There won’t be any surprises in this one for anyone who knows me at all well, but I’ll try to at least make it entertaining.
My very first lasting memory of a news event with political content took place on the afternoon of Sunday 21 January 1968. A B-52 with four hydrogen bombs aboard took off from Thule AFB and crashed somewhere in the Arctic, location unknown.
Ten days later, the Tet Offensive began.
Nine weeks and one day after that, Dr King was assassinated.
Nine weeks less one day after that, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated.
Twelve weeks to the day after that, I first saw real human blood shed live on television via cameras above the intersection of Michigan and Balbo as the Chicago police attacked demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention.
I was eight years old.
Some beliefs die hard, and, incredibly, it took most of a two-year stint in Hyde Park at the end of the ’70s to get it through my head that coercive governance is the problem. If you want the Federal government running anything, you’re an extra-special kind of stupid. If you think state governments are better, I direct you to the Ohio National Guard suppressing a demonstration with live fire from M-16s (Monday 4 May ’70). If you think local governments are better, I direct you to Daley’s goons bashing kids’ heads in (above). As I write these words, the Federal and state governments are, for the most part, botching vaccine distribution.
And we’re damned lucky at that. Most of the good our national government has done in the world has consisted in containing or destroying other governments that were worse. State apparatuses took a quarter of a billion lives during the twentieth century, the vast majority of them in areas under their own control.
Our luck may be running out: what Strauss and Howe called the Boomer generation’s “latent ruthlessness” has crept to the fore over the past three decades. No serious observer can doubt that after last Wednesday’s events, the Left wants to conduct a purge, and like their ideological forebears, they imagine themselves to be purifying the world and saving it from a deadly peril through vigorous State action.
As for those events, the child being father to the man, part of me merely wonders—What took people so long? That place should have been sacked and burnt by 1970. (Just think of the trouble we’d have been saved!)
Another, better-read part of me notes with grim amusement that the Left has belatedly discovered Haidt’s “sanctity/degradation” trigger among its moral modules: the wrong kind of people breaking into the US Capitol. I hasten to add that this is the reaction among the rank and file—the leadership is gleeful at the prospect of enabling a general crackdown.
Plenty of water has flowed beneath the metaphorical bridge in the last half-century, and I both think rather better of the GI/“Greatest” and Silent generations’ management styles now, and have begun to wonder if Strauss and Howe were, if anything, overoptimistic about the Boomers:
“Historically, aging Idealists have been attracted to words like ‘exterminate’ and ‘eradicate,’ words of apocalyptic finality. Add in the fiery passion of the more evangelical last-wavers, sharpen everyone’s moral conviction, reduce everyone’s level of tolerance, subtract the active presence of any adult Adaptives—and that is the leadership awaiting America, circa 2020. It is easy to picture aging Boomers as noble, self-sacrificing patriarchs—but just as easy to see these righteous Old Aquarians as the worst nightmare that could ever happen to the world. Other generations of spiritualist elders have had visions of apocalypse; this one will have the methods.”
Because the Boomers—and the relatively tiny stratum of upper-class Gen-Xers—have often been the opposite of self-sacrificing. SARS-CoV-2 is literally orders of magnitude deadlier to the elderly than it is to the young, and thereby disproportionately affects the highest-status members of society along with some of the most marginalized, a truly “complex payoff” in Talebian parlance. Cristina Cuomo, bathing in Clorox, renting a “pulsed electromagnetic field” machine, and arranging home visits by a doctor in a hazmat suit to administer infusions of, apparently, everything anybody could think of, was the archetype of the wealthy and powerful terrified by the prospect of death. As GK Chesterton nearly said, people who reject (or at any rate, fail to act upon) traditional beliefs don’t believe in nothing—they believe in anything.
Speaking of people who believe in anything, the twelve days of Christmas saw three, count ’em, three bizarre, destructive acts by conspiracy theorists: the Nashville bomber obsessed with lizardoid aliens and 5G, taking out E911 service in five area codes across three states; the Wisconsin anti-vaxxer ruining 570 doses of the Moderna vaccine; and of course the QAnon mob’s antics on Capitol Hill, which would have been pure comedy but for the deaths.
So let’s have a lot less fear and nonsense—and lashing out, especially with government as a cover for resentment—and a lot more of the opposing virtues. Dox yourself, early and often; and deliberately expose yourself to (additional) imperfectly managed risk. If your situation allows it, act directly to mitigate fear, and in any case, be alert to opportunities to swing for the fences.
Terroristic acts, including those carried out under color of law, are “best opposed by the spread of deeply held, life- and freedom-affirming values that supporters are willing to defend unconditionally.” American society provides an abundance of such values. We just need to remember them.