The Long View 2005-02-10: Better Nukes; Clinical Evil; God's Country; The Dominoes Fall

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By Pebble_bed_reactor_scheme_(italiano).jpg: Picoterawattderivative work: OrbiterSpacethingytranslation: Cryptex - This file was derived from Pebble bed reactor scheme (italiano) svg.svg:, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24456605

I remain a cautious advocate of nuclear power. I don't have subject matter knowledge about specific reactor designs, but I think we could do it right, if we wanted to. It would sure fix carbon emissions. We just don't want to. I will note that the pebble-bed reactors John mentioned here don't seem to have taken off in the last fifteen years.

This blog post, and the associated book review Halfway Heaven, guided me to read M. Scott Peck's People of the Lie. That is a great book, and one I heartily recommend. John's quote sums it up:

Peck is another psychiatrist who eventually came to the conclusion that he could not treat some patients without factoring in a moral dimension. The people whose cases Peck describes were seriously sick and hated their sickness, but they could not get better because in some fundamental sense they had chosen to be that way.

Better Nukes; Clinical Evil; God's Country; The Dominoes Fall

 

As we see from yesterday's headline, DOE Urged to Encourage New Nuclear Power Plants, the United States is about to begin a debate about when it is going to do the obvious thing and nuclearize its power industry. This debate will produce unnecessary delays, most of them created by environmental reactionaries who use the courts to block the disposal of nuclear waste and then argue that the nuclear industry cannot expand until the nuclear-waste disposal issue is unblocked. Eventually the reactors will be built, but history suggests they will be in the NASA tradition of glitchy overdesign, done at the highest possible cost. That is why I was particularly interested to see this headline earlier this week: China to pioneer "pebble bed" N-reactor. There we read:

China is poised to develop the world's first commercially operated "pebble bed" nuclear reactor after a Chinese energy consortium chose a site in the eastern province of Shandong to build a 195MW gas-cooled power plant...China and South Africa have led efforts to develop "pebble bed" reactors, so called because they are fuelled by small graphite spheres the size of billiard balls, with uranium cores. The reactor's proponents say its small core and the dispersal of its fuel among hundreds of thousands of spheres prevents a meltdown.

Maybe the simplest thing would just be to wait five years and then buy the Chinese designs.

* * *

Fans of the psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, author of People of the Lie, will be pleased to know that a diagnosis of Evil is gaining clinical respectability. According to the New York Times:

Still, many career forensic examiners say their work forces them to reflect on the concept of evil, and some acknowledge they can find no other term for certain individuals they have evaluated...In an effort to standardize what makes a crime particularly heinous, a group at New York University has been developing what it calls a depravity scale, which rates the horror of an act by the sum of its grim details...And a prominent personality expert at Columbia University has published a 22-level hierarchy of evil behavior, derived from detailed biographies of more than 500 violent criminals...He is now working on a book urging the profession not to shrink from thinking in terms of evil when appraising certain offenders, even if the E-word cannot be used as part of an official examination or diagnosis.

"We are talking about people who commit breathtaking acts, who do so repeatedly, who know what they're doing, and are doing it in peacetime" under no threat to themselves, said Dr. Michael Stone, the Columbia psychiatrist, who has examined several hundred killers at Mid-Hudson Psychiatric Center in New Hampton, N.Y., and others at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens, where he consults and teaches. "We know from experience who these people are, and how they behave," and it is time, he said, to give their behavior "the proper appellation."

This could be useful, and it's certainly interesting, but I wonder whether the association of evil with extreme violence may not miss the point. Even in the case of a notorious crime, the most disturbing element may not be the final scene of blood and dismemberment, but the disclosure of the perpetrator's nonviolent thoughts.

Where there is evil, there may be no violence. The scariest people in Dr. Peck's case studies are impeccably polite and thoroughly respectable. He meets them, not as his patients, but as the persons responsible for his patients' misery. Evil usually destroys itself quite quickly, but sometimes it achieves "islands of stability" in the sort of people who spread Hell on Earth without ever raising their voices.

* * *

Meanwhile, that Other Spengler at Asia Times has been reading books again. In his recent review of Michael Wyschogrod's Abraham's Promise, he gets his knickers all in a bundle about the prospect of American theocracy:

Not until I read Michael Wyschogrod's new book Abraham's Promise did it occur to me the long-departed spirit of American Puritanism might once again become flesh. US evangelicals might awaken one morning as a New Israel not merely in metaphor, but self-aware as a New Chosen People in a New Promised Land. The most paranoid imagining about the Christian Right pales beside this prospect. We are talking about the real thing, not a Straussian imitation: a politicized Protestantism in the mold of the 17th-century Separatists. A "Judaizing heresy" made the United States of America possible to begin with, I have argued on other occasions, and Professor Wyschogrod argues a strong case for the evangelicals to Judaize yet again.

I suppose that US evangelicals might awaken one morning as giant cockroaches, but I would not bet on it. Someone who uses "Spengler" as a byline should know that some developments simply cannot occur in a civilization's life after a certain point. Among the things that cannot happen in the United States is the transformation of the political culture to exclusivist, messianic nationalism. There is a strong messianic streak in American culture, of course, but the trajectory of its development is not inward-looking. Quite the opposite: what we are seeing today is the fusion of that cultural insistence with Kantian universalism; or if you prefer, the appearance of a genuinely popular Wilsonianism.

Besides, if America Judaized, what would the dietary laws look like? Mandatory turkey on national holidays, and no French salad dressing, on penalty of deportation to Canada?

* * *

And speaking of American mental problems: with regard to the Bush Administration's Terror War strategy, the ice cracked this week. It's like when the Russians won the Siege of Stalingrad. The war is far from over, but it looks as if we are actually going to win. So, at any rate, one might think from stories like this: U.S., Europe drawing closer together after elections here and in Iraq. James K. Glassman tell us:

Woodrow Wilson wanted to make the world safe for democracy. Bush wants democracy to make the world safe.

This clearer, more powerful formulation of policy would have been welcome before the Iraq war, but it's better late than never, and it is being treated with respect among Europeans who previously saw U.S. policy as simply naive and cynical...the European Union itself is different, with the accession last year of 10 new countries, mainly from Eastern Europe. Members of the European parliament from such countries recognize the role the United States played in freeing them from Soviet domination. Ronald Reagan is their hero.

Meanwhile, whether because wishful thinking has wings or because great minds think alike, we hear much the same from Australia:

This is a fascinating detail to observe. All of the US's East Asian allies and de facto allies ended up adopting the same or similar positions. Australia, as the most intimate and active US ally in the region, sent troops to the combat phase as well as the peacekeeping phase. The other US allies did not send troops to the combat phase but offered political support to the US and sent troops for peacekeeping...Far from Howard's support of Bush alienating us from Asia, Howard took an absolutely orthodox Asian position, for an ally of the US, on Iraq.

The irony may be that the world will declare George Bush to be All Grand High Emperor-in-Chief just as his party is run out of Washington on a rail because of his fiscal policies. Pretty much the same happened to Ronald Reagan because of the Iran-Contra scandal.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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