Brownson’s American Republic: Last Thoughts (for now)

As mentioned in the last post, over the last 20% or so of The American Republic, Orestes Brownson changes from description and apologetics to prophecy. He moves from fleshing out and defending a position he attributes to Lincoln, that the United States as a nation precedes the Constitution and even the Declaration, to describing what he sees as the all but inevitable spiritual and political destiny of America.

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Brownson: Proof one does not need to be a Marxist to have a righteous beard. 

Brownson has great faith in Providence. He sees nations not as glorified tribes run by flawed and feeble men, but as acts of loving Creator, meant for some higher goal. The United States, as brought into focus and matured by the Civil War, are Providentially destined to absorb into their beneficent arms all the remaining states in the Western Hemisphere, not by conquest, but by nations one after the other coming to realize the mutual benefits of Union.

There was no statesmanship in proclaiming the “Monroe doctrine,” for the statesman keeps always, as far as possible, his government free to act according to the exigencies of the case when it comes up, unembarrassed by previous declarations of principles. Yet the doctrine only expresses the destiny of the American people, and which nothing but their own fault can prevent them from realizing in its own good time. Napoleon will not succeed in his Mexican policy, and Mexico will add some fifteen or twenty new States to the American Union as soon as it is clearly for the interests of all parties that it should be done, and it can be done by mutual consent, without war or violence. The Union will fight to maintain the integrity of her domain and the supremacy of her laws within it, but she can never, consistently with her principles or her interests, enter upon a career of war and conquest. Her system is violated, endangered, not extended, by subjugating her neighbors, for subjugation and liberty go not together. Annexation, when it takes place, must be on terms of perfect equality and by the free act of the state annexed. The Union can admit of no inequality of rights and franchises between the States of which it is composed. The Canadian Provinces and the Mexican and Central American States, when annexed, must be as free as the original States of the Union, sharing alike in the power and the protection of the Republic—alike in its authority, its freedom, its grandeur, and its glory, as one free, independent, self-governing people. They may gain much, but must lose nothing by annexation.

“They may gain much, but must lose nothing by annexation.” This is the key feature, the one that did not survive 3 years after the Civil War: that states would retain all rights and powers to manage themselves after a fashion suitable to the local customs and traditions and the nature of the people therein, while only those rights and powers proper by nature to the Union would be surrendered. Mexico, to stick with Brownson’s example above, was destined to see the harmony and prosperity and benevolence of the U.S., note their lack of interest in, indeed, abhorrence of the very idea of imposing non-Mexican government on them in regards to all local matters. Defence, interstate commerce, settling disputes between states – those powers would be mutually shared and exercised through the federal government. The Mexicans would gain much, and lose nothing.

Except that the ink was not yet dry on this book when the spectacle of the North forcing passage of the 14th Amendment on the Southern states as a condition for reentering the Union showed the world exactly how wrong Brownson was. This, on the heels of a bloody war (of conquest, it would look like from the outside and the South), would certainly cause Mexico or anybody else to have serious doubts about the harmlessness of intentions of America. The Civil War preserved the Union, or at least something visually similar to the Union, and freed the slaves, but it did not advertise peace-loving American benevolence.

Brownson assumed the Reconstruction would be swift, fair and relatively painless, and lead to an economic boom. Brothers welcoming prodigal brothers home. He didn’t quite get that one right, either.

I almost think I hear a man horrified, as so many were, by the Civil War, trying to make sense out of it by appeals to destiny and Providence. Rather than the death of the very American ideals he so fervently hoped to see realized, he sees a renewal, a Phoenix rising. All the blood and wealth Lincoln describes as spilt and dissipated in Divine Retribution over slavery in his Second Inaugural Address Brownson believes rather paves the way to a glorious future.

A contemporary critic accused Brownson of arguing vehemently for ideas he wished he, himself, could believe in. I’m wondering if that critic didn’t have a point. Brownson ends the American Republic:

But the American people need not trouble themselves about their exterior expansion. That will come of itself as fast as desirable. Let them devote their attention to their internal destiny, to the realization of their mission within, and they will gradually see the Whole continent coming under their system, forming one grand nation, a really catholic nation, great, glorious, and free.

A Poverty of Relationships

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“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

  • Matthew 25: 37-39

Two books reviewed here, both highly recommended, are made up of stories about human relationships that are becoming increasingly uncommon or threatened. In my review of Awake in the Night Lands, by John C. Wright, I said:

In the first story, we are presented with the true love of friends; in the second, the true love of brother and sister, in the third, the true love of father and son. In this fourth story, we get, finally, to the true love of man and wife. Using the horrors of the Night Land, and the honor and humanity of the people of the Last Redoubt, Wright explores love – and everything that can go wrong with it, even among those who love truly.

At last, he touches, like Dante in the last cantos of the Paradiso, upon the love of God for Man.

In a similar way, in Captive Dreams, reviewed briefly here (I want to do a more detailed review, but this may have to do), Mike Flynn builds his first story, Melodies of the Heart, around a doctor’s (eventual) love for an old lady, parents’s love of their dying child and the child’s love for them, a caregiver’s love for that same child, and the old lady’s memories of all the loves gone by in her long life. Each successive story has, at its core, human relationships: The title story, Captive Dreams, hinges on difficult mother-child relationships across three generations;  Hopeful Monsters investigates another, different but not so different mother-child relationship; Places Where the Roads Don’t Go is about a difficult lifelong friendship; Remember’d Kisses explores a widow’s devastation at the loss of his wife; and finally Buried Hopes is about a crew member’s love of crew, captain and home. (1)

Wright and Flynn write very different stories in very different styles – Wright is shooting for myth-making of epic proportions, and so his heroes, heroines and villains are much more heroic or villainous than mundane life generally allows, while Flynn’s characters are painfully flawed and realistic. Yet I was struck by how much both sets of stories are built around relationships that were once much more common and generally deeper than they are now.

In Captive Dreams, all the stories are set in a single neighborhood. From what he’s written on his blog, we know that Flynn grew up in a classic neighborhood, where everybody knew everybody else on the block (and were generally related to each other), which, in turn, is a reflection of the sort of village life 90% of people would have grown up in up until the last century or so.

Such neighborhoods these days seem to be unusual. I’ve lived in the same house for 21 years, and I know well exactly 2 of my neighbors, and even know the names of only 2 more. More than one house away might as well be in the next state. I wish this were just a symptom of modern California suburbia, but it seems to be a much more general phenomenon. The neighborhood Flynn describes in Captive Dreams seems to be much more like mine than the one Flynn grew up in.

So, in the background against which all the flawed relationships of all the perfectly human and therefore damaged characters are set, we already see a larger social effect of this damage. With few exceptions, the characters in the stories do not turn to their neighbors for comfort, support, or advice. In what sort of world are the people you live with in the most direct geographical sense not your tribe or clan or, really, neighbors? Who fills that cultural role in your life? Sadly, the answer is clear, both in the stories and in real life: no one, or the first snake oil salesman that comes along. (2)

Man was not meant to be alone.

Wright’s stories take an opposite approach, in a way: his relationships – his friendships, families and marriages are, if anything, too strong, too good for the world. Instead of the flaws of a tragically tiny soul which lead a woman to have her own child euthanized because he is not likely to make her happy as in Flynn’s stories, we have men and women willing to risk death and worse than death just for a chance to redeem a relationship. The flaws governing (if that’s the right word) the characters in Flynn’s stories seem small, but are life and death; the flaws in Wright’s characters are epic, but boil down to the utterly personal love of son for father or brother for sister.

The scripture quotation with which I began is that list of things by which, we are told, we shall be judged worthy of everlasting life. Note that only the first three are, strictly, the providing of material things to those who need them. food, drink and clothing. The last three are much, much harder, at least these days: establishing a relationship. We need to welcome the stranger, and comfort the sick and imprisoned.

Human life is built – I almost wrote used to be built – on natural human relationships. And everybody knew it. Government and society and culture all, in a way, were understood to flow from these relationships and to aim toward them. Those relationships would have stood as water to a fish: we hardly notice it, because that’s where we live our lives.

An extended family and its family friends would have contained all the relationships upon which human life rests and toward the realization of which it moves. Everyone except the tragically deprived would know first or second hand what being a son, brother and father or daughter, sister and mother looked like. Spinster aunts and unmarried uncles would not be viewed as flawed, necessarily – no more than anyone else, at least. Friendships would be cultivated and treasured.

These relationships were carried on for a lifetime, and sometimes longer! Just look at the letters that have come down to us, exchanged by Abigail and John Adams, or Paul and his companions, or even soldier in the field with their loved ones back home. These give evidence, if any is needed, that the state of these basic human relationships has declined over time. Talking with old folks (3) often gets back to these relationships – they are what lasts. In Flynn’s Melodies of the Heart,  part of the tragedy is that this old lady has cut herself off not only from relationships she might have now, but from the ones she really had in the past.

Chesterton observes the insane reversal of modern life: we seem to insist these days that freedom is somehow a public right to be guaranteed by the state (and goodness,  would Chesterton’s jaw drop to see how that’s played out over the last 75 years since he wrote) instead of freedom being something we exercise in our private lives. We want government at best to help us resist efforts to take that quiet enjoyment away from us, and at worst to at least stay out of our lives itself. Because we are human and therefore social, our freedom is best, perhaps only, expressed within our circle of family and friends. I’ve quoted this before, but it bears repeating:

If the Duchess does want to play leap frog, she must not start suddenly leaping in the manner of a frog across the ballroom of the Babylon Hotel, when it is crowded with the fifty best couples professionally practising the very latest dance, for the instruction of society. The Duchess will find it easier to practise leap frog to the admiration of her intimate friends in the old oak-panelled hall of Fitzdragon Castle. If the Dean must stand on his head, he will do it with more ease and grace in the calm atmosphere of the Deanery than by attempting to interrupt the programme of some social entertainment already organised for philanthropic purposes.

But the hospitality of a house will always be different from the hospitality of a hotel. And it will be different in being more individual, more independent, more interesting than the hospitality of a hotel. It is perfectly right that the young Browns and the young Robinsons should meet and mix and dance and make asses of themselves, according to the design of their Creator. But there will always be some difference between the Browns entertaining the Robinsons and the Robinsons entertaining the Browns. And it will be a difference to the advantage of variety, of personality, of the potentialities of the mind of man; or, in other words, of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Chesterton,  THE DRIFT FROM DOMESTICITY, The Thing

We need these relationships to not only show us how to welcome the stranger, but to give us something to welcome the stranger into. We need to visit the sick and imprisoned from someplace. If we, together with the sick and the imprisoned, understand our chief relationship to be with the state, we all already share that place – I may have a different role from the sick and imprisoned, but we are already part of the one family the state has longed to pretend to become. From what, to use modern semi-gibberish, have the sick man or imprisoned criminal, been alienated from? If we all are already part of one big state family, playing our different parts, what cause do I have to visit?

Instead, if the state is, as it historically has often been, a creature of families for families, that those already in relationships with their loved ones and neighbors set up with them to protect and foster those relationships, then a sick or imprisoned person has something to go back to, some place to be visited from. I’ve read over the years about the problems of recidivism in released prisoners, how those who do not have loved ones to go back to are almost certain to end up back in prison very shortly. How could it be otherwise? The prison is, or might as well be, their family, if they have no other. Similarly, it is not just cost control that motivates hospitals to get people out and back home – people really do heal better when among their loved ones.

So, as a primarily spiritual effort with inevitable Incarnational effects in the social world, we – meaning me, first of all, I’m not pretending I’ve gotten even an inch down this path so far – have got to cultivate family, support relationships, build friendships, support each other, provide that place where true freedom can be expressed. The path we are on, and have been on for 200 years, is to think that rights primarily mean public rights, like voting or assembly. But those are clearly secondary – we demand those rights for the sake of other, more important and human rights – the right to be ourselves with those we love.

Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, and clothing the naked are things the state can do, however well or badly. In this day, those needs can be easily addressed – we are not likely to go hungry or naked ourselves if we give to someone in need. But the simple mechanical provision of these goods to those who need them is not enough to gain eternal life – that would be too easy. Instead, we need to do the personal part, loving our neighbor (and our enemy – as Chesterton said, they are usually the same people), creating and nurturing relationships. We must love the unloveable.

One last thought: our efforts in this direction will almost certainly be a disaster. So? As Mother Teresa put it: we are called to be faithful, not successful.

  1. In the best Sci Fi tradition, in Captive Dreams the technological advances are examined from the perspective of how they affect human relationships. That’s what makes stories as different as Canticle for Leibowitz and Starship Troopers, for example, so memorable – not the cool tech, but how people deal with it. And why otherwise great stories such as The Neuromancer are not quite as good.
  2. The reader is of course free to speculate on political snake oil salesmen, and the substitution of politics and political identity for culture and clan. I’m taking the day off from that.
  3. Defined as 75+ to handily exclude me

Some Links

A. The Statistician to the Stars makes the point: In our society, the use of force is reserved to those who govern

What do we call those people in a society who are licensed or allowed to use violence?

No hints this time. We call these the people in charge.

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People in charge exercising their power. 

So, must we assume that hooded thugs and the college administration that effectively encourages them are the people in charge? If you find yourself in Berkeley, you’d better.

B. Mike Flynn, among other interesting things, spells out some of the difficulties in attempting to argue with post post moderns. It’s hard, when the sneer and eye-role have replaced premises and logical deductions as the foundation of higher reasoning – a perfectly predictable if unintended consequence of Hegel’s pitching enlightenment over logic as the one true path (or, at least, the express lane) to Knowledge. Which is how you end up with gender theorists, say, having greater standing in the academy than, say, chemists.

Well worth reading, and also following the links, which I will not duplicate here. Also, I think Mr. Flynn wins the internet for a day with:

Democrats have not been this riled up since the Republicans took their slaves away.

Ouch.

C. And here is Orvan Ox talking about modern name calling on Sarah Hoyt’s blog, and how it inures one to a certain manipulative shaming after a while. My comment:

The real threat here is that constantly being slurred does tend to make one hate the slurrer. The more inappropriate and stupid, the better – I mean, the more it tends toward making one dislike the name-caller.

Thus, while the name-calling will increase immunity among some, it may actually create that which it incorrectly names. If I wanted, for some reason, society to be racist and misogynist, continually calling it that might tend to make it so.

This would be merely a crazy paranoid idea. Then you read a little Gramsci and Alinsky, and the idea that something so convoluted and sick could be attempted starts to seem almost inevitable.

 

 

Books, Question, Dumb Stuff, Writing

Books: On John C. Wright’s general recommendation, got Writing the Breakout Novel, which I’m now reading. It is being helpful so far.

Also got Mike Flynn’s Captive Dreams. Been meaning to for a while. Now to find time to read it.

Also also, got Recovering a Catholic Philosophy of Elementary Education for when I get back on the education reading wagon.

Question: I use the Google news feed as “the news”, meaning if it appears there I consider it to have made the news, and if not, I don’t see it. Well? Does this seem fair? Prudent? I’m working under the assumption that Google is no more or less biased on the whole than any other means I could come up with to determine what is “in the news” at any given time.

Dumb Stuff: Speaking of which, a couple weeks back, I noticed in the news – the Google news feed, that is – that the markets, after pretty much uninterrupted gains since Trump’s election, had a few down days. Did the headlines say, as the often do, “Markets Pull Back as Investors Take Profits” or something like that? Is the Pope unambiguous? Headlines read, instead, that the honeymoon was over! Investor confidence in Trump had petered out. Sigh. Markets go up and down. If you knew why (beyond it being merely the mechanical result of people buying and selling stock), then you’d be rich – and not writing headlines. Ya know?

So now, the markets have resumed their irrational exuberance or whatever the cool kids are calling it these days. Do the headline writers give Trump credit? Like saying -“Oops! We Were Wrong About the Honeymoon Being Over” or in any way acknowledge that what they’d said a mere week or two ago was patent nonsense? Trump still appalls me, but not nearly as much as the out of control frothing attacks on him. Here’s a pro tip: Wait a bit, and Trump will do something objectively bad that you can clobber him for – every other president has. (He probably already has, but how is one to spot it among all the ravings and spittle?) Then you (the headline writers) won’t look so stupid to anyone with eyes to see.

Dumber still, I read and was writing an analysis of an essay by some Chicago reporter that was an attack on those with the temerity to point out that, wow, despite (?) a solid century or more of Progressive leadership, including lots of gun control, people in Chicago sure do seem to murder each other at a much higher rate than in other cities. We are assured the reasons for the 59% year over year increase in murder rate are complicated, and in any event invisible unless you happen to have lived you whole life in Chicago – I’m boiling it down a bit, but that’s what the residue lining the pot looks like when the boiling is done. And if you insist on pushing the question, you are by that fact alone acting with bad intent.

It was getting out of hand – there was so much misdirection (1) that I was getting pages into my analysis and was still digging yet more craziness up. So I stopped. Unless we can deal first with the facts instead of immediately playing the ‘it’s complicated, you can’t understand’ card, there is no discussion.

It seems, then, there is no discussion.

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You get the idea. 

Writing: Finally, as mentioned above, I’m reading that Writing the Breakout Novel book, which is eating into my writing time, but I figure it will help in the long run. The first takeaway is not made explicitly, but reminds me of my callow youth, when I used to compose music. I discovered that – you’ll be shocked – coming up with nice tunes and pretty snippets of music was easy. Keeping fixed in mind where the whole composition was going proved much more difficult. Unless you want to write very short pieces, you have to know, on some level, where you are going before you start.(3)

Same with writing novels. I had all these cool tech and plot ideas. But where is the story going? How does it move from A to B to C? This may seem crazy, but I grabbed Jane Austen’s Emma to read, since I hear it has exactly what I’m most missing: complicated characters acting out of a variety of interest and talents toward different and conflicting goals. And it is otherwise completely different from what I’m working on.

Bottom line: I am not (yet) frustrated with the slow writing. I want to wrap up these explorations of technique ASAP, then just refuse to do any more until the book is done.

Hey, it’s a plan.

  1. e.g., in one linked article, the claim was made that more deadly weapons were now being used – I suppose they mean higher caliber? In one year? A commentator noted that Al Capone and his fellow solid Chicago citizens preferred .45 calibre Thompson sub machineguns that, at the time, were available for purchase at hardware stores. Yet, even counting the people Capone offed, there were still only 50 murders per year in Chicago, so blaming the increased deadliness on more powerful weapons seems a reach. For making this point, the commentator was called all sorts of names. Go figure.
  2. e.g., that, while Chicago’s murder rate keeps going up, cities like Houston have a flat murder count (despite a growing population) even though they have about the same racial & ethnic mix as Chicago and are about the same size.
  3. I love improve – probably what I’m best at – but those off the cuff compositions tend to meander, stick to very simple forms, or both. Or end up formless goo.

 

Can the Attractive Youngsters Please SHUT UP?

If I never hear another actor, singer, or sports star say anything about politics, life will be much more peaceful and, more importantly, much less STUPID. Generally, I avoid reading or listening to ‘news’ sources in which I’m likely to hear the latest wisdom vomited forth from some pampered, sheltered one-dimensional punk to the applause of absolutely EVERYONE they know.

It’s worse in the Bay Area, of course. This is the land where the mere possibility one might actually hear something WRONG is sufficient justification for burning some random person’s car or vandalizing some random stranger’s storefront. Thus, allowing a few hundred people to listen to one guy say stuff that challenges the fantasy -land assumptions of progressivism is the same as forcing fascism on America, and therefore any steps necessary may be taken. No, really (1).

Anyway, I am weak, and sometimes do listen to the news over the radio on my morning commute – and, worse, even though I’ve sworn off the NBA, I don’t reflexively turn it off when the sports news comes on.

So, today, I paid the price: I listened to an Attractive Yet Sheltered and Ignorant Youngster use his platform as a sports superstar to attempt to ruin a company that has made him many millions of dollars. A company he is reputed to own a good size stake in. Because the CEO said something nice about Trump, and Our Attractive Youngster doesn’t like him.

Background: Steph Curry is the two-time defending Most Valuable Player in the NBA, which, given that he looks about 16 years old and is ‘only’ about 6’3″ tall, is utterly remarkable. His story is a Hero’s Journey in real life: no major colleges wanted him, so he attended a second-tier school, gained recognition when he took them deep into the NCAA playoffs, got drafted by the Warriors, spent the first couple years mostly injured – then blew the league apart with his phenomenal shooting ability. All the while looking like some kid who wandered onto the court where the men were playing.

He’s also charming in a boyish awe-shucks manner, married to a lovely, vivacious wife and father to two utterly adorable little girls. His reputation is squeaky-clean. He is unfailingly polite, and can effortlessly navigate both the black urban street-ball culture and golf with the CEO of any corporation. Children of all ages adore him in vast numbers.

In other words, Steph Curry is a marketer’s dream – no, rather a marketer’s most outlandish fantasy – come true.

A few years ago, just as he was starting to make a name for himself, he was up for a sneaker contract. For those not up on modern sports, the superstars cut deals with one of a small number of sporting equipment companies, wherein they get paid – often, a lot, as in millions per year – to wear the company’s shoes and other apparel when they play and at all other times. The 600 lbs gorilla in this game is Nike – they ‘own’ LeBron James, Tiger Woods and, legendarily, Michael Jordan, among many others.

Curry did not fit the Nike mold – their stable includes mostly god-like physical specimens who destroy all opposition. He looks like a kid. So they made a rather tame and lame offer to him. But up and coming Under Armour saw the potential, and signed him to a much sweeter deal, cut him a piece of the action, and made him the centerpiece of their entire corporate marketing campaign.

The rest is history. Cashing in on Curry’s unexpected meteoric rise to the top, Under Armour became a darling of Wall Street and made a boatload of money – with a smaller yet still large boatload paid to Curry. Match made in heaven, certain to be the subject of business school case studies for the next several decades.

Curry is the son of a professional athlete, a good, solid Christian citizen named Dell Curry. He grew up wealthy in the alternate universe elite athletes inhabit. His fairytale life really is a fairytale compared to real life.

Yet, he has no way of knowing that. It’s like water to a fish.

So, today, on the news, it was reported that the CEO of Under Armour commented that Trump’s pro-business policies make him “an asset to America”. Bay Area news-cretins (2) cannot let THAT pass, and so stuck a mic in Curry face and asked him to comment: he said he agreed, so long as you removed the ‘e’ and ‘t’ from ‘asset’. He then went on to say he’d need to have a talk with Under Armour about their business relationship, since it was clear they didn’t support the same politics.

Financially, Curry and Under Armour made each other. Yet, a 27-year-old sheltered child of a man now feels, not only free, but compelled to threaten to destroy the relationship – and the company! – unless management of a *corporation* reflects his personal political views. Some other company will snap him up in a minute, if push comes to shove, so Curry will come out just fine. But that may not mean much to the thousands of employees or owners of Under Armour stock.

I hope they have that discussion. I hope Under Armour gets somebody who can get through to Curry to explain that wishing Trump well and even supporting his policies does not make someone evil or stupid – that there are good reasons to prefer him over Hillary. That one might support the current President and wish him well – because he’s President, even if (as is the case for me) you find him personally appalling. That plenty of black men and women support Trump. That maybe he should contemplate why the military went Trump 3 to 1.  That maybe he should broaden his sources of information beyond his current echo chamber.

I’d be much more impressed with this principled stand if it stood to cost Curry anything. Meanwhile, I might just have to start buying non-Curry Under Armour gear if I ever need any, while grabbing some Chick Fil A on my way to Hobby Lobby.

  1. First thing that came up, from Rolling Stone: “Shutting down the talk was successful,” the protester, who asked to remain anonymous, said in an email. “But it was also about sending a message to everyone else: We aren’t about to allow white supremacist views to be normalized. It was about striking at the seemingly impervious confidence the far right has been boasting.”  But it isn’t just about blocking a single speaker. “It is really about making them understand the danger they pose by treating these insane neo-Nazi ideas cavalierly,” the protester says. “People talk a lot about ‘freedom of speech’ and I think this fetish of speech misses the larger point. It is about ideas of freedom itself. Who has it, and who is denied it.”
  2. The next item up was an interview with a marketing consultant about what it all means – because 90 seconds of information over the radio are what make the world go round. BUT: this marketing expert mentioned in passing, matter of fact, that boycotts by the right tend to not have much effect, because the media has no interest in promoting or even reporting on it like they do with boycotts from the left. That’ll teach that station not to do live interviews!

Rahm Makes Machiavelli Look Like a Choir Boy

Oops – doing politics.

I’ve long been fascinated by Rahm Emanuel, in a similar way to how I find LBJ, Whitey & Billy Bulger, Genghis Khan and, well, Machiavelli fascinating. These men are all recognizably human, probably kind to their pets and considerate of their mothers, which makes their behaviors and what they say all the more outrageous and repulsive.

His lust for power is complete, in that, as the article we’ll be discussing below shows, there are no principles he would hold on to at the risk of losing an election. Reading between the lines, elections, insofar as they might keep the likes of Rahm out of power, are therefore in themselves nothing to be defended – not surprising, once you consider the man saying this is the umpteenth consecutive Democratic mayor of Chicago, where elections have not been allowed to turn out ‘wrong’ since the 1920s (1).

So here is the headline from today’s Chicago Tribune:

Rahm Emanuel: Too many Dems care more about being right than winning

Hmmm. This is a ‘problem’ Rahm himself will never suffer from. From the article:

“Winning’s everything,” he said. “If you don’t win, you can’t make the public policy. I say that because it is hard for people in our party to accept that principle. Sometimes, you’ve just got to win, OK? Our party likes to be right, even if they lose.”

Here’s another interesting bit:

The mayor expanded on what he believes is the road map back to power for his party — putting moderate candidates such as veterans, football players, sheriffs and business people up in Republican districts, picking battles with Republicans, exploiting wedges within the GOP and fighting attempts to redistrict Congress on partisan grounds.

It does not seem to occur to Rahm, or, rather, if it were to occur to him he would see it as utterly irrelevant, that, generally, those “veterans, football players, sheriffs and business people” might not agree with his goals. That getting him and his elected might not be seen as all that. That his win-at-all-costs approach itself may be a turn-off. For example, read somewhere that 75% of the military voted for Trump, and that the much of the remainder voted Not Hillary. The reasons should be obvious. So, what he’s looking for is that veteran who can, at the same time, be seen as ‘one of us’ by other military while embracing the party of Benghazi, Military as Affirmative Action Laboratory, and constant insults and dismissal of military people. Soldiers do tend to cling to their guns, if not always their Bibles, after all.

But all this – what people believe and how they reasonably respond to being dismissed, insulted, and hung out to die – is just irrelevant to Rahm. Or rather, is just another political problem to be overcome by cunning and hard work. That the actual concerns and dreams of “veterans, football players, sheriffs and business people” might not correspond to what his party demonstrably stands for just isn’t important.

Winning is important.

People, especially the wrong people, are to be used as means to an end if possible, or crushed like bugs if not.

Now, Rahm can be forgiven, perhaps, for thinking this way. He and his did get Obama elected. Twice. Digression: Many years ago, watched a TV item about a comparatively harmless cult leader out in, I think, New Mexico. His small number of followers *LOVED* him. Fortunately, the cult leader didn’t seem to want to make them into slaves or have them kill themselves – as I said, relatively harmless.

The interviewer tried to talk to the leader, who was very open and gracious. He came across as friendly, sincere, honestly interested in answering the dude’s questions – and utterly, completely incoherent. He was using English words in complete sentences, but darned if I, or the interviewer, could make out what, if anything, he was saying.

But, to his followers, he was the font of wisdom. That they, the followers, could not articulate what he was saying any better than he could (any more than a generic message to be nice and be open) was a source of mild frustration and calls to just talk to him yourself, you’d then see.

I recall thinking: wow, these seemingly normal people see a prophet where I, and most everyone else, see a kindly, babbling crazy person. His followers just couldn’t see it. It greatly helped, I think, that what he said was a content-free vessel for the listener’s own hopes and dreams. The followers were free to imagine whatever they wished they’d heard.

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Harding. Doesn’t he look like a president? Sure, he’s largely unqualified and is being pushed by unscrupulous people for their own ends – but he looks so presidential. 

In a similar way, the first time I saw Obama, before I’d formed an opinion of him, my initial impression (fleshed out in hindsight, of course) was: here is a pampered teacher’s pet, who has been told his whole life how smart he is, who has been walked through the halls of academia (along paths his mother and family had already trail blazed, it turns out) and handed degrees and awards, and has no idea that he, himself, hasn’t conquered the world by his own merits. Then, he opened his mouth and removed all doubt.

Hope and Change, it turns out, was not just a campaign slogan, but, as in the case above, was a container into which the listener is invited to put whatever he wishes he heard. I do not exaggerate: I had two friends who were both strong Obama supporters both times around, and one was mortally offended at the idea that Obama was a Socialist at heart; the other supported him because, obviously, Obama is a Socialist.

Thus, I was and am dumbstruck: we are looking at and listening to the same guy, right? And you see a brilliant scholar and leader who is or is not absolutely certainly a Socialist or isn’t, in whom all right thinking people must place all their trust? You don’t see a pampered, spoiled little boy whose life is completely achievement-free except for stuff handed him by other people? Whose actual words (especially off script) reveal him to be totally pedestrian? Have you never met people of intelligence and accomplishment? And you can’t see the difference?(2)

Anyway, Rahm got that guy elected. Twice. His team deflected all criticism by accusations of racism, leaving people like me, again, completely baffled – what? I’d be thrilled to have a black – or female, or polka-dot – president IF he seemed likely to do the job well. Obama turned out to be everything I thought he’d be: the Warren G. Harding of our generation.

And Rahm has now announced his hopes that the Democrats find more Hardings: people who look the part to act as figureheads while the operatives – you know, like Rahm – actually run things (3).

I guess we’d have to elect them to find out what’s in them.

  1. “Big Bill” Thompson won as a Republican in 1915 – 1923 and 1927 – 1931. His most striking achievement was being even more corrupt and brutal than the Democrats he was running against.
  2. That’s another problem with academia: they are the self-proclaimed smart people, urban, sophisticated. Except, with the wild expansion of post-high school education over the last 50-60 years, more and more academic positions have to be filled by average people. Those average people are then the gate-keepers, determining who the next round of academics will be. Thus, especially if one were to get a degree where objective technical competence is not measurable – sociology or English, say, as opposed to accounting or chemistry – an innocent young thing might graduate thinking he’d met all the really smart people. Then Obama doesn’t look half-bad – he sounds just like that smart sociology professor you had in sophomore year…
  3. Rahm went back to Chicago right around the time it became clear that Obama wasn’t going to let him run things – the story goes that the President refused to listen to Rahm’s advice on getting the ACA passed – so Rahm took his ball and went home. Rahm, BTW, is a brilliant man of achievement, in case you need to know what one looks like. He’s also a politically amoral power mad manipulator who finds socialism appealing – because it promises to concentrate power into the hands of people like him. It should go without saying that just finding that brilliant person of achievement is not enough.

Light Bulb Goes On

Just today dawned on me, while contemplating how far Scientific American and other once noble scientific organs and organizations (like the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists mentioned in the last post) have fallen or have been conquered by political hacks: given Pournelle’s Iron Law, to take over an organization, one needn’t take over the leadership positions – one merely needs to take over the bureaucracy. Sooner rather than later, that bureaucracy will become the real leaders, and can then get whoever they want as nominal leaders.

One day, I imagine some lover of science who established or joined some group in order to further science will wake up to find some hack who joined in order to run the bureaucracy is his boss, or the one who approves his hires or funding – and he leaves or is driven out. Someone more amenable to the bureaucracy’s goals then get the job or position.

So if you want to co-op an existing organization for your ends, don’t go after the leadership jobs – just get appointed manager or assistant treasurer or HR head – and be patient (and not all that patient) and you can soon call the shots.

This explains a number of things I’ve seen. Y’all probably knew this already?