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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Cultural Insanity Part III: Arrested Development and Agitated Senility

The relationship between leftists and Caliphate Islamists reminds me of an old joke:
Q. Why do little children and their grandparents have such a special and loving relationship?

A. They have a common enemy.

Those of you who, like me, are in “the sandwich generation” it will be especially obvious that the common enemy referred to is the responsible, working adults who take care of both the child and the grand parents. I offer this joke for two reasons. The first is as an introduction to the central point of this post which revises the concept of this Cultural Insanity series. The other reason is that it is a allusion to the plethora of issues having to do with my elderly parents and young children that have contributed to the unusual amount of time that have elapsed between my last post and this one.

I have been away for a while but I have also been busy. As I outlined in the first two posts of this series, I believe that Western Civilization is threatened by cultural pathologies both from within (the latest incarnations of the socialist/communist/progressive left) and from without (Caliphate Islam). I have also remarked that although the left and Caliphate Islam have virtually nothing in common and, in fact, have diametrically opposed values they share two things, a virulent hatred for western civilization and a problem with visualizing the future. These basics have not changed but I need to take this time to tell you about a major realignment of my underlying theory.

As I have been toiling at what I had envisioned as the last post of this series I have gotten some very important input from a few very astute commenters. They have helped me evolve my ideas on the fly. It is now clear to me that I will actually need four more posts after this one to bring this series to its full development. Each of the ensuing installments will focus on one of the four cornerstones of the program I envision to revitalize Western Civilization.

The most recent and galvanizing of these new influences came in the form of a very insightful comment from an anonymous but very perceptive person who comments under the name of MeTooThen. So that you don’t have to go look here are the lines of the comment that hit me the most directly:

“I'm not so sure BPD is the right fit.

Perhaps Narcissistic
Personality Disorder might be a better fit but in reality the personality
disorder of the left and the Islamists is what a former colleague called "A
dirty Axis-II" to describe the constellation of signs and symptoms.

There is much to the notion of Narrative and the Self in the world
today, especially with so much of our politics seemingly an extension of
identity.

It's also true that the Islamists and Leftists use the
identity or narrative of victim as a way to shape their intrapersonal and
interpersonal views.

Rarely do we hear that the Palestinians (or
Islamists) are the agents of their own behavior (Bret Stephens wrote a very
powerful essay about this, but I can't seem to find it), rather the vectors of
force and initiative are always acting upon them, e.g. Hamas' brutality is the
result of occupation.

Again, these are notions of Self and Narrative.”

Hmmm..., Narcissism and identity- narrative…, being compelled to feel and act in certain ways by powerful forces (imagined or real). Among the several bells this comment set off in my mind the loudest was a connection to a theme that I have come back to in my ruminations repeatedly but have always shied away from. In many ways, the behavior of the left is not so much an analog of mental illness more like an analog of normal human adolescence.

The Caliphateists are, in many ways like the senescent but imperious widow of a wealthy man. They know their days are numbered and that theY hold more power and wealth than they deserve. They are quick to take offence because they are not so stupid that they cannot see how futile and ineffectual they are. They are alternately (or even simultaneously) invincibly confident in their power to cause pain and menace, pathetically fearful on account of their vulnerability to the effects of time and, above all, humiliated by the obvious emptiness of their pose of power and the unearned nature of their wealth. They spend their tortured days in a defensive and agitated rage against the world that is passing them by.

Like a nightmare version of the doddering grandparents in the joke, the Caliphateists want to return to and live in the past- they long for the “good old days” when the Muslim empire was young, strong and spreading by the sword. They would like to obliterate the modern world and return to that simpler time when truth was proven at the point of a scimitar.

The leftist, like the unruly, sullen and ungrateful child in the joke, basks in the comfort and protection Western Civilization and even though he knows that it is that very same civilization which provides his food, safety, resources and most ironically, the protection of his rights, he looks down upon it with condescension and even contempt. Although he cries out for “everything to be different” and he expresses vile hatred. Deep inside he doesn’t really want to bring it down; he just wants to irritate and impede it from growing, improving and passing him by. He pretends to want to change it even as he depends on it to support his life. He lives in fear that the incompetent recesses (such as much of academia) where the left thrives will someday become part of the competitive marketplace and be made to respond to its evolutionary pressures.

In fact, if senile Islam and the idiot teenager of the left ever formulated and verbalized their separate visions of the future they would be so diametrically opposed that they would recognize each other as mortal enemies. The two are both so phobic of and in such denial about the future, though, that they, for the time being at least, allow their shared resentment of mainstream Western culture to be the foundation of an alliance between them.

Indeed the left, with its petulant attitude and specious attempts to undermine the moral and intellectual standards of our culture has always seemed to me to be behaving in a very similar way to a manipulative teenager.

Leftists indulge in startling feats of moral blindness that are redolent of adolescent immaturity. For example, when they equate, or even hold as morally superior, the Palestinian use of children as suicide bombers in the killing of innocent civilians to the Israelis’ occasional accidental killing of bystanders while eliminating known terrorist leaders, they, analogous to a bright but immature teenager have merely shown that they are capable of performing logical manipulation of ideas but have not gained the level of engagement with reality to be able to distinguish the moral values needed to fully understand what they are saying. When they ignore or reason away human nature and the economic realities of the world in order to advance the impractical and unworkable progressive (or social democratic or whatever other pseudonym they are hiding the essential socialism with this year) doctrine, they are engaging in the adolescent penchant for wanting to believe that the world could be fair and “nice” if only people would stop being the way they are. In short, he is aping the alienation and compensatory anger of a teenager. The leftist is often only saying the equivalent of “I hate you; you are so lame” -being angry, manipulative, moody, and verbally aggressive after the fashion of a confused teenager who has been allowed too wield much power in the family by an over-tolerant liberal parent.

So, the question arises: If there are more or less normal (in the sense of non-pathological) models for this behavior, does this mean that I no longer think that the left and the Caliphate represent Cultural Insanity? Not in the least- in fact this is even more scary than my original scenario. When thirty, forty and fifty-year-old people continue to behave and think like sixteen-year-olds and when a moribund, outmoded, unproductive culture like The Caliphate gets hold of the kind of underserved but vast wealth and power that oil has handed them it is a very abnormal situation and very serious harm is being done. When found in these new contexts, the usually irritating and counter-productive, sometimes infuriating and sometimes dangerous behavioral complexes of the adolescent and the senescent become dangerous both culturally and physically.

The good news is that it would seem as though these twin models of arrested development and agitated senility offer more promising and intuitively accessible paths to resolution than the ones based upon either Borderline Personality, Narcissistic Personality Disorder or even Dirty Axis II. In the next four posts I will be offering four distinct approaches of what might be called Civilizing Cultural Therapy that can provide an antidote for the anti-civilizational poison we are fighting. The Story, dealing with the power of personal narrative as a civilizing influence, is the first of them, (I hope to have that up by next Monday or Tuesday) Science, God and Law will follow.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Cultural Insanity Part II The Cultural Analog

On April 23rd 1891 the Jews of Moscow were expelled from that city and forced to resettle in the pale of settlement. It was one more pogrom added to the endemic but accelerating European anti-Semitic assault that reached its horrific climax fifty years later.

In the seventy years since my great grandfather Nathan Channen’s death, a tattered piece of paper, the remnant of an official form of Imperial Czarist Russia, has been passed down in my family. His daughter, my paternal grandmother, gave it to my father back in 1975 and a few months ago my father gave it to me. None of us ever had any idea what it was. Last week I finally got this ragged piece of paper to a good friend of mine who is a native Russian speaker. He and his wife kindly translated as much of this archaic and fragile document as they could. Here is what we have learned from that paper.

On June 6th of 1891, forty four days after the pogrom in Moscow began, Nachum Khannina, journeyman tailor, applied to the Russian authorities of the Vitebsk Gubernia in what is now Belarus for permission to travel to an unspecified location to complete his training and receive his certification as a master tailor.

The physical identification was oddly antique because of its descriptive categories, but then they didn't have digital photography to embed in the document back then.; Age: thirty-three years, Height: indecipherable, Eyes: brown, Hair: black , chin: medium, Nose: moderate, Face: clean. His wife Sarah and two daughters Rivka and Maiva are listed as well.

The paper specifically states that if he was not back in Vitebsk at the end of six months he would suffer penalties under the law. In Czarist Russia, Jews could not move about freely either on personal visits or business travel. They had to purchase official permission to do so. This, now bedraggled, piece of paper, for which he paid 85 kopecks, was the means by which Nachum took his wife and daughters out of Vitebsk never to return. I say this with confidence because another document I received from my father at the same time as he gave me this one is a legal deed, dated November 4, 1894, to two seats in the The Baldwin Place Synagogue in the North End neighborhood of Boston. According to the deed the seats cost him one hundred dollars which was a great deal of money in those days for a recent immigrant to pay. If, only three years after the permission was issued, he was settled in Boston and prosperous enough to pay one hundred dollars to purchase synagogue seats he must have left immediately upon receiving it. Under their new Anglicized names Nathan and Sophia Channen, founded an American family that would eventually include five daughters and two sons. One of those girls was my father’s mother- my grandmother.

This newly found window into my family’s history has been on my mind as I have been composing my ideas for this second installment in my Cultural Insanity series. I have not been able to shake it loose from the ideas that I am percolating about culture and how it affects people and their lives. When he left Czarist Russia one hundred sixteen years ago, my great grandfather was a man who had been born and raised into the beleaguered Jewish community that had a culture that was very distinct from the larger Russian culture surrounding it. That larger Russian culture, ruled by an aging monarchy, was so afraid for its own future that it had virtually invented the institution of the secret police force which focused on political repression. If you had asked him, Nachum might have simply said he was escaping persecution and seeking a better life for his family; but he was also voting a referendum on the moribund Russian culture and on the vigorous and confident culture of The United States of America.

Two Hundred and Seventy years earlier, in 1620, the very year The Pilgrims landed and founded Plymouth colony, Sir Francis Bacon wrote in his Novum Organum, of the natives of the Americas (which he calls New India), “There is a startling difference between the life of men in the most civilised province of Europe, and in the wildest and most barbarous districts of New India. This difference comes not from the soil, not from climate, not from race, but from the arts.” By arts Bacon clearly was referring to the same arts that are among the “arts and Sciences” taught in Liberal Arts Colleges. The arts Bacon is talking about together make up what anthropologists call culture.

1620 was a momentous year because in the very instant that Bacon was rightly pronouncing the superiority of the European culture, the seeds of a more vigorous and open scion of that culture were being sown on that wild but fertile shore. In the two hundred and seventy years between 1620 and 1891, the new culture had taken root and had become a magnet for a tidal wave of new Pilgrims. Nachum was only one drop of humanity in a flood that was cascading out of all of the “civilised provinces” of Europe and swelling the urban centers and farm lands of the new world with wave upon wave of enterprising and courageous immigrants. The thing they shared above all was confidence in and commitment to the future.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary lists three entries for the word pilgrim.

1. one who journeys in foreign lands : nomadic
2. one who travels to a shrine or holy place as a devotee
3. capitalized : one of the English colonists settling at Plymouth in 1620
That last one, I would broaden to include every soul who has come to America to have a better life, and every Israeli who has escaped persecution and death in Europe, all of the Islamic countries, The former Soviet Union and almost everywhere else to be free and to contribute to the American future. The other two are mere manifestations of chaos and atavism.

Before the American Experience there were only two meanings of the word pilgrim and they both began with the lower case “p”. Now there are three and the American Pilgrim is redefined every time a new soul arrives here in the USA or in Israel.

This brings us to the threshold of a new understanding of what the left and Islam have as a common cause against America, Israel and The West. Up to this point I have concentrated on the similarities between The Left and the Islamists. As important as it is to understand those similarities, we cannot solve the dilemma they put us in without looking at the ways in which they differ. Ironically, the only way to highlight those differences is to point out one last, critical similarity. That is, that they are both afraid of and at war with the future.

Now, it is true that to conceal this fear (even from themselves) both groups put up a brave front by claiming to be “the wave of the future”. Communists and socialists, of course, have always presented themselves as the avant-garde. From the theses of Marx, to the perpetual revolution rhetoric of the Russians and the Chinese, to the presumptive (and pathetically hopeful) appellation “Progressive” that much of today’s European and American left has adopted as its title, the left has always presumed that their ideas and practices would sweep away the “old order” and bring in a new and finer age of political, economic and social equality. But we have seen that whenever a leftist government has been in control, change has immediately become the enemy, a new, more exclusive ruling class has arisen and extraordinarily harsh measures have been used to repress individual initiative and thought. That same fear of the future is what turns liberal western politicians into “control freaks”. It fuels their desire to give the government control over all aspects of life. They want government health care, to make government the monitor of the balance of conservative and liberal conversation on the broadcast media, to call on government to become the enforcer of racial preferences on hiring and educational opportunity, it even (in Massachusetts, any way) wants the government to specify and police the fat content of perfectly edible foods. It is the atavistic fear of the future that desires the government to control the distribution of wealth and resources.

The left’s fear of the future results in paralysis. The logical extension of those creeping government controls is a soviet-like, centrally controlled economy, and history has shown that to be a failure. It was that very central management of the economy and the stagnation it created, not any internal political heresy or subversion, that caused the Soviet Union to fall apart. The leftists paralyze themselves politically with their cultural relativism and the illusion that they can create equality in an unequal world. They are unable to make value judgments on cultural cornerstones such as family, education, morality and ethics because they are mired in intellectualized, multicultural “non-judgementalism”. They have no way forward because they have prohibited themselves from favoring any one course over another- or even considering what the differences might be. Their ethos is one of an intellectually nomadic existence, wandering from one platitudinous, ineffectual idea to the next.

As long as the leftmost “progressives” are a tiny minority this might seem a harmless, if perverse, pastime. But they are never content with strangling and avoiding their own future. They are convinced that everyone must be forced to participate in their dystopian dream. The left is always attempting to force others to share their unproductive illusions. They take a particular interest in becoming educators and trying to bend, fold and mutilate the children of others into becoming the vanguard of the new social order of stagnancy they aspire to. My post about the “progressive” teachers who banned their classes from playing with Legos because, “the children were building their assumptions about ownership and the social power it conveys — assumptions that mirrored those of a class-based, capitalist society — a society that we teachers believe to be unjust and oppressive” shows how they take normal childhood behavior and turn its energy not into a productive learning experience but a pedantic inquisition into thought crimes.

They don’t seem to know who they are, really. They deny that they are children of this culture. They do not seem to recognize that they owe their education and freedom of expression to this culture. They keep themselves assiduously ignorant of the fact that no other culture in the history of the world was ever as free as ours, and that their pose as perpetual social gadflies and Cassandras would have landed them in prison or mental asylums in most other cultures. They are in total denial that is that very “ownership and social power” that they detest that has given them the opportunity to work with (and attempt to indoctrinate) the children of gainfully employed, productive citizens. This is a classic example of the dissociation of a borderline personality expressed in the cultural dimension. How else could a human being of at least average intelligence (many of these lefties are very intelligent) propose the least successful, most class-based (the ruling class in a communist system decides everything by fiat) and repressive system known in modern times as a “better alternative” to the most successful and freest one. Remember that the definition of Borderline Personality Disorder is, in part; “(3) self-image, (4) identity, and (5) behavior, as well as a disturbance in the individual's sense of self. In extreme cases, this disturbance in the sense of self can lead to periods of dissociation.”

The western left seems always to be behaving as if they want to tear down the government and the culture that supports it while not admitting to the knowledge that were there to be a change of regime, even a leftist one, the vast majority of them would be among the very first to be purged, imprisoned or marginalized by whatever autocratic or totalitarian regime arose in its place. They are literally sitting on the limb that they appear to be trying to saw off. Either they have supreme confidence that nothing they do will actually cause the bough to break they are simply so blinded and consumed by their fear of the future, they are blind to the kind of future they would bring down on themselves if they were successful. They clearly do not feel at home in their own culture and have no clear idea of what their new home might look like if they could move to one or build it themselves. They only know what they hate (Bush, capitalism, ownership, power, competitiveness, patriotism and meritocracy, etc...) about this one. They really seem to be happiest knowing that the culture they despise will not hurt them, nor will it expel them thereby forcing them to fend for themselves in other, less hospitable, societies. They are homeless, nomadic foreigners in their own homeland. Which, in a cultural sense, is the first definition of pilgrim (with a lower case “p”): one who journeys in foreign lands: nomadic

As for the Islamists, their primary goal is to restore the ancient Caliphate. They want a Caliphate, not just in the old local incarnation, they want to extend it world wide. They want the entire world to be ruled under Sharia Law. Sharia Law is, in fact, a system designed not just to petrify the present but to return the world to the illusory erstwhile glory of that bygone era. It is also a cannily designed system to thwart the evolution of new ideas about and interpretations of the Koran and other Islamic texts. It also attempts to curb social change by mandating bloody forms of capital punishment for moral and ethical decisions that express the powerful pull of personal liberty and choice such as, apostasy(a broadly defined catchall including merely disagreeing with the local Imam), marriage to a non-Muslim, pre-marital sex (or even the accidental appearance of the opportunity of having pre-marital sex), that are not even considered to be questionable behavior anymore in enlightened western countries. It especially seeks to control women. It proscribes their sexuality. It governs their child bearing. It forces them to dress and behave as will-less, personality-less ciphers. With laws decrees, customs, strictures and bans it mutilates them, holds them captive, demeans them and sanctions their murder but above all it denies them the ability to modernize and moderate the culture.

Even worse than the way it enslaves women, the way Islam warps, abuses and destroys the life of its children is the clearest manifestation of this fear. I have already written my testimony of how a child of five went to Iran as a typical American boy and came back with homicidal ideas about my own daughter . I have also written about the plight of children in Islam in general here. The use of children for suicide missions has been an acknowledged problem for many years. Even Amnesty International has noticed and commented on the Arab/Islamic/Iranian practices of turning children as young as nine years old into weapons platforms and minesweepers in military and paramilitary operations. The evidence of the warping and perversion of the innocence of their children is obvious but its implications still need to be explored.

The torture, murder and betrayal of children guarantees a sterile future. A world in which it seems desirable to poison the hearts of its children with hatred and bigotry is a world that is in open warfare with its own future. it will insure its own demise. When a society sacrifices its children and the children of those it claims as enemies it is a sure sign that any true connection with the future is severed. It is burning the hearts and minds of its children the engine that powers its movement- how can they grow up to desire anything but destruction? The horrors of the Soviet Union lasted three generations. Hitler’s burned out in less than one. However long the fires of Islamist hatred will blaze, it must eventually run out of fuel.

In the meantime the highest goal of their lives is not progress toward a better life but the yearning for a return to a golden age of Islamic hegemony that was only golden in retrospect. It was a time of internecine conflict and bloody conquest in the name of Allah. They act this out symbolically every year by performing the Hajj to world wide gathering of the faithful who, at least once in their lives, spare no expense bear sometimes unbelievable hardship and travel thousands of miles to visit the ancient shrine in Mecca- the second definition of pilgrim is “…one who travels to a shrine or holy place as a devotee...”. I would add that this is a manifestation of the desire to avoid the future and crawl back into the womb of the past.

Søren Kierkegaard wrote:
"He who fights the future has a dangerous enemy. The future is not; it borrows its strength from the man himself, and when it has tricked him out of this, then it appears outside of him as the enemy he must meet."

The set of shared cultural symptoms that I identified in the first post of this series derive their compelling force from this one primal fear. The twisting, prevaricating and fulminating that the left and the Caliphate Islamists indulge in is primarily motivated by it.

Although they both have chosen to fight the future, they have very different solutions to the problem. The left's pilgrimage is an aimless wallowing in the undifferentiated present- a kind of holding action in which obfuscation of true values and arbitrary non-goals take the place of real values and lofty aspirations. The Caliphatist on the other hand, is in a desperate pilgrimage to the sacred, mostly imaginary and inaccessible past.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said
“The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”
This is a profound observation. It captures the very essence of the problem with the left. Culture, you see, is the supra-organism that human beings have evolved in tandem with for the last four million years. It is the totality of the behavior, values, traditions, norms and technology of a group of humans by which it adapts to and changes in response to its environment. Culture changes organically when external conditions change or when the people within it develop new capabilities. Culture is the way that human societies survive in this constantly changing universe. Every cultural decision is in some sense critical because it affects the survivability of the culture. Law making in the American system is a messy but effective genius system. In it the conflicting factions of the nation meet in a contest to prove out what new direction or preservation of an old one is most healthy for the body politic. The danger is over-legislation in which unnecessary changes may be instituted to the detriment of all.

When liberals attempt to change culture with legislation there is a great danger that they are merely trying to hide from the future. I believe The fairness Doctrine is a perfect example of this defensive reaction in action. The manifest failure of liberal and leftist talk radio is discomforting to them but instead of learning from the fact that the flaccid, obfuscatory aversions of liberal talk shows cannot hold an audience and the cold logic, incisive wit and common sense conservative idea mongers on conservative radio have attracted large and loyal ones the are trying to institute mandatory boredom in the form of equal attention for liberal ideas. This, of course, will only result in turning frustrated listeners away from radio altogether and into the shelter of streaming audio on the web and satellite radio. They will become Intellectual Pilgrims. The liberal belief that the adaptive process of cultural change can be controlled and directed by making laws is no less short-sighted than the Caliphate’s belief in force.

I am going to presume to guess that if Mr. Moynihan were alive today, he might have added a third sentence to the above quote. I’d like to think that sentence would go something like this: “The central truth of Caliphate Islam is that culture comes from God, is prescribed in the Koran (as interpreted by whatever mullah or despot wields the most power) and must be conformed to that prescription by any means necessary including terror, intimidation and murder.”

Cultures that cannot adapt have a limited lifespan. That is why, up until the 1960’s the original Caliphate had been withering on the vine for several centuries. In fact, it had all but disappeared. The infusion of Oil wealth and the self-serving policies of the Arab oligarchs have temporarily revived it but it is far too brittle and ignorant a system to survive long.

Here is an odd little bit of symmetry: That little piece of paper, my great grandfather used as his declaration of independence from the Czar, was written out by a minor functionary of an already moribund regime 115 after Thomas Jefferson wrote the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 and 115 years before I started this blog, which places him precisely half way between the document that expressed the cultural aspiration of the new nation and today.

Nathan Channen was a true upper-case Pilgrim. He was, in fact, one of the multitude that broadened and elevated the original name Pilgrim. He came here to America and with his love of the freedom he found here, his honest labor, his love of family and his devotion to his God and he helped to build the nation that Jefferson did so much to launch. I never met him but I know that his daughter (my grandmother) was a woman of heart, insight, valor and generosity of spirit and I know that such traits do not just appear in people, it arises from family and culture.

I have, I know, presented a kaleidoscope in this long, rambling post so permit me one last paragraph to tie it up. When, in my first Cultural Insanity post, I said that the left and Caliphate Islam suffer from the cultural analog of Borderline Personality Disorder I meant to try to explain behavior that I find inexplicable. In writing this post I have learned that BPD is a good scale model for something that I am tempted to call Cultural Dissociation. Culture functions in the best interest of the people within it when it promotes a healthy and comfortable life in the present. The only way to do this is to learn from and value the past while welcoming and adapting to the future. When some aspect of the culture like religion, ideology or phobia short-circuits the clear-eyed evaluation of alternatives and options, the culture becomes dissociated. There are ways to repair that dissociation.

In my next post I will go back and retrace the phenomenal success of the west and explore what it can teach us about the values and ideas that we need to get through the present crisis and continue to welcome the future.

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