9/11 + 20

Only a few years after 9/11, I visited an old industrial facility that had been restored to operating condition.  One of the machines there is an attrition mill, which consists of two steel disks, rotating at high speed in opposite directions and crushing the substance to be milled between them. It struck me then that America…indeed, western civilization as a whole…is caught in a gigantic attrition mill, with one rotating disk being the Islamic Terrorist enemy and the other disk representing certain tendencies within our own societies…most notably, the focus on group identities, the growing hostility toward free speech, and the sharp decline of civilizational-self confidence.  The combination of the upper and lower disks of the metaphorical Attrition Mill is far more dangerous than either by itself would be.

It is now increasingly clear how much the ‘woke’ American Left has in common, at a deep level, with movements such as the Taliban–the suppression of free expression, the insistence that all aspects of life be subjected to an over-arcing ideological or religious framework, the hostility toward history and historical objects (remember the Bamiyan Buddhas?).

I have seen numerous articles and blog posts from people who are generally Left or “liberal”, who now express concern about the excesses of the Left and who blame these excesses on a reaction to Trump.  This is nonsense.  For anyone who has been paying attention, the increasing irrationality, illiberalism (‘illiberalism’ in the older sense of the word ‘liberal’), and outright hysteria of the American Left has been clear for a long time before Trump ever came on the political scene.

Within days of the collapse of the Towers, the true face of the modern American Left made itself fully visible. “Progressive” demonstrators brought out the stilt-walkers, the Uncle Sam costumes, and the giant puppets of George Bush. They carried signs accusing America of planning “genocide” against the people of Afghanistan.  Professors and journalists preached about the sins of Western civilization, asserting that we had brought it all on ourselves. A well-known writer wrote of her unease when her daughter chose to buy and display an American flag. Some universities and K-12 schools banned the display of American flags in dormitories, claiming that such display was “provocative.”  There were preemptive scoldings of Americans for the ‘Islamophobia’ that we were expected to demonstrate toward Muslim neighbors.

Attitudes such as those outlined above are no longer a niche thing; they have gone pretty much completely mainstream.  And we have a President the bizarreness of whose thought processes are illuminated by his proposal, immediately after 9/11 to send a check for $200 million to Iran with no strings attached.

And, while in 2001 the only serious external threat we needed to be concerned about was Islamic terrorism, today we need as well to be concerned about the pressures from China.  And, here again, there are behavior patterns internal to America that mirror their reactions to the external threat from the terrorists…see for example my 2018 post, So, Really Want to Talk About Foreign Intervention?    Just the other day, I saw a story about an American high school in Colorado which applied for some students to attend a meeting of a United Nations group (the Commission on the Status of Women).  The UN committee that accredits such groups emailed the school and said there was a problem: the school’s website used ‘incorrect’ terminology for Taiwan. The committee suggested modifying it to “Taiwan, Province of China.”  The school gave in to the request.

China has cited ‘improper’ Taiwan terminology to stall applications from at least six other groups, including the World Bicycle Industry Association and a French nature society called the Association of 3 Hedgehogs.  The tentacles of the Chinese regime now extent to all locations in the world and to activities of all kinds.  More here.

I can’t come up with a good visual metaphor for the three-way threat that now threatens  America’s continuance as a free and independent society, but that threat is very real.

There are a few signs of hope. As noted above, some publications that have been aligned with the Establishment Left are now starting to push back somewhat against aggressive ‘wokeism’.  The catastrophe of the Afghan withdrawal has educated some people, especially college-age people, about the fact that America is not the worst nation and the source of all evil in the world; that, indeed, hideous things can be perpetrated by people who are not Americans and also who are not considered White.  The supply-chain chaos of the past year and a half has educated many businesses about the dangers of excessive dependency on China.

And, somewhat remarkably, since 9/11 there have been no large-scale terrorist attacks remotely comparable to that one in scale.  Though how long this situation will persist, given the Taliban’s newly-established full control of Afghanistan, is an open question.

Things are not hopeless, but the hour is late and the situation is very serious.

 

Battle of Britain + 81

This month marks the 81st anniversary of the Battle of Britain.  It was the first major battle that was fought entirely in the air, and it pioneered the use of radar as a force multiplier. The history of this battle is very interesting from the military and technology standpoints–but those things are not the focus of this post.

With the fall of France (June 22, 1940), many people believed that further resistance by Britain was hopeless.  The French writer Georges Bernanos, living in exile in Brazil, wrote (in December of that year) about how many establishment figures had been willing to despair…and how epic a story Britain’s survival in fact was:

No one knows better than I do that, in the course of centuries, all the great stories of the world end by becoming children’s tales. But this particular one (the story of England’s resistance–ed) has started its life as such, has become a children’s tale on the very threshold of its existence. It mean that we can at once recognize in it the threefold visible sign of its nature. it has deceived the anticipations of the wise, it has humiliated the weak-hearted, it has staggered the fools. Last June all these folk from one end of the world to the other, no matter what the color of their skins, were shaking their heads. Never had they been so old, never had they been so proud of being old. All the figures that they had swallowed in the course of their miserable lives as a safeguard against the highly improbable activity of their emotions had choked the channels of circulation..They were ready to prove that with the Armistice of Rethondes the continuance of the war had become a mathematical impossibility…Some chuckled with satisfaction at the thought, but they were not the most dangerous…Others threatened us with the infection of pity…”Alone against the world,” they said. “Why, what is that but a tale for children?” And that is precisely what it was–a tale for children. Hurrah for the children of England! 

Men of England, at this very moment you are writing what public speakers like to describe in their jargon as one of the “greatest pages of history”….At this moment you English are writing one of the greatest pages of history, but I am quite sure that when you started, you meant it as a fairy tale for children. “Once upon a time there was a little island, and in that island there was a people in arms against the world…” Faced with such an opening as that, what old cunning fox of politics or business would not have shrugged his shoulders and closed the book?

But only a two years earlier, Britain had signed the Munich agreement.  General Edward Spears, along with many others was overcome by despair:

Like most people, I have had my private sorrows, but there is no loss that can compare with the agony of losing one’s country, and that is what some of us felt when England accepted Munich.  All we believed in seemed to have lost substance.

The life of each of us has roots without which it must wither; these derive sustenance from the soil of our native land, its thoughts, its way of life, its magnificent history; the lineage of the British race is our inspiration.  The past tells us what the future should be.  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.

Yet it was only two years after Munich that Britain demonstrated its  magnificent resistance to Nazi conquest.

The Battle of Britain has been, fairly, called a battle that saved civilization. But the saving of civilization is not a one-time thing, and there are today very serious threats to individual liberty and the rule of law..really, to civilization itself…in Britain as well as in the US. There are many dark clouds overhead and on the horizon. But the Battle of Britain should inspire us with the thought that battles that seem to be hopeless may, in fact, be winnable through sufficient determination and skill.

Social Media and Section 230

A couple of useful links for those following these issues:

From Eugene Volokh, a detailed legal analysis of the proper interpretation of Section 230.  Haven’t read it yet, but I plan to soon.

Vivek Ramaswamy, in the WSJ, offers a favorable view of Trump’s lawsuit against search and social media companies.  Excerpts and commentary at Stuart Schneiderman’s blog.

There are few if any issues more important than the problem of oligopolistic control over information flow.

Report Those With Unapproved Ideas to the Proper Authorities!

In China:

In April the party launched a telephone hot line and online platform for reporting “historical nihilists,” who fail to comply with the official party line. 

In the United States:

In a national survey, 85 percent of college students who identify as “liberal” say they’d report a professor who made an “offensive” comment. Sixty-five percent of “independent/apolitical” students and 41 percent of “conservatives” also would report a professor to the university.

Students were almost as eager to report their classmates: 76 percent of liberals, 57 percent of independents and 31 percent of conservatives say that a student who says something that offends other students should be reported.

We have fallen a long way from the ideals expressed in Norman Rockwell’s classic painting, and the downward path is continuing.