Wednesday, February 22, 2006
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Bekki commenting about being afraid of gas lamps got me thinking about childhood fears and traumas. I remember watching the Challenger explosion and not understanding what was going on or why grandma was crying. I'm sure the Millennial generation will share the same experience of 9/11. Imagine being 5 and hearing just traces and snippets of the news over the past few years. Imagine listening to NPR on the way to school or the news while Mommy makes dinner. Most adults don't even have a handle on what's going on. This generation is going to experience a very different childhood than we did when we believed that the world was a safer place.
The remaining generation is significant enough to warrant extended discussion. These are the members of "Generation X." The G.I.'s and Silenters have had their day; the boomers have been studied within an inch of their life. The next generation begs for understanding, especially by the church. Demographers have been so enchanted with the "baby-boomers," they tend to forget something: A generation following the baby-boomers, thirteen to thirty-three years old this year (birth years of 1961-1981), has grown up almost without notice. More numerous than the boomers, this generation doesn't even have a name: "Busters" (following "boomers"), "13er's" (the thirteenth generation since the American Revolution), "Generation X" (coined by 13er novelist Douglas Coupland). To research their struggles is to wander beyond the antiseptic world of established print media. Anthropological studies of Generation X are better served by logging onto computer bulletin boards, listening to music, and viewing their cinema.Generations theory is fascinating.
These are the chronic underachievers, the generation of Bart Simpson, Beavis and Butt-Head. They're more interested in the body (Air Jordans and pumping iron) than the mind (sinking SAT scores). If they use illegal drugs, it's more likely to be steroids than hallucinogens. Their music has migrated from traditional rock-and-roll to Metalica, Pearl Jam, Guns'n'Roses, and Nine Inch Nails. They may not be able to spell, but they can log on with their computer modems and track down what they need to know. Their language skills may seem underdeveloped, unless you include MS-DOS. They're the generation that's had a hard time finding a career, of moving out of Mom and Dad's. They likely will be the first generation of this century to enjoy a lower standard of living than that of their parents.
They're street smart and pragmatic. They've had to be; they've had the most ignored childhood of the century. They're the generation with more single parents and more latchkey kids than any generation alive. They're survivors in a world they perceive to be at best indifferent and at worst dangerous. Placing results over ideology, they're more likely to organize a work party to clean up a local park than circulate a petition favoring environmental legislation. They are a "can do" crowd, as Desert Storm proved.
They don't naturally gravitate to church; it's too predictable and too verbal. They're more likely to live their Christian faith through group-building activities, work trips, mission projects, and action sports. Committee work leaves them cold. It takes too much time and too much talk; 13er's are willing to cut procedural corners, even massage the system, to get the results they seek.
My hopeful prediction is that their energy will be harnessed for incredible good in the church and the world. If the friction between themselves and their boomer parents can be managed (and it may not be: this is the most serious generation gap since the 1960's), their pragmatism and savvy can help reach the environmental, social justice, and Christian mission goals of their elders. But they are leery of starry-eyed idealism and have (what writer Ernest Hemingway called) a "built in crap detector." A measure of Generation X's wry disenchantment may be found in this posted E-mail note:
Lassie-------Snoop Doggie Dog
Talk of Beatles Reunion-------Talk of New Edition Reunion
James Dean-------Luke Perry
Mrs. Robinson by Simon and Garfunkel-------Mrs. Robinson by the Lemonheads
The Brady Bunch-------The Brady Bill
Somebody to Love by Jefferson Airplane-------Somebody to Shove by Soul Asylum
Tom and Jerry-------Beavis and Butthead
Mood rings-------Nipple rings
Dr. Marcus Welby-------Dr. Dre
Gloria Steinem-------Lorena Bobbitt
The Graduate-------Reality Bites
The earlier allusion to Hemmingway is fitting. William Strauss and Neil Howe (Generations and 13th Gen) see this group as reminiscent of Gertrude Stein's "lost generation," the same generation that gave us the no-nonsense theology of Reinhold Niebuhr and the brutal efficiency of George S. Patton. Our current generation of leadership has paralyzed the denomination by its idolatry of process, fairness, and political correctness. The 13ers can bring us back to a refreshing look at the bottom line. Just let them be reminded that their pragmatism falls under Christ's Lordship, too.
Although the four generations just described make up the bulk of American society, a fifth generation is being born as the G.I. generation moves off the scene. These are the children born between 1982 and 2001; Strauss and Howe call them "Millennial Kids." The feature which distinguishes them from their older counterparts (Generation X) is that they're wanted.
These children were born to parents who really want to raise them right. Many children born into Generation X were seen as a drug to their parents' careers or pleasure. However, a significant number of Generation X'ers, now old enough to become parents, are rebelling against the inadequate parenting they received by opting for lower, one-job incomes, a rejection of consumerism, and a commitment to a simpler lifestyle and a building of relationships within families. If Strauss and Howe's Generations thesis holds up, the Millennial Kids will be the G.I.'s redux. They'll be responsible builders, socially engaged, and institutionally minded. SAT scores will rise; juvenile crime will fall; drug and alcohol abuse will be socially proscribed.
I want to point out a problem though, the Boomers will not allow Gen X to inherit by getting out of the way. The Boomers, between botox, titanium hips, viagra, and cholesterol control, will be around and insisting that 'it's all about them' for the next few decades. The repugnance with which the boomers are viewed by Gen X will shock them, when they finally have to depend on those kids that were such a pain in the ass and a burden. Boomers being boomers, they never much bothered to hide how inconveninent and unwanted their own children were. Imagine the shock at the nursing home.
Imagine the shock of hearing that, hey, you didn't have any kids, you didn't save any money, you partied your whole life, and no one's going bail you out and care for you in your old age. You're over 50, but social security will probably start shrinking by the time you get any, not to mention that it's not enough to live on now. So what do you do? You use the government to pick the pockets of the 20 and 30 year olds, in the form of higher taxes. Those 20 and 30 year olds are aware of the fact that they won't be getting any social security even though they have to pay into it. So while they're trying to independently fund and secure their own old age, they're being coerced into financing yet more boomer life-long irresponsibility.
Late Xers and early Millenials get each other. Xer parents, watching grandma be too busy for their children, just as they were too busy for them, are doing their damnedest to create a different world. All of this braids together with South Park Conservatives, Crunchy-cons, Libertarians, the utter nonsense going on in the ivory tower, the conflict with Islam, the demographic trends in Europe, etc. When the Xers get to the controls, hooo boy.
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Al Qaeda in their own words.
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Eeegh. That's not good.
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I've been trying to find a place to make a small but specific point but haven't found the right place so I'll just plop it here. We're much further along the path to world war than you think. The UAE port uproar is the latest proof.
Ok, so say everyone on the UAE side top to bottom are America-loving pacifists. So what? As Lileks so clearly demonstrated, a psychological line has been crossed. Trust is already impossible for many people. Ok, so say all of the objections are pure racism. So what? How exactly do we change course at this point? There's a strong feeling that we've extended just about all the tolerance and benefit of the doubt, towards those Arab Muslims, that we need to.
I'm afraid that politics may be nearing that hard turn to the right. Though if Bush vetoes and causes that kind of months-long dragging break at home, Europe might attempt to step into the big man role and get tough on Islamic extremism. Or, with nearly every western power preoccupied with internal political issues, (Israel, the US, Canada, the UK, France, etc.) Iran might decide to start something this spring.
Any nuclear detonation anywhere on the planet will be the presumptive work of Islamic terrorists or the bastard states that protect them. I remember being momentarily puzzled when a middle-eastern looking family gave us aprehensive looks in the parking lot at Walmart in the evening on 9/11. It took me a few seconds to put it together. Remember how few incidents of anti-muslim violence followed, and how we all felt a little proud that (other than a very few idiots who couldn't even distinguish between turban wearers,) the aftermath didn't result in a slew of arson and assault?
If a nuke goes off now, I can't imagine any sane even slightly middle-eastern looking person would be on the streets. I don't know what the government might do in the event of another domestic attack. I'm sure there are 800,000 written plans.
I do know that the american people are getting psychologically closer and closer to approving of internment again. There is a toxic brew of anger and fear simmering below the surface. Islam is a 'religion of peace,' but the followers of other religions somehow manage to avoid suicide bombing and filmed decapitations. I'm very afraid that the public will conclude that they are in real danger and that they've been misled about it for 5 years. I doubt that people will opt for democrats if they decide the republicans won't protect them, and I fear whomever might rise to fill the void.
I reiterate: Is it really wise or prudent or virtuous for a small highly-visible, economically disadvantaged, minority group to antagonize the majority host population such that they fear for their lives when going about their daily business and exercising their rights? If europe ever gets off the couch and decides to address the problem... The Australian beach riots would be a picnic. (Remember they started over muslim men harrassing non-muslim Aussie women on the beach, calling them whores, etc. The local soccer hooligans decided they weren't gonna let any immigrants come to their country and start telling their girls how to behave, and so they went looking for middle-easterners to 'educate.' Then an angry group of immigrants pushed back...) Everyone acts shocked. What you didn't see this coming? Why not? There are just going to be more and more of these clashes until this gets settled.
I'm furious with the people who've been making a violent confrontation more rather than less likely. Can we say: elephant in the room? 'If we all ignore it it'll go away.' 'If we don't publish those cartoons then the muslims will target other papers and we can go on living our lives as before, just a little more circumscribed in what we'll say about Islam or Mohommed or Muslims.' 'If I step in to help that boy in a yarmulke fend off those brow-shirts, I might get beaten and stabbed.' Surely someone else will deal with it. 'Surely someone else will dial 911.' I'm fucking sick of it and I think a large part of the public is sick of it too.
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Mmm. Tasty history. I've been working on a post that covered most of these points, but this guy put it together and now I don't have to. I'm copying the entire thing in case of link rot, but read the comments too.
Americans have never really understood ideological warfare. Our gut-level assumption is that everybody in the world really wants the same comfortable material success we have. We use "extremist" as a negative epithetic. Even the few fanatics and revolutionary idealists we have, whatever their political flavor, expect everybody else to behave like a bourgeois.That's a clear eyed view of ourselves and our history. You won't hear it articulated very often. Of course, between our own dawdling and political in-fighting as we come to these conclusions, and the nuclear pursuit in Iran, I'm not sure that avoiding that worst-case scenario is entirely within our own control. (Hint: they've already got a small number of nukes. They bought them off the shelf. They want the ability to make more. It's hideously possible that Iran may have already positioned one or more nuclear devices within the US, possibly even pre-9/11.)
We don't expect ideas to matter - or, when they do, we expect them to matter only because people have been flipped into a vulnerable mode by repression or poverty. Thus all our divagation about the "root causes" of Islamic terrorism, as if the terrorists' very clear and very ideological account of their own theory and motivations is somehow not to be believed.
By contrast, ideological and memetic warfare has been a favored tactic for all of America's three great adversaries of the last hundred years - Nazis, Communists, and Islamists. All three put substantial effort into cultivating American proxies to influence U.S. domestic policy and foreign policy in favorable directions. Yes, the Nazis did this, through organizations like the "German-American Bund" that was outlawed when World War II went hot. Today, the Islamists are having some success at manipulating our politics through fairly transparent front organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
But it was the Soviet Union, in its day, that was the master of this game. They made dezinformatsiya (disinformation) a central weapon of their war against "the main adversary", the U.S. They conducted memetic subversion against the U.S. on many levels at a scale that is only now becoming clear as historians burrow through their archives and ex-KGB officers sell their memoirs.
The Soviets had an entire "active measures" department devoted to churning out anti-American dezinformatsiya. A classic example is the rumor that AIDS was the result of research aimed at building a 'race bomb' that would selectively kill black people.
On a different level, in the 1930s members of CPUSA (the Communist Party of the USA) got instructions from Moscow to promote non-representational art so that the US's public spaces would become arid and ugly.
Americans hearing that last one tend to laugh. But the Soviets, following the lead of Marxist theoreticians like Antonio Gramsci, took very seriously the idea that by blighting the U.S.'s intellectual and esthetic life, they could sap Americans' will to resist Communist ideology and an eventual Communist takeover. The explicit goal was to erode the confidence of America's ruling class and create an ideological vacuum to be filled by Marxism-Leninism.
Accordingly, the Soviet espionage apparat actually ran two different kinds of network: one of spies, and one of agents of influence. The agents of influence had the minor function of recruiting spies (as, for example, when Kim Philby was brought in by one of his tutors at Cambridge), but their major function was to spread dezinformatsiya, to launch memetic weapons that would damage and weaken the West.
In a previous post on Suicidalism, I identified some of the most important of the Soviet Union's memetic weapons. Here is that list again:
* There is no truth, only competing agendas.
* All Western (and especially American) claims to moral superiority over Communism/Fascism/Islam are vitiated by the West's history of racism and colonialism.
* There are no objective standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another. Anyone who claims that there are such standards is an evil oppressor.
* The prosperity of the West is built on ruthless exploitation of the Third World; therefore Westerners actually deserve to be impoverished and miserable.
* Crime is the fault of society, not the individual criminal. Poor criminals are entitled to what they take. Submitting to criminal predation is more virtuous than resisting it.
* The poor are victims. Criminals are victims. And only victims are virtuous. Therefore only the poor and criminals are virtuous. (Rich people can borrow some virtue by identifying with poor people and criminals.)
* For a virtuous person, violence and war are never justified. It is always better to be a victim than to fight, or even to defend oneself. But 'oppressed' people are allowed to use violence anyway; they are merely reflecting the evil of their oppressors.
* When confronted with terror, the only moral course for a Westerner is to apologize for past sins, understand the terrorist's point of view, and make concessions.
As I previously observed, if you trace any of these back far enough, you'll find a Stalinist intellectual at the bottom. (The last two items on the list, for example, came to us courtesy of Frantz Fanon. The fourth item is the Baran-Wallerstein "world system" thesis.) Most were staples of Soviet propaganda at the same time they were being promoted by "progressives" (read: Marxists and the dupes of Marxists) within the Western intelligentsia.
The Soviets consciously followed the Gramscian prescription; they pursued a war of position, subverting the "leading elements" of society through their agents of influence. (See, for example, Stephen Koch's Double Lives: Stalin, Willi Munzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals; summary by Koch here) This worked exactly as expected; their memes seeped into Western popular culture and are repeated endlessly in (for example) the products of Hollywood.
Indeed, the index of Soviet success is that most of us no longer think of these memes as Communist propaganda. It takes a significant amount of digging and rethinking and remembering, even for a lifelong anti-Communist like myself, to realize that there was a time (within the lifetime of my parents) when all of these ideas would have seemed alien, absurd, and repulsive to most people - at best, the beliefs of a nutty left-wing fringe, and at worst instruments of deliberate subversion intended to destroy the American way of life.
Koch shows us that the worst-case scenario was, as it turns out now, the correct one; these ideas, like the "race bomb" rumor, really were instruments deliberately designed to destroy the American way of life. Another index of their success is that most members of the bicoastal elite can no longer speak of "the American way of life" without deprecation, irony, or an automatic and half-conscious genuflection towards the altar of political correctness. In this and other ways, the corrosive effects of Stalin's meme war have come to utterly pervade our culture.
The most paranoid and xenophobic conservatives of the Cold War were, painful though this is to admit, the closest to the truth in estimating the magnitude and subtlety of Soviet subversion. Liberal anticommunists (like myself in the 1970s) thought we were being judicious and fair-minded when we dismissed half of the Right's complaint as crude blather. We were wrong; the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss really were guilty, the Hollywood Ten really were Stalinist tools, and all of Joseph McCarthy's rants about "Communists in the State Department" were essentially true. The Venona transcripts and other new material leave no room for reasonable doubt on this score.
While the espionage apparatus of the Soviet Union didn't outlast it, their memetic weapons did. These memes are now coming near to crippling our culture's response to Islamic terrorism.
In this context, Jeff Goldstein has written eloquently about perhaps the most long-term dangerous of these memes - the idea that rights inhere not in sovereign individuals but identity groups, and that every identity group (except the "ruling class") has the right to suppress criticism of itself through political means up to and including violence.
Mark Brittingham (aka WildMonk) has written an excellent essay on the roots of this doctrine in Rousseau and the post-Enlightenment Romantics. It has elsewhere been analyzed and labeled as transnational progressivism. The Soviets didn't invent it, but they promoted it heavily in a deliberate - and appallingly successful - attempt to weaken the Lockean, individualist tradition that underlies classical liberalism and the U.S. Constitution. The reduction of Western politics to a bitter war for government favor between ascriptive identity groups is exactly the outcome the Soviets wanted and worked hard to arrange.
Call it what you will - various other commentators have favored 'volk-Marxism' or 'postmodern leftism'. I've called it suicidalism. It was designed to paralyze the West against one enemy, but it's now being used against us by another. It is no accident that Osama bin Laden so often sounds like he's reading from back issues of Z magazine, and no accident that both constantly echo the hoariest old cliches of Soviet propaganda in the 1930s and '40s.
Another consequence of Stalin's meme war is that today's left-wing antiwar demonstrators wear kaffiyehs without any sense of how grotesque it is for ostensible Marxists to cuddle up to religious absolutists who want to restore the power relations of the 7th century CE. In Stalin's hands, even Marxism itself was hollowed out to serve as a memetic weapon - it became increasingly nihilist, hatred-focused and destructive. The postmodern left is now defined not by what it's for but by by what it's against: classical-liberal individualism, free markets, dead white males, America, and the idea of objective reality itself.
The first step to recovery is understanding the problem. Knowing that suicidalist memes were launched at us as war weapons by the espionage apparatus of the most evil despotism in human history is in itself liberating. Liberating, too, it is to realize that the Noam Chomskys and Michael Moores and Robert Fisks of the world (and their thousands of lesser imitators in faculty lounges everywhere) are not brave transgressive forward-thinkers but pathetic memebots running the program of a dead tyrant.
Brittingham and other have worried that postmodern leftism may yet win. If so, the victory would be short-lived. One of the clearest lessons of recent times (exemplified not just by kaffiyeh-wearing western leftists but by Hamas's recent clobbering of al-Fatah in the first Palestinian elections) is that po-mo leftism is weaker than liberal individualism in one important respect; it has only the weakest defenses against absolutist fervor. Brittingham tellingly notes po-mo philosopher Richard Rorty's realization that when the babble of conflicting tribal narratives collapses in exhaustion, the only thing left is the will to power.
Again, this is by design. Lenin and Stalin wanted classical-liberal individualism replaced with something less able to resist totalitarianism, not more. Volk-Marxist fantasy and postmodern nihilism served their purposes; the emergence of an adhesive counter-ideology would not have. Thus, the Chomskys and Moores and Fisks are running a program carefully designed to dead-end at nothing.
Religions are good at filling that kind of nothing. Accordingly, if transational progressivism actually succeeds in smothering liberal individualism, its reward will be to be put to the sword by some flavor of jihadi. Whether the eventual winners are Muslims or Mormons, the future is not going to look like the fuzzy multicultural ecotopia of modern left fantasy. The death of that dream is being written in European banlieus by angry Muslim youths under the light of burning cars.
In the banlieus and elsewhere, Islamist pressure makes it certain that sooner or later the West is going to vomit Stalin's memes out of its body politic. The worst way would be through a reflex development of Western absolutism - Christian chauvinism, nativism and militarism melding into something like Francoite fascism. The self-panicking leftists who think they see that in today's Republicans are comically wrong (as witnessed by the fact that they aren't being systematically jailed and executed), but it is quite a plausible future for the demographically-collapsing nations of Europe.
The U.S., fortunately, is still on a demographic expansion wave and will be till at least 2050. But if the Islamists achieve their dream of nuking "crusader" cities, they'll make crusaders out of the U.S., too. And this time, a West with a chauvinized America at its head would smite the Saracen with weapons that would destroy entire populations and fuse Mecca into glass. The horror of our victory would echo for a thousand years.
I remain more optimistic than this. I think there is still an excellent chance that the West can recover from suicidalism without going through a fevered fascist episode and waging a genocidal war. But to do so, we have to do more than recognize Stalin's memes; we have to reject them. We have to eject postmodern leftism from our universities, transnational progressivism from our politics, and volk-Marxism from our media.
The process won't be pretty. But I fear that if the rest of us don't hound the po-mo Left and its useful idiots out of public life with attack and ridicule and shunning, the hard Right will sooner or later get the power to do it by means that include a lot of killing. I don't want to live in that future, and I don't think any of my readers do, either. If we want to save a liberal, tolerant civilization for our children, we'd better get to work.
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Good good good. More please.
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History doesn't repeat, it rhymes. I had forgotten about that episode in african history until I was reading about the Mahdi that's supposed to arise and destroy the great Satan in this century. This conflict is not new.
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