Thursday, October 25, 2012

Quaking In Their Boots

“Convictions in quake trial rattle scientific community.” As well they might. Seven Italian “scientists or geological and disaster experts” were sentenced to six years in prison for failing to warn residents of a quake that struck the L'Aquila area in 2009. And of course it's absurd, and of course it shows a gross misunderstanding of how science works and what its capabilities are. And the scientific community at large is right to be upset, because if people can be convicted of “not” doing, or saying, the right thing at the right time, then there is no limit. Think, even, about weathermen in the U.S. who fail to properly warn people as to the exact path and destructive potential of hurricanes and tornadoes – not to mention blizzards, floods, and our own occasional earthquakes. That cheery guy with the good hair who comes on at 11 PM could be in the slammer tomorrow, according to this precedent.

However – and it pains me to point this out, having a scientific background myself – it's also true that scientists bring this sort of thing on themselves, on occasion. How? Well, by simply making pronouncements from on high... presenting theories and models as fact... and being highly intolerant of opposing viewpoints. This becomes especially egregious in areas that are politically fraught – the way “global warming” is at present. We get this imperceptible (until it's too late) shift from “pure science” to a form of faith or dogmatism – not necessitated by the data, or even by reasonable interpretations of the data, but based on pre-existing biases and prejudices on the part of the scientists, as well as by political necessity and material inducements (jobs, grants, publications, awards, esteem, etc.). Scientists are human, after all – with all the foibles and weaknesses that implies... and although one would think they would be the last people on earth to “sell out”, occasionally they do – but they're not required to wear a special head rag, or carry a flag, that says “sold out”. They just keep on lecturing at the same universities, working at the same research firms, getting the same government grants, publishing in the same journals, as everyone else – unless they're caught doing something that is considered in poor taste, like plagiarism. And in fact, most of the time they don't even realize that they've sold out. It's not like a boxer throwing a fight. They just drift along, following a path of less (if not least) resistance, until they find themselves defending the indefensible. But by then it's too late. It's like a shoplifter taking the stolen goods back to the store; better to just lay low, hold onto the stuff, and hope you didn't get caught on tape. 

Not only that, but there is a definite “clubby” atmosphere in science, and each specialty has its leading lights... and as long as they all agree as to which basic premises are correct, few in the field are going to stand up and protest – and those who do will be treated to the kind of shunning that only the scientific community can pull off. (I should add that this sort of thing is not confined to science per se, but also happens in medicine and engineering. Yes, engineering – as witness many of the controversies about the 9/11 attacks.)

But here's what's interesting. Every once in a while something comes along – a theory, a model, a discovery – that causes what is known as a “paradigm shift”. At that point, the entire community (in whatever the field happens to be) “converts”, pretty much en masse (with a few hold-outs, as one might expect). No embarrassment, no humiliation, no apologies for the former dogmatism and persecution... just (if anything) an “oops” and a “never mind”. And then the new orthodoxy becomes the basis for a new dogmatism, and on we go, with scarcely a bump. You can see this in the history of virtually any field of science or medicine.

And of course, there is nothing wrong with “changing your mind” in science. In fact, that's the whole essence of the enterprise. You gather data as best you can with the tools you have, analyze the data, develop theories, and put the whole thing out there for perusal and comment – and hopefully affirmation – by the community. Ideas get proposed, batted around, shot down... and the ones that show durability are the ones considered correct. Correct, but not “true” in the absolute sense. Everything in science is tentative. It's all based on what we know right now. It could all be disproved – and, in fact, it's the ability to be disproved that is one of the essential qualities of any scientific idea or theory. If it can't be disproved (or if it's not allowed to be), then it comes under the heading of faith, and no longer belongs in the scientific realm. (So right away, you're going to say, “Oh yeah, kind of like evolution.” Exactly.)

I have absolutely no problem with science doing what it's supposed to do. Where I get uneasy is when it starts doing things it's not supposed to do – thereby violating its implied mandate. To whom do we look for facts and insights about the material world? Hopefully, the most objective and least prejudiced people around... and if they turn out to be otherwise, then the salt has lost its savor, has it not? If everything sooner or later becomes political (the ideal world for liberals), then fad, fancy, impulse, delusion, and mob psychology rule and there is no recourse to anything objective, substantial, grounded, and – dare I say – eternal. Those who worship this thing they call “reason” will never admit how frequently, and how badly, “reason” is abused. But as long as it keeps the label, all is well. 

In another sense it reminds me of what happens with presidents. As long as things are going well, they're perfectly willing to take credit for everything. But the minute things turn sour, they head for the tall grass, muttering things like “out of our control”, “something we inherited”, etc. Sound familiar? So yeah, the president is all-powerful and all-knowing when prosperity reigns, but an innocent and helpless victim when times are hard. Sorry, no sale. Either he's always in control or he's never in control – and I nominate the latter, as you know. The rest is smoke and mirrors... illusion and propaganda.

So to get back to our quaking Italians – I'm sure they felt “large and in charge” when things went according to their predictions, the same way a Gypsy fortune teller is going to be right at least some of the time, based on sheer probability. And actually, their record is probably better than that of the average Gypsy – oops, I mean “Roma”. (And BTW, what do they call Roma who live in Rome? Oh, never mind.) But when things go wrong, and they are hauled into court, all they can do is sputter about the ignorance of the prosecutors and of ordinary people, etc. And further, that if this is the way things are going to be, then we'll just go on strike and quit making predictions. What would be better is if their predictions were couched in more (appropriately) tentative, probabilistic terms, and if the laypeople were educated enough to appreciate that fact (good luck with that one). But again, all most people know about science is (1) its obvious successes and (2) its truth claims. So the obvious successes are used, to some extent, to bolster the truth claims – as if being right about Thing A meant that you were automatically right about Thing B – clearly an unscientific assumption.

So where, in our time, can we find the most dogmatic, “faith-based” pockets within the world of science? Darwinism/evolution comes immediately to mind – and when's the last time any pro-Darwin person referred to the “theory” of evolution? No, it is always presented as fact – as a “just-so story” which verges dangerously on myth or fairy tales. You take the basic data – which are quite scanty compared to what they are trying to prove – and extrapolate a whole world, both past and present. And none of it is rock-solid, you'll notice. We're constantly subjected to a parade of dinosaurs and other creatures... primates... “pre-humans”... “early man”... cave men of various types... and told that this is the way it is (or was), and curs'd be he who sayeth otherwise. But then – shazam! -- somebody finds some bone fragments, the cast of characters changes, and a new array of just-so stories is trotted out. (Personally, I really miss the brontosaurus. Don't you? But on the other hand, it is kind of cool to think I might have some Neanderthal blood.)

Evolution is the most obvious case, and there's a vast literature detailing all that is wrong with the theory – fatal to it, in fact. And this is before we even start talking about intelligent design, to say nothing of creationism. Even on its own terms, evolution is in deep trouble as the necessary and sufficient explanation for the origin, descent, and diversity of species, including man. The problem the evolutionists have is that there is no Plan B – either you accept the theory and all of its implications (and limitations) intact, or you are cast into the outer darkness and pronounced non-scientific and “superstitious”. Now... where there is no Plan B, much less a middle ground, that in itself should be a source of doubt. An honest scientist, if Plan A doesn't work out but there is not yet a Plan B, is content to keep investigating and wait for a new discovery – for a new structure, schema, or matrix to emerge out of the data. But not the evolutionists, no siree – it's their way or the highway.

Another area, and one where the corrupting, corroding nature of politics is particularly evident, is "global warming”. Questions that should be asked (by our government officials, for example) are seldom, if ever, asked. Instead, it becomes a matter of faith – for both sides, but especially for the “pro” side. I mean... it's perfectly possible that the global warming advocates are right, but have they proven it? On all counts, and at every step in the alleged sequence of events? My impression is that they haven't. The feeling one usually gets from the discussion and alarmism is that it's happening because it has to be happening – according to our pre-conceived notions (many of which have a moral/ethical/philosophical base). And the opposition says that it's not happening because it can't be happening, according to their pre-conceived notions. And thus what should have been a scientific inquiry and discussion turns into a religious war. And sure enough, we now even have proposals that “global warming deniers” be trotted off to jail; the Puritans of old could have done no better. 

Want another example? The “Big Bang” Theory was pretty much a settled affair until Stephen Hawking et al. realized that it had some pretty strong implications for a Creator. (Claims that it “just happened”, and accompanying claims that “we're here because we're here, and for no other reason”, AKA the anthropic principle, were at least recognized as being thin gruel.) So now we're treated to a different sort of parade – bubble universes, string theory, etc. -- all designed to escape from the Hound of Heaven. It's all quite fascinating, I admit... but when it starts to verge on sci-fi for no other apparent reason than to keep religion out of the picture, I start to lose interest. Today's bubble universes and string theory could be tomorrow's Piltdown Man. 

It is so much more relaxing to just be a believer, and to appreciate science for what it actually can do, and has done, and not get tied in knots over what we wish it could do but can't. Images from the Hubble telescope only serve to increase my faith – as does information about genetics, sub-atomic particles, and so on. It is such a waste when science and religion are constantly pitted against each other – mostly by scientists, but also by some Christians. Numbered among those who knew better is St. Thomas Aquinas, and I prefer his point of view to any of the divisiveness floating around these days.

But, come to think of it, as long as some people insist on treating science as a religion, there are bound to be conflicts between it and the real thing, since they will be fighting over the same territory. And as for the quaking Italians, I hope they receive a full pardon after having dutifully eaten a portion of humble pie.

Monday, October 22, 2012

My October Surprise

I don't know, maybe I'm still too na├»ve when it comes to human nature. I still expect at least a modicum of realism from people, even in groups, when I know full well that there is absolutely no reason to expect anything of the sort. So I was actually a bit startled when I read an article in the paper that referred to “Mitt Romney's transition team”. Apparently this team has already been formed – no, they don't wait until after the election. And apparently one of their agenda items -- already being pursued -- is the question of what happens if and when we reach this so-called “fiscal cliff” on the first of the year. And what scares the Romney people more than anything is the “huge cuts in the Defense budget” that are part of that fiscal cliff.

Well... to begin with, this “fiscal cliff” is little more than a scare tactic, designed by Congress to force itself to do something it didn't want to do – namely get together on a budget for Fiscal Year 2013 and beyond, including “doing something” about the deficit – which is, of course, politically impossible. The thinking on the Democrat side was, if we hold Defense hostage we can get the Republicans to pass it, along with all the other garbage that we want as well. But guess what – that didn't happen, and now we're faced with this specter of “huge cuts” in defense along with higher taxes. And, counter to common sense, we're told that spending cuts could kick us back into another recession. This is based on the premise that government spending – even with borrowed money – is a source of real wealth and prosperity... that the more the government spends, in effect, the more prosperous we'll become. Now, this is so obviously fallacious that it pains me to even have to point it out. Every dollar spent by the government comes out of your pocket – so even if they spend on it on you, after they take their cut you will wind up with less. Or, if we're talking about borrowing money, then it might not come out of your pocket right away (except the amount required to “service” the debt), but it will in the long run – through means such as the declining value of the dollar (AKA inflation), trade disadvantages, lower wages, etc.  What the government is doing right now is the equivalent of your adding up all of your unused credit card limits and declaring it an asset.   

Plus – does anyone seriously think that Congress is going to allow “huge cuts” in the Defense budget? Now or ever? War is Job One, and war will get paid for, one way or another, even if we all starve. (Plus, don't forget that our wars are more and more being fought under the heading of “intelligence”, as opposed to the uniformed military... and that budget is off the record and virtually unlimited. So even if “Defense” per se is cut, war won't be.) So really, the whole thing is a hoax. Get everybody worried, then ride in at the last minute to save the day. Result: Great relief, thankfulness, and an even higher level of belief in big government. Once again, mission accomplished.

But all of this is actually beside the point – or at least it's not what I noticed in the article. What I noticed was that this “transition team” is already in place... already “quietly talking with government officials”... vetting prospective Cabinet officials... and so on. And everyone is playing along – even members of the Obama administration, apparently. And my reaction to this was, wow, they really think they're going to win... or that they might win. Imagine that! Even with the media overwhelmingly against them, Obama's base (the mythical 47% and then some) as solid as ever and seemingly growing each day (thanks to, among other things, court decisions against voter I.D. laws), and the two most recent debates fought to a draw, the Republicans think they still have a chance. Thus, the power of blind faith and delusion.

Of course, they take occasional comfort in the “polls” -- at least the ones with the results they like. My personal favorites are the polls of “likely voters”. Let's go back to Dewey vs. Truman. Then, polls were taken of people who could be readily contacted by pollsters, which skewed the results. But these are different times; nearly everyone is “wired”. But do the polls being taken today include, for example, dead people? Because countless numbers of them are surely being registered to vote, and will almost certainly all be Obama voters. Do the polls include illegal aliens? I would expect most “illegals” to avoid being polled, for obvious reasons – but they might be enticed to the real polls next month, given the right incentives. Do the polls reflect the fact that some of the voters are going to vote more than once? I doubt it. And mainly, do the polls tell us anything at all about what happens after everybody dutifully trudges into the voting booth, casts their vote, and trudges out? What really counts, as has been pointed out any number of times (most famously by Stalin), is not the votes, but the “vote” of the person who counts the votes... or the person who tallies them... or the person who reports them. These are the weak links in the chain of the American electoral process, and have been pretty much since the birth of the Republic. Opposing parties can't keep an eye on everything and everyone, in an area where a “machine” rules. We were treated, a few years back, to harried poll workers counting, and re-counting, and re-counting again, chads, hanging chads, dimpled chads, pregnant chads, etc.... in scenes which, if they were included in a movie script, would be summarily rejected as being wildly unrealistic, idiotic, and boring. But actually, that process – to the extent it was authentic and not just staged for public consumption – was far more honest and legitimate than what actually happens much of time, but behind closed doors (or in the bowels of computers, where only the guy who wrote the program really knows what's going on).

(Of course, polls of “likely voters” are beside the point anyway, since it's not a matter of a candidate getting a majority or plurality of votes. We have an electoral process that involves electoral votes – something the polls based on a “pure democracy” model always seem to overlook. And every time someone loses an election based on electoral votes even thought they won the “popular vote”, they take a blood oath to amend the Constitution to get rid of the Electoral College. But it never happens.)

And how about the voter intimidation process? Is that reflected in the polls? How about all the people who, for various reasons, can't or won't be polled (the homeless, street people, etc.), but who will be rounded up, put on buses, and whisked to polling places to cast their votes as instructed, then rewarded with some “walking-around money”? Do we know who they are, and how many there are, at this point? Highly doubtful. I don't notice pollsters talking to the homeless much... but you can bet that on Election Day there will be a surprising number of them gracing the polling places with their malodorous presence.

The point is that voters can be created out of thin air on election day, and there are any number of points in the process at which this can occur – starting with registration, of course, and running right up to the “final tally” of state results in order to determine who wins that state's electoral votes. The process may not be intrinsically corrupt, but it is extremely vulnerable to corruption – almost begs to be corrupted, in fact. (And the fact that votes are recorded and tallied by computer these days only aggravates the situation. Automation, as we should all know by now, only lends pseudo-precision to things, not real precision.) And this means that whoever controls, or oversees, the process is sorely tempted to arrange things so the results come out the right way. In our system at present, the Democrats seem to have the advantage in this, since they still control the big-city “machines” that typically make the difference in the final outcome. “Upstate” or “downstate” (i.e., rural and small-town) votes are counted as a matter of form, but everyone knows that the big cities determine the outcome, and those are the very places where cheating and stealing are most likely occur. And as I've said before, the Regime really doesn't care who wins, so they leave it to the major parties to fight it out – and if someone wins through chicanery it's no big deal.

But none of these discouraging words ever seems to impact the starry-eyed candidates or their supporters; their messianic zeal is truly a wonder to behold. And, thinking back, I suppose that even the most hopeless (non-incumbent) candidates nonetheless had “transition teams” at the ready – McGovern in 1972, Mondale in 1984, Dole in 1996, and so on down the list of lost causes. They all believed... and they all got crushed. And I suppose that this Little Orphan Annie-style optimism is a requirement in politics; no one undertakes a cause knowing that it is lost. But that doesn't make it any less pathetic... and more pathetic still is the fact that they seldom, if ever, learn from their mistakes. Romney right now is basically running on a platform of, if you want to bring George W. Bush back, elect me – I'll pick up right where he left off. I mean, he doesn't say this in so many words, but that's what it amounts to. In fact, I'm surprised that Obama hasn't made more of this point... but I guess he'd rather do things his own way than take my advice.  : )        

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Our Debt Sentence

Today's “jump right out atcha” headline: “Foreign holdings of U.S. debt hit record $5.43T”. That's right, folks – the U.S. economy, which everyone in our own country seems to think is like unto a large and fast-decaying beached whale, is still a glamor stock for the rest of the world. The Chinese, for example, who already own our butts, have put in another 0.4 percent, and the Japanese another 0.5 percent. The article states, dryly: “Demand for U.S. debt has remained high even though the United States has run budget deficits in excess of $1 trillion for the past four years.” (I like that expression -- “demand for U.S. debt”. Sounds almost subversive, doesn't it?)

So what's going on here? The only reason “U.S. debt” could be considered anything other than a totally lunatic investment is that no other investment is as good. Now remember, we're not talking about short-term speculation here, or day trading – we're talking about people who are in it for the long haul. In fact, U.S. debt of this magnitude really is kind of like a beached whale, in that you can't move very much of it at once, or you risk your investment. Buy too much too fast, and the price goes up to the point where it's no longer a good investment. Sell too much too fast, and the price goes down, and your remaining holdings suffer a drop in value. So the whole affair is a very ponderous one, not unlike (another maritime simile here) steering a very large oil tanker. Ponderous, but delicate at the same time. No one can invest in a big way with funds they don't have, for example... and no one can invest with funds they might need in a hurry at some future date. So it's always a matter of fine tuning, and never a matter of impulse.

But it's also a matter of strategy and cold calculation. Think of the main kinds of things that would make U.S. debt a risky investment, and ask yourself how likely they are to happen. One would, of course, be a collapse of the U.S. economy, with a resulting sharp fall in tax revenues, which would compromise our ability to “service” the debt – i.e. to pay interest. Another would be severe (but not necessarily “hyper”) inflation, caused simply by the government's printing way too much money. And another would be a decision to just cancel the debt – tell our creditors “sorry about that”, or, in the words of Bluto in “Animal House” -- “You f----- up; you trusted us.”

Now here's the point – each of these actions has been either predicted or even recommended of late. Let the economy collapse and start over – and re-establish our currency from the ground up (with actual backing this time). Or, get out of it by printing so much money that we can pay off the debt with pocket money – then, again, re-establish our currency from the ground up. Or, just tell everyone who owns a piece of our debt to bugger off, and it serves them right for taking advantage of the poor, beleaguered American taxpayer.

The interesting thing about these options is that they all have a strong hint of anarchism – of wanting the system to destroy itself. And sure enough, these notions are typically proposed by starry-eyed idealists... radical libertarians, card-carrying anarchists, or aging hippies. And – paradoxically, perhaps – any of these options would render us a non-player on the world economic stage for, probably, generations to come. (Not that the Chinese would mind, for instance – even though they would be the biggest loser.) We would be as ridiculous in the eyes of the world as Zimbabwe – but worse, actually, because we should have known better. Which is why, class, it's never going to be allowed to happen.

How do I know this? Simply because the Chinese and the Japanese are nobody's fools. At least in the mid term, they aren't interested in bringing our system to its knees – only exploiting it to their best advantage. I don't know about Japan, but the Chinese holdings constitute a form of blackmail – mess with them too much, and they might just dump our debt onto the market, which means we don't get to borrow any more for a very long time, which means drastic cuts to war, domestic programs... you get the picture.

And Europe isn't interested in our being thrown out of the game just yet either. For one thing, they're depending on us to help prop up their banks and failing national economies. For another thing, we're part of their empire, and although we're heading for third-world status in the distant future, they have no interest in accelerating the process. After all, a source of raw materials and manpower still has to be economically coherent and technically viable.

So – the bottom line of all this is that many of the fears expressed of late, by politicians, would-be presidents, and commentators are little more than rabble-rousing and hysteria. If you look at the Chinese – a people of infinite patience – you have to conclude that our economy is not about to collapse, despite claims to the contrary... that intentional severe inflation isn't in the cards... and certainly that no one is about to cancel the debt. That would be the most foolish thing of all, because it would end the enslavement of the American people to Europe and to much of the rest of the world... and that state of affairs is making way too many people happy for anyone to want to change it.

(Footnote: An economist recently noted – cynically, perhaps – that “every budget is a balanced budget”. In other words, if you can make up for the difference between revenues and expenditures by borrowing, then you've balanced the budget. Your only worry then is how to service the debt (i.e. the loans) and how to, eventually, pay off the debt. Our national debt can never be paid off – and that's just the way everyone else (Europe, China, etc.) likes it, because it keeps us dependent, obedient, subservient, and enslaved. (Think of what would happen to the credit card companies if everyone paid off all of what they owed every month. They'd all go out of business.) The risky part these days is not in the area of paying off the debt, which is impossible, but in servicing the debt – i.e. in paying interest, which we are able to do at this point. But when things get to the point where we can't even do that, then there's going to be trouble. (Think again of a credit card holder who can't even make the minimum payment.))

Magic Bullet Arlen

News of the demise, on Sunday, of Arlen Specter brought back memories of a somewhat controversial figure who did some things right and some things wrong (the proportions depending on one's point of view). Most people remember him as a 30-year senator from Pennsylvania and a double party-switcher (Democrat to Republican, then Republican to Democrat) – a political pragmatist, if you will. But the conspiracy buffs among us will remember him as the author of the “single bullet theory”, AKA the “magic bullet theory”, as part of his labors for the Warren Commission. And what made this theory such a key part of the establishment narrative about the Kennedy assassination? To quote from Wikipedia: “This was a crucial assertion for the Warren Commission, since if the two [Kennedy and Gov. Connally] had been wounded by separate bullets within such a short time frame, that would have demonstrated the presence of a second assassin and therefore a conspiracy.” Another way of putting it (from an article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) is that “(h)e theorized that two bullets fired in such rapid succession would have been indicative of two gunmen and there was no evidence to support the premise.”

Now, I want you to examine the logic of this statement. Because there was “no evidence”, therefore there could not have been two (or more) gunmen, therefore the wounds in question must have been caused by a single gunman firing a single bullet. Period. Just so. The problem is that there was, in fact, evidence of two gunmen, namely the wounds in question, which could not possibly (according to many analysts) have been caused by a single bullet. In other words, Specter, dutifully serving his employers on the commission, indulged in a blatant bit of backward reasoning based on the already-decided premise that the assassination was carried out by “a lone nut with a gun”. And when that is your premise, and when that premise is the basis for the entire narrative, then no amount of contrary evidence, no matter how compelling, can be allowed to call it into question.

I hardly need to point out that the very same sort of backward reasoning is fundamental to the establishment narrative about the 9/11 attacks. First you decide how it had to have been done, then you either “tweak” or simply ignore all evidence to the contrary – even when that evidence evolves from a few questions and suspicions into a veritable mountain. But by that time, the populace has bought into the narrative, and they're in no mood to consider alternatives because... well, it's “time to move on”, for one thing, and for another thing, to even begin to suspect something would run the risk of what I call metaphysical shock. Conspiracy theories can't be true not because they're impossible, but because they violate a hallowed, clung-to script. So they're not allowed to be true, even though the establishment narrative is far more incredible than anything labeled “conspiracy”.

And when you think about it, we've obviously become a lot less touchy about these things over the years. At least the 9/11 narrative allows for an actual conspiracy -- among a scruffy group of plotters, AKA “terrorists”. Back in 1963, even that idea would have been forbidden; it was either a lone nut with a gun, or it never happened. But it did happen, and therefore... etc. But really, there are more similarities than differences. On 9/11, the Regime had a list of perpetrators at the ready... it was complete, and no one outside the close-knit confines of al-Qaeda cells was involved. So the “lone nut with a gun” narrative morphed, two generations later, into a “lone group of nuts with four airplanes” narrative. But in each case, it was a neat package, hurriedly contrived and wrapped up for public consumption. So I guess we can at least grant Arlen Specter credit for being a pioneer in this field.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The New Abnormal

(Note:  Please excuse the annoying underlines in some of the paragraphs below.  I've been trying to get rid of them for over an hour, and have despaired.  I know not where the fault lies.  In the "old days" it was easy enough to get rid of random garbage like this, but technology has overtaken reason in this area, as in many others.)

To start this topic off, let me reprise a quote from William S. Burroughs that I posted a while back:

We have a new type of rule now. Not one-man rule or rule of aristocracy or plutocracy, but of small groups elevated to positions of absolute power by random pressures and subject to political and economic factors that leave little room for decision. They're representatives of abstract forces who have reached power through surrender of self.

The iron-willed dictator is a thing of the past. There will be no more Stalins, no more Hitlers. The rulers of this most insecure of all worlds are rulers by accident – inept, frightened pilots at controls of a vast machine they cannot understand, calling in experts to tell them which buttons to push.

Now, one symptom of this “new type of rule” is in the public image of those who rule. Gone is the ranting, raving, fist-shaking, beet-red-turning demagogue – Hitler being the prime example. Fidel Castro is still alive, of course – even if in a state of more-or-less retirement. But the demagogues of today – Hugo Chavez, for example – are pale imitations of their predecessors. Even this country had its barn-burning speech makers in the old days – think of Teddy Roosevelt, for instance. But everything since at least FDR has been an exercise in blandness. Even LBJ, who was a tyrant of the first order, felt constrained to put on a “just a good 'ol shit-kickin' country boy” act in public.

In our time, gray men in gray suits and “power ties” mount the podium, mouth words, make minimalistic gestures, and then walk off, with nary a hair out of place and certainly no sheen of perspiration anywhere to be found. And yet, once back in their “control centers” and “situation rooms”, they commit just as many atrocities as the more colorful dictators of old. They are just as apt, and technically more able, to steal from their subjects as any bejeweled prince or mustachioed invader. But the face they present to the world is without character or form, to an almost absurd degree. If you look for “character” in their faces, words, or actions, you look in vain. They are all products of committees... and the members of those committees are themselves products of committees... and so on. Is there ever a point, far up the line, where the blandness ends and the character begins? Is there a Dr. Evil at the top of the heap, lording it over his gray servants by way of a Buck Rogers-style control panel? I'm almost afraid to find out. It would actually be easier to imagine, and accept, one single, masterful, super-intelligent (or at least super-socially-dominant) character at the top, with a high forehead and flashing eyes – a Ming the Merciless, perhaps. Anything but these uninspiring dullards! If you go as far as you can up the ladder of the international cabal, you can get as far as Henry Kissinger, who is starting to look like something out of “Cake Wrecks”. (And actually, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao weren't looking all that great toward the end either, come of think of it.) But beyond Henry the K (if there is a “beyond”), all is enshrouded in night and fog. We think, or suspect, that we know who's in charge, and what their motives are, but proof is hard to come by. All we can do, really, is study symptoms, the way a non-holistic medical practitioner would. And even then, the challenge is to sort out the “intentional” symptoms from the unintentional, accidental, and random ones. We have to remember that we appear on Dr. Evil's magic viewing screen as nothing more than a numberless array of ants... which means that our individual fortunes and failures are of no real interest to those in charge. We might grow rich by accident – by lucking out in the stock market, for instance – or go into penury by accident. The ruling elite doesn't insist on having all the power and all the wealth all the time – only enough to consistently tip the scales in its favor. It is, in fact, possible to stay entirely under radar – as long as one has no lofty political ambitions or is not a small businessman. In that case, all we are is passive (and compliant) victims – paying taxes, putting up with oppressive laws and regulations, trudging off to vote every couple of years... ideal citizens, in fact. But we're prey, no matter what; there's no escaping the jungle in which we all live.

So what's it all about? Well, look back at the Burroughs quote. We really are ruled by committees these days – cabals, shadowy organizations, trusts, conspiracies. Certainly there is a “first among equals” in each one, but they are easily replaced as the need arises, the way Mafia “families” always have someone waiting in the wings in case something happens to the “don”. The best (i.e., best-planned) organizations are always set up this way, right up to and including – if you'll pardon the juxtaposition – the Roman Catholic Church. No organization with a desire to survive is totally dependent on a single person. This can be demonstrated by what happens to the typical “cult”; if the leader dies or is disabled, it doesn't take long for things to fall apart, unless adjustments are made swiftly. (Remember the “troika” that took over when Stalin died? It, basically, kept the Soviet Union from falling apart for another 40-odd years.) The point is that there is a continuum when it comes to organizations, and especially political ones – from “one-man rule” with no back-up plan, to rule totally by committee. Note, however, that this continuum is not necessarily correlated with “democracy”. A head of state – even one with absolute powers – can always choose to listen to advisors, or even to “the people”, typically through some form of representation (the way the czars of Russia had the Duma, although they didn't always pay any attention to it).

On the other hand, any notion that “rule by committee” is some form of democracy can be easily negated. All we have to do is point out the various multi-national organizations and cabals that have a stranglehold on the world's economy (including ours), on our political system, and on our foreign policy. Who elected them? Can they be impeached? Can they even be identified for certain? And yet they have a whole more to do with the wealth and welfare of American citizens than anyone we might or might not elect in November. In short, if you want true democracy, the fabled New England town meeting might qualify... but anything above that level has to be considered a racket. And really, the notion of letting “the people” do anything even remotely like “rule” must cause the elite to double up with mirth at their confabs in places like the Bohemian Grove. What a ridiculous notion! Number one, “the people” are not worthy, by definition; what gets you into the club is wealth and/or power, either pre-existing or earned. Number two, what “the people” want is foolish, impulsive, and short-sighted, and does not involve any sort of grand strategy for remaking the world in our image. And number three, we've got the power now, and damned if we're going to give it up. So there!

So, am I saying that true democracy does not exist – anywhere? I think there are places where the people's voice is occasionally heard, and where it might actually make a difference – in small matters. But when it comes to the big issues, no. What varies world-wide is not the degree of democracy but the degree of illusion of democracy. Here we see dramatic differences from one place to the next. And this illusion is, sure enough, manipulated for the optimum gain for those in charge. There are “high illusion” countries (like ours), “low illusion” countries (any obvious dictatorship, especially of the hereditary type), and those in between. In all cases, the idea is to keep things quiet and under control... and if occasional adjustments are required (like in Egypt), then so be it. But the overall picture does not change.

Another way of describing the situation originated with Hannah Arendt, in a book about Adolf Eichmann. To quote from Wiki -- “Her thesis is that the great evils in history generally, and the Holocaust in particular, were not executed by fanatics or sociopaths, but by ordinary people who accepted the premises of their state and therefore participated with the view that their actions were normal.” The discussion goes on as follows: “Explaining this phenomenon, Edward S. Herman has emphasized the importance of 'normalizing the unthinkable.' According to him, 'doing terrible things in an organized and systematic way rests on “normalization.” This is the process whereby ugly, degrading, murderous, and unspeakable acts become routine and are accepted as “the way things are done.”'”

The above needs a bit more explication, in my opinion. While it's true that evil deeds can be committed by the most ordinary of people (think of atrocities committed by our troops in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.) there has to be someone at the top, or a group, characterized by fanaticism, sociopathy, or at the very least singleness of purpose (think again of cult leaders). The ordinary people who do the evil deeds have to be “inspired” -- if that is the word – by someone. They have to be the victims of hysteria, delusions, and bad ideas. And – most important of all, perhaps – they have to be convinced that their victims are sub-human at best, or not human at all. This, of course, is the role propaganda plays in all conflict – to “thing” the enemy, and dehumanize them to the point where killing of women and children is tossed off as being of no consequence, either moral or otherwise. Note that an important part of this process is the distortion of language, so that – for example – war becomes “defense”, the other side becomes “terrorists”, civilian deaths are “ancillary casualties”, etc.

So the blandness – the “banality” -- comes in at the point at which we cease to see things as they are, because we have acceded to the corruption of our language and thus of our thought. We cannot embrace the “cause” of the war-makers in any real way, because there is nothing to embrace. Instead, we have to adopt, and rely on, and cling to, words, phrases, and symbols that have been given artificial meaning in order to trap the unwary. It would even be refreshing if we could know that, far enough up the line, the people in charge “don't believe any of this crap”, but even that is not for certain. Yes, they may be totally cynical, but who knows? In the present case (i.e. the election), I credit Obama with nearly-complete cynicism, and Romney with a good deal of misplaced idealism. Which is more dangerous? You tell me. They're pretty much two peas in a pod when it comes to foreign policy, which, after all, is the focus of our discussion.

One question – pretty much historical at this point – is, why the changeover? I mean, if Burroughs was right (which he was, more or less), why was he right? What did he see? I think it was a number of things. For one, the illusion of democracy (cherished by much of the world at this point) is not compatible with a single, overt, obvious dictator – even an elected one, like FDR, for example. And since the illusion of democracy is one of the main psychological tools of the Regime, it's much better to have the trappings of representative government and a figurehead at the top, while others behind the scenes make all the real decisions. Plus, this system has built-in longevity. Dictators eventually die, after all – but a Regime with faceless men at the top can, in theory, go on indefinitely.

Another factor is that dictatorships have simply gone out of style in most places, with the exception of the few remaining communist countries (China not included) and some out-of-the-way crapholes in Africa. Other places that are called (by our media) “dictatorships” -- like Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, and Belarus, for example – are unconvincing, in my opinion. Those systems have a strong man at the top (or a dominant family or tribe) but they still serve at the pleasure of their subjects – i.e. they can be toppled, and frequently are. No, individual rule is very tenuous in our time, and, in most cases, scarcely worth the bother. There is much more stability and continuity with an oligarchy in command, consisting of replaceable parts. And I think no one realizes this more acutely than the members of the ruling elite themselves; better to give up a bit of personal glory in order to achieve stability and a guaranteed source of ever-increasing wealth and power (even if it has to be enjoyed semi-anonymously).

“And yet...”, as they say – we are nonetheless faced with the daily challenge of seeing through the “masks of sanity” our politicians and leaders wear, in order to see the deformed monstrosities beneath. And this is, in fact, one of the biggest issues when it comes to “conspiracy theories” and their acceptance by any significant portion of the populace, above and beyond “conspiracy buffs”. We are asked, on a daily basis, so accept these finely-coiffed, squeaky-clean, immaculately-groomed, well-dressed, well-spoken, manifestly intelligent men (and women) as the very paragons of virtue and of reason... and as deserving of all of the esteem that has been heaped upon them by us, the unworthy. And I guess this calls to mind another American delusion, that of meritocracy – that because we only choose the best among us to lead, then whoever is in a position to lead must, by definition, be among the best among us. In other words, there are no accidents when it comes to who acquires political power (the same way all rich people are smart by definition – meaning that the rest of us are all stupid). And it's true – if our leaders really were guilty of all that they've been accused of, why are they not glowing red like the Devil himself, breathing fire and brimstone, and oozing toxic slime from every pore? I mean... can't they at least look a little bit like Vlad the Impaler? How can what we see be so different from the way things are? And if it can't, then clearly we must be wrong... those people can't be guilty of any of the evil deeds that have been ascribed to them, and only someone suffering from “paranoia” would persist in thinking so.

The best argument I can come up with in support of this apparent contradiction is that nearly everyone seems normal until we find out they aren't. Look at Jerry Sandusky, for example. Look at the very few Wall Street types who have actually gone to trial, and the even fewer who have gone to jail. Nixon's crew all looked perfectly normal until they were packed off to prison. The leading Nazis just didn't look the same in the dock at Nuremberg, without all the leather, buckles, and gold braid. And so on. The essence of the Age of Banality is that not only does everyone look normal, they have to look normal, or it ruins the whole effect. No matter what is going on behind closed doors, or in their feverish brains, they have to wear that mask of sanity – which is why, on occasion, one of them slips up a bit and we get a glimpse of the truth, the way a “pod person” in an old sci-fi movie will occasionally say or do something that gives the game away. And yes, I'm sure it takes its toll – but hey, these guys chose this vocation, they get plenty of perks, so they've got no complaint when they find themselves turning into the Slime Monster. Or... maybe they were slime monsters from the beginning, and have only now found their true vocation. In any case, we shouldn't be skeptical about the possibility of such things, because we have seen enough real-life cases. The ones still playing the game are simply smart enough or lucky enough to get away with it – so far, at least.

An interesting nuance in the Burroughs quote is that it describes the rulers of our time as, in effect, trapped in a world they never made – ostensibly in charge, but things are, in fact, out of control. Now, the irony here is that this is not far off from what the mainstream media would like us all to think – that our leaders are well-intentioned, but things have gone so far and gotten to such a point that they can only do so much. (Witness the arguments Obama & Co. are constantly putting forth for why they haven't been able to make much of a difference in 3-plus years.) So this constitutes, basically, an excuse for the visible leadership – things are just too big, too complex, etc., and we ought to be rated based on good intentions rather than actual accomplishments (which is precisely Obama's argument... and speaking of rewards based on good intentions, how about that Nobel Peace Prize?). So yes, this is the unfortunate but nonetheless acceptable, and grudgingly approved by the media, alternative view of things. “If this isn't the best of all possible worlds, it isn't our fault.”

The real alternative, of course – and the one I've been preaching for many moons now – is that, yes, it is not the best of all possible worlds, and yes, our leaders are basically helpless... but no, it's not only about “abstract forces” but real forces, embodied in real, if anonymous, people. They can be as colorful, or colorless, as they want behind closed doors... but their requirement for the visible leadership is that it be universally bland and banal. They have to be moving targets or, better still, not targets at all – just undulating clouds of nebulousity. This is why politics on the surface is so dull and depressing, and if that were all there were to it, I'd have none of it! Rather, it's what's below the surface that I find fascinating. That's where the real games are played – and the challenge is to discern what the games are, what are the goals, and who's winning... even if we can only speculate as to who the players are.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Politics vs. Reality

One of my favorite expressions from the commentariat of our time is “reality-based”. This is most commonly applied to foreign policy, and it is used primarily by people who consider themselves reality-based. That is, it's an excellent example of self-styling. And the use of this expression immediately calls up the question, does this mean that everyone else is non-reality based? And if so, what is their alternative world view? Obviously, the very use of the term implies that there is something seriously wrong with people who don't fit into the category. They might be insane, even!

So what does the term typically mean to the people who use it? According to Wikipedia, the term “reality-based community” is used to describe people whose “opinions are based more on observation than on faith, assumption, or ideology”, and “who believe that solutions emerge from judicious study of discernible reality.” Wow – sounds like a bunch of Ayn Rand followers, doesn't it? Taking reality as it is, and working from that basis, vs. creating our own reality. And it's actually a very good question – philosophically and in terms of issues like free will, cycles of history, etc. There have always been arguments as to the extent to which events are really under anyone's control – an individual's or a group's. Perhaps what appears to be “control” is just an illusion – the way a toddler will work away at the “steering wheel” of a kiddie car or carnival ride when there is actually no relationship between his efforts and the outcome. When a given political movement, or ideology, is in acendance for purely historical/cyclic reasons, the people who advocate that movement or ideology feel like they're on the winning side, and that their efforts are paying off – the world is finally coming around to the way it ought to be. But then comes the fall, and the crash... and other movements and ideas take over. Was it anyone's fault? Who gets credit? Who gets blame?

History is full of instances where one could look on and say “Lo, how the mighty have fallen!” Think about ancient empires... about the French kings... Napoleon... the British Empire... the Soviet Union... Nazi Germany... and so on. Think, in anticipation, about the American Empire, if you like. In each case, that which was thought to be all-mighty and unstoppable crumbled to dust, and not necessarily as the result of having been vanquished in war. Top-heavy systems of any sort will tend to collapse of their own weight. Systems based on tyranny, slavery, and oppression have built-in flaws. Systems built on collectivism can't last indefinitely because they defy human nature. Systems based on “perpetual” anything (economic growth, technological progress, war, etc.) are doomed to failure because the one thing they depend on is finite; it has limits.

But these are all long-term considerations. In the short term, almost anything is possible – for a while. Does anyone seriously think a system like North Korea's can last indefinitely? And yet it has lasted from the end of World War II up to now (though, admittedly, not without plenty of help). How long can our national debt continue to grow? How many more wars can we add to the ones we're already fighting?  (I notice in today's paper that we now have troops in Jordan, on the Syrian border.)  And so on. It can take a long time for any system – even the most distorted and debased – to collapse. And once it does collapse, it can even take a long time for whatever replaces it to fully restore the prior “standard of living” -- at least in some areas. (Note that many former colonies in Africa have yet to recover from their “liberation”.) Plus, there are always vested interests in whatever system is in place – people who will fight like demons to keep things just as they are. These are the real “conservatives” in any system – which makes me think that our labels are just the reverse of what they should be. Our “liberals” will do anything to preserve the welfare state that started with the New Deal, whereas our “conservatives” would like to junk the whole business.

Then you have foreign policy – and back to the “reality-based” concept. What is “reality” when it comes to foreign policy? Better still, what are the many varieties of unreality? What are some examples of non-reality-based thinking? Let's list a few:
  • American-style democracy is the best political system ever devised, and thus deserves to be emulated by all other nations.
  • The “American Experiment” was not an accident of history or of historical cycles, but was ordained from on high.
  • All people world-wide are interested in, and value, democracy (including its basic elements, like voting and representative government).
  • Religious, cultural, historical, and political barriers to accepting democracy should be challenged and done away with in as expeditious a manner as possible.
  • Political values should always predominate over religious and cultural values. I.e., the secular and the “global” should always be preferred to the parochial and provincial.
  • Our system will work just as well anywhere else in the world as it works for us. [This is, of course, assuming it actually works for us.]
  • It is the destiny of America to be an agent of change for the rest of the world. [Note how much this resembles an idea the Soviet Union had.] [Note also that this is an explicit piece of Romney's platform.]
  • Political and diplomatic persuasion are OK, but subversion, assassination, and war are more efficient and unambiguous, thus should be preferred.
  • The lives of foreigners are not worth as much as the lives of Americans. In fact, they aren't worth even a tiny fraction as much. [This is curious, because if it's true, why are we so anxious to confer the blessings of democracy on such worthless creatures?]
  • Foreigners (especially of the “third world” type) don't have feelings. They also don't have any real culture, their customs are ridiculous, and their languages are nothing but a series of grunts.
  • If foreigners insist on remaining religious even after receiving all the blessings of democracy, then the only religions they should have are either Protestantism or non-orthodox Judaism. Islam, even though monotheistic, should be considered “evil” (at least that's what we tell our military).
  • If people don't know how to run their own countries, it's up to us to run them for them.
  • The ideal is for the U.S. military to replace all national militaries in countries that we occupy. Or, at the very least, for their militaries to be subordinate to ours, and to only be involved in trivial local police actions.
  • Even a country that seems to be making progress can backslide. Therefore, we must continue to station our troops there in perpetuity. [This is assumed to be true for Germany and Japan, so how can it not be true for Iraq and Afghanistan?] [And on the domestic side, note that many Southern states are still officially on probation when it comes to civil rights.]
  • The American Experiment has shown that religion, culture, local customs, and ethnicity are not important. Therefore we will have no patience with similar things elsewhere. (We get along perfectly well without them; why can't they?)
  • Other things that are not important include geography, climate, soil, and natural phenomena. As we have shown, these can all be overcome with technology and determination.
  • The ultimate goal of foreign policy is to make everyone look, think, and act like an American.
  • A related goal is to bring all nations into a single global, unified, one-world government. [This will, presumably, be headed up by the U.S. Dream on!]
  • The single exception to the above is that Israel must be preserved at all costs, as a secular but religiously- and ethnically-based state. Any conflict between any of the preceding principles and Israel must be resolved in favor of Israel.
Wow, that was almost too easy. It's like shooting fish in a barrel, as they used to say. And I'm sure that many more illusions, delusions, and psychotic symptoms could be added.

I must say, the above list reads like a catechism for anyone in the foreign relations business, especially on the military side. And the amazing thing about it is that the list has remained, basically, unchanged since the first Marines were sent into some tropical pesthole to suppress some native rebellion. The perennial contradiction in our attitudes seems to be that while other peoples and nations are intrinsically inferior to us, they ought, nevertheless, to be expected to adopt, with glad hearts and open arms, not only our political system but everything else about our culture. It's this “inferior but deserving” image that explains so much of what is grotesque in the history of our overseas escapades.

But how about “reality”? Is that as easy to define, or to provide examples of? We had, back in Henry Kissinger's day in the sun, something called “realpolitik”, defined as (Wiki again) “politics or diplomacy based primarily on power and on practical and material factors and considerations, rather than ideological notions or moralistic or ethical premises.” Hmmm... that sounds more Nietzschean than Randian. Nietzsche was into power, whereas Rand was into ethics (conflated with morality) with a secular, “reality” base – namely, what is “Man” and what is appropriate to Man? Working from an “is” to an “ought” -- the age-old task of applied philosophy, if you will. (And wasn't all philosophy “applied” in this sense up until recently, when it was taken over by epistemological deconstructionists and metaphysical anarchists?)

So let's just say – to keep it real simple – that reality-based foreign policy would start with premises as to what is Man, and what is appropriate to Man, in the most general or universal sense. Then we would have to, fairly quickly, start sorting out particulars from universals. Are all other cultures equally “man”-like, therefore equally worthy (of not being attacked or interfered with), or are some of them degenerate, oppressive, and opposed to people's realizing their full potential – and therefore in need of “help”? Now, the Americanist premise is, clearly, that few, if any, other nations or cultures are worthy, and certainly not qualified to be put on the same level as America... and therefore all are in need of our help, advice, and solicitude... or, if that fails, to have the crap beaten out of them. Now, we will let places off the hook that are enough like us to get a passing grade – which means Europe most of the time, and parts of Latin America and East Asia. But everybody else had better watch out! “Don't make us come over there!” 'Cause we're the cops of the world, or at least the fed-up moms (Hillary Clinton being the poster child for that idea).

There's no use trying to minimize the impact of Americanism on our foreign policy. Look at what happens when something truly outrageous happens overseas. Anyone remember those Buddha statues in Bamiyan that were blown up by the Taliban? I think that had as much to do as anything with our willingness to attack and invade Afghanistan after 9/11 – because that was “intolerance”, and surely we can't have that... anywhere on the planet! Similar arguments were made to bolster our invasion of Iraq, if you'll recall.  And now we have the shooting of that young girl in Pakistan, by the Taliban -- which, all by itself, adds ten years to our planned sojourn in that fine place.  I'm not saying these incidents were necessary as excuses – but anything that helps with the propaganda is a good thing. (More mundane, and more fictitious, excuses can be used as well. Remember the “babies and incubators” myth that helped get us into Kuwait? You don't always need a “Gulf of Tonkin incident”, leave alone a Pearl Harbor.)

So let's say that our foreign policy baseline makes a 180-degree turn from Americanism, nationalism, empire-building, neocolonialism, etc. to an ultra-tolerant, and (some would say) isolationist point of view. Is that more “reality-based”? The Romney camp is right now accusing the Obama administration of indifferentism when it comes to issues of terrorism, Islam, and the like – when, as everyone knows, we're still on a mission from God in the Middle East. But what if crusader zeal is inappropriate in our time? Are traditionally neutral countries like Sweden and Switzerland more “reality-based”? They certainly suffer less from the scourges of war. If we became as “isolationist” as everyone accuses Ron Paul of being, wouldn't we be better off in nearly every “real” (as opposed to idealistic) way? But on the other hand, wouldn't that also reinforce a kind of cynicism or indifference to the general welfare of the human race? And, aren't there things still worth fighting for – as in Just War Theory? Wouldn't an isolationist baseline require us to think a bit more before starting a war? Ah yes – the demands on the intellect that being “reality-based” would require. Much better to just stick with mass hysteria, delusion, and the madness of crowds. 

And clearly, reality simply isn't good enough for the ideologues of this world. Here's another quote from Wiki, attributed to (allegedly) Karl Rove: “That's not the way the world really works anymore... We're an empire [note the terminology!] now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” In other words, either lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way, but in any case forget all about this “reality” nonsense. Well... all I can say is, if Iraq and Afghanistan represent our “creating our own reality”, then we need a different approach to reality.

What's ironic about all this is that it's always the “conservatives” criticizing the liberals for wishful thinking when it comes to domestic policy (and, by implication, human nature). How, for example, could you ever imagine that welfare would not be habit-forming? Same with entitlements. If you allow people to vote money out of other people's pockets into their own, how are they not going to take advantage of that? And so on. And yet when it comes to foreign policy... and I hate to say this at election time, but... the “conservatives” among us seem to be even more delusional, and less reality-based, than the liberals.

And yes, if being one of “history's actors” is your top priority, then fine – you can join other “actors” like Attila, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and others... all of whom wreaked much more destruction than any possible good they might have done. The “study” of history's actors mostly results (or should) in the conclusion that we don't want to be anything like them, or be anywhere near them. And yet again – going back to Nietzsche – if it really is all about power, and nothing more, then we should hold these people in awe, and not even mind if they ultimately fail. The idea is to have fought... to have exerted oneself against mediocrity, against the bland, compromising “reality” of other people. The true man in this case is one that accepts no limits – either on himself or on human nature in general. I will conquer, and anyone who cannot keep up can just lie down in the mud and die. Human nature, if it exists at all, exists only to be changed – to be improved upon. Isn't this the premise behind every totalitarian, every collectivist system? Isn't this what Orwell was talking about? (And isn't it also what Huxley and Skinner were actually hoping for – but in a “soft” form?) (And it is notable that the only “utopias” that work are the ones that involve compromise. Socialism does work, up to a point – but communism, historically, does little but destroy.) 

So liberals imagine, and create, their own reality on the domestic side, and seem at least somewhat skeptical on the foreign policy side (perhaps as a bit of residual scar tissue from Vietnam)... whereas conservatives imagine, and create, their own reality on the foreign policy side, but are totally realistic and level-headed when it comes to domestic policy. This over-simplifies the situation, no doubt, but I think it's basically the case. So neither side can accuse the other of being non-reality-based, lest they be judged. I imagine – and yeah, you saw this coming, right? -- that libertarians and paleocons are the most truly reality-based among us... and yet they have differing values and priorities, and come to different conclusions at times. The libertarians want to restore individual liberty, which they identify with the true, natural state of Man... whereas the paleocons want to restore tradition and morals, without which (they contend) life would be “nasty, brutal, and short”. Both, however, want to reduce the size, scope, and power of government – and given what I pointed out above about systems, that only seems reasonable. A historical paradox is that big government seems to bring out the worst in individuals, whereas small government brings out the best individuals, and anarchy can bring out the worst individuals. Perhaps, after all, we're just back to talking about moderation – but moderation not based on political compromise, but on a realistic assessment of human nature.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Obama's Mini-Me

A man is re-elected to the presidency, and “faces economic challenges”. His promise of “an ever-greater state role in the economy” won him a large margin of victory “in what many had thought would be a tight race.” But “the government's free-spending ways, which bankrolled the generous social programs that aided his re-election, may be seriously crimped” by a stressed economy, including “rapidly expanding public debt” and “a weakening currency”. One commentator says that “investment in social issues is great, but he needs to do other things as well that are going to make (the) economy more productive.” The national economy did grow in the past year, “but only because of government spending, primarily on raising salaries for many of the country's... public employees.” Another expense was paying for residential housing. Another challenge – declining productivity, which means less funding available for social programs. Related to this is a drop in foreign investment.

Sounds like something you might read two months from now about President Obama, right? Actually, all these quotes are from an AP article on President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

No Change, Therefore No Hope

I had a feeling it was too early to pronounce Mitt Romney a “dead man walking”.  Of course, the media have been rooting for a second term for Obama ever since his inauguration in 2009, and they have kept up a steady drumbeat of criticism of the Republicans ever since.  And the waters were rising on Romney, with each new day featuring revelations of “gaffes” (definition: statements liberals don’t like), signs of elitism, of being detached from the concerns of normal people, of being too white (well?), too American, too… well, too much like the anti-Obama, which is no more than what one would expect from an opponent in an election.  Heaven knows, the Republicans have spent most of the last few decades standing firmly on the platform of being almost as good as the Democrats -- almost as humane, almost as compassionate, almost as socialistic, etc.  At least with Ryan’s nomination for V.P., they took a bit of a stand on a substantive issue -- not that Ryan is a bona fide budget hawk, but at least he seems less delusional than most in Congress.  Count on it, whatever they come up in the way of a budget over the next few years will be much less reality-based than Ryan’s proposal.

But to get back to the campaign -- I hate to use over-used terms like “hypocrisy” and “double standard”, but what else would you call it?  When Romney tells a group of elite supporters, in a private gathering, that 47% of the voters are in Obama’s pocket because they are tax receivers rather than tax payers, we’re supposed to be scandalized -- even though it’s perfectly true.  But when Obama tells a group of elite supporters, in a private gathering, that too many Americans cling to the Bible and religion, we’re supposed to ignore it and laugh it off -- oh yeah, just an idle jest, of no significance, nothing to worry about.  Well… Obama has had plenty of time to show people precisely what he thinks of guns and the Bible, and it ain’t pretty.  At least Romney would go easy on guns, and the Bible, and the Book of Mormon as well.  (Would he go any easier than Obama on Catholics?  Hard to say. But I suspect the answer is yes. Mormons do have a fairly good memory when it comes to history.)

Last night's debate, however, did seem to breathe new life into Romney's campaign, simply because Obama showed up without a teleprompter, smirked and pouted like some juvenile delinquent hauled in for throwing bricks through windows, and basically acted like the left-wing elitist that he is. He was obviously hurt and offended that he even had to be put through all of this nonsense, when – as everyone knows – he is still The Anointed One, and He Who Is To Come. Obama's act would be hard to beat in a “Sense of Entitlement” Olympics. I mean, OK, you basically have one rich elite type running against another rich elite type... but Obama, even if he has middle-class roots, seems to have shrugged it all off in favor of this grotesque, but familiar, combination of left-wing elitism and lower-class demagoguery. At least Romney is unabashedly a middle-class guy (culturally) with an upper-class income... not unlike the Bushes, come to think about it. (Note that “class” is not only about money, even though that is the conceit here in “democratic” America. It's also about attitudes, habits, and values. When Johnson, Carter and Clinton were in the White House, nothing could quite erase their white-trash vibe. Nixon, Ford, and Reagan were classic middle-class types (“lower middle” even, in Nixon's case). The last true “upper class” president was Kennedy – and even that was, arguably, not “old money”.)

In any case, what's striking about the “spin” on the debate is that even the left – even the radical left! -- seems disappointed in Obama's performance (or non-performance). Suddenly this guy who was supposed to be above the fray, and some sort of secular humanist demigod who could do no wrong, suffered beaucoup “pressures and sacks”, as they say in the NFL. What went wrong? He of the golden tongue seemed struck speechless at times. Was it that he is so certain of victory that he decided it wasn't worth the effort, and just “called it in”? Was he really suffering from an “altitude problem”, as Al Gore claimed? (In which case, let's make Obama the next ambassador to Bolivia, as a retirement present.) Everyone is searching and grasping for answers, when – for the conservative commentariat – the answer is obvious: He has nothing to brag about, and, basically, no defense. His record can't be defended, and he has no plan or program to do things any other way. All true – but then you have to wonder how different – how much better – things would be under Romney, and I say that his victory wouldn't be enough to make any real difference... especially in foreign policy, which is, in my opinion, the driver for everything else. If you don't do anything about the fact that we're a warfare state dominated by the military-industrial-intelligence complex, nothing is going to change on the domestic side either – because we simply don't have the resources to support both empire and domestic prosperity at the same time. The old “guns vs. butter” argument is rearing its head again, but nobody recognizes it except the paleocons and libertarians. The most radical leftist won't mount a protest against war as long as there's a Democrat in office (this is not the 1960s, and no one's getting drafted). And besides, the entire dialogue about war has been altered. We no longer fight countries that can – in theory, at least – be defeated. Now we fight “terrorism”, which is everywhere and therefore can never be defeated. So perpetual war is no longer a dream on the part of the armaments makers; it's a political and diplomatic necessity. And no mainstream politician disagrees with this! The reason it seldom comes up in debates is that they're all on the same page. Oh sure, there will be minor disagreements, like about who screwed up in Benghazi – but overall they are of one mind.

So what do the Republicans do now? Keep up the pressure, keep making the same points, and expand the selection of points. What do the Democrats do? Number one, convince Obama that this is serious, and that he's not automatically entitled to a second term, no matter what they've been telling him for 4 years. But how are they going to argue on the record? They can't. The only pieces of Obama's program that haven't failed yet are the ones that haven't yet had time to fail. But they will, mark my word. On the other hand, even though it's getting mighty shopworn, Obama and his minions do have a point in that Obama inherited a hell of a mess from Bush II. Problem is, he hasn't done a single thing to alleviate it, and most of what he's done has made it worse – not unlike what FDR did with the hand he was dealt by Hoover. But he can always argue – and not without cause – that if we elect Romney, he (Romney) will just pick up where Bush left off... as if the four golden years of Obama had never happened. Well... I don't think that's very likely either – I mean, honestly, how much of “ObamaCare” is really going to be declared null and void if Romney gets in? Little or none, I'd say. Don't forget, Romney's own health care plan in Massachusetts is the “Mini Me” of ObamaCare.

And mind you, I don't blame Obama entirely – not even for what happened (or didn't) during his administration. Given, he is an ideologue, a big-city pol, a rabble rouser, and a bit of a “gangsta”... but he never received a realistic job preview before ascending to the presidency; no one does. It's only after taking office that they are given to know who is really in charge – and it ain't them. They then become privy to the true pecking order in the world, and to the consequences of trying to buck it... so they become glorified puppets from then on, basking in adulation and “perks”, treated like royalty (except in debates), and, basically, worshiped by people with nothing better to worship. As long as they tow the line, that is – which most of them do, because they wouldn't have gotten that far if they were otherwise inclined. 

But you know, this is all blowing in the wind, because – think about it – has Obama's base, his core, been at all impacted by the debate? No. He still owns the 47%, and guess what, that's awful close to 50%, and the rest is easily made up by some independents, as well as dead people, felons, illegal immigrants, and outright vote stealing. Romney may have energized his own base, and convinced a handful of “uncommitteds”, but it doesn't matter how energized a minority becomes, it's still a minority – and in our marvelous system, minorities don't count (unless they're willing to start burning things). Romney is, in short, a representative of a dying breed -- “middle Americans”, the middle class, the silent majority, taxpayers, hard workers, normal people... use any term you like. These are the people who are finally (if too late) coming to realize that the government is their worst enemy – that it can do away with their livelihood, make their money worthless, take their stuff, take their property (if some friend of some politician “needs” it more than they do), tax them into oblivion, and wage culture war on all of their values, customs, and traditions – up to and including their religion. And as if that's not enough, it can also continuously expand the definition of “terroristic acts” to include, sooner or later, something that everyone does, no matter the intent. In other words, it can turn us all into criminals without our having to change our behavior one bit... and it is already doing so in many areas. Once anything can be called “terrorism”, and the government has the right to kill “terrorists” anywhere in the world... well, you get the picture. Think of “terrorist” as being the equivalent of “counter-revolutionary” or “reactionary” in a communist society. 

Obama, on the other hand, represents the dissatisfied, the grudge-holding, the payback-wanting, the reparations-wanting, the resentful, the envious, the revolutionary, the “minorities” (actual or self-styled)... the dependent, the welfare junkies, the entitlement junkies... the tax receivers... and so on. Once you add up all of these categories, even allowing for people who fall into more than one (that would be most of them), you get a substantial majority – and all they have to do is be convinced to go out and vote. Or to let someone else vote on their behalf. Or something. 

And, one might ask – in an idle moment – how can a nation, a society, an economy, survive with more takers than givers... more users than producers? Well, it can't... at least not in the long run. (For one possible scenario, see “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand – but that's highly unlikely to be the actual case, as I've discussed previously.) As long as the producers are willing and able to produce, in sufficient quantities to placate the users, the system will survive – especially if government programs are kept afloat by borrowing or printing money. Of course, there is a theoretical limit to both borrowing and printing. In the first case, you stop borrowing when everyone else stops lending. In the second case, you stop printing when people starting using paper money to decorate their tar-paper shacks. But, incredible as it seems, we are not at that point as yet. But how can this be, since everyone but us sees what is going on? Well – why does anyone loan money to anyone? They expect a certain rate of return – which usually means interest, but it can also mean real property, capital property, goods, and services. In other words, you could loan money to a foolish person knowing full well they can never pay it back, but will be forced to turn over other resources which you might want more than cash. I suspect this is what's happening in the case of the U.S. borrowing from other countries (including foreign banks). Of course, we could defeat this scheme by simply printing so much money that we can pay them back in paper; we could do this right away – tomorrow! But there might be a downside to that as well – things like “credibility”, disruption of trade, economic isolation, diplomatic humiliation, and so on. (Not to mention the inability to borrow more next time.) Besides, if the dollar disappears as a standard of value, what's to take it's place? You guessed it -- the Chinese yuan. I'm not sure we're quite ready for that.            

So forget about hyperinflation as a strategy. It would basically turn us into an economic non-player – shunned, despised... and it would mean we couldn't borrow any more money with which to prop up wars and social programs. So yes, a certain level of sanity is required in order to aid and abet the larger insanity. But again, the world can't put up with it forever; there has to be a breaking point. And this will be, in my estimation, when our economy is openly taken over by the European banks – not indirectly, as is the present case. It will be when the U.S. becomes a fully-owned subsidiary of the “Gnomes of Zurich” -- with the full cooperation, I might add, of Wall Street, big business, the two major parties, and whatever administration happens to be in office at the time. And lest this sound paranoid and conspiratorial, let me point out that we are already well down the road to this denouement, with the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department leading the way. All evidence points in this direction, and no evidence points in any other direction. Does this mean it's inevitable? For that answer, you have to ask yourself how much longer the “two-party system” will remain in power. If the answer is “for the foreseeable future” (which it is), then you will know how that future will end.