Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
They Said It:
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And bats with baby faces in the violet light
Whistled, and beat their wings
And crawled head downward down a blackened wall
And upside down in air were towers
Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours
And voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells.
In this decayed hole among the mountains
In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing
Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel
There is the empty chapel, only the wind’s home.
It has no windows, and the door swings,
T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land,” 1921.
THE POLITICS OF FEAR.
Throughout the Cold War, the Left accused the Right of exaggerating the communist threat for the purpose of advancing its totalitarian agenda, justifying overly-large expenditures for military preparedness, and providing an excuse for befriending right-wing dictators throughout the world.
Their reference point was the Nazis’ use of fear to justify and to build their Reich. In the Nazi’s case, it was fear of “the other,” namely the Jews and their alleged Communist allies. As Hermann Goring put it, “The people don’t want war, but they can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and for exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.”
In his famous/infamous commencement address at Notre Dame in the first year of his presidency, Jimmy Carter expressed his deep gratitude that, with his election, the nation was “now free of that inordinate fear of communism which once led us to embrace any dictator who joined us in that fear.”
With the end of the Cold War, this reproach against the Right abated somewhat. But immediately after 9/11, the Left began charging that the Right with using the threat from the Islamists for the same purpose. Interestingly, this charge quickly took on a decidedly anti-Semitic turn. Suddenly, the “neo-cons” – the Left’s code phrase for “Jews” – were the focus of its opprobrium. To the Left, the neo-cons were the new practitioners of the politics of fear, exaggerating the threat from radical Islam and using the fear of Islamist terrorism to buttress their own power and influence. All of which is to say that the Left warned Americans to be wary of the Jews, who told us to be wary of the Islamists, never quite grasping its own irrationality, its own prejudice against conservative Jews, or its own massive contribution to the politics of fear.
Today, unfortunately, we see those on the Left again making the case that anyone who offers any idea, notion, or policy proposal beyond the confines of center-Left orthodoxy is a shameful and despicable practitioner of fear-based politics. Donald Trump, they say, wants us all – white men in particular – to be afraid of Hispanics. There is no legitimate reason, as far they’re concerned, to be opposed to open borders and unrestricted immigration. And those who are afraid are merely angry and resentful, scared that their “era of privilege” is over and worried that they will be unable to compete in the new majority-minority America. As someone called William C. Anderson put it in a recent piece for the hard-Left Truth-Out.org recently put it:
Fear mongering has always been utilized to stir up patriotism and loyalty among US citizens. After all, as Trump told ”Fox & Friends” recently, he’s “just trying to make America great again.” The Republican Party plays into white fear in a very radicalized way, whether by telling white people that immigrants are coming to take their jobs or by telling them that lazy Black people on welfare are stealing their tax money. Playing into white fear is a very powerful political strategy. It’s something that has mass appeal for politicians globally.
We will admit that some of what the Left says about Trump rings true. After all, he made his first big splash in this campaign by accusing Mexico of intentionally sending rapists, murderers, and other violent criminals to the United States, a modern-day reprisal of the Mariel Boatlift. In the final analysis, though, what Trump says and what his supporters believe are two entirely different things. Immigration has long been a concern of American voters, both on the Right AND the Left. And no matter what the hard-core leftists at Truth-Out believe about conservatives being hateful and scared, a solid majority of Americans – Republicans AND Democrats – favor stronger immigration control and have for years. Whatever his motives, Trump did not cause or exacerbate any fear among the voters. Theirs has always been a more practical and earnest opposition to open borders than his, transcending anything he has ever said or done.
Most of those who support Trump do so not because they support his policies or his positions. Indeed, many do not even know his positons, and those who do know them tend to support him IN SPITE of, not because of those positions. Truth be told, Trump’s sole appeal is his LACK of fear, his willingness to take on the party establishment and the mainstream media, unconcerned about their implied threats to withhold funding or “bury” him with bad coverage. For all his other foibles, Trump has shown Republicans – and even some Democrats – the way forward this campaign season. Boldness, brashness, and fearLESSness are the themes of his campaign. As it turns out, he is the polar opposite of the caricature the media and the Democratic opposition have portrayed him to be. And that explains, in large, part why the media and the Democrats, not to say more conventional Republicans, have had such a difficult time evaluating and foreseeing his campaign’s progress. They want desperately for Trump to be deploying the politics of fear, since that would confirm their own prejudices about the angry white men and women in flyover country. Unfortunately for them, neither he nor they is complying terribly well.
Now, that’s not to say that “the politics of fear” plays no role in the present presidential campaign. It does. Indeed, if you pay any attention at all to the rhetoric employed in this campaign, you will likely notice that fear is, in fact, a critical part of the pitch used by at least a couple of the candidates. What’s interesting and telling, though, is that this fear-peddling is being practiced almost exclusively by the Left, and, moreover, it involves alleged domestic “enemies.”
It is no mere coincidence, we think, that when Hillary was asked last week at the Democrats’ first debate about the “enemy” she is most proud of having made over the course of her career, she answered “probably the Republicans.” Republicans are bad people, after all. They are not “opponents” or “rivals.” They are not adversaries or partners with different views. They are enemies. By contrast, the former Senator Jim Webb said that the Vietnamese solider who tossed a grenade at him was his enemy. Hillary said it was Mitch McConnell. And John Boehner. And Paul Ryan. And Mitt Romney. And the crowd applauded wildly.
Hillary wants Democratic voters to be scared of their fellow countrymen. She wants liberals to be absolutely terrified that the Republicans – that is to say their fellow AMERICANS – are going to take everything they hold dear from them. Sadly, however, when it comes to playing on voters’ fears, she is an amateur compared to her “democratic socialist” challenger Bernie Sanders. As the inimitable Kevin Williamson described last week just before the Democratic debate, Bernie stokes fear, and his supporters happily eat it up. To wit:
Senator Sanders I get, and I got in a minute, in that anybody who knows a little history knows the type. But the Sandersnistas mystified me. I think I’m starting to understand them.
Outside the Democratic debate tonight, on the Vegas Strip in front of the Wynn (perfect venue for the Democrats’ presidential debate, incidentally, full of daft old decrepit white people in thrall to base fantasies and willfully ignorant of the fact that the numbers are always against them) my personal two-minute survey found the Sanders signs outnumbering the signs for Herself 53 to 19. Most of the people I spoke with were (you will not be surprised) unionized government and health-care workers . . . Sanders already has won the endorsement of National Nurses United, and there was a big nurses-for-Sanders to-do before the debate.
The nurses all told basically the same story: They are doing fine for the moment, with a good union that secures for them good paychecks and good benefits. But they worry that the day after tomorrow something could suddenly change, that their hospitals and clinics will go under or be sold to evil hedge funds and that the terms of their employment will change radically for the worse, that their houses will for some reason be foreclosed on even though they’re current on all their payments, that college tuition will triple between now and the time their kids finish up at UNLV, that something bad is going to happen.
That’s the Sanders voter, and, I think, the Democrat at large: terrified. . . .
Over and over again: Sanders is on our side, Sanders will make them pay. Sanders hates who we hate.
As Williamson suggests, this is all about “punishment.” It’s all about taking power away from those who would take it away from us. It’s about beating them to the punch . . . because we know that they going to hurt us. We HAVE TO STRIKE FIRST!
In this fear and desire to strike out against “enemies,” we see history repeating itself. Williamson notes that anyone with even the briefest exposure to the past will see familiar patterns in all of this. History explains why Bernie Sanders’ desire to “punish” those who disagree with him is so strong; it explains why Hillary Clinton’s repeated promise to “fight” for voters is so perfectly typical; and it explains why the fearful masses have once again managed to find their way to these vengeful, “punishing” political figures. At times of social and economic upheaval in particular, people get scared, confused, and uncomfortable. And rightly so. Unfortunately, in their discomfort and fear they tend to gravitate toward those who promise retribution. And often times deliver it.
We saw this in the French Revolution. We saw it in the Russian Revolution. We saw it in Nazi Germany (and only the Left’s constant misunderstanding of National Socialism allows them to continue in their mistaken belief that this was somehow a Right-wing phenomenon). We saw it in the Chinese Revolution and again during Mao’s various purges. We saw it in the Killing Fields of Cambodia. We have seen it throughout the Middle East and especially in the rise of the post-Arab-Spring caliphate. We have seen it over and over again throughout history. Social and economic dislocation breeds fear, and this fear manifests itself as support for political and religious leaders who promise retribution and thus an end to or alleviation of said fear. Hanna Arendt put it this way.
A fundamental difference between modem dictatorships and all other tyrannies of the past is that terror is no longer used as a means to exterminate and frighten opponents, but as an instrument to rule masses of people who are perfectly obedient. Terror as we know it today strikes without any preliminary provocation, its victims are innocent even from the point of view of the persecutor. This was the case in Nazi Germany when full terror was directed against Jews, i.e., against people with certain common characteristics which were independent of their specific behavior. In Soviet Russia the situation is more confused, but the facts, unfortunately, are only too obvious. On the one hand, the Bolshevik system, unlike the Nazi, never admitted theoretically that it could practice terror against innocent people, and though in view of certain practices this may look like hypocrisy, it makes quite a difference. Russian practice, on the other hand, is even more “advanced” than the German in one respect: arbitrariness of terror is not even limited by racial differentiation, while the old class categories have long since been discarded, so that anybody in Russia may suddenly become a victim of the police terror. We are not concerned here with the ultimate consequence of rule by terror – namely, that nobody, not even the executors, can ever be free of fear; in our context we are dealing merely with the arbitrariness by which victims are chosen, and for this it is decisive that they are objectively innocent, that they are chosen regardless of what they may or may not have done.
The conventional wisdom has it that Bernie Sanders is the Democratic manifestation of the same phenomenon driving the Trump candidacy, which is to say a rebellion by voters against the party establishment. There is something to this, we think, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Bernie Sanders may be less of an insider than Hillary “I’ve Spent Every Day of the Last Quarter Century in Your Faces” Clinton, but he’s hardly an outsider. Sanders served four terms as the mayor of Burlington, eight terms as a U.S. Congressman, and is now halfway through his second term as a Senator. He first came to Washington two full years before Bill and Hillary Clinton did, which is to say that he’s not exactly the new kid.
In our estimation, Sanders has done so well this year in large part because he has been far better than anyone else at capturing the ethos of the post-Great-Recession Democratic Party. Sanders understands the concerns of the party’s base. He shares those concerns. He feels their fear and promises to stop it. In brief, Sanders understands full well that the contemporary Democratic Party is at war with domestic “enemies” of whom the party’s base is scared to death.
The Sanders campaign – and Hillary’s campaign to a large, though lesser extent – is part and parcel of our now five-plus-year-old “War for Resources” theme. As you may recall, in May of 2010, in a piece titled “Whelping the Dogs of War, Redux,” we posited that the next several years in American politics would be characterized by a battle over a relatively diminishing pool of government resources. The “Blue” model, we argued, could not continue forever, as it fell prey to demographic and fiscal reality. As a result, the nation would fight over the future allocation of those resources that remained, pitting Blue constituency against Red, but also Blue against Blue. Specifically, we wrote:
Gird your loins, ladies and gentlemen, and beat the drums of war. It is coming. As surely as the sun rises in the east and Bill Clinton digs interns, war is coming. And as war always is, it will be ugly and destructive. And when it’s over, everything will have changed.
This won’t be a war against a foreign aggressor or an existential and nebulous attacker. It will be a war within the states, a civil war. And like the previous civil war, it will pit brother against brother and father against son. The hostilities will rage for years and will destroy families, friendships, and maybe even governments. . . .
The proximate cause of this war – or wars, really – will be the inability of government to sustain itself in its current bloated condition. The fact of the matter is that government at all levels in this country has grown too large too fast and will simply be unable to maintain its massive girth. At current levels of taxation, there simply are not enough resources available to maintain the bloat that plagues the federal and especially the state and local governments. Something is going to have to give.
As for what will “give,” there are handful of possibilities. It is possible that the electorate will give (and give . . . …and give) in the form of substantially higher taxes. If this is the case, then the war will rage primarily between the public sector and the private sector, between the bloated Leviathan and the productive economy. Taxpayers will rebel. Governments will fall. Businesses will move. Jobs will be lost.
It is also possible that the operators of said governments will choose instead to make those within the public sector give, by compelling them to accept force reductions, lower wages, and reduced pensions and other benefits. In such a case, the combatants will primarily be government bureaucracies, fighting each other and fighting elected officials for the spoils – though it should be mentioned that there will be a great many innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire as well. Regarding this, we would do well to remember that Government exists to serve the community that established it, and when government suffers, as it most certainly will throughout this war, the community will suffer with it.
You want to know what that war looks like now that it’s fully engaged? As best we can tell, it looks an awful lot like a Bernie Sanders campaign rally. The mainstream notion that Republican voters are pathetic because of their fear of losing their privilege is almost laughable given the more patently obvious fear of losing privileges that is motivating nearly the entirety of the Democratic electorate. Who is voting for Bernie? Public-sector union members mostly, a few private-sector union members, and whole bunch of kids who are ticked off that they went to Yale and now can’t find work. Who is voting for Hillary? The corporatists who stand to benefit from her presidency as they’ve benefitted from her “charitable” foundation, the Democratic establishment fearful of losing power to the Republicans, and what’s left of the feminist movement – a bunch of women whose cri de coeur this election cycle centers on the potential loss of PUBLIC funding for the world’s largest abortion provider. The Democratic electorate is the “war for resources” in all its glory – unfortunately.
Republicans, of course, are not exactly immune from fear, anger, and participation in this war. What distinguishes the Republican warriors, though – people like the Tea Partiers – is that they’re going to war for fear of losing more of their own money, while the Sanders-Clinton Democrats are fighting over the public spoils, the money to which they believe they are entitled and for which they will battle to the death.
As history has shown and as the European public reaction to the migrant crisis again demonstrates, the politics of fear is real, it is powerful, and it is often quite deadly. In our original “war for resources” piece, we averred that “the ‘casualties’ in this war will be largely metaphorical.” We continue to believe that. But as we watch the Communists’ rise in Greece, the neo-fascists take power in central Europe, and various assorted reactionary movements make gains even in Switzerland and Scandinavia, we are reminded that metaphorical casualties are the exception where the politics of fear rears its ugly head, not the rule.
As Otto von Bismarck almost certainly never said: God watches over fools, drunkards, and the United States of America. We can only hope that remains the case as our Democratic presidential candidates once again play with fire.
NIHILISM AND SPREE SHOOTERS.
Just over a year ago, in a piece titled “Nihilism and Islamism,” we, fittingly enough, addressed the issue of nihilism in Western civilization and the effect that it has had on the young males of the West in their quest to mature into full-fledged men and to find meaning in their lives. As you may or may not recall, we outlined nihilism as follows:
Nihilism is a complicated and complex philosophical concept. The heart of it, though – both linguistically and metaphysically – is nihil, the Latin word for “nothing.” Nothing is real; nothing is important; nothing matters; nothing can be known; nothing is good; nothing is evil; nothing . . . well . . . is.
As any schoolboy knows, nihilism as a philosophical notion is most often associated with Friedrich Nietzsche, who notably pondered the concept, its causes, and its cures. We suppose we’ve bored you with enough of our thoughts on Nietzsche over the years, and so we’ll spare you a long and ponderous dissertation on his examination of nihilism. As luck would have it, such a dissertation is unnecessary anyway, since perhaps the most important impact of Nietzsche’s thoughts on nihilism was the effect that they had on Martin Heidegger, the 20thcentury German philosopher, Nazi backer, and patron saint of postmodernism.
Heidegger, through his interpretation of Nietzsche’s nihilism, effectively fashioned what we understand today as postmodern thought and especially postmodernism’s examination of reality, values, and truth. In brief, Nietzsche’s interpretation of the purpose of being and thus the value in being helped form the foundation of Heidegger’s “da-sein” (i.e. “being projected into Nothingness), which, in turn, helped form the foundation of postmodernism’s critique of objectivity and objective reality.
We went on from there to describe nihilism as a core facet of the Western crisis of confidence. We also explained, in turn, how this crisis of confidence was exacerbating the problem of Western jihadism, which is to say Westerners who turn to Islamism and Islamic terrorism as a means to mollify their search for meaning. Again, we wrote:
As we noted above, James Foley was executed by a man who spoke with a London accent and who was most likely a British citizen. British intelligence estimates that there are more British Muslims serving in the militia of the Islamic State than are serving in the British armed forces. Young men from all over the Western world – the United States, Canada, France, Australia, and especially Great Britain – have decamped to the Middle East to take part in the Islamic civil wars and to train for jihadi operations against their native lands. After 9/11, Americans, Brits, and others were told to be leery of suspicious characters. It will be infinitely harder to spot these characters when they look and sound just like everybody else.
The problem of the Western jihadist is likewise the problem of Western civilization. Western morality and even much of Western religion has devolved, over the last century or more, into little more than the complicit rationalization of contemporary values. The great moral tradition of the West has largely been jettisoned in favor of a contemporary, situational ethic, a moral system that values nothing so much as non-judgmentalism and which offers very little, if anything, by way of spiritual transcendence.
Confronted by this spiritual nothingness, many people, and many young men in particular, choose to forsake their decadent culture for something more traditional, something that offers a real and fixed belief system. All too often, those who are best at marketing and promoting the solidity of their beliefs also happen to have rather perverted and sadistic beliefs as well. All of which is to say that young men who are encouraged to believe in nothing often find themselves drawn instead to something. And that something is far too often a primitive and violent misinterpretation of reality.
We mention all of this today not because we want a pat on the back – although we do like pats on the back – but because we think that all of this has applications beyond the analysis of Islamic terrorism. Indeed, we think that this is all quite helpful in explaining, at least in part, another recent spate of radical, murderous violence, this time not in Iraq or Syria, but right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A.
The link between young men and violence has long been established and is about as close to proven as anything in the social sciences can be. Young men are prone to violence. And in every generation, a certain percentage of those young men are going to deviate from societal norms and become a rather serious threat to society and its stability. As a general rule, over the last couple of decades, crime has dropped significantly in this country, and violent crime has dropped even more. Crime waves that experts expected never materialized, and most of the nation’s biggest cities remained among the safest in the world.
At the same time, though, the incidence of young men turning to mass murder and committing heinous acts of violence nevertheless became a far more pronounced phenomenon, dominating the public consciousness and driving a political agenda. Unfortunately, this paradox – dropping crime rates but increased frequency of high-profile spree shootings – is explained at least in part by the fantasies that a handful of these young men create to compensate for the lack of real meaning or real human contact in their lives, to offset the nihilism that plagues their existence.
Psychologists who have studied violence in young men and especially young men’s willingness to forsake everything they know, everything they’ve been taught, and everything they might otherwise believe about right and wrong, say that there is a set of shared circumstances and “revelations” that link spree killers and self-radicalized terrorists. Faced with emptiness of their own lives, isolated from many of their contemporaries, and desperately in search of something substantive to give their lives meaning and purpose, young men – and especially young men who find refuge on the internet and in social media – tend to create fantasy lives for themselves, alternate realities in which they not only find the meaning and purpose they crave, but do so in heroic fashion.
The blogger and journalist Robert Beckhusen has written on this subject often, noting that the ties that bind spree shooters and self-radicalized terrorists are both numerous and consistent. Young men confronted by the social and spiritual emptiness of their lives and society, default to what is often called “heroic modeling,” or “heroic doubling,” which is to say that they take on a symbolic cause and kill not just to slake their own bloodlust, but to exact revenge for a whole class of people with whom believe they find common cause. Just after the spree shooting in Isla Vista, California in May of last year, Beckhusen interviewed, Roger Griffin, a professor of Modern History at Oxford-Brookes University in the UK and the author of Terrorist’s Creed: Fanatical Violence and the Human Need for Meaning. Griffin explained the phenomenon of “heroic doubling” and “symbolic” murder as follows:
[I]n the mind of the killer, they’re not just killing someone as the sole purpose of the destruction. They’re killing someone symbolic of something more general, which is also meant to send a message to the survivors.
What I theorize — is that what happens psychologically — the person has undergone a process whereby a rather confused, pained, ordinary self puts on a sort of mask, which turns them into an actor — or a protagonist — in a personal narrative drama. . . .
In his avatar double, he achieves the ability to run and fight. I believe that’s a very powerful metaphor for what happens in the process of heroic doubling. Because the person who’s previously felt impotent and had no agency . . . is made to feel potent and have agency returned to him by adopting this mission. So in that moment, he becomes a heroic version, or avatar, of himself.
This process of heroic doubling is fairly pronounced and consistent, among both spree-shooters and Westerners who join terrorist causes. Whether its Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris taking revenge on the “jocks” of the world; Christopher Harper-Mercer waging a personal war against Christians; Vester Flanagan/Bryce Williams, a “grievance collector,” fighting back against perceived repressors on behalf of his race and his sexual orientation; Dylann Roof trying desperately to start a race war; Elliot Rodgers specifically declaring his desire to seek “retribution” against the women who, in his mind, denied him love and sexual gratification; or radicalized Londoners attacking their own home city on 7/7/2005, the patterns and the fantasies are nearly the same. Young men, lost in a world of meaninglessness, fashion for themselves a fantasy war in which they are the heroes and thus perpetrate all too real violence against those whom they perceive as symbolic of the “enemy.”
We would argue, moreover, that it’s no mere coincidence that the earliest example of this “heroic doubling” cited by Professor Griffin is none other than the aforementioned Friedrich Nietzsche, the intellectual godfather of nihilism. “Nietzche,” Griffin says, “had this syndrome. He said the whole of history was divided into two phases: before me and after me. It’s very common, this over-estimation of who we are.” Or as Nietzsche himself put it:
I know my fate. One day my name will be associated with the memory of something tremendous — a crisis without equal on earth, the most profound collision of conscience, a decision that was conjured up against everything that had been believed, demanded, hallowed so far. I am no man, I am dynamite.
It is worth remembering, given this, that Nietzsche spent the last decade of his life in the grips of mental illness, the cause of which is still disputed. In any case, the whole business seems rather fitting.
Now, we know full well that the recent spate of high-profile spree shootings cannot be attributed to one single cause, and that the pathologies at work in the contemporary societal collapse are countless. Our point here is not to discount or dismiss any of the other potential sources of these pathologies, but rather to note one striking and appalling consistency. Like self-radicalized Western jihadis, American spree shooters are seeking refuge – and a perverted refuge to be sure – from the nihilism of their day-to-day existences. Society is crumbling, and this violence, sadly, is but one of the results.
Copyright 2015. The Political Forum. 8563 Senedo Road, Mt. Jackson, Virginia 22842, tel. 402-261-3175, fax 402-261-3175. All rights reserved. Information contained herein is based on data obtained from recognized services, issuer reports or communications, or other sources believed to be reliable. However, such information has not been verified by us, and we do not make any representations as to its accuracy or completeness, and we are not responsible for typographical errors. Any statements nonfactual in nature constitute only current opinions which are subject to change without notice.