America Has an Autoimmune Disease

An autoimmune disease is an illness that occurs when the body tissues are attacked by its own immune system.  The US today has this condition big-time.  Historically, the condition has arisen and reached toxic levels in other countries; as an example, France, during the run-up to the Second World War and even during the campaign of 1940.

General Edward Spears, who was Churchill’s military liaison with France, was told by Georges Mandel, the combative interior minister, about the mayor of a district in Paris which had been bombed who went about the lobbies, screaming:  I will interpellate the Government on this outrage as soon as the chamber meets!  Mandel expressed his contempt for this kind of behavior, saying sarcastically “Paris is bombed by the German?  Let’s shake our fists at or own government.”  Spears notes that “The other way, that of silently going off to collect a gun and have a shot at the enemy, was a solution that occurred only to a few…How Hitler must have laughed, I told myself.”

A few months earlier, an interviewer asked Paul Reynaud, who had just become Prime Minister of France, about his long-standing and bitter rivalry with Edouard Daladier.

Nevertheless, ”the interviewer  said, “Daladier is certainly a man who loves his country.”

“Yes,” Reynaud replied, “I believe he desires the victory of France, but he desires my defeat even more.”

This may have been a bit unfair to Daladier, who was far from the worst of the leading French politicians of the day. But it gives an accurate impression of the state of things in the late Third Republic.  And it may actually understate the state of things in America today, where for many politicians and journalists, the well-being of America and of Americans doesn’t seem to enter into the equation at all compared with the search for political advantage.

The obsession with political power, and with the denunciation of opponents, is not today limited to politicians, journalists, and ‘activists’…it has spread to a large proportion of the population.  Millions of Americans, it seems, are in a state of visceral rage against not only Trump, but against any and all of his supporters.  There is no activity, of any sort, that is safe from volcanic overflowings of political rage…not even knitting, as strange as that may seem.

It often seems impossible to find any point of entry for an attempt to get Progs to reconsider their beliefs, in however small a way.  I’m reminded of something written by Arthur Koestler, himself a former Communist, on the subject of intellectually closed systems:

A closed system has three peculiarities. Firstly, it claims to represent a truth of universal validity, capable of explaining all phenomena, and to have a cure for all that ails man. In the second place, it is a system which cannot be refuted by evidence, because all potentially damaging data are automatically processed and reinterpreted to make them fit the expected pattern. The processing is done by sophisticated methods of casuistry, centered on axioms of great emotive power, and indifferent to the rules of common logic; it is a kind of Wonderland croquet, played with mobile hoops. In the third place, it is a system which invalidates criticism by shifting the argument to the subjective motivation of the critic, and deducing his motivation from the axioms of the system itself. The orthodox Freudian school in its early stages approximated a closed system; if you argued that for such and such reasons you doubted the existence of the so-called castration complex, the Freudian’s prompt answer was that your argument betrayed an unconscious resistance indicating that you yourself have a castration complex; you were caught in a vicious circle. Similarly, if you argued with a Stalinist that to make a pact with Hitler was not a nice thing to do he would explain that your bourgeois class-consciousness made you unable to understand the dialectics of history…In short, the closed system excludes the possibility of objective argument by two related proceedings: (a) facts are deprived of their value as evidence by scholastic processing; (b) objections are invalidated by shifting the argument to the personal motive behind the objection. This procedure is legitimate according to the closed system’s rules of the game which, however absurd they seem to the outsider, have a great coherence and inner consistency.

The atmosphere inside the closed system is highly charged; it is an emotional hothouse…The trained, “closed-minded” theologian, psychoanalyst, or Marxist can at any time make mincemeat of his “open-minded” adversary and thus prove the superiority of his system to the world and to himself.

In attempting to debate with “progressives,” one often encounters this kind of closed-system thinking:  there is absolutely no way you are going to change their minds, whatever the evidence or logic.  (I don’t think this is true of  all  “progressives”–otherwise the situation in America today would be even more grim than it actually is–but it’s true of a lot of them.)

But today’s Progressivism is not a coherent intellectual system with definable axioms like Marxism or a Christian theology; it seems much more a cluster of emotional reactions.

Certain Progs have gone so far out on the limb that there seems no hope they could ever come back; this certainly is true of most commentators on CNN and MSNBC…they will just become angrier and more extreme, and it will all be broadcast to millions as long as their owners (AT&T and Comcast, respectively) keep the money flowing.  But what about ordinary people, those whose lives do not center (or at least previously have not centered) around politics?…Is there any sign that some may be willing to reconsider some of their beliefs, specifically in the midst of the Cornavirus crisis?  I have seen comments by people saying they have friends who have recently been willing to reconsider their support for open borders, or for offshoring most American manufacturing to China, in the light of current events.  I haven’t seen much of this, personally.  What I see is more people who are so completely aligned with their ‘side’, that they view events largely through the light of how they can be interpreted to support that side.  These are often people who were not particularly interested in politics or political philosophy  prior to recent years.

This isn’t one of my more coherent posts, but I’d like to discuss: Can the American autoimmune disease be cured?  Why did it develop and get so bad?  What, as individuals, can we do to help with the cure or at least the mitigation?

15 thoughts on “America Has an Autoimmune Disease”

  1. I’m sure there will be farm more insightful comments than this. Still, we’re certainly not helping the environment by putting everything into the hands of about 900 federal judges, 435 representatives, 100 senators, 1 president, and a bureaucracy so vast and convoluted that no one really controls it, either. One result is indulging in a mirage of empowerment against one’s particular tyranny of the majority, at the cost of disempowering oneself altogther. Only frustration at the lack of total victory results, or, perhaps, total victory will eventually be gained — a disaster for everyone.

    The person who caused me to take Donald Trump seriously was Peter Thiel. A gay man. I’m not appreciative of that orientation or lifestyle. But listening to him made me realize we had something in common. I thought it would be a great experience to talk with him (or listen to him talk with someone else) about gay marriage. A conversation like that compels people to treat each other as equals, as sums which are more than the specific part under consideration. But the Supreme Court decided that conversation is unecessary and should not occur. And so it goes every time people think something is “really important” — they demand total victory locally, and cry to daddy when they don’t get it, never wondering about what constantly needing daddy turns them into.

    No one wants their rights denied or taken away by an ignorant mob. But that’s a risk under any system which isn’t ideologically attuned to one’s particular point of view. We ought to rely on each other, not the government, to guarantee our rights. The fact that we don’t or think (rightly or wrongly) we can’t is a symptom of the cry-to-daddy impulse as much as it is an argument for it.

  2. Sorry, I didn’t appreciate full context “more than this” means “more than mine” and that’s all. Sorry for any misunderstanding.

  3. So long as America does not have a common moral standard, it will be impossible. Case in point: The Civil War.

    Leading up to the Civil War, Jesuit priests observed that America had no common moral code; every man did what was right in his own eyes, under the watch of Protestantism (which was built on private devotion detached from “official interpretations”). Thus, pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions could cite the bible as supporting their sides, and eventually the irreconcilable contradictions exploded into war. This trend continues today with abortion: the pro-abortion crowd does not share a moral code with the anti-abortion crowd- thus, everything they do is justified.

    It is very common in America to focus on the means, and be neutral/ambivalent about the ends, because thinking about the ends forces us to take sides and become (gasp!) “inflexible” or “close-minded.” We have become all muscle and no skeleton. Without moral absolutes, we’re wasting our time, and the Civil War showed us that one moral absolute must win in the end. So let us begin with moral conviction, the ends in mind, and be flexible about how we got there. He who stands in the middle of a gunfight gets shot by both sides.

  4. As far as Jesuits and the Civil War, there is a school of thought, mostly I believe in England, that Catholic priests stirred up the Irish draft riots in New York out of opposition to emancipation. The argument was that the Irish, especially those in New York slums, were threatened by the black workers who would be freed by emancipation,. I have seen little evidence of this but that might be hard to find. My own Irish ancestors were farmers in upstate New York, then moved to Illinois when the Erie Canal was complete.

    In Illinois, they were Union volunteers who fought and died to free the slaves.

    As to the Cold War between left and right in this country, the elites are going to be hurt by the evidence of incompetence that the epidemic is revealing.

    I have read Kurt Schlicter’s novels about a Civil War.

  5. I think M Gladius is on the correct track and that auto-immunity is the wrong metaphor for our problem. Without a sense of a common moral standard, the USA cannot continue much longer to muddle through. We are coming to the time for choosing. The founders knew that the constitution was only going to be fit to govern a moral people, see John Adams. I hope that the choice will allow an “amicable” divorce since I think the marriage is beyond salvage. How the division of “community property” will be managed will be the sticky issue. We all should think, LONG AND HARD, about how to make this work without a social cataclysm. Schlichter is entertaining, but Matt Bracken is better and, I believe, more accurate.


  6. The Jesuits moral code must’ve been on the side of the slave holders, as they themselves also owned slaves. The French Jesuits that first settled Illinois were forced to sell their slaves in the late 18th century when the Church suppressed their order. They sold them to plantation owners in New Orleans, and that’s where the phrase “sold down the river” came from.

  7. I’m not sure there’s no common moral standard. But the one we have is taken for granted and we focus only on the fact that the standard is not as comprehensive as we like. Nobody wanted the Civil War except for fanatic abolitionists (John Brown) and wild-eyed gloryhounds (codominium with, or annexing, Brazil? Seriously?). Even the Russia collusion hoax was an argument about whether Trump was legitimately elected, not a debate about whether to have elections at all. The fact that my neighbors are taken in by con men doesn’t make my neighbors con men themselves.

    I’m wondering if the problem depicted by Koestler isn’t everyone, some time or another. For example, I know anti-Catholics who think just the way Koestler describes, and ardent Catholics who also think that way. Maybe the best cure is to cultivate ways of snapping out of it, at least temporarily. Seems like the primary motivator in that worldview is fear of being alone and meaningless. Conversations like the one I imagined above with Peter Thiel are a way out of that. But I think maybe we should realize they’re medicine for a chronic condition of varying severity, not one-shot antidotes for everything.

  8. Joe…”I’m wondering if the problem depicted by Koestler isn’t everyone, some time or another.”

    This relates to the phenomena of confirmation bias and motivated reasoning. Confirmation basis is the tendency to look for evidence that confirms the beliefs one already holds, rather than looking for contradictory evidence. It is a factor well-known to accident investigators (‘huh. wonder why there are no lights on this runway?Saw something about electrical work going on at this airport, yeah, that must be it. Throttles to takeoff power, let’s go’)

    Motivated reasoning, as I understand it, goes a level beyond confirmation bias: with MR, the person is strongly motivated to search for data supporting a paricular conclusion. A study showed that coffee drinkers, for example, will search much more avidly for flaws in a study purportedly showing health risks from coffee than will people who don’t drink coffee.

    Everyone does these things to some extent, but the phenomena are much stronger with some people than with others, I think.

  9. I have been reading a book about rogue pilots and aircraft crashes. I’m not a pilot but there are some parallels with medical quality. Medical errors have interested me for years. I wrote a chapter about it in my medical history book. I’m also reading Barry’s book, “The Great Influenza,” and the early chapters are similar to some of the same topics in my own book, written 20 years ago. I tend to read 2 or 3 books at a time.

    The rogues are usually tolerated by their superiors because they are flashy and often (but not always) well liked. Tolerance feeds the rogue behavior. The news media is running on the Nixon playbook, even as it is 40 years old. They have this story in their heads that young reporters took down the hated Nixon. Nobody mentions anymore the role of the Deep State of the time, the FBI. Their behavior at Trump press conferences is encouraged by colleagues and by their employers. The rogue pilots usually crash eventually. Rogue doctors, and there are some, usually end up in court. I’ve testified against a few.

    Can the rogue media bring the country down ?

  10. David –

    I agree with that. One of the things that stands out to me in our current situation is the resemblance between The Resistance[TM] and what Richard Evans describes in The Coming of the Third Reich, namely, that the Weimar Republic was being run largely by people who did not think it was legitimate or authentically “German.” I see so much of this on the “Left,” and so much less of it on the “Right,” that I wonder why. The only thing I can really come up with is that conservatives either believe, or at least must pretend they believe (cases differ), in sources of meaning outside the state, and leftists do not. A Christian knows he can achieve meaning, happiness, and eternal life no matter how immoral the state may be. A Leftist does not know that, thinks it is insane in fact, because for the Left the only happy life is one lived in a social order that reflects and expresses all that is good and noble in human life. A conservative can be happy when there is injustice, not because he is a Pollyanna, but because he knows it’s right and true to be happy in some things despite others. A leftists doesn’t know that, he can’t have a good dinner so long as someone somewhere is starving in poverty.

  11. In Washington, all these other events around the world are merely counters on the board of power in DC. While this is true of Republicans, it is far more true of Democrats. The idea of flyover country is only the beginning of it. Some vacation spots exist, but most of Asia doesn’t really exist. South America, Africa – these are not real places. Parts of Europe exist – they like to visit and were there for Juniot Year Abroad – but even much of America is hazy. Washington, New York, LA, and San Francisco. I suppose a few other places. Boston, Colorado, Chicago…not much else.

    Any of these places can be traded away willingly for more power in Washington.

  12. Mike K, rogue pilots and medical quality. The FAA has established a set of criteria which they think are indicators of potentially bad decision-making…not necessarily at the rogue pilot level, but factors that all pilots are advised to consider in their own actions. The criteria are:

    Impulsivity: “Do something quickly!”

    Invulnerability: “It won’t happen to me!”

    Macho: “I can do it!” (especially, regarding impressing somebody)

    Anti-authority: “Don’t tell me!” (well, you *would* expect them to include this one, wouldn’t you?)

    Resignation: “What’s the use?”

    Some of these might seem mutually exclusive, for example Macho and Resignation, but a Macho attitude at one moment can turn into Resignation once things look very bad.

    Any mapping to the medical world?

  13. Joe: [A leftist] “can’t have a good dinner so long as someone somewhere is starving in poverty.”

    Slight adjustment — A leftist’s enjoyment of her good expensive dinner is heightened if, while she eats, she can blame someone else (preferably President Trump) that someone somewhere is starving in poverty.

    It is analogous to super-wealthy Leftists flying in to Davos on their private jets to demand that we hoi-polloi cut our carbon emissions.

  14. David, one big difference between the rogue pilot and the rogue doctor, especially the rogue surgeon, is that the pilot is also at risk.

    I have lots of stories but one thing they have in common is that the surgeon may think he is on the high wire but the patient is the one taking the risk.

    One story concerns professors giving lectures at meetings. There was a famous colon and rectal surgeon named John Goligher. He wrote the most popular textbook on colon and rectal surgery.

    One difficult operation is for cancer in the high rectum or low colon. The surgery is called “Low anterior resection.” and the anastomosis is very low in the pelvis, especially in men. It is easier and safer now with the mechanical staplers but, before they came along, it was a bitch. Goligher, the best in the world, always did a colostomy above the anastomosis. He worried about a leak and and always did an x-ray with water soluble contrast in an enema to be sure the suture line was water tight before closing the colostomy. I have seen less experienced lecturers telling an audience of surgeons whose skills are unknown, about how they do that operation without a colostomy. Now, nobody likes a colostomy but it is safer. I have several times gone up to them after the lecture and talked to them about the recklessness of telling such an audience to do something that is safe only in the most experienced hands,

    That is quite similar to the rogue pilots who might be skilled enough to get away with such behavior but the younger guys who imitate them are not.

    I have several stories like that.

    One, not a surgeon, was a young GP who had a patient in ICU. He gave a telephone order for IV penicillin. The nurses told him the patient had a history of penicillin allergy.

    He argued with them saying he knew the history was wrong,. They refused to give it and he marched in in a huff, got the syringe with the drug, gave it to the patient in a quick IV push. The patient had an immediate anaphylactic reaction and died.

    Why he was so certain I don’t know. It was a very foolish gesture and had a fatal out come.

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