultural groundwork. And yet, “random” communities do, in fact, survive and may even prosper, whereas many “planned” communities fold up for some reason, often because that original vision was lost or proved to be either delusional or insufficient in some other way. Another thing that happens is that the planned community gives way to a less-planned community, which gives way to a non-planned community, even if there is some claim to history or to tradition referring back to the founders. Show me any of the planned communities of old that are still operating on as strict, uniform, and coherent basis as they did when founded – I daresay there are few if any left (monasteries being an exception, of course).

Now, what does this imply? That planned communities are always a mistake? Or sometimes a mistake? Or worth a try, but don't be surprised if things don't work out in the long run? One can point to plenty of the old-time Utopian communities that did much good for their members, and which continue to represent a certain set of values; the fact that the original uniformity is lost should not count against the original idea or against what has evolved.

We should also – if we're studying this issue – take a look at the original basis for any given community. Was it an idea, or a movement (religious or otherwise)? Or was it, perhaps, a single, charismatic leader who, once deceased, was succeeded by people with less firm convictions, or simply less social dominance? The communities that have both succeeded and persisted seem, in fact, to be characterized be a combination of original factors – yes, there was a strong and charismatic leader, but he or she also had coherent ideas – an ideational system, even. And those ideas were sufficiently appealing to be passed down – and at the same time the original leader didn't leave a vacuum but developed the next generation.

Another factor, as the article implies, is that – human nature again – there are people who are willing and able to live in a community of like-minded people. They are, by nature, cooperative and willing to blend in – AND (important point) abide by whatever hierarchical authority structure the community might have. They aren't rebels, in other words – and not chronic malcontents, gripers, or complainers. But there are also those who may be willing, but are not able – they just can't “hack it” in that sort of setting, so wind up leaving, regretfully. So any discussion of the Benedict Option has to take this very natural continuum into account – not only human nature in the aggregate but human nature on an individual basis. Just as there is a spectrum of human nature, so there should be a spectrum of available options within the larger Benedict Option idea – and there should be no arbitrary attempts to rank or assign levels of merit based on which option is chosen.

This, in turn, brings up the sub-option of what I will call the Benedict Option “in place” -- i.e. not requiring an actual physical retreat (heading for the hills) and also not requiring entering an organized community. If the family is, in a sense, a “little church”, then it should also be fully capable of embracing, and implementing, many if not all possible elements of the Benedict Option within the four walls of the home. And family life should be valued not just as the way things are, and the best way to bring up children, but also as a perfectly respectable way of retreating from the world (that “retreat” occurring on a daily basis, or as often as need be, when dealings with the wider world are done). I know families that have, perhaps implicitly, adopted this strategy. Admittedly, most of them live in rural areas or small towns, and some live near monasteries, from which they gain spiritual strength and which generate like-minded families with which at least a loose community can form. And the beauty of all of this is that it's happening “below radar”, i.e. without attracting the notice of the Regime, or of the media (except on rare occasions), and yet this remnant may serve as the seed for future generations as they attempt to reverse the overwhelming tide of secularism and materialism.

Can this even be done in urban contexts? Or – unlikely as it seems – in the suburbs? Well, we know that there is a significant Mormon presence in many suburban areas in the U.S. -- and even many of the Hassidic Jews live in what is, for all intents and purposes, a suburban area in Rockland County, New York – having migrated there over the years from densely-populated Brooklyn. So yes, it can happen anywhere, and where one finds oneself is no excuse for not at least trying to walk a different path from the one that popular culture seems to require. (I note that even the hippies of the 1960s bifurcated – from their start in college towns and large cities, some stayed in urban areas and others wound up in the countryside. Each environment presented challenges, of course; the idea is not to insist on a certain place, but on a certain set of principles that will be followed regardless of place.)

To sum up, a lingering question might be – isn't all of this the same as giving up... as despair? Well, there are wars that eventually result in victory for one side and defeat for the other, and conceding defeat is not shameful if one has fought the good fight. And as to despair, that would be if one capitulated but then failed to come up with an alternative – a Plan B – and the Benedict Option is clearly the Plan B of our time. It's difficult for individuals or families to assemble the resources to live an alternative lifestyle, but it can be done in community, as it has been countless times over the millennia. The skeptic will always come up with quibbles – what's wrong with the world the way it is? It won't work! It's too much trouble! Et cetera. Well, it's that attitude that keeps them in place and keeps them subject to the whims of their rulers. I'd rather be open to alternatives, even if I can't take advantage of all of them. It's good just knowing they're there, and that there are people out there who are trying to.... not create a new world (that's a “progressive” project) but take one small portion of the existing world and make it into something that is nourishing and uplifting rather than toxic and oppressive.

*Article reference: The Seeker, by Joshua Rothman. The New Yorker, May 1, 2017, pp. 46-55.

** This essay can be found in “The Remnants: The Final Essays of John Senior”. The Remnant Press, 2013.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

"Next Year in Jerusalem"

Thus, a key element of the traditional Passover and Yom Kippur prayers, expressing optimistic hope that “next year” the Jews would once again have access to the Holy City (as opposed to simply the western outskirts – and even that wasn't taken for granted until the State of Israel was established in 1948). And in fact, “next year” never came, until the 1967 war resulted in Israeli occupation of what is called the West Bank, but which includes the old city of Jerusalem, with all that is left of the ancient temple, plus the Temple Mount, which remains Islamic property while under Israeli authority. It's an area that was supposed to be part of Israel from the start, but which fell (back) into Arab hands during the war that immediately followed the establishment of the State of Israel.

The symbolic significance of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel cannot be overstated; by comparison Tel Aviv is a newcomer on the world map. And yet, for any number of diplomatic reasons, we have chosen to have our embassy there rather than in Jerusalem – which is strange in a way, since we seem to dance to Israel's tune in every other respect; why not this one? I guess it was a way of saying, to the world, that we were still our own man, and had the right to put our embassy wherever we pleased. Well... as to being “our own man” when it comes to Israel, that has been shown to be a myth on any number of occasions. When it comes to our policy in the Middle East, they call the shots... and that fact tends to reverberate through our other foreign policy decisions, our diplomatic relations, and, most of all, our military budget and where our “defense” dollars go, which, in turn, means where American taxpayer money goes. 

But now that phrase has a new meaning – for us. And yet the Trump move – assuming it's not sidetracked by the numberless hordes who live for nothing but to frustrate and defeat Trump, and drive him from office in disgrace (and hopefully in leg irons) – is nothing more than an acknowledgment of what has been the case pretty much since the establishment of the State of Israel back in 1948. But of course, in diplomacy what is “the case” seldom if ever matters; what's more important is what everyone pretends is the case. And in this case, we have usually found it prudent to not openly declare that we were “all in” for Israel – that we had at least a passing interest in Palestinian rights, and in the integrity of neighboring states (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt). But whenever push came to shove, it turned out that there was “no daylight” between us and Israel when it came to our foreign policy – which is another way of saying that Israel dictates our foreign policy. (We certainly don't dictate theirs! And someone has to be in charge.) But it would be undiplomatic (not to mention slightly humiliating) to put it in those terms, so we prefer to euphemize.

Basically, it's all about symbolism. And it's all about what everyone knows, but no one wants to talk about – namely that Israel is, for all intents and purposes, the 51st state in the United States, and that we will spare nothing to see that it survives. Of course, Israel did survive, with more or less stable borders, from 1948 until 1967, but its survival since then seems to depend on its holding on to the West Bank and to Jerusalem (Old City). Basically, whatever Israel declares essential to its survival is what we will support with our own resources. I guess if they decided to colonize some forgotten chunk of central Africa, that would instantly become vital to their survival, and hence something that we would have to add to our long list of things to defend (diplomatically and militarily).  (When you take a good, hard look at what is called "the American Empire", it's interesting how seldom our own flag flies over the various pieces of that empire.  Most often, it's someone else's flag, which leads one to wonder, exactly whose "empire" is it, anyway?)

I look upon this with more than a hint of ambivalence. On the one hand, I'm willing to admit that, yes, this (moving the embassy) would be a much more honest policy than the wishy-washy, wimpy one of old. If we want to defy the entire Arab world, then by gosh let's do it, and quit pretending otherwise. On the other hand, if it further solidifies Israel's death grip on our foreign policy, I have to oppose it, and for any number of reasons. For starters, the modern state of Israel is, basically, a postwar creation by England and the U.S., with France looking on benignly. And the notion that it was “a land without a people for a people without a land” is a myth rivaling anything Wagner could have come up with. There was ethnic cleansing – and plenty of it – involved, and the “refugee camps” which persist to this day (!) are evidence of this. (How long does a place called a “refugee camp” have to exist before it's no longer entitled to that name?) 

And was it about religion? Well, Israel is notoriously secular, and its residents tend to be “unchurched” except for the orthodox.  And was it about... well, I'm not going to get into that debate as to whether the Jews are a “race” or an “ethnic group”. If you're anti-Semitic, you're also a racist; that seems to be the standard logic. And yet the term “Semitic” also refers to the Arabs, so what we're seeing may be more like a family feud. (After all, both the Jews and the Muslims are “people of the book”, as are the Christians.)

In any case, the “legitimacy” of Israel as a state, or country, can be debated, although it never is. Our position is that Israel is perfectly legitimate because... well, just because. Okay? And the Arab position is that Israel is illegitimate (they refer to it as “the Zionist entity”) because.... well, just because. So there is no debate, just two rock-hard positions... and try coming up with a diplomatic solution to this one. The one-state solution, with a kind of apartheid and the Palestinians as second-class citizens, seems to offend our democratic sensitivities, whereas the two-state solution, which requires each side to give up territory it feels it's entitled to, offends their racial/ethnic/religious sensitivities. (Note that both the Jews and the Arabs claim a “right of return” to what we call the Holy Land.)

And throughout this entire history, we (the U.S.) have been dithering, hand-wringing, and agonizing about how to convince people who have no interest in peace into agreeing to a “peaceful solution”. (And I have to admit that this was actually not one of Jimmy Carter's many failures, for the simple reason that it was impossible for him to succeed, just as it has been impossible for any of his successors.)

So one could argue that this intent (not yet an accomplished fact) to move the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is “meaningless”, since it doesn't change anything of any real importance. But since when have actual, tangible changes been important, compared to symbolism, or what we now call “optics”? The Palestinians have always known that we aren't on their side, when it gets down to brass tacks. They know this! They aren't stupid! They know that in any debate between them and Israel, they are also facing us, and to a lesser extent Western Europe. (At least they have finally gotten used to being a forgotten, shat-upon, and despised minority.) And they also know that they can expect little if any help from Israel's Arab neighbors. Somehow the fact that the Palestinians wound up holding the short end of the stick back in 1948 has won them little or no sympathy from their supposed blood brothers. Once again, witness the continued existence of the “refugee camps” -- neighboring Arab countries could have taken all of these people in decades ago, but they didn't. It was better to leave them in squalor as a living indictment against Israel.

It would be easy to just sit back and say “Well, if there's no solution, there's no problem.” But that would be small comfort to those involved. Everyone born in a certain place feels that they have a right to that place – to stay there and seek their fortune there. (This is also true of the so-called “dreamers”, by the way, which makes that an especially difficult issue.) People who migrated to a certain place, for whatever reason, also feel that they have a right to stay there. (Again, think of the mass migrations – both legal and otherwise – into U.S. territory.)

After a number of major wars, there have been established “claims commissions” chartered to straighten out a wide variety of claims and grievances, including, but not limited to, territory, bank accounts, spoils of war (including works of art), business interests, property, and so on. There is no formal claims commission dealing with Israel and the West Bank, probably because no one in their right mind would want to be on it. But we – not being in our right mind, at least in terms of foreign policy – insist that we are the ones who, at long last, are able to objectively settle these matters... or at least provide wise counsel in that regard. We pretend to be honest brokers, while at the same time every suggestion we make somehow winds up favoring Israel. Once again, the Palestinians are not stupid; they can see through all of this. But then who do they turn to? The European Union? The World Court? Good luck. They could turn to their fellow religionists, who basically surround Israel on three sides (with water on the fourth side) – but once again, and to their shame, the Arab world prefers to have a chronic, multi-generational victim class in Israeli-held territory, because they feel that it somehow gives them leverage in places like the U.N. But even that has been shown to be a vain hope. 
Regarding the embassy issue, it was, once again, the U.S. and Israel vs. the world, and so far the U.S. and Israel have won. But the Arabs do not have the patience of, say, the Chinese, who seem to be able to wait pretty much any situation out until things turn in their favor. So the conflict will drag on, no matter where our embassy is.