"Restore(s) a little sanity into current political debate" - Kenneth Minogue, TLS "Projects a more expansive and optimistic future for Americans than (the analysis of) Huntington" - James R. Kurth, National Interest "One of (the) most important books I have read in recent years" - Lexington Green
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This is a delightful interview of Krauthammer by William Kristol from earlier this year. It’s quite long but the whole thing is worth watching.
In this conversation, Charles Krauthammer reflects on his upbringing in a politically-tumultuous Quebec, his work in medicine, and his views on Zionism, Judaism, and religion. Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol also discuss some of the key ideas, questions, and themes of his writing—including the “Reagan Doctrine,” an idea he coined, the role of America in a new post-Cold War world, and whether the America of 2015 is in decline.
(A timeline of the interview appears on the interview’s YouTube page.)
(I originally posted this in 2009 and reran it in 2013. The plague of atrocities carried out by those who justify them under the banner of Islamhas continued and expanded, as has the tendency of many American and Europeans to downplay the significance of Islamic radicalism and terrorism. Indeed, the effective justification of terror attacks by attacking the victims–be those victims French cartoonists or Israeli Jews–is disturbingly common. And I am sensing an almost frantic desire, on the part of many commentators and even ordinary people, to deny that Islamic terrorism is any more of a threat than, say, Presbyterian terrorism or Baptist terrorism.)
Suppose you wanted to create a perfect enemy. An enemy so vile that its evil would be recognized by almost everyone. An enemy that would inspire people to come together in order to ensure its defeat.
To be more specific: suppose you were a screenwriter with the assignment of creating a suitable villain-organization for a major motion picture. The marketing plan for this movie suggests that it will be marketed primarily to a certain demographic and that, hence, your villain-organization should be particularly appalling to members of that demographic. The demographic in question consists of people who are affluent, highly educated (college with at least some postgraduate education), not particularly religious, and who consider themselves politically liberal or “progressive.” The plot of the movie demands that the audience must see the necessity for Americans–of many beliefs, occupations, and social backgrounds–to come together in order to defeat the enemy.
Oh, and one other thing. The year in which you are given this assignment is 1999.
You will clearly want your enemy to share many of the characteristics of the Nazis–disrespect for human life, wanton cruelty, a love of apocalyptic violence. But to make the enemy particuarly awful from the standpoint of your target demographic, you will want to emphasize certain aspects of its belief system.
Members of your demographic usually have strong beliefs about women’s rights. So, your enemy must have a particularly disrespectful belief set, and a violent behavior pattern, towards women. Similarly, your demographic is generally favorable toward gay rights…so the enemy must advocate and practice the suppression, torture, and killing of gays. Your demographic is generally nonreligious and often hostile toward religion…so, make sure the enemy includes a large element of religious fanaticism. Members of your demographic talk a lot about “the children”–so make sure your enemy uses children in particularly cruel ways.
Had you created such an enemy for your screenplay in 1999, you would have surely felt justified in assuming that it would achieve its intended reaction with your target demographic.
So it seems that Baltimore (or maybe I should call it Balti-less) has decided to go all out, screw their civic courage to the sticking-point, and prosecute the police officers involved in the curious and to date unexplained death of Freddy Grey while in custody of those aforementioned officers for murder. Well, yay them, I suppose, although the fearless public prosecutor certainly may have overcharged in general and overcharged regarding the officers in charge, not to mention releasing the wrong personal details regarding two of those charged. Apparently, those details – age, middle initials, occupation, addresses, etc. are those of two completely different people with the same first and last name. This does not bode well, making a goof like this right off the bat. Read the rest of this entry »
I swear I am not trying to be the Cassandra of this blog but some things just jump out at me. A Richard Fernandez column today did that as it agreed with a post of mine on my own blog from several days ago.
ISIS has been luring thousands of Westerners to the battlefields of Syria and Iraq. The number of Americans who have traveled to Syria is still relatively small — in the neighborhood of 150 people — and a thin slice of that group, perhaps as many as two dozen Americans, are thought to have joined ISIS.
In the discussions at the White House this week, one city has focused minds: Minneapolis-St Paul. It had been ground zero for terrorist recruiters in the past, and is fast becoming the center of ISIS’ recruitment effort in the United States.
The young man pictured above is one of many young black men, many recruited in prison, who have committed these actions.
Over the weekend, the FBI announced that it would treat Islamist Alton Nolan’s alleged beheading of Colleen Hufford, 54, as a case of workplace violence. That despite the fact that Nolan’s Facebook page contains a picture of Nolan giving the ISIS salute, multiple pictures of Osama Bin Laden, a screenshot of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, and a quote reading, “I will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers: smile ye above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them.”
Pence and his state have faced significant national backlash since he signed RFRA last week. The governors of Connecticut and Washington have imposed bans on state-funded travel to Indiana, and several events scheduled to be held in the state have been canceled. Organizers of Gen Con, which has been called the largest gaming convention in the country, are considering moving the gathering from Indiana as well.
Nearby cities like Chicago are capitalizing on the controversy, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) trying to lure Indiana-based businesses into his city.
UPDATE: 1:52 p.m. — White House press secretary Josh Earnest responded to Pence’s comments Tuesday, saying the Indiana law has backfired because it goes against most people’s values.
No, it is against the left’s values. The institutional left. The hysteria extends beyond the usual left and may involve a few weak willed Republicans like those who pressured Arizona governor Jan Brewer to veto a similar bill a year or so ago. Fortunately, Arizona has a new and presumably more firm governor.
Narrowly speaking, that is, the left’s hatred of RFRA is about preserving the authority of the cake police—government agencies determined to coerce bakeries, photo studios, florists and other small businesses to participate in same-sex weddings even if the owners have eccentric conscientious objections.
Whether Indiana’s RFRA would protect such objectors is an open question: The law only sets forth the standard by which state judges would adjudicate their claims. Further, as the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights group, notes, the Hoosier State has no state laws prohibiting private entities from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. (It does have same-sex marriage, pursuant to a federal court ruling.) There are also no such antidiscrimination laws at the federal level. Thus under current law, only certain cities and counties in Indiana even have a cake police.
The “cake police” are, of course a term of art from James Taranto to describe the opportunistic left who enforce the gay rights agenda on unsuspecting Christians.
“As Michael Paulson noted in a recent story in The Times, judges have been hearing complaints about a florist or baker or photographer refusing to serve customers having same-sex weddings. They’ve been siding so far with the gay couples.” That is, the judges have been rejecting small-business men’s conscientious objections and compelling them to do business with gay-wedding planners. Bruni approves.
Without harboring animus toward gays or sharing the eccentric baker’s social and religious views, one may reasonably ask: If a baker is uncomfortable baking a cake for you, why call the cake police? Why not just find another baker who’s happy to have your business?
Posted by Charles Cameron on 24th March 2015 (All posts by Charles Cameron)
[ Reposted from Zenpundit ICYMI there — on conveying the experience of the eschatological — on the way to better understanding the allure of IS ]
And the fifth Angel sounded the trumpet: and I saw a star fall from heaven upon the earth, and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit
WE ARE ENTERING PHASE TWO:
I think we’re entering Phase Two of our conversations about Islamist eschatology.
In Phase One, the task was to point out that apocalyptic scriptures and scriptural interpretations were a feature of Al-Qaida discourse, and specifically used in recruitment, and this phase was necessary because apocalyptic movements, in general, are all too easily dismissed by the secular mind until “too late” — think Aum Shinrikyo in Tokyo, the Branch Davidians in Waco, Heaven’s Gate in Rancho Santa Fe.
In my view, the salient points to be made in Phase Two are:
that the apocalyptic ideology of IS has strategic implications
that there’s a largely and unwisely ignored area of religious studies dealing specifically with eschatological violence, and
that the sense of living in eschatological time is viscerally different — I’ve termed it a “force multiplier”
In particular, IS strategy is likely to draw in part on the specifically eschatological last hundred pages in Abu Musab al-Suri‘s 1600-page Call to Global Islamic Resistance. As I noted in my review of Jean-Pierre Filiu’s Apocalypse in Islam, Filiu himself states there is “nothing in the least rhetorical about this exercise in apocalyptic exegesis. It is meant instead as a guide for action”. While Filiu devotes several pages to it, Jim Lacey ignores it completely in his A Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad: Deciphering Abu Musab al-Suri’s Islamic Jihad Manifesto, commenting only, “Where appropriate, we have also removed most of the repetitive theological justifications undergirding these beliefs” — see my review of Lacey for the Air force Research Institute.
I’ll deal with the religious studies literature on violent apocalyptic movements in a future post.
This post is my first attempt at addressing the feeling engendered by being swept up in an “end times’ movement. I foresee this as my major upcoming area of interest and future contributions.
There’s an extraordinary paragraph in Seduction of the Spirit by Harvey Cox, the prominent Harvard theologian, in which he tells us what the world’s next great encyclopedic work on religion might be like — using the analogy of Thomas Aquinas‘ Summa Theologica in a decidedly post-psychedelic age:
Thus the next Summa might consist not of a thousand chapters but of a thousand alternative states of being, held together not by a glued binding but by the fact that all thousand are equally real.
Imagine what kind of world it would be if instead of merely tolerating or studying them, one could actually be, temporarily at least, a Sioux brave seeing an ordeal vision, a neolithic hunter prostrate before the sacred fire, a Krishna lovingly ravishing a woodsful of goat girls, a sixteenth-century Carmelite nun caught up in ecstatic prayer, a prophet touched by flame to go release a captive people…
Religious experience is as wide, and in fact as wild as that, and the lives and world views of a Black Elk, a Teresa of Avila, an incarnation of Vishnu and an Isaiah are as different as cultures can be, united only in the degree of their focus. Cox can list them, he can invite us to consider their experiences in turn, but he cannot entirely bring us into each of their lives. Between them and his readers is a distance not only of cultural imagination, but of conviction, of tremendous passion.
Coker reveals the struggle of many a veteran by asking: “how can someone who was there tell others what it was like? Especially if they can’t find a moral?” This is a thought that will resonate with anybody with a wartime experience. As for me, my 6 years in the Army has now all but been reduced to a handful of dinnerpartyfriendly anecdotes as a consequence of this plight.
Stern & Berger, on page 2 of their book, ISIS: The State of Terrorism, write:
It is difficult to properly convey the magnitude of the sadistic violence shown in these videos. Some featured multiple beheadings, men and women toether, with the later victims force to watch the irst die. In one video, the insurgents drove out into the streets of Iraq cities, pile out of the vehicle, and beheaded a prisoner in full view of pedestrians, capturing the whole thing on video and then driving ogg scot-free.
Some things are just hard to explain in a way that viscerally grips the reader, engendering rich and deep understanding.
The power of religion is one of them, and that’s true a fortiori of the power of its extreme form, that of those who are “semiotically aroused” — in Richard Landes‘ very useful term — by the power of an “end times” vision.
I have quoted the first paragraph of Tim Furnish‘s book, Holiest Wars, often enough already, and I’ll quote it again for shock value — I don’t think it’s the sort of analogy that can be “proven” or “refuted”, but it gives a visceral sense of the importance of identifying an Islamist jihadist apocalyptic movement as such, and understanding what that implies:
Muslim messianic movements are to fundamentalist uprisings what nuclear weapons are to conventional ones: triggered by the same detonating agents, but far more powerful in scope and effect.
It is a great mistake to suppose that the only writers who matter are those whom the educated in their saner moments can take seriously. There exists a subterranean world where pathological fantasies disguised as ideas are churned out by crooks and halfeducated fanatics for the benefit of the ignorant and superstitious. There are times when this underworld emerges from the depths and suddenly fascinates, captures, and dominates multitudes of usually sane and responsible people, who thereupon take leave of sanity and responsibility. And it occasionally happens that this underworld becomes a political power and changes the course of history.
A FIRST APPROXIMATION:
Let me take a first stab at indicating — by analogy — the level of passion involved:
Cox writes of prophecy, Sylvia Plath of electroshock treatment. In her poem, The Hanging Man:
By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.
I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet.
And her description of the same experience in her novel The Bell Jar is no less, perhaps even more powerful — note also the “end times” reference:
I shut my eyes.
There was a brief silence, like an indrawn breath.
Then something bent down and took hold of me and shook me like the end of the world. Whee-ee-ee-ee-ee, it shrilled, through an air crackling with blue light, and with each flash a great jolt drubbed me till I thought my bones would break and the sap fly out of me like a split plant.
Let me suggest to you:
Many IS members feel they have been shaken “like the end of the world” and live and breathe in “an air crackling with blue light”.
The Kharijites were a faction inside of early Islam that heavily invested in the concept of takfir (excommunication) and had other differences with both Sunni and Shia to the point where they were themselves considered no longer muslim and ended up mostly being killed off. ISIS, by its extreme actions, seems to have some significant points of congruence with the Kharijites. Foremost among them seems to be this shared belief in takfirism. It is not a perfect fit, ISIS’ ideology includes the idea that the Caliph should be a Quryash tribe member, something the ancient Kharijites rejected at the time.
Not having a dividing line between those who want to kill us in the name of Islam and those who we can live with underneath the big tent of american tolerance makes war difficult. Is neo-kharjitism a dividing criteria that would work both within Islam and without? It’s something to keep an eye on and a great tool if it can be relied on.
(Original meditation on this subject here.)So, now the social-political-confection of a peculiar sort of Islam have put one of their captives/hostages into an iron cage, publically and horrifically, burning him alive, making certain to video this, broadcast it locally, and to post it on the world-wide internet media; also to post materiel purporting to provide justification for this on the usual media channels. I presume the national Islamic media sycophants are breaking the sound barrier in rushing to assure us that those peculiar practitioners are not truly Islamic, and that this has been the actions of just a tiny and marginalized minority, not truly representative of the really-oh-and-truly-oh tolerant Muslim world, and who are we to judge because … Crusades and Inquisition. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Lexington Green on 25th January 2015 (All posts by Lexington Green)
There was much discussion and speculation regarding the recent synod on the family, including a media-driven suggestion that the Catholic Church was going to change long-standing rules pertaining to sexual morality.
The Church’s diminishing appeal to men is a crisis which few have been willing to speak about bluntly. Cardinal Burke (pictured above) is an exception, as this piece shows.
“Sadly, the Church has not effectively reacted to these destructive cultural forces; instead the Church has become too influenced by radical feminism and has largely ignored the serious needs of men.”
The truth will set you free.
Pope Francis, in one of his controversy-provoking interviews, mentioned that one of his favorite spiritual writers is Fr. Louis Lallemant. I found on the Internet, and read, The Spiritual Doctrine of Father Louis Lallement, which is indeed an excellent book. Recommended.
If ever there were a 19th Century journalist more deeply wedded to the old mission statement of comforting (and avenging) the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable with energy and fierce enthusiasm, that person would have to be one William Cowper Brann. In the last decade of the 19th Century, he possessed a small but widely-read newspaper called the Iconoclast, a reservoir of spleen the size of Lake Michigan, and a vocabulary of erudite vituperation which would be the envy of many a political blogger today. Born in 1855, in Coles County, Illinois, he was the son of a Presbyterian minister. Upon losing his mother when barely out of diapers, he was placed with a foster family. At the age of thirteen, he ran away from the foster home and made his own way in the world, armored with a bare three years of formal education. He worked as a hotel bellboy, an apprentice house painter, and as a printer’s devil, from which he graduated into cub reporting. He and his family – for he did manage to marry – gravitated into Texas, settling first in Houston, followed by stints in Galveston and in Austin, working for local newspapers as reporter, editor and editorialist, and attempting to launch his own publication – the first iteration of the Iconoclast – terming it “a journal of personal protest.” For William Cowper Brann had opinions – sulfurous, vituperative and always entertaining, even for a day when public discourse not excluding journalism was conducted metaphorically with brass knuckles – and he despised cant, hypocrisy and what he termed ‘humbuggery’ with a passion burning white-hot and fierce.
Among other things, Sisi said that the “corpus of [Islamic] texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years” are “antagonizing the entire world”; that it is not “possible that 1.6 billion people [reference to the world’s Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants—that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live”; and that Egypt (or the Islamic world in its entirety) “is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands.”
The Brotherhood’s stated goal is to instill the Qur’an and Sunnah as the “sole reference point for … ordering the life of the Muslim family, individual, community … and state.” The movement officially renounced political violence in 1949, after a period of considerable political tension which ended in the assassination of Egyptian Prime Minister Mahmoud an-Nukrashi Pasha by a young veterinary student who was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The renunciation obviously did not apply to Sadat who was assassinated in 1981.
The longest night, the shortest day, the turn of the year – and I think likely the oldest of our human celebrations, once our remotest ancestors began to pay attention to things. They would have noticed, and in the fullness of time, erected monumental stones to mark the progression of the sun, the moon, the stars, the seasons, the light and the dark and all of it. The farther north and south you go from the equator, the more marked are the seasonal differences in the length of day and night. Just north of the Arctic Circle in the year I spent at Sondrestrom Greenland, those mid-summer nights were a pale grey twilight – and the midwinter days a mere half-hour-long lessening of constant dark at about midday. It was an awesome experience, and exactly how awesome I only realized in retrospect. How my ancestors, in Europe, or even perhaps in the Middle East, would have looked to the longer days which would come after the turning of the year; the darkness lessening, sunlight and warmth returning for yet another season of growing things in the ground, and in the blessed trees, when the oxen and sheep, and other domesticated critters would bear offspring. And the great primitive cycle of the year would turn and turn again, with the birth of the Christ added into it in due time. Read the rest of this entry »
Newgrange is an ancient structure in Ireland so constructed that the sun, at the exact time of the winter solstice, shines directly down a long corridor and illuminates the inner chamber. More about Newgrange here and here.
A wonderful 3-D representation of the Iglesia San Luis De Los Franceses. Just click on the link–then you can look around inside the cathedral. Use arrow keys or mouse to move left/right, up/down, and shift to zoom in, ctrl to zoom out.
Posted by Ginny on 31st October 2014 (All posts by Ginny)
Jonathan’s post reminded me of my daughter’s remarks this afternoon about her acquaintances and our musings about an increasingly polarized student body – the religious and the anti-religious. In the sixties, we weren’t religious but valued it. Today, students are either fervently anti-religious or, more often, quite religious. This may be place – the Midwest isn’t Texas – but I suspect it’s temporal as well.
A more conservative version of Judaism attracts some of our friends. My daughter says the Missouri Synod attracts more Lutherans in her Lutheran city; here the Westminster Presbyterian grows and PCUSA loses ground. Read the rest of this entry »
Politics is obviously a passionate activity, in which moral values clash. Debates over Obamacare, charter schools or whether the United States should intervene in Syria stir serious disagreement. But these studies are measuring something different. People’s essential worth is being measured by a political label: whether they should be hired, married, trusted or discriminated against.
The broad social phenomenon is that as personal life is being de-moralized, political life is being hyper-moralized. People are less judgmental about different lifestyles, but they are more judgmental about policy labels.
The features of the hyper-moralized mind-set are all around. More people are building their communal and social identities around political labels. Your political label becomes the prerequisite for membership in your social set.
There is much to this, though I would disagree that “people’s essential worth is being measured” by their politics. It would be more accurate to say that among nonreligious people politics is becoming a substitute for religion, an idea not unfamiliar to readers of this blog.
Where Brooks falls flat is in eliding the easily observable fact that the social politicization he discusses is much more characteristic of the American Left than of the Right. But there’s an election coming and the Democrats are set to lose big, so it’s time to anticipatorily attribute the outcome to societal problems rather than the policies of the losing party. Still, he makes good points and his column is worth reading.
Posted by Lexington Green on 28th October 2014 (All posts by Lexington Green)
Those of you who know Dostoievski will remember the scene of the ‘Grand Inquisitor,’ where the problem is poignantly unfolded. If one makes any concessions at all to the principle that the end justifies the means, it is not possible to bring an ethic of ultimate ends and an ethic of responsibility under one roof or to decree ethically which end should justify which means.
My colleague, Mr. F. W. Forster, whom personally I highly esteem for his undoubted sincerity, but whom I reject unreservedly as a politician, believes it is possible to get around this difficulty by the simple thesis: ‘from good comes only good; but from evil only evil follows.’ In that case this whole complex of questions would not exist. But it is rather astonishing that such a thesis could come to light two thousand five hundred years after the Upanishads. Not only the whole course of world history, but every frank examination of everyday experience points to the very opposite. The development of religions all over the world is determined by the fact that the opposite is true. The age-old problem of theodicy consists of the very question of how it is that a power which is said to be at once omnipotent and kind could have created such an irrational world of undeserved suffering, unpunished injustice, and hopeless stupidity. Either this power is not omnipotent or not kind, or, entirely different principles of compensation and reward govern our life–principles we may interpret metaphysically, or even principles that forever escape our comprehension This problem–the experience of the irrationality of the world–has been the driving force of all religious evolution. The Indian doctrine of karma, Persian dualism, the doctrine of original sin, predestination and the deus absconditus, all these have grown out of this experience. Also the early Christians knew full well the world is governed by demons and that he who lets himself in for politics, that is, for power and force as means, contracts with diabolical powers and for his action it is not true that good can follow only from good and evil only from evil, but that often the opposite is true. Anyone who fails to see this is, indeed, a political infant.
The photo of the attacker shows his beard. Other evidence suggests that:
Police Commissioner William Bratton said that investigators were still trying to confirm the identity of the assailant and determine a motive.
Asked if the attack could be related to terrorism, Bratton didn’t rule it out.
New York already has an Ebola case with a returning doctor who went bowling the night before he called 911 with a 103 fever and vomiting.
The situation seems to be complicated and the New York Mayor is unlikely to handle this well.
Thursday evening the New York Police Department issued a patrol bulletin alerting officers to be in a state of heightened awareness after Wednesday’s murder of a Canadian soldier and shootout at the Parliament complex in Ottawa. The bulletin warns of potential attacks on uniformed officers.
The 2 p.m. apparently unprovoked attack occurred as four police officers were posing for a passing photographer when the suspect charged the group, swinging a hatchet with a four-and-a-half-inch blade, officials said. He struck one officer in the arm and another in the head before two officers drew their weapons and opened fire as he swung the hatchet a third time, officials said.
I would hate to implicate the photographer so we will see what, if any, connection there was between the staged photo and the attack.
Four rookie police officers were working near 162nd Street and Jamaica Avenue when a freelance photographer asked them to pose for a photo in front of a Conway store. While they were posing, another man, described as a 32-year-old male, attacked without saying a word, Commissioner Bratton said at a press conference Thursday.
The Chief of Police does not believe the photographer was connected.
Commissioner Bratton said he doesn’t believe the photographer was working in any way with the hatchet-wielding man. Officers are now reviewing his photos from earlier in the day.
The attacker has a Facebook page with radical Islamic statements in Arabic.
Cold and misty morning, I heard a warning borne in the air
About an age of power where no one had an hour to spare …
– Emerson, Lake & Palmer, “Karn Evil 9, 1st Impression, Part 1”
Imagine that you just stepped out of a time machine into the mid-1930s with a case of partial historical amnesia. From your reading of history, you can still remember that the nation has been beset with economic difficulties for several years that will continue for several more. You also clearly remember that this is followed by participation in a global war, but you cannot recall just when it starts or who it’s with. A few days of newspapers and radio broadcasts, however, apprise you of obvious precursors to that conflict and various candidates for both allies and enemies.
As mentioned several times in this forum, I adhere to a historical model, consisting either of a four-part cycle of generational temperaments (Strauss and Howe), or a related but simpler system dynamic/generational flow (Xenakis). That model posits the above scenario as a description of our current situation and a prediction of its near future: a tremendous national trial, currently consisting mostly of failing domestic institutions, is underway. It will somehow transform into a geopolitical military phase and reach a crescendo early in the next decade. It cannot be avoided, only confronted.
Nor will it be a low-intensity conflict like the so-called “wars” of recent decades, which have had US casualty counts comparable to those of ordinary garrison duty a generation ago. Xenakis has coined the descriptive, and thoroughly alarming, term genocidal crisis war for these events. Some earlier instances in American history have killed >1% of the entire population and much larger portions of easily identifiable subsets of it. Any early-21st-century event of this type is overwhelmingly likely to kill millions of people in this country, many if not most of them noncombatants. And besides its stupendous quantitative aspect, the psychological effect will be such that the survivors (including young children) remain dedicated, for the rest of their lives, to preventing such a thing from ever happening again.
I will nonetheless argue that no matter how firmly convinced we may be that an utterly desperate struggle, with plenty of attendant disasters, is inevitable and imminent, we must avoid both individual panic and collective overreaction.
I read this book shortly after it came out in 1996, and just re-read it in the light of the anti-Semitic ranting and violence which is now ranging across Europe. It is an important book, deserving of a wide readership.
The author’s preferred title was “Blackmailed by History,” but the publisher insisted on “Menace.” Whatever the title, the book is informative, thought-provoking, and disturbing. Berlinski is good at melding philosophical thinking with direct observation. She holds a doctorate in international relations from Oxford, and has lived and worked in Britain, France, and Turkey, among other countries. (Dr Berlinski, may I call you Claire?)
The book’s dark tour of Europe begins in the Netherlands, where the murder of film director Theo van Gogh by a radical Muslim upset at the content of a film was quickly followed by the cancellation of that movie’s planned appearance at a film festival–and where an artist’s street mural with the legend “Thou Shalt Not Kill” was destroyed by order of the mayor of Rotterdam, eager to avoid giving offense to Muslims. (“Self-Extinguishing Tolerance” is the title of the chapter on Holland.) Claire moves on to Britain and analyzes the reasons why Muslim immigrants there have much higher unemployment and lower levels of assimilation than do Muslim immigrants to the US, and also discusses the unhinged levels of anti-Americanism that she finds among British elites. (Novelist Margaret Drabble: “My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable. It has possessed me, like a disease. It rises up in my throat like acid reflux…”) While there has always been a certain amount of anti-Americanism in Britain, the author notes that “traditionally, Britain’s anti-American elites have been vocal, but they have generally been marginalized as chattering donkeys” but that now, with 1.6 million Muslim immigrants in Britain (more worshippers at mosques than at the Church of England), the impact of these anti-Americans can be greatly amplified. (Today, there are apparently more British Muslims fighting for ISIS than serving in the British armed forces.)
One of the book’s most interesting chapters is centered around the French farmer and anti-globalization leader Jose Bove, whose philosophy Berlinski summarizes as “crop worship”….”European men and women still confront the same existential questions, the same suffering as everyone who has ever been born. They are suspicious now of the Church and of grand political ideologies, but they nonetheless yearn for the transcendent. And so they worship other things–crops, for example, which certain Europeans, like certain tribal animists, have come to regard with superstitious awe.”
The title of this chapter is “Black-Market Religion: The Nine Lives of Jose Bove,” and Berlinski sees the current Jose Bove as merely one in a long line of historical figures who hawked similar ideologies. They range from a man of unknown name born in Bourges circa AD 560, to Talchem of Antwerp in 1112, through Hans the Piper of Niklashausen in the late 1400s, and on to the “dreamy, gentle, and lunatic Cathars” of Languedoc and finally to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Berlinski sees all these people as being basically Christian heretics, with multiple factors in common. They tend appeal to those whose status or economic position is threatened, and to link the economic anxieties of their followers with spiritual ones. Quite a few of them have been hermits at some stage in their lives. Most of them have been strongly anti-Semitic. And many of the “Boves” have been concerned deeply with purity…Bove coined the neologism malbouffe, which according to Google Translate means “junk food,” but Berlinski says that translation “does not capture the full horror of bad bouffe, with its intimation of contamination, pollution, poison.” She observes that “the passionate terror of malbouffe–well founded or not–is also no accident; it recalls the fanatic religious and ritualistic search for purity of the Middle Ages, ethnic purity included. The fear of poisoning was widespread among the millenarians…” (See also this interesting piece on environmentalist ritualism as a means of coping with anxiety and perceived disorder.)
In 2004, I discovered an Italian blog called Joy of Knitting, and linked to one of her posts, from which I excerpted the following:
Cupio dissolvi…These words have been going through my mind for quite a long time now. It’s Latin. They mean “I (deeply) wish to be annihilated/to annihilate myself”, the passive form signifying that the action can be carried out both by an external agent or by the subject himself…Cupio dissolvi… Through all the screaming and the shouting and the wailing and the waving of the rainbow cloth by those who invoke peace but want appeasement, I hear these terrible words ringing in my ears. These people have had this precious gift, this civilization, and they have got bored with it. They take all the advantages it offers them for granted, and despise the ideals that have powered it. They wish for annihilation, the next new thing, as if it was a wonderful party. Won’t it be great, dancing on the ruins?
The post reminded me of some words from Walter Miller’s philosophical novel A Canticle for Leibowitz: “children of Merlin, chasing a gleam. Children, too, of Eve, forever buiding Edens–and kicking them apart in berserk fury because somehow it isn’t the same.”
Joy of Knitting had many interesting posts, focusing on the state of Western civilization and culture as well as items on Italian politics and society. Sadly, the blog disappeared circa 2008. Happily, I recently realized that some of the posts might still be available at archive.org, and indeed several snapshots are there. I’ve retrieved and posted a few of the ones I think are particularly good below and will add more in the future.
Siding with the Aggressor 8/29/04:
In an argument I have often observed people instinctively side with the aggressor even if personal safety was not at stake. The attacker is stronger, faster, more determined. By his nature fated to triumph over his enemy, he becomes an object of admiration. Sheer destructive violence is more fascinating to many than playing by the rules. I believe that siding with the aggressor is a primeval survival trait. Along with death wish, desiring the extermination of all rivals, being on the side of the winner ensured a longer life. These traits were superseded with the onset of civilisation, but they never disappeared. Nowadays we can see death wish fuelling peacenik rage, but it’s a death wish that turns against the very society in which they were born, bred and pampered so much that they never grew up into responsible adults. Likewise, instead of siding with boring, humdrum democracy, they support those who want to destroy it. In their boundless love for violence they identify with the aggressor so much that they glamorise terrorism, sincerely believing that in the final Armageddon the enemy will be grateful and spare them. He won’t. Once I read a sentence, maybe in Cyril M. Kornbluth’s “The Marching Morons”, that went “nobody invites the hangman to the victory banquet”. These babes in the wood will realise it only when it’s too late. As they cloak their deadly hatred of Western civilisation under a pretence of pacifism, so they justify their passionate love for the aggressor by pretending he’s the helpless victim. The intellectuals’ secret love for violence must also be taken into account. Living secure lives, hermetically insulated from reality, they long for excitement. Once they inebriated themselves contemplating Mussolini’s “masculine figure”, then they were all agog for proletarian violence, now they enthuse about the guerrilla of the month. Living mostly in their heads, they want a bit of action and revel in the total destruction they can only dream about.
The Spinsterization of Western Culture 8/26/04:
We’ve often heard about the feminization of Western culture. I would propose instead to talk about the spinsterization (or spinsterification? I do apologise to English speakers everywhere) of Western civilisation. I mean here spinsterhood as a state of the mind, and as such pertaining both to men and women. Forget about the inner child. It’s the inner spinster, the one that lies dormant inside all of us, that has surfaced with a vengeance. The ferocious do-goodery, doing good works all around whether they are required or not. The eternal preaching. There’s a homily for every occasion and an occasion for every homily. The prim, tight-lipped disapproval of about everything (actually, nowadays it’s rather a pout to show off the lips, plus the flaring nostrils). Loving animals and hating people. The moralising fury against small pleasures, like smoking, drinking, red meat, etc.. The constant “now look what you’ve done” look of reproach meant to unleash guilt trips that will last forever, taking as the official excuse concern about the third world or the environment. The tearful sympathy for the oppressed that quickly turns into loving the criminals and despising their victims. The ill concealed resentment against the rest of the world that becomes sympathy for those who want to destroy it. The hatred against men, especially white men, who are always dead and/or stupid. The revenge against Westerners who have a good life, and the attempt to make them wretched and miserable so as to smother them with condescension and good works. Preaching peace while relishing carnage. Seeing opponents as demons from hell. Using one’s own virtue as a battering ram in order to take control. Despite saintly words, absolute power is the spinster’s ultimate target and worthy causes are nothing but means to an end.
Leftists as Aristocrats 9/14/04:
Over time, lefties have filled the niche previously occupied by the aristocracy. The Italian nobility has not vanished, but since it lost its relevance it keeps itself very much to itself. Aristocrats once used to be the arbiters of taste, the supreme judges in matters of elegance and fashion, and established the rules of etiquette. They decreed what was in and what was out every season, what was done and what was definitely not done. As nobility slowly dwindled into insignificance, it left a social void. Lefties, once the proud sons (and daughters) of the people, moved in to fill that vacant space. It’s amusing to see how lefties, who used to pride themselves on their genuine, down to earth authenticity and their deliberately rough, uncouth manners, are now the essence of social refinement. They dress in cashmere and silk, they discuss wines with the smooth assurance of connoisseurs, and the places where top lefties go on holiday become instantly fashionable for a chosen elite. In their salons gathers the pick of the intellectual world, the culturati and the glitterati of the day. Lefties sneer at the right, which they call vulgar. They shiver when they think that Silvio Berlusconi, our PM, is a self made man, an entrepreneur who started from nothing and amassed an immense fortune. It’s somehow so unrefined. Lefties fawn instead on millionaires who belong to dynasties of industrialists. With their heightened sensitivity, they resemble the fine ladies of the Ancien Regime on the Eve of the French Revolution.
You know, I am genuinely shocked at the level of free-floating antisemitism on offer and open display these days. Yes, it is being dressed up as anti-Zionism, as if that made any difference in the same old Jew-hatred that’s been around since … I don’t know, as long as there have been Jews as a discrete and identifiable religious minority, even well before a certain sub-sect branched off, upon accepting that a relatively obscure itinerant Jewish preacher was really the son of G*d, accepting his destiny as a sacrifice in atonement for the sins of us all.
I am also certain – from my education as an old-style Lutheran in readings from the Old Testament and my own general studies in history – that the ancient historic Hebrew nation had enemies. Damn few of them are around today in a recognizable guise. The pharaohs of Egypt, the Assyrians, the Seleucid Greeks, the Roman Empire – all had a bash at ancient Israel, some with more success than others. The Roman Empire, though – that sent the ancient Jews a-wandering, after putting down a hard-fought rebellion in the first century as the Christian era is reckoned. For nearly two millennia, a people – hardy, resourceful, self-identified and adaptable, given to the work of the mind rather than the body – took their chances in the larger and intermittently viciously hostile world. In some ways, I am reminded of how the native American coyote was hunted, trapped, poisoned as a pest and a blight, nearly wiped out of the habitat for a time … and yet all that has resulted is the making of a hardier, wilier, more daring and successful coyote. Read the rest of this entry »
Judging by what I see communicated by many of my longtime friends, there are a whole lot of confused people out there these days. Here is a helpful list for them:
Only a small minority of projects, even in relatively successful organizations in highly competitive industries, deliver their promised scope, on time, within budget. A large majority are drastically scaled back, incur huge cost overruns, deliver years later than intended, or are canceled outright. Anything nefarious either fails or is publicized by whistle-blowers or investigators. There are no secret, vast criminal enterprises pulling the wool over the eyes of the populace, and the best-known entities in society, both public and private, can be astonishingly inept.
Large publicly-funded initiatives, other than those intimately connected to the physical survival of the societies in which they are undertaken, are quite likely to be mainly for show, irrespective of their supposedly spectacular significance. The current American example is the ACA, which has not resulted (and almost certainly will not result) in either greater insurance coverage or lower costs, is notoriously not a fully government-operated, “single-payer” system, and has no pathway to lead to one. None of this matters; indeed, many of its provisions, if they ever go into effect, will do so only after the current Administration has departed from the scene. All that matters is that its perpetrators get to claim to have passed “historic” legislation ostensibly providing “universal” health care. For an example from an earlier generation, see the Space Shuttle, which was supposed to fly 50-60 times per year at $5.5 million per launch. The actual flight rate hovered around a tenth of what was promised, and each launch cost nearly a hundred times the original projection. Hilariously, President Obama is now being criticized for ending this, even though it was collapsing from its own weight and consisted mainly of workfare jobs in Republican congressional districts.
Notwithstanding phenomena like the above, the United States is probably the most successful large-population country in the world due to its sheer realism, in particular the relative openness and process orientation of English common law, which (to quote myself) “rather than construct elegant theories and then shoehorn (or bludgeon) societies into an unchanging mold,” exhibits “a willingness to work with the world and human nature as it is.”
Even ignoring the fantastic technological advances, quality of life in the US has improved immensely in the past two decades. Social pathologies have plummeted. The rates of some categories of crime are down 90%, to all-time recorded lows. There are now fewer abortions per capita than at the time of Roe v Wade. Probably three-quarters of Americans live in neighborhoods where violent crime is effectively nonexistent. And the worst labor market in 80 years has done nothing to reverse these trends.
Large-scale, institutionalized technologies range from the very safe (electric-power generation [including nuclear] and transmission) to the so-safe-there-is-no-instance-of-recorded-harm (agricultural genetic engineering). The problem is that in much of the real (that is, Third) world, they are insufficiently available to provide the thoughtless, comfortable existence that pervades most of the West. Living “off the grid” / following a soi–disant “natural” lifestyle is a plaything of rich people who can slink away into town whenever they get tired of hewing wood and drawing water. Especially water with enterotoxigenic E. coli in it.
Pharmaceutical companies are not trying to kill you, nor to provoke health crises to sell new drugs. They may in some instances be trying to convince you that your life depends on continuing to purchase their products, whether it actually does or not. Then again, so is the “health food” store down the street, and in all likelihood, what it’s pushing is far more dangerous.
All religions are not equal. The general heuristic is to judge them by their effects, or at least by their efforts. Those prescribing global expansion through conquest and coercive displacement, and those (especially if they don’t refer to themselves as religions) prescribing the extermination of followers of other religions, are particularly problematic.
Any conspiracy theory that mentions the Mossad, Rothschilds, etc, is every bit as viciously anti-Semitic as Mein Kampf and should be treated as such. Anyone expressing admiration for Marxist notions and personages is no better. Conspiracy theories involving the CIA quaintly ignore the NSA (which is ~6x larger) and, in any case, descend from Stalinist and Maoist propaganda during the early Cold War and the Korean War. Facile anger about the NSA, however, ignores its well-publicized activities with the analog wireline telecommunications of 30-40 years ago, as amply documented in Bamford’s The Puzzle Palace. The phenomena of Wikileaks and Snowden’s massive data theft are an existence proof that such activities can neither be kept secret nor have much influence on real-world events; as someone who read through the supposedly devastating Wikileaks cables remarked, “[American diplomats] sound like Canadians with better access.”
No amount of “smart diplomacy” or supposed avoidance of provocation will protect a country from attack. Only a convincing ability to make an attack more trouble than it could possibly be worth can do that, and even such an ability may be insufficient to deter non-state actors and small groups. In combination with steadily declining costs of dual-use technologies, a more-or-less freelance WMD attack somewhere in the world seems inevitable. When it occurs, the greatest hazards to the immediate survivors will be 1) official overreaction, as by ordering the evacuation of a far larger area than was actually affected and 2) popular derangement, which in the worst-case scenario may create a conspiracy theory popular enough to put an extremist political movement in power, even in a large, democratic nation.
Commenters are encouraged to provide additional examples and corollaries.
Here are some pretty pictures. Check out the reader comments below them. A skewed opinion sample to be sure, but also an indication of how some people think. Like other true believers, they tend not to respond well to reasoned appeals, and to dismiss evidence that doesn’t support their position.