I mean, I guess so. "Conservatism argues that people with a healthy culture can form a happy society even with a poor structure of laws." That seems awfully idiosyncratic, doesn't it? Also, define "healthy culture." And "happy society." I think that conservativism argues that traditional (for which read: historical) socioeconomic hierarchies, patterns of property ownership, and distributions of labor preserve social order, that order creates harmony, and that the interests of order and harmony outweigh the interests of equity. I think conservativism is incoherent because it is a rump heir to the political defense of the privilege of a landed class that no longer exists. In other words, it appeals to an extinct social order that was largely maintained by limiting the private ownership of property, a system of wide-spread tenancy and dependency, even as so-called conservatives attempt to trasmogrify into a contemporary "free market" ideology in which everyone is a home-owning entrepreneur. The "traditional values" it espouses are at almost complete odds with its economic program, which is why you get such hilarious shit as broadsides against Hollywood decadence and popular music, or even more hilarious economic populism in which heartland morons, the elderly, and the infirm are persuaded to believe that transnational corporatism is the very definition of individual economic liberty. What strikes me most about conservativism is how thoroughly its adherents are convinced that they represent the best hopes of an enduring order when, really, they're already long out of date.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Carefully, your hands beneath, your arms
outstretched, your spine erect, your eyes cast down,
your mind dead set against its subtle charms,
your lips pursed in a narrow, angry frown,
your tongue prepared to form a bitter speech
denouncing what it was that you embraced
until true reason demonstrated each
belief you’d held deserved to be effaced,
forgone, forsworn, forgotten, then replaced
with what we sought through blowing up to teach,
firm-handed installation of the current taste
in civic social order, free of waste
like native culture, undisputed boon
if openly and freely held. And soon.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Lou Dobbs, the comically overweight cartoon basset hound who saw his career resurrected when his character was recast in the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim lineup, has died at age two hundred and seventy pounds. Interviewed at his residence, Cartoon Network president Jonathan Klein said, "Lou Dobbs was a human being. I don't think anyone would say otherwise."
Dobbs, best known for pronouncing it fry-joals, became a controversial figure due to claims about Mexicans. Barnum "Doc" Stanleyprznykowskinski, a resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Dobbs devotee, summed up many fans' sentiments: "Ya knuh, I worked dahn the mill up till sentty-sicks, but they closed it dahn an at. So, ya knuh, den I gawda job up da hospuhtul. Nah um awna fixt income an at. Nah, dair ain all too many Mexuhcans in da burgh, but, ya knuh, yinz gawda look out fer yinz own, ya knuh?"
Dobbs will be laid in state at a Hoss' Family Restaurant outside of Washington, D.C. His will stipulates that his ashes be blessed by two priests, a rabbi, and the youngest living descendent of Walter Duranty before being scattered over the Rio Grande.
Lee-loo. Multipass.I like that The Obama's "four options" for Afghanistan are all the same option. I like the fact that he has bravely rejected any of the final four options in favor of finding a "compromise," a "hybrid." A fifth option? Barack Obama is calling audibles, yo. He's runnin' the wildcat offense! He's in the empty set. It's a reverse double onside punt fake kick passing lateral play.
-The Fifth Element
These "classified cables" are a pretty hilarious shell game, too, aren't they? Uh, cables? What, uh, what year is this? "Hullo, Op'ratr? I need you to place a call to KLondike 1-2345! On the double! And Op,ratr, make sure you get off the line!"
I like that this man was the putative peace candidate.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Technoutopian Greenocrats of the Thomas Friedman variety have this astonishing idea that if you just create a different model of growth, then you can hybridize consumption and conservation. Well, okay, sure. And my adorable little dog loves to eat her own poop.
So. Let us consult the ghost of elementary-school science class. In any system with finite resources, there are limits on growth, even where the resources are replaceable. Herbivores that overgraze will see their populations decline from unsustainable peaks even though the grass grows back. Predators that overhunt will see their populations decline despite the fact that the herd persists and has more calves. These are simple examples but illustrative of the regulatory mechanisms of natural equilibrium. Sometimes growth exceeds resources and there's dieback. Sometimes you get a few good rainy seasons and a glut of good grassland and the population rebounds quickly. Etc. and so forth.
But no system in which there are finite resources supports indefinite growth. The problem with this sort of Aspen-Institute vision of a world of Priuses and Whole-Foods-brand back-yard rainwater cisterns is that it works on the government model of increase: it calls projected future declines in growth cuts. Oh, if only we can slow the increase of . . . With increase, of course, remaining the operative word.
Now I think it may yet be possible for Brazil to find a way to economic prosperity without slashing and burning the rainforests for soy fields. But here is where 3rd-grade science fails. There's more than one vector here, and if Brazil uses less of this, it will use more of that . . . meanwhile, the fucking population continues to explode. To once again harp on a familiar theme, the problem we have is not that there are seven billion people consuming too much, but that there are seven billion people, and counting. I haven't got any proposed solution, but I'll tell you this: solar panels are not. Gonna. Fucking. Do it.
I'll tell you what. I may think the President is a bastard for whatever he's about to do in Afghanistan, but you certainly have to commend the guy for ending the war in and occupation of Iraq.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Now that was a fine damn game of pigskin. Best kind of hangover.
Now this is a truly bizarre column by David Brooks. It begins by plagiarizing Didion. Indeed, his sub-White-Album White Album crib has the truest mark of plagiarism: it corrupts the original prose because it misses the point. I mean, Brooks is not actually a bad writer. He has a facility with language. He's no Montaigne, lord knows, but he's no Ross Douchehat either. And as a competent if unexciting writer, he could surely have cribbed Didion's famous opening paragraph without a dead giveaway, could have deftly appropriated her insights as his own. But, like many workmanlike yet inferior writers, he gets caught by the desire to write prose commensurable to that which he is trying not to copy, and in doing so clumsily appropriates an idiom even as he lazily seeks to invert its meaning. Brooks:
We’re all born late. We’re born into history that is well under way. We’re born into cultures, nations and languages that we didn’t choose. On top of that, we’re born with certain brain chemicals and genetic predispositions that we can’t control. We’re thrust into social conditions that we detest. Often, we react in ways we regret even while we’re doing them.Yeah, yeah, David Brooks. History is a nightmare from which you are trying to awake. Or, you know, something.
But unlike the other animals, people do have a drive to seek coherence and meaning. We have a need to tell ourselves stories that explain it all. We use these stories to supply the metaphysics, without which life seems pointless and empty.
Among all the things we don’t control, we do have some control over our stories. We do have a conscious say in selecting the narrative we will use to make sense of the world. Individual responsibility is contained in the act of selecting and constantly revising the master narrative we tell about ourselves.
The stories we select help us, in turn, to interpret the world. They guide us to pay attention to certain things and ignore other things. They lead us to see certain things as sacred and other things as disgusting. They are the frameworks that shape our desires and goals. So while story selection may seem vague and intellectual, it’s actually very powerful. The most important power we have is the power to help select the lens through which we see reality.
Now it's worth reflecting on what Didion wrote and David copied:
We tell ourselves stories in order to live. The princess is caged in the consulate. The man with the candy will lead the children into the sea. The naked woman on the ledge outside the window on the sixteenth floor is a victim of accidie, or the naked woman is an exhibitionist, and it would be "interesting" to know which. We tell ourselves that it makes some difference whether the naked woman is about to commit a mortal sin or is about to register a political protest or is about to be, the Aristophanic view, snatched back to the human condition by the fireman in priest's clothing just visible in the window behind her, the one smiling at the telephoto lens. We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the "ideas" with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.On a merely stylistic level, you can see the effects of the bowdlerization. Brooks can't manage the rhythms, and he quickly runs out of words. "Things . . . other things." Oh, David.
Anyway, Brooks is looking for a "morally or politically serious nation." He wants to replace one totalizing narrative with another. The "conversation" he finds lacking is lacking in his estimation because it has not yet reached his preordained conclusion. The story of mental unbalance is too pat, says Brooks, too easy. We need to substitite . . . oh, how about a categorical? How about, "evil"? Which is neither pat nor easy, of course. Which is serious.
On Didion's side, she is writing about precisely the sort of radical alienation, ennui, and anomie that could, for instance, drive a man to shoot up an army base. Isn't that inconvenient! Meanwhile, someone at the Times should probably ask Davey to rewrite his term paper. By himself this time.
Monday, November 09, 2009
Now I am going to disagree with Prof Crispy when he writes:
so people do a lot of wrong things. "the west" does a lot of wrong things. it will lob a missile from a predator drone into your wedding, which looks like terrorism. and the evil of such things needs to be described and exposed bit by bit. but the logic is, for all that, utterly different: comprehensible even if wrong etc. both acts might be evil, even equally evil, but they are evil in fundamentally different ways. one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter is just wrong. no one is a freedom fighter in virtue of killing whoever happens to be present, victimizing people without any connection to a cause or comprehensible strategy for pushing it forward.How does "[lobbing] a missile from a predator drone at a wedding party" serve "a cause or comprehensible strategy for pushing it forward"? I think the plain answer is: it doesn't, really. Or, it does, but not in the way that Crispin's text implies. And I think that no matter how far back you draw, how deftly and capably you examine the stated and unstated intentions of the "state actor" that was the ultimate cause of that predator drone firing that missile at that wedding party, no matter how capably you slice and dice the arguments from humanitarianism or the arguments from self-defense or the argument from economic self-interest (i.e., oil, pipelines, etc.), you end with actual actions, pardon the redundancy, that are "well beyond stupid," incomprehensible on any terms, even their own.
Now there are clearly differences between committing violence by proxy on behalf of the United States of America and committing violence by blowing oneself in the name of Allah and the Prophet and what have you, but I simply do not accept that these events are so fundamentally distinct as to constitute wholly separate teleological categories, which is where I think the Prof's argument inevitably ends up. The US and its allies are pursuing a hopeless mish-mosh of unarticulated and ineffible and wholly fantastic goals: regional hegemony, economic dominance, control of resources, humanitarian assistance, The Womyn!, some semblance of religious pluralism, democratization, universal franchise, freedom, whiskey, sexy. Well, okay. And the American state and its allies have constituted an armed hierearchy that gives orders down a long chain of command, at the end of which a bullet or bomb finds a body. Kaboom! The terrorist who blows himself up in a marketplace is the poor, sorry end of a similar, albeit much shorter, abstraction of violence from its source. So the terrorist does it for Mohammed and the soldier does it for Uncle Sam. So what? In the end, both sow sufficient violence, confusion, terror, and uncertainty that no opposing group can exercise meaningfully universal control.
Consider. What are we doing in Afghanistan? After all the dross has been peeled away, the most comprehensible, consistent, and coherent explanation remains: we are there to deny the Taliban and their allies control. Now it would be wonderful if Hamid Karzai discovered his inner Jeffersonian (well, Hamiltonian, but are we gonna split hairs?), but in the meantime, this is it. Rubber on the road. Deny the Taliban the country. Into the cracks and fissures around this goal flow such minor boons as the pipelines and the Womyn and the occasional stab at democracy. And what are our enemies but a mirror image, enacting violence and sowing chaos and dissension to deny America and its allies control. Into the cracks and fissures around this goal flow such minor boons as . . . It is mere attrition. To whom will the cost become too high first? The differences are all in the economies of scale. To America, it seems more sensible to use robots and missiles. To the Taliban, the terrorist, whomever, it seems more sensible to use people. There are more of them. They are eminently replacable--they can be manufactured with a minimum of infrastructure, you know? There is an old, classic Asimov story about a future society in which the long use of computers has denied man the knowledge of mathematics, until a hobbyist reverse engineers arithematic from the workings of the antique calculators that he builds for fun. The leaders of this society are overjoyed. They have been engaged in a long and costly interstellar war. But computers for missiles are so expensive, whereas a human pilot . . .
The predictable players have come out to lament the insufficiently gaudy remembrance we give to the events of 1989. A relatively measured example:
There will be speeches and celebrations to mark this anniversary, but not as many as the day deserves. (Barack Obama couldn’t even fit a visit to Berlin into his schedule.) By rights, the Ninth of November should be a holiday across the Western world, celebrated with the kind of pomp and spectacle reserved for our own Independence Day.Does this not strike you as odd? "Our failure to celebrate the downfall of Soviet Communism in the style of Soviet Communists reveals the shallowness of our devotion?" Uh, what?
The other complaint, of course, is that we have likewise failed to reify the monstrousness of Communist crimes, that we must work harder to fetishize the depredations of Lenin and Stalin as we have those of Hitler, so that . . . something. There seems to be a conviction that the ironical wearing of Che tee-shirts or hammer-and-sickle patches suggests some susceptibility in our youths, The Children, Who Are the Future, to the communist menace. Well, to that I say:
Perhaps instead of tawdry self-congratulation, we might reflect on implacable nature historical processes. All is vanity. That sort of thing. The end of history. Ha! Are we still talking about that? Even Fukuyama quit worrying about it when someone told him about the Singularity. In the future, we'll all either be robots or dead. My money is on the latter.