Friday, December 31, 2010

You Say "Terror", and I Say "War" (Let's Call the Whole Thing Off)

The toughest thing in any form of unconventional warfare – and the “War on Terror” certainly qualifies – is getting into the mind of the enemy. In the good old days of invading armies and fleets, set-piece battles, uniforms, and waving battle flags, this was not such a challenge – the reasons were, typically, taken from a fairly limited menu: land, riches, power, and in some cases pursuit of the dominance of a religious faith or political conviction. The goal, typically, was to capture territory, subdue the populace, steal stuff, and expand whatever nation or empire was victorious. And on the defensive side, the goal was to protect all of the above – through counter-offensive action if need be. Historically, I would say that most wars have been fought for material gains, but there have been “wars of ideas” for quite a long time as well – the Moslem conquests, the Crusades, religious wars set off by the Reformation, and any number of revolutions and civil wars, mostly revolving around various forms of socialism.

If you take the 20th Century as a source of examples, one finds that World War I was, basically, an “old-fashioned” war fought for the usual reasons – even though we preferred to style it a war to “make the world safe for democracy” in order to justify our involvement. It did, in fact, deal a death blow to monarchy in Europe, but I'm not convinced that was the intent. I think the fall of monarchies was a kind of bonus for the materialists and secularists and democrats – with the exception of Russia, where the monarchy definitely had to go in order to make room for socialism.

Then we had World War II, which was, in a sense, an old-fashioned war disguised as a war of ideas -- at least in Europe. And the ideational aspect was seriously compromised by the fact that the "democracies" were lined up with one variety of socialism in a fight to the death with another variety of socialism - pragmatism, as usual, taking the upper hand when the going gets tough. The bottom line was that the "democracies" wound up winning in the military sense, but losing in the political sense, while the variety of socialism we favored -- i.e. communism -- came out on top, beyond the wildest dreams of Marx or Lenin (but not of Stalin). The Soviets didn't have to attack Eastern Europe in order to expand their empire; it was handed to them on a silver platter by FDR et al. You might almost say that, at that point, we were more or less indifferent as to the question of democracy vs. socialism -- and you'd be right. And the main reason was that our own democracy had evolved into a kind of hybrid of the two (and remains so to this day, with the weight gradually shifting toward socialism).

But most communist aggression did not involve declarations of war so much as the fomenting of civil wars; even the Korean war and the war in Vietnam can be seen as civil wars of a sort. I don't think there are too many cases since World War II of a communist country actually declaring war on, and attacking, a non-communist country in order to spread communism... which is more than one can say of the purveyors of “democracy” in our time. It is no coincidence, in fact, that Trotsky, who advocated aggressive international communism, and was shoved aside in favor of “communism for one country” (at a time), can count the Neocons among his philosophical descendents.

So the communists, as a rule, tended to operate more through infiltration (social and cultural) and subversion (political) than in an overt military way; certainly all of their efforts to influence this country were of the stealth variety, and they were (and are), in fact, masters of disguise. I mean, if you had told someone, back in 1917, that one of the favored communist instruments of subversion in the United States would be folk music, who would have believed you? Unions, sure... progressives (or what remained of the movement), no problem... art, maybe... literature, certainly... modern dance... but folk music? Please. What would a sober economist like Karl Marx have thought of all that foolishness? But the term “culture wars” was not coined for nothing. It has become clear that any significant political/social movement must be fought on all fronts simultaneously, or it's likely to fail. It becomes, more often than not, an argument as to “which came first” -- the economic and political theories or the social manifestations (as witness the endless arguments about the “significance” of the 1960s). The only reason people get upset when they see the more blatant forms of cultural aggression in the government-funded art world, for example, is that they don't realize that things are just as bad everywhere else as well... but most people fail to notice. You don't like the garbage that's funded and sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts? Good – but have you checked out the public school curriculum lately? Or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting? The most frequent mistake the “culture warriors” make is to assume that they have already achieved total victory, and then start parading their accomplishments in a triumphalist manner, like a May Day rally in Pyongyang – at which point they find that, no, there are still a few pockets of resistance, mostly in the benighted hinterlands, and there are voters living in those pockets. Either that or – as I often suspect – these occasional outrages are simply ways in which the waters are tested. When the day dawns when an outrage is not met with resistance, then the culture wars will have been won conclusively, with total surrender of the losing side. Thankfully, we are not at that point quite yet, and it's our job to continue to resist, even in face of overwhelming odds.

But to get back to the other kind of war – the kind most people would actually recognize as war – this has become an extremely rare thing of late, and it has people confused... and has created a proliferation of terminology that, in most cases, does not help matters. Going back to Korea again, it was one half of a country attacking the other half. Sounds like civil war to me, but we jumped into the fray because we had decided that communism was, after all, not that great an idea. I mean, it might have been an OK idea economically, as the New Dealers thought, but it was starting to create political and diplomatic problems, and threatened a lot of vested interests in the economic sector. So it had to go. Or rather, it had to be “contained”. (There were a few people who dreamed of liberating the Iron Curtain countries, but they were shouted down by the voices of pragmatism.) So rather than let South Korea fall to the “reds” -- and how big a loss would that actually have been, anyway? -- we had to jump in and put our economy and thousands of lives on the line, as usual. And for all of our trouble, all we got was a return to the status quo, which persists to this day, much to the irritation of all concerned.

Skipping ahead over a bunch of minor skirmishes, we next arrive in Vietnam, which was a civil war on two levels – North Vietnam vs. South Vietnam, and the South Vietnamese government vs. the Viet Cong. We should have known better than to use that as the place to take our stand... but we didn't. So eventually, after more economic and human sacrifice, we had to leave, and not of our own free will. We had lost a war! Against the communists, no less! (And there had been a more or less soft revolution at home at the same time, not unrelated to the war but having many more long-term consequences.) Now, one would have thought that, as a result of the Vietnam experience, the communists would have taken a new lease on life, pulled out all the stops, and started attacking on all fronts – taking over all of Southeast Asia as well as large chunks of territory elsewhere on the globe. But this didn't happen, and as I've said, this really wasn't their M.O. They much preferred to soften up the battlefield culturally, through propaganda and political activism, before bringing out the weaponry and the concentration camps; it is certainly a slower, but, in the long run, less costly method. Plus, we tend to forget that communism is, first and foremost, a set of ideas – and you don't spread ideas simply through armed conflict. (Again, has our own government learned this lesson? Not that I'm aware.) If you attack and take over a country by force of arms, but fail to change anyone's thinking, it doesn't count, in a way – at least this is the position the communists seem to have held over the years, and this is why their propaganda apparatus was always running in high gear, both at home (in the USSR and China, e.g.) as well as abroad (in the Iron Curtain countries). It was never enough to submit, in other words – you had to learn (through “re-education”) to love your submission... your slavery. You had to, as Orwell put it, learn to love Big Brother. And I would have to comment, on the side, that even the Nazis didn't seem to care as much about this issue as the Soviets did. Third Reich propaganda on the home front was relentless... but in the captured territories (other than the ones inhabited largely by Germans) it was more a matter of pure, raw power; at least that's my impression. I don't recall them winning too many "hearts in minds" in Ukraine, for instance. And when it comes to our case, as exemplified by Iraq and Afghanistan? It actually resembles the Nazi method (raw power) more than the Soviet (hearts and minds), in spite of claims to the contrary. Vietnam, on the other hand, was a bit more of a “hearts and minds” operation, except that it failed miserably due to our ham-handedness.

This is, in fact, the missing element in our attempts to “spread democracy” -- the fact that, at best, we “spread” a sort of skeletal form of democracy (think “inky thumbs”) without trying to actually convince anyone that it's a good idea. In other words, we spread the appearance, and encourage people to take part in the mockery, without approaching it in true cultural warrior style – the way the communists would have, in other words. So the minute we turn our backs, people revert to their old ways, because there are no actual true believers. Of course, how anyone could become a true believer after witnessing some of our actions in the Middle East is beyond me; our habits as occupiers are about the worst advertisement for democracy that can be imagined. What it really amounts to is a kind of protection racket -- “You start acting like a democracy – American-style, that is – and we'll leave. But not a moment sooner!” The problem with this is that they can't start acting like, much less being, a democracy, as long as we're hanging around intimidating everyone and breathing down their necks. So it's a “Catch-22” in our favor – as intended, by the way.

And with that, we finally arrive, bloodied but only semi-bowed, at the Age of Terror, in which we are, once again, fully engaged in other countries' civil wars, with the difference that, this time, those civil wars have spilled over into the nice neighborhoods – namely the U.S. and Europe – the way our own urban troubles did not (as yet). We might have been perfectly happy allowing each Islamic pesthole – er, “sovereign nation” -- to work out its own problems and deal with its countless religious factions, except that somebody decided to – to revert to a phrase from the Vietnam era -- “bring the war home”. And this was because they perceived us as already engaged in their various civil wars, namely by being on the side of the establishment (in most cases), whether an actual monarchy or one in every other respect. And then there was the added irritant of “the infidel” despoiling the holy places... and, finally, the fact that we had declared an eternal inseparability with Israel, the arch-enemy. So it was not enough to confine their efforts within their own borders – they had to do what was, really, the logical thing, and show us, in no uncertain terms, what the real consequences of our actions over the years were. They had to give us a first-hand taste of war, in other words – a taste of which we had no living memory (the most recent case being the Civil War). The targets were us, and our running dogs in Europe and elsewhere that came to be known as the “coalition of the (temporarily) willing”. And it's at this point that the real questions begin – and that our utter confusion begins.

I ask again, how does one read the mind of a “terrorist”, or whatever you want to call him (or her)? To begin with, what do they expect to accomplish by repeatedly attacking their own people – not just troops and police forces but ordinary civilians? Is it, once again, a form of protection racket? And yet the Viet Cong apparently played similar tricks. Maybe it's true that if you terrorize people enough, then promise them an end of terror if they help repel the invader, it really works. But whether it works or not, this is, in fact, their technique, and one we have forced ourselves to deal with. And I think a lot of terrorism is punitive in nature as well. In other words, it's a way of dealing with people who have shown themselves to be “impure” by consorting with the enemy in some way – even the most passive. “If you're not for us (i.e., a die-hard militant), then you're against us.” This seems to be the attitude. So this is one thing we have to deal with, and it is still fairly new to our experience (although it should not have been for Britain, for example, who eagerly followed us into this folly).

So I'm perfectly willing to call many of the attacks that occur within the borders of Iraq and Afghanistan “terrorist” in nature, since they are directed against civilians and have this kind of coercive, blackmail aspect to them. But were the 9/11 attacks, and the ones since in Europe and elsewhere, truly “terrorist” attacks? Or were they acts of war? See, right away we get into this paradox of “what to do with the Guantanamo Bay prisoners”. If they are “terrorists”, then they've done something “illegal” and should be tried in civilian courts. But if they committed, or plotted, “acts of war”, then it's absurd to accuse them of doing something “illegal”; now they're POWs and should be treated as such. But this leads to two other problems. One is that POWs are typically held until the end of the war – but when is this particular war expected to end? The latest word from the Pentagon is: “never” -- or not in our lifetimes, at least, which amounts to the same thing. So are we going to hold these guys until they all die of old age? But the other problem is, perhaps, even more serious. If we admit that these guys are POWs, we are saying that they committed acts of war, which actually serves to legitimize their actions to some extent. In other words, in some great courtroom in the sky where the wisdom of “international law” is meted out, war is still “legal”, whereas “terrorism” is not. You see the problem? And we wonder why Hillary Clinton is looking older with each passing day (and deservedly so, I might add).

Now, I know what the most likely counterargument will be, and that's that these guys are terrorists because they blew up a bunch of innocent civilians in New York City and on some airplanes, and (by and large) a bunch of government workers in Washington. OK... can you say “Dresden”, class? Or how about “Hiroshima”? See, we have adopted a “total war” policy, going back at least as far as the Civil War, as standard procedure, and there's no sense in denying it. We cheerfully kill civilians in order to force governments, and thus militaries, to surrender. And we call that “war”, not “terrorism”. So where do we get off all of a sudden changing the rules? It seems to me that any action taken outside one's own national boundaries constitutes war. Further, even if it's a U.S. citizen attacking other U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, it's still war, if he's doing it on behalf of a foreign government or organization. In other words, it's not terrorism, or treason, or garden-variety violence – it's real war, because it is based on war-like intentions.

Thus, I have simplified the jobs of the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department immensely, with a single stroke, and I anticipate receiving an award, hopefully accompanied by a healthy check, in the mail any day now. Right. There are too many vested interests that want things to stay just as they are – vague, ambiguous, confused, and convoluted. They want us to be able to do anything we like and call it anything we like and get away with it; that's number one. And, they want us to be able to call anything that anyone else does anything we like, and not have to put up with any arguments. It's a war of words as much of anything else. Are they terrorists? Are they war criminals? Are they POWs? Is it a candy mint or a breath mint? These questions just whirl around in an endless maelstrom, with people like Hillary Clinton, Janet Napolitano, and a gaggle of generals doing the stirring, while Obama looks on with countenance benign (since this stuff is “above my pay grade”).

One thing is for certain, however. We are seeing something that is truly new under the sun – at least in our history. We are seeing people fighting back, on our own sacred soil, against offenses that we didn't even realize we were committing – and still don't, in fact. And we respond to their objections to us having military bases in the Middle East by invading two more Middle Eastern countries – yeah, that'll solve the problem, all right. But it does bring up another point, which is, simply: What do they want us to do? Now, the simplest answer would be to just leave – and this is the answer that caused Rudy Giuliani to burst a blood vessel when Ron Paul suggested it during the presidential debates. And while leaving might not solve everything, it would sure be worth a try. But this, of course, would be entirely unsatisfactory to the Neocons and the Evangelicals, and the rest of the pro-war cabal. As far as they're concerned, no outcome short of grinding the “terrorists” to a fine powder, and their unconditional surrender, is acceptable – which means, whether they realize it or not, that anything short of our remaining in the Middle East as long as our Republic stands is unacceptable. I mean... Islam is a bit older than the American experiment, right? And those people have the long view of things. And they are, as I said, true believers, whereas we're not – at least not in the same way or to the same degree. Their actions are faith-based, whether we like it or not... and ours are idea-based, and showing considerable signs of wear at that.

Now, let me briefly discuss some things that the Islamists most definitely don't want – or at least, they don't care one way or the other. Number one, they don't want to impose sharia law on the United States. OK? But millions of people believe this, and they are, inexplicably, permitted to remain at large and to vote. Islam is not a missionary religion in the sense that we think of missionary work – it spread through armed conflict in the early days, but seems to have been more or less self-contained for quite a while now. This is not to say that Islam is elitist; it welcomes converts from any religious, cultural, ethnic, racial, or geographical background. But I just don't see them going out and looking for converts, much less converting by force like in the old days.

Now, someone's going to say, “But what about...?” And that would refer to all of the ridiculous controversies in Europe, and even a few over here, as to the building of mosques. Well... let me try to explain. Moslems move into a given country or area, and they have a tendency to bring their religious beliefs with them. (This should not be an unfamiliar concept to Americans.) So once there are sufficient numbers of Moslems in a given area, they're likely to crave a place of worship, and hence want to build a mosque. This is not the same as attempting to convert the infidel, or imposing sharia law – although I can easily imagine them wanting to establish certain elements of sharia law within their own numbers. How this works in the context of the larger society with an established legal code is something that would need to be worked out – but think, we even have a similar situation in this country with the Indian reservations. They have legal codes and proceedings within the confines of the reservation that are not always shared by the larger society... and I'm not aware of this being an intractable problem. Or, you have Orthodox Jews in every large city in the U.S. who are subject to the rules of their faith – and even if those rules don't have legal standing, they are certainly powerful controllers of behavior (probably more so than the actual legal code in some cases). So, bottom line, this sharia thing is a bogeyman – as is the threat of a Moslem “takeover”. It's not unlike the old “red scares”, except that the red scares actually had some basis in fact.

So... if they're not trying to convert us, and not trying to impose sharia law on the infidel (which would probably be some form of heresy anyway), then what do they want? My wild, offhand guess is that they want to be left alone – whether we're talking about American Moslems or Moslems in Moslem countries. And they don't want to be judged – let along belittled and made fun of, which it is the perfect right and privilege of the American media to do at every opportunity, no doubt – but it's not helping things any. I remember as a kid that the expression “the poor man of Europe” was still occasionally applied to Turkey. Certainly the Moslems have been pretty much at the bottom of the totem poll of American public opinion for many decades – and let's face it, the antics of the Aga Khan and Ali Khan didn't help much in the old days, and the actions of the various royal families of the Islamic world haven't helped much since then... and the actions of the terrorists, or holy warriors, or whatever you want to call them, aren't helping at present. But see, the Moslems really don't care what anyone thinks of them; they're above all that. In fact, because they are true believers, they fully expect to be hated by the infidel – they relish it, in fact, because it proves their merit. In this sense, they wouldn't have it any other way.

But this, if you will, contrarian attitude on their part brings back the question, do they really want us out of the Middle East? This would seem to be the most obvious and sensible answer... but I'm not so sure. Remember, these are people with crazy long memories and a historical view of things – including, I imagine, anticipating the history of the present era. They are looking to fully restore Moslem dominance in the Middle East – which means, quite simply, getting rid of us and Israel. I don't know how seriously they want to restore the caliphate – and if they do, do they really expect it to stretch from West Africa all the way to Indonesia? Seems unlikely, somehow. But in any case, they would like to be left alone. But aren't they also anxious to extract vengeance on the U.S. and its allies for all past and present offenses? Aren't they still sore about the Crusades, in fact? After all, the European powers left the Middle East under a bit of duress after World War II – but they really didn't suffer enough for their great and many sins against the faithful, did they? And then they turned around and, on their way out the door, set up (with our enthusiastic help) this abomination called “Israel” right in the midst of the Arab world. The Nazis persecuted the Jews, with the result that they wound up on the Arabs' doorstep; it wouldn't be too difficult to see a bit of injustice there. Surely an exquisite, drawn-out punishment is in order for that. So while they would like to get rid of us, they would also like to punish us (which they are currently doing) and teach us a damn good lesson (which they haven't succeeded in doing as yet). The weaker and more drained we are, the less likely we are to interfere in their affairs ever again, right? So some near-term sacrifice – namely keeping us over there while nibbling away at us, crippling our economy, and demoralizing our citizenry – might be in order, and might be part of the plan. Otherwise, why do things that are guaranteed to keep us there? Why keep up the terrorist attacks, for example, when with every new attack some American general or president adds a year or two to the “deadline” for us leaving? Isn't this really a long-term bloodletting exercise? They feel assured of victory in the long run – so why not make us pay as high a price as possible in the meantime? Now again, I can't pretend to even begin getting into these people's heads – but this is what I see happening, based on actual events. They clearly don't want us to simply pack up and leave, or they would declare peace – or at least an armistice. And if they think they can drive us out with terror tactics against the native population... well, that would be a gross misperception of the way we do business, and I think they're smarter than that.

And I should add, as an aside, that I also don't buy the conventional wisdom among contrarians – mostly of the libertarian stripe – that “the terrorists have won” because they've turned the U.S. into a police state. As if they would consider that a bad thing! If anything, they're probably envious. No group on earth is more enamored of police states than the Taliban; we saw this in bold relief when they were running Afghanistan and executing people for watching television. If someone had fallen asleep in Afghanistan under the Taliban, and woken up in North Korea, they would have started their day by drawing in a lungful of the air of freedom.

We also have to ask the impolite question, in who else's interest is it that we stay in the Middle East indefinitely? I would say it's the same people who got us over there in the first place; I call it the cabal: the arms makers, the Neocons, the Evangelicals, and the Israelis. They wanted us over there, and they want us to stay until doomsday – and they collectively dominate and determine everything the government does in the area of foreign policy and military action. So in an ironic sense, their goals are pretty much in synch with those of the terrorists/holy warriors/whatever. (Try that out on Rudy Giuliani! He'd wind up in the bed next to Ariel Sharon.) And the only people who want us to pull back from this fatal folly are a tiny minority within the conservative and/or libertarian contingent – an uneasy alliance (for this purpose at least) that has, probably, less political power than the average Indian tribe.

Now, you'll notice that I haven't mentioned the “tea partiers” in all of this, because, like the Neocons and the mainstream conservatives, they are fully supportive of our “efforts” in the Middle East. They have quaffed deeply of the Neocon/Israeli Kool-Aid, and are not about to do any sort of “cutting and running”. And this, in turn, plays right into the hands of people who not only have no use for their views or values in any other area, but actually despise them and wish them ill. Thus, the bizarre state of things in our time – but if we only blame “terrorists”, and if we assume that history began on September 11, 2001, we gravely miss the point. Not only that, but we insure that our evolution out of this particular era in our history will occur with the maximum of pain.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Living in a Lame-Duck World

I have to hand it to the liberals in Congress. They've managed to push through a pile of legislation that rivals FDR's “100 Days” -- and in a “lame-duck” session, no less... which is to say, a session that should not even exist, but – since it does – is usually devoted primarily to trivial housekeeping matters and final statements (or gestures of defiance) on the part of those soon to depart. Or pay raises. It just goes to show what can be accomplished if you don't care one way or the other about the opinions of the voters. (It's truly said that dictatorship is the most efficient form of government – with democracy at the very bottom of the list.) It is, in a perverse sort of way, a much purer, less inhibited version of what is usually cloaked in obfuscation and euphemism; now is the time to give it to the voters -- “good and hard” as Mencken would say – without having to worry about the consequences. Which is another way of saying, it's an opportunity for the “progressives” to do as much damage as possible before they lose much of their power – that power which the voters wisely removed from their hands two months ago. Now, someone might object that they still have to worry – as parties if not as individuals – about the next election, i.e. the one in 2012. But on further consideration, we realize that this is not true. It might be said that the Republic can survive if the memories of the voters are longer than those of their elected representatives – but it's doomed if the representatives have longer memories than the citizens... and this certainly seems to be the case at present – and it usually is, in fact. This lame-duck Congress could pass legislation to fit each and every citizen with a slave collar, and by November of 2012 all would be forgiven; I'm certain of it. So with that in mind, Congress can proceed to act on principle – if that is the word – and pass the legislation they really believe in, rather than the legislation that will earn them the most votes. Which means, as a practical matter, that they can expand the size of government and all of its oppressive power, and bring us ever closer to a progressive – i.e. totalitarian – paradise. Well, there are certainly many campaign donors who need to be paid off as well... but these two goals are typically found to be in very close harmony. Most people who donate to campaigns want more, and bigger, government – maybe not overall, but certainly in their own area of concern. Either that, or they want less supervision of their activities but much more supervision of everyone else's; either way the outcome is the same. Even people who make donations with “less government” specifically in mind have to admit that, as a practical matter, in order to achieve smaller government in the long run you have to have bigger government in the short run – this in order to oversee the deconstruction of the parts that need deconstructing, and to make sure that those parts don't rise from the grave at a later date like some B-movie monster. The problem with that is that it's like those cases where a group of "reformers" is sent in to clean up a corrupt and inefficient agency. The reformers wind up staying on -- and so do the people who caused the problem in the first place.

And other problems arise as well. Let's say, for instance, that you want to eliminate the Department of Education – by which I mean “end it, don't mend it”. A laudable goal, certainly! But there might be some hesitation about letting all the programs and people supported by that department down with a thud. Certainly, some of them deserve to go “cold turkey”, but let's face it, some of them are mere helpless creatures of the system – victims as much as perpetrators, who have been conditioned into a state of dependency. We are more likely to blame the pusher than the addict for the drug problem, right? -- even though it's the addict's money that ultimately forms the economic base of the drug trade. So when it comes to government programs, we have a similar situation – the “pushers” in Washington, DC, and the addicts spread all across the country. And many of those addicts grew up with these programs and cannot imagine any other way to live; agricultural price supports offer an excellent example of this. There are entire industries, life styles, and lines of work that are entirely dependent on government handouts of one sort or another. So people have to be weaned away, gently and with compassion, from their addictions... offered a vision of a new and better life... a life as productive members of society rather than parasites. And their vision of government – what it is and what can, or should, be expected of it – has to change as well, and drastically in many cases. Think of the number of people who believe that government “creates jobs”, for example – or “creates prosperity”. These are not just the delusions of a few ignoramuses living out in the far-flung hills, or in the depths of our inner cities; many otherwise quite sophisticated people believe things like this. They also believe that the president “runs the economy” and/or “runs the country”. Delusional systems like this took many generations to develop, and they would take many generations to cure – that is, if there were any political will to do so, which there isn't.

So I guess I would have to say that, as bold and blatant as the actions of the lame-duck Congress are, they do not represent a qualitative change from what has gone before – simply a turning up of the heat. And likewise, we should not expect anything to change very much once the new Congress starts up in January. Let's not hear any loose talk about “turning back” any of the programs that have recently been passed into law; this is something that happens so rarely that it's not even worth speculating about. At this point in our history, the driving force is in the direction of bigger government, more laws, more regulations, more agencies, more programs, an ever-higher percentage of the populace employed (directly or indirectly) by the government... and thus, inevitably, more collectivization and centralization. And the problem is that everyone thinks they are “getting something” out of it, since their pathetic gains (if any) are at least more visible than their losses. Their losses, in fact, typically add up to a single thing – namely liberty... “freedom to choose” in the words of Milton Friedman. And that, to the vast majority, has become an abstraction and something that does not enter into their thinking on a day-to-day, or even year-to-year, basis. And again, this is the sort of attitude that is taught, aided and abetted, and encouraged by the system. If the government writes you a paltry check as a kind of year-end bonus, well, that's better than nothing, right? So you run out to spend that small wad of cash on trivia, or put it in a bank account where it immediately starts losing value. And the price you had to pay in order to get that pathetic handout – well, that's an abstraction. The establishment knows that people don't miss things they never had; isn't that the whole idea behind income tax withholding, for example? “Opportunity costs” are things that economists and businessmen talk about, but to the average citizen they have no more meaning than, say, the “cost” of not winning the lottery.

What this all adds up to is that, in a system like ours, which can be characterized as “soft tyranny” or “collectivism lite”, the dead weight of government oppression (economic, social, political) is laid very gradually on the shoulders of the citizenry... and tho' they become stooped and bent, and depressed, and demoralized, they seldom if ever manage to identify the true source of their troubles. In fact, they may not realize they have any troubles; they truly don't know what they are missing... and there so few people around with any living memory of times when things were different that they have no one to tell them. (This is, by the way, one of the primary missions of the public education system – to keep people in the dark as to any alternatives to their lives of quiet desperation – one of the many reasons why the study of classical literature is neglected, for example. And the existence of non-Keynesian economics is a closely-guarded secret in nearly all institutions of "higher learning" -- almost as closely-guarded as the objections to Darwinism.)

So the weight becomes heavier, but that proverbial last straw never seems to be added. This is because each generation starts with its own world view – its perceptions and its burdens – as a baseline. It starts out not knowing that it's already weighted down by government, the way we don't walk around conscious of air pressure. They don't question the status quo, and only question the added weight if it's applied too suddenly. So conditions that would have caused our grandparents to rise up in revolt are accepted with docility and resignation because, well, this is all we've ever known, and, after all, aren't our rulers in Washington much wiser than we? Don't they know what's best? This is certainly the premise behind all of the “lame duck” legislation that is being passed with such startling efficiency these days. And it is, in fact, the premise of progressives everywhere – at all times and in all places. They always know what's best for the ignorant masses, and if it has to be forced down their throats, well, that's still a lot better than just leaving them in their ignorance. And as I said, if you can dazzle them with trivial rewards and prizes they're likely to develop amnesia, and forget what things were like before, and so not meditate on that which was lost.

Now, I can almost hear a chorus of “But what about...?” in response to all this. The body politic is not just fat and bloated and comatose, after all; there are people speaking up once in a while. There are the true-blue leftists and progressives, for example, who are starting to get just a little bit upset at Obama's apparent decision to forget that they exist and that they supported him with fanatical fervor when he was running for president. And there are the “tea partiers”. But I call this nothing more than the last struggles of a patient on the operating table fighting against the anesthetic. They have all, in one way or another, put themselves in a severely compromised, co-opted position, and on some level I think they know it, which makes their protests all the more pathetic, not to mention ironic, in the case of both the leftists/progressives and the tea partiers. They are starting to realize that there is a price to be paid – a severe one – for having cast one's lot with politicians. They are promised the world, then exploited, then abandoned – 'twere ever thus. And at the moment they are thrown under the proverbial bus they let loose one last cry of indignation and despair, before all goes dark.

The leftists, for example, persist, generation after generation, in believing in “the brotherhood of man” and the ability of the human race – or at least certain select subsets of it – to achieve heaven on earth. They repeat the same old memes over and over again, like the mad litany of a patient in the back ward of a mental hospital -- “management vs. labor”, the evils of “business” and “capitalism”, “social justice”, "accumulation of wealth"... and, inevitably, the four horsemen of the liberal apocalypse: Racism, Sexism, Homophobia, and “Organized Religion” (which is their term for Christianity)... not to mention the word that sums them all up, “hate”. Their vision of the ultimately evil human being is the white, heterosexual, Christian male businessman – the very same monster that so upset the Bolsheviks that they undertook to systematically eliminate all of its manifestations from the Soviet Union... with not inconsiderable success, I might add. And that fact that so many of them have a dirty little secret – that they themselves are white, male, and heterosexual... and some are even businessman, and some even claim to be Christians of some advanced, progressive (i.e., not “superstitious”) type... this only adds to the hysteria and irrationality of their pronouncements and activities. So I guess you could call them “self-hating white male heterosexuals”... and you'd be right, and some of them will admit it quite openly. Whenever they aren't lobbying and campaigning for “social change” of some sort, they're apologizing to whomever, or whatever, they and their ilk have supposedly managed to mistreat, oppress, or exploit down through the ages. And they're demanding that the rest of us apologize as well, and reach deep into our pockets (deeper than they reach into their own, even!) in support of “affirmative action”, “reparations”, etc. So their primary mental attitude is one of guilt – but, unfortunately, that guilt is far from “crippling”. What happens, rather, is that it gets projected onto the rest of society – deservedly or not (usually not) – at which point the pure of heart who have done proper penance (mostly by engaging in political activism) can wax indignant and demand that the entire populace be educated or forced (or both at once) to be as enlightened and humanistic as they are. So by solving the problems of society by “curing” (or eliminating) the ignorant and unenlightened, they can fix their own problems and soothe their own guilt. This is their psychology, and the marvel is that we have turned so much power – so much of the welfare, present and future – of society over to these people, who are, at best, neurotics who need to be kept away from sharp objects, or any positions of political and economic power... not to mention the propaganda apparatus, AKA “the media”.

So much for the left and the progressives – for now. But let's deal with their sworn enemies for a moment. The most obvious manifestation of this group would be the “tea party”, but in the broader sense it includes conservatives, traditionalists, people who adhere to “family values”, nationalists, patriots, and so on – all terms that I use, in this instance, without assigning any necessary valuation. I won't go so far as to claim that these people represent “main stream (or street) America”, or “the silent majority”, because I'm not convinced that they are any longer – assuming they ever were – in the majority or the mainstream. The mainstream – the true silent majority – is, it seems to me, made up of people who simply don't care one way or the other. They vote, if at all, “their pocketbooks”, and do not act, live, or think in terms of principles. And while it is true that they are not easily swayed, because they are only concerned with that which is right in front of their noses, their silence and apathy are easily exploited – especially by politicians and demagogues who pretend to be speaking, and acting, on their behalf. You see, the “majority” holds a sacred place in the American mind set. It's considered reactionary, selfish, and impolite to advocate anything that cannot be identified as an expression of “the will of the majority” -- even if that will has to be assumed and guessed at with considerable straining. Even the most radical advocate of minority “rights” has to, sooner or later, claim that what he wants is consistent with the will of the majority... or with its will if it had a will... or if it were properly educated or enlightened... etc. It's hard to preach a shining Utopia if one cannot also claim that most people would be happy there; this is the problem the Bolsheviks had – and they solved it, of course, by liquidating anyone who was likely to object to living in the people's paradise and becoming a “New Soviet Man”. The way we deal with the same problem is not with a bullet in the head (except in select cases) but with a relentless propaganda apparatus, combined with political correctness, shame, guilt, and social isolation. Thus, the white male heterosexual businessman mentioned above must be shamed into becoming something he never intended to be, and in fact cannot be... or he has to be separated out like a black sheep (so to speak) and removed from the company of polite and compassionate people – from the “Republic of Nice” as Florence King put it.

So if we consider Americans in their political (or apolitical) garb as falling along a continuum, we have a bell curve with leftists and progressives on one end – true believers of one sort... conservatives on the other end – true believers of another sort... and a great, gray, bulging middle of people who couldn't care less. And yet, ironically, even though it's the “ends” that are responsible for all significant political activity, it's that great, gray middle that election campaigns always aim for – since they can take it for granted that the “ends” will vote as they always do, and nothing will sway them. And what's worse, many of our politicians and national leaders are, in fact, from the great, gray middle – contrary to the popular notion that all “believe in” something. Well, that's actually true if you include belief in oneself – but my observation is that many of our politicians are, in fact, people without principles and without ideas. The one thing they all seem to have in common is that they all have towering egos, and they are all obsessed with being popular – with being liked, preferably by everyone but at least by the majority. And most of them find out, early on, that having, or espousing, principles of any sort is the shortest road to being disliked – so they avoid it at all costs. Now, this is not to say that they don't, on a frequent basis, talk about “ideas” (typically nebulous and appealing to the baser instincts) or concepts, but that is not the same as talking about, much less acting on, principles. That would involve, first and foremost, a non-delusional view of the world combined with logic and a realistic assessment of cause and effect; now do you see why most politicians would be totally incapable of such a thing? These are, as a group, probably the most deluded in all of society – at least among those not confined to institutions. The few politicians I have come into direct contact with are, almost to a man (or woman), wild-eyed, hyperactive, and impulsive; they give off “vibes” more or less identical with those given off by dangerous psychotics. But such is the way in which our political life is structured that these are the people who get to the top, and leave the rest of us marveling and wondering how on earth such a thing could have happened... and resolving to "do better" next time, etc. But we can never "do better" by simply voting; the system itself has to change. The ax has to be laid at the roots of the tree. But this is a topic for another time...

So – to return to the “true believers” -- we see that the leftists/progressives are perennially crippled by their Utopian delusions, neuroticism, and hidden desire to dominate. And this is why they fall into line behind anyone who mouths the right words, but are then grievously disappointed almost the minute that person takes office. They have, in fact, a desire – a need – for instantaneous gratification, and become quite irritable and angry when they don't get it, i.e. when the world does not change for the better in the twinkling of an eye. And this is why they tend to stay irritable and angry much of the time. Either that, or they retreat into their cramped little world of thwarted idealism – a state much like autism, except that one can turn a profit from it by, for example, acquiring university tenure.

But then what about the conservatives, as described above (traditionalists, adhering to “family values”, nationalists, patriots, etc.)? Aren't they more realistic? Don't they have a firmer grasp of the true nature of man, and thus of what should and should not be expected of society and government? Don't they, in fact, deserve a better government than the one we now have? And are they not the used, the pillaged, the spat-upon, the done-to, the mocked of American society, as the tea partiers claim? Well... this is true if all you take as your criterion is the mainstream media. But who dominates foreign policy? Hint: It sure ain't the leftists or the progressives, even though “spreading democracy” started out as a progressive agenda item under Woodrow Wilson. Since then it's degenerated into nothing more than pure empire-building, and the left and progressives at least get credit for seeing this, and pointing it out once in a while (even when one of their own is in the White House). But no, the foreign policy agenda has been taken over by conservatives, particularly of the “neocon” variety... by Evangelical Christians (not that these groups do not overlap to a considerable degree)... and by people who unabashedly believe in the need for an American Empire -- not just a “shining city on a hill” but a warfare state that imposes its values by force on the rest of the world. And this agenda is, of course, in complete symbiosis with the agenda of the arms makers, war politicians, and aspiring war presidents, many of whom are nominal liberals or progressives. And in fact, it's also in symbiosis, in a perverse way, with the agenda of those who want to see America go down in flames -- the Islamic world, China (once they get rid of all their Treasury notes), the old-line communists, and the neo-communists of Latin America. When America pursues an impossible agenda and commits folly upon folly, its enemies are all in favor, and only object as a matter of form.

So we have this bizarre combination of a half-baked form of liberalism ("impure" leftism/progressivism) when it comes to domestic policy, and militant conservatism – energized by a flawed concept of American exceptionalism – when it comes to foreign policy. One might wish for just the opposite, in fact – more tolerance of “diversity” in foreign relations and more principled conservatism at home; but this is clearly not going to happen at any time in the foreseeable future, since it's something that no one wants, except the libertarians and paleoconservatives.

But the above, in fact, describes the Achilles heel of American conservatism – by which I mean the standard variety. They are interested in freedom for Americans, but abject submission for everyone else... and the liberals typically want the opposite. The problem is that neither position is based on principle... nor on logic, nor on history... and certainly not on the slightest bit of charity or true humanitarianism. And it is in these inconsistencies and fallacies that the “hooks” reside – those flaws that render their advocates ripe for the picking by the cynics and manipulators and string-pullers of this world. Their foolishness, in other words, is their downfall... and it is deserved, because they never stop to think about what all of their motley opinions add up to. And, they don't consider the damages that the implementation of their ideas has already done – again, the liberals on the home front and the conservatives overseas. They may be “true believers” but that doesn't mean that their belief systems have internal consistency. They rely, rather, on denial of history, of facts, and of logic. And this is why the upcoming “change” in Congress doesn't really constitute a change at all. What it constitutes is a slight shift in the locus of attention, effort, and delusion. The biggest, costliest mistakes will now be made in different venues, until the electorate – not really understanding the situation but vaguely aware that something is terribly wrong – causes another power shift, and the dreary cycle begins again.

So the lame-duck world we are living in right now will not disappear in a month. It will simply shift into a higher order of lame-duckness – that level that we have been living with for decades now. As long as the same old delusions, obsessions, and memes continue to dominate our thinking, our culture, and our politics, no change of any significance is possible. We will continue to wake up from merciful sleep every morning and remember that we are living on a mountain of troubles, with even more threatening disasters about to strike at any moment, like volcanoes come to life. Our first thought on waking up will be – with reference to some troubling dream we may have had -- “Oh, thank goodness that was only a dream.” But our second thought, on considering the reality we are living in, with all of its intractability, will be “Oh yeah... 'that'”.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Schools For Scandal

It's funny how equating something with “defense” gets things done. Think about the Interstate Highway System, for example... or the space program... not to mention the Patriot Act, TSA, and the vast bureaucracy that has grown up around the “War on Terror”. We can be chasing goatherds across the Hindu Kush, but as long as that effort is identified as “defense” we're in the clear. Yes, the defense shibboleth covereth a multitude of follies. It is, in fact, the all-powerful, all-purpose excuse for whatever we might want to do, either on the home front or overseas, and it seldom loses a battle... except when it runs up against public education. Yes, there is a force even more powerful than defense, and it is the public schools and their facilitators – the teachers' unions and all of the various government agencies that depend on the public education system, and especially its chronic failings, to stay in business.

This was brought out in an AP article in yesterday's paper entitled “Study finds fault with education system” -- as if one needed a “study” to find fault with a system that has been miserably failing “the children” for decades now. But this is not just about everyday, garden-variety failure – the generation of armies of ignoramuses and the resulting impact on the culture. No, this is about public education's impact on defense. It seems that “nearly one-fourth of the students who try to join the Army fail its entrance exam” -- and that, in turn, is based, presumably, on the failure of public schools to teach “basic math, science and reading” -- you know, those things that are now considered "electives". The article cites “a growing worry among military and education leaders that the pool of young people qualified for military service will grow too small”. (Too small for what? But read on...) This is predicated, of course, on the continuation of the military as a form of voluntary, as opposed to conscripted, service – and the unspoken implication is that people who have better prospects elsewhere (in education, employment, etc.) tend to avoid the military like the plague. Yes, it's true – a military draft does result in more talented people being in the military. But a price is paid in terms of morale (both theirs and society's in general), so it's anyone's guess what the bottom line is. A Ph.D. candidate commanding a tank (a not unfamiliar sight in Israel, for example) might do better as a tanker, but if he spends every waking hour longing for the comforts of grad school, that might cancel out any raw talent he happens to have.

So at any rate, here's Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education: “I am deeply troubled by the national security burden created by America's under-performing education system.” Wow – talk about throwing down the gauntlet! Might as well accuse them of hating astronauts, puppies, and apple pie. I'm amazed the NEA hasn't already asked for his head (maybe they will). The public education cabal can weather virtually any type, or level, of criticism – and so it has, countless times over the years. It can acquire monopolistic and tyrannical powers, courtesy of Congress and state boards of education. But can it defend itself against this latest charge? I'm guessing that it can, and the reason is that political correctness, AKA the liberal agenda, always trumps all other considerations, and has for many years. Take the military itself, which has just entered upon a new phase of social experimentation with the demise of “don't ask, don't tell”. Was defense, or readiness, topmost in the minds of Congress just now? The fact is, it wasn't in their minds at all... any more than when they totally ignored the problems that full integration of women into the services would cause. The military has become, over the years since World War II, the cutting edge of... not defense, but social change. That and a massive jobs program, not to mention a limitless cornucopia for arms makers. So we wind up with troops that are – through no fault of their own – severely compromised in many ways, forced to adhere to policies that further reduce readiness, and to use weapon systems that are based more on pork-barrel politics and plain bribery than actual need.

And even this wouldn't be so bad if we were Spain, say... or Norway... or Tunisia. We could have a charmingly small military that was suitable for people who were “into” that sort of thing, but would never be called upon to fight any real battles. But we're the defender of the free world, right? We're the leader in the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, the War on Islam (oops – didn't mean to include that). We're the last, best hope for democracy. We're Israel's lifeline. And we have been granted, by unanimous acclaim, the mission to go anywhere in the world at a moment's notice in order to make sure that everyone is being nice to one another. And if they're not, we reserve the right to blow them into fine particles. So... given that that is our mission, wouldn't you think we would be a bit more serious about preparing for it? I mean, look at what happened after Sputnik – the public education establishment got an unequaled shot in the arm – and, for a while there, it actually responded. But let's not forget that that was at the very end of the post-war era of good feeling – a time when America shone as victor and savior of Western Europe and a few places in Asia. Well, OK, we gave China away to Mao and Eastern Europe away to Stalin... but let's not quibble over minor details. We were large and in charge... and when the Russkies beat us into space, we had to respond, and the public education cabal had not yet fully morphed into a force in opposition to quality education (or any education at all), nationalism, patriotism, or defense. That had to wait until the cultural revolution of the 60s took hold – although, one has to admit, public education was in the vanguard in many ways, i.e. it acted as much as it reacted. The “march through the institutions” did not begin with public education (unless you include the state university systems), but public education was a sitting duck for the “agents of change”. It was ripe for the picking, and pick they did. And the public schools were fertile ground, since they grew up, originally, with "Americanization" as a primary mission -- so it was not a huge leap to shift over to de-Americanization. (Once again, the downside of having an idea-based culture, which can turn into a house of mirrors on a moment's notice.) So in a few short years we went from a situation where the public schools were part of a united front along with parents (i.e. ordinary Americans), churches, small towns, business, etc. -- to a situation where it was being wielded as a weapon in the culture wars by the radical fringe. And it's not as though everybody got fired and a whole new cohort got hired – it's just that teachers, just like most people, tend to be followers – politically passive, with very few ides of their own. So when someone new moves into the top position, and starts putting out a new narrative, well... the tendency is to go along, especially if the unions say so. I mean, it's not unlike the situation with labor in general – how many rank-and-file union members agree with the social and political agenda of their union bosses? Damned few, I'd say – in most cases. And yet the sanctions that are imposed for speaking up, and protesting, are so severe that few are willing to brave the storm. As with any political or social change phenomenon, the true believers – those who have nothing to lose and everything to gain – tend to come out on top. And the ones who have little to gain and much to lose tend to go along. Survival comes first! And although there might be some genuine cowards playing roles in this drama, I really suspect that, most of the time, this is the way it played out. And that, all by itself, constitutes a good argument against political and social movements, and even against unions – that they almost inevitably turn into tyrannies, small-scale and local at first, but then able to wield vast power and create drastic changes in the culture, against the best interests of most of their nominal adherents.

So what happened, starting in the 60s, was that the newly-empowered public education establishment began to diverge from the mainline culture and its values. The irony, of course, was that that empowerment stemmed directly from the felt needs of the establishment – namely the need to “maintain parity” with the Soviets in the areas of science and technology. And as I said, the education establishment played along until it gained a foothold – but then it came under new management and the agenda shifted (but not in a way that was immediately visible to the ordinary citizen). Then the culture war began, and it became increasingly apparent that the education establishment was on one side, and the “silent majority”, as well as traditional American values, nationalism, patriotism, and defense, was on the other. And what's amazing is that they (the public education cabal) got away with it – all the way through the end of the Cold War, including Vietnam, right up to and including the “War on Terror” (to date) and the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Somehow it appeared that the predations and criminal negligence of the public education establishment had not caused any serious problems for national defense – although there were certainly hints of such a thing starting way back in the 1970s. The minute the draft ended, the military entered a bit of a crisis mode, and one way of dealing with it was to lower standards for enlistment. Another was to let people in, but provide them with a high school education, as well as a tech school education, before putting them out on duty. Yes – the military, as a matter of explicit, overt policy, was filling in the gap left by public education. And this was considered burdensome and expensive, but somehow tolerable. Up until now, that is. Or, maybe the Secretary of Education is just complaining over nothing. After all, it is him making the complaint, and not the military. In fact, according to the article, “the Department of Defense says it is meeting its recruiting goals”... but the suspicion is that this, as always, owes much to the current economic situation. What happens when things start looking up (if ever)?

So... if the military is not (yet) worried about this situation, why is the Secretary of Education worried? Could it be that he's found a “hook” with which to whip the teachers' unions into line? That doesn't seem very likely, since one word from them and he'd be out on the street. What I think is going on is that we have what I call “agenda clash” -- a phenomenon that seems to be cropping up more and more often these days as our economic degrees of freedom vanish and the government polices up our few remaining freedoms from the battlefield. The military is supposed to be a primary agent of social experimentation and change; let us grant that much. “Readiness” and “defense” in the strict sense aren't even on radar for the promoters of social change and of the military as its victim, er, “implementer”. But, as we all know, social change starts from the bottom – or at least it's supposed to. It starts from those on the lowest rung, socially and economically. But guess what, nearly ¼ of those who apply (who may not be from the bottom-most layer anyway) do not qualify. And guess what, that's talking about the people who get as far as taking the test. According to the article – and I have to admit I scarcely believe this myself -- “the test is given to a limited pool of people: Pentagon data shows [sic] that 75 percent of those aged 17 to 24 don't qualify to take the test because they are physically unfit, have a criminal record or didn't graduate high school.” But remember, as bad as this sounds, we're still talking only about those who apply, not the entire population -- at least I hope not. But still... what this means is that the military is missing out on a major piece of its mission, which is to “socialize” the proletariat – especially the young males who would otherwise be out on the street dealing drugs, robbing convenience stores, stealing cars, and so on. And if these people are out of reach for the military, they are also, to some extent, out of reach for the establishment – the Regime. In other words, they are truly free agents, allowed to exist in an anarchistic subculture like the characters in some post-nuclear holocaust movie.

You see, it has always been assumed, by “policy makers”, that the military could take up the slack where the larger culture – i.e. economy – failed. So the very bottom layer – the layer consisting of people who weren't even qualified for military service – would remain small and manageable, composed mainly of those who would be wards of the state anyway, but relatively harmless and “low maintenance”. But now those numbers are swelling, because the educational establishment has failed to keep its part of the bargain – namely to “educate” people just up to the point where they qualify for military service, but no further. Of course, no such bargain ever existed – but the military persisted in believing that it did. But now the chickens are coming home to roost, and the free hand granted the public education cabal turns out to have been abused and exploited, in pursuit of a different, and even more powerful, agenda – namely the creation and maintenance of a permanent underclass, which forms a political power base as well as a full-employment guarantee for welfare caseworkers, law enforcement and prison personnel, emergency room employees, and so on. So you take that 75% of applicants who don't even get to take the test... and then another 23% of those who do, but fail... and you've got 81% who walk in the door, but just walk out again, having been tried and found wanting. And what they go back to is life in the permanent, anarchic underclass. And this is not exactly what the Regime had in mind.

So the military is caught in a bind. In “good times” (for the economy overall), no one is interested. And in “bad times” -- well, those ought to be good times for military recruiting, which they traditionally are... except for this problem that seems to have surfaced. The “willing and eligible” layer is getting thinner – sandwiched between the “eligible but not interested, even in bad times” layer above and the “willing but ineligible” layer below. And of course, there is much that the military can do to manage this problem – and it has, over the years, with varying degrees of success. For example, there is a wide variety of ways of dealing with the high school graduation issue. But how do you enforce physical fitness on a civilian population of minors and youths? No one has managed that one yet, no matter how many laps Michelle Obama runs with grade-schoolers. And as to criminal records – well, the military has never been too keen on the “dirty dozen” mystique, no matter what liberals think. Sociopaths make perfectly good politicians, but lousy soldiers.

But again, this all has to do with actual readiness, and my thesis is that the Secretary's concerns have more to do with the socialization issue. While it's true that – as I've argued previously -- a vast underclass is a vital part of the Regime's blueprint for America, there's such a thing as too much of a good thing. And as I said, there is always the threat of anarchy, and no one wants that – at least not in pure form. When the “inner city” or the “ghetto” explodes, it's nice when the explosion is limited to the socio-economic boundaries of that area – and it usually is. But who is to say – who can guarantee – that the situation being described won't eventuate in a repeat of the urban riots of the 1960s and 1970s? That's what I mean by “anarchy” -- and while it has its political uses as a “fear factor”, it also has serious drawbacks... especially if things get out of control. Anyone with a reasonable degree of physical fitness can walk from Washington, DC's old “riot corridor” into Georgetown (home of much of the power elite) with very little trouble. And if you can walk, you can run -- with a Molotov cocktail in your hand. There is always that threat hanging over the heads of the elite, and it has to be managed by any means available.

I have to include another quote from the same article – and this one's a beaut. A member of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators commented that “it's surprising and shocking that we are still having students who are walking across that stage [i.e., graduating] who really don't deserve to be [given a diploma] and haven't earned that right.” Surprising? Shocking? “Still?” Well now, whose fault is that, Mister Educator? The teachers' unions have been engaging in a culture war against traditional education and its supporting values for decades now. They have been in the vanguard of people who are opposed to “standards”, or even grades. They have pushed relentlessly for a curriculum that includes virtually everything but the “3 Rs”. They fight like demons when anyone starts talking about "pay for performance", and they lobby relentlessly against charter schools, faith-based schools, and home schooling. And besides, it's much more politically correct and humanistic, and “considerate”, not to mention non-racist and non-discriminatory, to simply give out diplomas no matter what. You serve your time in the public school prison/warehouse, and if you're still breathing at the end, you get a diploma. And now they're starting to have second thoughts? Please. Like any good radical, I say that things have turned out exactly as planned – there were no mistakes, there is no failure. It's “mission accomplished”. The Regime is now closer than ever to achieving its ultimate vision for American society -- an army of serfs and soldier-slaves and a power elite, with no one in between. And just because the success of the “educators” equals a failure for everybody and everything else – well, that's unfortunate, but clearly those who object don't have the proper revolutionary attitude. And that, apparently, includes Arne Duncan, a “direct report” to our most revolutionary president to date. (If your "irony alarm" hasn't started making a deafening roar by now, I'm afraid you've missed the point. But read on.)

Well, it's not hard to see where all of this is going. Now that Obama has taken on, with relish, the mantle of “war president” -- now that the people concerned about “defense” are not only Republicans, conservatives, racists, “haters”, etc. -- the spotlight has shifted a bit and is now shining, with a most annoying brightness, on the very people who were Obama's most fervent and loyal supporters. He's starting to wonder why those friends of his aren't doing more to support the wars he inherited from George W. Bush. Why aren't they doing more, in other words, to educate the underclass to the point where they become suitable cannon fodder (but not much more)? Well, of course, that lack of support has been going on since shortly after he was born; all he's seeing is the end stage, the reductio ad absurdum. But he can hardly afford to chastise them too severely because they're about all he has left in the way of unquestioning support.

One could see a silver lining to all of this in that, if military readiness truly declines and if enlistments fall below critical mass, the military will no longer be able to perform its assigned missions, as detailed above – nearly all of which are either unconstitutional, immoral, or pure folly. And I guess this is possible in theory, but experience should teach us that the Regime always finds a way to wriggle out of situations that, to anyone else, would be an impossible bind. The increasing use of drones (the mechanical, not the human, kind) and other high-tech gadgetry is obviously one approach. Another is the increased reliance on special operations forces and paramilitary units (“contractors”, formerly known as “mercenaries”), the latter being more often under the intelligence, rather than the military, chain of command. This way, the mainstream military can be more or less left alone to perform its primary function which is socio-economic. The problem is, one can only do so much with specialists – our strategy still relies quite heavily on “boots on the ground”, which means bodies, which means ordinary “grunts” (or their sea-going equivalent). You can fight battles with drones, but can you engage in “nation-building” with drones? Not that I'm aware. And we see that the bulk of our military effort consists of occupation, once the initial invasion is accomplished. How does one occupy a nation in the Middle East from a bunker in Nevada? No... bodies are still going to be the answer, unless there is a radical change in the question, and I don't see that happening very soon. I mean... as if our debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan weren't enough, now we're getting ready to invade Iran. Or Yemen. Or some other place that no one over here cares about. So I see this bind – this contradiction, this paradox – continuing, and if it drives certain people to distraction, well, it's no more than they deserve.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Once More Unto the Breach

I have recently been gently chastised by two of my loyal readers for having, apparently, taken a mysterious vow of silence. But I claim no such noble intent! Indeed, a true vow of silence would have to be undertaken in the same spirit as a vow of poverty... or the intention to become a hermit. That is, it would have to be based on both an objective and an intuitive realization that the state of “going without” was superior to the state of “going with”... and not only superior – i.e. closer to God, which is the only reason that makes ultimate sense. Prudence would dictate that it also be achievable (based on one's talents) and appropriate (based on one's state of life). But alas, I find that I am not serene enough for silence... not detached enough for poverty... and not wise enough for the hermit life. Thus, I must remain engaged and partially immersed in the world, and allow it to propel me to ever-greater heights of incredulity and indignation.

I believe I have, in fact, just described the “blogger's dilemma”, if I can coin a term. Life in these times has an addictive quality, in that the more offended and discouraged one gets, the more apt one is to jump back into the fray. We may despair, but we do not give up. But for what purpose? To try and achieve that staple of humanists and Miss America candidates, “world peace”? But that would be to ignore human nature – fallen human nature, that is. The prospect of a “peaceable kingdom” may brighten the eyes of Utopians, but it can only make the cynic... the skeptic... the misanthrope... all the crankier. It's a truism that some of the greatest catastrophes ever to befall mankind have been based directly on the “thought” of socialistic, Utopian dreamers of one stripe or the other – them and their facilitators, implementers, and willing executioners. Behind every humanistic, socialistic, or collectivist mask lies the face of someone who hates the human race – or at least a great portion of it. They see, in other words, people who are willing to cooperate with their program, and those who are not; and the latter are fit only for killing. The cynic and the naysayer may see the cup as chronically half empty, but at least they will be right half of the time. The optimists and Candides of this world, on the other hand, expend a great deal of their energy in denial – especially denial of the inevitable outcome of collectivist, Utopian schemes, their own in particular. And even Utopianism on a small scale can be fairly benign, as witness the many such communities that sprang up across the United States in (mostly) the 19th Century. But those were voluntary organizations; they had borders – one could leave without much trouble (and many did). But to impose one's scheme – one's notion of “the way things ought to be” -- on an entire nation or society? This inevitably has to be done by force – the threat of violence as well as actual violence – and we see the results quite plainly in the histories of Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, Mao's China, and many other smaller, but equally if not more vicious, societies. We see it, but we don't make the connection. We assume that bad results can come from good ideas... that it's just a failure of proper implementation that gives rise to so many catastrophes. But in fact, bad results, more often than not, grow out of equally bad ideas; it's just that the ideas are disguised whereas the results can't be. As long as it's only a matter of casual conversation in college and university lounges, with much puffing of pipes and sipping of brandy, almost any idea can be made to seem humane and benign. Communism... fascism... Nazism... these were all dreamed up by men in suits and ties, with clean fingernails. They had families, pet dogs, and parakeets. But when it comes down to cases, we find that for every “idea person” there are – and have to be – a hundred, or a thousand, jack-booted goons. And said goons, as it turns out, have no interest in ideas at all! For them, it's about lust and power and loot, and nothing more. So you always have to ask yourself, when considering any system (real or theoretical)... any “morphing” of philosophy into politics... what it takes to create and maintain that system. What is its life's blood? Is it true reason (rather than that vicious thing called "reason" that characterized the French Revolution)? Is it charity, both individual and collective? And – perhaps most importantly – does it reflect a reasonable concept of the nature of man, or something ginned up by a mad social scientist? That is, is it designed for real, normal, created and evolved human beings, or some sort of Frankenstein monster (the “New Soviet Man”, e.g.)?

See, the basic political motive – the model for all political thought and activity – is quite simple. It's one's answer to the question, what is the nature of society as it is, and what is the nature of society as we would like it to be, and how do we get from one to the other? Thus, the essence of the political mind set, when not informed by morality or philosophy, is dissatisfaction – discontentment, restlessness, frustration – and eventually, in most cases, rage and hostility leading to violence. Think of “political man” as a sort of overgrown two-year-old. He sees what he wants, tries to get it, fails, and throws a tantrum. Now, this sort of thing can be managed (more or less) in the two-year-old's case, but try it if the subject is a president... or a dictator... or a “community leader”. Or a revolutionary. And, try it if he makes his appeal, out loud and repeatedly, to large numbers of other people, who were already harboring deep resentment at having to grow up and become adults, but they had never quite found the words for it until this demagogue came along. But now they have a leader! So take up your red flags, mes citoyens, and man the barricades! And by all means, come up with some fancy words to make it sound like you don't just want your diaper changed.

It's amazing, in fact, how much insight one can gain into a given political movement simply by examining the psychology of its leading personalities, and of its followers as well. I was privileged (if that is the word) to attend a small and quite liberal college, and one of the first things I observed about most of the liberal “activists” was that they were, psychologically, no more than infants and spoiled brats with a towering sense of entitlement. Their infantile mindset had morphed into a form of sociopathy disguised as humanism. And -- even though it's an old chestnut, it's still true -- they “loved mankind but hated people”. Like so many politicians today – and many of them are the same people, in fact! -- they mouthed words about “diversity” and "free speech" but spent every waking hour attempting to thwart and crush true differences of opinion... and they had a visceral hatred of anything resembling tradition, ethnicity, and most of all “organized religion”. But even this was not the innermost layer. What lay behind it all was an infantile, solipsistic insistence on having things their way all the time. Even metaphysically, they seemed convinced that it was their world... and, in extreme cases, that they were, in fact, the only inhabitants of that world, the rest of us being mere wallpaper or cup-bearers. But it would hardly do to express things this way, especially in an “intellectual” atmosphere that was “open to inquiry and debate” (and shot through with Freudians to boot). So it all got sublimated (but not very successfully) into social activism, and causes, and “ideas” -- but at the root of it all lay a profoundly anti-social, metaphysically autistic point of view.

And even this would not have constituted that much of a threat to the Republic if these people could have been confined to the campus for the rest of their days. But no! They were set free, and loosed upon an unsuspecting populace like some plague bacillus. They spread out across the land, and over the entire globe, spreading their poison – which should have remained confined to their own fevered brains and neglected bodies. But even this is not the worse part. Not only did people believe them – they acquired many followers, and formed many cells, organizations, and parties – but they were even handed the reins of government, either via elections or as the result of brute force or simple negligence. Because, you see, they are the believers – and there is an unfortunate human tendency to “believe the believers” -- to be dazzled and mesmerized -- based simply on their manifest zeal and energy, and on their demonic social dominance, without giving serious consideration to the content of their alleged beliefs. So the questions that ought to be asked -- “Does it make sense?” -- “Does it correspond at all to my own practical experience?” -- “Does it have moral or ethical merit?” -- “Does it represent a reasoned view of the nature of man and of his potential (as well as his weaknesses)?” -- and especially “Would the implementation of these ideas likely lead to an improvement in people's lives, or to misery and destruction?”... these questions are never asked. In fact, they aren't even asked once the disasters occur. Then, it's, once again, “failure of implementation” and still another reason for giving it another try, this time with even more stringent “safeguards”.

Sound familiar? I would say that the political atmosphere in this country at this time is certainly not the worst that can be imagined, but it is so blatantly inferior to that at the time of the founding as to cause amazement that we are still, even nominally, living under the same system and the same founding documents. And the sad fact is that there is really no limit to how far we can drift from original principles, while still considering them a heritage. We could turn into a supersized version of North Korea, and we'd still be claiming direct descent from the Declaration of Independence, and that we had a government based on the Constitution. The problem is that when you have a nation – a system, a society – founded on ideas and only on ideas, the meaning of those ideas can suffer any amount of “creep”, no matter how drastic, and the ideas can always be reinterpreted to fit the current situation. And this is because people lose track of the objective, natural basis for ideas, and those ideas acquire a life of their own, which readily becomes mutated. I suppose that every word and phrase in the Constitution could have been expanded, or footnoted, to include specific examples -- “This is what this means” and “This is what this doesn't mean”, etc. -- but such a tedious exercise would have been considered totally unnecessary at the time, because we had something that we no longer have – a common frame of reference (culturally and historically), strong and stable habits of economy and prudence, and a sense of morality (not just of “ethics” or of what I call “raw reason”). In other words, for everything the Constitution (and other founding documents) says, there are a hundred things it doesn't say, but that are assumed. The entire enterprise was permeated, for example, with the notion of Natural Law, which Congress, during the Robert Bork hearings, declared null and void. We enjoyed a temporary truce between Enlightenment humanism and monotheistic morality – probably because the two had been exerting force upon each other for some time (in what might be termed proto-ecumenism). And while common sense may not have been the highest philosophical value, it would have been hard to make political headway by preaching directly against it – whereas in these times that is just about the only way to make political gains.

So in this sense it can be said that we are running, basically, on fumes – that most of the good that remains in the American system is based on sheer inertia and habit, and little else. We are, in effect, a hollow society – morally and philosophically – and most recently economically. Or to put it another way – if we all woke up tomorrow morning with absolutely no memory of the founding documents, and no records or archives, would we able to reconstruct the system in original form – or even in the form in which we find it today? And would we even be inclined to? I think the answer almost has to be a firm and absolute “no” -- and this, paradoxically, could be cited in support of American exceptionalism – the notion that we, as a nation and a society, really are (or were) something new, different, exceptional, and perhaps unique in history. And I'm not too interested in all these historians' quibbles about “why” this occurred – how this window of opportunity came about. What's more important is that it seems to have closed – and, furthermore, that it was closed intentionally. We have seen a revolution as much from above (the power elite) as from below ("the people"). Or, one might say, a newer set of ideas overtook the older set -- by force, intimidation, persuasion... through any number of means, and always taking advantage of crises – wars, social strife, economic depressions, etc. There are more ways of doing a thing wrong than of doing it right, and this applies as well to societies. And once again, when the neurotics – the people with a life-hating agenda – start spouting their poison, otherwise-good people are fascinated... intrigued... and, in some cases, converted. And this is just human concupiscence at work – fallen human nature. And yet it's a powerful force (or anti-force). And the time was when people who knew they were foolish were willing to elect men to public office who were wiser then they – or at least appeared to be. But now it seems that the leading criterion for a politician and leader is that he be “just like us” -- “a man of the people” -- and so on. Which means: fallible, self-centered, myopic, impulsive, dull, philistine, and prone to tyranny and violence. “Oh yes, please! Let's not allow anyone to occupy public office who might actually be better, or superior in any way, to the average citizen – or even to the below-average citizen. Because this is a democracy, after all, and everyone deserves a chance. 'Meritocracy' is no more fair than monarchy. Plus, it makes me feel a whole lot better knowing that no one in 'high office' is actually any better than me in any respect. I don't care how many trillion dollars they control, or how many ICBMs – they have to be just as much of a schmuck and mediocrity as I am.” This is the mindset of our society today – and we wonder why we get the results that we do.

It's another truism that “people get the government they deserve”. Well, yes – in the collective. But some people get the government that _other_ people deserve. Or some even get better than they deserve; they at least get a modicum of “justice” when all they deserve is the knout. It is, in fact, the people who feel left out of the mainstream who make the most noise – them, or those who are afraid they might be left out of the mainstream. Misery loves company, and it's consoling to be part of a party, or a movement, or even a majority – as long as one can keep on feeling persecuted. So now we have this bizarre situation where most American citizens feel helpless, and like they're a member of some persecuted (or about to be) minority. The paradox is that the people who feel that way are in the majority! So what's going on? Well, part of it is an inchoate reaction to a very real fact – namely that we are no longer a democracy in any real sense, but are ruled over by a nameless, faceless elite... and that our visible, high-profile “national leaders” are no more than their servants, albeit highly-placed and well-paid. But really, most people down through history have lived in what amounted to tyrannies or dictatorships, and they didn't complain nearly as much as we do – so what's the problem? Again we have to go back to our ideational roots. It's not enough to simply live out one's existence – to sit beneath one's own vine and fig tree. The world has to be changed to suit our tastes, and we are deeply offended when it isn't. Thus, people who in almost any other society in history would have been fairly contented with their lot are taking to the streets, and writing angry letters, and watching and listening to people who are even angrier than they – and for what? That the world might change “for the better”, as defined by ME.

Even when it comes to taxation, I've adopted the attitude that my income is what actually shows up in my bank account; the rest is just so much fluff. But the government persists in calling the income tax a “voluntary” system – and that creates a mindset that wants the money spent in the proper way. People want a return on their “investment” in the government. But this attitude would have been thought absurd and laughable by people in almost any society up until the 20th Century. The powerful take (by force or the threat thereof), and the powerless make do with what they have left; that's the human lot when it comes to society. The notion of getting indignant about this on principle is a fairly new thing. Now, certainly, if over-taxation meant you had to starve, or go around naked or homeless, then you might have taken notice in any era; the Bible is certainly full of references to unjust taxation and corrupt tax collectors. But the principle? The notion that the government ought to take “our” taxes and “do something” with them – something useful and of general benefit – this is something new. The powerful in ancient times built palaces – and some of them still stand, and are greatly admired by all. Will our ruling elite be able to make the same claim in 1000 or 2000 years? One tends to doubt it. They don't know how to be rich... and we no longer know how to be poor (especially poor in spirit). So more's the irony that our sense of values has more and more boiled down to money... and even more's the irony that our “money”, so-called, is basically worthless. We are a society that worships small slips of paper with fancy designs on them; what could possibly be emptier, or less edifying? The simplest peoples of ancient times would laugh us to scorn if they knew. We have sold all of our birthright, and a good deal of our humanity, for a trash heap of signs and symbols – and yet we fancy that we are, and remain, the most dominant, exemplary, and powerful society on earth! (And worse yet, we may be right!) The moral health of the rest of the world can be assessed, roughly speaking, as the extent to which they emulate us and support our empire-building. (Well, that's what the Neocons say – but I mean it in just the opposite way.) We love to accuse the Marxists of “materialism” -- but who has now wound up on top of the materialistic heap? We, and the former Marxists who have converted to our own faith. If you would find the righteous, you have to get off the pavement – off the superhighways, off the Internet, away from the Money Power and all of its pomps and works. You have to find – if any are left alive – natural men... not “natural” in some brute, unthinking, primitive sense but in the sense of being in touch with their true nature and valuing that which supports and glorifies that nature, and avoiding that which destroys and degrades. Do you feel better about yourself after an encounter with any of the million arms of the federal government? Or with any of its leaders? Or its bureaucrats, minor functionaries, hangers-on, and plain parasites? I know I don't. These are things that suck the life blood, and spirit, out of a man. Do we even know, any longer, where to find refreshment? We are panting, like the hart in the Psalm, for truth and righteousness – but if we look to the whited sepulchres of Washington and the state capitols we will find neither one. This is the bottom line of our long experiment with collectivism and with adopting the political mindset as our highest value – the fact that it reduces us as men, and then turns us into something less than men. Not animals; they have their own perfection and nobility. I mean that it turns us into a mutation, and something to be despised – but who is, then, left to despise us, but ourselves? But at least we are capable of that much. The “second death” -- in this life – would be to simply no longer care at all.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Who Put the Dip in Diplomacy?

Pat Buchanan rails in today's paper about what he terms a "devastating leak of diplomatic documents"... "a diplomatic disaster of the first order"... "this national humiliation and diplomatic Pearl Harbor" -- all referring to the recent WikiLeaks core dump of the State Department's dirty laundry. Well... sorry, Pat, but I really do have to disagree on this one. To begin with... well, I've always thought that the whole "diplomacy" thing was a crock, and a mountain of hypocrisy. And as for the diplomatic corps -- who was it that said it consists of "men with no future and women with no past"? Still true. Someone once said, "Diplomacy is the art of saying 'nice doggie' while you look for a rock". Also true! And what's more, any diplomat who's not brain-dead (OK, that doesn't mean all of them) pretty much knows what the other side thinks of him and his country... and he knows that his counterparts know what he and his country think of them and their country... and so on ad infinitum. Can anything that the WikiLeaks leak revealed really be considered a surprise? A scandal, maybe... a bit awkward... but a surprise? Of course not. Iran has always known who its enemies are, for example... Karzai knows that we consider him a corrupt pigmy... and so on. I think the people who are the most offended in this matter are the ones who just like to keep secrets... like Hillary Clinton, for example, who has been the very picture of indignation ever since the leaks took place. (Of course, we know that she carries around some scar tissue when it comes to leaks... but let that go for now.) In any case... well, it's kind of like the time the Russians shot down that U-2 spy plane. They knew we were spying on them from high above... we knew they knew it... etc. But having an actual plane, and a live pilot, to parade before the international press, well, that's a bonus. So we did the proper groveling and apologizing, and life returned to normal. And no, we didn't stop spying on the Soviets. And nothing is going to change this time either... in fact, the revelations might actually speed things up a bit at various negotiating tables. It will, for example, save our people the time and effort (and mortification) of having to butter up and brownnose certain foreign leaders. No more "introductory remarks". They can get right down to cases. It would be like starting a football game in the third quarter. Think of the savings! It's kind of like a nude encounter group -- it saves a lot of time that would otherwise be spent speculating and plotting.

And frankly, I'm surprised that Buchanan is spending so much adrenalin on this issue. You'd think he'd be glad that at least some of the corruption and inanity, and insanity, and incompetence, of our foreign policy and of Hillary's State Department had been exposed. But instead he waxes wroth. What precisely does he think has been lost? What disadvantage have we suffered? He admits that this is "an age where diplomatic insults are common". But "what it reveals is that the world's last superpower cannot be trusted with diplomatic confidences or secrets". Maybe so, but how does that stack up against our zeal for "spreading democracy", and our proven habit of attacking any country, or regime, that we see fit at any time? Frankly, I'd rather have the lack of confidentiality and secrecy if it meant that the wheels would come off the American Empire and its war machine. Plus, does he really disapprove of the outing of Hillary's program "to have U.S. diplomats spy on and steal credit card numbers of allied diplomats at the United Nations"? She's managed to avoid incarceration so far... but this could be the turning point!

He's worried that many U.S. diplomats will now "see their usefulness diminished or destroyed". Um... how "useful", exactly, are most of those airheads? We already know that some of the biggest hacks around were sent into Iraq after the invasion to supervise the occupation... er, whatever we called it at the time. And we're still living with the results of their towering incompetence! You'd think we would have sent our most skilled people into that mess, but no... it had to be business as usual, and political payback, and "seniority", and all that typical bureaucratic jive. See, we're not really serious about diplomacy because, ultimately, we don't believe in it. What we believe in is military force and the threat thereof, plain and simple. The rest is all, as I said above, the "nice doggie" stuff, and no one is fooled. If we sit over here bristling with nuclear warheads, ICBMs, cruise missiles, submarines, fighter jets, bombers, and warships... well, who's going to refuse to sit down at a table and talk nice with us? No one but North Korea, I guess, and they're certifiably insane. The world knows that if we get P.O.'d enough, we're going to pay them a little visit, and we don't need the O.K. of any limp-wristed U.N. type. So really, our "diplomacy" is not much different from the protection-racket guy telling his "clients" what demonimation bills he wants to be paid in. But, I suppose, it's a game that some people think must be played -- as dreary as it is. I just don't see why Buchanan insists on defending it -- especially considering the kind of people who are practicing it these days. You'd think he'd be laughing himself silly; I sure am.