Collected Thoughts

February 2013
February 1, 2013

It seems lately that everywhere I look, in either supposedly sober news accounts or in wild melodrama, I find allusions to cyber-warfare and the extreme dangers associated with it.

The dangers may be extreme for all I know, but I can’t help feeling a bit bemused that a communications network that barely existed three decades ago is now so integral to social function that a disruption of it will project us into a state where we can barely support human life. Doesn’t that strike you as bizarre? How did humanity manage to exist prior to the internet and its offshoots?

The latest news is that Cyber Command, a part of the National Security Agency, is going to expand its current workforce of 900 by 4,000 additional employees. That sounds like a pretty big upgrade to me, yet I heard Scott Borg of the U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit speak of it as being fairly modest, actually not much at all. Furthermore, the expansion will have to proceed at a languid pace because right now there aren’t that many competent people available for the NSA to hire. Think of it: a government agency has plans to hire more people than can be found, to strengthen a given activity, and a leading expert thinks this is not a very notable thing.

You may be asking what Cyber Command does. Now, that’s a real question. It could be the case that nobody knows, not even the people who work in Cyber Command. In theory, it’s a unit of government which exists for defensive purposes, to keep hostile groups from injecting destructive viruses into American communications systems. But some say that’s only a minor part of what it’s up to. Its major function, its critics charge, is to create such malware and use it to destroy the functioning of groups and nations the United States doesn’t like. Then there are others, like the aforementioned Scott Borg, who say you can’t really distinguish defensive from aggressive functions because they’re pretty much the same thing. That’s a little bit like saying you can’t tell the difference between using a shotgun to stick up a supermarket from using one to drive invaders away from your home. After all, it’s a shotgun in either instance. But I guess what Borg is telling us is that once you have a shotgun you can use it any way you choose.

In the United States, the process of choosing is markedly impaired by the extreme secrecy concealing virtually all government activities relating in any manner to cyber-war. It seems that no deliberative body can be allowed to discuss or know about what’s being done, because it’s just too serious. Consequently, it’s very hard to formulate policy. And in the absence of policy, the door remains open for segments of the cyber-war world to run off on their own and do whatever seems to them needful at the moment. Cyber-war may well be taking place in Cyber-jungle.

If we turn to melodrama we discover that our only hope lies in rogue heroes, persons of genius and overweening technological mastery, who can discern what governments are far too occluded to perceive. These saviors rush in at the last moment to stop really, really awful things from happening. We saw an instance of such rescue just last night on the CBS television series Person of Interest. A supra-national organization, devoted to goodness knows what, and aided by former CIA agents who were ticked off because they didn’t think the agency had treated them very well, was about to gain control of an omnipotent electronic system that could collapse all the electronic operations in the world. And it would have, too, were it not for a pair of superlative rogues who have gone beyond roguery in their determination to save the world from itself.

I don’t know if there are such persons. I certainly don’t know if there are enough of them to thwart the world in all the blind, self-destructive impulses it can dream up. I am less than confident that we can rely on them, even though I can enjoy watching them carry out improbable plot lines on TV.

Perhaps it’s just because I’m old-fashioned, but I worry that humanity has stumbled into behavior that it has no means of controlling. In addition to cyber-war we now hear much about the singularity, the point when various forms of not-quite human intelligence will exceed and overpower human thought to install systems of management and social control that won’t be much concerned with human aspiration. Then, our reign, such as it has been, will be over. I wonder if, after the singularity, the new beings will look back on us with nostalgic affection, or simply dismiss us as good riddance. I don’t guess it matters, certainly not to us.

The common practice in such essays as this is to say we are lost, unless ... and then forge onward to offer a scheme of salvation. My Jehovah Witness friends visited me yesterday and pointed out that there is a prophecy in the second chapter of Isaiah which tells us how it’s all going to end. That’s the one with the famous passage promising that the nations “shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Isaiah, of course, didn’t say anything about what computer viruses will be turned into. All I can do is to hope there’s a plan, somewhere, to take care of them.

February 2, 2013

Each Saturday, Steve Benen on The Maddow Blog reports on a number of incidents under the title “This Week in God.” And each Saturday the feature reminds me of Walter Kaufmann’s warning: “Resignation in the face of the follies of mankind is the price of wisdom.”

I don’t guess I’m ever going to be wise because I doubt I can pay Kaufmann’s price.

This week the first report has to do with the percentage of people in the United States who think that God gets involved in the outcome of football games. It turns out that among all Americans, 27% think that God takes a hand in choosing the winner. And God being God, you have to suppose that divine favor would be definitive.

If you analyze the composition of the 27% you discover -- which isn’t surprising -- that some groups contribute more to it than others. In none of the groups monitored did a majority think that God is concerned with pigskin victory, although among those designated as white evangelicals the figure did rise to 38%. The percentages could have been affected by the outcome of the recent national collegiate championship game. Alabama’s success was more likely considered godly by white evangelicals than by any other religious group. Still, 29% of Catholics go along with the transcendent influence, which makes you wonder whether God was using Notre Dame to express his displeasure at the lackadaisical attitude of many American Catholics towards the Pope’s directives. These are deep issues.

A skeptical person like myself is left wondering if there’s anything a person who thinks that God fixes football games wouldn’t believe. And if you get it in your head that 27% of Americans can be made to believe anything, you also start worrying about democracy. More than a quarter of the electorate is, after all, a sizable voting block.

In Southern California, a Christian school is suing two former teachers because they have refused to offer proof of their religious faith. This raises a host of questions, the first being what is adequate proof of religious faith? It seems to me that’s a thing that could be lied about quite easily. But supposing the lack of proof is established, what damages are being sought? Would the school expect the teachers to give back their salaries? If the school had been concerned about the proof, wasn’t it the school’s responsibility to gain it before the teachers were employed? And might there be some greater damage than simply salaries erroneously paid? How could that amount be ascertained? The whole business is too big a tangle for me. I’m glad I don’t have to take part in it.

Bryan Fischer, a prominent religious spokesman and an official of the American Family Association, objected to the statement by the governor of Louisiana that the Republicans have been the stupid party. Mr. Fischer’s proof that this is not the case was Todd Akin’s comment about legitimate rape, which Fischer asserted was wise, and presumably godly. I watched a clip of Fischer’s argument which left me with the impression that his grasp of verbal distinction is less acute than one might wish. He doesn’t appear able to see that Todd’s statement was foolish because it was based on an adjective that didn’t say what Todd thought he was saying, and, furthermore, implied something thoroughly absurd, which was that legitimate rape is the only form that’s actually illegitimate. If that wasn’t an illustration of stupidity, it’s hard to know what it was.

Whether these three incidents, laid before us by Steve Benen, are examples of human folly I’ll leave to the judgment of readers. But if they are (and I have to confess they strike me as good candidates), it’s not easy to see why it’s wise to be resigned to them. Yes, they have a kind of comic quality, but it’s so mixed with nastiness and illusion the normal redemptive power of laughter is swamped.

It becomes ever more obvious to me that we don’t have the language to work on attitudes of the sort exhibited here. We can say they’re looney, or ludicrous, or bizarre. That might be true, after a fashion, and it may offer a bit of relief, but it doesn’t get at causes or cures. You may think it’s innocent for fans to think God’s on the side of the Crimson Tide, that it’s just a form of childish fun. It’s more than that, though. It prompts us to believe there are extra-human forces at work in human affairs which always support our personal desires. If God cares about which team wins a football game, then he surely has to care about more serious conflicts, and he has to take sides in all of them. And once we get it in mind that God is always on our side, then the people who disagree with us become minions of evil.

I don’t know how to describe people who think that way. All of us are in need of being questioned. Perhaps social health demands that some be questioned more vigorously than others. And maybe the ones who need to be questioned most energetically are those who reject questions most fervently, those who get angry any time a question raises its head. Might it help us along to begin speaking of “question-haters?”

If we’re going to do that though we have to be ready for furious blowback.

Wisdom as resignation, though it may have its good points, strikes me as standing somewhere behind wisdom as a willingness to face indignation, while remaining determined not to fall prey to it ourselves.

February 3, 2013

Skimming through a thread this morning, I came on this note, made in response to a previous comment: “If you don’t know who Matt Taibbi is, you’ve been living either under a rock or in Alabama.”

Though I understand the sentiment, I have to acknowledge that many people -- some of whom I know -- don’t know who Matt Taibbi is and don’t live in Alabama. Whether they live under a rock depends on how that metaphorical substance is defined.

One thing is fairly clear: we live in a time which believes the most valuable thing you can get is attention. Consequently, thousands are scrambling frantically to grab it. How many of them one needs to recognize in order to be considered well-informed is not settled.

This morning, for example, I have read about (in addition to Matt Taibbi) Piers Morgan, Keith Olbermann, Jeff Zucker, Alex Wallace, Megyn Kelly, Sharon Waxman, Jonathan Klein, David Folkenflik, Alan Dershowitz, Yair Lapid, Roger Cohen, William C. Thompson, Jr., Karen Gould, Judith Butler, Dov Hikind, Jaan Tallinn, Robert Scheer, Matt Miller, Michelle Alexander, and Roger Ailes (actually I read about a good many more than that but those are the ones I made notes on). How many of them do you recognize? They’re all famous in certain circles. Not to know about any one of them would mark you as an ignoramus within some groups. 

Knowing who’s who has been a mark of success down the ages. But the number we’re expected to keep up with now has expanded beyond reason. One person you’re supposed to know, but perhaps don’t, is E.D. Hirsch, Jr., who in the 1980s began to promote a concept of cultural literacy, which argued that certain knowledge is necessary, including knowledge of certain persons, if one is to be able to grasp the meaning of general texts. In other words, not knowing the names of people you should know, sabotages your learning and understanding. It was a highly controversial theory, but it nonetheless gained many followers. Hirsch was operating out of a sense of a dominant culture which distributed opportunity in accordance with certain standards. If, for example, you lived in an English-speaking country in 1920, and revealed that you had never heard of William Shakespeare, you would be written off as a hopeless bumpkin.

Can we now say that we have such a dominant culture, and if we can, what is it? Followers of Hirsch might argue that it is determined by publications like The New York Times Book Review, or the New Yorker. If you can read them with understanding, and some pleasure, then you probably have the cultural literacy necessary to succeed (whatever that means).

That stance may have been valid in the past, but it becomes questionable as the number of informational sources explodes. Each of them seems to form a bubble around itself and it’s hard to decide how many of these bubbles you should visit on a regular basis, especially when none of them can present itself as the legitimate authority.

All during my career in higher education (that term itself has become a bit of a farce), I argued, often to my detriment, that a college could, and should, devise a curriculum which offered students firm ground in accepted knowledge. I don’t think I was wrong to take that position then, but with the passage of time and the changes it has brought, I’m not sure I could take it now. If an institution I worked for was turning out graduates who had never read one of Shakespeare’s plays, I’m pretty sure I would still feel queasy. Yet I would have to ask myself whether that was just a matter of nostalgia.

Next Thursday, I’m going to the library in Fairfax to talk about The Education of Henry Adams. It’s a book I once thought all Americans should know. I’m glad some of the residents of Fairfax still are curious about it and I’ll do what I can to stimulate their thoughts. In the midst of my pleasure, though, I’ll have to be aware that Henry Adams is a name that means nothing to most of my fellow citizens and that I have little justification in holding their ignorance against them. Truth is, I’m not sure even five percent of Americans know who Henry Adams was, and unless some Hollywood mogul decides to make a smasheroo movie about his life, that percentage will keep on declining.

I regret the disintegration of cultural literacy. In losing it we lose something of value. The loss, however, brings a kind of gain in that it’s one more liberation from authority. If there’s nobody to tell us what we should know then, if we wish to know anything beyond what passing popular culture pushes in our faces, we will have to decide for ourselves what it is. I also have a faith that some items will have the power to take care of themselves. I don’t expect people to stop reading the novels of Jane Austen or going to productions of Shakespeare’s plays.

As for Matt Taibbi, I can’t put him in the class of Jane Austen or the Bard -- at least not yet. But if you want to know how the men with mountains of money are fleecing you of yours, he’s certainly not a bad place to start. If you scout around the internet, you’ll find a clip of him being interviewed by Bill Moyers, and that way you can escape the implication that you live under a rock or that you have resided too long in Alabama.

February 8, 2013

I’m pleased that the debate about killing people with drones has finally made it into the mainstream media. But my pleasure is considerably offset by the manner in which the media are conducting the discussion. Of one thing we can be sure: if serious questions are to be asked about lethal behavior, they won’t come from television news shows. It’s probably unnecessary to say that they won’t come from Congressional hearings either. Everybody in that venue is in campaign mode and cares not whit about the intelligence of democratic debate.

There are two questions that should be asked first of a nominee to head the Central Intelligence Committee. I have heard neither asked by anybody in the press. They don’t have anything to do with whether or not a person is an American citizen.

First: how does someone get put on a kill list? And I mean how, not by whom. Let’s say two guys are overheard in a coffee shop in northern Pakistan, and one of them is extremely angry. Suppose the angry guy says: “Those American bastards; they killed two kids in my mother’s village just last week. I’d do anything if I could get back at them” And, then, the companion says, “Yeh, I know how you feel.”

Do both of them get put on a kill list? Or just one? Or does neither? As members of the American public, we have no idea. You may think you know, but, I can assure you, you don’t. I do know this: there are people in the United States who would be happy to kill both of them. How do I know that? I’ve talked to them and they have told me.

If you asked John Brennan such questions about placement on the kill list, you could be pretty sure he would answer, “I can’t discuss details of that sort; they’re classified.” In other words, he would refuse to tell you anything about it.

Here’s the second question: how many people other than the target is the CIA willing to kill in order to kill him? Is there arithmetical policy about that?

Let’s say two guys are talking by a field where children are playing. The CIA knows it wants to kill one of the guys; it doesn’t know who the other person is. It also knows that if it drops a drone bomb on the target, there’s a good chance -- not a certainty but a good chance -- that some of the children will be killed. What’s the formula for estimating the number of dead children, and deciding how many will be slaughtered in order to get the target? If you asked John Brennan that question, he would retreat into even deeper obfuscation than he did on the first one. Let’s say we don’t ask Brennan; we ask Chris Matthews while he’s taping Hardball. It’s a foolish supposition because we know that no one will ever ask Matthews that question. Nobody who would entertain the possibility of asking it would ever be allowed on his show. Chris isn’t up for weighing such issues.

The closest I’ve seen anybody come to that was Ron Reagan on Hardball tonight, who pointed out that if the United States continues to make killing people in other countries, completely away from where combat is taking place, its standard policy, then that policy will spread to other countries, and it will become an international norm for countries to violate the borders of other countries by launching drone assassinations.

You know how Matthews responded? He cut Reagan off with a joke about the wonder of his having mentioned Jean Paul Sartre, which is, presumably far too much for the middle of the middle, whom Mathews idolizes, and then closed down the interview without giving Reagan even a second to respond.

I’m weary of people’s saying these are deep moral questions. You can’t have moral questions unless there’s some general understanding of what morality is. You can’t call it morality to say that “we,” meaning the government of the United States, don’t kill children, unless..... Unless what? Well, that’s classified.

These can’t be moral questions. They have to be personal questions. What would you do? I wish there were some way to ask every man and woman in the country that, and then push them to answer. And don’t let the questions be vast abstractions; make them specific. When you get down to killing people, your actions have to be pretty specific -- this actual person versus that actual person.

I know what my answers are. I detest drone assassinations. I don’t give a damn for what the rationalizations might be. I still detest them. It’s true that I think they do far more harm than good, in all situations in which they are used. But that wouldn’t be my main reason for refusing to use them. There are actions that destroy any worth in yourself and which spread that blankness to the people you claim are benefitting from them. You sacrifice everything by employing them -- everything. What’s the argument for sacrificing everything? Isn’t there always the possibility of trying something else?

Would you torture a four year old girl in the hopes of making her scream out her mother’s name, so that then you would have a better chance of catching the mother, and torturing her, so that then you would have a better chance of catching her husband? Do you want to employ persons to do that for you?

It’s questions of that kind I wish someone would ask John Brennan. I would ask them if I could. But, of course, I would never be allowed in his vicinity.

These things come down to who you are.

February 10, 2013

When you have heard a man talk nonsensical garbage for as long and as consistently as Dick Cheney has, what expression are you supposed to get on your face when he talks again? Resignation? Amusement? Disgust? Blankness?

Mr. Cheney is reported to have made a thirty-minute speech somewhere in Cheynne last night (exactly where and to whom I have not been able to discover). He announced that the persons Mr. Obama has appointed to national security posts during his second term have all been weak. By calling someone “weak,” Mr. Cheney means only one thing: that person is not as eager to slaughter other human beings as he is himself. By that standard, there are probably less than a hundred persons living now on the earth who are not weak.

I wonder if there is any genius of biographical art capable of explaining the mind of Dick Cheney. Whence comes this lust for killing persons he doesn’t know? You might think you could find insights into Cheney’s mind by studying the history of serial murderers. I doubt, though, that’s the case. People who win for themselves the title of “serial killer” earn it by doing the killing themselves. It’s true that Cheney likes to kill little birds, under the rubric of sport, but he seems never to have wished to place himself in a situation where he would use his own hands to extinguish human life. He wants other people to do it for him. You might say that attaining the power to cause others to kill is Cheney’s definition of the pinnacle of human success. Nothing, for him, is higher than that.

I once saw Lynne Cheney being interviewed about the interior decoration of her house. Perhaps it was the vice-presidential mansion. I can’t remember for sure. In any case, she was asked whether her husband took part in making decisions about furniture, wallpaper and so forth. She laughed, as though the thought were the most absurd thing she had heard, and then went on to explain that Dick had never shown a scintilla of interest in matters of that kind. She left the impression that her husband was completely unaware of the tone and flavor of his surroundings.

I wondered at the time if that were a clue. Might it, in some way, help us understand Cheney’s obsession with sending people all around with world with the purpose of killing other people? You might suppose that a total unawareness of what actually happens when someone causes enough damage to a human body to destroy life in it could supplement the desire to order it done. Perhaps there’s no sensual component to the command at all, no ability to imagine the smell of violent death. Do you suppose if you could jam Cheney’s face into the open stomach of a child eviscerated by an American-made bomb, and hold it there for eighty or ninety seconds, it would assist him in taking a step towards awareness? Might he remember the experience for two, even three, days afterwards? Perhaps not.

It’s now a psychological commonplace to hold that persons who repeatedly call others weak are, themselves, tortured by doubts of their own strength. Do you reckon Cheney ever thinks about the results of getting into a fistfight with John Kerry or Chuck Hagel, those avatars of weakness he has denounced the president for putting into positions of responsibility? Does the former vice-president shudder in bed at night? Probably not. That wouldn’t be civilized. It would take the mind away from thinking about where killing forces should be positioned around the globe.

Now and then, I think of the expression on Mr. Cheney’s face when he announced that Saddam Hussein had accumulated vast stores of weapons of mass destruction, and assured the nation there was now no doubt about it. Was he actually so deluded as to believe it, or was he simply exhibiting the manipulative force he associates with strength? Keep in mind that no reasonable person who had given attention to the question thought that was the case. Sure, people like Chris Matthews believed it, but you have to remember the issue of attention. Even I, with my limited sources of information, knew there were no such hordes of weapons as Cheney posited. All you had to do was ask yourself where they came from. As soon as you did, the idea began to crumble away.

As I hinted, I doubt the existence of biographical power sufficient to lay the genuine psyche of Dick Cheney clearly before us. Actually, that may be true with respect to everybody. But if there are degrees of difficulty in the task, I’m pretty sure that taking on Dick Cheney would place one near the summit of complexity. Given that the results are obvious, it’s probably not worth the labor of digging out the causes, that is unless one became captured by an irresistible curiosity concerning the nature of the pathetic.

When I return to the question of the right expression for listening to Dick Cheney, I see that I left out one possibility I should have included above. And that is sadness. That a man, perhaps in the waning years of his life -- I hope that’s not the case but it may be -- is concentrating his efforts on denouncing others for failing to be appropriately dismissive of the value of human life, indicates wasted opportunities of a mournful dimension. I hope Dick Cheney can, somehow, begin to take an interest in the fabric of the chairs he occupies.

February 14, 2013

Last night I drove to a library thirty-two miles away to conduct the third in a book discussion series about Lincoln. When I got to the library, I discovered there had been a scheduling confusion -- whether mine or someone else’s I’m still not sure, and I was a week early. Normally that would have been no problem; I could have just gone back next week. But it turns out I have committed to a talk at another library on that same evening, and I’ve not yet acquired the ability to be in two places at the same time.

It all got worked out affably this morning. A member of the discussion group on Lincoln agreed to lead the session, and I was let off the hook. I should have felt relief, which I did to some extent. But I felt disquieted too. A minor thing is that now I won’t get the fee I expected. It’s not a lot of money, but I already had something in mind I was planning to buy with it. More important is that I spent over thirty hours preparing for the meeting. That was excessive on my part; I didn’t have to work that long. But I should remember the time was not wasted. I like to read about Lincoln and his era, and what I learned I retain. Still, the whole thing left me a little vacant.

So, to relieve my emptiness a bit, I’m going jot down here a few of the points I planned to bring up last night. Maybe someone can make something of them.

From the previous discussions, three obvious features of reading about the past had come to my mind. You might think that their being obvious takes away the use of mentioning them. But I have discovered that the obvious can slip out of mind when we’re in the midst of doing things, and it’s often worthwhile to remind ourselves of it.

The first point -- which is really obvious -- is that the people we read about in the past didn’t know what was going to happen. When Lincoln left Springfield in February 1861 to travel to Washington, he was not imagining that he would have to preside over four years of hideous bloodshed. As far as I know, no one at the time anticipated the full horror of what was coming, though ten years earlier, Henry Clay, had hinted that an attempt to break up the Union of the states could prove disastrous.

When we read about Lincoln on his long, curving train ride from Illinois to Washington, we can’t help but think about what he was moving towards. That, to some extent, distorts in our minds the actuality of the trip. He and his family were happy then, and their happiness, by itself, now tends to make us sad. You see, we know what was going to happen. We know that he would live just slightly more than four years longer and that those four years would be colored by almost unimaginable sadness.

My second point was going to be that when we learn about people who came before us, our sense of empathy manipulates us into thinking that we know how they felt. And, we do to some degree. Yet they were people of their own time, and the passage of many years changes sensibilities. A clear distinction between now and 1861 is that we have spent a century and a half struggling with the absurdity we call “racism.” They had struggled with it some but were still in a situation when it was perfectly respectable to believe that one race was so much superior to another that the “lesser” group should not be allowed to engage in many normal activities of society. Although a few people then had moved beyond that attitude, it was a very small percentage. Lincoln, himself, by the standards of today, was an arrant racist. He changed markedly over the course of the Civil War but there’s no clear evidence that he had completely given up previous attitudes. They were the attitudes of his time. We shouldn’t expect that he could totally give them up. It’s my opinion that judging people from the past by the standards of the present is seriously unfair. Each reader has to make up his or her mind about that, but we all should be aware that the issue of time and rightness does exist.

My third point was that there probably is no greater diversity among persons nowadays than what individual people know about the past. Consequently, when we try to talk about it with others we have to be ready to face what is, to me, astounding ignorance. The book we were to discuss last night was Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, published in 2005. Shortly after the book came out, I saw Goodwin interviewed by NBC newsman Tim Russert. He was full of glowing compliments and amazed by some of the things she had discovered. Who would have known, he exclaimed, with a look of intense incredulity, that Lincoln had a great sense of humor?

I sat watching the TV screen, asking myself, who could have grown up in this country and not have known it? I’m pretty sure I knew by the time I was eight years old that Lincoln was a great teller of jokes. I certainly knew by the time I was twelve that he would at times annoy the more stuffy members of his cabinet by reading aloud the essays of the humorist Petroleum V. Nasby. Yet here was a journalist widely regarded as one of the more intellectual members of the press corps -- though, I confess, not by me -- who knew virtually nothing about the man widely regarded as the greatest of U.S. presidents. What does that mean about being a citizen of the United States who wishes to be conversant with other citizens? What does it mean about the life of the mind in this society? Those are questions which affect how the reading of history might proceed.

I was eager to talk about all that with the group at the library. Who knows? One of them might have enlightened me. But that was not to be. I feel a bit droopy about the lost opportunity but, still, I’m glad to have learned something more about Lincoln. I like to know as much about him as I can.

February 17, 2013

The more I use the internet the more I become bewildered by it. It leads me to information, suppositions and opinions I would never have encountered without it. Much of this material is very hard to evaluate. Yet it all leaves deposits in my mind.

Today, for example, I happened to read an essay by Hal O”Leary, an eighty-five year old veteran of the Second World War which appeared on OpEdNews. Mr O’Leary has moved strongly towards pacifism since his days as a soldier, and his piece today was designed to convince people that the United States is not as grand or moral as most politicians feel required to say it is, and that the people of the nation have been manipulated into supporting wars by false and misrepresentative arguments.

A section of the essay dealt with how the US entered the First World War. It quoted a book by Samuel Landman, who was an official of Zionist organizations in Britain during the first part of the 20th Century and who wrote a book entitled Great Britain, The Jews and Palestine. According to Mr. Landman, Jewish leaders in both Great Britain and the United States promised the British government they would help bring the United States into the war on the British side in return for an assurance that after the war the British government would support a homeland for Jews in Palestine. The result was the famed Balfour Declaration.

After the war, Zionist leaders, sensing that Great Britain was not going to stand behind the Balfour Declaration as firmly as had been expected, sent a letter to the British government stating, in part:

You forget that you did not give us Palestine as an unsolicited gift (Balfour
Declaration). It was handed over as the result of a secret bargain concluded
between ourselves. We have scrupulously observed our part in bringing
America into the war on your side. We call on you to fulfil your obligations
in turn. You are aware of our power in the United States: take care that you
do not attract the hostility of Israel, otherwise you will come up against grave
international difficulties.

I have no idea what to make of all this. First, I don’t know whether any or all of it is true. Second, even if it is true, I don’t know how much influence Jewish leaders exerted -- or could have exerted -- on the American decision to enter the war. Third, I don’t know whether the Wilson Administration saw these efforts as matters to be kept secret from the American people, or whether the government viewed them as insignificant -- this still assuming that any of it actually occurred.

Some of this mystery could, perhaps, be unraveled by extensive historical research. But much of it is probably beyond any disproof or verification.

What it does further convince me of is that major actions taken by governments -- actions which result in immense loss of life, gigantic property destruction and unmeasurable suffering -- are far more complex, and are influenced by many more incidents, than are ever explained in historical accounts. I don’t care how learned a historian might be, or how diligently he pursues comprehensive analysis, he can’t get it right because there is no such thing as getting it right.
Suppose there had been no question at all about the disposition of Palestine after the end of the First World War, would its absence have changed in any significant way the behavior of the U.S. government? There is only one honest answer to that question, and it is: “I don’t know.”

I hope no one will take this as an argument that the study of history is useless. I certainly don’t believe that. Knowing about the incidents that can be documented concentrates the mind on the nature of human occurrence in a way that should heighten intelligence and sanity. No one can know what the reconstruction era in the United States would have been like had John Wilkes Booth been prevented from shooting Abraham Lincoln in the head on the evening of April 14, 1865. But thinking about major elements of Mr. Lincoln’s life story, and that he was killed by a young romantic fanatic, can make us sad in a mentally healthy way. It can lead us to work harder to avoid incidents of that kind and to try harder to convince zealous people that they don’t really grasp the meaning of their attempts to destroy life.

The internet with its vast pile of fact, fiction, and delusion can teach us in ways we have never been taught before. But the main thing it teaches is that we do not know what we have heretofore thought we knew. There is always some new feature to be taken into account. The body of evidence is never complete. Science has taught us that in an abstract way by pointing out that there is no such thing as scientific fact; there is only scientific hypothesis that can be tested as to probability. And that’s a good thing to remember. But I doubt that science can get into our hearts in the same way history does because history is about people who bumbled around in the same way we do. They weren’t completely sure of what they were doing, and that should lead us to see that we can’t be completely sure either.

We are all confused souls wandering in a vast universe we can’t grasp, and when you think about it, that’s a pretty good description of what we’re doing when we wade into the internet.

February 19, 2013

In his column this morning, to make a point about how the brain works, David Brooks asked, “Quick,what’s the square root of 437?” Instantly, I said to myself. 21.1. Of course, I was wrong. The answer is 20.9. I don’t know if being off by 0.2 is enough to validate Brooks’s point, but I suspect it’s not quite what he had in mind.

Brooks then proceeded to point out that though our brains may not be good at arithmetic and, therefore, unaided, can’t analyze big piles of data, they are pretty good at other kinds of calculations, for example, how much we love another person. David Brooks has let us know you can’t put a number on how much you love someone. Wow!

There have been times when I have thought I could make a career of pointing out David Brooks’s idiocy, but I doubt that would be profitable for me or anyone else. But having considered it led me to speculate about the worth and process of fame, not just Brooks’s fame but all of it. It is, after all, sought more avidly than anything else. But why? What’s it worth?

On Sunday night, I watched Steve Croft’s interview with Maggie Smith, mainly about her part on Downton Abbey. He asked her whether she cared anything for fame or stardom and she answered, that she cared nothing at all. Whether she was honest I don’t know, but it was an interesting answer and it seemed to made sincerely. I hope it was the truth.

I’m not arguing that there’s nothing valuable to be had from fame. It can usually be translated into some money, and additional money, particularly for those who have little, is generally pleasant. But I am suggesting that the worth of fame is not what it’s commonly thought to be. It is not the ticket to glory, however you might define that mysterious condition. Fame means being known and talked about by lots of people. It applies to persons like Adolf Hitler, and Joseph Stalin, and Rush Limbaugh -- to name only the three famous people who come first to my mind. But what good does it do any of them to be talked about by me? (two of them being dead I don’t suppose it does them any good at all, unless you subscribe to the contention that being remembered after death is a kind of immortality).

Even if we turn to David Brooks, a less-famous person, what good does it do him for me --- a person of no fame whatsoever -- to talk or write about him? You might say it gives him influence, but since my only purpose, ever, in writing about David Brooks is to diminish his influence, that proposition doesn’t appear to be working in his favor. The truth is that people tend to be famous -- a least in contemporary life -- more for their absurdities than for anything creditable. People get famous for killing other people or for heaving lurid insults more than they do for writing thoughtful books. I would wager that Donald Trump, right now, is more famous than Baruch Spinoza or Immanuel Kant. Ah!, you might say, but Trump’s fame is fleeting whereas theirs is enduring. But enduring among whom? The right people? But who are they?

If you wish to view fame as a desirable entity I guess you would have to define it as lasting influence. If what one does, or says, continues to invigorate people long after he is dead, there is some worth in his having become known.

Fame is fickle, though. It bestows itself in all sorts of curious ways. Tomorrow night I’m going to to a nearby library to lead a book discussion on Jane Austen’s Persuasion, and the upcoming event reminds me that Jane Austen is a name that’s quite famous now, particularly among those who care about literature, but the person who bore that name and wrote the captivating novels was not famous in her own lifetime. In the three years just before her death she had begun to gain slight notice but it was certainly not of the sort that could be called fame. So if death is what we commonly suppose it to be, she never was in her own mind a famous person. But can we say that diminished her? It would take a twisted mind to say that it did. She was still Jane Austen; she still wrote the books; and she did a lot of other things besides. She lived; she loved; she looked at flowers; she ate some good meals. Are those acts less important than being famous? It depends, I guess, on where you think importance resides.

I wend my way back to David Brooks. He irritates me not because I think he has an undeserved fame, and not because he is almost always wrong on the prescriptions he writes for the nation. In those ways he does no worse than lots of other persons who manage to scramble into privileged positions. Charles Krauthammer, who is below Brooks in both respects, never gives me a moment of irritation. Krauthammer is shallow because he has to be.

Brooks may be too. I can’t be sure. I suspect, though, that Brooks regularly sacrifices substantial thought for cheap fame. That does irritate me. It’s an act of valuation I consider odious. He wants to be talked about more than he wants to say anything substantial. He shows, at times, that he probably has mind enough to push through to genuine substance, but he always falls back. He’s the George McClelland of contemporary pundits.

In his column today, for example, he pretends to be saying something about how the mind can build a self, and how that construction can interact with society. He’s saying that compilations of data by themselves can’t tell us what to do. But everybody knows that. When he approaches what can tell us what to do, he ambles off into abstractions. And it’s not just in this column; it’s all the time. That’s why his little cutesies don’t work with me anymore and why I’m weary of people who think they can employ them to win something or other of questionable worth, including fame.

February 21, 2013

One of the more celebrated literary essays of the 20th Century appeared in the quarterly review, Scrutiny, in 1940. Written by D. W. Harding, a psychologist who also became a skilled literary critic, it was titled “Regulated Hatred,” and it purported to explain how Jane Austen managed to deal with the stuffy and somewhat flat society she inhabited without going mad.

Though the title is catchy, I have thought it’s not perfectly accurate. “Hatred” is not the right term. “Amused disdain” would have been closer to the attitude being described. But, then, “amused disdain” would not have made a good title. If one were interested solely in exactitude, he might have said, “sharp amused disdain,” but that would have been an even worse title. So, “regulated hatred” it is.

Perhaps the most telling sentence in the essay is: “She is a literary classic of the society, which attitudes like hers, held widely enough, would undermine.”

I was thinking of this last night as I drove along a snowy Interstate 89 down to Randolph to discuss Persuasion with a group in the library there. Perhaps Jane Austen did not consciously wish to undermine the society she inhabited. We have little evidence that she saw herself as a social revolutionary. But that’s no matter; if her literary tactic does, indeed, have the power of social undermining, perhaps it’s available to others who are more directed towards a sort of social transformation than she was. I would like to think so.

Jane Austen is one of the three figures from the past I admire most fully, the other two being Samuel Johnson and Friedrich Nietzsche. Johnson I admire for his overweening humanity and charity of spirit (I realize that’s not how he’s viewed in the popular mind, but I don’t care). Nietzsche I admire for his intellectual courage. And Jane Austen I admire for her intelligence. Think about it: if we have charity, courage of mind, and intelligence, we have a pretty full cup.

Jane Austen appears to have discerned fairly early in life that though passion has its uses it needs to be kept within some bounds. I have at times reminded my friends of the advice she included in “Love and Friendship,” a short epistolary novel she wrote when she was about thirteen or fourteen years old: “Run mad as often as you chuse; but do not faint.” (this, by the way, was the personal motto my daughter Elizabeth chose for her high school yearbook).

The regulated hatred Jane Austen applied to the simpletons, fools and poltroons of her society was clearly not without passion, but it was passion controlled, and to a certain degree masked by wicked wit.

The advent of the phenomena called “threads,” that is a series of comments which appear after columns and essays on the internet, has apprised me of the wild indignation we seem to be addicted to in modern society. This morning in the New York Times, for example, I read an article about the excavation of some of Herod’s palaces and the intention by the Israeli government to reconstruct his tomb. The article was fairly interesting but the thread that came after it was astounding. These actions seem to have driven many people into pure mania. Numbers are strongly upset about whether or not Herod was really a Jew, and so forth. I would like to know how Jane Austen would have expressed herself about threads, but I’m also glad she didn’t have to deal with them.

If we turn to a subject even more inflammatory than Herodian archaeology, that is, the Senate of the United States, we do, indeed, see many people running mad. The initial impulse may well be to run mad ourselves, in response. But I would advise against it. Contributing to madness merely gives it more force.

When we consider, say, James Inhofe, or Lindsey Graham, or Ted Cruz, we need to imagine, first, an object of comedy. If you respond that the harm being done is not funny, you would be right. Still, the issue is not what Nietzsche called “moral narcissism,” that is the thirst for appearing morally excited at all costs, but rather how to negate the harm and put something else in its place. The absurdity of persons can be indicated free of rant, and sometimes so deftly it almost passes conscious notice. Even so, it still registers.

If you think that can’t be done, you might do well to pay attention to the portrait of Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion. Nothing overtly hostile towards him is said. Yet, it’s hard to imagine a more thorough take-down. By the end of the novel there is nothing positive that can be assigned to him. And so his opinions carry no need of serious attention.

Read attentively, Jane Austen teaches us that there is little good in punishment and much good in dismissal. If a harmful person can be placed in a situation where nothing he says or does requires attention, that’s the best place he can be. We should simply leave him there. Even if he remains unaware of his impotence, if he thinks he continues to be a figure of great significance, that’s okay. His innocence of who he really is adds to his comedic stature. Furthermore, it relieves us of the burden of indignation, which is the principal device for turning us into the people we despise.

There can be little more important than developing an intelligent regulation of our dislikes. When we attend to Jane Austen we discover it doesn’t happen by giving way to self-indulgent moralizing. It happens rather by seeing things for what they are, and learning to smile about them. It would be hard to find a healthier definition of good sense.

February 22, 2013

I have discovered that the wrappers for Halls Mentho-Lyptus Triple Soothing Action lozenges now have small inspiriting messages printed on them. There are four on each wrapper, and since I have used only two drops from the package I bought a couple days ago, I, so far, have eight directives.  Here they are:

  • Tough is your middle name.
  • Conquer today.
  • It’s yours for the taking.
  • Dust off and get up.
  • You got it in you.
  • A pep talk in every drop.
  • Be resilient.
  • Elicit a few “wows” today.

I’ve been studying these admonitions to see if I can find a general philosophy in them. As near as I can discern, the basic notion here is that life is a sort of football game, and that you’ve got to keep going till the final whistle (come to think of it, “Keep going till the final whistle” might be a good candidate for the wrappers).

The idea that life is a game you either win or lose has always struck me as a proposition for severely limited specimens of humanity. I confess that whenever I come on someone speaking about “the game of life” I dismiss him as a dope. It was only after I noticed that football coaches use that metaphor fairly frequently that I began to understand why football philosophy so often leads to disaster for football teams.

At this point, I can imagine a football coach, or a Defense Department official, or a sheriff from the heartland, saying to me, with jutted jaw, “Okay, if life is not a game, what the hell is it?”

And if I responded, “How about life?” I probably wouldn’t be understood.

Yesterday in the latest New Yorker, I read Joan Acocella’s essay about the British psychoanalyst Adam Phillips and his latest book: Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life. The title, I take it, is ironic. Acocella quotes a sentence which reads: “Our lived lives might become a protracted mourning for, or an endless trauma about, the lives we were unable to live.” Or, one might say, you can use up all you have anguishing over not winning the big game.

I wouldn’t want anyone to think I dislike games. They’re a part of life and they’re often fun. And if you play, you should play to win. That’s the point. But spending all of one’s life on the game is both pathetic and unrewarding.

It’s true that much, and perhaps most, of what we do can have a game-like component. If you, for example, should write a novel, or a poem, or a play, or an essay, the game part of it is getting wide attention; it’s selling your book and making money off it; it’s winning out over all the other people who are also trying to sell their books. It’s when the selling, though, becomes more important than the writing, that things begin to go awry. If the pleasure, and the meaning, of watching the words appear on the page is drowned by anxiety about getting them in the New York Times, or in a Random House promotion, then life is being sacrificed for the game. It’s at that point that one starts relying on slogans, such as the ones appearing on my menthol-lyptus wrapper papers.

The common objection to healthy balance is that it holds one back from the near-maniacal dedication required to win. If you don’t sacrifice everything else, people say, then you’ll never get the medal. To them, I reply, “Okay; so what?” The best thing I ever heard a sports star say was Johnny Unitas’s answer to a fan who was berating him because the Colts lost the third Super Bowl: “Hell, man, it was just a football game.” Can anyone say that Johnny Unitas didn’t play hard enough? To tell the truth, I don’t want anybody who plays more determinedly than he did. It does no good for the game, for the players, or for anybody else. I remember Bobby Dodd, at Georgia Tech, saying to a sports writer who was trying to compare him unfavorably to Bear Bryant for not pushing his players hard enough, “If the boys aren’t having a good time, what’s the point?” I think Dodd ended up with a winning record against the Bear. But even if he didn’t, he still would have been right.

My argument, I guess, is that being frenetic is not the goal of living. That’s a matter of opinion, of course. There are those who hold that victory, defined in conventional terms, rises above everything. But why? In the long run of life, victory is but a few moments of publicity. Yes, it can be savored somewhat, and recalled with pleasure. But so can a moment watching the sun go down, or a brief holding of hands, or the smell of blossoms in the spring. And none of these require having “tough” as your middle name.

I certainly don’t want to celebrate weakness. Being strong is better than being weak. But it’s a long way from everything. And when it takes over completely, it leaves out too much.

And if your life should become a process of eliciting some “wows” today, you’re giving more to the opinion of others than they deserve, and giving far too little to your own self-built, self-framed, self-relished experience of what your life actually is.

Should opening my next lozenge provide me with a revelation that makes all this a big mistake, I promise to tell you about it. But if you don’t hear from me about how to get to the peak of glory, try to look forward to lunch every day as you go along.

February 27, 2013

I read numerous essays and news analyses which tell me that the world and the United States are in a bad way, that cruelty and corruption are rampant, that the distribution of material goods is grossly unfair, that the environment is being seriously degraded as far as human health is concerned. I confess, I tend to be persuaded by these accounts. On the other hand, I don’t have good measures for how these manifestations compare to their prominence in the past. After all, there have always been instances of cruelty and corruption taking place, and some people have always received an unfair amount of the world’s goods. I do think the level of environmental pollution is greater than ever and is reaching dangerous levels, simply because we have more people than we have ever had before, and people are, inevitably polluters.

Obviously, any instance of cruelty, corruption, and economic oppression is unfortunate (despite what some conservative theorists think). But we do need to be aware of their comparative levels over time. If they are afflicting a smaller percentage of humans than they used to, then we have been moving in the right direction. If, however, a larger portion of us are being hurt than in the past, we have a dire problem.

This is where I tend towards self-contradiction, and I admit I’m not sure what to do about it. Although I do think that gigantic numbers of people are suffering from some form of social mistreatment, I also suspect that a larger percentage of people have the means and conditions of decent life than was the case two hundred years ago.

This issue, of course, is muddled by definitions. Was a person living in an African tribe in 1813 more or less surrounded by life’s blessings than a low income person is in a major American city in 2013? This is an unanswerable question because it depends on what people think counts.

I read an essay this morning by Henry Giroux which included this paragraph:

At the same time, America's obsession with violence is reinforced by a market
society that is Darwinian in its pursuit of profit and personal gain at almost any
cost. Within this scenario, a social and economic order has emerged that
combines the attributes and values of films such as the classics Mad Max and
American Psycho. Material deprivation, galloping inequality, the weakening of
public supports, the elimination of viable jobs, the mindless embrace of rabid
competition and consumption, and the willful destruction of the environment
speak to a society in which militarized violence finds its counterpart, if not
legitimating credo, in a set of atomizing and selfish values that disdain shared
social bonds and any notion of the public good. In this case, American society
now mimics a market-driven culture that celebrates a narcissistic
hyperindividualism that radiates with a new sociopathic lack of interest in
others and a strong tendency towards violence and criminal behavior. As
John le Carré once stated, "America has entered into one of its periods of
historical madness." While le Carré wrote this acerbic attack on American
politics in 2003, I think it is fair to say that things have gotten worse, and that
the United States is further plunging into madness because of a deadening
form of historical and social amnesia that has taken over the country, further
reproducing a mass flight from memory and social responsibility. The politics
of disimagination includes, in this instance, what Mumia Abu-Jamal labeled
"mentacide," a form of historical amnesia "inflicted on Black youth by the
system's systematic campaign to eradicate and deny them their people's
revolutionary history."

Obviously, Mr. Giroux thinks things are pretty bad. I generally agree with him about the things that are bad. But it’s their degree which puzzles me. When I write, I try to stay away from rhetoric as heated as his is, first because I think it may be distorting conditions, and second, because I think it tends not to be persuasive. All the same, I respect Giroux; I think his heart’s in the right place and I think he makes a sincere effort towards accuracy.

Though I’m in a bit of a muddle about what’s actually going on, and about how bad it is compared to other times, there are a few things I feel confident about.

  • The people of the United States spend too much of their tax money on military stuff, far more than any sensible assessment of our defensive needs justifies.

  • The economic system we are employing at the moment distributes money in a way that’s seriously unfair, and it encourages much behavior that fails to produce anything useful for human existence (clearly, I don’t think it’s useful for any single person to acquire $4 billion in a single year, no matter what childish rationalizations can be brought forward to defend it).

  • Most of us are living in a fashion that’s environmentally unsustainable, which if we continue, will make life much less decent for our grandchildren than it has been for us.

  • The educational level of the American people is too low to make effective democracy viable.

  • The style of life created by corporate capitalism, and especially its speed, is pushing ever greater numbers of persons into neurosis.

  • The notion that we can solve our own group’s problems by killing people in other groups has the potential to do even more damage in the future than it has done in the past (monumental as past carnage has obviously been).

Is it sufficient to make a list like this the basis for my political behavior, or is it necessary for me to weave everything into a political philosophy which can authoritatively tell me what to do, whom to support, and what to despise? My reading in the great political philosophers --Plato, Machiavelli, Locke, Hobbes, Marx, John Stuart Mill and their like -- though clearly instructive, and also very enjoyable, hasn’t convinced me that any overarching political theory can guide me in every instance, nor has it convinced me that even if I should discover such a comprehensive system that I would gain in psychic health.

It seems to me, at the moment -- I don’t completely rule out future apotheosis -- that all I can do is bumble along, resisting behavior that strikes me as stupid and vicious, and giving qualified support to actions that offer me some hope. That may not be grandly intellectual, but theoretical perfection is probably not the highest goal in life, for me at least.

February 28, 2013

Probably the most disgraceful feature of modern journalism is the way the word “conservatism” has been thrown around with a near-complete absence of thought. It has been difficult over the past twenty years to discern what is presumably being conserved by conservatives. Nowadays, though no one openly acknowledges the definition, a “conservative” is someone who wishes to retain the customs of privileged bigotry and ignorance.

This verbal degradation took place over the course of the twentieth century as the term steadily divorced itself from any notion of obligation and became synonymous with the egomaniacal selfishness of the rich. And it happened because the privileged gradually became captured by the worst features of liberalism. The culmination was “neo-conservatism,” a term meaning conservatism carried to liberal extremes.

“Conservatism” always implies a system in which a privileged -- and perhaps excellent -- few are served by a humble and basically unaware majority. The gradations of conservatism are determined by how the few regard the majority, and whether or not any obligation is felt towards those whose role is to serve.

An older form of conservatism, marked by a sense of “noblesse oblige,” is being laid before us now by the television drama Downton Abbey.  Admittedly, it is a romanticized version and probably comparatively little of that degree ever existed in history. But to the extent it did, it offered a reasoned defense of a conservative society. If you want a sense of what conservatism was -- at least ideally -- compared to what it is now, think of the Earl of Grafton standing alongside Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman-Sachs. In The Gay Science, Nietzsche remarked: “For at bottom the masses are willing to submit to slavery of any kind, if only the higher-ups constantly legitimize themselves as higher, as born to command -- by having noble manners.” It seems an exaggerated statement until you ask yourself what “noble manners” connote. The earl does have noble manners, including a strong sense of responsibility towards the well-being of those who serve him, and through him, the establishment he loves and wants to preserve. If Mr. Blankfein has any manners at all, we have not yet seen them.

The lopping off of any sense of social responsibility from conservatism has left us with something monstrous.

Liberalism is the philosophy of individualism. It seeks to promote not only the freedom of individuals but also the good of having each person decide for himself, or herself, what is important, and what counts. In liberalism there are virtually no social restraints except the injunction that one must not take liberty away from someone else. The problem is that when each person is completely free to choose his own course it is almost inevitable that someone else will be hampered. And it is also likely that disgusting practices will be chosen by considerable numbers. In liberalism pure there is no such thing as either good sense or good taste. 

When we consider what society is, and must be, it becomes evident that neither conservatism nor liberalism can be completely eliminated. The serious question then becomes what form of either should complement the other. I struggle with that question incessantly in the hope of coming up with the right combination. I can’t say I have answered myself satisfactorily and that’s because I can’t settle firmly on what is reasonable to expect from a majority in performing democratic duties. Nor can I sort out how to achieve an aristocratic element which is charged with a strong sense of social responsibility.

It seems evident that the quest for a perfect society guided by a fair-minded political system will never be concluded. I don’t guess we should want it to be. On the other hand, we should wish to avoid combinations of political sensibilities that produce noxious results. At the moment, we have a mindless liberalism slathered together with a conservatism devoid of social responsibility to produce the Republican Party. It’s a mixture that’s poisoning society. I recognize that most people can’t see that the Republican Party is strongly liberal in one sense. But when you have people arguing that it’s healthy to extract as much material gain out of an economic system as possible and then have the unfettered right to use those riches in whatever way the individual chooses, you have a liberalism run amok.  Marry that to a sense of conservative privilege, divorced from any social responsibility, and you produce political nastiness of a high order.

If I could effect a single journalistic change, it would be the restoration of “conservatism” to its traditional meaning. I am weary of people like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Rand Paul being called conservative. It’s hard to get farther from the truth than that. If journalists would simply start asking people who have kidnapped the term “conservative” what’s conservative about their positions, we would move instantaneously into a more useful political discourse. What we have now is pure silliness.

The first product of that shift would be the recognition that there’s nothing conservative about capitalism, nothing at all. Capitalism is the most rabidly anti-conservative behavior imaginable. Capitalism wishes to conserve nothing. It is the purpose of capitalism to tear everything apart so that capital can be accrued by putting things back together just prior to tearing them apart again. A purely capitalistic society is a good facsimile of hell on earth. It does nothing to save for us the beauties of the past, nor the learning of the past.

Destroying the meaning of words is done only for the sake of self-aggrandizement. It’s true that words change their meaning over time, but they change healthily only when they enrich and expand their definitions rather than deserting them. Ripping “conservatism” away from its traditional meaning has been one of the great intellectual crimes of the past generation.

©John R. Turner

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