The Long View 2004-03-05: Power; Decadence; Blackmun & the Terror War

Cold fusion is one of those ideas that just won't die. Sure, I'd love it to be real too, but when something seems too good to be true, it usually is. Especially in a field that has failed so spectacularly so many times.

Sonoluminescence, the phenomenon mentioned in John's post here, at least has interesting physics. Other kinds of cold fusion, like LENR, are outright scams. It is possible for hobbyists to build machines capable of nuclear fusion, but this apparently isn't sexy enough for scam artists, who insist on coming up with machines that can't even produce neutrons.

Genetic engineering still isn't real, although CRISPR/cas9 is a more promising technology than anything so far. Much like nuclear fusion, it has been just around the corner for a long time. I suspect genetic engineering is far easier to do, so I think it will eventually get here. I don't believe practical genetic engineering will change the world in a heartbeat, as some of its proponents seem to think, but it will cause real changes in the world. I also think that the impact will largely be limited by cost. Genetic engineering is one thing; all of the ancillary technologies that would make it cheap and ubiquitous are quite another.

Turning to European politics, Niall Ferguson gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute in 2004 pointing out that Germany was [and is] the fiscal and political center of the EU, despite a nominal equality of influence of all member nations in the organs of the EU. If you use defacto German dominance as a starting point, and then combine that with the notion that lots of people probably aren't fans of the idea of German dominance, then the politics of the EU make a lot more sense.

For American politics, here is a rather stark prediction. John suggested here that preventing a fascist revolution in the West required the defeat the cultural Left. The cultural Left is at present ascendant, and not particularly generous to the losers in the Culture War. One might argue the that unlikely candidacy of Donald Trump for President of the United States is the form taken by the inevitable backlash against the victors' lack of mercy or compromise.

I do not think Donald Trump is particularly fascist, in any meaningful sense of the word. Authoritarian, yes. Fascist, no. By which I really mean, if think this is bad: just wait, it can get far, far worse.

What far worse looks like

What far worse looks like


Power; Decadence; Blackmun & the Terror War

Cold fusion is back, at least if you believe the Rensselaer Institute. Look:

The research team used a standing ultrasonic wave to help form and then implode the cavitation bubbles of deuterated acetone vapor. The oscillating sound waves caused the bubbles to expand and then violently collapse, creating strong compression shock waves around and inside the bubbles. Moving at about the speed of sound, the internal shock waves impacted at the center of the bubbles causing very high compression and accompanying temperatures of about 100 million Kelvin...Other fusion techniques, such as those that use strong magnetic fields or lasers to contain the plasma, cannot easily achieve the necessary compression....In the approach to be published in Physical Review E, spherical compression of the plasma was achieved due to the inertia of the liquid surrounding the imploding bubbles.

Results this dramatic have a tendency not to be replicated; and even if they can be, the effect in question may have no practical applications. Nonetheless, I was happy to see this story, because cold fusion has long been a running gag for me. I was deeply impressed by the claims for cold fusion made by Fleischman & Pons over a decade ago, though I knew no more about the physics than a pig knows about Sunday. In the aftermath, when people made merry at my expense, I told them, "Just you wait!" In fact, I rubbed it in. When people pointed out other things I was wrong about, I would say, "Yeah, well, I haven't given up on cold fusion yet." Now, at least for a while, I can say, "I told you so!"

Practical cold-fusion is one of the few speculative technologies that would really make everything different. Genetic engineering is starting to look like a real-estate investment scam, and nanotechnology is probably a category mistake. An inexhaustible source of energy that you can use without covering the entire surface of the Earth with windmills and solar panels would be something else again. That really would mean a new industrial revolution. As we say in New Jersey: "Nice work, if you can get it."

* * *

On the downside, we have this talk that Niall Ferguson recently gave at the the American Enterprise Institute:

I want to speak this evening about what may seem a rather dramatic subject--the end of Europe, by which I don't mean its disappearance from the map, but a fundamental transformation in the political and economic institutions of the European Union...

Europe will turn out to be not an empire in the sense that I think the United States is today--that is to say, an expansive geopolitical entity--not a rival or a competitor or even a counterweight to the United States, but almost its antithesis, something that is drawing political energies into it, that is perhaps even being colonized by exogenous forces...

My suggestion is not that the European Union will vanish, but simply that its institutions are in danger of atrophying and that it, too, may one day be no more than a humble data-gathering agency with expensive but impotent offices in the City of Brussels and elsewhere.

Ferguson gives a number of reasons for this. The chief economic reason is that the EU was possible only because the Germans were willing to subsidize it. Today Germany contributes about two-thirds of the Union's budget, even though it has only about 10% of the votes in the Council of Europe. Germany can no longer afford this, especially with the accession of the new states to the Union this year. Germany will be able to afford it less in the future, because its population is actually shrinking. Ferguson is not an economic determinist, however. He attributes these changes to a larger cultural decadence. He says that there is something about Europe's post-Christian condition that is literally morbid:

Increasingly, European politics is dominated by a kind of dance of death as politicians and voters try desperately and vainly to prop up the moribund welfare states of the post-Second World War era, but above all to prop up what little remains of their traditional cultures.

There are people who sense that this trend is not merely tragic, but uncanny. Consider this report from an American in Brussels:

Reverend Alan Baker is an American pastor at [the local] Christian Center. He said, "Something I hear a lot is an "ancient spirit of hopelessness."

Baker added, "I've had people tell me, when they come off the plane getting into Belgium, it's as if there are spiritual hands around their throat. They just can't seem to breathe. It's a very heavy, heavy thing, a hopelessness."

In a way, these assessments are a good sign. When decadence reaches the point of palpable spiritual oppression, people will act to save themselves. The problem is that multicultural postmodernism has so discredited liberal institutions that, when the time comes, people may throw out the baby with the bathwater. It is, I think, the role of the United States to work out a model for post-postmodern society that is both religious and democratic; that maintains traditional family structures without being coercive; that is ethnically tolerant while favoring assimilation and keeping immigration to frictional levels. In other words, it is still possible to avoid the world of Imperium. That, however requires the defeat of the cultural Left in the United States.

* * *

This is what we should keep in mind when we read accounts of the recently released papers of Harry Blackmun, the Supreme Court justice who wrote the infamous Roe v. Wade decision in 1971, and who helped affirm it in the Casey decision in 1992. There had actually been a majority on the court to overturn Roe. The chief factors in defeating that attempt were the folly of Justice Kennedy, who had the bizarre notion that voting to overturn Roe would "tarnish his career," and the characteristic stupidity of Justice O'Connor, who has never taken on board the idea that the decisions of a court of last instance must make some sense.

I can only repeat that Roe is going to go, either through being specifically overturned or by a general rejection of the institution of judicial review. Still, how much simpler it would be if this issue had been disposed of before the Terror War started. Though the United States would not have become a kingdom of virtue from sea to shining sea, we would at least have an unambiguously human political ideology. The transnational class would still have come into being, but its evolution would have been nudged in a less morbid direction.

Again, old-fashioned liberal democracy has intrinsic universal appeal. Antinatalism, perversion, and the right to suicide, all of which are implied by the Roe decision, do not. If these things become part of the American message, then the war will fail.     

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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