Despair Is Arrogance

(This line comes from the commenter “desiderius” at Hooking Up Smart, though a Google search reveals, with a bit of irony, earlier use at in connection with some George W. Bush controversy or other.)

Not even the cleverest among us knows the future. Perhaps we should temper our unhappiness over the election results by recalling the past. Who accurately foresaw 2012 from 2005 or even 2010? Who foresaw 1940 from 1928, or the moon landings from 1940, or the twenty-year Reagan boom from 1979? America’s future looks a bit bleak at the moment, but it is human nature to extrapolate too much from the present and to prefer confident predictions, even of bad outcomes, over the reality of constant uncertainty. Things are rarely as good or bad as they seem, and the only safe bet is on more surprises. Not all of these surprises will be bad. The election was a kick in the gut and it may take us a few days to get our bearings, but, going forward, we should resist the urge to indulge our negative feelings or to accept the comfortably gloomy scenarios as inevitable.

The country appears to be in the midst of a major transition, possibly moving from the top-down social, business and political framework whose effectiveness peaked after the Second World War, and which has been declining ever since, to a more decentralized America that is more consistent with the Founders’ vision. This is one of the main themes of the book that Lex and Jim Bennett are working on. I think that their America 3.0 is an attainable goal so long as there are enough citizens who see the possibilities and do not give up.

The short run seems likely to be difficult, but there is much to look forward to if we maintain our focus and constructive attitude.

16 thoughts on “Despair Is Arrogance”

  1. Of course, the electoral results are not the end of the world. I followed the electoral night in my Safe European Home – LOL – and as Florida and Ohio were not showing the «red landslide», minute after minute, thought of you all.
    I suppose it will be necessary to think about what went wrong, what was eventually wrong from the first second.

    As for Lexington’s book, I can’t wait to read it but have we any news about its production? How is it going? When will it be published?

  2. I agree with this in general, however the number of people dependent on the government for things instead of depending on themselves in worrying. On the flip side, I am relatively young (43) and this sense of entitlement that many have plays well into my hands being a businessman. I work very hard, hustle, and do things that many of my competitors can’t, or won’t do. The current generation coming up doesn’t scare me a bit and the only real competitors I see are the guys that have been in it forever, and myself.

    I also see good things for this country. We will have a lot of short term pain with the current administration. My employees are going to get a serious kick in the paycheck with the health care stuff coming down the pike. And if Congress and the Zero keep kicking the cans of social security and the deficit down the road, both will collapse under their own weight.

    But in general, I think things are much better than when I was growing up in 1979 and we pulled out of that. I think we will do it again.

    The Republican Party needs to change with the changing times. I don’t blame Romney one bit for the loss. He is a good man and ran a decent campaign. The electoral college map is stacked against the R party imho and it needs to be addressed in the next campaign.

    Ryan 2016.

  3. As I mentioned in a post a few days ago, I’m rereading the memoirs of British general Edward Spears, who in the late 1930s was a member of Parliament. Here, he descrbes his feeling at the time of the Munich agreement:

    “I for one have never been through such an ordeal as that of Munich. Like most people, I have had my private sorrows, but their is no loss that compare with the agony of losing one’s country, and that is what some of us felt had happened when England accepted Munich. All we believed in seemed to have lost substance…When we threw the Czechs to the Nazi wolves it seemed to me as if the beacon lit centuries ago, and ever since lighting our way, had suddenly gone out, and I could not see ahead.”

    Sort of captures my feelings at the moment.

    The British did, a few years later, manage to relight their beacon. Will we?

  4. “…possibly moving from the top-down social, business and political framework whose effectiveness peaked after the Second World War, and which has been declining ever since, to a more decentralized America that is more consistent with the Founders’ vision.”

    Jonathan, could you build on this a little more, so I can follow your thinking? Because I see the exact opposite – more and more power consolidating within a technocratic bureaucratic overseer, wielding ever greater veto or compulsory power over our everyday activities.

  5. When Churchill lost the 1945 election, his wife, Clementine told him that perhaps it would be a blessing in disguise. He replied that, if so, it was very effectively disguised. The Atlee government which followed severely inhibited Britain’s recovery from the war. Germany recovered more quickly and it took Margaret Thatcher in 1979 to effect a recovery.

    The election result is inexplicable to me. It seems that voters chose to ignore economic realities and their motives for voting Obama another four years elude me. I have believed for a while, based on impressions drawn from my own children and others of that age, that social matters are what motivate these people. They seem to believe, as I think does Obama, that the economy will recover no matter what one does to it. That frightens me. I console myself that I have had my life and lived most of it during good times. That would be no consolation if I were 43, however.

    I do remember quite well the Carter period but I was building a medical practice (when that was what one did) and had other concerns. The Carter inflation was painful but I bought gold as it was taking off and sold the gold at the peak, so was somewhat protected. When interest rates spiked, it was somewhat unreal (I bought a small truck at 18% interest) but that passed. Carter began the recovery with Volker. I doubt Obama would do so. Carter was a fool but no one doubted his patriotism. Some of Congress, like Chris Dodd were less trustworthy.

    I wonder what the Republicans in Congress should do now. Unless Obama shows some moderation, we may face a coming hyperinflation. Hugh Hewitt says we can tell them, “I told you so” in two years but I’m not sure that will help.

  6. So “Despair is arrogance”?

    How about “Optimism is cowardice” – Oswald Spengler.

    What worries me are two words – “Executive Order”

    Obama has shown too much willingness so far to use executive orders to avoid legal constraints on his administration’s use of power. His EPA regulations, DREAM act run-around, health care mandates, etc.

    One presumes this election provided some restraint – if the Senate had gone Republican, Congress would have been a real check-and-balance even with the threat of impeachment for not faithfully executing the laws. With the Senate under Harry Reid’s control, the House has no useful brake. Add in a new Supreme Court justice in the mold of Kagan or Sotomayor, and SCOTUS will be even more useless than Roberts has been able to make it.

    I really hate to say this, but Obama now has the powers in his hands that Hitler had in the late Weimar Republic. Even the military will be gutted and emasculated in the days ahead, much like the trials and execution of several Prussian generals were.

    Neither despair nor optimism is the correct attitude. Steely determination and an iron will are what will be required.

  7. Whitehall,

    Despair is a problem because it’s difficult to maintain steely determination and iron will if you have no hope. I acknowledge that the near term future looks bad. I am arguing for dispassionate resolve as the most effective response. No despair.


    I am referring to what Walter Russell Mead refers to as the collapse of the Blue Model. Obama et al want to continue accreting power to the state but the money to sustain it isn’t there.

  8. Jonathan, note that there’s been a 4-6 basis point jump in tax-exempt munis today, and the only big economic news is Obama’s re-election. So, is this people getting ahead of the inevitable?

  9. The country appears to be in the midst of a major transition

    That may be the greatest understatement I have heard this decade.

    The good news about this “transition” (it makes me smile ironically to call it that) is that the Left will not ultimately succeed in building their vision, because they cannot succeed. Every time they get their way, it only hastens the inevitable collapse of the nanny state under the weight of its own economic contradictions.

    A lot of people are likely to be caught underneath the rubble of that collapse, unfortunately. However, I put a great deal of hope in the large reservoir of basic cultural and religious decency that still exists in the US. I know plenty of people who are confused enough to be solid Obama supporters, but still have a good grasp of applied ethics when it comes to dealing with real people and circumstances, as opposed to political abstractions.

    That decency will be the most important difference between the US and Europe or Russia over the next few decades. (East Asia has whole different set of issues, but I wouldn’t trade places with them, either.)

    Think of it as a classic case of Survival of The Fittest in the face of a major environmental shift, only based on memetic rather than genetic factors. That’s good news, in that no person or group is necessarily a prisoner of the ideas they’ve received, as they are with their genes. No one has to die childless in order for a good idea to be favored by natural selection.

    The big question I have is how fast our culture will continue to rot in parallel with our politics. Looking at it as a race to the bottom between those two trends, a faster rate of political decline will mean that much more culture still intact when the money runs out.

  10. Latest word out is the Reid will change the Senate rules on filibusters to make the Senate “more meaningful.”

  11. Friends have asked for my comments on the election. Here is my answer, which may offend some–if so, I appologize in advance: The American voter has a constitutional right to act stupid and that seemed very much in evidence in the election. The voter, however, was assisted by a weak candidate and a hostile, biased, deceitful media who has transformed itself into the propaganda arm of the radical left.

  12. Setbit,

    I doubt that our politics will bottom out before our culture, because I think that the cultural and political declines are two sides of the same phenomenon.

  13. “Jonathan, note that there’s been a 4-6 basis point jump in tax-exempt munis today, and the only big economic news is Obama’s re-election. So, is this people getting ahead of the inevitable?”

    I hope they are smart enough to avoid California and Illinois Munis.

  14. Jonathan,

    [T]he cultural and political declines are two sides of the same phenomenon.

    I completely agree that the two mutually encourage one another, but I assert that they are by no means equivalent.

    There is a large demographic in this country that plays by the rules — they work, raise families, obey laws both statutory and moral — but who have been horribly and deliberately mis-educated about how government and economics actually work. These folks are often churchgoers, or responsible gun owners, or have some other cultural bulwark against the full Leftist worldview.

    I expect that a lot of those people will still be around when the government can no longer maintain basic services, or cash benefit checks with anything other than worthless paper. Whether those folks ever truly “get it” or not, many of them will be able and willing to help build a real economy that works and runs independently of the make-believe government one. The Ruling Class won’t like it, but I’m hoping they won’t be in a position to do too much about it.

    I guess I’m thinking of a world with elements of Snow Crash or The Diamond Age,but less dystopian.

    It’s tragic, of course, that this is probably one of the best likely outcomes of our current predicament.

  15. I tend to agree with Percy Dovetonsils at November 7th, 2012 at 9:47 am. TWANLOC are collectivists, and will do their best to keep everyone under control.

    Dan from Madison
    November 7th, 2012 at 8:04 am

    Your viewpoint is the optimistic scenario. Keep in mind that the State is going to look for scapegoats when things get as buggered up as they will be. Your employees, and other employees are going to be screaming bloody murder at the cuts in pay and hours. The response of the government is surely going to be to make business owners into the new Kulaks. And we know what happened to them.

    That kind of response is in collectivists’ DNA.

    I have no doubt that you can successfully fight the market, and your competition. Can you fight the State? Your place out of town may come in handy.

    Subotai Bahadur

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