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'”.

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