Kevin Drum, writing from the perspective of the Left in Mother Jones, predicts the US response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine:
Republicans will demand that we show strength in the face of Putin’s provocation. Whatever it is that we’re doing, we should do more.
President Obama will denounce whatever it is that Putin does. But regardless of how unequivocal his condemnation is, Bill Kristol will insist that he’s failing to support the democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people.
Journalists will write a variety of thumbsuckers pointing out that our options are extremely limited, what with Ukraine being 5,000 miles away and all.
John McCain will appear on a bunch of Sunday chat shows to bemoan the fact that Obama is weak and no one fears America anymore.
Having written all the “options are limited” thumbsuckers, journalists and columnists will follow McCain’s lead and start declaring that the crisis in Ukraine is the greatest foreign policy test of Obama’s presidency. It will thus supplant Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iran, and North Korea for this honor.
In spite of all the trees felled and words spoken about this, nobody will have any good ideas about what kind of action might actually make a difference. There will be scattered calls to impose a few sanctions here and there, introduce a ban on Russian vodka imports, convene NATO, demand a UN Security Council vote, etc. None of this will have any material effect.
Obama will continue to denounce Putin. Perhaps he will convene NATO. For their part, Republicans will continue to insist that he’s showing weakness and needs to get serious.
This will all continue for a while.
In the end, it will all settle down into a stalemate, with Russia having thrown its weight around in its near abroadâ€”just like it always hasâ€”and the West not having the leverage to do much about it.
“Theodore Dalrymple”, writing from the perspective of the Right in Taki’s Magazine, predicts the European response.
[T]he Ukrainian crisis has once again revealed the European Unionâ€™s complete impotence. Physiognomy is an inexact science, but it is not so inexact that you cannot read the bemused feebleness on the faces of people such as Van Rompuy, Hollande, and Cameron, the latter so moistly smooth and characterless that it looks as though it would disappear leaving a trail of slime if caught in the rain. Mrs. Merkel has a somewhat stronger face, but then she has the advantage of having spent time in the Free German Youth (the East German communist youth movement), which must at least have put a modicum of iron in her soul.
Be that as it may, Russia holds all the trump cards in this situation. It can turn off Western Europeâ€™s central heating at a stroke, and for Europeans such heating is the whole meaning and purpose of lifeâ€”together with six-week annual holidays in Bali or Benidorm. Therefore Europe will risk nothing for the sake of Ukraine, except perhaps a few billion in loans of no oneâ€™s money, a trifle in current economic circumstances. If Bismarck were to return today, he would say that the whole of Ukraine was not worth the cold of one unheated radiator.
The worst thing about living under liberals isnâ€™t the deliberate erosion of the Constitution, the disastrous nationalization of medical insurance, the ever-shrinking percentage of Americans in the workforce, the monstrous debt, the looming hyperinflation, Americaâ€™s diminished status in the world, the degradation of military preparedness and morale, the disintegration of education, or the horror of realizing that the insolent, self-satisfied punk who pokes a finger in your eye every time you turn on the TV is the President of the USA.
The worst thing is what they are making us into as a people.
Toynbee would have shrugged and said simply that we are witnessing the self-proletarianization of the American dominant minority. Happens all the time. Yet there is reason to suspect that the primary cause of this vulgarization may rather be the adoption of a broad cultural style that enhances the eliteâ€™s power. In a polity that has been shedding its Founding Fathers-designed barriers against Athenian-style direct democracy, the power elite ever more requires the protective camouflage of proletarian class superiority. Flaunting coarse conduct and a combat boots dress code adds heft to the eliteâ€™s domination. So in place of the classically tripartite elements of the soulâ€”reason, desire and spirit, according to the parable of Leontias in Platoâ€™s Republic, or in earlier America, self-reliance, Christian-Roman virtues and patriotismâ€”a new triad emerges: claims on government, vulgar behavior and a yearning for relief from world leadership.
This vast societal transformation might be called â€œThe Great Virtue Shift.â€ Almost every act regarded in the mid-20th century as a vice was, by the opening of the 21st century, considered a virtue.Almost every act regarded in the mid-20th century as a vice was, by the opening of the 21st century, considered a virtue. As gambling, obscenity, pornography, drugs, divorce, homosexuality, abortion and sneering disaffection became The New Virtue, government at all levels began to move in on the action, starting with casinos and currently involving, in several states and the District of Columbia, an officially approved and bureaucratically managed narcotics trade.
The Great Virtue Shift has produced among its practitioners the appearance of profound moral concern, caring and legislated activism on behalf of the neediest cases and most immiserated populations at home and around the world. To this may be added the panoply of social agenda issues designed to ignite resentment and righteous indignation among the new â€œproletarianâ€ elite. All this works to satisfy the cultural eliteâ€™s desire to feel morally superior about itself regarding collective moral issues of large magnitude even as they, as individuals, engage in outsized self-indulgent personal behavior. This is Reinhold Niebuhrâ€™s â€œmoral man and immoral societyâ€ turned on its head, where hedonism takes cover beneath a superficial global moralism.
The virtue shift has been paralleled by a governmental shift. As gifted politicians have sensed the changing psychology and national character of the country, they have learned to constantly scan the political horizon to identify each special interest group, make the necessary promises and then move to satisfy each groupâ€™s claim on government largesse, or its demand for deeper government intervention to enforce adherence to each groupâ€™s behavioral choices. Throughout most of American history people were preoccupied with how to prevent government from becoming corrupt. In our time, governments have discovered how to corrupt the people. It then follows that the more corrupted the people become, the more numerous the laws must be, thus further aggrandizing governmentâ€™s indispensability.
Try walking into a government building these days, and you’ll meet them.
In one of his best essays, Dan Greenfield, last year, explains how far we have come from the free country invented by the framers. Today’s America is a socialist, paternalist, dirigiste, thoroughly-regulated bureaucracy and police state, in which your personal habits and bank account are public property and in which you need to be searched regularly.
The average American still holds the fanciful belief that, if he isnâ€™t annoying anyone, he should be left alone. To the people running his country, this is as bizarre and unworkable as Phrenology or the Geocentric theory or handing out universal health care without also compelling everyone to buy it.
This is not a nation where people are left alone anymore. This is a nation where they are hounded from the moment they are born until the moment they die by the arms of a regulatory state run by men and women weaned on Cleaver, Alinsky, Fourier, Marx, Wells and countless others. This is a nation where, accordingly, being left alone is the greatest of luxuries.
It takes a lot of money to be left alone. Regulatory space is much more expensive than physical space, and buying it requires investing in lobbyists, fundraisers and lawyers. If you make the right payoffs, then you can buy the privilege of being left alone, exempted from regulations, going uninspected and protected against the agents of the state. But once you do that, you are no longer neutral. You have bought yourself the privilege of not being considered the problem; instead, you have become part of the solution for the people you are paying off.
The Americans bushwacked by ObamaCare, the scam artistâ€™s dream of a tax paid to a third-party in exchange for benefits accrued to a fourth party, still thought they had the freedom to take the middle, to despise meddling politicians in both parties, ignore most things the government did, while living their own lives. They had seen their savings devalued, their homes seized, their lives bedeviled by a thousand regulations, but they still thought that it was possible to take a middle-ground, to reject the solutions by asserting that they are not the problem.
They did not understand that in Cleaverland, in Alinskytown and in Obamavilleâ€”no one opts out. Either you volunteer of you get drafted. Raise your hand or you will be called on anyway. Not volunteering to be part of their agenda means that you are the problem.
You, sitting right there in your chair, watching these words move across your screen, are the problem. A problem 311,591,917 human souls strong. You eat too much or you donâ€™t pay enough taxes, you drive your car too often, you havenâ€™t bought solar panels for your roof, you browse extremist websites when you should be browsing government informational sites for tips on how to do or not do all of the above. But most of allâ€¦ you still donâ€™t understand what a great problem you are for the people running this country into the ground between the Atlantic and the Pacific. They keep trying to solve you, but you donâ€™t go away.
There is no neutrality when dealing with people who reject the very concept of neutrality. Who draw everyone into the long columns of their spreadsheets and catch everyone in their spiderâ€™s web. There is no middle ground with people who donâ€™t believe there is a middle ground, who believe that every human on earth is part of the problem and can only opt out of being the problem by joining up with them and following their directives.
That is what we are up against. We confront the Great Solvers of the Human Problem who are determined to arrange everyone and everything to their liking. They began by controlling everything that people did. Now, they have moved on to controlling what people donâ€™t do. If you live, if you breathe, if you stir, move your muscles, track moving objects with your eyes, then there are obligations imposed on you.
ObamaCare is one of the final declarations that there is no opting out. Even if you donâ€™t drive, own a home, own a business, own a dog, or do one of the infinite things that bring you into mandatory contact with the apparatus of your local, semi-local, trans-local, national or global government, you are committed to a task from maturity to death. Your mission is to obtain health insurance, and, in a system in which you become the ward of the government as soon as you taste air, it is the price that you pay for being alive.
In a free country, you are not obligated to do things simply for the privilege of breathing oxygen north of the Rio Grande and south of Niagara Falls. But this isnâ€™t a free country anymore; this is a country in which you get things for free. And there is a big difference between those two things.
Daniel Greenfield suggests that we look at contemporary Japan as a kind of mirror for the post-modern, totally decadent and deracinated West.
Depressed post-industrial economy, low birth rate, social disintegration and a society obsessed with pop culture and useless tech toys? A country that has embraced pacifism to the extent that it can hardly defend its own borders? A nation where materialism has strangled spirituality leaving no sense of purpose?
We are Japan. And so is Europe. Or rather Japan is the place we all reach eventually.
Japan is strange because it aggressively hurled itself into a postmodern void without knowing what was on the other side. It did this with the same dedication that its soldiers once marched into machine gun fire.
Japan had been in a race with the West, as it had been ever since Commodore Perry showed up with a fleet to open up a closed nation. It wasn’t unique in that regard. A lot of countries tried to do the same thing. Most found that they couldn’t keep up with either our technology or our decline. Japan shot past us in both areas. It beat us technologically. And then it outpaced our decline.
In the 80s, there were dire predictions that the future would belong to Japan. America would be broken up and run by a bunch of Japanese corporations. There were even predictions that after the fall of the USSR, the next war would be with Japan. Some of those predictions came from some surprisingly high profile analysts.
The future doesn’t belong to Japan. It may not, at this rate, belong to anyone. Japan hurled itself into the future, but didn’t find anything there.
Korea hurled itself into that same future and found only emptiness. Now China’s elites are rushing into that same void and are beginning to discover that technocracy and materialism are hollow. That is why China is struggling to reassert Communist values even while throwing everything into making Walmart’s next product shipment. Like Japanese and Korean leaders, Chinese leaders are realizing that their technological and material achievements have left their society with a spiritual void.
That isn’t a problem unique to Asia. Asian countries were just less prepared for a rapid transition to the modern age. Europe and America, which had more time to prepare, are still on the same track. …
The thing we have in common with Japan, China and Europe is that we have all moved into a post-modern future while leaving our values behind and our societies have suffered for it. It is a future in which stores have robots on display but couples are hardly getting married, where there are high speed trains and a sense of lingering depression as the people who ride them don’t know where they are going, and where the values of the past have been traded for a culture of uncertainty.
The Atlantic pays transgendered Thomas Page McBee to pontificate on the new meaning of masculinity.
Masculinity is not as a magical state defined by advertisers and secondary sex characteristics but, like femininity, a complex amalgamation of socialization, biology, style, and stereotype. Men aren’t in crisis, we’re in opportunity, but only if we can each look in the mirror and decide what kind of man we are. …
What kind of man do I want to be? The kind I am. I think vulnerability is the foundation of courage; I love aesthetics; I stand up for myself; I box and lift weights; I listen. I’m the type of man I’d want to hang out with, the kind of guy who thinks masculinity is diverse and that real men don’t exist.
Despite the dinosaur machismo I encountered in the beginning of my transition, I’ve reason to believe that the old guard is falling away, and the new man taking his place. Since I’ve come out as a wine-drinking feminist with feelings, I’ve met many guys who are embracing a wider definition of masculinity. Not just the stay-at-home dads, but the elderly man who told me he’s just now told his best friend of decades that he loves him, the ex-varsity jock who works with men to redefine what masculinity means, the straight, burly artist who documents friends shotgunning beer who is matter-of-fact about the homoeroticism of male bonding, and whose skater buddies pose for his delicate homages to just that.
Daniel Dennett is a distinguished philosopher, at least, with respect to Philosophy of Mind. As a kind of philosophical sideline, however, he follows the unfortunate example of certain other contemporary professors and operates as a polemicist on behalf of bien pensant liberalism.
Dennett recently offered this supposedly well-tempered response to the horrifying militarism of the barbarous administration of George W. Bush.
Suppose that we face some horrific, terrible enemy, another Hitler or something really, really bad, and here’s two different armies that we could use to defend ourselves. I’ll call them the Gold Army and the Silver Army; same numbers, same training, same weaponry. They’re all armored and armed as well as we can do. The difference is that the Gold Army has been convinced that God is on their side and this is the cause of righteousness, and it’s as simple as that. The Silver Army is entirely composed of economists. Theyâ€™re all making side insurance bets and calculating the odds of everything.
Which army do you want on the front lines? It’s very hard to say you want the economists, but think of what that means. What you’re saying is we’ll just have to hoodwink all these young people into some false beliefs for their own protection and for ours. It’s extremely hypocritical. It is a message that I recoil from, the idea that we should indoctrinate our soldiers. In the same way that we inoculate them against diseases, we should inoculate them against the economistsâ€™â€”or philosophersâ€™â€”sort of thinking, since it might lead to them to think: am I so sure this cause is just? Am I really prepared to risk my life to protect? Do I have enough faith in my commanders that they’re doing the right thing? What if I’m clever enough and thoughtful enough to figure out a better battle plan, and I realize that this is futile? Am I still going to throw myself into the trenches? It’s a dilemma that I don’t know what to do about, although I think we should confront it at least.
I could not avoid reflecting that, philosophically speaking, Mr. Dennett is a member of the school of Analytic Philosophy founded, twice essentially, in the course of the first half of the last century by Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Wittgenstein was, indubitably, a neurasthenic and neurotic, a homosexual, a crank and a wet liberal goo-goo, hostile to wealth, prone to romanticizing the poor, indifferent or actively hostile to formality and tradition (try to find a photograph of Wittgenstein wearing a tie). But all his personal demons, all the balderdash that Ludwig Wittgenstein embraced did not prevent him from volunteering to serve as an officer in Austrian Army when WWI broke out.
Wittgenstein served as an artillery officer, fought on both the Russian and Italian fronts, and was awarded three major Imperial Austrian medals for valor. One commendation spoke of “[h]is exceptionally courageous behaviour, calmness, sang-froid, and heroism”, which had “won the total admiration of the troops.” Wittgenstein actually wrote much of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus while serving in the trenches.
What has happened to separate Dennett from Wittgenstein? Much more indoctrination in bad Moral Philosophy and religious heresy from which not even professional training and expertise in Analytic Philosophy suffices to inoculate the potential victim and secure immunity.
C.S. Lewis wrote a famous essay, titled The Abolition of Man, in which he describes the mind-and-soul-numbing impact of a typical liberal elementary school textbook (which he calls “The Green Book,” which systematically denies the objectivity of values, which –in other words– trains the young to be (sophisters, calculators, and) “economists,” i.e. liberal materialist conformists like Dennett.
The operation of The Green Book and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests. It is an outrage that they should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals. This gives them the chance to say that he who attacks them attacks Intelligence. It is not so. They are not distinguished from other men by any unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardour to pursue her. Indeed it would be strange if they were: a persevering devotion to truth, a nice sense of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of a sentiment which Gaius and Titius [Lewis’s fictional names of the “Green Book”‘s authors] could debunk as easily as any other. It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.
And all the timeâ€”such is the tragi-comedy of our situationâ€”we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.
Dan Greenfield takes the occasion of America’s reaffirmation of the choice of Barack Obama as president to discuss how it is possible for any country to make such a choice.
Mitt Romney, a fake authentic politician of the old school, back when politicians were working with magazine covers, snapshots and a 30 second clip, couldn’t compete against the truly fake Barack Obama, who in truly modern media style doesn’t just fake 30 seconds or 30 minutes in front of the camera, but fakes his entire life going back decades.
Obama is truly fake. He is authentically unreal. There is absolutely nothing to him. If you take away all the work that was done to make him famous, there would be nothing there. And that is exactly why he is the perfect avatar for the media age. …
America is being run by a Made in Indonesia leader whose performance is as bad as any of the Made in Indonesia, Pakistan or China crap you’ll find in Wal-Mart. And it doesn’t matter because he’s a brand. The savvier younger and urban voters don’t care what he’s made of, they care how he makes them feel. They may lose their job the next day and their prospects for paying off their college loans may be missing, but if it makes them feel good at the point of polling, then that’s what matters.
When all products are bad, then all that matters is how they feel. When everything can be deconstructed into a lie, then you embrace the lie that feels the most fakely real, even knowing that it will one day be exposed on another episode of Oprah as a lie.
Those who believe in nothing are the most gullible because they will fall for anything. Those without faith are always looking to believe in something or someone. Those who have never known value or quality are always looking to pick up a product that communicates value and quality to them, even while they retain no metric for assessing either one. Instead of learning the metric, they follow the brand, they become savvy brand-spotters, rather than knowledgeable buyers. And when they brand lets them down, then the brand apologizes, the emotions are soothed, and the low information voter turns to the big screen for another messiah.
In a culture where character no longer matters, competition loses all meaning. A lie is no longer a lie, it is not wrong in and of itself. A failure no longer matters if it makes people feel good. And the idea of leadership no longer exists, only the imitation of it. The faint media echo of the values of what was once a great civilization singing itself to sleep.
Dan Greenfield has another of his intelligent essays full of unpalatable truth.
[T]he West has been headed out of the territory of reason for some time now. Its truths have become ideological beliefs. Its goals have become the self-worship of its own symbols, size for the sake of size, and centralization for the sake of centralization. There is a mingled horror and longing for the savage and the barbaric, as civilization appears to have lost its meaning. The leadership cries “Onward to a united world” on the one hand, and “Back to the caves” on the other. That confused melange boils down to a cultural intelligence which has lost the awareness of its own contradictions. High tech environmentalism, soft wars and valueless money are all symptoms of that same intellectual degeneracy.
The rise of China is directly tied to our own irrationality. The People’s Republic of China has become rich and powerful by serving as the reservoir of our contradictions. We wanted cheap products, no pollution, high wages and generous benefits. All these things are not compatible, so we outsourced our manufacturing to China and pretended that we could have it all. But all we got were cheap products, and the country we outsourced them to got the jobs and the national prosperity. We wanted to spend money without worrying about where it came from. Again we turned to China. And like the grasshopper and the ant, we sang and played all summer, while the ants worked and prepared for the winter.
We used China to escape the limits of reality, but there is no escape. Only temporary vacations from consequences.
The election of Islamic Party municipal councilors in several towns in Belgian is provoking controversy, as the newly elected officials do not bother to conceal their intentions to use democratic means to overthrow democracy and turn Belgium into an Islamic state operating on the basis of Sharia law.
And even Ross Douthat begins to recognize in the distance the final stop at end of the rail line of progressive modernism.
Itâ€™s a near-universal law that modernity reduces fertility. …
American fertility plunged with the stock market in 2008, and it hasnâ€™t recovered. Last week, the Pew Research Center reported that U.S. birthrates hit the lowest rate ever recorded in 2011, with just 63 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age. (The rate was 71 per 1,000 in 1990.) For the first time in recent memory, Americans are having fewer babies than the French or British. …
Beneath… policy debates, though, lie cultural forces that no legislator can really hope to change. The retreat from child rearing is, at some level, a symptom of late-modern exhaustion â€” a decadence that first arose in the West but now haunts rich societies around the globe. Itâ€™s a spirit that privileges the present over the future, chooses stagnation over innovation, prefers what already exists over what might be. It embraces the comforts and pleasures of modernity, while shrugging off the basic sacrifices that built our civilization in the first place.
Betsey Woodruff, in National Review, identifies Lena Dunham’s HBO comedy Girls as a cultural canary-in-the-coal-mine which, if observed carefully, could have told you where the recent presidential election was heading.
At its core, Girls feels like a deliberate, dissective examination of a group of people who stubbornly refuse to grow up and are lucky enough to be able to pull it off. The main thing Dunhamâ€™s characters share is the idea that just because they exist, somebody else should give them stuff. In and of itself, depicting that isnâ€™t at all a bad thing. Girls is an interesting project, itâ€™s well executed, and it can be really, really funny. Look, I like Girls, and Iâ€™m excited about the second season.
But Dunhamâ€™s stupid little YouTube ad for the president might have ruined it all for me. Thatâ€™s because she sounds like sheâ€™s channeling her character, Invasion of the Body Snatchersâ€“style. They share the same baffling, naÃ¯vely egomaniacal understanding of justice â€” they both seem to think that because they exist, the universe needs to make sure that all the sex they choose to have is consequence-free.
You can almost argue that Lena Dunham sees President Obama as the perfect surrogate for everything missing in her charactersâ€™ lives: Heâ€™s their gentle lover, supportive parent, and empathetic friend. Heâ€™s special. He wonâ€™t let them down. Heâ€™s Prince Charming. And that kind of defeats the purpose of feminism.
Youâ€™d think the feminist elevation of agency would result in women who take pride in being responsible for their own bodies. Youâ€™d hope that telling women that they can do whatever they want would imply that theyâ€™re responsible for what they do. Youâ€™d think serious feminists would argue that true empowerment is something you lay claim to, not something the federal government dispenses in all its benevolence. But for Dunham, that doesnâ€™t seem to be the case.
In fact, for all practical purposes, the patriarchy no longer decides whom American women can sleep with and when. Thatâ€™s great. But if you donâ€™t want men in Washington telling you how to use your sexuality, you shouldnâ€™t expect them to subsidize it. But Dunham seems to actually believe they should. Dunham makes tons of money, and Iâ€™m quite confident she can afford to pay for her own birth control. But she doesnâ€™t seem to take pride in that; itâ€™s not what her characters aspire to, and given her foray into the delightful world of presidential-election ads, it doesnâ€™t seem to be something she aspires to, either.
Second-wave feminists lionized the independent woman who paid her own rent and busted through glass ceilings and ran for Congress. Being totally self-sufficient was the goal. The idea was that women didnâ€™t need men, whether those men were their fathers or husbands or boyfriends or presidents. By contrast, Dunhamâ€™s new vision of women as lady parts with ballots is infantilizing and regressive.
So Girls isnâ€™t the eschaton, and neither is one vapid YouTube video. But if Dunhamâ€™s show were a metaphorical canary in a metaphorical coal mine, it would be struggling pretty hard right now. Thereâ€™s a reason itâ€™s called Girls, not Women.