Finally, my personal nightmare of almost two months shows cracks and strips of sunlight on the horizon before me. Much pain remains ahead, but now I believe I have measured and prepared for it. The anguish I see in my friends back on Planet Healthy leaves me faintly amused—something in the spirit of, “I should have such problems!” Yet the dissolution of a society and a civilization is, of course, no smiling matter. I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic. I say only that those who grieve should pause to thank God for the full breath and firm steps they can give to grieving.
And so I offer, on this very darkest of days imaginable for many of you, a brief speech of the imaginary Representative James Fairplay. I borrowed the name from a silly little Jules Verne novel which I crawled through half-conscious in my personal twilight. The surname’s Bunyonesque quality appeals to me: for Mr. Fairplay, you must realize from the outset, is a thoroughly fair-minded human being.
My course for the next two years, at least [runs the speech], is fixed. I did not accept the honor of representing my fellow citizens simply to cast the office into the gutter and declare all functions of our government dead… yet neither will my personal honor permit me to participate in a pantomime wherein we reps and senators act as if led by a duly elected president. I refuse to call this pretender my president. I refuse to rise when he enters the room. I will not attend his State of the Union addresses or other public events. I will boycott receptions and celebrations where he promises to be present. He needn’t worry about my rising from a crowd to shout “Liar!” at him, for no crowd spread before him will ever include me. If I should find myself trapped in such an assembly, I will slip away as quickly and quietly as possible. If I’m at a ball game and he makes an appearance to throw out the first pitch, I gather my family together at once, and we all leave.
I will not fight my war for the recovery of what shreds of our republic may yet be salvaged by hurling names across the aisle. My conduct, rather, will be a steady broadcast to the world that we are ruled by a pretender. My forever proclaimed, almost always wordless truth will be that we have no legitimate leader. My testimony of every day, mostly silent, will be that I serve a nation whose highest office has been hijacked and whose Constitution has been brutally raped.
This is where our resistance should start, in my opinion. There are those who would have Ashli Babbitt, the military veteran, wife, and mother who was gunned down by Capital police, become the first fallen hero in a new civil war, and I will not dispute her claim to patriotic heroism. But I also don’t think it does much heavy lifting. I think all of us, rather, need to embrace our inner Fairplay and settle into a grinding habit of telling the truth—or, perhaps even more than that, of standing for the truth. Mr. Trump excelled at chaining a name to an epithet during his mercurial political career: Lying Ted, Crooked Hillary, Sleepy Joe. It was effective in a childish way. What if we, as unplayful adults, insistently link our nation’s plunderers to the evidence of their plunder? “I won’t support Mr. Biden’s bills, whose presidency is illegitimate… our nation’s policy with China will remain in free fall until we have a legitimate president… I’m not surprised by the bid to pack the court, since it reflects the bullying anomy which brought this illegitimate regime to power.” Always, every day, speak the horrible truth out in the open.
It goes without saying that such truth-telling must extend to our handling of Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, John Roberts, Brian Kemp, and other seasoned legions of the Devil’s Brigade who happen to have “R” after their name or a faux-conservative aura about their career. In fact, here I should imagine that speech is distinctly less important than example: than holding aloof, than avoiding bad company, than “moral distancing”. James Fairplay would be a less fitting guide to conduct now than the wizened veteran of many a broken treaty, Chief Nolo (Latin for “I will not”). Picture Chief Nolo arriving in Washington with the Oklahoma delegation. He will not attend dinner parties: he considers idle chatter a great corruptive of sacred mission. He will not show up for cocktail events: he doesn’t drink, and he knows that alcohol loosens promises and retards minds. He will not have his photo taken with Kevin McCarthy’s hand around his shoulder. He will not give interviews to foxy friends on turncoat networks. He will not practice for the annual D/R touch-football game; he will not even laugh at a good joke in the House’s corridors. His presence exudes utter gravity and commands respect. He’s “no fun” and “without interest” to the spiritual debris of Washington because he knows that the people among whom he moves have sold their birthright and betrayed their grandchildren. He never forgets that he has entered Hell to do Heaven’s work.
Let us stop being good colleagues, chatty interviews, and reach-across-the-aisle collaborators: that would be a good start. Let us always, always remember that we are vocal advocates for the plundered, like Mr. Fairplay, and also silent testaments to a present turned loathsome, like Chief Nolo. Tell the truth about all men, every day. Smile and fraternize with no man, on any day. Take yourself seriously: take the war seriously.
Bridges needn’t be blown. Missiles needn’t rain upon choice targets. The way we may begin to win is to bear witness, even silent witness. A black armband signifying mourning would be appropriate throughout 2021, should anyone have the guts to wear it. A Gandhi-like fast as yet another bill dispenses pork would blare almost as loud as Gabriel’s horn. Show resolve. Show character. Speak when the truth is being manhandled, and hurl silence when spoken words can only diminish the outrage.
There should be substantial irony in my posting on Christmas Eve an essay lamenting organized Christianity’s abandonment of its solemn duties. I didn’t plan to have the day and the theme run head-on into each other. In fact, I wasn’t fully aware that Christmas week was approaching when, in closing my last post, I wrote of…
a theme which deeply preoccupies me, and to which I would like to return soon: the betrayal of organized Christianity. Our betrayal by organized Christianity. “Humanitarian grounds”… : how many of us have heard from pulpits that Christ compels us to relinquish our earthly boundaries and welcome every wanderer to our hearth? “Brotherly love”: how many have heard that Christ preached a religion of peace and would deplore the presence of self-defensive weapons on our person or in our home? “Love-affirming, life-affirming”: how often have churches responded to a dictatorial command that they shut down while COVID rages with the meek acquiescence of, “Oh, yes! Whatever we can do to save lives!” Some phrase worthy of gracing a marquee in Podunk Baptist’s weekly message is wrapped around stupidly ineffectual, morally tainted, and physically destructive behavior… and we’re sent home with our painless lobotomy to marvel and drool at the collapse around us.
Why not just leave the subject alone for another week? People don’t read blogs over “the holidays”, anyway; and I, like most of you, have family gathered around the hearth today in an abundance that rarely occurs any longer. Just let it ride for now: laugh, hug, sing, eat… can’t we do that just for a bit, when it’s almost never done throughout the rest of our sad year?
And yet… well, here’s why I see no irony in the timing of my protest against the Church: because the celebration of Christmas should be about the birth of Christ, of all implied therein—and warm embrace of family during a wintry gathering of the clan is really not anywhere among those implications. On the contrary, the Festival of the Sun’s Return after the Winter Solstice is a major celebration on the pagan calendar (so major that Christian missionaries decided to adopt it as Christ’s birthday, too, rather than try to explain to their crude proselytes that the earth’s rhythms are not the highest expression of God’s will). It seems to me, rather, that the irony lies in our trying, year after year after year, to pretend that all is not lost in formal Western Christendom if only we can continue to bring Aunt Gussie to the table annually, to get Liam and Caroline out of their rooms and off their iPhones while presents are unwrapped, and to record (on the latest device) Laurie’s fitting a sweater on her dazed grandmother for a posterity that couldn’t care less. We’ll trudge through such personal rituals once more, because we desperately need them. We’ve never needed them more. But in revisiting them, we are very mistaken to suppose that we remain, after all—after still another year of giving vital ground—Christians at heart. We remain humans… but not every human is a Christian. That’s the irony: the dwindling evidence of our humanity impresses us more and more as incontrovertible evidence of our faith. It’s not, you know. It’s just not.
I invite you to join me in a simple exercise. Think of any ridiculously naïve hope or “vision”—one so absurd that a child who should cling to it beyond fourth or fifth grade might be thought a little behind the developmental curve. Let’s try, “I want peace everywhere, and forever. No more wars! We have to stop fighting.” Now look for some resonance of this childish platitude in the contemporary Christian church. Not very hard to find an echo, is it? “Christ enjoined us to live in peace. If we are the people of faith we claim to be, then we should not be deterred in seeking that peace by taking apparent existential risks.” Do we need to secure the power grid? Why, no! Why should we assume that other societies in the world want to harm us? Do we need to update our pitifully decrepit nuclear arsenal? Heavens, no! Let it rust away! The only reason other nations build such Doomsday weapons is because they see us doing so. It’s time to lead the way, to offer a Christian example.
And so the day comes when we have a choice between having all our children injected with computer chips to serve some secular overlord day and night or, in the event of non-cooperation, being annihilated. Yes, all of us owe God a death, sooner or later. But the “visionary” Christian leaves innumerable masses of innocents with no alternative to denying their spiritual identity other than Auschwitz. Is that really how faith works?
When our southern border was being inundated by unvetted immigrants (as it will soon be in exponentially greater volume), the “good Christian” raised the cry in public opinion polls closely followed by political hacks, “The children come first. These are children in need. Christ said, ‘Suffer the little ones to come unto me.’ We dare not turn these children away.” No… so a child-abuse trap was created, stupidly connived at by the “good Christian”, wherein criminal thugs bought or stole youngsters from their parents, tutored them to say Este hombre es mi papacita, sí, often shuttled them back across the border to run the same scam again, and along the way beat or raped them to secure abject obedience. And this humanitarian nightmare, as I say, was aided and abetted by good little suburban Christians who gave themselves a big virtue-hug at night before dozing off to sweet dreams.
Again, no awareness of the depth of human depravity: not much awareness, indeed, that depravity is embedded in the nature of the human animal. The concept of original sin was warped to cover all the curmudgeons and sourpusses who resisted the “vision”, who declined to take the “leap of faith”. It was never allowed to cast a shadow over the creatures of envy and lust at society’s fringe who had always waylaid utopian visions before.
Speaking of implanted computer chips… a friend sent me a link about a month ago to a video that spliced together a series of candid utterances, made by “visionaries” as recognizable as Bill Gates, in favor of extracting and inserting information directly into the world’s human masses. An attractive young woman struck me, especially, with her fervent insistence that “we need to take this step if we are to create the world we want.” I wouldn’t necessarily suspect any of these people of being Christian. The shame of it all is that I wouldn’t necessarily suppose that a mainstream Christian today would roar in protest. He should observe that such as we are do not create worlds—that the job has already been filled, and that our puny efforts to encroach upon it must always send infinite ripples of greed, arrogance, lust for power, and all the rest through the evolutionary brew. Instead, I can well imagine our casual Christian appropriating the language of “a better tomorrow” the way the early missionaries appropriated the Return of the Sun for Christ’s birthday. “Hey, that’s my gig—a better tomorrow! Yeah, we can do that! Eradicate poverty, extend health care to everyone, see that no child is left behind… we can all get to a better place if we suppress our egotism and serve Christ.”
And on and on. May I assume that this very brief characterization (which, alas, is no caricature) has brought two points to the surface? One is that late Western Christianity endorses a categorical suspicion, if not rejection, of limits. Our faith (sayeth the New Age preacher) exhorts us to admit no traditional restriction to the possibilities. If we only dream bravely enough, we can create the world of our dreams—a perfect world, without war or poverty or disease; for this is what Christ called us to do. Halleluiah, halleluiah!
The second point is that no effort is invested among such “faithful” in pondering the failures generated by “dream faith”. A particular peace hasn’t lasted because elements among us have too little faith; perfect health hasn’t been restored because elements among us have refused to join in an unprecedented initiative (e.g., universal masking, vaccinating, and locking down). The dream is always insulated from scrutiny. Why, Christ walked on water! Do you suppose He could have done that if the least thought about sinking had entered His mind?
The seamless fusion of “dream faith” with the secular-progressive political mentality should be evident to anyone with ears to hear. Is it any wonder that the formal, organized Christian church has reliably worked against the Christian worldview over the past four or five decades (with accelerating commitment)? “Social justice” is what matters, not the struggle of each human individual to hear God’s call through the cacophony of unfair circumstances around him. “Love” is what matters in marriage, not the acceptance of several strictures (duty to children, abstinence from other partners, embrace of self-sacrifice, etc.) which severely reduce our future options in our fourscore years on earth.
Every inspiration of “dream faith” is open-ended, and hence impossible to restrain from collateral damage or assess for deficient responsibility. The “believer” is caught in an orgy of star-gazing that spins him into delirium but advances him toward his higher identity not a single step. True faith, by accepting that Creation has thrown up barriers here, here, and here, humbles us as we conform our progress to those barriers and impresses us, ultimately, with the immutable truth that the destination for all our inklings of perfection must be a world beyond this one. He of “dream faith” will not accept—on principle—that perfection cannot reign here and now. He of true faith accepts daily shortcoming and imperfection as the inevitable cost of not yet having arrived in heaven.
Yes, our social regeneration would profit immensely from organized institutions of faith. The latter may even be necessary to accomplish the former. Right now, however, our religious institutions reflect an unbounded faith only in the decadent world for which they were organized. As the old Italian saying goes, we won’t find figs growing on a thistle bush.
If you were told less than half a year ago to buy a plot in the cemetery and get measured for a coffin—this by honored and decorated practitioners of mainstream American medicine—your perspective on a lot of things would change. Having groped your way back among the living (thanks to a Mexican clinic unsanctioned by Their Holinesses at the FDA), you’d find that you didn’t care much about matters once deeply important to you. “COVID-19: oh my God, there’s a .3 percent chance that I might die if infected!” Nope… sorry. Those odds don’t accelerate my heartbeat at all, except to make me angry with cowards who are terrified by them. “Well, how about this: the nation is poised to elect a bunch of socialists who will so mangle the system that the republic can never recover!” Okay, that’s disturbing… but it’s also a doom we have been collectively courting throughout my lifetime. We don’t want to make our own mistakes any more: we want the avuncular hand of Government shielding us and guiding us through every corridor of our mortal existence. We want to be treated as children… or as slaves whose only task is to vote for our Masters (for the brief time that we’re still allowed to vote).
I could get angry about that, yes… but why? Why should I believe that human folly, so graphically illustrated on every page of history, has been banished from our own epoch? Our species only learns, apparently, when water-boarded over and over in disaster. We Americans will get the government we richly deserve next January. The mainstream media made it all happen? The universities made it all happen? But who forced us to listen to the “news” or to submit our children to “higher education”?
Sometimes I think the only genuine Christians on earth live in China, where Xi Jinping’s ruthless tyranny suppresses, arrests, and tortures the faithful at accelerating rates. Meanwhile, our priests and ministers urge us from the pulpit to support CCP-like social engineering projects and to scorn individualism as selfishness. And we return every Sunday to hear more.
Maybe I was granted more time—how much more, nobody on earth knows—to peck out my contrarian telegrams as our society’s ship settles to the bottom. Maybe that’s my part of the exchange that renewed my life in the flesh. When massive food shortages make my eccentric diet impossible to sustain, or when rolling blackouts make my therapies impossible to continue, I suppose I’ll lapse into a steep decline. Or maybe not. Who knows? Nobody here on earth.
My wife and I think a lot about where the “cancer road” may take us. Most people, upon discovering that you’ve had cancer, assume that the scenario of your remaining life is something like the protagonist’s in that old Ben Gazzara series, Run for Your Life. You have a year left, maybe two. Oh, they’re all so sorry. Poor baby… maybe you’ll get three. I understand the reaction. I was actually fortunate that the American “health care” system declined to give me any treatment at all. My fellow patients at the Immunity Therapy Center in Tijuana had almost all suffered through a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemo. The struggle of their weakened bodies to profit from more salutary, holistic therapies as mine did was uphill, and often heart-breaking. In our medical system, cancer is “cured” in the same way as a death-row inmate is “freed” because a lawyer agrees to take on his appeal. What a hope!
But for the rest of us cancer-revenants, with our hale-and-hearty physiques and our arsenal of vitamin supplements, how is the future any different? Do we live until a car wreck claims us, or a heart attack? Or do we still consider ourselves as having cancer, which will likely come roaring back within days if our bottles of pills stop coming? Exactly what is cancer—what’s its modus operandi? Is the mass of humanity free of it, while the unhappy minority must feel its shadow descending over their shoulders during every birthday and Christmas they enjoy from now on? Is the burden of that shadow never to be removed in this life?
I could say (and I have said: I have a section of this tenor in Why I’m Not Dead) that we cancer survivors at least know which gate of the city is under attack. The “healthy” around us could be harvested tomorrow by a stroke, by an overdose, by an undetected cancer. (By COVID? Very, very unlikely. Could it be that we want to make a bubonic plague of SARS-2 because insulating ourselves from it gives us a sense of being shielded from all other assaults on our mortality?) That ubiquity of exposure is true, insofar as it goes: the Reaper is stalking everyone. But there remains something distinctly different about living in his shadow, day in and day out. The blissful ignorance that renders the shadow undetectable to others does, after all, generate a kind of bliss. We don’t enjoy that luxury.
And as far as I can tell, we’re not going to, we recovering cancer-holics. The sobered-up wino dare not ever take a sip again; and most of our group, I think, are just as leery of ever eating sugar or red meat. Half the contents of the grocery store now wear an invisible skull-and-crossbones as we run our eyes over the shelves. We don’t even have intact memories in which to seek comfort… or, at least, I don’t. When I recall the summers of pitching a baseball to my son in the back yard and try to sell myself on how happy times were then, my effort is immediately sabotaged by the thought, “But you had that hideous dark snake sliding around your entrails and didn’t even know it.” I cannot make ignorance blissful even in retrospect: my ignorant yesteryears are now horrid to me.
Which, I might argue, makes me stronger than ever: mortality will never again be able to creep up on me. That’s a great boon… but it can also be a great burden. The childishly pious around me tell me to trust that God will keep me sound and whole, as if I might make a virtue of delirium—might shut my eyes, stop my ears, and sing hymns of praise at full volume. “The night’s not there, there is no night: all is sweetness, joy, and light!” Fa-la-la, fa-la-la! And when I decline to chime in, they consign me to outer darkness. Maybe cancer is God’s judgment on me for refusing to accept His gift of long life. That God Incarnate promised us immense suffering as the likely recompense of virtue in this world is… is no longer the concluding instruction of the Beatitudes, I guess.
So you don’t seem to garner much comfort from the very quarter where you would have expected to receive it. Comfort. There are days, you know—many days—when I’ve thought that just seeing children playing in a park would chase the Shadow away. They say that misery loves company… but it’s not true. Or it’s only true of man in his most fallen moments. The Shadow lifts one out of self-preoccupation, lifts one to prospects only accessible from the mountain’s peak… but our sick society has seen fit to drape those happy little valleys in mist. If only I could have watched our local Single A baseball team play a few games this summer… but no. But no. But we had to exile every joyful social pastime from our midst because of THE PANDEMIC! Because of the abject hysteria with which we greeted even mortality’s most wavering, transient vulture-shadow on the far horizon, we pounded all the joy out of life. We pounded it sadistically, with the seventy-two knife wounds or cudgel blows that one reads of homicidal maniacs delivering to their victims. Some of us did it. I didn’t. Maybe you didn’t… but a lot of us did.
Appallingly many cancer patients did. I always want to say to them, “Don’t you think you already have death before you in a sufficiently palpable form without running panicked from doors that bang in the night?” I don’t understand them. I would have thought a round or two with cancer would give you the courage to measure your limitations as a secular being.
No children at play, and no ballgames: that’s been the hardest thing to bear. Not knowledge of my own mortality, but knowledge of how little my fellow beings recognize the precious gifts within theirs. I should have liked to see you all—you who don’t have cancer, or who don’t yet have it, or who don’t know that you have it—finding a spot in the sun, enjoying its golden touch, and blessing God for the day. That would have done my heart great good. Instead, I see you complaining—constantly complaining: the sun isn’t golden enough, its beam is too hot or too cold, the spot where it falls requires you to move too far. You understand nothing, and you learn nothing. The valleys I see are minute pockets of fools seeking refuge in caves. I’ll look for my little patch of sunlight today, as I do every day now. It’s a lonely spot, but it’s directly from God, and I’ll take it. I’m sorry that most of the rest of you won’t be there.
Last week I accomplished exactly what I expected, if not what I wanted: I left several readers supposing that I was a “snowflake-coddler”—that I found a period of internship in our economy’s miserable entry-level positions to be an excessively brutal demand to place upon tender young college graduates. Which misinterpretation of my message indeed goes to show one thing (and maybe not much of anything else): that a man with a hammer sees nothing but nails, and a man who never removes his sunglasses finds the moon unimpressive.
No, those aren’t two things. I’m trying to be apothegmatic. Here’s an analogy that’s a bit less cliché. Some people are going to stuff and mount you to fill a vacant spot in their display of felines even if you have feathers. They class you at a glance, without study. They see in you what they’ve already decided must be there. They hear in your utterances a script that they’ve already written in their heads. If your audience consists only of them, you might as well save your breath.
I should know. I’ve been trying to make the case for a “conservative conservatism” throughout the past three decades. I always run into the “jobs/growth/innovation” types who don’t—who apparently can’t—realize that their vision is a progressive one: ever-changing consumer tastes, ever-responding markets, ever-shifting landscapes, ever-evolving standards of relevance. No stability of foundational experiences, no permanence of places, little enough fixity in basic values. I’m perceived by such people always to lose the argument—and, in the process, to disgrace myself with flabby, namby-pamby sentimentalism—because I don’t appreciate that Americans are tough, resourceful, energetic, dynamic, go-getting, risk-taking: the lumberjack, the cowboy, the wildcatter. Yee-hah!
You know how that movie always ends, don’t you? The lumberjack has no more timber to cut. The aging cowboy finds that all the range is fenced in and that trains have supplanted cattle drives. The wildcatter sits disconsolately in the tower of his mansion, abandoned by his third wife and reading the telegram about his estranged son’s death in a car crash. “Yee-hah” is not a philosophy of life. It might get Slim Pickens from the bomb bay door to the Kremlin atop his nuke, but it won’t get a child successfully to middle age. You can’t discover human purpose in a life of consuming, moving to new pastures, and consuming again.
I decided (in vain, no doubt, with regard to those who never remove their sunglasses) to take one more crack at the subject by reflecting upon the walks my wife and I take through the all-but-empty Mount Berry Mall in Rome, Georgia. With the onset of the fall allergy season, I can’t seem to spend much time outdoors… and one circuit of Mount Berry Mall probably gives us almost a mile of air-conditioned pacing if we wind around every nave. I believe Berry College (now “University”, like all one-time colleges) sold the land for this ambitious project in the late Eighties. The Mall isn’t at all old, as such things go, and parts of it are quite majestic. It’s a pleasant venue. Yet it has never prospered. The Toys-R-Us sitting at the turn-in from Highway 27, where we bought a couple of my son’s favorite stuffed animals during our visits to his grandparents, has been boarded up now for well over a decade.
Meanwhile, the Mall’s interior has shrunk steadily—not in physical size, of course, but in its “enterprise footprint”. The food court, teaming with exotic, high-calory options that are all strictly forbidden on my cancer-throttling diet, seems to be the only quarter that does any business. J.C. Penney’s is selling off everything—everything, manikins included—at whatever price it can get, opening two afternoons a week. The massive sporting goods outlet, Dunham’s, appears to have red blood in its cheeks, despite the utter invisibility of its customers; and Belk’s hasn’t yet gone as foul as whale on a beach (though the “50% off” signs in all its windows have an ominous smell). Other than that, we see on our meanders only a half-dozen outlets for designer clothes (frilly tops for chic female teens, high-priced high fashion for their moms), fronts for the luxury-bath-and-soap market (represented now by just one Bed, Bath, and Beyond), a Kay Jewelers, and a salon where Vietnamese women discreetly perfect toe- and fingernails.
What else? I think the space that sells smartphone accessories (not the phones themselves, apparently) may still be open, though its gate is never up nor its lights above a dull glow when we happen to pass. Hibbett’s Sporting Goods has a presence, selling off metal bats and mouth-guards at the all-but-ubiquitous half-price. At least three or four specialty shoe stores are stocked, not to be confused either with clothing vendors or sports-equipment distributors—wow, does our society ever pay attention to its footwear! Otherwise… well, a lot of utterly empty space yawning beyond the glass of vacated showrooms: thousands of square feet of comfy indoor refuge the nature of whose previous commercial purpose cannot even be guessed today.
Why has the Mount Berry Mall failed? Possibly, it hasn’t. Its acres and acres of interior have all been freshly carpeted: convenient for our ambulatory exercise, but also a very curious investment on somebody’s part if there’s no plan for overhaul. Let’s hope for the best. But why was the Mall already failing twenty years ago? It was on the respirator long before Dr. Fauci told our whole nation to stay home.
Some would say that the Internet has rendered storefronts permanently obsolete. I have to question this, however. People still crave places to go. We’re social beings. And once we find ourselves in a marketplace venue, we like to browse. If various wares are spread around us, we often return home carrying a bag or two even though we had no intent of buying anything when we left.
There are also many items—admit it—which cannot be reliably purchased over the Net. Remember all those shoe stores? How many pairs of shoes have you put in your digital shopping cart that pained your feet when the box arrived, despite your having clicked on the proper size? And with my revised diet, how many food products have I lately sent back to Amazon because the Web page didn’t reveal that they contained soy or added sugar? There’s sometimes a real need to examine the product face to face.
Okay, okay… but still (says my snowflake-hostile cowboy), why do you suppose that a young person who wants to make dolls and teddy bears or to write and record songs or to collect and trade baseball cards should be able to make a living in such fanciful activities? We should all have hobbies. Especially because our day job can be so boring or soul-killing, we should most definitely have that special something done in our free time to lift us up again. In the real world, though, the special something rarely translates into paid bills. It’s foolish—pure pipe-dreaming—to suppose that an economy could run on lollipop fantasies of the sort.
If I wanted to be arch, I could play back for this urban cowboy (any urban cowboy: I know the species well) his own words mere days or weeks earlier when he praised capitalism to the skies for freeing people to chase their dreams. Oh, yes: I’ve got that pep talk on my mental tape-recorder in thousands of renditions! But I’d rather defend his compromising statement than deride it: I genuinely believe that free enterprise (which is sometimes distinguished from capitalism—more on that shortly) can indeed build a realistic bridge between people and their visions of sugarplums.
So you like to stitch together dollies and teddies (and who does nowadays… but say that you do): you wouldn’t need more than a closet-sized shop with a broad casement window to peddle your button-eyed wares. Say that you write and record songs. An even smaller closet would do. Visitors could request that you compose a lyric for their wedding or anniversary. Why not? “Come back in a week—I’ll have it ready.” And the card-dealer? Some of his merchandise could be quite costly, so a tiny space in a secure, well-policed environment would be ideal. All three of these improbable enterprises—and any number of others like them—would share one critical factor: each would profit symbiotically from the others’ presence, as well as from the colossal magnetism of Penney’s and Belk’s and Dunham’s. Customers who might be vaguely enticed by such offbeat offerings but wouldn’t drive across town to browse through them would willingly stop by while on a more general shopping expedition. Mere pedestrians like my wife and me, too, with no thought originally of buying anything might step in to admire Jurassic Teddy or to price a George Kell rookie card in good condition.
In short, the mall—the latter twentieth-century American version of the marketplace, the piazza, the agora—is ideally suited to promote the tiny enterprises of creative people with somewhat cockeyed visions. But no, cries the Cowboy. “No, it’s not! Are you crazy? Think of the overhead! Such minuscule operations couldn’t begin to rent even the smallest space in a mall.” Well, thank you, Cowboy, for bringing us straight to the heart of the matter. Why can’t small entrepreneurs afford mall space, which ought to be infinitely more congenial to their bottom line than an independent storefront on Main Street (or a ramshackle lean-to bordering suburbia)? Let’s consider the reasons. They tell us much about how healthy, dream-friendly free enterprise degenerates into crony capitalism and competition-hostile corporatism.
Local taxes are a good starting point. City and county governments seem to consider malls as rich terrain for plundering to fund their pet projects. Precisely because so many shoppers go to malls and because so many huge national chains claim space in them, the haul is lucrative… supposedly. Of course, these assumptions strangle the small enterprise from the start. In and of themselves, high taxes make mall space prohibitively expensive for the doll-maker or card-dealer; and if he or she tries to pass the cost along to the consumer… well, suddenly the crap-shoot of buying footwear online seems a much better alternative than visiting Shoe Carnival.
The mega-chains seldom complain, though they probably should. Large corporations have developed the philosophy that the more small businesses are driven under, the larger the pot left on the table for Penney’s and Belk’s. In many specific markets, corporations even lobby government to raise taxes or impose new regulations, knowing that smaller competition will have to fold as a result. I don’t see how Penney’s suffers at the mall from the presence of a shop that peddles leather jackets and teeny-bling, however. On the contrary, the big fish can feed upon the customers drawn to the little fish as much as the little ones can snap up a few Penney’s patrons. Nevertheless, the signs that Mount Berry Mall has become the exclusive province of vast chains are unmistakable. The chains should have done more, not less, to lobby for lower taxes and lower rents. Their survival-of-the-fattest DNA has targeted them for extinction in this instance.
Sometimes politics at the national level—macro-politics, as we might say—sabotages thriving small businesses. The minimum wage is the most graphic example, with certain strictures associated with OSHA being a close second. Tammy’s Teddies could make a nice go of it if Tammy could employ a couple of sixteen-year-olds at seven bucks an hour to work the cash register and arrange displays over the summer… but no. Kids have to be paid like adults with hungry families at home, and to enjoy a full slate of benefits. This is represented as “humane” by demagoguing populist politicians who don’t really give a damn about the average family’s income. So Tammy can’t employ high-schoolers… Tammy can’t keep her door open… and Tammy goes on unemployment while she waits for Walmart to offer her a gig stocking shelves.
I’m not an economist. I feel confident that I could double or triple this list’s length if I knew the all of game’s “inside baseball” realities. And yet, economists with advanced degrees often promote the environment so toxic for small business that I’ve just described. It seems to me that they bring to their studies a taste for centralization that dictates how they assemble specific facts. I freely—even proudly—admit that, for my part, I have brought to my analysis a presumption in favor of the creative, energetic individual. I hate “big”, because “big” suffocates. Free enterprise is supposed to give “little” a chance to breathe and to thrive: that’s the proposition, dear Cowboy, which you’re supposed to be singing on your guitar. Instead, you’ve been duped into warbling, “Leave the range unfenced and open—let those corporations move their herds!” What you’re not noticing is that government is buying your saddle and stocking your chuck wagon; because government, for the sake of securing power over as vast a block of citizenry as possible, wants all the small sodbusters to sell up and move to the city, where they face lives of maximal dependency. (It occurred to me, as I worked through this faintly humorous analogy, that I was describing precisely what happened during the British Enclosure, and especially during the Irish Potato Famines.)
We could make our young people eager to participate in the marketplace if it were truly free. We could so energize them, indeed, that few would be interested in wasting four or five years expensively taking a degree in Sociology. Instead, our “conservatives” have allowed Big Business to fuse seamlessly, almost invisibly, with Big Government—as the two all the while cultivate the public-relatio9ns myth that they are mortal enemies. And the conservative plays useful idiot in the sell, more often than not.
So where did your open range go, Cowboy? You still don’t realize, do you, that an unfenced plain prowled by the Wild Bill Gates Cattle Company is just a wind-tossed slaughterhouse for freedom.
FREE BOOK OF THE WEEK… Eventually It All Gets Used: Complete Poems of a Fragmentary Lifecontains every poem I’ve been able to find from my adult years—and I’m being rather liberal with the word “adult”. Actually, the early poems shock me now with the degree of severe depression and misanthropy hiding just beneath their surface. I also look back and see the struggles I had as a believer (during my thirties) in a very personal God while various forms of organized religion crowded my professional life (forms that sometimes had the aura of big business). Fatherhood transformed me—utterly transformed my life, like landfall on an enchanted island. Then, in my last productive years, I got a bit wry and testy about several political subjects which I’ve since learned to back away from. I’m much more of a contemplative now… but contemplatives don’t write poetry charged with angst!
You might or might not like some or most of these. They’re all free from today (Saturday, October 3) through Wednesday (October 7).
I found the following article by a certain Freddy Kühne in the PDF containing all the July publications of Peter Helmes’ Die Deutschen Konservativen: “Von den USA, über Europa, Israel, Iran bis hin zu China und Hong-Kong – Eine geopolitische Analyse über die derzeitig anhaltende Kompasslosigkeit deutscher Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik” (pp. 23-31). In English, the title runs, “From the USA Across Europe, Israel, and Iran and Thence to China and Hong Kong: A Geopolitical Analysis of the Currently Dominant Lack of Objective in German Foreign and Domestic Policy”. Mr. Kühne originally titled the piece somewhat more revealingly on his Christlich liberal konservatives Blog as, “Nordstream 2 und US-Truppen: USA und Polen sollten stärker auf deutsche und russische Interessen eingehen, sonst zerstören sie dauerhaft die traditionell guten Beziehungen – vor allem zu Deutschland” (“Northstream 2 and US Troops: the USA and Poland Should Weigh German and Russian Interests More Carefully or Risk Permanently Damaging Traditionally Good Relationships”).
Sorry about all the German. If you read the language, then you can probably recur to the article itself and fare better than I would in trying to translate it. My purpose in this space, in any case, has seldom been to immerse myself in politics, and I’m going to handle the issues here with the “lang spuin” which—according to a Scots proverb—is needed when eating with the Devil. Just from reproducing the titles above with a hint of sympathy, I’ve probably already ended up on the Devil’s prongs, in the view of any American conservative. Well, for that matter… aren’t Boris and Natasha also supposed to be the favorite villains of the Left nowadays? Everything Russian, to every patriotic American left-wing or right-wing, is despicable. We agree on nothing—except we can all agree to hate the Russians.
And let’s get one thing clear: Putin is no choirboy. He’s likely the richest man in Europe. He’s corrupt, he’s mendacious, and he’s ruthless to the point of being murderous. He strikes up friendships of convenience (which he has no intention of preserving when convenience is no longer served) with the most loathsome regimes on the planet, and he hatches or nourishes subversive plots against his adversaries whose conception is utterly destitute of any moral awareness. He is our era’s Cesare Borgia; and if he continues playing his various dangerous games in the fashion of a gambler who runs bluffs but also packs a .45, then he may just be the tyrant who finally brings human history to a close. A desperate man… yes, you can have that in spades.
But the gist of the article above captures that delightful German virtue (so rare these days, in Germany and elsewhere) of Realpolitik. Russia is what it is. And what, then, is it? A nation of several ill-matched nations, plunged into chaos after the Soviet Union’s collapse and brought into a rugged, mobster kind of coherence by Putin’s rough hand. Putin wants Russia to revive and prosper, almost as much as he wants himself to thrive and prosper. His providing of oil to Germany is essential to both economies, but especially to Germany’s—the few Germans who have retained their sanity know that wind turbines cannot sustain a twenty-first century industrial state and that supplies from across the Atlantic would vanish in an international conflict; so the fracture of East/West relations following the crack-up of the Ukraine leaves Deutschland in a pickle. America is content to back the western Ukrainians (the same outfit, let us remember, that so enriched the Biden family), although the eastern Ukrainians have deep historical and cultural roots that tie them to Russia much more securely than Putin’s “invasion” could ever have done. The Central European nations, recollecting decades of Soviet domination all too well, take America’s side in the quarrel with gusto, and (in states like Hungary) are indeed embracing Western values more vigorously than we seem to do now in the US. Poland is all too eager to host the troops that we will withdraw from German borders.
Where does this leave our conventional alliance with post-war Germany, however—and, indeed, our centuries-older alliance with France? Most importantly of all, where does it leave us in the only game that really matters in the long-term survival of freedom around the world: the chess match with Communist China? The Chinese are successfully wooing small peripheral nations of the EU like Greece as the Franco-German nexus of Brussels’ power brutalizes its little brothers, on the one hand, and falls out of favor with its big blunt uncle from across the Atlantic, on the other. And China, of course, is only too happy to see Russia drawn into the tug-of-war, not just as America’s long-standing and favorite enemy, but now also as a source of energy driving the EU’s fragmentation. The more pawns go drifting loose about the board, the more little pieces the “People’s Republic” can snap up as it occupies unwatched squares.
Mr. Kühne’s article further considers the role of the Middle East in the Great Game… and I will grow prolix in this brief post if I attempt to summarize all of his points. He notes with especial force, however, that German leaders have yet to condemn the brutal and ongoing Chinese suppression of Hong Kong protests, and that the habitual German “kind word” for Israel (mandatory in the wake of the Holocaust) is undermined by a similar tolerance of Israel’s bitterest enemies. It’s all connected; or, in Germany’s case, the disconnect is all part of China’s sweeping strategy, best expressed (without a trace of subterfuge) by its “One Belt One Road” initiative. Dissension everywhere, fragmentation everywhere, poverty and rebellion everywhere… the US fighting with Russia over Bashar al-Assad’s future in Syria, the US fighting ISIS, Iranian Shiites also fighting ISIS and funneling money to Syria in the struggle, US “allies” in Saudi Arabia and Turkey lifting the weakest of fingers (in the former case) and actually attacking the most effective ISIS resistance on the ground—the Kurds (in the latter)… the West drained of resources and starting to boil with internal unrest, Russia increasingly hostile due to the molestation of customers for her oil… China wins. China wins from all of this. Hungry for world domination, a megalomaniac Xi jinping wins every time in this round of back-stabbing from the sidelines.
All nations who have any pretension to a humane, civilized lifestyle need to unite against the Chinese Communist menace. That means patching up fences with Russia. Putin, for all his faults (and is there enough paper on earth to record them?), is no fool. He sufficiently desires the prosperity of Russia that he would never sell her out for a seat on Xi’s galactic board of mandarins; and, for that matter, he is sufficiently bright to know that such a chair would have an oubliette positioned beneath it. He has lakes and lakes of oil, but little beyond that by way of bargaining chips. While he has made an immense investment of this wealth in next-generation weapons technology and poses a serious threat now to our survival in the US, his economy resembles its Soviet antecedents in featuring virtually nothing but guns and oil. His citizens can eat neither.
We can share a table with this devil without having our hand snapped off. I do believe that Donald Trump intended to make progress in that direction before media-driven “Russian scandals” stung his ego and turned him into as virulent a hawk on all things Russian as, say, John Bolton. And who was pulling the strings of the useful idiots in the mainstream media? Not Vladimir Putin. I suggest you research the degree of Chinese ownership in our major news and entertainment outlets. Do the words “Hong Kong” and “NBA” mean anything to you in conjunction?
All roads lead back to Beijing—and the only way to keep our children from having to crawl on their knees to Beijing, kowtowing all the way, is to split Putin from that alliance. Are there enough adults left among us to do it?
I’ve said my piece. I’ll cast my vote later. Then, whatever the result, I will live whatever of life God has allotted me on this earth and leave my son to make his way, as well, in our cauldron of lunatic ambitions. Do what you can when you have the chance. I would ask only that you give these matters a little honest thought.
I have to say that it was nice being in a sort of “news quarantine” for five weeks while I was receiving treatment in Tijuana. Of course, we’re never in such isolation anywhere these days—not really. Baja California, especially, was bristling in masks and “Corona panic”. The virus appears to have peaked a couple of months later in Mexico than in the U.S.; and with all the activity (legal and otherwise) occurring daily along the international border, infections were bound to proliferate. Yet my wife and I, having already witnessed the hysteria months earlier, were pretty unfazed. We wore masks, all right—on our walks to and from the Immunity Therapy Center, because the smog was so dense! That’s another reason, by the way, why people in metropolitan centers might perceive CV-19 as the bubonic plague: because their air is so foul, and many of them already have compromised respiratory systems from daily living.
As for the two of us, though senior citizens and (in the case of one) fighting off cancer, we never felt ourselves under siege from an invisible killer. (No, I don’t even regard cancer that way: on the contrary, my body’s healthy cells are cancer-killers.) To return to the states, therefore, and find that panic has revisited—or even exceeded—its original levels was a shock. What’s going on? If you feel at risk, stay at home. If you have to go out, wear a mask. If you happen to know that cloth masks have zero efficacy and mass-marketed models only about fifty percent, then… first of all, good for you: you did some homework. So take your fifty-fifty chance in the knowledge that, if you lose, you’ll probably end up with a bad cold for a few days. And try to stay off ventilators, which earn big money for hospitals but are death traps in most cases. Like masks, they keep healthy, oxygenated air from circulating (cancer dreads oxygen, by the way) and send back to the lungs higher levels of carbon dioxide along with whatever toxic microbes may lurk in your system. I learned that much many decades ago as a young man hiking about in the snow. Wearing a ski mask for hours is a surefire way to wake up with a chest cold the next morning.
Now, I’ve spoken to friends and relatives (not necessarily the same thing) who are terrified of CV-19 because they have personally watched it ravage an acquaintance. The disease is not a hoax, even though it isn’t anthrax vapor. Baseball star Freddie Freeman apparently thought he might die from his round with the contagion, despite being a young athlete in peak form. Curious to me, though, is the way such cases are publicized. Instead of delving into why somebody of Freddie’s demographic should have registered such an eccentrically, improbably severe response to COVID, broadcasters send the message, “See? Even this professional athlete lay briefly at death’s door. Just imagine what COVID could do to you if you don’t wear your mask and stay home!”
Same thing for the unfortunate kids who are playmates of a friend’s grandchildren: she informed me that their faces were all over the news in Florida as they fought for life on respirators. My first question is… why? Why are they news? Because, of course, so very few adolescents even show symptoms when they contract the disease. The press decided to run with these two young sufferers, I must assume, in order to purvey the mistaken notion that, yes, your little ones are also risking their lives when they cross their home’s threshold! A genuinely inquiring mind, in contrast, would ask, “Why these two, out of so many thousands? What in their profile has put a target on their back?”
Hospitals in the Palmetto State have been caught red-handed nudging a decimal point over to shift a 9.8 percent positive result on COVID screening tests to a 98 percent positive; and, of course, we’ve seen similar shenanigans all around the nation. (My brother-in-law personally knows of a case where a man who was shot to death was logged as a CV-19 victim. The bullet, you know, simply hastened along the inevitable!) We can all speculate about the financial and political motives of such fraudsters—or we can do as my sister does, and just break off the conversation once it jeopardizes the “deadly plague” narrative (the same approach as Twitter‘s and Facebook‘s, come to think of it, if “break off” can include throttling your adversary into permanent silence).
But my greater interest here isn’t in sordid profiteering or yet more sordid propagandizing: it’s at the other end. It’s in the population of bacchantes like my sister—people who appear to need the panic at some level, to embrace it as the filler of a great empty space in their lives. What precisely is that space? How did it evolve? As a sign of late-stage social cancer, how many years does it suggest our nation has to live?
Other kinds of irrationality would imply that we’re already in our death throes. BLM: now, there was one species of lunacy I was able to ignore entirely in Tijuana. That it had literally ignited large swathes of our major cities therefore struck me with a smack upon my return. One bad cop uses excessive force in one urban take-down… and, no, it’s not just black folks who have suffered the aggressions of that “one bad cop” in their municipality. Oh, but it is! And it’s not just one cop, but all of them; and it’s not just a municipality—it’s the whole damn country! Take it all down! Take everything down! Take those statues down! Take those street signs down!
Like millions of Americans, I had thought that I might escape the lunacy by losing myself in the faintly resuscitated baseball mini-season. (At the very least, the quality of play in today’s game is a sure antidote to insomnia.) But ESPN and the MLB aren’t content to pummel you with the Freddie Freeman narrative multiplied exponentially; that left jab is infallibly followed by the right hook of BLM. Entire teams kneeling as the flag is raised, “BLM” emblazoned on the side of bases around the infield… it’s so very much like the marketing of Freeman’s misfortune. Instead of inquiring into the specifics of abusive police practices and suggesting constructive solutions, the message is… what, exactly? Abolish police forces? Kill “pigs”? Or can it be tailored infinitely to suit individual taste? My son speaks of a case involving an athlete whose locker was defaced with the “n” word during high-school hazing incidents. Okay… so you’re against that. So am I—so is every sane human being. I also assume that any competent principal would suspend the bully who slams a weaker kid into the wall and shouts “faggot” at him. Does that mean that we should close down gymns across the nation?
Uh… what’s that, again? What are you saying?
That you hate slavery? That all whites, or all Southerners, should be punished for the institution’s presence in our history? Is that why all Confederates in bronze on rearing horses need to be torn down throughout Alabama? Is that why all streets and high schools named “Lee” or “Jackson” need to be rechristened “Marx” or “Engels”?
The so-called, self-styled Right has in fact primed us for this particular species of lunatic excess. I have taken the estimable Glenn Beck to task many times in recent years for truculently insisting that our Civil War was fought only and completely—by all participants—over the issue of slavery. Never mind that several Northern states allowed slave ownership, never mind that Lincoln excluded these from the censures and mandates of the Emancipation Proclamation, never mind that the vast majority of Southrons in uniform owned no slaves, never mind that some Southern slaveholders were themselves black, never mind that there were more abolitionist organizations in the South than in the North before John Brown’s murderous uprising torched the countryside, never mind that Lincoln could never have been elected had he admitted openly that he would meet secession with armed suppression, never mind that violent resistance to the war erupted in states as far flung as New York and Illinois when Lincoln’s draft was enforced… no, never mind history. Mr. Beck—Grandpa History in his rocking chair—would have none of it. And, to be fair, neither would a great many other Rightists who saw deploring the South as a slam-dunk manner of declaring their broad-mindedness, their distance from anything smacking of the John Birch Society. “I may be for ending food stamps, but I’m not a racist. I think flying a Confederate flag should be considered a hate crime.” Yeah, thanks for that, Conservatives. Beck’s own “defense” of Southern monuments was that we should never forget the evils of our past lest we slide back into them. A statue of General Beauregard, in other words, should hang like a scarlet “A” around the South’s neck perpetually so that all Americans may ensure that they don’t become like that!
Such projection of evil upon the Other is precisely—and I mean *precisely*—what BLM is doing to white people everywhere (and, somewhat more implicitly, to various other non-African minorities). It’s what Hitler (and Stalin, with much less “coverage”) did to Jews. It’s what mask-fanatics are doing to non-maskers, often (as YouTube has not yet managed to suppress) attacking free-breathers physically, sometimes with deadly force. The insane, homicidal self-righteousness of John Brown—and the Brownshirts—is in those attacks.
I happened to read just days ago a passage well over half a century old from Karl Popper’s Open Society and Its Enemies. One of the keenest minds of the modern era observed that the Hegelian, historicist distortion (we would say “progressivism” today) had infected, not just our Far Left and Far Right, but also our conservative center. We all have the inclination to view our civilization’s past as a Darwinian kind of climb up a staircase that this or that group seeks to impede. Leftist loons are destroying everything! No, Rightist racists want to conduct bloody purges! Mask-resisters are going to kill us all! Something’s very, very wrong with the world, and it’s… it’s them! It’s him! It’s outside of us, absolutely not us! We need to eliminate the not us, or we risk being pushed back down the stairs. Silence is violence! All good people must stand beside us!
You know what? The Left is right, the universities are right: there’s something very wrong with our society and our nation. It’s that we created them—and then denied our creation as them. Stalin and Mao didn’t force them upon us. They’re our children, our brothers and sisters: we made them. Yet we only ever point to them as what’s wrong without looking within ourselves to find what we did wrong in birthing them: the examples we failed to set, the message we failed to convey, the practice we failed to bring to what we preached. They’re full of hate because, though we’re not “deplorables”, we did something deplorable along the way. And penitence is not a matter of sharing half-and-half in their lunacy: of shutting down schools but not requiring masks, of taking a knee before the flag but supporting the local P.D., of melting down General Lee’s statues but safeguarding General Washington’s. The nature of our sin isn’t that we wouldn’t let our wayward children have half the house to tear up at playtime.
We have all sinned, and not against each other, but against Him who made us. We sin when we imagine we can make everything better than it was—that the fatal element of “what was” is not enduringly latent in us as we are. Our faith in staircases, in “progress“, is a sure symptom of our sin. And we give no sign from day to day—any of us—that we have diagnosed the illness.
Thanks to two acute conditions (neither of which is CV-19) concurrently afflicting me at the moment, my keyboard time must be limited… so what I have in mind for today is a kind of annotated list. It’s a bundle of Post-Corona awakenings that may or may not shock us from our collective stupor in time to save Western culture. Personally, I hope they slap us hard upside the head.
Our mass media are a vast propaganda machine. We should have known this long ago: many of us did… but not enough of us. Now, however, the volume has been turned up. Chris Cuomo’s faux confinement to sick bay, Brian Stelter’s narcissistic tear-letting, Anand Giridharadas’ denouncing the “freedom-obsessed” hypocrisy of our having built the nation on slavery and genocide… this is what we hear on CNN and MSMBC. Our local channels open their nightly blather with death tolls unindexed to numbers of infected, to preexisting conditions, to post mortem testing actually verifying cause of death. Their roving reporters compete to see who can wear the jauntiest mask in the most deserted locales as they chirp into a microphone half of whose layered microbes will easily penetrate the mask’s weave. Social media: Facebook accepts the W.H.O. as supreme arbiter of medical fact, glibly vaporizing any post that strays from the party line (the Chinese Communist Party line)… both FB and Twitter join in trying to airbrush Judy Mikovits from human history; and Wikipedia, in handling Mikovits’s career, explodes the rules of style to lard single sentences with the word “discredited” (like the “het hey, ho ho” refrain of a wind-up-and-go protest).
You can only serve up buffalo chips so many times to the customers before they begin to complain that they’re not getting pancakes. At least, this is a hope that I cherish.
The university system has burned down its own propaganda mill in a rabid zeal to be politically correct. I heard Dr. Mark Siegel declare to Tucker Carlson the other night that this hasn’t happened and will not happen—that universities are too conscious of their role in conditioning statist automatons to keep their gates shut. I disagree. I think the Ivory Elite may be hoist on its own petard here. After all, adherence of the masses to the will of Experts—surrender to the point of seeking permission to cross one’s threshold, of avoiding friends and family, of renouncing one’s livelihood, of depending exclusively on Big Brother for a monthly check—is game, set, and match for the progressive phalanx. This is everything the leftist professoriate has ever dreamed of. That the dream’s fulfillment also just happens to leave professors massively unemployed is… well, one of the innumerable contradictions besetting the utopian vision from every angle. The totalitarian utopia is mass suicide. We know that, we who have ears to hear.
On a purely practical level, Dr. Siegel, where will universities get the funding to remain open with the student body so depleted? Even if certain “scab” campuses cross the “virtue” line and resume business in August, many students and their parents will have used spring and summer to rethink their insane investment in such an undependable and very dispensable program of conditioning. People move on. Whatever endures in the Halls of Ivy, at any rate, will probably not feature the words “studies in” beside its catalogue description. The more objective disciplines will likely make a comeback: the squishy-mushy cults of victimhood will dry up and blow away.
So, too (may one hope?), will the top-heavy administrative bureaucracies that police pronouns and hound boys from campus after pushing “free sex” upon them.
The home-school movement will achieve escape velocity. I’m not an inveterate enemy of public education; but, in a matter obviously related to the one I’ve just mentioned, K-12 education has degenerated into Western-hostile, race-baiting, grievance-coddling claptrap. Bill Gates, who has become highly recognizable as one of the more twisted, wicked human beings on earth during these months (I won’t bother to devote a separate item to him), apparently sees a chance to cash in here, as he does in just about every incidence of calamity. His offer to educate New York State’s youth remotely by selling his software to every household appeals to fellow totalitarian travelers Cuomo and De Blasio… and that, of course, is no hope at all for the friends of freedom. On the other hand, when we consider that Germany is already introducing toddlers to sex games in the public curriculum (straight from the pages of Brave New World), we have to understand that the progressive objective for tomorrow’s little red schoolhouse in this nation is, likewise, nothing less than the dissolution of the nuclear family. Pulverizing public schools as they currently exist wouldn’t be a bad thing. What we rebuild from the fragments of rubble is another question… but I’m not convinced that megalomaniac psychos like Gates will have an easy time gluing kids to screens and weaning them from their natural craving for social contact. Teaching children isn’t equivalent to coaxing “Polly wants a cracker” from a large bird. Progressives wish it were so, and their vision requires that it be so—but here’s another point where fiction collides hard with reality.
The importance of the Second Amendment has suddenly become very apparent, even to slow learners. I confess that I myself used to be a little skeptical of the proposition that our neighbors who wear the blue would turn their guns on us if ordered by some tinpot dictator. Cops are human beings; and more than that, they’re good citizens who serve the community. They risk their lives to help innocent people survive and prosper. They also swear the same oath to the Constitution as do state and federal legislators, and most of them understand the words to which they’re pledging allegiance. How likely is it that such people, upon some maniac’s vaulting into the saddle of power after a mayoral or gubernatorial election, would suddenly turn about and draw their weapons on one of us for using the wrong gender pronoun or for flying an American flag on Cinco de Mayo?
How likely? Somewhere between “not unlikely” and “very likely”, it now appears. For every story about an Officer Greg Anderson (the Seattle patrolman suspended for posting a video confirming his fidelity to the Constitution), there seem to be four or five about cops cuffing mothers for taking their kids to the park or not wearing their masks properly. A SWAT team was unleashed upon a bar in West Texas last week where “social distancing” was not being practiced adequately. Is it so difficult to imagine a Governor Northam or a Governor Whitmer in the future sending in an armed shock-team of “child care services” Gestapo to steal children and cuff parents because Daddy refused to let Emily attend Trans Storytelling Day at the library?
This is precisely why we have a Second Amendment: i.e., so that the mindless henchmen and ambitious lackeys who surround tyrants will hesitate to invade a quiet neighborhood. If Daddy has a gun, and Daddy’s neighbors have guns, and their neighbors have guns—and if there’s a good chance that the whole block will pour into the streets locked and loaded if squad cars come to spirit Emily away—then our basic freedoms have a chance of surviving in the all-but-lawless future that awaits us. Otherwise, we might as well start packing for the gulag (and, as Solzhenitsyn has told us, there’s really not much need to pack).
Leftist mayors and governors have so eagerly slapped all their megalomaniac cards on the table that they may well be turned out massively in November. Even if Donald Trump fritters away the presidency and its coattail opportunities in House and Senate by refusing to admit that the Gates/Fauci Big Pharma/Wall Street complex duped him, how does totalitarianism survive at the state level? Northam, Whitmer, Cuomo—Newsom, Beshear, Mills, Hogan, Murphy, Wolf, Evers, Scott… what electorate would choose to have more lockdown, surveillance, moralistic harangue, frisking, home invasion, and arrest without warrant under these petty fools, lunatic harpies, and jackbooted utopians? Maybe some of them endure after those who would have resisted have fled to other states. Otherwise… well, I mustn’t risk my credentials as a pessimist by projecting that the masses may have struck a rock-bottom of self-debasement and are now poised to rebound. But one can hope, I suppose.
Finally—at long last—the rank and file may be primed to understand the extreme peril in which our unsecured power grid sets us. President Trump deserves much credit for his executive order in spring of last year and a second this year, both targeting the Sword of Damocles that has swayed over our heads for decades. Trump has fought this good fight virtually alone, among elected officials. Bush did nothing, Obama did nothing, Democrat super-majorities did nothing in past years, the recent Republican super-majority did nothing—only Trump has stood up to stingy, stupid power companies, on the one side (the conventionally Republican, big-business side), and to Russia-and-China-placating, New World Order ideologues, on the other (the conventionally Democrat—but ever more “Swampublican”—side). The President desperately needs to trumpet his virtuous defense of the nation instead of satirizing his opponents in the media and defending his role in locking down a once-healthy economy. He needs to swallow his ego and think of the millions—the 300 million, approximately—who would lose their lives within a year if we went dark all across the continent. He needs to emphasize what his obtuse predecessor failed to remark: that no hostile attack is required to fry the grid—that an especially powerful solar flare (overdue by some estimates) would suffice. He needs to tap into the hysteria created by a hyped-up round of particularly nasty flu and redirect this paranoia to a sensible apprehension.
People are afraid for no reason at the moment. Presumably, as the Black Plague dissolves into fifty shades of gray, they’ll go back to worrying about fish on their front lawns by the year 2030. Now is the time to give them something rational and substantial to worry about. It’s also a great time to brand naysayers (since Trump so likes the game of branding) as Chinese Communist Party collaborators, or just plain useful idiots. It’s time for a touch of Joe McCarthy; because McCarthy—oh, by the way—was dead right about our system’s being infused with those who would destroy it. Today he would be more right than ever.
If Donald Trump, instead, continues to kidney-punch Brian Kemp and to mince words about Anthony Fauci’s disastrous leadership, then we quite probably get no securing of the grid in 2021, or 2022… and, maybe the following year, politics simply ceases to matter to the nine in ten of us who will painfully have checked out of this world.
As I recall now with an effort, my very first attempt at submitting a scholarly article involved an interpretation of a few words in Book 2 of Virgil’s Aeneid (line 749). The hero is narrating his frantic return to the flaming ruins of Troy in search of his wife Creusa. He uses the phrase, cingor fulgentibus armis, to describe… what, exactly? A scholarly tradition has evolved which holds that the poet simply whiffed on this one. Aeneas, so runs the wisdom, has already “girded myself with bright arms” several verses earlier. My objections to the collective wisdom were multiple. I argued that a) it’s too late in the narration for Aeneas to arm himself—he has left the rendezvous of refugees well behind, as the verse’s first half declares in the present-tense words, “I return to the city”; b) the style of the full verse (ipse urbem repeto et cingor fulgentibus armis) would be perfectly Virgilian if the latter half were reiterating the former (i.e., “I myself return to the city and am hemmed about by glistening arms”); c) Aeneas is indeed being figuratively “girded” by arms as he creeps among the pillaging Greeks—the scoffers are missing the drama; and d) the verb cingere is used both of girding oneself, as when buckling a belt, and of encircling a city with defensive walls. There’s a bit of a connotative strain created, perhaps, by having a human figure girded with the contents of a city. But we’re talking about poetry, right? About a poetic genius, in fact… right?
Wrong. We’re talking about “scholarly consensus”. It’s more acceptable to condemn Rome’s Shakespeare of not describing his scenes with pettifogging precision or of not purging his scribbles of daringly figurative language than it is to call into question the collaborative nods of a hundred academic jackdaws on a clothes-line. If the poet (as I was informed by the rejection letter) had employed the verb cingere in this novel fashion, it would be the only instance of its being used with such intent in the entire epic (what classicists call a hapax legomenon—a “once read”). Actually, that’s not true. “Gird or surround” remains the verb’s meaning, here as elsewhere. The collective result is called a figure—as in poetry!
But since something done once is a suspicious oddity to the pettifogger (even if a glorious discovery to the poet), any unique instance is likely a mistake. Therefore… therefore, nothing unique is ever plausibly said or written, and consigning the “apparently unique” to the much larger body of things already said and written is the “sensible” course. Naturally, that bit of high-handedness makes the body things already said and written grow yet larger, and… and tendency becomes inflexible rule. Creativity becomes impossible.
That was my professional introduction to “expert opinion”.
Now, it also happened that I came of age in a time when all conventional wisdom was being trashed as irrelevant or hopelessly corrupted by special interest; and there’s no question in my mind that literary studies proceeded to collapse during the Seventies and Eighties under the toxic influence of various slovenly, self-serving “reader response” approaches. My own loyalties, then, were torn between my almost religious regard for artistic inspiration (a truly religious regard: read my Literary Decline and the Death of the Soul) and a profound disgust with the politicization of art to serve trendy crusades. I say “between”, yet what I’ve just written doesn’t support those polarities. The Old Guard was not my ally at the spiritual end of the tug-of-war. The ”scholarly consensus” had rigidified our literary heritage to “gird in shining armor” its patented theories and its long, long baggage train of publications; the New Guard had dumped that heritage (along with the baggage parasitically attached to it) in the nearest bin and was now celebrating Simone de Beauvoir and Rigoberta Menchu as the superiors of Sappho and Marie de France—just to keep it female. Different politics… same politicized motivation. Careers, egos, authority: the Tower of Babel.
And so it is, alas, in the sciences—or so it has become. I and the very few of my colleagues who somehow smuggled an appreciation for the spiritual into closely guarded ivory corridors would occasionally look with longing across the quadrant at Chemistry or Engineering and dream about what it must be like to work in an objective discipline. Pipe-dreams… mere pipe-dreams. For as scientific research became funded more and more by grant money, the assumptions of that research acquired more and more of a parti pris. Why would a pharmaceutical company underwrite a study of a new cure for insomnia if a dozen harmful side-effects were to be unearthed and published? Oh, but surely government grants wouldn’t import such sordid pressures into the lab… surely not! No one in government has an agenda that requires a particular worldview to be validated!
I’m trying to tread warily and tastefully into a subject that bears an incalculable amount of significance for our future as a society: the reliability of “expert opinion” in the medical field. In all of the sciences, as life grows ever more riddled with high-tech, strict integrity becomes more important; for we laymen must be able to rely on recognized experts as critical facts drift farther and farther from the reach of our intellectual competency. How do we know, drawing purely from our own resources, whether a huge solar flare will toast the continental power grid or not? How do we know whether GMO’s are safe, or whether a light coating of Roundup threatens the health of Third World nations more than an unimpeded swarm of locusts? How do we know whether Extremely Low-Frequency Waves are still being directed into the stratosphere, whether their activity might cause the Earth’s magnetosphere to reverse its polarities, or whether the effects of such reversal might settle down harmlessly in an instant or end all terrestrial life over a period of months?
In the particular case of medicine, the stakes rise (or appear to). Somehow, solar flares and locust swarms and the magnetosphere seem awfully distant to us. They’re not distant at all, and maybe, indeed, they’re seeming less so every day. The susceptibility of many average Americans to outright panic about the weather should prove that the paranoia stirred in us by our own cluelessness sits very near the surface, ready to erupt (like the supervolcano under Yellowstone that may or may not kill us all) at the slightest provocation. Still, when you can’t even breathe the air with confidence… when you dare not even leave the house without a mask, and when you’re reluctant even to leave the house… then a face perching on a white coat and stethoscope becomes the Voice of God. That’s understandable.
But it’s also understandable—only too much so—that those who want minute control over our behavior would enlist (or dragoon) the support of the medical community in their authoritarian project. And, as with all other academic disciplines, the more government has become involved in medicine, the better it’s been able to enlist (or dragoon) support. Grant money, yes; also board reviews and licensures, federal mandates, control over the means of payment, awards of access to resources funded by the “inexhaustible” flow of tax revenue… policy-makers can finesse intimate decisions reached between doctor and patient in dozens of ways. You may remember the controversy Obamacare kindled about a medical exam’s resulting, perhaps, in the confiscation of the patient’s personal firearms.
Such concerns have diminished only to the degree that we’ve now surrendered the principles underlying them. Peter Helmes published a piece at his Die Deutschen Konservativen site a few weeks ago about an interview between Gert Scobel and psychologist Thomas Metzinger. Primarily, the exchange concerned the future use of hallucinogens like LSD to treat depression. The “medical man” expressed eagerness and optimism about the potential of mind-altering drugs to promote a “universal consciousness” highly amenable to the Green Movement’s radical political objectives. The scenario is more Orwellian than Orwell: a populace fed delusion-inducing substances to sway it toward the vision of a world that doesn’t exist and can’t exist.
Okay, yes: that’s Europe, this is America. But our supreme medical expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, publicly foresees the day—without the least indication of personal alarm—when citizens will be required to have a battery of injections and to produce on demand documented proof of compliance. On the bankrolling side of this “expertise”, Bill Gates proposes further that the “document” might take the form of a microchip injected (with or without the citizen’s knowledge) during the mandatory inoculation. That an astroturf initiative to “debunk” Gates’s connection to such authoritarian fantasies is raging on Twitter and Facebook should not soothe inquiring minds. (Diana West informed Frank Gaffney on Secure Freedom Radio [4/15/20] that explicitly incriminating comments had been scrubbed from a Gates TED Talk.)
I don’t like Anthony Fauci. I don’t like Bill Gates, either. I don’t like either one of them at all, at all. I wouldn’t break bread with them; and, were hand-shaking still permitted by the Faucian hygienic protocol, I wouldn’t shake his hand or his one-time patron’s. Not either hand of either one of them. I intensely dislike them, as American citizens and as human beings.
Their level of expertise has nothing to do with my dislike. It is the traitorous American and the corrupt human in them that I loathe. Anyone who would seriously consider, even for a moment, tagging you and me the way Marlon Perkins used to tag zebra from a Jeep has renounced his membership in the family of decent, responsible adults. No one gets to tag me. No one gets to stamp your profile on (or in) your forehead. People who have notions like this are monsters. I don’t care how well they understand viruses—and Mr. Gates, for that matter, understands them no better than I do. I personally am not a virus in a vial, or a white rat in a cage. I’m a man. I am your equal under God, Dr. Fauci; and if you were my age (I’d even give you ten years), I think I might bust you in the chops—after which I would carefully sterilize my knuckles.
Let us please clarify the nature of expertise. The expert on Virgil is restrained by a humble veneration for poetic genius and artistic mystery: he isn’t a mandarin on a throne who gets to gird up a classic text tightly within verbal statistical analysis and historical minutiae. The expert on human health respects the spiritual mystery of the human being: he isn’t a master technician for whom the behavior of viruses in a sack of guts is no different from their behavior in a Petri Dish. To hear such a supposed expert descanting about how future societies should be organized is equivalent to hearing the New Age scholar interpret the Aeneid as a mere work of militaristic propaganda. That is, a “literary scholar” who can do no better than say, “The people’s Will was held in check by these creaky old epics that exhorted them to die for the patriarchy”… that person is no better than a “medical expert” who says, “We could avoid pandemics in the future if people would just move in designated zones, eat designated foods, and touch each other in designated ways at designated times.” Damn.
Yes, the scholar who knows the history of the Augustan age inside-out is certainly superior in some manner to the quasi-literate Ph.D. who rates every art work ever created by how well women and minorities make out in it. The researcher who has actually logged decades of experience before a microscope is also superior to a Bill Gates who fantasizes about vaccinating all humanity with whatever he deems good for the race. But a genuine expert is neither of these. A genuine expert would say, “This is odd with respect to available linguistic data… but it’s also poetry”; or, “This risk could be reduced if people would do less of thus-and-so… but life is complex, and the choice among possible behaviors isn’t mine to make except for me personally.”
One could say that playing God is above the expert’s pay grade; but when New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy volunteered this flippant excuse for ignoring the Constitution, he was de facto putting himself in the position of God Almighty. Part of being an expert is understanding the limitations of your expertise. To claim authority over the destiny of humanity because you have a rare knowledge of human diseases is like labeling a hundred deaths a calamity without identifying the number of lives that survived the specific threat. Knowledge without context is magnified ignorance.
I’m not going to apologize for being thoroughly pessimistic in the past month of posts; or if I do ask pardon, then I should start by craving it of myself. I have to live with me—and it ain’t easy these days! When a few national commentators dare to go off the script and mention the number of suicides that our lockdown will inspire, I know exactly what they mean. I’ve never been less afraid of death. I keep thinking of the first words uttered by Sophocles’ Teiresias when the blind prophet is led onto the stage of Oedipus Tyrannos: “What a fearful thing is thinking when it brings no profit to the thinker!”
Stay busy: yes, that’s always good advice. I’ve been in “lifeboat” mode now for several months, really. By that I mean that I have given the ship up as lost and am occupying myself with considering alternatives for possible survival on the dark, cold sea. Only since President Trump has begun signing off on multi-trillion dollar “stimulus packages”, though, have I actually been consuming distinctly less political commentary from sources I used to trust. There’s too much stuff that begins, “This is our last chance,” or, “We need to act immediately if we are to avoid disaster.” Wrong. The last chance has come and gone. Those spending bills were one helluva big iceberg that just carried away half of our hull. I can’t tolerate any more evasion of such hard facts. Lower the damn lifeboats.
But survival does indeed call for profitable thinking… so disillusion and even pessimism mustn’t turn to abject despair. We’ve lost the big one: now let’s win some little ones. I scarcely know where to start. I continue my routine of trying to acquire greater understanding, however, as a retired academic who mucks about in his infant orchards much of the day. I’ve begun reading two works that I probably should have read long ago: Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies and F.A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom. As part of my regimen, I try to read new books in one of the non-English languages that I’ve studied for years—not in the illusion that I’ll ever “use” them in the future (whatever that means), but just because I hate to let a skill lapse into decay. You fire up your old Triumph and give her a little spin around the block once a week, not because you’ll ever seriously use the thing for transportation, but because… well, she deserves not to die if keeping her alive costs so little.
So, anyway, here I am reading Popper in Italian and Hayek in Spanish. (Somebody might murmur wryly, “You’re going to need that Spanish”… but, no, the Spanish I read isn’t anything remotely like the jabber we hear at Wal-Mart.) The irony is that both of these men came to English as a second language; so I’m accessing their thoughts through a tongue into which the original text has been rendered—but that text itself represented a tongue with which they struggled. Could there be a better illustration of the Spirit taking serene shape above a great cacophony of words? We are one, even in our misery.
I haven’t actually read quite a third of either book at this point, but I’ve seen enough to be intrigued. Hayek’s much-reprinted classic is littered with forewards and prefaces in the early going. I infer from all the explanations and further explanations that he was greatly surprised by the work’s success, especially in the U.S.; that he was nevertheless dismayed at how it had become caught up in a political tug-of-war as Joe McCarthy brought to public attention the degree of communist infiltration in our society; that he had never intended to condemn all kinds of government “planification” out of hand or to declare that their presence made totalitarian rule inevitable; and that his primary concern was simply that exposure to the notion of paternalistic government begins a long, long process of corrupted and surrendered freedoms. There is a mildness to this man, I find, that indeed makes him an unlikely dynamo at the center of a whirlwind. I see in him an apt illustration of a phenomenon we’ve come to know only too well: the slanderous caricature by the Left of anyone who dare question centralist, statist orthodoxy. McCarthy himself was thus tarred and feathered, and with scarcely more reason.
For my own purposes, considering where I am (i.e., deep in the hole of despair), I find a kind of comfort in Hayek’s big picture—a comfort, of course, which he would have been chagrined to provide. He obviously believed that we yet had time to reverse course in the Fifties, and even the Seventies (when the final edition of Road to Serfdom appeared). I suppose we probably did have time, even in the Nineties… but instead of regretting our bite of the apple, we came back and stripped the tree (with no less zeal during the two terms of George W. Bush than in any other era). The air of fatality which Hayek so heroically rejected settles, in retrospect, quite heavily over the past thirty years or so.
My son’s generation, in short, was not sold down the river into slavery only by Pelosi/McCormick “stimuli” and President Trump’s compliant pen. The dark stranger has been riding down the road since that distant day when we might first have spotted him exiting the mountain’s pass. And here I’ll toss a bone to the enemies of capitalism and slanderers of innocents like F.A. Hayek: our ravenous appetite for ease and convenience is deeply implicated in our rush to greet this sooty rider. We’ve been reared, at least since the end of World War II, to desire more stuff, cheaper stuff, and stuff of ever greater frivolity. The market made us such uncritical, undisciplined consumers. The cry that spurred us on from the new screens before which we were reared was, “Get it now, cheaper than ever! You deserve it!” Has not such thinking fed—yes, inevitably—into the yet more seductive cry, “Get it now, paid for by the rich! You’d already have it if they hadn’t stolen it from you!” The devilish rhetoric of the sell was indeed inevitable. It was our response that might have offered up resistance… but, you know, getting something free at the expense of “the rich” is an even better deal than getting it cheap at the expense of Chinese slave labor.
Karl Popper seems an odd companion in this discussion. I was surprised, upon consideration, at how perfectly The Open Society slides right in. I had no initial inkling that the book was a study of Plato’s utopian project in The Republic… and I was a little let down, honestly, upon making that discovery. Why would the previous century’s premier philosopher of science (as I like to think of him) be scribbling away like the antiquarians with whom I attended graduate school? Popper’s footnotes, indeed, were so voluminous that they posed a major obstacle to finding a publisher for the book. Among additional obstacles were the author’s self-imposed and shifting exile as Hitler tightened his grip on Central Europe, his struggles with the English language (as I’ve noted), and his need of American friends and contacts to mediate as he met with one rejection after another from publishing houses. Hayek was running up against exactly the same barriers at the same historical moment.
But at least one Austrian was tackling the central ideological issues of our time, while the other was retreating to… Plato? Not a retreat, however: no, but rather a recognition that these very issues were not at all distinct to our time, but were embedded in the human condition. As I muddled through the first pages of Popper’s tome (its title grotesquely caricatured by George Soros, that living master of satanically torturing words to mean their opposites), I made the further error of supposing that he was just thrusting his personal preoccupations where they didn’t belong. What had Plato to do with Hitler and Stalin? (And both Popper and Hayek, by the way, realized that those two miscreants had issued from the same sulfurous ideological womb.)
I won’t exhaust both myself and the reader by trying to encapsulate Professor Popper’s reading of Plato. A brutal compression would be to say that Plato, everybody’s most admired philosophical transcriptionist, is unmasked as having commandeered the reputation of Socrates—everybody’s most admired philosopher—to sell a totalitarian vision. (Just one example: Socrates’ “a man with power should always beware of his ignorance” becomes Plato’s “a man with power should be purged of ignorance”.) It’s all finely reasoned and meticulously documented, I promise you: hence the merciless footnotes. Yet I had never heard a peep about such interpretive possibilities during all my years in the academy. By the way, that interpretation turns out to fit. It isn’t the whimsy of an expatriate who subconsciously imposes the shadow of the dictator he so detests upon every bird, cloud, and blade of grass. It’s all perfectly convincing.
By way of illustration, I’ll confine myself to the Platonic theory of Forms or Ideas. I recall being exposed to this first as a college freshman, and thinking, “Those ancient Greeks… what a strange lot! Did they really think that we’re born with a Table Archetype in our heads that allows us to recognize a table?” Plato was offered up in just such incoherent, irrelevant terms; and, as I say, nothing I later heard in any ivory corridor added any profundity to my initial impressions.
Popper’s view, however, makes of the Forms something very like what I’ve written of recently as “future worship”: the adoration of hazy objectives, that is, merely because they exist in “tomorrow”, where we’re assured of having transformative superpowers. It is an irony, to be sure, that Plato’s gilded castles exist in the remotest of yesterdays—in the atavistic Heroic Age when men feasted with gods. Yet behind the irony is the link which binds Hitler and Stalin, Nazism and communism. Both visions take as their destination a point whose access—whose mere reality—cannot be validated by current perceptions, common sense, and humane moral imperatives. Both require that we become something we’re simply not; or, inasmuch as they acknowledge our being unequal to the task, both urge upon us the acceptance of a superman or a super-race. Both concede that the Peerless Leader’s superior authority cannot be logically deduced or rationally defended. Both demand of us, therefore, that we embrace a cultic fanaticism—that we suppress our individuality and merge ourselves into an obedient herd.
Precisely. This is true, it’s brilliant… and it’s disparaged or ignored by our academic institutions and broadcast media as they condition forthcoming generations to chew the cud of totalitarianism. Add Hayek to Popper, and you have an all-too-prophetic warning that the adoration of the Charismatic Leader who solves all of our problems for us is forever leaking into human societies, drop by drop, decade after decade. Didn’t the Old Testament teach us about our self-destructive craving for kings?
How is the combination implied in “permanent collapse” possible, I wonder? How can things forever be deteriorating in Hesiodic fashion if there were no genuine Heroic Age at the head of all the fallen dominoes? If we have always been as we are now—flawed, corrupt creatures in need of a redeemer outside our earthly time frame—then how can we also always be getting worse? Since we’ve always been bad, how do we manage to keep doubling down on it?
I don’t know, my friends… but such is the truth, or what little we can see of it. Perhaps it is our societies that are forever coming unraveled—and perhaps it is only redeemed individuals who forever keep bits and pieces of them from careening over the precipice: just enough for yet another try where the run-off of Eden’s gentle rain puddles.
Those who throw up a stop sign before the ill-considered remark, “This nation is a democracy!” tend not to follow with a very helpful qualifier, it seems to me. “No, it’s a democratic republic,” they amend. Well, okay; but the distinction can be almost pedantic. Certainly the risks of democracy do not disappear just because popular will is channeled through a series of narrowing chutes. In some ways, those risks are magnified. How is it that blackguards ranging from Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters to John Cornyn and Lamar Alexander rule their electoral fiefdoms year after year without challenge? Because “elections”, in their case, are mere formalities. “The people” have grown as used to seeing these timeworn names in print and hearing them on local TV as an Irish tenant of two hundred years ago was accustomed to having Lord Clanricarde’s bailiff demand the year’s rent.
In a democracy, “the people” sometimes haul off and make very foolish choices. The classic Hollywood Western features a preeminent example of popular will in action when the concerned townsfolk get liquored up and then storm the jail to lynch Injun Joe. On the other hand, democracies can grow paralyzingly torpid, as I have just suggested. Voters can be hazed and herded into uninquisitive, even fatalistic habits due to the cumulative effects of despair. In recent years, I myself have tried—with mixed success—not to be one of those who just stays home and doesn’t vote. What’s the use? Obamacare versus Romneycare… open border versus a few miles of border wall and skyrocketing numbers of H-1 visas. Why waste gas and stand in line for choices like those?
Communist dictators, of course, draw heavily upon the latter kind of “support” to retain power in their ongoing crusade of megalomania, having exploited the former “lynch mob” kind, usually, to vault into the authoritarian saddle. As has been known since the days of Plato, a tight correlation exists between a riotous mass uprising and the ascendancy of a dictator. Mussolini and Hitler were both put in power by a majority vote; they both stayed in power because the majority saw Stalin’s nihilistic, cutthroat brigades as the lurking alternative.
In the case of our republic, democracy (i.e., a one-man-one-vote selection of local representatives) worked well as long as people enjoyed the freedom to market their talents. We all had a real stake in daily events, and so we formed communities of distinct individuals rather than a restless mob. If you loved to bake cookies and cakes, you could hang a sign before the ground level of your home on Main Street and open the door to customers. If I enjoyed tooling leather, I could hoist my own sign across the street from you and strew my front room with belts, boots, and baggage. You and I, and all our neighbors up and down Main Street, didn’t need government at any level to do a whole lot for us. We needed police to keep thieves from breaking our windows at night and snitching our cash. We needed garbage collectors to keep litter and refuse from piling up noxiously. We didn’t mind paying a small tax for such services. Just as we gave value for the prices we sought from customers, so we willingly paid the costs of security and stability.
It’s been said that industrialization, soon accelerating into high-tech uniformity, tragically undermined this pastoral idyll. I’ve said it myself several times in the past. On those occasions, I’m afraid I may have oversimplified. Yes, the Industrial Age wreaked havoc on quaint rural communities: witness Oliver Goldsmith’s long poetic indictment, “The Ruined Village”. In the British Isles, the Enclosure (which Thomas More’s Utopia had roundly condemned early on) forced crofters into congested cities as monied interests sought to turn acreage to greater profit. Similar imbalances resulted on our side of the pond, though less plainly (at first) an opposition of landlord to tenant or of robber baron to factory worker. Railroads and canals determined how quickly farm produce could reach lucrative urban markets. More remote locations tended to struggle unless a new industry (mining, smelting, railheading cattle, etc.) could reanimate the not-quite-self-sustaining township; and such transformation, of course, would have turned any small-town economy on its ear.
For a while, the agricultural South offered a fairly coherent contrast to the industrial North… but even though Spartanburg and Athens weren’t buzzing with steam engines and telegraphs in 1850, the cost of doing a more native kind of transaction had soared. The influence of Yankee ingenuity and industry did not remain up-river. Items that required artificial processing were seldom local products, and grew pricey. Class distinctions were magnified by a more complex marketplace. Many of the largest plantations, for instance—with their huge rosters of slaves—were founded by Northern transplants who had shifted their wealth to exploit cheap land down South. The generator of this inequity was the protectionist tariffs demanded by the industrial North to favor its infant enterprises, whose captains as yet had far less interest in exporting than in staving off competitive imports. The little-attended consequence was diminished receptivity in foreign markets to the relatively unprocessed riches of the South—as well as, paradoxically, higher prices on manufactures now shipped from Ohio and Indiana rather than Europe. (Interstate freighting expenses often exceeded those of foreign importation.) Our Civil War, frankly, rooted much more deeply in such disruption of local harmony than it did in slavery (though to say as much is to contradict “public school mythology”).
Though I lay no pretensions to being an economist and have sketched out a complex historical situation very crudely above, I’ve seen the effects of national trends in industry and technology on Southern landscapes with my own eyes, over and over. No, I wasn’t personally present to observe the post-war degradation of early Southern townships: vibrant communities once sustained by small farmers (few of whom had owned more than two or three slaves, if any) that collapsed into “mill villages” of helots—wage slaves white and black—ruled by one or two elite families. Yet I have lived and worked in and around many such mill towns. Most of them, significantly, had already shut down their special industry by the time I arrived, their economy having been undermined a second or third time by interests with deep pockets that chose to move plants (now to Mexico or China). I could usually discern just enough lingering ancient history to appreciate what had been lost from long, long ago: congenial lanes of tiny shops catering to farmers who might visit town twice a week—on market day and Sunday. A smattering of these, most boarded up, hadn’t been worth the cost of razing when the carpet mill or the meat-packing plant came to gobble up 60 percent of the workforce at a paltry, unstable wage.
The moral of the story? That macro-economic movements can topple the intricately balanced, serenely purring micro-economies of peaceful communities in a million ways… well, let’s call it a dozen. A great stone plunging into a lake can capsize a small boat along the far shore in mere ripples. This phenomenon, indeed, continues to be repeated sometimes as once-coherent settlements struggle to revive after each dousing under the hand of external exploitation; and every revival, it seems to me, is a little less convincing, a little closer to final, irresistible lapse into the swamp.
As a child in post-war Texas (post-World War Two: I was alive for some of the Eisenhower decade), I remember a Fort Worth where we could easily, quickly drive to the zoo or Will Rogers Coliseum or Safeway on Camp Bowie or Carswell Air Force Base. That day is gone forever. I can recall, too, an Austin where my grandparents could walk me from their home on West 14th and San Antonio to the Toy Palace (just beyond the Austin School of Beauty), thence another couple of blocks to the capitol grounds, and perhaps from there to Lamme’s Candies and a movie theater (not to mention innumerable haberdasheries and jewelers) up Congress Avenue. All gone now… except for Lamme’s (which may or may not still occupy that corner across from the Capitol—but the patented praline pecan formula sells very well on Amazon).
Why did those streets of individuals, tending their fathers’ businesses or starting their own, yield to lofty bank buildings, parking decks, and international franchises? Not because of the Internet: the reference points of my childhood had vaporized by about 1970 in downtown Austin, and probably before that in greater Fort Worth. Why?
Because of zoning laws. Because of city taxes. Because of all that local government was now “doing for” every resident over and beyond mere policing and cleaning (duties which, indeed, were increasingly neglected). Because of state and federal regulations, as well, that would have required small operators to supply wheel-chair access, multiple exits in case of fire, a minimum wage, insurance for employees… not to mention the exploding urgency of being covered against all varieties of lawsuit, imaginable and unimaginable. Would your grandma baking cookies for her little storefront on Broken Antler’s Main Street ever have dreamed that she might be sued for not creating “gay” wedding cakes, or perhaps (as happened lately to a decades-old German bakery) for applying chocolate-icing smiles to her macaroons in a way that reminded someone of “black face”?
Do you see the pattern? It took me years to make it out—and we can hardly blame our children, who’ve lived so much less of life than we and have been water-boarded in so much more “education” of such polemical furor, for not suspecting it. Capitalism, it turns out, doesn’t grow from a tadpole to a trout to an all-devouring, self-devouring Loch Ness Monster. No. Prepare thyself. Capitalism eventually morphs into Nanny State socialism; socialism is the torpid, horrid final phase of capitalism. Marx’s dysfunctional utopia (a.k.a. dystopia) is not the new day that dawns over a hellish night of capitalist tycoons slaughtering each other: it is the long, pitch-black sleep that receives capitalism’s greedy, suicidal dusk. Big businesses drive small businesses under by banning your bakery from your residence, by condemning my leather work for employing tools too sharp for OSHA standards, by fining Peter’s Tax Service for not having wheelchair access, by shutting down Paul’s casual for-cash computer repairs because the kid didn’t get an EIN. Big business loves big government. Bill Gates loves it when federal bureaucracy mandates Microsoft programs for use in the public school system. Jeff Bezos loves it when Homeland Security elects to incorporate Amazon’s network for its binges of information-gathering. What CEO of what mega-corporation wouldn’t want to be locked into a long-term contract with a national government whose audience is captive?
But what has this late-stage capitalist empire-building to do with free enterprise? It has everything to do with a micro-managing Big Brother state that will require all to have flu shots (happy pharmaceutical companies!) paid for by mandatory insurance (happy, happy insurers!). It has nothing whatever to do with freedom: with consumer options, with rewarded innovation, with competitive market forces, with daring maverick start-ups. It’s the very antithesis of our pioneer tradition and our individualist ethic. It’s what makes the corporate elite and the ruling elite fabulously wealthy out of the same slop-bucket… and, I believe, it’s a major part of what young people see when they claim to hate capitalism. What they really hate is socialism operating covertly through final-stage capitalism—which may, alas, be the same thing.
We need to recognize, at least, that the two are close enough to the same thing—the Loch Ness Monster’s ravenous, filthy teeth and his stinging, excreting tail—as to justify our going on high alert. Trust neither teeth nor tail. Fight the creature by resisting all government intrusion into our personal lives. Millennials, you know, have a strong libertarian streak. We tend to associate their “lawless” streak with a craving for free weed… but consider, for that matter, just how well our avuncular government is policing the flow of marijuana right now, and extrapolate the effects to the fully legal, hyper-regulated mega-industry that Bernie Sanders longs to create. A Vietnam War’s worth of our children die each year now of drugs smuggled in by Mexican cartels whose toxic impurities result from their manufacture in China. And our federal government… is not securing the border, is condoning “sanctuary cities” through insistent inaction, and is deploring Donald Trump’s (periodic and inconsistent) efforts to minimize our dependency on Chinese products. The open border supplies Big State capitalists with an limitless stock of slave labor, Chinese “interdependency” supplies them with limitless markets for their gadgets and gismos, and the presence of illegal residents by the million supplies them with assured electoral victories in the future for their congressional stooges.
What’s not to love about such capitalism?
Our kids just need to learn, somehow, that this stinking cesspool of the soul is not merely the look of capitalism without make-up: it’s also the carefully concealed face—the Janus/Judas flip-side visage—of socialism. We older types need to learn that, too. After all, if we’ve had longer to ferret out the truth, we’ve also been exposed much longer to the pious lies concealing it.