The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
9.4 (Fall 2009)
the polis in crisis
If A, Then B: Straight Answers in Twisted Times
Peter T. Singleton
In these days of incessant spin and cynical repetition of patent lies for the camera, it is often instructive to clear away all the clutter and start from Square One. What I have in mind is such an effort. I do not propose a partisan assessment of our nation’s current critical state; rather, I aspire to analyze that crisis in a series of straightforward questions whose responses neither side of the political aisle could reasonably challenge. While my own position belongs distinctly to one side, I intend to present the issues with such clarity that the other will not reject my portrayal of its motives and its Weltanschauung—not in its heart of hearts, though it may not affect my terms for representing itself to the general public.
The portrayal, I stress, is my ultimate objective. Praesidium is not and cannot be, under its charter, a politically partisan journal, and its focus has always been particularly literary. Literature is very much occupied with the study of character, however, and the spirit of the times so important to understanding literature, history, and philosophy certainly does not bypass politics in its meanders. To whatever extent my portrait may be political, then, I beg to point out that it is far more psychological. Political convictions do not shape personality: personality, alas, seems to shape political convictions.
My procedure below is to offer a series of critical questions as they flow one from its predecessor, all of them frequently posed by thinking people today. Yet the quick and, in some ways, most obvious answer represented by A is seldom the whole truth, and often just a fragment of the truth. The “if A, then B” syllogism evoked in my title, then, refers not to the two answers for each question, but—more implicitly—from the sequential arrangement of the questions. That is, if a puzzling question is answered with a thorough rather than a shallow response, one is inexorably led to another question; and if this question, too, is answered competently and honestly, to another. Eventually one arrives at the door of certain inescapable truths.
Query: Why can intelligent adults not understand that our nation is bankrupt? The concept of debt is not an airy abstraction; and while some ranking congressmen apparently cannot distinguish between thousands and millions (leading one to suppose that the number “trillion” must have no more meaning to them than “a google”), everyone appreciates that the debt owed by the U. S. is immense.
Answer A: The question’s major premise is false. A significant proportion of adults making national policy has inferior intelligence. Wealth, connections, celebrity, and membership in a minority strongly represented in a given electoral district have combined in various formulas to elect many a fool.
Answer B: The question’s premise is not sufficiently false to justify its dismissal. Most representatives are not complete fools; therefore, they do understand we have fallen into a financial oubliette. More than that, they understand that even the discredited John Maynard Keynes would not recommend deficit spending of gargantuan proportions, and they are aware that Weimar-like consequences will follow hyperinflation if we simply print Monopoly money to pay creditors. The true answer to the question, then, can only be that these same leaders, though aware of the nation’s peril, are unmoved by it.
Query: Why would elected representatives who understand the nature of the imminent disaster continue to court it by spending yet more money? How can they be unmoved by this looming cataclysm?
Answer A: They desire selfish, short-term profit—that is, they are corrupt. As long as they can bribe foolish electors with fantastical promises while redirecting public funds to nepotistic enterprises and arranging shady quid-pro-quo’s with foreign brokers, they consider their career a great success. They are so devoid of principle that they have no inkling of true public service. Dog eats dog in this world, and they have positioned themselves high on the food chain.
Answer B: The previous answer, popular as it is, remains unsatisfying. It is doubtful that most elected leaders will get much wealthier by making (or selling) laws than they could have gotten by exploiting existent laws in private practice. Besides, the imperiling of the nation is a risky business: when its institutions come toppling down, the most formidable evil genius in the world will scarcely be able to have placed his interests firmly out of harm’s way. Far more likely is that these leaders actually, actively wish to subvert the nation’s political institutions for reasons held with strong conviction—perhaps even with irrational passion. A subversive motive, of course, does not preclude a venal one. A “leader” would probably not hesitate to get-rich-quick under the table if doing so furthered the demise of what he viewed as a wicked, irredeemable system.
Query: Why would someone who regarded his nation’s political system as irredeemably wicked run for public office? Why would anyone adopt the elaborate manners and arcane rites of a group he detested to the core?
Answer A: The classic case would be of the sort represented in the brilliant but ill-starred film (whose release was stymied by the Kennedy assassination), The Manchurian Candidate. That is, a person would put himself up for election because he was the operative, either paid or brainwashed, of a foreign power inimical to his own country’s interests.
Answer B: Clearly we are not dealing with a vast onslaught of “moles” planted years ago by Vladimir Putin. (For that matter, Putin is no Brezhnev: he has been severely critical of the present push to socialize our GNP.) These servants of the common weal must truly believe that their nation’s political and economic system deserves to suffer Humpty Dumpty’s fate, and that they are indeed serving the greater public good by ruining institutions which that public, in its presently benighted state, fatally respects. Subversion becomes a moral imperative under these circumstances. Would you attempt to reason with and win the votes of the mesmerized masses in Invasion of the Body-Snatchers, an earlier flick highly symbolic of how progressivism views the idiot middle class?
Query: Yet how could any thus public-spirited person so loathe the government of the United States, which—for all its faults—remains the most representative government on earth? In favor of what dismal dictatorship would these ideologues want to destroy our freedoms?
Answer A: The ideologue in question is a monarchist. It is universal representation, precisely, that he sees as the great evil. Though he may choose to call his king a Führer—or, better yet, a First Citizen—he really longs for a return to a medieval hierarchy.
Answer B: The previous answer is perfectly logical—it just doesn’t describe the kind of person involved with statistically high probability. Though a few brain-teased politicians may resolve to make themselves kings, at any rate, our ideologue usually sees himself very much as a champion of the people. He hates inherited privilege and pecking orders that leave the masses out in the cold. He would like to abolish all inheritance, in fact, and collect all income for equal redistribution to every citizen. He is what was once called a “leveler”. That he is actively engaged in subverting the people’s expressed will (as interpreted through elections as well as polling) and creating a socio-economic havoc most ruinous to small enterprises and blue-collar laborers is but a temporary paradox. The odious machine has to be brought down before a bright new machine may be erected in its place. In this light, the degree of enfranchisement in the U. S. relative to other existing nations is of no consequence. The real choice, to our ideologue, is not between a capitalism-based republic and some state-run oligarchy in Cuba or Sweden or the PRC (China): it is between a somewhat free system stagnating in crass prosperity and the ideally free system possible in the future, if only the old leadership can be eliminated and the masses shaken from their inertia.
This person, in short, is a visionary, and proud of it. He does not judge realities on the basis of current alternatives, but on the basis of alternatives yet to be created. True progress, to him, is to create new realities.
Query: All the same, it seems extravagant to claim that the people don’t know their own will when, in the United States, they enjoy more free speech than in any other nation in the world’s history. How can this ideologue suppose that the minds of people far and wide are being held in thrall when the rankest pornography and the most vitriolic Philippics find their way into the public sphere with ease?
Answer A: Appearances notwithstanding, a vast conspiracy in fact denies significant minorities their right to free speech. Racial and ethnic minorities cannot dispose of the dollars available to white society, and women have historically been refused not only lucrative employment but also positions of decision-making. The illusion of a society wide-open to expressions of all kinds is itself a myth created by the ruling majority.
Answer B: Whatever truth resides in the previous answer has been twisted. In fact, minority voices are suppressed only to the extent that they support the mainstream—for “angry voices” are so sought-after by progressivist broadcasters (who dominate all media but the Internet) that their protests are magnified perhaps dozens of times above their actual volume. As much as the ideologue may prefer Answer A, then, the more profoundly correct answer in the context of his thinking (for he cannot but admit that incidents like the Duke Lacrosse team’s “gang raping” of a stripper and the “racial profiling” of Professor Skip Gates are embarrassing overplays) remains the “zombie” one. That is, Americans of both majority and minority demographics are imprisoned in paradigms which must be broken from the outside. Of what good is it to give free speech to a robot? He will only repeat his programming. “Free” citizens need to be reprogrammed so that they know how to express feelings and ideas conducive to communal harmony and global responsibility rather than driven by the competitive crudity and one-up egotism of the capitalist.
Query: Yet as was just observed, the broadcast media are themselves a hotbed of progressive ideology. How can the project of reprogramming the nation’s people be brought to fruition under any circumstances when our communication and education establishments have already vastly endorsed it and still popular will remains retrograde?
Answer A: Certain media (FOX News, talk radio), though in a statistical minority, exert a hugely disproportionate influence upon the masses. The rank and file, already brainwashed, seek out these few media outlets that confirm their brainwashing. The more veracious and numerous outlets thus do not have a fair chance to prevail: the Old Guard’s seeds have been allowed to germinate for too long.
Answer B: As with the first answer to the previous query, Answer A directly above is what the progressive ideologue likes to tell himself and others on occasions offering but a sound-bite or two. The true answer is far more deeply embedded in his ideology—so deeply that, though he clings to it with conviction, he would unearth it for unhallowed eyes to see only with the greatest reluctance. This deep truth is that the broadcast media and public schools, being only two institutions, remain heavily outgunned by the rest of America’s social structure. Such institutions as the nuclear family and mainstream Christianity constantly emit their propaganda, and a few hours of school per day (what child ever listens to TV news?) give little hope of countering the pervasive toxic effect upon the young. Were a politician to campaign openly on a platform of abolishing marriage and the church, he would stand no chance whatever of winning the votes of these sadly benighted masses. Instead, he must dress his attacks in terms of securing equal status for gay marriage and free child-care for single-parent families. The eventual dissolution of the nuclear family would create a vacuum to be filled by a benign government—the missing father figure, the Big Brother (without his bitter Orwellian ironies). The eventual abolition of the church, as well, would remove one of the few immense obstacles to communal cohesion around a specified set of government objectives.
Query: So how will the nation’s bankruptcy affect these deeply embedded institutions? The departing point of these questions was how the United States’ economic crisis could be so fiercely exacerbated by those entrusted with keeping the nation functional. Now we find that this crew of subversives dreams of a society brighter than anything the world has ever known—of heaven on earth. How will creating massive default on international loans and/or the production of runaway inflation defeat America’s bedrock institutions while leaving firm ground under the progressive’s feet?
Here I will take leave of my alternative-answer format and simply enumerate some of the more transparent ways that financial collapse would further a socially revolutionary agenda.
a) People seldom plan marriages when they are struggling to make ends meet. As the economy worsens, the marriage rate will almost certainly drop. Existing marriages will probably also dissolve at an accelerated rate, for financial stress is among the leading factors implicated in divorce.
b) As the public sector grows, it will be able legally to regulate religious expression into virtual invisibility. I referred to this development just above, and it is inevitable, given the legal risk involved simply in displaying a Christmas tree on public property. The state clearly intends to minimize such expressions.
c) An economic crisis will precipitate civil unrest as people find themselves unable to pay their bills and feed their children. As Ortega y Gasset noted almost a century ago, the masses always riot outside the baker’s shop on these occasions as if he were the culprit. Police will be called in to protect innocent victims. Behind the scenes, the catastrophe’s designers will be able to declare martial law and then proceed with their “extreme make-over” of society unobstructed.
d) Insolvency will leave the nation at the mercy of the few surviving solvent powers: the PRC springs to mind. China, of course, comes close to modeling the kind of society which our ideologue desires us to have. An increasing fusion of the two nations would ensue as the U. S. auctioned off armaments and defensive systems for which it no longer had any need.
e) An economic crisis would also enhance the acceptance of abortion and euthanasia, along with various programs of population control employing them. There would be too many “unnecessary” mouths to feed. This development would delight the progressive, who desires not only to “save” the planet from humans but also to “perfect” the human into a highly efficient, healthy, and long-lived composite being infused with nanobots.
It would be extravagant to claim that any particular progressive ideologue has thought through all of these eventualities. Most have probably not fully pondered even one. They may ease their restless minds, for instance, with the reflection that an economic collapse will at least reduce human pollution to a fraction of its current levels (in my experience, the favorite of all rationalizations). Yet however aware or unaware the ideologue may be of the catastrophe’s long-term effects, it is important that we recognize the following two characteristics of his thought-pattern.
First, the truth is evolving. Keeping promises is not a high priority. If you tell me that I may rent your house for a year, the contract can scarcely be considered binding should I use threats to make you offer the deal or should the house be found to sit upon a gold mine. So it is with every promise made in every human society. People use implicit, even unconscious power structures to get their way, while other people can only bow and smile and yield. All moral systems are but more or less wobbly constructs thrown up to keep the powerful in power. God is a childish fiction which we have long outgrown, so there can be no metaphysical imperative to honor one’s word. Promises, rather, are made for the day, and the new day’s surprises actually compel their revision—morally compel it—inasmuch as the destiny of human beings is to continue with their evolution. How could you be bound by a contract to live in a tree after caves and fire have been discovered?
Opponents who wax indignant against the progressive for breaking promises, then, are wasting their breath. They must understand that the ideologue is a person of principle, and that principle calls for the timely release, no matter how painful, of previous obligations when they stand in the way of the next step forward.
Second, there is no compromise possible with the progressive ideologue. His adversaries may recognize in him a fervor of conviction that they admire, and they may thereby be moved to extend concessions to him. This generous motion of the heart is entirely misguided. The ideologue’s principles underscore that society must keep driving forward and ever forward: hence the conceding of a point or two will not win any gratitude from him, but only focus his attention on the next two or three points of controversy. Within his system, he is morally obligated not to quit. To compromise with him is to lose, and utter collapse will most likely be born of a long sequence of compromises.
This romantic figure (and it is the romance which attracts many young adherents to progressivism) bears little resemblance to yesteryear’s liberal. The classic liberal desired liberty: ordinary people deserved to enjoy the same basic choices in their lives as society’s most pampered. The progressive, however, is quickly losing his interest in the ordinary person. The masses overpopulate and pollute, they consume with vulgar and uncritical materialism, and they seldom contribute anything to the advancement of the species. Their fate in the new progressive state is to be “managed” until they no longer menace the environment and draw resources away from forward-looking projects to feed their pullulating broods.
I believe that genuine liberalism yet remains alive within the progressive movement: that is, I believe that it is still possible to shock the more naïve ideologues with visions of what their brethren have in mind. The technological arm of this movement most definitely foresees a culling of unproductive members from society (an aspiration by no means hard to find, as well, among those who claim to belong to the Right). New dividing lines may at last take shape between the aisles, with those wanting to draw out mankind’s latent potential on one side and those wanting to recreate mankind as a well-oiled, invincible machine on the other. Whether the ideological portion of our society will wake up to the human-scorning faction within its own ranks in time to resist the devastation of all we currently have is very doubtful. The callow progressive will more likely open his eyes upon sterilization programs and brain implants as if he had stumbled into a hidden room, and his shock will be of no value to himself or anyone else by that point. Better simply to love him as a child and resist his visionary schemes like the devil’s cozening.
Peter Singleton is a semi-retired college professor inhabiting the North Texas area.