Stampede in Gadara

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It’s been an amazing experience watching the decompensation, the unravelling, the descent into downright, open, manifest incoherence, of American liberals since the November catastrophe. First there was the nutty Russia thing — or no, I shouldn’t speak of it in the past tense; people are still nattering about it — and now the Comey business. Which is, if anything, even crazier.

One knows people — I mean, knows them personally, in the 3D world — who now advance, and who apparently really believe, arguments to the effect that if Hillary had been elected and fired Comey, this would have been a fine and good thing, but since Trump got elected and fired Comey, this is a really really bad thing. Once one’s laughter subsides — even at the best jokes, one can only laugh so long — one finds, having assumed something like a straight face, and tried to follow the cobwebby argument, that it turns on motive. Hillary’s motives (of course) would have been pure and public-spirited, and Trump’s (of course) are not.

As regards Trump’s motives, one must agree. To the extent that such a primitive organism can be said to have motives at all, Trump’s are surely bad. It’s also impossible for me, personally, to imagine Hillary having anything I would call a good motive either, so that’s pretty much a wash.

But apart from these Jesuitical casuistries about motive, what’s interesting is the unstated presuppositions which come floating palely to the surface, like flounders concussed by an underwater volcano, in these exchanges.

For example: Trump is said to be undermining the FBI. Well, for heaven’s sake, what’s wrong with that? The FBI is surely one of the most detestable, criminal organizations in the long sorry history of secret-policing. If Trump were to fire the whole outfit I might be tempted to vote for him next time around.

But perhaps we’re supposed to worry that Trump will find somebody *worse* than Comey. And so he might. So, in fact, he probably will. As the proverb says, it could always be worse — and usually is. But do we really believe that Hillary would have found somebody better? — Oh, sorry, of course we do. In the wonderful alternative reality of the subjunctive mood, the Democrat would always have done ‘better’, and the Republican ‘worse’. Whatever ‘better’ and ‘worse’ are supposed to mean in this madhouse.

The other trope I keep hearing is that this will diminish Americans’ confidence in their government — or rather, ‘their’ government. Again, what’s not to like about this? I’ve spent my adult life, more or less, trying to undermine Americans’ confidence in their government.

It’s not news that liberals are fundamentally conservative — great believers in existing institutions, which would be fine if only the right people were in charge; very much interested to hear what alternatives one has to suggest, and hair-triggered to reject them out of hand. What is rather new is the desperately chaotic, pillar-to-post, incoherent, improvisatory, self-contradictory and frankly delusional character of liberal thinking in the Age of Trump. It’s as though the man has lobotomized them.

But of course that’s the wrong way to put it. Trump hasn’t really done anything. He’s a curious piece of insignificant and unlovely rubbish, floating about at the whim of wind and current. What has really dismayed all these centrist, conservative liberals is the self-destruction of their cause, in the form of its consummate embodiment, Hillary Clinton. Hillary screwed the pooch, and made it clear that the whole project is a lost cause. It might work in France, for a while yet, to sell oneself as the not-quite-so-bad candidate; but it seems to have stopped working here. (I suppose we’ve had more of it, for a longer time.)

So where does this leave American liberalism? Nowhere. It never had anything to offer except fear of the Other, and that seems to have worn off.

No wonder they’re chasing their tails, and snapping at imaginary flies, and baying at the moon. Othello’s occupation is very much gone. Their pet bogeyman now frightens only themselves.

What if this present were the world’s last night?

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Answer: On the whole, it would be a good thing. Oh, the snails and the cockroaches would soldier on, and perhaps their distant descendants would build cathedrals and atom bombs as we have done, and end as we seem likely to end — either with a bang or a slow braising. Having done a lot of harm along the way; whenever we end, and however, it will have been justice delayed. Good riddance to us, and good riddance to those highly-developed hypothetical hexapodes or gastropodes sapientes, should they arise, and come to believe in progress.

How amiable the butcherbird and the tapeworm seem, compared to us.

Of course this is all over-dramatic, self-indulgent, etc. The nukes will probably not fly. We, you who read this, and I who write it, will probably die in our beds, with plenty of morphine in our veins. Other people will be incinerated, gassed, buried under fallen masonry, widowed, orphaned, maimed; and we will pay for it. Pay for it, that is, in the monetary sense, not the moral one.

But you and I will no doubt go our rounds tomorrow more or less as usual.

Tonight I find it very much in my heart to wish this weren’t so. I love my comforts, and I fear pain; but tonight I long for judgement. Somebody please put an end to this relentless, inexorable, monotonically-growing horror.

Rien oubli, rien appris: anticipating the restoration

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Assuming that we survive the evil Stephen King clowns of the Trump administration, I assume we can look forward to a Bourbon Restoration of the Democrats next time round. The prospect is distinctly unappealing, though of course one will be glad to have heard the last of Trump.

One does rather wonder whom the dems will anoint as their Louis XVIII. Will Hillary try again, and condescend to visit Michigan this time? Stranger things have happened. (Two words: Richard Nixon.) Or will Bill come back? Chelsea, I suppose, is still too young, and constitutional amendments take a while. Perhaps they’ll pickle Bernie in brine and run him.

But really, who cares? Whoever it is, we know what to expect. Neoliberalism, militarism, Zionism — the usual blue plate special.

What I’m looking ahead to — with a sinking heart — is the effect on my liberal friends. I feel sure they will have learned absolutely the wrong lesson from the debacle of 2016. They will be more convinced than ever that they were completely right last year, and that events proved it.

Of course any rational person can see that events proved them desperately wrong. But cathexis is difficult to withdraw, as any disappointed lover knows.

So my guess is that they will double down. They will conclude, inter alia, that it’s more important than ever to whip the strays into the fold. Their scolding, verberative, finger-wagging tone will amp up to deafening levels. And they will hold Trump’s coppertoned flayed skin up in our faces to prove they were right all along, and we were bad, naughty children, and it’s all our fault.

Resistance, schmesistance

Simone Segouin, the 18 year old French Résistance fighter, 1944

French girls, gotta love ’em. That could even be a pussy hat, though I suspect it’s really a garrison cap (or piss-cutter, as they used to be called, for some reason). You know, one of those fore-and-aft affairs that look like an overturned lifeboat. I always thought the US version, in plain khaki, looked rather snazzy. Certainly a lot better than those stupid floppy berets that all the US soldier-boys and -girls wear nowadays.

Not surprisingly, the Trump administration has given us one more turn of the screw, or perhaps a turn and a half, in our great nation’s decades-long screwing away from social democracy — what little we ever had of it — and toward downright fascism. All the people who were telling us that Trump was a fascist were right, of course — only they neglected to mention that his predecessors and his opponent were fascists too.

Still, Trump’s election does seem to have roused a certain sense of alarm. Long overdue, in my opinion, but gift horses and all that.

One has been hearing a lot of bold talk about ‘resistance’, mostly on facebook, but it unfortunately seems to be confined to facebook. There were a few marches — permitted, of course, the worst kind, and dominated by establishment Democratic Party careerists. Then tumbleweeds, except for the Russophobe mania.

Thank God that seems to be dying down. My liberal friends are starting to look a bit sheepish when I tease them about that bad ole Putin. Two weeks ago they would have called Homeland Security and dropped a dime on me. See something, say something, even if the something is an ignis fatuus.

But then everything else seems to have died down too. We’re exhorted to join the ACLU and send yet more money to the odious Morris Dees, of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Ridiculing Trump and his brummagem Versailles taste and his oafish manners is of course fun, and there’s ample material to work with. Though it has become something of a cliche.

But resistance? Don’t make me laugh. There’s nothing at all worthy of the name.

Of course, as the Psalmist perceptively inquires, מֵאַיִן יָבֹא עֶזְרִֽי — from whence is our help to come? What social formations, institutions, organizations, might incubate some real resistance?

There’s nothing. They’re all gone. The leadership of the labor movement climbed into bed with management decades ago, and was promptly smothered under a pillow, without even thrashing around very much. There’s essentially no labor movement in the US now, except for a wizened, vestigial vermiform appendix to the Democratic party.

There’s never really been any anti-war or anti-imperialist movement in the US, and certainly none since Nixon, that ingenious fiend, did away with the draft. What, after all, would it be based on? Whose ox, in the US, is gored by our wars — except the poor devils who sign up to fight them?

White guys like me are always hoping for something from black folks, and I for one haven’t completely given up. In my experience that’s the milieu where you find the clearest, least muddled view of our situation. But the hegemon is good at mowing the lawn. Real resisters (like the Panthers) get killed or imprisoned, and other potential leaders, or even actual leaders, get co-opted. The sad decline of John Lewis is paradigmatic, as is the whole career of Corey Booker, the smooth, glossy sweetheart of Big Pharma.

It makes me wonder whether real resistance is even possible from inside the global hegemon. I know, this was much discussed a long time ago, and third-worldism dismissed as a heresy. Correctly so, no doubt. Whatever we can do from inside, we ought to do, and shouldn’t be discouraged.

And of course one knows not the day nor the hour; the old mole pops up unexpectedly like a thief in the night, if one may mash up a few of one’s favorite texts. So perhaps what I am doing here is apotropaic contrarianism: every time I make a prediction, subsequent events make a fool of me, so let’s predict something bad and be delighted when we’re proved wrong.

Okay, Old Mole. Over to you. Bring it on.

Now HERE is a powerful statement for you

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Democrats continue to amaze me. These folks are going to attend Trump’s speech — sit politely and listen to his mad imbecile blather — but they’re going to wear white. Oh man, that’s showing him, innit?

Maxine Waters, to her credit, is planning to stay home, which really seems like a no-brainer. My jaw has fallen through several floors and I need to go find it down in the basement laundry room. What in God’s name are these other fools thinking of?

I can only conjecture that the ethos of ‘splitting the difference’ — successively, a la Achilles and the tortoise — has become such an ingrained tropism that they just can’t help themselves. No potential bridges will be burnt, but a Masonic in-group statement will be delivered. The base will no doubt be happy. They don’t, after all, expect much.

Parturiunt montes, etc.

Cincinnati_Convention_Mountain_of_Horace

In its way, it’s a juicy business, this recent smoke-free-room anointment of the latest DNC chair — the awful Perez over the perhaps slightly less awful Ellison. But who cares, really. With any luck at all, the poor Clintonite mook Perez will be the official chief mourner, a year or two hence, at the damp, depressing, poorly-attended graveside of the Democratic Party, finally buried, after two lamentable centuries and change, with an unnecessary stake through its heart(*).

Juicy because it’s so strikingly the fabled old ward-heeler world: you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours; what has he done for me lately; show me the money. People playing the angles inside a rapidly collapsing figure. The tangents and the cosines are objects of serious nerdly study; the measurable length of the sides is of no consequence. We shall fight each other to the death for ever-diminishing prizes. “Rats in a trap” is an awful cliche, of course, but it comes irresistibly to mind.

One of of the truly delightful aspects of the thing was how irrelevant my town’s mayor, the sorry faineant Bill DeBlasio, was, even in the tiny, hypoxic, gravitational-collapse world of Democratic party insider politics. It’s difficult to overstate what a big nothing this guy has been, here in Gotham. I mean, he’s useless even by the low standards of the Democratic Party. I curse him daily: filling potholes is a mayor’s first job — it’s in the Constitution, I think — and the condition of the streets, which I see up close on the bike, makes me miss Iron Mike Bloomberg. Never thought I would say that, but Windbag Bill is a miracle worker in this respect.

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(*) Still, as regards the stake: You can’t be too careful with these Undead. I’m in favor of the stake. If only for the sheer joy of the thing: the thwack of the hammer, the crusty give of the ancient skin, the slowly-welling thick old dark blood, sucked and reduced over long ages.

After the Apocalypse…

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… it’s more or less business as usual, except a bit more so. But it’s been more so, year after every year, for a long time. Cops are still beating people up, when they’re not shooting them, and our great Republic is still dropping bombs on people, directly or by proxy, in the Middle East. Guantanamo is still open for business. Bibi Netanyahu is still welcome in Washington. The jails are still full, and harmless people, seeking only to get a job and raise their kids, are still being deported. Dog bites man. It’s the American way of life.

Polite hypocrisy has certainly taken a drubbing, and various poltergeists and pookas are strutting their stuff more boldly than they used to do — or are they just being reported on more than they used to be? This is always a question. We know they were always there. Are there more of them? Are they bolder? My guess is ‘no’ to the first question, and a tepid dubious ‘maybe’ to the second. But it’s a matter of the second or third decimal place. No landslide has occurred.

— No. On second thought, that’s not exactly true. There has been one very spectacular phenomenon: the complete collapse of American liberalism. Liberals have gone visibly, obviously, staringly batshit crazy. I suppose they thought this wasn’t supposed to happen — as if any fool couldn’t have seen it coming for what, the past forty years? But all their fond certainties about progress and so on have turned to ash, and they are thrashing about like landed trout, indulging in tinfoil-hat conspiratism about the evil Russians, embracing the CIA with tears of joy, and proclaiming the corporate media as unsullied springs of Gospel truth.

Perhaps it’s a case of the latent physiognomy becoming patent; but if that’s so, then keeping the pasteboard mask of rationality in place at least called for a certain exercise of the instrumental intellect, as understood by the high-school debate team, and that’s all gone now. The result is that people who were once intelligent, up to a point, or seemed so, have become downright visibly stupid, and hysterical and incoherent with it. I suppose a shrink would call it ‘decompensation’.

I know people — reasonable people, good companions, skilled in their metiers, and as well-schooled as anybody now is — who are encouraging me to call some rat in Congress to keep Steve Bannon off the National Security Council. The National Security Council! God almighty. After Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, inter alios, what virtue does that infamous body have to lose? Does anybody even know when the NSC got its start? Or why?

No doubt Bannon could end up being worse than the monsters who preceded him, though it’s a high bar. There’s an old joke about how it could always be worse, and there’s no limit to human depravity — turds all the way down, to paraphrase Arthur Eddington’s dear old lady. But even so, he’s just continuing the long-obvious trend. There’s progress for you. The torch has been passed.

The horsemen of the Apocalypse…

… are saddling up for the Mother of Abominations. Hillary is apparently assembling — predictably enough — a fine team of neocons, brinksmanshippers, laptop bombardiers, and miscellaneous National Security berserkers for a reign which seems certain to be drenched in blood.

People are talking about Admiral James Stavridis for Vice President. He’s perfect, really. A longtime veteran of the bipartisan War Party, he first achieved notoriety as a retainer of Donald Rumsfeld back in the Bush II days, and became NATO’s El Supremo under Obama, where he played a prominent role in the butchery of Libya. Presidents come and go, but the machine hums on. Lately he has distinguished himself by advocating quite openly for a US alliance with the various Syrian jihadis, to do an Iraq on Syria — a long-standing neocon project, of course. Mr Brass Hat is also, of course, a close pal of the Israelis and a charter member of the Anything For Bibi club.

They’re also talking about Michele Flournoy for Secretary of Defense. After serving in the State Department under Obie, she founded and became executive director of the Center for a New American Security, one of the numberless swarm of Washington NatSec “think tanks”, buzzing like cicadas on a hazy, windless August afternoon. I do not understand the political economy of these outfits: why so many? Particularly since they all say more or less the same thing? Who pays for them? Why? I can only suppose that they’re intended as rocks for Permanent Government vermin like Fluornoy to hide under when they’re out of office, and that hedgies and defense contractors pay for them in order to keep these reptiles well-disposed.

CNAS is very much par for the course, enjoying Madeleine Albright and Joe “Talks to God but doesn’t listen” Lieberman as tutelary deities. Not surprisingly, one of the axes they’re grinding most relentlessly is the nuke deal with Iran. A sample of gloom-and-doom prose, from the febrile pen of one Ilan Goldenburg, CNAS’ cop on the Iran beat and incidentally an honest-to-God Israeli himself:

Iran’s regional behavior remains highly problematic. Provocative ballistic missile launches and continuing support for President Assad, Hezbollah, and Iraqi Shia militias are clear signs that the United States and Iran still have conflicting interests in the Middle East that are unlikely to change anytime soon. And competition between pragmatists and hardliners inside Iran has only intensified since the signing of the JCPOA as President Rouhani and his allies try to leverage the nuclear agreement to gain more influence while opponents of the deal try to box him in.

So if you thought Obie was bad — just wait for Hillary. She’s the real thing, red in tooth and claw. She can’t wait to start blowing people up, and she’s got a legion of fanatic gunsels who can’t wait to feed her the ammo belt.

White privilege?

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Some of my friends — I mean real friends, not the Facebook variety — are rolling out the old ‘white privilege’ trope, after the most recent round of police murders.

(That’s the subjective genitive, not objective; I mean murders by police. I’m not losing any sleep over the fact that somebody occasionally shoots back. There are, after all, laws of Nature.)

Now I think this is a bogus concept — white privilege, I mean.

[Voice from offstage] : That’s because you’re white!

Well, maybe. But I also have better reasons than that.

Let’s start from facts that we can all agree on.

1) Nearly everybody in the world — except for that notorious 1% — has a pretty shitty time of it.

2) In particular, and speaking of home matters, cops shoot somewhere between 500 and 600 people a year in the US. In absolute terms, most of these dead people are former white people — though in the grave these distinctions vanish quickly. Importantly, however, in proportionate terms, a young black guy is on average a lot more likely to be shot than a young white guy. This is not an insignificant fact.

3) Therefore: Though most people have a pretty shitty time of it, some — and they are not difficult to identify — have an even shittier time of it than others.

This, in a nutshell, is the case for ‘privilege’ as a concept: most everybody has a shitty time, but some people’s times are shittier than others. For no good reason: they’re not lazier, they’re not less intelligent, they’re not less moral or conscientious.

Now my own inclination is to focus on the overall shittiness, and ask why we have to put up with it.

But the discourse of privilege focuses on the disparity — as if that were the problem, and the overall shittiness were unavoidable; it’s only a question of how we spread it around.

Well, in theory, the disparity could be fixed. We could encourage the cops, for example, to shoot more white people, so as reduce the disparity.

Or we could hold the number of shot white people constant, and try to bring the rate of shot black people down to the same level. That would also reduce the disparity, and would certainly be preferable to Plan A. Particularly from my white point of view. But it’s still a lot of dead people. Rather too many, I should say.

But really, who wants either of these outcomes?

This is why I think the discourse of privilege leads us down a rabbit hole. It presupposes that the quantum of misery is constant, and like a kind of perverse reverse Communism, seeks to ensure that everybody is equally miserable.

I have developed a tactic for responding to my friends who bring up the matter of white privilege. Since it’s usually in the context of police murders — again I mean, murders by cops, not of cops — I ask them, well, if you want to put an end to police shootings, why not disarm the police? Then they couldn’t shoot anybody, black or white.

So far I have not had a single response to this question, and I have asked it many times. It seems clear that my anti-privilege friends are still strongly in favor of state-sanctioned violence — as long as it’s levied with an even hand.

Cheerleading the uncontroversial

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I’ve been reflecting on the effusive tributes to the late (and by me, unlamented) Elie Wiesel. Of course it’s obvious enough why people like Madeleine Albright and Bibi Netanyahu and Abe Foxman and Hillary Clinton would have liked him, so we can set all that to one side, having assessed its value and consequence out to the fourth decimal place without even breaking a sweat.

What surprises me just a bit is the spontaneous wreath-laying by jes’-folks. Most of it, to be sure, is on Facebook, where the currency of feeling is seriously devalued, so maybe I’m breaking a butterfly upon the wheel here.

Of course — you know what’s coming — I Have A Theory.

My theory is that we enjoy fervor. We like being enthusiastic about things, and jumping on some jolly bandwagon, and rooting for the home team. And of course we enjoy the bracing, piney air of the moral high ground. But we mostly don’t like disagreement, and argument, and making other people mad: because we are nice people ourselves. (Well, not me, of course. But I mean normal people.)

So the solution is to get all fervent and dewy-eyed and shaky-voiced about matters on which no one disagrees: the Nazis were bad, child molesters are bad, and these characteristically American shoot-em-up amuckniks are really, really bad. Click ‘like’ if you agree.

Best of both worlds, right? We can wave the banners and chant the slogans and march through the streets, with a police permit in due form, and nobody will get in our face.