The Long View 2007-03-28: AI Marketing; Chant before Swine; WWDD; The Night Vision; Lafferty!

Charles Darwin  By Julia Margaret Cameron - Reprinted in Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters, edited by Francis Darwin. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street. 1892.Scanned by User:Davepape, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3560761

Charles Darwin

By Julia Margaret Cameron - Reprinted in Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters, edited by Francis Darwin. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street. 1892.Scanned by User:Davepape, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3560761

John J. Reilly makes a statement here that I readily agree with, but is probably highly non-obvious to almost everyone:

As I have remarked before, "What Would Darwin Do?" may soon become a more potent bracelet inscription than "What Would Jesus Do?" For most public-policy questions, they would lead to the same result. This kind of mechanization of what had once been metaphysical questions are what Oswald Spengler meant by the shift from Culture to Civilization.

To assert that What Would Darwin Do? leads to much the same policy prescriptions as What Would Jesus Do? requires some unpacking. Or maybe come contextualization.

To start, John clearly doesn’t mean what Charles Darwin himself might suggest if he were alive. Darwin, and most of his family, were in the English freethinker tradition, and as such not particularly interested in traditional Christianity or in any ideas that come out of it. John is rather using Darwin as a synecdoche for a tradition of thinking about humans in light of evolution that probably owes at least as much, if not more, of an intellectual debt to Charles Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton.

In an American context, the phrase WWJD? is mostly used in evangelical Christianity, which has not exactly been known for welcoming evolutionary concepts. However, since John was Catholic, he was more likely thinking in terms like those articulated in the 1930 encyclical Casti Connunbii, which said:

66. What is asserted in favor of the social and eugenic "indication" may and must be accepted, provided lawful and upright methods are employed within the proper limits; but to wish to put forward reasons based upon them for the killing of the innocent is unthinkable and contrary to the divine precept promulgated in the words of the Apostle: Evil is not to be done that good may come of it.[52]

68. Finally, that pernicious practice must be condemned which closely touches upon the natural right of man to enter matrimony but affects also in a real way the welfare of the offspring. For there are some who over solicitous for the cause of eugenics, not only give salutary counsel for more certainly procuring the strength and health of the future child - which, indeed, is not contrary to right reason - but put eugenics before aims of a higher order, and by public authority wish to prevent from marrying all those whom, even though naturally fit for marriage, they consider, according to the norms and conjectures of their investigations, would, through hereditary transmission, bring forth defective offspring. And more, they wish to legislate to deprive these of that natural faculty by medical action despite their unwillingness; and this they do not propose as an infliction of grave punishment under the authority of the state for a crime committed, not to prevent future crimes by guilty persons, but against every right and good they wish the civil authority to arrogate to itself a power over a faculty which it never had and can never legitimately possess.

69. Those who act in this way are at fault in losing sight of the fact that the family is more sacred than the State and that men are begotten not for the earth and for time, but for Heaven and eternity. Although often these individuals are to be dissuaded from entering into matrimony, certainly it is wrong to brand men with the stigma of crime because they contract marriage, on the ground that, despite the fact that they are in every respect capable of matrimony, they will give birth only to defective children, even though they use all care and diligence.

Pope Pius XI was making an argument not wholly dissimilar from Galton here. Galton of course did not share the Pope’s ideas about what was right and wrong in terms of marriage and sex, but they were both saying that it wasn’t crazy to think about whether potential children might inherit poor health. Even Galton wasn’t making the argument almost everyone today assumes he was, since he was wholly opposed to anything coercive.

So what did John probably mean? Since he provided a link, we should have a pretty strong clue. A modern attempt to synthesize evolutionary analysis with pro-natal conservative Catholicism can be found on the blog DarwinCatholic, which took its name from an attempt to synthesize evolutionary analysis with pro-natal conservative Catholicism. The two big things added are genetics, unknown to Galton, and the bitter fruits of widespread contraceptive technology.

In this argument, echoed by Pope Emeritus Benedict in the linked article, the future belongs to those to bother to have kids, since people who don’t want them don’t have them. When you combine this with the heritability of personality and behavior, you get the conclusion that in the long run, you tend to get more of whatever results in having more kids who survive to adulthood. Right now, one of those things is traditional religiosity.


AI Marketing; Chant before Swine; WWDD; The Night Vision; Lafferty!

Kindly artificial intelligences at Amazon.com often send me suggestions for books I might want to buy, based on my previous purchases. Usually, these suggestions are plausible, but yesterday I got this:

We've noticed that customers who have expressed interest in The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization by Patrick J. Buchanan have also ordered And I Haven't Had a Bad Day Since: From the Streets of Harlem to the Halls of Congress by Charles B. Rangel. For this reason, you might like to know that Charles B. Rangel's And I Haven't Had a Bad Day Since: From the Streets of Harlem to the Halls of Congress will be released on April 3, 2007. You can pre-order your copy at a savings of $5.99 by following the link below.

On Charlie Rangel be peace, but it is unimaginable that anyone who bought The Death of the West is a candidate to buy that legislator's memoir. Could it be that a sufficient criterion for being alerted to the publication of this book is to have once bought a book about politics? Talk about spam.

* * *

The Vatican has stopped returning my phonecalls about when Benedict XVI will release the motu proprio authorizing the universal use of the Tridentine Mass. There is no reason to doubt that he will do so eventually, though the event has been delayed so long that it is passing from expectation to eschatology. In any case, we should note that some friends of the Latin Mass do not want the motu proprio to issue, arguing, as one such person told me last Sunday, that it would commence "the Novus-Ordo-ization of the Tridentine Mass."

The argument has some force. Under the current Indult system for authorizing the Tridentine Mass, the congregations most likely to receive permission are those with the liturgical and musicological resources to have a chance of doing it well; and even so, "the Tridentine Mass" in many places today means unsung Low Masses that seem not just puritanically austere, but deliberately anti-esthetic. The motu proprio, should it issue, would turn the realization of the Old Mass over to the same people who structured the New Mass in such a way as to persuade two generations of Catholics that their Sunday mornings would be better spent on home repairs.

Nonetheless, there is no alternative to casting chant before swine. The Tridentine Mass was always a work in progress, with a nip-and-tuck made every generation or so. Indeed, if I understand correctly, the greatest anomaly of recent decades is that the Tridentine Mass now means a liturgy frozen in amber in the Missal of 1962. We must now begin the work of transition that will not finally be completed until the Imperial Period. We have not yet seen the immemorial Mass, anymore than we have yet seen classical English prose. When these things arrive, they will be faithful to the past and continuous with it. They will, however, be revivals. As is the nature of revivals, they will in some ways be improvements over the originals.

* * *

Mark Steyn may be a Demography Bore by his own account, but his arguments in America Alone are not going to go away. Here's a version of the same themes on the blog DarwinCatholic: Where Religion, Philosophy and Demographics Meet:

Population and Ideology

This has been my pet topic, and the overall purpose for this blog. With the advent of universally available birth control, child bearing is essentially "optional" which (as a number of demographers are just beginning to point out) means that the main drivers of fertility in the coming decades will be not economics and food supply but faith and ideology.

I cannot say which blogs Pope Benedict reads, but he has recently been expressing thoughts along the same lines:

VATICAN CITY (AP) - Europe appears to be losing faith in its own future, Pope Benedict XVI said Saturday, warning against "dangerous individualism" on a continent where many people are having fewer children. "One must unfortunately note that Europe seems to be going down a road which could lead it to take its leave from history," the pontiff told bishops in Rome for ceremonies to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, a major step toward the creation of today's European Union.

Benedict said he was concerned about Europe's "demographic profile"—though he did not describe the trends that have alarmed the continent for decades.

As I have remarked before, "What Would Darwin Do?" may soon become a more potent bracelet inscription than "What Would Jesus Do?" For most public-policy questions, they would lead to the same result. This kind of mechanization of what had once been metaphysical questions are what Oswald Spengler meant by the shift from Culture to Civilization. As I may have also remarked, demography affords arguments that today's conservatives could win, but which they are not self-evidently prepared to make.

* * *

Christoph Cardinal Schönborn has some sophisticated remarks in the April issue of First Things one the relationship between science and scientism, with an eye to explaining why empirical evolutionary science is entirely consistent with a providential interpretation of history:

In the traditional view, the Creator endows nature with a kind of quasi-intelligence: Like an agent, nature "acts" for an "end," with immanent principles of self-unfolding and self-operation. Newton, by contrast, is already seized by the early modern "mechanical philosophy," in which nature is seen as a kind of unnatural composite of passive, unintelligent, preexisting matter, on which the order has been extrinsically imposed by a Supreme Intelligence.

Actually, the Cardinal's quarrel seems to be not so much with Newton as with John Scotus: it was Nominalism that began the disenchantment of the world. Fifty years ago, one might have dismissed "the traditional view" as described here as vitalism, but today one can argue that there is quite a lot of teleology in evolutionary history. The Schoolmen's principle that matter contains "intelligible elements" may, perhaps, have been reincarnated in complexity theory.

Nonetheless, we could lose something if we abandon the mechanical world. That would probably have been the view of William Ernest Hocking. I quote from my own review of The Coming World Civilization:

Consider, for instance, the most extreme view of 19th-century science, that the world is nothing but dead matter. Hocking calls that "the Night Vision." He also argues that it is a great moral achievement. Western science is based on the virtues of humility and austerity: humility before the facts, and the rejection of extravagance in the making of hypotheses. Francis Bacon said: "We cannot command nature except by obeying her." Science is the willful suppression of self-will. Only thus could the will of God be known, as manifest in the created world.

There is something to that.

* * *

Speaking of First Things, the April issue also contains a essay in appreciation of the science-fiction writer, Gene Wolfe. Now, Wolfe was a worthy wizard, to whom we owe the expression The Claw of the Conciliator, but his work seems to have been discussed simply because he was Catholic. I must point out that First Things has been in business for 17 years, but they have yet to so much as mention R. A. Lafferty, the greatest Catholic science-fiction writer of the 20th century.

May I ask what the editors think they are about?

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2007-01-21: I've Had a Really Bad Weekend

I did not have a bad weekend, but John J. Reilly was rather disappointed in the Republican convention in 2007.

JJR had some substantial disagreements with the domestic policy of President George W. Bush, leading to this cri de coeur:

What a fraud the Republican Revolution was. It was not Burkean, it was not populist, it was not libertarian; it certainly wasn't Evangelical or Catholic. More and more it looks like a pro-business, anti-market scam that co-opted popular disgust with the decrepit and incoherent Democratic Party. The Republican Party in power, starting with the Reagan Administration (don't get me started on the S&L scandal again) has been marked by indifference to the ordinary principles of public administration.

….

If it were not for the necessity to prosecute the Terror War, I would just give up on the Bush Administration.

Would that he had. It is fascinating to return to how we got into the Iraq war after 9/11, and then to see how once it was all laid bare, criticism was really only possible in partisan terms.

Also, Peak Oil was false. Maybe the best you could say is that it is true in some ultimate, heat death of the universe sense.

Strictly speaking, I think we have to chalk up John’s endorsement of this prediction by Mark Steyn as false:

To put it briefly: Mark Steyn said that every major political party in the West will be pro-natalist by 2015. He is almost certainly right: look here.

That being said, it hasn’t been for lack of trying. The rise of populist parties in the West has gone along with pro-natalist sentiment, and even policies. What prevents this from being true is that the establishment parties have shown considerable power to fight back.


I've Had a Really Bad Weekend

What a fraud the Republican Revolution was. It was not Burkean, it was not populist, it was not libertarian; it certainly wasn't Evangelical or Catholic. More and more it looks like a pro-business, anti-market scam that co-opted popular disgust with the decrepit and incoherent Democratic Party. The Republican Party in power, starting with the Reagan Administration (don't get me started on the S&L scandal again) has been marked by indifference to the ordinary principles of public administration. The saddest thing is that these people think the country still owes them a living. As Mark Steyn put it to his confessor, Hugh Hewitt:

You know, I think there’s a big load of wishful thinking going on amongst the Republican leadership that in a sense, the pendulum will swing back in 2008, and things will go their way. I don’t think so. I think in my own state, for example, which was one of those red states with bluish inclinations, and transformed wholly blue, I think Senator Sununu would certainly be swept away if 2008 was like 2006. And they’re not going to hold those kind of seats with this kind of complacent establishment think that is represented by [the recent] RNC gathering...

That's just his assessment of the party in general. When he gets to the Bush Administration in particular, he becomes harsh:

I was very struck by a comment Michelle Malkin made. She’s just back from Iraq, and she said...the Bush administration is Lucy, and those of us who support it are looking like Charlie Brown, that basically, you go out, you spend your whole time…I’ve been in discussions on radio shows and what not, where you’re defending this thing, defending it, you’re whacking down in column after column these guys who are claiming that it’s treason and a police state, and the Bush-Hitler, and you defend, defend, defend, defend, and then it turns out, you know, that they quietly cave, or as you say, give that impression, and you’re left feeling what the hell did I write those last fifteen columns for?

With this thought in mind, we turn to media reports anticipating a key element of this week's State of the Union Address:

President Bush intends to use his State of the Union address Tuesday to tackle the rising cost of health care with a one-two punch: tax breaks to help low-income people buy health insurance and tax increases for some workers whose health plans cost significantly more than the national average...The basic concept is that employer-provided health insurance, now treated as a fringe benefit exempt from taxation, would no longer be entirely tax-free. Workers could be taxed if their coverage exceeded limits set by the government. But the government would also offer a new tax deduction for people buying health insurance on their own.

Here we see the fiscal brilliance of President Bush's Social Security privatization program, combined with the political sensitivity of his nomination of Harriet Meyers to the Supreme Court: an income-tax deduction-incentive for people who don't pay much income tax that will be paid for by degrading the coverage of the minority of the population with really adequate coverage.

If it were not for the necessity to prosecute the Terror War, I would just give up on the Bush Administration. And in that connection, let me take issue with Hugh Hewitt's parting remark to Mark Steyn:

HH: And so…well, Mark Steyn, always a pleasure in these despairing days. Luckily, there’s nothing that a victory won’t turn around in a hurry, and maybe David Petraeus will go get it.

Not really. The Democrats got serious about bringing down Richard Nixon only after he had negotiated a settlement in Vietnam that offered some hope of keeping the South independent. Victory is precisely what would be unforgivable; or at any rate, victory would be intolerable.

* * *

Some hoaxes never have the opportunity to flower, but wither in the bud. It looks as if Peak Oil is about to join their number:

Fresh data from the International Energy Agency show oil consumption in the 30 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development fell 0.6% in 2006. Though the decline appears small, it marks the first annual drop in more than 20 years among the OECD countries...To be sure, global oil demand grew 0.9% in 2006, owing to steady growth in China and the Middle East. But that was down from growth of 3.9% in 2004 and 1.5% in 2005.

Americans should remember that low oil prices are not an unalloyed good for the United States, which remains a major oil producer. Be that as it may, neither the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela nor the Islam Republic in Iran will survive this trend.

* * *

But while the Republican Party is merely doomed and unworthy, the Democratic Party shows every sign of turning into a Vampire's Ball held on the beach because the organizers have convinced themselves the sun will never rise again. We see this especially in their idea of outreach:

Eager to avoid a resumption of the culture wars, the new Democratic leaders are trying to tiptoe around the abortion issue by promoting legislation to encourage birth control and assist women who decide to proceed with unwanted pregnancies...

"You're going to see a change in the tone of the debate, and a move toward more solutions, rather than the divisiveness," said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, a leading abortion rights group that signed on early to the prevention agenda. "What we're going to see in this Congress is some problem-solving."

Third Way, a moderate Democratic policy group, coined the term "abortion grays" to define the nearly two-thirds of voters who hold mixed views on the subject. Rachel Laser, Third Way's abortion expert, has counseled numerous Democratic candidates and lawmakers on prevention rhetoric. In a poll the group commissioned last summer, 69 percent of voters said they supported the goal of reducing the number of abortions "while still preserving the basic right to have one."

Aside from the underlying insincerity of this Third Way (my Lord, that term is jinxed!), there are three reasons this effort will miscarry:

(1) It conflates, yet again, the notion of "unplanned child" with "unwanted child." You may argue about what God thinks about this equation, but Darwin says "no."

(2) It tries to avoid the fact that Roe and the related cases are fatal to legitimate jurisprudence. By legitimate jurisprudence, I mean jurisprudence that is acceptable to the political system in the long run. Roe would have to be overturned, even if it were about double-parking.

(3) This Third Way is kairotically inapposite. It opposes the flow of the hour, which is the reversal of the anti-natalist population policy that was enacted through the courts in the 1960s and '70s. Official promotion of contraception is not the alternative to abortion; they are complements.

A change in kairos is always somewhat mysterious. When it occurs, the cultural defaults change, and those people who think they are controlling the change (and there always are some) are in fact the most helplessly under its influence.

To put it briefly: Mark Steyn said that every major political party in the West will be pro-natalist by 2015. He is almost certainly right: look here.

* * *

Presidential hopeful John Edwards recently chose to announce his candidacy in New Orleans, a city of social dysfunction and lethal political incompetence. Frankly, after the reelection of Mayor Nagin, the city became an argument against democracy.

According to The New York Times, the New Orleans of [the] Future May Stay Half Its Old Size. It would be better if it were 0% of its old size.

* * *

The cruelty of Spengler exceeds anything I say here, as we see in his latest column at Asia Times, Jimmy Carter's heart of dorkiness:

Where the Palestinians are concerned, Carter keens the same trope. It is repulsive to think that a people of several millions, honeycombed with representatives of international organizations, the virtual stepchild of the United Nations, appears doomed to reduce its national fever by letting blood. The 700,000 refugees of 1948, hothoused by the UN relief agencies, prevented from emigrating by other Arab regimes, have turned into a people, but a test-tube nation incapable of independent national life: four destitute millions of third-generation refugees in the small and barren territories of Gaza, Judea and Samaria, which cannot support a fraction of that number...Jimmy Carter knows better than that: the Palestinians are not in the position of southern American blacks, but rather of southern American whites, the exemplar of a self-exterminating people in the modern period. That is why Carter identifies with them. Apart from modern Palestine, there are very few cases in modern history in which a militant population showed its willingness to fight to the death. The US south sacrificed two-fifths of its military-age men during the Civil War of 1861-65...Think of Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings explaining to Samwise why he cannot give up hope for Gollum's redemption from the curse of Sauron's ring, because that would weaken Frodo's hope for his own redemption. This form of obsessive self-pity produces the unctuous forms of expression that make it so painful to listen to a Jimmy Carter or a Bill Clinton talk about political morality...

Let us never forget that Woodrow Wilson was a southerner.

That explains it all.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2007-01-09: Anti-Freeze Life; Ethical Racket; Charles Fort Lives; Towards Universal Health Care; Steyn on Russia

John Reilly had a minor sideline in Fortean phenomena, named after Charles Fort, strange and uncanny events sometimes described as being outside of what science can explain, but often better seen as low frequency events that are difficult to describe. In that vein, the recent juvenile humpback whale found in a mangrove swamp in Brazil is an excellent example. Not quite far enough from the water to be truly inexplicable, but strange nonetheless.

Small whale in Mangrove forest

Small whale in Mangrove forest

There is also a line in this post which I’ve thought about for a long time, and I think I finally understand what is going on.

If the California system is implemented, we can expect it to work better than the plans in the New England states, for the simple reason that California has a younger population. There are more workers to support the system. Still, I do not expect any of the state plans to be altogether satisfactory. As I have remarked before, health insurance may follow the pattern of bank-deposit insurance. That had been tried in a few states in the early 20th century, but the insurance systems kept collapsing because the the risk pools were not big enough. As an afterthought, Franklin Roosevelt included mandatory national deposit insurance among the bank reforms at the beginning of his administration. To everyone's surprise, the insurance restored popular confidence in the banks immediately.

John thought that the difficulty with universal healthcare systems in the United States was that the risk pool wasn’t big enough. That never seemed quite right to me, but it took a long time to figure out why. There are plenty of healthcare systems in the world that cover smaller and older populations than many US states. For example, in 2005, Sweden had just over 9 million resident. Massachusetts at the time had about 6.4 million. It is at least conceivable that the extra 2.5 million people would make the difference, until you look at the population pyramids.

Massachusetts population pyramid 2000  By No machine-readable author provided. WarX assumed (based on copyright claims). - No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=973229

Massachusetts population pyramid 2000

By No machine-readable author provided. WarX assumed (based on copyright claims). - No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=973229

Population Pyramid of Sweden 2016  By Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). - CIA World Factbook, 2017., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64345478

Population Pyramid of Sweden 2016

By Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). - CIA World Factbook, 2017., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64345478

Massachusetts is relatively younger, even though smaller. In theory, this should make your healthcare system, especially if seen in the insurance model, work better. However, universal healthcare didn’t work out as well in Massachusetts as it does in Sweden, because it cost more than expected. Pseudonymous blogger Random Critical Analysis provided me with the reason why: Americans spend much more on health care than Swedes because we are a lot richer, and people don’t understand this and keep being surprised.

John Reilly always insisted that healthcare wasn’t a right, but rather a matter of public order, but I think he was missing some critical quantitative details that would have really made his case better.


Anti-Freeze Life; Ethical Racket; Charles Fort Lives; Towards Universal Health Care; Steyn on Russia


We can probably bet against this ingenious speculation:

Two NASA space probes that visited Mars 30 years ago may have stumbled upon alien microbes on the Red Planet and inadvertently killed them, a scientist theorizes in a paper released Sunday....Dirk Schulze-Makuch...a geology professor at Washington State University. ...In the '70s, the Viking mission found no signs of life. But it was looking for Earth-like life, in which salt water is the internal liquid of living cells. Given the cold dry conditions of Mars, that life could have evolved on Mars with the key internal fluid consisting of a mix of water and hydrogen peroxide, said Dirk Schulze-Makuch, author of the new research.

Perhaps the paper addresses this issue, but there are many places on Earth where an anti-freeze biochemistry would be very useful, yet we do not find it here. That strongly suggests it is not possible.

* * *

When I see this kind of story (from the LA Times, in this case), I think "racket:"

Dark cloud over good works of Gates Foundation:

Ebocha, Nigeria — Justice Eta, 14 months old, held out his tiny thumb.

An ink spot certified that he had been immunized against polio and measles, thanks to a vaccination drive supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

But polio is not the only threat Justice faces. Almost since birth, he has had respiratory trouble. His neighbors call it "the cough." People blame fumes and soot spewing from flames that tower 300 feet into the air over a nearby oil plant. It is owned by the Italian petroleum giant Eni, whose investors include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Could someone be gingering up a law suit against the foundation, or are we dealing here with honest idiocy?

* * *

Fortean phenomena should stay off the frontpages, but we have had a flurry of prominent ones in the past few days. Yesterday we had the Manhattan gas incident that interrupted some underground train service and caused buildings to be evacuated, plus the bird die-off that closed much of Houston. That brazen (as in "bold," not "made of bronze") UFO actually visited O'Hare in November, but we heard about only last week. The odds are that all these things, including the UFO, probably were caused by weather conditions that really are unique in our not-very-extensive records.

Regarding the gas smell, I could hear the fire department vehicles looking for the source here in Jersey City, but I could not smell it: I'm getting over a cold.

On the other hand, National Public Radio saw fit to advise its listeners of this development:

Poems, songs, and stories praising Saddam and lamenting his death are popping up all over Arab Internet sites. A few mosques in Baghdad announced that an image of his face could be seen on the moon, and people spilled into the streets this week for a glimpse of their former leader in the night skies.

It's much too early in the year for Silly Season stories.

* * *

In the realm of sober public policy, we see that Governor Schwarzenegger has proposed a state health-care system that would add California to Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont as states that require universal coverage. The plan looks plausible, but I note that almost half the funding would come from new federal money to which the state believes it would be entitled under existing federal rules. I am not pleased that at least some of the funding would also come from new payroll taxes, but that could be a wash in terms of the business climate, since a state with universal coverage is going to be a more attractive place to work. The great red herring in the debate over the Schwarzenegger Plan is going to be its coverage of illegals. The objections to that rather miss the point of the exercise: this is a matter of public order, not social generosity.

If the California system is implemented, we can expect it to work better than the plans in the New England states, for the simple reason that California has a younger population. There are more workers to support the system. Still, I do not expect any of the state plans to be altogether satisfactory. As I have remarked before, health insurance may follow the pattern of bank-deposit insurance. That had been tried in a few states in the early 20th century, but the insurance systems kept collapsing because the the risk pools were not big enough. As an afterthought, Franklin Roosevelt included mandatory national deposit insurance among the bank reforms at the beginning of his administration. To everyone's surprise, the insurance restored popular confidence in the banks immediately.

* * *

Even the House of the Seven Gables demographics of New England looks perky compared to that of Russia, as Mark Steyn recently noted:

The Toronto Star (which is Canada’s biggest-selling newspaper and impeccably liberal) recently noted that by 2015 Muslims will make up a majority of Russia’s army...

The Litvinenko murder is only the first of many stories in which Islam, nuclear materials and Russian decline will intersect in novel ways.

Which brings me, alas, to the Iraq Study Group. This silly shallow report, of which James Baker, Lee Hamilton and the rest should be ashamed, betrays no understanding of how fast events are moving. It falls back on the usual multilateral mood music....By 2050, Russia will be the umpteenth Muslim nuclear power, but the first with a permanent seat on the UNSC. Or maybe the second, if France gets there first....forget the extrapolations: already, domestic Muslim constituencies are an important factor in the foreign policy thinking of three out of the big five. Are Baker and Hamilton even aware of that?

I suspect that France will be the first European country to pull out of the deathspiral. The question is how much discontinuity there will be with mid-20th century liberal modernity. In Russia the problem is more serious, but Russia has fewer inhibitions to overcome in order to solve them.

Now that was a scary sentence.

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-08-28: Resentment, Stupidity, Pigeons, & Statistics

The trend John mentions here, that people who see themselves as conservative have more kids than people who see themselves as liberal, has only accelerated. Although, genetic determinist that I am, it is still possible that having kids tends to push you more conservative than you otherwise would be.


Resentment, Stupidity, Pigeons, & Statistics

 

The Interstate Compact on Electoral Reform is making progress, laments Pete du Pont in today's Opinion Journal:

[L]ast week the California Senate passed legislation to award the state's Electoral College votes to the candidate who has received the most popular votes nationally--whether Californians chose him or not. A similar bill passed the Assembly on May 30, so it will soon be up to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign or veto the bill. Such a bill also passed the Colorado Senate in April, part of a national [campaign] to change the way we choose our presidents. The mandate doesn't take effect until enough other states sign on to provide a majority of electoral votes.

As I have remarked before, and will no doubt do again, I am at a loss to understand why conservatives in general and Republicans in particular would oppose this measure: they are supposed to be the popular party, after all. The piece by du Pont is a catechism of misapprehensions:

First, the direct election of presidents would lead to geographically narrower campaigns, for election efforts would be largely urban.

Certainly it would make the Midwest less important. However, as Democratic strategist Thomas Schaller has observed, Midwestern has the loosest party affiliation of any region of the country. That gives the Democrats hope, and should give the Republicans pause about just how reliable the electoral votes of those states are.

In any case, the argument that the reform would urbanzie electoral issues. Not even the dimmest Republican would make a major effort to wrest New York or Los Angeles from the Democrats. What a smart Republican would want, however, is an opportunity to campaign in the suburban, exurban, and rural regions of the states with Democratic majorities. That would make a big difference not just for presidential campaigns, but also for congressional races.

Second, in any direct national election there would be significant election-fraud concerns.

Fraud was an issue in 1960, 2000, and 2004 precisely because the present divorce between the electoral college result and the popular vote made vote-rigging in key states obviously advantageous. There was no major fraud in any of those cases, but the system invited suspicion of fraud. Under the reform system, there would be no key states, and therefore no special incentive anywhere to cheat.

Third, direct election would lead to a multicandidate, multiparty system instead of the two-party system we have.

A system of proportional representation does this to a legislature. The point is irrelevant to a presidential voting system, which choses a single official (well, two: president and vice president).

Finally, direct election would also lead to weaker presidents...the highest percentage winner, no matter how small (perhaps 25% or 30% in a six- or eight-candidate field) would become president.

Presidents elected by pluralities are a product of the electoral college system already. We should remember that the College would still exist under the reform; the electoral votes would just be assigned differently. This is, actually, one of the reasons for retaining the Electoral College. It is convenient to have a system that turns pluralities into majorities, something that happened numerous times in the 20th century. It would continue to happen occasionally under the reform. In any case, no president is weaker than one who takes office despite the popular vote.

We should remember that the Constitutional Convention thought they were creating a system under which the Electoral College would normally select the president; they assumed that popular vote in the states would go to favorite sons, leaving the electors free to choose on late ballots. By the 1820s, though, presidential races were regarded as essentially popular votes. Today, of course, an Electoral College vote that contradicts the popular vote is not regarded as fully legitimate.

* * *

Conservatives are more fertile than liberals, according to a piece by Arthur C. Brooks that we noted last week. Now comes Half Sigma (hat tip to Danny Yee) to parse the same numbers and point out that Democrats have more children than Republicans. There is no real discrepancy, however, and Half Sigma notes:

How is it possible that conservatives have more children but Republicans have fewer children? Well the answer is that there is not a perfect correlation between political party and whether a voter identifies himself as “liberal” or “conservative.” Furthermore, a plurality of respondents identified themselves as “independent.”

Not content with making this unexceptionable point, Half Sigma then, perhaps, goes beyond the evidence:

The trend in the United States is that poor, religious, and stupid people are having more children, while rich, secular, and smart people are having fewer children.

It's an odd definition of intelligence that identifies it as a characteristic of a population whose behaviors are causing it to become extinct. One is reminded of Schopenhauer's belief that the human brain is a useless fruit, just a bit of biological hypertrophy, and thought just another bodily function.

* * *

Some support is lent to this theory by AI, once we understand the technology behind Google's great results:

As a Google user, you're familiar with the speed and accuracy of a Google search. How exactly does Google manage to find the right results for every query as quickly as it does? The heart of Google's search technology is PigeonRank™, a system for ranking web pages developed by Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Stanford University.

And why do you never see a baby pigeon? The pigeons you see are the baby pigeons.

* * *

Returning to stupidity (as if we ever left it) we have this explanation by the friendless Spengler about its relationship to American Idolatry:

Some readers have asked whether Americans are quite free from idolatry. The answer is: of course not.

The resentful country folk [of the agriculturally depressed 1920s and 1930s] formed the first audience for the now-dominant style in American music...The object of high art is to lift the listener out of the misery of his personal circumstance by showing him a better world in which his petty troubles are beside the point. ...Resentment is simply an expression of envy, the first and deadliest of sins....Why reject what comes from on high to worship one's own image, unless you resent the higher authority? ....The culture of resentment runs so deep in the American character that the self-pitying drone of immiserated farmers, amplified by the petulant adolescents of the 1950s as a remonstration against parental authority, now dominates the musical life of American Christians. ...This helps explain why Americans are so stupid. ...One learns only by accepting a suitable authority. If one rejects authority in favor of one's own impulses, one cannot learn.

Resentment is what motivates folk who drag musicologists from their offices to be publicly humiliated in struggle sessions before sending them to the countryside to learn from the music of the people. America, in contrast, is covered with amateur orchestras, scolas, and motet ensembles from sea to shining sea. The cultural tick is the reluctance to state as matter of fact that Mozart is better than Madonna.

* * *

Making a related point, we find The Belmont Club critiquing Niall Ferguson's latest at Foreign Affairs, entitled "The Next War of the World":

The three factors which Ferguson believes produced the 20th century wars which killed 170 million people -- 1 person in 22 -- were "ethnic disintegration, economic volatility, and empires in decline": the three E's....

[Ferguson says] Events in Iraq suggest that there, too, what is unfolding is not a clash between the West and Islam but, increasingly, a clash within Islamic civilization itself. By some accounts, ethnic disintegration there is already well under way

And the only power that can moderate these destructive tendencies is the only power that has no political appetite for empire..France and Iran, to name just two powers, may have the appetite for empire but not the teeth. And America by contrast and despite Niall Ferguson's longing for a strong hand in the world, may have the teeth but not the appetite. If the European Union project could be called putting a French jockey atop a German horse, the attempt to create an "international" world order might be described as a scheme to harness American muscle to a transnational agenda. Unfortunately and to the everlasting resentment of internationalists, the US refused to put its economy and military at the service of its environmental, cultural and political projects.

Eventually blame for the ruin of Kyoto, the UN and probably the EU -- those shining international palaces in the sky -- will probably be put down to American reluctance to play along. As Eros said in Plan 9 from Outer Space to the earthlings after they refused to appreciate the brilliance of his scheme to turn the dead from Southern California cemeteries into zombies: "You see? You see? You're stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!"

One could argue with some of these points, but references to Plan 9 from Outer Space should always be encouraged.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-08-18: The Endings of Various Epochs

Iron Dome system in use  By Israel Defense Forces and Nehemiya Gershoni נחמיה גרשוני (see also https://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%A7%D7%95%D7%91%D7%A5:Flickr-IDF-IronDome-in-action001.jpg ) - https://www.flickr.com/photos/idfonline/8194572552/, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34360609

Iron Dome system in use

By Israel Defense Forces and Nehemiya Gershoni נחמיה גרשוני (see also https://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%A7%D7%95%D7%91%D7%A5:Flickr-IDF-IronDome-in-action001.jpg ) - https://www.flickr.com/photos/idfonline/8194572552/, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34360609

I learned a lot reading Matti Friedman's Pumpkinflowers, once I finally got around to it [it sat in my to-read pile for two years]. The suicide bombings started shortly after the Lebanese occupation was over, and then the security checkpoints installed to stop the bombers led to missile attacks. Currently, the Iron Dome system helps to mitigate the damage done by such things. This is in fact the bullet-hitting-a-bullet thing that SDI naysayers always insisted couldn't be done, and probably benefited from that particular R&D expense by the US. Also, the Israelis are assholes to their neighbors.

John also talks here about the impact of gas prices on suburban and exurban America. Even at $3/gallon and more the result has been, not much. I think we could gain some benefits from denser development, but the truth is cars are freedom and convenience, and Americans are still among the richest people in the world, and we can afford the gasoline. But I should talk, I work 5 minutes from my house.


The Endings of Various Epochs

 

The missile barrages on Israel began in earnest after the West Bank Wall made frequent suicide-bombings impossible. But suppose this story means what it implies?

The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency has begun working with Israel to help find ways to counter enemy rockets, ... The system at issue, called Skyguard, is built by Northrop Grumman Corp. and based on a tactical high-energy laser the company co-developed with the Israeli army in the 1990s. ... Company officials told reporters July 12 they were awaiting a show of interest from Israel to kick off an export-license request for the updated system.

Deprived of the ballistic option, the jihad against Israel would have to find some other tactic. If Israel proper is largely invulnerable, then perhaps Israel's commercial and academic contacts in the West would be targeted. Heretofore, this has been attempted with boycotts organized by fellow travelers, but the jihad requires photogenic rubble.

In any case, even the partially successful public use of these defensive weapons would mark a change of epoch. There are psychological and professional explanations for opposition to missile defense. One reason for the opposition is that the increasingly gray eminences of the Cold War cling to strategic deterrence as the one aspect of the Cold War world that never went away. Very soon, though, it will be hard to assert that MAD is part of the permanent structure of the universe.

* * *

Speaking of the end of an epoch, could it really be that rising gas prices will kill the suburbs?

There's even talk of crude hitting $100 per barrel -- or 10 times what it sold for in the summer of 2005.

Once the realization soaks into the American consciousness that high-cost gas is here to stay, Gabriel predicts, those high commute prices will pull more homeowners -- even young families -- to live in central cities and create a push for more public transportation. ... But with the cost of gas hovering around $3 per gallon on average in the U.S., it's worth considering whether a shorter commute would pay for the incremental cost of a more expensive in-city home.... Assuming a full-time job, $3 gas, 26 mpg and 50 cents a mile for maintenance and no parking fees, a 50-mile roundtrip commute costs $646.15 a month, or $7,753.80 a year, according to the City of Bellevue, Wash.'s, Commute Cost Calculator.... Moving closer to work boosts your house-buying power. Everything else being equal, a 10-mile, roundtrip commute costs just $1,550.76 yearly -- saving about $6,200 per year, or $517 monthly. That can add about $80,000 to the total amount of a mortgage loan, says one Chicago lender. The rule of thumb: Each $250 a month you can free up for mortgage payments equals roughly $40,000 more you can borrow at current rates (using the recent national average of 6.5%), says David Kasprisin, district sales manager for National City Mortgage Co. in Chicago.

Might I remark that, before there were suburbs, there were many small towns? These were relatively densely built places where people both lived and worked and did not commute to. I don't doubt that the older core cities will benefit from higher fuel costs, but other things will be happening in addition to the abandonment of the more ridiculous suburban housing tracts.

* * *

Every Wednesday morning the first thing I look at online (after checking for credible death threats in my email) is The Onion. I can't say that i have ever had trouble telling an Onion headline from the headline of a real news story. Still, reading The Onion and then reading the real news does create a certain amount of disorientation. Look at this list of Onion headlines and headlines from non-satirical sources:

Osama Bin Laden Found Inside Each Of Us

Blues Musician To U.N.: 'Yemen Done Me Wrong'

Casino Has Great Night

Exit Interview Goes Well

Comedian Confesses To Killing Them Out There

Harsh Light Of Morning Falls On One-Night Stand's DVD Collection

JonBenet suspect was 'threat', ex-wife said

Judge orders halt to NSA wiretap program

Lebanese troops deploy in Hezbollah heartland

No compromise on sovereignty: PM

I don't know about you, but I can't stop looking for the joke even when I know there isn't one.

* * *

Mark Twain once observed that wherever the early French explorers of North America went, they always brought a Jesuit to explain Hell to the savages. In rather the same spirit, Mark Steyn has been traveling through Australia, on what he says "I like to think of as my 'Head for the hills! It’s the end of the world!' tour.” The Australian recently published he text of one of his harangues under the title Mark Steyn: It's breeding obvious, mate, in which he shared with his audience his familiar concerns about the jihad and Western demography. He makes all good points, but again, I would suggest that he is extrapolating trends whose very direness ensure that they will reverse. Towards the end, he adds this useful point:

....But it’s important to remember: radical Islam is only the top-eighth of that iceberg – it’s an opportunist enemy taking advantage of a demographically declining and spiritually decayed west. The real issue is the seven-eighths below the surface – the larger forces at play in the developed world that have left Europe too enfeebled to resist its remorseless transformation into Eurabia and call into question the future of much of the rest of the world. The key factors are:

i) Demographic decline;
ii) The unsustainability of the social democratic state;
iii) Civilizational exhaustion.

I would not lengthen that list, but the factors he mentions are facets of larger phenomena. The US immigration crisis (which might be defined as the transformation of the whole country into a border town) is in some ways the same crisis as Europe's; certainly both have a demographic foundation. The anti-natalist project of the past 50 years is just one manifestation of a deep cultural dysfunction that shows up in the oddest places: future histories may categorize the whole gay episode (1850-2050?) as just another reflection of it. Actually, among the pathological symptoms I would also include libertarianism, survivalism, and every account of the state as an evil that must be overcome rather than a precious and fragile tradition that must be cultivated, like classical music.

Finally, let me note that "exhaustion" is not something that civilizations do, at least according to the sunlit and tranquil philosophy of Oswald Spengler. The future is not Mad Max, but the Glass Bead Game. These present troubles are sent to us to get us moving in that direction.

* * *

Spelling Reform Note: The Soundspel edition of Philip Dru: Administraetor is available through Lulu.com. I get no money from its sale, and neither does the American Literacy Council. Buy the book only if you are really interested in spelling reform.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-08-07: From the End of History to the Restoration of Art

Destruction – Thomas Cole 1836  By Exlore Thomas Cole, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=183045

Destruction – Thomas Cole 1836

By Exlore Thomas Cole, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=183045

Two great lines today:

And as for the long term? You can argue with God about the merits of a system of family law that is neutral or hostile toward reproduction, but Darwin will have none of it.
Love is too much to ask for. An informed respect for order will do, I think. Civilization is fragile. Its preservation requires our constant, anxious attention.

From the End of History to the Restoration of Art

 

Francis Fukuyama does still agree with himself, recent evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, or so we may judge from his piece in yesterday's Washington Post:

Early on in Hugo Chávez's political career, the Venezuelan president attacked my notion that liberal democracy together with a market economy represents the ultimate evolutionary direction for modern societies -- the "end of history." When asked what lay beyond the end of history, he offered a one-word reply: "Chavismo '...a new future for Latin America that by preserving some freedoms, including a relatively free press and pseudo-democratic elections [constitutes] what some observers call a postmodern dictatorship, neither fully democratic nor fully totalitarian, a left-wing hybrid that enjoys a legitimacy never reached in Castro's Cuba or in the Soviet Union...Latin America has indeed witnessed a turn to this postmodern left in some countries, including in Bolivia, where Evo Morales, Chávez's kindred spirit, won the presidency last year. Nonetheless, the dominant trends in the hemisphere are largely positive: Democracy is strengthening and the political and economic reforms now being undertaken augur well for the future. Venezuela is not a model for the region; rather, its path is unique, the product of a natural resource curse that makes it more comparable to Iran or Russia than any of its Latin American neighbors. Chavismo is not Latin America's future -- if anything, it is its past.

I can only repeat (and repeat again, until my readers' eyes glaze over) that Fukuyama's end-of-history thesis is perfectly valid as a statement about intellectual history: political theory is complete, in the way that Euclidian geometry and the canon of classical music are complete. Liberal democracy is the crowning achievement of that history, but the achievement is an ideal, not a prediction. Petrolism is one of the non-liberal-democratic forms of governance that can materialize in certain circumstances.

Note, by the way, that petrolism is only a special case of what happens when the state finds that it can support itself from revenues other than tax receipts generated by the incomes of its citizens. Municipal governments that squeeze major industries that cannot move elsewhere tend to become pretty thuggish, too.

* * *

The rationale for opposition to gay marriage finally makes sense to Ellen Goodman, she informs us with lugubrious irony:

BOSTON - Now I got it. After hours spent poring over Washington state's Supreme Court decision upholding the ban on same-sex marriage, I've finally figured it out. The court wasn't just ruling against same-sex marriage. It was ruling in favor of "procreationist marriage."...This is where the courts' reasoning leads us, and I use the word "reasoning" loosely. If anything, [the recent decisions by the New York and Washington State courts] are proof that the courts and the country are running out of reasons for treating straight and gay citizens differently.

Readers may amuse themselves answering her arguments point by point, but I don't think I need to. . To strike down a traditional marriage law now, a court has to say that its sees no essential connection between marriage and child-rearing. You can make your mouth say that and you can even make other people listen, but it's pretty clear you're telling a whopper. This Whopper Effect has repeatedly had unfortunate results for proponents of gay marriage whenever the matter has been on the ballot.

And as for the long term? You can argue with God about the merits of a system of family law that is neutral or hostile toward reproduction, but Darwin will have none of it.

* * *

What exactly did Mel Gibson do? I heard about the DUI arrest and the antisemitic tirade, but I wasn't really paying much attention. Now I find the incident was become enough of a running gag to be mentioned in all ten of the items on the Zeitgeist Checklist. For instance:

(7) Cars. Ford Motor Co. is outsold by Toyota for the first time, announces a $250 million loss, and recalls a million vehicles to prevent their engines from catching fire. Analysts say CEO Bill Ford Jr. needs to re-create Henry Ford's culture of consistent excellence, just as he has done with the Detroit Lions. Mel Gibson says the company needs to re-create Henry Ford's culture of anti-Semitism.

I mention this not because I think the media have some special animus against drunken, abusive Irishmen, but I really have yet to hear an actual human being mention the incident.

* * *

Interested in Apocalyptic novels this summer of untoward events in the Holy Land? The best survey I have yet seen of the genre comes from Tom Doyle (whom I know slightly). He argues that, as a form, the apocalyptic novel closely resembles the techno-thriller. The one apocalyptic novel that he repeatedly cites simply for literary merit is Brian Caldwell's We All Fall Down. I will try to read that this summer, before something even worse happens.

* * *

The problem with conservatism is the lack of a serious cultural alternative, according to R.R. Reno at First Things:

But the failure of the modern aesthetic and its assault upon the sacred does not translate into a victory for tradition. I think it is also fair to say that the emergent conservative populism that has put conservatives in power is primarily a “no” to the transgressive elite culture. But populism rarely provides alternatives. The silver standard proclaimed by William Jennings Bryan was patent medicine, just as family values are a two-dimensional solution to an all-too three-dimensional problem of social degradation. It will take a deep transformation of our collective artistic, moral, and spiritual imagination to change the direction of culture.

Shelley once wrote that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. On this point he was right. What is needed is an aesthetic of love and life to replace the anti-sacral aesthetic of contempt and death.

Love is too much to ask for. An informed respect for order will do, I think. Civilization is fragile. Its preservation requires our constant, anxious attention.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-07-19: The Road to Perdition

Model of the temple district of Tenochtitlan at the  National Museum of Anthropology   By Thelmadatter - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3744781

Model of the temple district of Tenochtitlan at the National Museum of Anthropology

By Thelmadatter - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3744781

I recently read that Tenochtitlán, unlike almost all other pre-modern cities, was a population source instead of a population sink. This was due to a combination of the productivitiy of the floating farms, and a lack of the nasty diseases typical in cultures that have been farming for longer periods of time.


The Road to Perdition

 

Is this news, or just tabloid mischief? We read in today's New York Post:

July 19, 2006 -- JERUSALEM - Hezbollah yesterday warned the United States: You're next on our hit list. The threat against U.S. interests came as the FBI revealed it is searching for Hezbollah terrorist agents operating on American soil.

I have no doubt the facts are true: Hezbollah is making threats and the FBI is looking for sleepers. On the other hand, there are no signs of an imminent terrorist attack in the US, unless you count President Achmadinejad's remarks yesterday that Muslims will rejoice soon. Should an attack in the US occur, of course, it would remove the political and legal obstacles to US strikes against Iran and Syria. Iraq's connections with Al Qaeda were tenuous, elliptical, and contingent. Hezbollah, in contrast, is publicly subsidized and facilitated by Syria and Iran.

I am still inclined to think that all this unpleasantness will blow over: Hezbollah started it, not because it felt confident, but because it had to do something to stay relevant. Still, one can at least see a way now in which the situation could become awkward.

* * *

Meanwhile, this news from the Western Front: California: SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a powerful new centralized authority under his direct control that would be charged with implementing one of the nation's most far-reaching initiatives to curb global warming.

And we let ourselves be convinced that California would be his last territorial demand in North America.

* * *

Here's a disease I can relate to: prosopagnosia, or face blindness. Without the tireless efforts of the disability industry, I would not now have a term for the fact I am slightly worse than usual at remembering faces. It's certainly true that I tend to identify people by their hair. There was a time in the 1980s when I could not tell one English rock singer from another.

* * *

In a piece about the reintroduction of primitive violence to modern societies, Mark Steyn notes just how ghastly primitive life really is:

Lawrence Keeley calculates that 87 per cent of primitive societies were at war more than once per year, and some 65 per cent of them were fighting continuously. "Had the same casualty rate been suffered by the population of the twentieth century," writes Wade, "its war deaths would have totaled two billion people." Two billion! In other words, we're the aberration: after 50,000 years of continuous human slaughter, you, me, Bush, Cheney, Blair, Harper, Rummy, Condi, we're the nancy-boy peacenik crowd. "The common impression that primitive peoples, by comparison, were peaceful and their occasional fighting of no serious consequence is incorrect. Warfare between pre-state societies was incessant, merciless, and conducted with the general purpose, often achieved, of annihilating the opponent."

We sometimes hear that Late Neolithic man was healthier and better fed than early civilized man, so much so that a question has arisen about how civilization could have started at all. The answer seems to be that civilization is lots safer.

* * *

But is civilization demographically sustainable? Demographers of the early 20th century used to express surprise that pre-modern cities did not, for the most part, sustain themselves by local births, but relied on immigration to maintain their populations. Now those worryworts at Brussels Journal remind us yet again that the same seems to be true of modern urban societies:

“Europe and Japan are now facing a population problem that is unprecedented in human history,” said Bill Butz, president of the Population Reference Bureau. Countries have lost people because of wars, disease and natural disasters but never because women stopped having enough children. Japan announced that its population had shrunk in 2005 for the first time, and that it was now the world’s most elderly nation.

The current situation is not absolutely unprecedented. The population of France fluctuated between 12 and 20 million in the late medieval and early modern eras. The same, or worse, was happening in the rest of Europe. The Ottoman Empire seems to have coincided with a period of population stagnation in its territories. War and disease sometimes depressed populations violently, but sometimes, for economic reasons, people did decline to have the large number of children it took to overcome the high infant mortality. The novelty, perhaps, is fertility levels that are inadequate even when infant mortality is close to zero.

Readers who need to worry about demographic collapse will enjoy the site of The Population Reference Bureau, and especially the PRB's country-by-country demographic profiles

* * *

And yes Virginia, there are spelling reform blogs.. Here is an example from My Space. My own preferences for an upgraded orthography, though fluid, are otherwise

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-05-24: The Next America

Lawful immigrants over the past 200 years

Lawful immigrants over the past 200 years

Pew Hispanic Share of US Population that is Foreign Born

Pew Hispanic Share of US Population that is Foreign Born

Here are a couple of graphs to help illustrate John Reilly's points here. If we would really like to emulate the success of the last large wave of immigration to the United States, from roughly 1840 to 1930, it would be prudent of us to stop, and give everyone time to get used to each other. It took a lot of work last time, and it will this time too.


The Next America

 

A book published eleven years ago by Michael Lind speaks to our condition today: The Next American Nation: The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Republic . Indeed, let me suggest that before going any further in this blog entry that you read my review of the book, here. There is a link at the end of the review to bring you back.

All done?

You will note that the review is not uncritical. I don't think there is going to be another American Revolution, unless you count Reconstruction and the New Deal as revolutions. Also, I would suggest that the years since I wrote that review have proven that Lind's dismissal of the religious element in American culture is an unfruitful hypothesis, particularly for someone who hopes to reform the political system to make it more congruent with the national character. Moreover, I think that his notion of an "Overclass" is just one step above David Icke's lizard people. Still, the immigration issue has so changed things that time runs short in which to decide what in this sort of analysis is really prescient. For those slackers who did not read the review, consider this paragraph:

Lind is particularly exercised about the Overclass's nearly unanimous support of free trade. He notes that family income has been stagnant at best for the last twenty years, and that wages per worker have actually declined. Part of this he blames on the decline of unionization among the workforce, which he attributes almost entirely to government hostility. The rest he blames on foreign competition. The Overclass, in Lind's view, has deliberately and successfully driven down the wages of the average American since the late 1970s. This was achieved not only by permitting the import of foreign goods, but by actually importing foreign workers. The author spends a great deal of space trying to show that America historically has experienced heavy immigration only in spurts, all of which produced bad feeling, and which hindered the process of assimilating people already here. Multicultural America is gradually being transformed into a province of the Third World. The Overclass itself, however, dreams of becoming a post-American global elite.

Again, time has tested Lind's ideas, and in the matter of free trade I think they have been found wanting. At any rate, neither NAFTA nor the WTC have caused the disasters that were forecast: quite the opposite. Neither is it true that the globalists are responsible for keeping the borders open. From what I can tell, the political force behind that is generally conservative, even isolationist, middle-range businessmen and farmers who don't see why relegating the manual trades to a special caste of aliens should be a problem. In other words, a large part of the political dynamic is the local notables who, collectively, are far more influential than big business. Lind is worth reconsidering, however, because he foresaw that immigration would be important not just as a depressor of wages, but also because it threatens cultural dilution on an unprecedented scale.

Thus, I think that Mary Ann Glendon's piece, Principled Migration, which appears in the June/July issue of First Things, badly misapprehends the situation. She notes:

Good-faith anxieties about large-scale immigration are sometimes expressed in terms of social costs, such as a feared deleterious effect on the nation's cultural cohesion or the stability of local communities. One would like to take comfort from the fact that similar concerns were expressed at the time of the great migrations of a century ago. Though marked by conflict and competition, the story of those earlier immigrants is, to a great extent, a story of integration.

She then goes on to note some ways in which integration has become more difficult. The Democratic political machines, for instance,

that once brought new citizens into the political process at the local level have vanished. In their place...[the] newcomer from Mexico, Brazil, or El Salvador becomes a generic "Latino" in preparation for initiation into the game of divisive racial minority politics.

Particularly worrisome to her as a lawyer is that whereas "there is no place on Earth where legal values play a more prominent role in the nation's conception of itself than the United States," the 11 million or 12 million illegals "come from societies where formal law is associated with colonialism: and who, as a consequence, "may well find the United States' emphasis on legality rather strange." The earlier immigration did not threaten the rule of law; that immigration was legal.

All good points, but they are not the half of it. Glendon wholly neglects the fact that the earlier immigration succeeded because it ended. In contrast, she does not contemplate an end to the current immigration, or even a diminution. She asserts, without argument, that the United States requires "replacement immigration" to make up for the children who were not born because of 40 years of anti-natalist public policy. She deplores that policy, but does not address the possibility that high immigration is the one measure sure to keep it in place.

Worst of all is that she looks to the Catholic hierarchy for guidance, particularly the 2003 Joint Pastoral Letter issued by the Mexican and U.S. bishops, Strangers no Longer: Together on a Journey of Hope. (Why is it that the church social-documents most likely to cause misery and violence always have the most inanely irenic titles?). There we read this remarkable principle:

III. Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders. 36. The Church recognizes the right of sovereign nations to control their territories but rejects such control when it is exerted merely for the purpose of acquiring additional wealth. More powerful economic nations, which have the ability to protect and feed their residents, have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows.

One might compare this with the Catechism of the Catholic Church (section 2241):

The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.

Note that it's hard to see how someone with a right to residence can be considered a guest. In any case, the principle is a puzzler. Kant discerned a universal right to travel, but not to settlement. Where else the bishops might have gotten these notions is a mystery; certainly there is no serious scriptural support for the proposition, as William F. Vallicella points out at Right Reason.

For anyone so inclined, the Catechism's proviso, "to the extent that they are able," would allow ample room for limiting immigration in order to forestall the development of irredentist movements and to prevent the depression of wage levels, both of which apply in the current immigration controversy. Frankly, though, I am not much inclined to accommodate this text. The Catechism is a sound document for the most part, but it does contain multicultural flourishes that have aged very badly very fast. It is the vulnerability of advanced countries that has proven to be the more serious issue. (The Latin text was copyrighted in 1994. The previous Catechism dates from the 16th century. The update was precipitous, it seems.)

As for the Pastoral Letter: well, bishops' conferences say the damnedest things.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-05-12: Three Presidents

By LokiiT - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7991948

By LokiiT - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7991948

From the Wikipedia article, Demographics of Russia, it would appear that whatever changed in Russia in 2006 had pretty much the desired effect.


Three Presidents

 

President Putin's State of the Nation Address this week bears comparison with the major speeches of FDR, one of which it apparently cites. The range of social and military reconstruction it contemplates is at least as great as what Franklin Roosevelt grappled with in 1933. There are differences, of course, one of which is that the Russian Federation is flush with oil money, which means that, unlike the United States and Germany during the 1930s, it need not withdraw from the world economic system while effecting reconstruction at home.

The most ambitious part of Putin's agenda, and the one most noted by the international media, is a basket of programs to reverse Russia's demographic implosion. The great oil-tanker of informed opinion in the West has still not quite reversed course from worrying about population growth, so it is interesting to see how the press conceptualizes the issue. Here is what the New York Times had to say:

Much of the fall in the birthrate is caused by economic concerns: low wages, shortages of decent housing and worries over finding a job and keeping it in a volatile economy, and with laws that provide little job security.

This would be plausible, if the Times did not note a few paragraphs later that other countries in quite different economic circumstances are having a similar problem and implementing remedial measures of their own:

A number of other countries facing declining birthrates have offered similar incentives. Australia offers a $4,000 bonus for every baby, and recently proposed to pay all child care costs for women who want to work. Many European countries, including France, Italy and Poland, have offered some combination of bonuses and monthly payments to families.

Some Japanese localities, facing near catastrophic population loss, are offering rich incentives. Yamatsuri, a town of 7,000 just north of Tokyo, offers parents $4,600 for the birth of a child and $460 a year for 10 years. Singapore has a particularly lavish plan: $3,000 for the first child, $9,000 in cash and savings for the second; and up to $18,000 each for the third and fourth.

The communist regimes of Eastern Europe attempted drastic pro-natalist policies. The policies worked for a while, but fertility rates soon fell again. Much the same happened in Sweden. One can only repeat: demography is mysterious. Nonetheless, I would suggest that Putin's program, like the family-friendly tax and social policies in the United States from the 1930s to the 1960s, may be less important for its own effect than as an indicator of the cultural climate.

* * *

Meanwhile, in the United States, President Bush seems to need to make a few Rooseveltian addresses of his own.

I would argue that Bush's strategic initiatives have been notably successful: not only did he complete the war in the Persian Gulf that his father began, on what now looks to be stable terms, but he ended Libya's appallingly extensive WMD program and succeeded in turning the EU against Iran. This will all look very impressive to historians (or perhaps, as The Onion has suggested, to revisionist historians).

His immediate problem, however, is that the transition to a post-petroleum economy is accelerating and his administration is taking the blame for the friction. Presently, we will see the folly of bragging about deficit-ballooning tax cuts at a time when inflation is becoming a danger again. Don't forget that medical-insurance rates are up 10% and 15% again this year. And then there is the president's Alien from the Outer Nebula attitude toward immigration. (I use "Alien" in this context to mean "foreign to popular opinion," not to refer to actual aliens from the Outer Nebula, but if any such aliens were present illegally in the United States and working in the construction business then I am sure the president would argue that they were here just to support their families). The upshot of all this is that the president's approval rate has fallen to 29%: not because his enemies have grown in number, but because his friends have despaired of him.

His friends are clueless too. Here, from The DC Examiner, we see what Bush's base is saying:

The White House need look no further than Hugh Hewitt’s “Painting the Map Red” for a credible strategy. That strategy begins with getting tough with Congress and vetoing all unnecessary spending, starting with the pork-stuffed emergency supplemental. Demand up-or-down votes on all of your federal judicial nominees as soon as possible. Challenge Congress to suspend the bureaucratic red tape that prevents building new refineries and open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other appropriate areas to energy exploration and production. Make clear that regardless of November’s election results, you will call a special session of this Congress if needed in order to accomplish what needs to be done to get spending and entitlements under control, sanity restored to the courts and gasoline prices made affordable again.

Most important, Mr. President, secure the borders. Build the wall now. Tell Mexico the border is officially closed to illegal immigration and demand respect from that country for all U.S. laws. And stop using our own Border Patrol against patriotic Americans who are simply trying to help protect this nation from intruders who mean us ill.

In other words, the Republican base wants the party to run "against the government" again, as it did in 1980. The problem with that strategy was that it succeeded. It installed a political culture blind to the importance of plain-vanilla good administration, of which fiscal integrity is the first consideration.

I would not trade America's problems for Russia's, but we should note that Putin's speech was more encouraging than anything Bush is likely to say in the near future.

* * *

This brings us to President Achmedinajad's Grand Remonstrance to President Bush, the text of which is available here.

No, this was not a "last warning" to embrace Islam. The letter does not exhort Bush to embrace Islam, but rather to return to the teachings of Jesus. The most interesting aspect of the letter is its real audience, which the beginning of the letter indicates:

For sometime now I have been thinking, how one can justify the undeniable contradictions that exist in the international arena -- which are being constantly debated, specially in political forums and amongst university students. Many questions remain unanswered. These have prompted me to discuss some of the contradictions and questions, in the hopes that it might bring about an opportunity to redress them.

Note that the letter attempts a global perspective of the antiglobalist variety, with just a few theological sprinkles on top. There is quite a lot about Latin America, which no doubt reflects the Islamic Republic's rapprochement with Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. All-in-all, this letter looks like the kind of thing that have might proceeded from the pro-Islamist European Left.

If the Iranian version of antiglobalism is Achmedinajad's base, then he has far greater problems than George Bush does.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-01-18: Suicide, Iran & Environmental Collapse? Damn the Demographics!

I was first introduced to James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis' work with the Gaia Hypothesis through the simulation game SimEarth. A year ago I posted to an interview with Lovelock, and at the time I assumed that he was crazy things because he was old. I can now see that Lovelock was always crazy.

Lovelock is 98, and still around to give astonishing interviews. Margulis is not, but she was equally crazy. She did one big thing right, supporting the notion that mitochondria and chloroplasts originated as independent prokaryotes, and then massively went of the rails everywhere else.


Suicide, Iran & Environmental Collapse? Damn the Demographics!

 

Regarding the Oregon Suicide-by-Doctor law, which the Supreme Court has just upheld, let me repeat that I dislike this law as a matter of public policy. Nonetheless, the statute was valid. It did not contradict federal drug-control statutes, much less the federal constitution. The question, in fact, was enough of a no-brainer that it was an embarrassment to see that three justices were willing to say they thought otherwise.

Look, the Conservative Party is supposed to be the Principled Party. That means the party that is willing to accept defeat on a partisan issue if that is what is necessary to maintain the rule of law. Had a majority of the court voted to overturn the law, a specific evil would have been avoided, but at the expense of the rule of law and of the credibility of the justices. The court is going to need that credibility if the case that overturns Roe is to be seen as anything more than a press release from the Republican National Committee.

* * *

And what of Niall Ferguson's credibility? A historian is always regarded with suspicion by his colleagues when he speculates about the future, as Ferguson does in the brief essay: The origins of the Great War of 2007 - and how it could have been prevented:

The devastating nuclear exchange of August 2007 [between, probably, Iran and Israel] represented not only the failure of diplomacy, it marked the end of the oil age. Some even said it marked the twilight of the West. Certainly, that was one way of interpreting the subsequent spread of the conflict as Iraq's Shi'ite population overran the remaining American bases in their country and the Chinese threatened to intervene on the side of Teheran.

Yet the historian is bound to ask whether or not the true significance of the 2007-2011 war was to vindicate the Bush administration's original principle of pre-emption. For, if that principle had been adhered to in 2006, Iran's nuclear bid might have been thwarted at minimal cost. And the Great Gulf War might never have happened.

We should note any such conflict today could not expand in the fashion of the First World War. In 1914, an algorithm of treaty obligations and diplomatic understandings ensured that, in a matter of weeks, the war would spread across Europe. (Ferguson has said otherwise; he's wrong.) Even the lesser European powers had deployable forces all ready to go. That was an unusual start for a major war, of course. Compare World War II, which arguably began when the Japanese pushed south into China in 1937 and was still adding major participants in 1941. That is the sort of slow accretion that an initial strategic nuclear exchange would exclude. Israel as a nation might not survive such an exchange. It would be surprising if the Iranian state survived. The wild card would be what would happen to Islam if the holy sites in Saudi Arabia were nuked and the hajj became impossible.

And of course, the hypothesis of an "exchange" is unlikely, too. Iran wants ballistic nuclear weapons to obtain a measure of immunity from regime removal by the United States. That would allow Iran to operate a terror network and conventional forces with a measure of impunity. That calculation would work until missile defenses can reliably stop short and medium-range ballistic missiles. We can expect that to happen at no distant date.

* * *

According to James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia hypothesis, The Earth is about to catch a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years. As he notes more in sorrow than in anger in The Independent:

This article is the most difficult I have written...Gaia has made me a planetary physician and I take my profession seriously, and now I, too, have to bring bad news. ...She has been there before and recovered, but it took more than 100,000 years. We are responsible and will suffer the consequences: as the century progresses, the temperature will rise 8 degrees centigrade in temperate regions and 5 degrees in the tropics...Curiously, aerosol pollution of the northern hemisphere reduces global warming by reflecting sunlight back to space... We are in a fool's climate, accidentally kept cool by smoke, and before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.

Collapse is not quite so imminent that we might not hope to read all about it in Dr. Lovelock's forthcoming book, The Revenge of Gaia.

Regarding this article at hand, readers of Olaf Stapledon's First and Last Men may be reminded of the end of the First Men, who survived in the Arctic in a few small groups after Earth undergoes a sudden and violent heating. Elsewhere in this article, mention is made of a future ruled by barbarian warlords, which gets us back to Mad Max country. All in all, the article is an exercise in apocalyptic nostalgia.

Lovelock's assessment is that ecological collapse is irreversible. Some of the brighter environmentalists understand that this view might interfere with fundraising:

"If any of us back up behind that idea we might just as well slit our wrists," said Aubrey Meyer, the director of the Global Commons Institute, which campaigns hard for an approach to limiting greenhouse gas emissions known as Contraction and Convergence, based on moving to equal emissions entitlements per person everywhere around the globe.

The Gaia Hypothesis has a sensible version: the biosphere and the atmosphere interact over time to keep the surface temperature within a narrow range. That's probably true. However, there is also a nonsensical version, promoted at times even by Lovelock himself, that says the biosphere is a living thing, with many of the attributes of a deity. That is, to put it politely, a category mistake.

I am a great fan of decreasing CO2 and methane emissions, if only as a matter of better engineering. Actually, I am quite as capable of panicking about global warming as the next guy: when I woke up this morning, the temperature was 60-degrees Fahrenheit. By 8:00 AM, the sky was still so dark that the street lights were shining. Neither of these things is supposed to happen in the New York area in mid-January. However, the environmentalists are the last people I would ask for an explanation of what is happening or what to do about it. The environmental industry derailed nuclear power in the 1970s; today they advocate vacuous non-solutions like windpower. The really strange ones are trying to discourage hydroelectric power. And all their specific predictions have been wrong for 40 years.

* * *

And demography is worse, if you believe J. R. Dunn in his article How Demography Fails. He takes particular aim at the notion that Europe must inevitably turn into Eurabia, a development that is now regarded in some quarters as inevitable as environmental collapse:

The argument is straightforward: the native European population is dropping, with birthrates in all countries below replacement level. The Muslim populace, for the most part unassimilated, is still expanding. One curve is going up, the other down. When they cross, Europe will have effectively come under Muslim control.

But is it truly that simple? After all, there’s a reason why you’re not reading this in a U.S. with a population of 500 million+, which is what demography foresaw in 1950. Or in the 2006 world of 8 billion souls, as predicted ten years later. And certainly not in the 21st century universally forecast in the 70s, in which a few survivors grub about in the ruins left by the Great Crash following a runaway population explosion.

Yes: where do they sell Soylent Green? Perhaps they will on Svalbard Island, when the remnants of humanity in that Arctic country grow peckish.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-01-03: The Perennial Stones; the Implosion of the NYT; A Critique of Steyn

John felt in 2006 that new ownership was needed for the New York Times. In 2008, Carlos Slim, the richest man in Mexico, and occasionally the world, bought an 8% stake, later increased to 17.4%, making him the largest shareholder at present of the most influential newspaper in the United States.

Since synchronicity is a thing, here is Ross Douthat ranting against Mark Steyn, and other demographic doomsayers:

John Reilly occasionally linked to Steyn, and I have myself, but neither John nor I are convinced that Steyn's take on Western exhaustion is quite right. Far too many inconvenient facts get ignored.

As for me, I prefer to just have more kids than most educated Westerners think is reasonable or sane. Light a candle, rather than curse the darkness.


The Perennial Stones; the Implosion of the NYT; A Critique of Steyn

 

Here is the scariest piece of news from the last year:

THE ROLLING STONES have smashed US touring records - their 2005 BIGGER BANG circuit of North America is the most successful US concert tour of all time, according to concert website Pollstar.

The Rolling Stones are still touring? The Rolling Stones are making money? The Rolling Stones are still alive? When I was in high school I thought of the Stones as an old band.

* * *

Is the New York Times about to implode? Here is what its own "public editor" (a sort of ombudsman for readers) has to say about the fishy timing and motivation of the NSA story:

Behind the Eavesdropping Story, a Loud Silence: For the first time since I became public editor, the executive editor and the publisher have declined to respond to my requests for information about news-related decision-making. My queries concerned the timing of the exclusive Dec. 16 article about President Bush's secret decision in the months after 9/11 to authorize the warrantless eavesdropping on Americans in the United States. ..The most obvious and troublesome omission in the explanation was the failure to address whether The Times knew about the eavesdropping operation before the Nov. 2, 2004, presidential election. That point was hard to ignore when the explanation in the article referred rather vaguely to having "delayed publication for a year." To me, this language means the article was fully confirmed and ready to publish a year ago - after perhaps weeks of reporting on the initial tip - and then was delayed.

Again, my own explanation for this is that the Times management judged that the story would have embarrassed the Kerry campaign had the story been published during the 2004 election, because Senator Kerry would have had to make a public assessment of the necessity and legality of the surveillance program. The public editor notes that the chief the explanation the Times itself has offered is inadequate:

...One is that Times editors said they discovered there was more concern inside the government about the eavesdropping than they had initially been told. Mr. Keller's prepared statements said that "a year ago," officials "assured senior editors of The Times that a variety of legal checks had been imposed that satisfied everyone involved that the program raised no legal questions." So the paper "agreed not to publish at that time" and continued reporting. But in the months that followed, Mr. Keller said, "we developed a fuller picture of the concerns and misgivings that had been expressed during the life of the program" and "it became clear those questions loomed larger within the government than we had previously understood."

This is what is known as an argument against the text. The story the Times actually ran was not about a disagreement within the Bush Administration about the legality of the program. In any case, the point is irrelevant: Even if every lawyer in the federal bureaucracy believed that the NSA program was legal, the Times would certainly have sought independent legal opinion. In fact, that's what the Times did, but it does not seem to have like the answers it got. The Times has covered the legal question primarily through innuendo.

If The New York Times is to be saved as a national institution, its ownership must pass into other hands.

* * *

Mark Steyn in The New Criterion has favored the world this January with a compendium of dark surmise entitled It's the Demography, Stupid:

For thirty years, we’ve had endless wake-up calls for things that aren’t worth waking up for. But for the very real, remorseless shifts in our society—the ones truly jeopardizing our future—we’re sound asleep...Much of what we loosely call the western world will survive this century, and much of it will effectively disappear within our lifetimes, including many if not most western European countries. There’ll probably still be a geographical area on the map marked as Italy or the Netherlands— probably—just as in Istanbul there’s still a building called St. Sophia’s Cathedral. But it’s not a cathedral; it’s merely a designation for a piece of real estate....

Steyn notes things like the irrationality of hysteria about deforestation in countries that are in fact getting woodsier every year. He suggests that Western societies really should be focusing on the fact that their terminal demographics means that the Islamist enterprise could in fact succeed:

If this were like World War I with those fellows in one trench and us in ours facing them over some boggy piece of terrain, it would be over very quickly. Which the smarter Islamists have figured out. They know they can never win on the battlefield, but they figure there’s an excellent chance they can drag things out until western civilization collapses in on itself and Islam inherits by default. That’s what the war’s about: our lack of civilizational confidence. As a famous Arnold Toynbee quote puts it: “Civilizations die from suicide, not murder”—as can be seen throughout much of “the western world” right now. The progressive agenda —lavish social welfare, abortion, secularism, multiculturalism—is collectively the real suicide bomb.

We may note that Pope Benedict XVI recently also quoted Toynbee. I suggested a few years ago that Toynbee was about due for a revival. I said that in connection with a prediction of a return of historical optimism, and I see no reason to change that opinion: simply posing the question of macrohistorical teleology invokes resources for hope that postmodern historical theory was designed to suppress.

Meanwhile, though, we should consider that the proposal to make demographics a political issue may be a category mistake. It smacks of Bertholt Brecht's dictum that when a government loses the confidence of the people then the government must immediately elect a new people. Governments have found that it is notoriously difficult to buy babies, in the sense of subsidizing a rise in the fertility rate. Of course, most of the world has had some form of an anti-natalist demographic policy for the past half century, either overt as in China or covert, as in most Western countries. I wonder, though, whether all this has been a case of the phenomenal tail imagining that it wags the noumenal dog. Policy follows life.

Be that as it may, Steyn suggests that the inability of Western (and Japanese) publics to focus on issues of survival derives from the infantalization of the citizenry by their government:

But the problem now goes way beyond the ruling establishment. The annexation by government of most of the key responsibilities of life—child-raising, taking care of your elderly parents—has profoundly changed the relationship between the citizen and the state. At some point—I would say socialized health care is a good marker—you cross a line...A government big enough to give you everything you want still isn’t big enough to get you to give anything back....

This is not obvious. For one thing, the United States had an infantalized welfare class until the 1990s, a group with a notoriously high birthrate. Another point: health care has changed category. It used to be the sort of thing that individuals could and probably should have provided for themselves. Today, in developed countries, the infrastructure and costs of medical care are so great that just about no one can really buy it for themselves, or indeed pay for their own insurance.

In any case, Steyn suggests a provocative explanation for why US and EU attitudes toward the welfare state are so different, and so, according to his theory, why the US birthrate remains at about the replacement level:

This isn’t a deep-rooted cultural difference between the Old World and the New. It dates back all the way to, oh, the 1970s. If one wanted to allocate blame, one could argue that it’s a product of the U.S. military presence, the American security guarantee that liberated European budgets: instead of having to spend money on guns, they could concentrate on butter, and buttering up the voters.

To that, one might ask why Russia has among the worst demographics in the world, though it spent a far higher percentage of its national product on the military than the United States spent for its own defense. Steyn might argue that Communist social policy infantalized the people. Maybe, but that undermines the argument that the West is, in effect, choking on luxury

Finally, we should reconsider the meaning of this observation:

The default mode of our elites is that anything that happens—from terrorism to tsunamis—can be understood only as deriving from the perniciousness of western civilization. As Jean-François Revel wrote, “Clearly, a civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself.”

Maybe so, but this is a function less of despair than of the strain of restless dissatisfaction that runs right through Western history. Multicult, as Steyn observes, was essentially a device to absolve students of the need to learn about other cultures. Instead, it offered a screen between the student and the world on which a cartoon was printed that used exotic motifs to express political platitudes. In fact, when progressive Westerners cannot avoid encountering a genuine foreign culture, they are more likely than conservatives to want to rip it up and reconfigure it. Such encounters are becoming harder to avoid.

* * *

A note to publishers: I am in need of a day job. If you think I could make myself useful, please contact me here.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2006-01-01: Notes on 2006

John makes some predictions for 2006 here, which makes it easy to assess his track record:

  • I don't recall whether anyone noted the 100th anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt's letter to the GPO on spelling. I'm guessing the answer is no.
  • Iraq War veterans weren't hugely in demand as political candidates. Weirdly, in 2017, a lot of power in President Trump's cabinet has gone to generals from that war, but it sure wasn't true in 2006.
  • Iran has ended up dominating Iraq after the Iraq War. John did not guess correctly that some deal about Iranian nuclear programs would be made: he was probably unduly influenced by fools like Michael Ledeen.
  • A number of movies I really liked came out in 2006. Cars. Idiocracy. 300. The Devil Wears Prada
  • The end of 2005/beginning of 2006 wasn't a good year for John's track record. Previous years weren't quite so bad.

Notes on 2006

 

I strongly believe in prescience in all its forms. I also believe that it's pretty useless: even if you are right about some future event, you will almost certainly be wrong about what it will mean at the time it happens or how important it will be. With that in mind, let us proceed to a short list of observations and predictions for the coming year:

Yes, the presidential election of 2006 does start this year, in the sense that by year's end we will know who the contenders for the party primaries will be. The names that most frequently come up are the US Senators Hillary Clinton (Democrat) and John McCain (Republican); and look: there are polls of the "whom would you vote for today" variety. McCain beats every Democratic opponent if he is the Republican candidate. More interesting, perhaps, is what happens if Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, the current president's brother, is the Republican candidate, and McCain runs as an independent:

ALL voters: 
Bush-18 Clinton-34 McCain-40 Unsure-07

Democrats:
Bush-00 Clinton-64 McCain-28 Unsure-8

Independents:
Bush-07 Clinton-34 McCain-47 Unsure-12

Republicans: 
Bush-40 Clinton-08 McCain-49 Unsure-03

Polls at this point are worse than useless. Jeb Bush is almost certainly not going to run, for one thing; maybe none of these people will be on the ballot in 2008. Nonetheless, I mention these numbers now because the hypothesis of an independent bid by Senator McCain is closely connected to how poorly the Republicans do in the congressional election of 2006. If they lose both Houses of Congress, then the business & evangelical coalition that has controlled the party for the past two election cycles will be in such disarray that McCain could be nominated almost by default. On the other hand, if the Republicans limit their losses, then the establishment will be able to turn aside his candidacy one last time. I suspect that the Republicans will lose control of the House of Representatives; that will not be enough to cause panic.

In that case, an independent run by McCain is a real possibility. It might segue out of another lost bid by McCain for the Republican nomination, in a way closely parallel to Theodore Roosevelt's third-party run on the Progressive ticket in 1912.

Historically, third-party candidates have been spoilers: H. Ross Perot, for instance, was probably why the first President Bush was not reelected. McCain, in contrast, might actually be elected. After the Clinton impeachment and the Electoral College decision in 2000, anything seems possible.

* * *

Speaking of Theodore Roosevelt, 2006 is the 100th anniversary of his famous Executive Order that tried to institute a minor reform of English spelling, or at least of the spelling used by the Government Printing Office. I am informed by knowledgeable members of the Spelling Reform Hierarchy (hey, Joe!) that we can expect the press to take notice of this anniversary, particularly because it falls in August, when newspapers are not overburdened with pressing news. You read it first here.

* * *

There will be superlative natural disasters in 2006, of course, perhaps even some big enough to knock spelling reform off the front pages. However, as you may have noticed, disasters seem to become more costly in lives and money every year. This is not because the atmosphere is behaving in an unprecedented fashion but because there are more people and more infrastructure to injure. The absolute amount of damage goes up; the relative social cost goes down. We can expect this pattern to continue until at least the last quarter of this century, when the population of the world will begin its centuries-long decline

* * *

The parties will bid for veterans of the Iraq War as candidates, something that is already happening in a small way. That will be the political significance of the military for the near future: not as a new, mass voting block, but as a source (one of several, of course) of the future political class. There should be just enough such candidates this year to attract passing notice In future elections, we can expect the trend to become prominent.

The Republicans will be better positioned, initially, to benefit from the trend. However, the Democratic Party will, in the long run, find its policy positions changing in order to accommodate the new source of electable candidates.

* * *

Hostility to Iran will become the first settled foreign policy of the new Iraqi government. This will be because of the conflict between the centers of Shia learning in Iran and Iraq. The model here is the enmity that developed between the Soviet Union and China during the 1950s, and even sooner between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. The latter relationship made Yugoslavia, a Communist country, a de facto American ally through most of the Cold War.

The really interesting question about Iran is whether it will be forcibly relieved of its nuclear-weapons potential. No one is talking about invading Iran, but the sites in question could not simply be bombed. This is difficult at all levels, not least the legal one: Baathist Iraq in 2003 was in violation of the armistice that had saved the regime in 1991; there is no comparable rationale for action against Iran. So, if the attack happens, someone must devise an incomparable rationale.

* * *

There will be no good movies in 2006. Just look here at the upcoming releases. I look forward to Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, about ancient Mezoamerica, but the attraction is Science, not Art. There is small hope for the film version of The Da Vinci Code, I suspect. The story is no stupider than that of any other find-the-object thriller. However, from what I gather, the book is not easily filmable. Moreover, the protagonists will be doing things that outrage their audience's religious sensibilities, which means the screenwriters must have found it difficult to make those characters sympathetic.

Among the sequels, only Sin City 2 raises high hopes. There will be many remakes. The Incredible Shrinking Man will be redone as a Wayans comedy. That makes a certain amount of sense, since special-effects technology have improved greatly since the 1950s original. (As a comedy, though, it must match Lily Tomlin's Incredible Shrinking Woman.) On the other hand, I see that someone is remaking The Omen. This is probably a mistake: the original worked because the director had the sense to be sparing of special effects. The decapitation of David Warren, discerning critics agree, was tastefully done, and almost the only gore in the film.

I see there is going to be another Indiana Jones movie, but it will probably not premier until next year. Alas.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: America Alone

habsburg-dynasty.jpg

If the National Intelligence Council really predicted that the EU will collapse by 2020, their prediction is looking like a real long shot at this point. Maybe that is why DARPA funded Philip Tetlock's superforecaster project: to improve the accuracy of things like this.

To be fair, if you had told someone in 2006 that a huge wave of migrants from the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa would move into Europe in 2016, and that terrorism would be a regular feature of life in much of Western Europe, then a collapse of the EU might have seemed more likely.

I think it demonstrates that the neoliberal consensus is a lot stronger that it might otherwise seem. A relatively tolerant, multicultural, welfare capitalist global system [with a military/secret police enforcement system] seems to be the twenty-first century answer to the same problem the Habsburgs faced in Central Europe: how do you hold together a truly diverse polity?

There are a lot of people who suspect you can't. I think you can, but it's hard. I think this is one of the things that is likely to push us towards a truly post-democratic political order: the need to keep the peace.

Steyn's book talks about how we built a global system on the assumption that populations would keep growing forever. Large scale immigration is often advocated for precisely this reason: we need people to keep the system going. The controversy over immigration has become explosive, but what is interesting to me is that the model doesn't actually seem to be right.

The developed economies keep doing just fine, despite aging populations. If anything, there is too little work to be done, rather than too much. The assumption that Steyn and his political opponents share, the social democratic state needs to constantly grow to survive, may not be true.

In the eleven years since John wrote this, the average number of children across the world has continued to fall everywhere except Africa. So far, sub-Saharan Africa has proven unusually resistant to the demographic transition.


America Alone:
The End of the World as We Know It
By Mark Steyn
Regnery Publishing, 2006
224 Pages, US$27.95, Can$34.95
ISBN 0-89526-078-6

 

There is no way to put Mark Steyn’s view of the next few decades gently:

“The U.S. government’s National Intelligence Council is predicting the EU will collapse by 2020... How bad is it going to get in Europe? As bad as it can get – as in societal collapse, fascist revivalism, and the long Eurabian night, not over the entire Continent but over significant parts of it. And those countries that manage to escape the darkness will do so only after violent convulsions of their own.”

But who is this Steyn fellow, and why is he saying these terrible things? Mark Steyn is a Canadian-American journalist (he first attracted notice as an arts and music critic) who is now sometimes accounted the most influential conservative writer in the anglophone world. He owes that position in part to an epigrammatic style that bears comparison to that of the early G.K. Chesterton. America Alone is composed chiefly of Steyn’s scintillating columns of recent years, but he or his editors have accomplished something very rare: a compilation of previously published occasional pieces that reads like a connected text, with a lucid argument and surprisingly little repetition. This synthesis was possible because Steyn believes he has discovered the Key to World History, or at least the mechanism that will determine the history of the 21st century. To put it briefly:

“[D]emography is an existential crisis for the developed world, because the twentieth-century social democratic state was built on a careless model that requires a constantly growing population to sustain it... The single most important fact about the early twenty-first century is the rapid aging of almost every developed nation other than the United States.”

The magic number here is 2.1, as in the total fertility rate per woman that a developed society needs to maintain its population over time. The US fertility rate is at about that number, a fact explained only in part by immigration: the native-born population of Red State America is over that figure, while the figure for the Blue States is generally below it. It is almost uncanny how much of the rest of the world is below it, either slightly (like Australia) or catastrophically (like Italy and Russia and Japan; and don’t forget China, doomed to get old before it can get rich). It’s true even of most of Latin America. Aside from America, the only regions where it is not true are India, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Muslim world. Without the Muslim angle, this might be a story of economies freezing up and welfare states closing down as the percentage of working-age people becomes too small to support a growing majority of pensioners. The effect of Muslim immigration and conversion, however, coupled as it is with the spread of lethal jihadist ideology, is to raise the possibility that much of Europe could slip out of the Western world entirely. Steyn did not coin the term “Eurabia,” but in an age when a third of the young people in France have been born to Muslim parents, it comes in handy.

Several writers have raised these points in recent years. However, despite the title of the book, Steyn does not subscribe to the conclusion of many of his colleagues that the United States should simply turn inward:

“And I’m a little unnerved at the number of readers who seem to think the rest of the world can go hang and America will endure as a lonely candle of liberty in the new Dark Ages. Think that one through: a totalitarian China, a crumbling Russia, an insane Middle East, a disease-ridden Africa, a civil-war Eurabia -- and a country that can’t even enforce its borders against two relatively benign states will be able to hold the entire planet at bay? Dream on, ‘realists.’”

Neither is the book a call for an American Empire. Steyn tends to support the Bush Administration’s military policy, and particularly the invasion of Iraq; he faults the execution of that campaign principally for being too culturally sensitive. However, he tells us:

“This book isn’t an argument for more war, more bombing, or more killing, but for more will.”

Steyn’s Key to History unlocks not just a proper reading of foreign affairs, but reveals to him the need for a cultural and political transformation of the West. That part of the book, and particularly his prescriptions for the future, is the most problematical. As for the doomsday material, one might observe that it is in the nature of present trends not to continue. If the ones Steyn highlights do continue, however, his grim forecasts will be right.

Steyn has a short explanation for demographic catastrophe:

“In demographic terms, the salient feature of much of the ‘progressive agenda’ – abortion, gay marriage, endlessly deferred adulthood – is that, whatever the charms of any individual item, cumulatively it’s a literal dead end...In fact, [opposition to Islamization] ought to be the Left’s issue. I’m a social conservative. When the mullahs take over, I’ll grow my beard a little fuller, get a couple of extra wives, and keep my head down. It’s the feminists and the gays who’ll have a tougher time.”

The welfare state in Europe and Canada allows the political system to focus on satisfying “secondary impulses,” such as long, legally mandated vacations and government-provided daycare, or for that matter, responsibility for the care of the elderly:

“But once you decide you can do without grandparents, it’s not such a stretch to decide you can do without grandchildren...[T]he torpor of the West derives in part from the annexation by the government of most of the core functions of adulthood.”

As he never ceases to remind us, there is an important distinction between Europe and America in these matters, or at least between Europe and Red State America. The distinction, he argues, results from a recent historical accident:

“It dates all the way back to, oh, the 1970s. It’s a product of the U.S. military presence, a security guarantee that liberated European budgets...[however]...[u]nchecked, government social programs are a security threat because they weaken the ultimate line of defense: the free-born citizen whose responsibilities are not subcontracted to the government.”

To quote an authority that Steyn does not, Immanuel Kant once said, “Even a nation of demons could maintain a liberal republic, provided they had understanding.” If we are to believe Steyn, however, Kant was wrong about the degree to which rights and procedures could replace morality and religion:

“[B]y relieving the individual of the need to have ‘private virtues,’ you’ll ensure that they wither away to the edges of society...Almost by definition, secularism cannot be a future: it’s a present-tense culture that over time disconnects a society from cross-generational purpose.”

One may note that this would apply only to a form of secularism with no metahistorical script for the future. Thus, a Marxist society (if it did not starve), or a eugenicist society, or a society intent on colonizing the solar system, might make the connection between generations. A society that was just a gas of atomic individuals today and looked forward to being just a gas of atomic individuals tomorrow, in contrast, would have neither a past nor a future.

Steyn is not just another talkshow ranter (though he does that, too) because he sometimes slows down enough to express skepticism about his own arguments. He asks: does the loss of religion explain the morbid state of advanced and even moderately developed countries? That might seem to be an explanation within the United States, with its relatively sterile and aging New England versus, say, the burgeoning Mormon population of Utah. But what about Europe, where the relatively religious South has even lower fertility rates than the godless North? One might also adduce East Asia: the populations of neither Japan nor South Korea are sustainable, but South Korea is a hotbed of evangelism of all sorts, while Japan is as secular as Sweden.

If God is not the answer, could Mammon be? America as a whole has a somewhat more free-market economy than most of Europe, but the most laissez faire economies in the world are in East Asia, and they have birth rates lower than most Western countries. We should also note, as Steyn does not, that the prolific Red State populations receive more in federal subsidies than they pay in taxes: those family values are paid for with farm subsidies and often rather paternalistic business practices. Steyn also points out that the major anglophone countries all have birthrates either at or near replacement level, but he does not suggest that the birth dearth could be solved with Berlitz courses.

* * *

Among the most delightful features of America Alone is the blurb on the front bookjacket from Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi Ambassador to the United States: “The arrogance of Mark Steyn knows no bounds.” The prince perhaps has reason to be miffed. Though he does not say so in this book, Steyn elsewhere likens the increasingly successful Islamization of Europe to an opportunistic infection, made possible by the simultaneous collapses in cultural confidence and fertility. He has many worthwhile things to say in this regard; he is certainly right to underline the fantastic level of mendacity among the people in the West who speak for and about Islam. In academia and on the evening news, “sophistication seems mostly to be a form of obfuscation by experts.” As for official appreciation of the threat, “government ministers in Western nations spend most of their time taking advice on the jihad from men who agree with its aims.” The problem is not simply a matter of immigrants with new ideas changing the nature of their new homes: “Islam,” not just in the West but around the world, increasingly means a brutal and hegemonic version of Wahhabism. The evangelization of this doctrine is lavishly subsidized by the government of Saudi Arabia, support that ranges from establishing local Islamic schools in Canadian and American cities to building mosques the size of cathedrals in Europe.

Steyn recounts many anecdotes of allegedly moderate Muslims in Western countries who turned out to be recruiting or fundraising for terrorist groups, but far more disturbing are the proliferating incidents of homegrown jihadis turning against the lands of their birth:

“If you’re a teenager in most European cities these days, you’ve a choice between two competing identities – a robust confident Islamic identity or a tentative post-nationalist cringingly apologetic European identity. It would be a mistake to assume the former is attractive only to Arabs and North Africans.”

As Steyn notes, multiculturalism was instituted not to acquaint Westerners with other cultures, but to criticize the West. One effect of multiculturalism has been to absolve students of learning any hard information about other cultures. The result is that the West has disarmed itself in the most critical arena:

“We have no strategy for dealing with an ideology...groups with terrorist ties are still able to insert their recruiters into American military bases, prisons, and pretty much anywhere else they get a yen to go.”

Western attempts to influence the development of Islam are usually exercises in self-delusion, beginning with the preferred choice of interlocutors: “’moderate Muslims’ would seem to be more accurately described as apostate or ex-Muslims.” As for more long-range efforts: “We – the befuddled infidels – talk airily about ‘reforming’ Islam. But what if the reform has already taken place and jihadism is it?”

The Islamization of Europe is no longer hypothetical, in part because of the determination of the anti-discrimination police to enforce accommodation to what often extremist and unrepresentative Islamic groups claim to be Muslim sensibilities: “there’s very little difference between living under Exquisitely Refined Multicultural Sensitivity and sharia.” Worse than that is the casual use of violence and threats against European writers and artists, or even against ordinary persons: non-Muslim women in heavily Muslim neighborhoods increasingly go about dressed in something approaching Muslim fashion in order to avoid insult.

* * *

How, you may ask, can the United States prevent much of the world from turning to theocratic rubble, like Taliban Afghanistan? Steyn suggests these priorities:

"In World War Two, the sands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa where the main event, and rounding up the enemy sympathizers in Michigan was the sideshow. One can argue that this time around the priorities are reversed -- that bombing Baby Assad out of the presidential palace in Damascus is a more marginal battlefield then turning back the tide of Islamicist support in Europe and elsewhere. America and a select few other countries have demonstrated they can just about summon the will to win on the battlefield. On the cultural front, where this war in the end will be won, there’s little evidence of any kind of will.”

Nonetheless, he says that the military dimension cannot be neglected: the worst thing to do is nothing. Even if the war is chiefly ideological, there are state sponsors of the hostile ideology, and something has to be done about them, either militarily or through devastating economic sanctions:

“[E]very year we remain committed to 'stability' increases the Islamists’ principal advantage: it strengthens the religion – the vehicle for their political project – and multiplies the raw material...So another decade or two of ‘stability and the world will be well on its way to a new Dark Ages...But the central fact of a new Dark Ages is this: it would not be a world in which the American superpower is succeeded by other powers but a world with no dominant powers at all.”

It is true that the United States is held in light esteem in many of the world’s better magazines, and even does increasingly badly in public opinion polls taken in countries whose leadership is not necessarily committed to America’s destruction. Steyn attributes the darkening of the American image to elites like those in France, who are obviously weighing their chances in a semi-Muslim future, or to other well-meaning people who live in a fantasy world, where the most pressing issue facing civilization is rising sea levels. One might also suggest that, if the post-World War II international system is decomposing, America has become the screen onto which are projected the anxieties and ambitions aroused by the decomposition. To the jihadis, America is the godless Great Satan; to much of Europe, and even to many Blue State Americans, America is a theocratic Jesusland. As Steyn puts it: “America is George Orwell’s Room 101: whatever your bugbear you will find it therein; whatever you’re against, America is the prime example thereof.”

In reality, though, what much of the developed world is going to experience in the next 10 or 20 years is re-primitivization: “The Serbs figured that out – as other Continentals will in the years ahead: if you can’t outbreed the enemy, cull ‘em.” Where states fail, private parties can be expected to step in:

“If a dirty bomb with unclear fingerprints goes off in London or Delhi, it’s not necessary to wait for the government to respond. As in Ulster, there’ll always be groups who think the state power is too [timid] to hit back. So unlisted numbers will be dialed hither and yon, arrangements will be made, and bombs will go off in Islamabad and Riyadh and Cairo. There will be plenty of non-state actors on the non-Islamic side. In the end the victims of the Islamist contagion will include many, many Muslims.”

To combat the Islamic dimension of the threat (and remember, it’s chiefly a demographic problem) Steyn has suggestions of various degrees of plausibility, of which the most intriguing is the proposal to create a civil corps to engage Islamism ideologically:

“If America won’t export its values -- self-reliance, decentralization -- others will export theirs. In the eighties, Paul Kennedy warned the United States of ‘imperial overstretch.’ But the danger right now is of imperial understretch -- of a hyperpower reluctant to sell its indisputably successful inheritance to the rest of the world.”

Steyn wants to scrap the post-World War II international institutions and replace them with an alliance of capable and committed democratic powers. He says the Saudis have to be stopped from financing their worldwide religious underground. He would also like to develop technology that would end the dependence of the developed world on Middle Eastern oil: a fine notion, and none the worse for having been suggested a hundred times before.

This brings us to the cultural front. It is a good bet that Steyn is prophetic when he tells us, “By 2015, almost every viable political party in the West will be natalist.” And what should the platforms of these Mewling Infant Parties contain? “We need to find a way to restore advantage to parenthood in the context of modern society. Shrink the state. If you got four dependents, your taxable income is to be divided by five. We must end deferred adulthood.” And how do we do that? “We need to redirect the system to telescope education into a much shorter period.” The upshot, apparently, is that educated people should be educated faster so that they will normally have children while they’re in their twenties. We hear not one word that these proposals, though perhaps inevitable, will mean that the life courses of men and women will diverge again.

Steyn has given us a fiery polemical introduction to the crisis of the first quarter of the 21st century. However, we recognize the limitations of his analysis when we come to statements like, “The free world’s citizenry could use more non-state actors.” Consider his view of the moral of September 11, 2001:

“What worked that day was municipal government, small government, core government -- fireman the NYPD cops, rescue workers. What flopped -- big-time, as the vice president would say -- was the federal government, the FBI, CIA, INS, FAA, and all the other hotshot, money-no-object, fancypants acronyms.”

Stirring words, but counterfactual. In reality, on 911 the World Trade Center’s security service killed many of the people in the buildings by urging them to return to their offices after the attack was underway. The radios of the various emergency services were not able to communicate with each other. The firemen died needlessly by charging into burning buildings that local fire experts had declared indestructible. The epitome of effective local government, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, was almost killed because the city’s emergency command center was located in the World Trade Center complex, despite the fact everyone knew the complex was the most likely target for a terrorist attack. The federal government did not cover itself with glory on that day, either, but at least the feds managed to close down and then restart the airline system within the space of a few hours.

Toward the end of the book, Steyn remarks, “You can’t win a war of civilizational confidence with a population of nanny-state junkies.” But the fact is that is how the world wars were fought and won, either by states that had extensive social-welfare systems, or that promised such systems to their citizens as part of the reward of victory.

It is certainly the case that the nanny state of the postwar developed world, with its therapeutic model of governance and its subsidy of victimhood, is a degenerate and unsustainable type of polity. But consider what it degenerated from: the war-and-welfare state of the era of the Great Wars that lasted from 1861 to 1945. The same powers of economic and political mobilization that allowed those wars to be fought permitted, indeed required, the domestic mobilization of education and public health and industry that allowed the governments of that explosive era to function effectively as military actors. Those governments commanded the most effective states that ever existed, and the mark of the societies they governed was precisely that, during the long lifetime from Lincoln to Churchill, the fortunes of the state and of the citizen increasingly merged. For a while, for just a few years, the mechanisms were in place to drive society in the service of urgent public policy.

The nanny state is a declension from that height of state fitness, and so is the libertarian state. In the face of an existential crisis, Churchill promised his people that their lives would be drenched in blood, sweat, and tears until victory was won. In the face of a comparable threat to civilization, George Bush made some fine public restatements of America’s now traditional Wilsonianism, but otherwise told the American people to support the tourist industry by visiting America’s beauty spots; while cutting taxes in the middle of two major wars, he reminded the taxpayers, “It’s your money.” Even if you accept the president’s economic model, surely it is obvious that such policies have no power to mobilize. The philosophy behind them diverts attention from the core functions of government, as the embrace of an open-borders policy by the Republican establishment illustrates. The small government that Steyn urges might be able to win conventional wars, but it would be unable otherwise to affect events. Increasingly, its irrelevance to the real problems, many of which Steyn has identified, would lose it the loyalty of its citizens. Thus we see that the libertarian state undermines patriotism quite as effectively as the European Union. They are parallel manifestations of the same phenomenon.

Many of Steyn’s specific proposals have merit, but they need a context he has not yet attempted to articulate. It might be possible for America to revive the Churchillian State within its own borders; maybe Japan could do that too, but neither Europe as a whole nor the nations within it could manage such a thing. In any case, it is not at all clear that even America should try. The work of regeneration needed to fight off the Muslim infection and save the threatened societies of the world from suicide cannot dispense with patriotism. However, it must be patriotism strengthened by some wider loyalty impervious to the subversions to which the Churchillian State proved subject.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2005-06-13: The 34th Annual Conference of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations (ISCSC)

Hubbert's upper-bound prediction for US crude oil production (1956), and actual lower-48 states production through 2014 – By Plazak - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42670844

Hubbert's upper-bound prediction for US crude oil production (1956), and actual lower-48 states production through 2014 – By Plazak - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42670844

Peak Oil was an interesting idea. I can see how it seemed compelling: it was based on data and experience, and the model fit the data reasonably well. However, the model and it's assumptions always struck me as wrong-headed. It turns out I was right about that, but I can't claim any special prescience about the mechanism that really drove the stake in: fracking

I had forgotten about this reference to Rammstein. For a guy 25 years older than me, he continually surprised me with his cultural references.


The 34th Annual Conference of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations (ISCSC)

 

I have been a member of the ISCSC for some years, but the only other annual conference I attended was one held at the Newark, New Jersey, campus of Rutgers University, which is just a few minutes away from where I live. This year's meeting was at the University of Saint Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, on June 9th, 10, and 11th. The only full day I was there was the 10th. I was importuned to come to this one so I could do a stand-up routine about Oswald Spengler. The conference theme was "Civilizations, Religions and Human Survival," so the obvious thing to talk about was Spengler's notion of the "Second Religiousness." Well, obvious to me.

I had never been to the Twin Cities before (Minneapolis-St. Paul). As big airports go, Lindbergh International (which is not to be confused with Humphrey) is not perhaps exceptionally huge, but it certainly looks that way, because the terminals are integrated into a single structure. I did actually check to see if there was an Amtrak route I could use. There is, I found, and it's cheap, but it would take 20 hours from New Jersey. I don't like to fly, but I don't not like to fly that much.

The University of Saint Thomas is a middle-sized Catholic institution. It dates to the late 19th century, but most of the plant seems to have been built since about 1970. It felt oddly familiar. Finally I recognized that it reminded me of Farleigh Dickenson University in New Jersey: both are "urban universities" located in leafy neighborhoods that are not particularly urban. Saint Thomas, however, is just a few blocks from the Mississippi, which is quite spectacular even so far north.

* * *

The ISCSC is in no way a politically radical group. It was founded by macrohistorians, but my own interest in macrohistory has become rare, except among some of the Japanese, about whose country Toynbee spoke so highly. Most of the papers were on aspects of globalization or on regional issues. Nonetheless, there were times during my stay when I found myself channeling Ayn Rand.

Just after I arrived, I walked in at the end of a presentation by an elderly prelate who was talking, as far as I could tell, about the role of religious groups in negotiating an end to armed conflicts. During the question-and-answer session that followed, he said he thought that the United States destroyed the Baathist government in Iraq in order to eliminate a successful model of socialism. Well, one does not heckle elderly clerics, especially when you walk in at the end of their presentation, but I was under no such inhibition at another presentation on "Peak Oil."

It wasn't a bad presentation. The thesis was that world oil production could be expected to peak in a couple of years, and that there would be economic and social disruption as prices rose thereafter. Unlike the topography of St. Paul, however, I recognized right away what this reminded of: I was hearing a scarcely updated version of one of the Club of Rome Reports from the early 1970s.

I have every confidence that an increasing scarcity of oil will have us scrambling to built new power infrastructure in fairly short order, but there is something terribly past-sell-by-date about all this. The imperative need for population control; the organization of resource use on a transnational level; the decentralization and localization of economic activity: all of this needs to begin now, the story goes, by government subsidy and coercion. When I first read this analysis and prescription in The Limits to Growth in 1972, it also sounded plausible to me. The future in Soylent Green looked plausible to me, too. Since then, the statistics have changed, but the story never does. It does not even change when, as in the case of Europe and Japan and China, something very like the Club of Rome prescription has been instituted and the societies involved are actually starting to die.

When you see that a policy prescription stays the same no matter how the facts change, you realize that the prescription is the point, not the problem it is supposed to remedy. Socialism, as the old saying goes, is the name of their desire. The only novelty is that socialism has realized it cannot create prosperity, so now it insists on mandatory poverty.

Thoughts like this make for awkward interventions in a public forum, especially when, as in this case, I was called on last, after a dozen supportive questions. I started civilly enough, though:

"Excuse me, but why would you expect command economics to work any better in the 21st century than they did in the 20th?"

"Well, you are right: it's a difficult issue. Still, I would offer Cuba as an example of a country that has successfully planned the transition to a more organic, low-energy usage society."

"What happened in Cuba after the fall of the Soviet Union was not a planned transition; it was a national catastrophe. (Shouting) To made the current state of Cuba a national goal would be lunatic public policy!"

I think I got a little applause at one point. In any case, I went down to the front of the auditorium to apologize afterward. I tried to explain that you don't actually need hot-spots for geothermal climate control.

* * *

One session that might have been of interest to many readers of my blog included a presentation by one Peter O'Brien (of, I believe, San Diego), who argued that America has become sufficiently different from Europe that America must be considered a separate civilization. Among other things, he said that when Europeans said "we," it was a "we" that did not include Americans.

We have blogs so we can offer responses that we did not think of at the time. So, let me mention here that I was recently quoted in a Dutch English-language newspaper, the Amsterdam Weekly, in an article by Paul Burghout about the recent referendum on the European Union Constitution. The title of the article was "They, the People."

And what about that Rammstein song, Amerika? ("We all live in America")?

* * *

After I delivered my own paper, entitled The Second Religiousness in the 21st Century, it seemed at first that I was not going to get any questions. It turned out that the presentation had not produced indifference, but about 10 seconds of stunned silence. Then I got much better questions than I deserved, including one from an old theologian who was familiar with both William Ernest Hocking and Philip Jenkins. I got to quote C.S. Lewis on the potency of religion for good and ill ("Demons are not made from corrupted mice, but from corrupted archangels") and the Talmud on the perils of trying to engineer a religious future ("Do not force the Messiah.") I did wax a little incomprehensible when I tried to explain the relationship of metaphysical immanence to American constitutional jurisprudence, but nobody seemed to mind.

* * *

The ISCSC is meeting next year in Paris, to talk about intercivilizational bridges. I think I will give that one a miss.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2005-05-26: High-Powered Jobs, Then Mostly British Stuff

Work-life balance is important, particularly insofar as a lack of it contributes to lower fertility in precisely the people who should be having more kids. However, the problem is that you can't make a job with time off for raising kids equal to a job with brutal hours and a lack of interruptions. You might insist that you can pretend, but the reality of it won't change.


High-Powered Jobs, Then Mostly British Stuff

 

Matt Miller wrote a column that appeared in the New York Times earlier this week, entitled, Listen to My Wife, that tries to transcend the affirmative action debates about gender:

In a world where most people are struggling, the search for "balance" in high-powered jobs has to be counted a luxury...

Here's the deal: this isn't a "women's" problem; it's a human problem. Yet for 30 years women have tried to crack this largely on their own, and one thing is clear: if the fight isn't joined by men (like me) who want a life, too, any solutions become "women's" solutions. A broader drive to redesign work will take a union-style consciousness that makes it safe for men who secretly want balance to say so.

The argument is interesting because it reveals a blindspot far more debilitating than any gender ideology. Power, at least in this context, means the ability to do work. High-powered jobs are constituted by the productivity of their incumbents. You can, of course, give someone a corner office and a princely salary even if he does nothing all day, but such a person will not have anything like the influence of someone who makes profitable decisions when they are needed. The real power of all workers, competent or not, diminishes when people are being appointed to jobs for reasons other than merit, because the ability of the workers to affect their own fate is thereby reduced. The same would apply when jobs are artificially designed in the interests of family life. There may be good reasons for doing so, but do not delude yourself that they will be the same jobs.

* * *

For reasons which seemed sufficient at the time, I recently sought to familiarize myself with the philosophy of Fr. Bernard Lonergan, S.J. There is a description here of his views about epistemology: it seems to be a shotgun wedding of Kant and Aquinas, with John Newman holding the shotgun. I link to it here, however, because that article briefly mentions a mathematical puzzle I had not seen before. Look:

1/3 = 0.333...

3 X 1/3 = 3 X 0.333...

3 X 1/3 = 0.999...

1 = 0.999...

But what happens if you raise both those terms to the power of infinity? I am perplexed.

* * *

I have often mentioned, and will no doubt mention again, that my favorite C.S. Lewis novel is That Hideous Strength. The story deals in large part with the malefactions of the NICE, a very British bureaucracy called the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments. Imagine my surprise to discover that there is a real NICE, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence. It even does NICE things, like advise the British government about when to cut off medical care to malingering patients. That characterization may be unfair, but what were these people thinking of when they coined the acronym?

* * *

Speaking of very British things, I have no excuse at all for having seen all the classic Doctor Who episodes. I did not see them "when I was a kid"; I was about 30, when the series aired on some of the less-well-to-do public television stations in New Jersey. (This information apparently leaked back to the scriptwriters: you may recall when Tom Baker remarks of K-9, his robot dog: "Do you like him? They are all the rage in Trenton, New Jersey.") In any case, I was surprised to learn that the series is back in business. The Doctor Who Website has all sorts of information about the Doctor's latest incarnation. Plus there are games, and you can download the Dalek cry, "exterminate!" I also see that each episode is judged by a panel of children to assess the scary bits. You would think the show was made for kids.

* * *

I am working on Chinese again, this time with special attention to the simplified characters. There are many free online study aids. I downloaded a modest-sized Java flashcard program from here. There is no audio, so you can use it at odd moments without attracting attention. Also, it is not embarrassing if you are caught goofing off.

* * *

Finally, I was pleased to see that The Weekly Standard ran a piece by Christopher Hitchens about George Galloway. The latter humiliated the US Senate subcommittee that was investigating corruption in the UN Oil-for-Food program in Iraq, and the US press seemed little inclined to explain who Galloway was. Hitchens explained why Galloway richly deserved to get a better grilling than the one he got, Hitchens also makes this observation:

In a small way--an exceedingly small way--this had the paradoxical effect of making me proud to be British. Parliament trains its sons in a hard school of debate and unscripted exchange, and so does the British Labour movement. You get your retaliation in first, you rise to a point of order, you heckle and you watch out for hecklers. The torpid majesty of a Senate proceeding does nothing to prepare you for a Galloway, who is in addition a man without embarrassment who has stayed just on the right side of many enquiries into his character and his accounting methods.

There is something to this observation, but do you really need to incur the risk of liver damage that a stint in Westminster entails to learn how to deal with a provocateur? Galloway's performance was classic open-meeting agitator: accuse the people on the podium of being criminals, make too many charges to answer, and never give a direct answer other than "no."

What Galloway did happens in public meetings everywhere in the United States at one time or another. School Board chairmen learn in short order how to deal with such people. The senators must have been school-board chairmen, or something similar, at some point on their way to the Senate. Have they forgotten how to answer a con man?

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: How Abortion Builds Better Families

By Jajhill - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48972931

By Jajhill - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48972931

I was going to say that John missed the big picture on replacing AFDC with TANF in the late 90s:

Chronic, mass illegitimacy is a product of the lifestyle of the population that has become dependent on AFDC. If the program is removed or modified, there might be a temporary uptick in abortions, but the culture of illegitimacy will be eliminated.

because it looks like the long term trend wasn't much affected in the CDC data. But perhaps that is too harsh. Pseudonymous blogger Spotted Toad looked at the data, and concluded that it was possible there was an effect of eliminating AFDC. That effect is much smaller than the underlying trend, but that doesn't mean it isn't real.

The second part of what John mentioned here, a fear that pushing women to get married using welfare policy would cause an increase in the abortion rate, didn't materialize either.

Overall, I think this essay from 1995 holds up pretty well 22 years later.


How Abortion Builds Better Families

The word "conservative" has several meanings in American politics. It can mean respect for social tradition and legal precedent, after the fashion of Edmund Burke. It can mean a devotion to free market economics, which is what "liberalism" meant in the 19th century and what it still means in much of Europe. It can mean near-anarchist libertarianism. It can even mean the desire to create a theocracy. Although these possible meanings often logically lead to incompatible public policy, most people who call themselves conservative incorporate some elements of all of these different kinds of "conservatism" into their beliefs. This rarely causes significant problems: since none of us is omniscient, cognitive dissonance is part of the human condition anyway. Still, every so often an issue comes along that threatens to unravel the baling-wire and chewing gum structure the passes for modern American conservatism.

Consider the movement to deny payments to single women receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) for children born while the women are on the program. This restriction is aimed at reducing the number of out-of-wedlock births, which might strike some people as a "conservative" issue if ever there was one, but the opposition to this policy is almost unique in uniting abortion rights advocates and pro-life advocates. The reason for this is the conventional belief that such a measure will increase the rate of abortion among women dependent on these funds. The pro-abortion people assert that restricting AFDC payments infringes on the "right to choose" by pressuring the women concerned to choose abortion. The pro-life people, while presumably opposed to illegitimacy, are more concerned about the possibility of a rise in the abortion rate.

In reality, of course, the premise of this opposition is probably wrong. Chronic, mass illegitimacy is a product of the lifestyle of the population that has become dependent on AFDC. If the program is removed or modified, there might be a temporary uptick in abortions, but the culture of illegitimacy will be eliminated. However, the belief that AFDC reform really does pose an abortion issue has provided an opening for that type of "conservatism" which consists of a mixture of free market economics and personal libertarianism. A particularly lucid expression of this type of argument is provided by the cover article in The New Republic of August 21 & 28, entitled "The Conservative Case for Abortion," written by Jerry Z. Muller. His thesis, in brief, is that bourgeois family values are incompatible with pro-life ideology. Unlike most pro-abortion arguments, which consist primarily of invocations of the fastfood slogan of "choice," this one rises to the level of refutable error.

Muller seeks to make his argument "balanced." He notes the eugenic value of abortion, including late term abortion, but then he also says "the right-to-life movement has done our society a service by insisting upon the humanity and moral worth of the unborn child." His real argument, however, is economic. (Since his most recent book is Adam Smith in His Time and Ours, this is understandable.) The right-to-life movement, he argues, "undermines [the] fundamentally conservative effort to strengthen purposeful families." Now the purposeful family is the middle class family, as defined in the light of Max Weber's "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism." Such a family is one which believes that "the bearing and rearing of children is not an inexorable fate but a voluntary vocation, and that, like any other vocation, it is to be pursued methodically using the most effective means available." In purposeful families, the number of children is kept small so that they can be carefully educated and thus given the best chance to succeed in life. Purposeful families allow for the accumulation of capital that need not be spent feeding the kids, and therefore purposeful families have more to invest, either in their own businesses or those of others. It is people like this who make advanced societies advanced. Purposeful families are jewels beyond price, which social policy should do everything possible to encourage.

Unfortunately, in recent decades the purposeful family has been under assault from individualism, hedonism, and the excessive emphasis on career advancement by both sexes. Among its enemies is the pro-life movement, whose values are essentially pre- capitalist. "Just as older patterns of economic traditionalism and fatalism persist within advanced industrial societies, fatalistic conceptions of family life remain as well..." It is therefore no surprise that among the most vigorous opponents of abortion are lower middle and working class Protestant Evangelicals, who "stress redemption through divine grace rather than through a lifetime of purposeful activity." Muller, noting the decline in abortion rates among young women in recent years, credits the right-to-life movement. The result of their efforts has been to increase the number of out-of-wedlock births, he says. He therefore castigates the right-to-life movement with inhibiting the inculcation of middle class family values among the poor, particularly with regard to their opposition to welfare reform measures that would stop subsidizing illegitimate births.

Some factual points in his argument might give one pause. For instance, it is news to me that Protestant Evangelicals, either in this country or Latin America, are not entrepreneurial. It is also not entirely true that declining fertility is a law of nature (or capitalism). Fertility rates rose throughout the West, starting the late 1930s, and in the U.S. did not go into conspicuous decline again for almost 30 years. There are economic explanations for this, but the reality is fundamentally mysterious. For that matter, one may question whether the post-babyboom small families have been particularly "purposeful." Certainly they have been more divorce-prone than their predecessors, and the children they have produced do not measure up particularly well in terms of scholastic performance or social adjustment. Quite aside from the question of whether Muller's theory of social demography actually holds water, however, is his misunderstanding of the essence of the traditional family.

The distinction he makes between the "fatalistic" traditional and the "purposeful" capitalist family is, of course, nonsense. People have planned their families from time immemorial, quite without the aid of modern pharmaceuticals. Demographic studies of Puritan New Englanders, for instance, show that they obviously spaced their children. They planned on large families, of course, because infant mortality was high and resources abundant. The secular trend toward declining fertility began in the middle 18th century, in Catholic France. The institution of the family in itself implies a fair amount of forethought, of care for the future. Certainly the traditional family is in no way related to the improvident reproductive habits of today's underclass.

The real question here is not the social habits of the underclass, but of what it has become fashionable to call the "Overclass." This designation represents the latest version of the never-ending story entitled, "Whatever Happened to the Kids of the 1960s?" In reality, of course, the Kids of the 1960s became today's adults, not so different from other generations of Americans. However, there has always been enough peculiar about them that the temptation to weave them into demographic theories of history is irresistible. Michael Lind, an editor of The New Republic, has made a name for himself by propounding the theory that these baby-boomer professionals are slowly turning the U.S. into Brazil with snow, as they increasingly refuse to use or fund public services and fence themselves off from the growing numbers of marginally poor workers. One the other hand, David Frum, a fellow of the economically conservative Manhattan Institute, says that the Overclass is actually the world's first "mass elite." He says that all of the shrinkage in the middle class over the last 20 years can be attributed, not to people falling down from it into the underclass, but rising above it into the Overclass.

In any event, the Overclass are the people Jerry Muller is really talking about when he posits a group of people for whom abortion is a natural element of personal economics. The problem for his argument is that the behavior of these people really does not support his hypothetical correlation between fertility rates and economic behavior. What is unusual about today's Overclass is its improvidence, at least as compared with the haute bourgeoisie of earlier generations. They save less than well-to-do people have any right to, to the lasting frustration of economists. In the small Overclass families of today, we are not seeing the victory of the lean, mean, Weberian nuclear family unit. If anything, the Overclass represents a victory of genteel bohemianism, of the spirit of the Woodstock Generation, but with money. The Overclass, like the "counter-culture" whose incarnation it is supposed to be, is self-absorbed, antinomian, and fundamentally intolerant. It is also dishonest in a peculiar way, preferring evasive euphemism to argument. What other group of people could insist with a straight face that "choice" is the real issue in abortion and euthanasia?

Muller's argument is really about the need for a eugenic contraceptive policy, one designed not to weed out bad genes, but bad culture. Abortion is regarded simply as another technique to that end. Overclass culture is capable of acknowledging that there may be some special ethical issues involved in the abortion question, but is quite without any mechanism for assessing the importance of one moral principle with respect to another. That its why it calls principles "values," like quantities that can be added up and averaged out. There is therefore nothing "bourgeois" about the Overclass, if by bourgeois you mean the culture of people like the well-to-do Victorians. The Victorians did believe in moral absolutes, as did the Calvinists and the Puritans and all those other penny-pinching Protestants whom Muller is so eager to invoke. This was the reason for their purposefulness. To work was to pray (as that proto-Calvinist, St. Benedict, once put it), and the virtues of thrift and honesty were important, not simply for their utility, but because they conformed to the will of God. To the Overclass, however, every virtue is a construct, subject to no scheme of value but their own will. This is true even of their own children. Muller even tells us that the "activist conception of family formation also suggests that artificial reproductive technology should be used to reverse infertility." Children as artifacts are less intimidating than children as people.

People who think like this are not "conservative," whether they are Overclass lawyers or illegal aliens. They do not and they will not create strong families, because they think that families are arbitrary constructs, defined according to personal convenience and disoluable at their own considered whim. Having rejected traditional moral norms, they have no history to conserve, and they will make nothing worth keeping.

 

End

This article originally appeared in the November 1995 issue of Culture Wars magazine. 

Copyright © 1996 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2005-03-25: Good Friday

This quote is remarkable, and has colored my view of government and constitutions ever since:

Someday, a prominent person involved in the Social Security debate is going to say, in public, that the only remedy for a demographic problem is a demographic solution. There will be an immediate response from several points of the political compass, to the effect that the birthrate is no concern of government. To that, others will reply that the Griswald-Roe-Casey regime is already a demographic policy. A full response, which may be a while in coming, would be that oversight of demographics is one of the pre-constitutional functions of government. Like the police powers, or the power to acquire national territory, it is one of those things that every sovereign has to be able to do. That is true even if the sovereign's constitution gives no such power, and even if the constitution says the sovereign has no such power.

Pre-constitutional functions of government is a great turn of phrase.


Good Friday

 

Terri Schiavo does not have long now, unless some official decides to act without color of law. Lots of people are calling on the president, or the governor of Florida, or maybe the local sheriff, to do just that. Readers of this blog will also be aware that I have long been predicting, even advocating, the restriction of judicial review. Let me therefore repeat that this would not be the case to do it. The courts did not manufacture a right to euthanasia for Terri Schiavo, or perhaps for the convenience of her husband. The courts have been applying reasonable statutes in a reasonable manner. If the governor had sent Florida state troopers to take custody, he would not be defying the courts, but the legislature.

Remember the old saying, "A government that can do anything for you can do anything to you"? Do you really want to live in a country where the law can be suspended with respect to popularly designated individuals?

* * *

Meanwhile, at the other end of the sinking Roe v. Wade superliner, we have this uncomfortable truth from Mark Steyn: The strange death of the liberal West:

I am, as Tony Blair might say, deeply passionately personally deeply personally opposed to abortion. But, unlike him, I think it ought to be an election issue...the point about abortion is not that it's a "matter of conscience" for individuals to "wrestle with", but that it's a crucial part of the central political challenge of our time...The 19th-century Shaker communities were forbidden from breeding and could increase their number only by conversion. The Euro-Canadian-Democratic Party welfare secularists seem to have chosen the same predicament voluntarily, and are likely to meet the same fate. The martyrdom culture of radical Islam is a literal dead end. But so is the slyer death culture of post-Christian radical narcissism. This is the political issue that will determine all the others: it's the demography, stupid.

Someday, a prominent person involved in the Social Security debate is going to say, in public, that the only remedy for a demographic problem is a demographic solution. There will be an immediate response from several points of the political compass, to the effect that the birthrate is no concern of government. To that, others will reply that the Griswald-Roe-Casey regime is already a demographic policy. A full response, which may be a while in coming, would be that oversight of demographics is one of the pre-constitutional functions of government. Like the police powers, or the power to acquire national territory, it is one of those things that every sovereign has to be able to do. That is true even if the sovereign's constitution gives no such power, and even if the constitution says the sovereign has no such power.

You see: I am starting to sound like Carl Schmitt. Or perhaps like John Marshall.

* * *

And as if things were not bad enough, that Incorrigible Spengler at Asia Times has taken to writing light opera. To wit: The Jihadis of Penzance: Or, The Slave of Democracy. Just look:

Much of what US President George W Bush and his representatives have said lately might have been extracted from a W S Gilbert libretto. To put the matter in context, I have sketched the sort of libretto that Gilbert might have prepared for Arthur Sullivan were the pair alive today, and embedded in it some of these utterances. Links to MIDI files for the songs are provided in footnotes, and readers are encouraged to sing along with Spengler. Direct quotations from US officials are indicated by italics.

He shall bear a heavier burden in the Latter Day; particularly because he thought of this first.

* * *

About political acrimony, I am pretty thickskinned. It's stories like this that knock the wind out of me:

In a startling discovery, geneticists at Purdue University say they have found plants that possess a corrected version of a defective gene inherited from both their parents, as if some handy backup copy with the right version had been made in the grandparents' generation or earlier...If confirmed, it would represent an unprecedented exception to the laws of inheritance discovered by Gregor Mendel in the 19th century. Equally surprising, the cryptic genome appears not to be made of DNA, the standard hereditary material.

Actually, the suspicion has been growing for several years that DNA may be only one factor in heredity. Polymer chemistry, for instance, determines how proteins twist and bend, which has more to do with the structure of living things than does the information in nuclear DNA. And even regarding the nucleus: if information is not being stored in the DNA, then the obvious place to look is the RNA. However, that hypothesis has problems:

Dr. Haig, the evolutionary biologist, said that the finding was fascinating but that it was too early to try to interpret it. He noted that if there was a cryptic template, it ought to be more resistant to mutation than the DNA it helps correct. Yet it is hard to make this case for RNA, which accumulates many more errors than DNA when it is copied by the cell.

And if all else fails, there is always Morphic Resonance.

I jest. Mostly.

* * *

Waxing even more obscure, here is an item that will make sense only to readers of The Weekly Standard:

It is unlikely I will rent the new film, The Upside of Anger, much less that I will go to see it in a theater. Nonetheless, I found a certain fascination in John Podhoretz's review in The Weekly Standard of March 28. The film stars Kevin Costner and Joan Allen, and Podhoretz praises them to the skies (especially Costner, who is due for a little luck). The film is about the relationship between an apparently deserted wife and a gone-to-seed baseball player. It ends with a plot twist that seems plausible enough for a movie. The reviewer, however, goes ballistic, for reasons I find mysterious:

There is one upside to the anger I experienced as the closing credits rolled. It convinced me to blow the surprise ending so that you could leave the theater after about an hour and 50 minutes. When you see Kevin Costner starting to walk into the backyard with a couple of contractors, get your coat and leave. You'll think better of The Upside of Anger and not have the pleasure of seeing it damaged by the well-deserved contempt you'll feel if you stay until the bitter end.

Well, I will not give the ending away. Bad reviews are the most fun to read, whether or not you have the details. I quote it here chiefly because I find Podhoretz's reaction mysterious. Can anyone enlighten me?

* * *

Be that as it may, The Upside of Anger sounds like a chick-flick. If you want to see a real movie, or at least a real trailer, visit the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society.

The UFA has risen from its moldy grave and shambles amongst us.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2005-03-11: Chinese Green; Blogosphere Backlash; Never Mind

China has only continued to get more polluted since 2005. So far, it shows no signs of getting better. 


Chinese Green; Blogosphere Backlash; Never Mind

 

If you believe Der Spiegel, "The Chinese Miracle Will End Soon." At any rate, so says Pan Yue, China's Deputy Minister of the Environment, in an interview in that magazine. At the risk of parodying a serious assessment of the situation, it seems to me that the gist of the deputy minister's argument is that China's rivers are becoming poisonous, while the landscape is dissolving in acid rain. The amount of arable land decreases hourly, and the peasants crowd into the cities, where they contract cancer.

Well, maybe, but that's what I thought in the 1970s about the United States. I grew up in Toxic Avenger country, and I fully expected the climate by this time would be the perpetual New York summer of Soylent Green. (I was precocious.) So, though the deputy minister knows more about conditions in China than I do, I am inclined to take that part of the interview with a grain of salt. Much more interesting are his remarks about the political situation:

But we are also making another mistake: We are convinced that a prospering economy automatically goes hand in hand with political stability. And I think that's a major blunder. The faster the economy grows, the more quickly we will run the risk of a political crisis if the political reforms cannot keep pace...There won't be enough money, and we are simply running out of time. Developed countries with a per capita gross national product of $8,000 to $10,000 can afford [environmental reform], but we cannot. Before we reach $4,000 per person, different crises in all shapes and forms will hit us. Economically we won't be strong enough to overcome them.

Again, this is a commonplace of development theory. The model is that destitute societies are stable; developing societies are prone to revolution; societies with some critical proportion of middle class are stable again. It is hard to say how this model will play out in China. I suspect that the environment will not be a major cause of what happens, but that environmentalism will provide a significant part of the ideological justification for it.

* * *

This is not an issue on which I am eager to say, "I told you so," but it does seem that the passage of the vampire-friendly bankruptcy bill is going to be a catastrophe for the Republicans. The problem is not their enemies, but their friends. Instapundit posts links about it that, for the most part, are critical. The very Freepers say the bill is unfair and overreaching.

This is not the embarrassment for President Bush that the Social Security fiasco is turning out to be; his name is associated with the privatization scheme, but not with bankruptcy reform. Indeed, the president is getting a great deal of credit, both at home and abroad, for the regional thaw in the Middle East. He may keep that credit, but his party will keep the blame for these other matters.

The Internet now is working against the Republicans on more issues than not. The party establishment has not taken this on board. The president goes on speaking tours to promote his Social Security agenda, and the partisan talkshow hosts have been given new scripts. The notion seems to be that they can energize the new media to repeat the reversal of fortune that allowed them to win last year's election. This is a grave misunderstanding of how the new-media environment works.

It is possible for political and journalistic institutions to introduce issues for new-media debate. Just look at the gay-marriage question last year, which was completely a creation of the liberal judiciary and progressive-media outlets. What cannot be controlled these days is what the blogosphere and other new media will do with these issues. Only quite late last year did the proponents of gay marriage realize that every judicial decision in favor of their program actually served to energize opposition to it. Much the same thing seems to be happening now in connection with Social Security privatization, aided by such insult-to-injury blunders as the bankruptcy bill. Presently, the effect will spread to the attempts in Congress to make permanent the president's last round of tax cuts.

Yes, it is possible to lose an election for refusing to raise taxes.

* * *

And what do I think should be done about consumer debt? I think there should be less of it. There should be a low cap on how much a consumer can be liable for in credit card debt, including interest and fees. Creditors might, if they choose, extend credit beyond the cap, but under the condition that their only recourse in the event of default is the denial of credit to the consumer for some extended period of time. Under this system, junk credit would still be possible, but debt peonage would not.

* * *

The rule in journalism is that three incidents make a trend, but I have only two examples of incidents where horrible crimes that were supposed to be ideologically motivated actually turned out to have more prosaic explanations.

One was the murder of the husband and mother of Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow. The instigator was supposed to be a fascist with a religious bent, who bore a grudge against the judge for an unfavorable ruling. The media loved this story. The attribution of guilt was plausible, and the suspects were wonderfully articulate about their appalling views. It now seems pretty clear, though, that the killer was just an ordinary mad plaintiff. In a way, this resolution is even scarier for the judiciary, but less likely to serve as the theme for outraged editorials.

Locally, the murder of the Armanious family here in Jersey City (sometimes spelled "Armonious" and "Armanious" in the same story) seems not to have been committed by Muslim radicals intent on keeping the dhimmis in their place, but by ordinary thieves. Again, this incident had created its own literature, to which I helped contribute in a small way.

There is no such thing as a happy outcome in a case like this, but some people seem intent on ensuring that the rancor never quite goes away:

Muslim leaders in northern Jersey asked the state to determine whether comments made by Coptic Christians implicating Muslims in the killings of a Jersey City family in January should be prosecuted as bias crimes.

Hate-crime laws are even more loathsome than the new bankruptcy bill, but don't get me started.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2005-03-08: Very Bad Things

I hadn't remembered this term, but John brings up 'debt strikes' here. This is apparently a thing, but it is a thing that hasn't quite caught on yet. John is right that this would have bad consequences on the financial system if it ever got really popular. Any debt strike bad enough to really hurt the financial system would hurt everyone else too. There isn't a lot of difference between what happened in the housing crash in 2008 and the likely effect of a debt strike on mortgages, for example. I suppose in theory you could use the resumption of payments as leverage, but even with the Internet that would be hard to coordinate on a mass scale. Right now, the ability of the Internet to foster discontent is limited to small groups of enthusiasts.


Very Bad Things

 

Once upon at time, college students majored in English literature if they were not pursuing a career in medicine or engineering or science. Then it was history. I myself majored in political science. I had long supposed that, eventually, nothing would be left of the curriculum but courses related to business or science degrees.

Once again I find that I am out of touch, if we can believe this piece by Elizabeth van Ness in the New York TimesIs a Cinema Studies Degree the New M.B.A.?. This new make-weight degree seems to differ from its predecessors in that the people who pursue it take it dead seriously:

"People endowed with social power and prestige are able to use film and media images to reinforce their power - we need to look to film to grant power to those who are marginalized or currently not represented," said [a student], who envisions a future in the public policy arena. The communal nature of film, he said, has a distinct power to affect large groups, and he expects to use his cinematic skills to do exactly that.

Look, if your undergraduate or graduate degree will give you the power to cloud men's minds, that's just wonderful. However, please have the grace to employ these dark arts for your own selfish purposes. You at least have some idea what you want, and you can tell when you are satisfied. If you try to do this kind of thing for what you imagine other people want or need, then neither you nor the victims of your benevolence are going to be happy.

* * *

In addition to a political science degree, I also have a law degree, a qualification of which stories like this make me deeply ashamed:

VIENNA (Reuters) - U.S. and Austrian lawyers have filed a lawsuit demanding Thailand, U.S. forecasters and the French Accor group answer accusations they failed in a duty to warn populations hit by December's Tsunami disaster, a lawyer said Monday. ...The lawsuit was filed Friday at a New York district court on behalf of tsunami victims by lawyers including U.S. attorney Edward Fagan, internationally renowned for 1990s lawsuits against Swiss banks over Holocaust-era accounts. It demanded an account of their actions on Dec. 26.

Anyone interested in the suit can pursue the matter here, in German and English.

Lovecraft did not have enough words for "reptilian" in his vocabulary to express what I think of this use of the courts.

* * *

Moving on from litigation, we come to legislation. In particular, we move on to the blood-sucking bankruptcy-reform bill now before the United States Senate. Newsday put it like this:

In the name of ending bankruptcy abuse, the bill would impose a means test to determine who could have their debts wiped out and who could only have them adjusted with a repayment schedule. It would do nothing to rein in companies that flood consumers with credit, high interest rates and long, costly repayment schedules. And in their zeal to pass a bill the House will accept without changes, Senate Republicans rejected Democratic amendments intended to take the focus off income and to take aim instead at willful deadbeats.

Earlier versions of this bill have failed of passage, chiefly because insanity attracts insanity. This latest version may actually fail today, because Senator Schumer of New York plans to introduce an amendment that would exclude prolife activists from any bankruptcy protection, if they have been loaded with civil penalties for demonstrating at abortion clinics. Such an amendment would be a poison pill: the House would not pass the bill if the prolife exclusion were added. However, it is possible that the amendment will fail, and the bill will pass both houses.

What would the significance of that be? Quoting Paul Krugman of the New York Times just encourages him, but in this case, he is almost right:

Warren Buffett recently made headlines by saying America is more likely to turn into a "sharecroppers' society" than an "ownership society." But I think the right term is a "debt peonage" society - after the system, prevalent in the post-Civil War South, in which debtors were forced to work for their creditors. The bankruptcy bill won't get us back to those bad old days all by itself, but it's a significant step in that direction.

The "almost" here is that peonage is not an option in America. Debt strikes are, however. That's what the bankruptcy laws were originally enacted to avoid. If that safety valve closes, the Internet will make collective debtor resistance easier to organize than it has ever been. The mere whiff of this will threaten the financial system from a wholly unexpected direction. Watch.

* * *

And then, in the frozen Ninth Circle of Hell, we find the Spengler at Asia Times. In a column entitled They made a democracy and called it peace, he explains that the Middle East would not long survive the success of the Bush Administration's universal democracy strategy. Consider World War II:

That victory by the United States replaced German, Japanese and Russian tyranny with democracies is not in doubt. The problem is: where are the Germans, Japanese and Russians? If the United States had set out to exterminate its erstwhile enemies, it could not have done a more thorough job. ...In any case, the former Axis powers and the former Soviet Union and its satellites occupy every one of the top positions on the death row of demographics. I refer to the United Nations' report "World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision"...None of this would have surprised the Nazis, who believed with paranoid fervor that Germany's national existence was in danger. One can hear the shade of Adolf Hitler saying, "You see, that is just what I anticipated and wanted to avoid! I warned the Germans that their national existence was in danger, and now you see that decadent democracy has finished us off."

Understand that the column is in no way a pro-fascist argument; Spengler is just suggesting that the Kantian Peace may turn out to be the peace of death.

This hypothesis needs work. The UK was on the winning side in World War II, but its demographics are not so different those of Continental Europe. Actually, the same is true of Massachusetts in the United States. The depopulation of Russia began before the end of the Soviet Union. Elsewhere in the world, China seems headed for a demographic crisis of its own; so are parts of India, believe it or not.

I am quite willing to believe that civilizations can die of despair, but a great deal else is happening, too.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2005-02-07: Terror War, Geezer War, Culture War

John Reilly posited two possible ways to deal with the aging of the population in the Western world:

  1. Euthanasia
  2. Have more kids

I know which one I would choose, but we ended up getting some combination of both 1. and 2. However, 2. was modified to be solved by immigration instead of more children across the West. The exact mix of 1. and 2. varies by country, but this program has been widely implemented in one form or another.

It is interesting to speculate why we chose to solve 2. by means of immigration instead of natural increase. In part, it probably seems easier. A number of nations have attempted to implement policies to increase the birthrate, and all have failed, with a couple of exceptions.

Also, immigration, in the US at least, ended up serving an interesting coalition of interests. Democratic strategists such as Stanley Greenberg saw a way to eventually create a permanent majority. Small- and medium-size business owners who are the core of the Republican party saw profits, and had delusions of Mexicans being natural Republicans. Feminists saw a way to offload childcare onto other women. Economists saw a way to keep GDP and tax revenues growing.

You can make your own assessment of how accurate these assumptions are.


Terror War, Geezer War, Culture War

 

At this point, it seems likely that President Bush's initiative to modify Social Security will die a quiet death. Certainly the Administration's friends and well-wishers better hope so, because this project has the potential to destroy his presidency. Still, at the risk of beating what I very much hope is a dead horse, we may note that the issues involved really do go beyond the structure of the US federal social safety net. Here is Mark Steyn's take on the subject:

After months of expressing deep concern, grave concern, deep concern over the graves and deep grave concern over whether the graves were deep enough, Kofi Annan managed to persuade the U.N. to set up a committee to look into what's going on in Darfur. They've just reported back that it's not genocide. Phew, thank goodness for that. It turns out it's just 70,000 corpses who all happen to be from the same ethnic group; could happen anywhere. But it's not genocide, so don't worry about it.

That's the transnational establishment's alternative to Bush dynamism: Appoint a committee that agrees on the need to do nothing. By happy coincidence, that's also the Democrats' line on Social Security. In a sense, these two issues are opposite sides of the same coin. It was noted in the chancelleries of certain capitals that, in a speech aimed in large part at a global audience, the president didn't even mention Europe. Why would he? One reason why the Continent is in no position to make any kind of useful contribution to the war on terror or reform of the Middle East is because of its inability to get to grips with the looming disaster of its own state pensions liabilities.

That's not strictly true. The budgets of European countries are constrained, but they are not that constrained. Even at current levels of expenditure, Europe could mount a military capable of force projection, if it had a mind to do so. Steyn is nonetheless right about the connections between geostrategy and the reform of the social safety net. Indeed, he is more right than he knows, since the see-no-evil strategy has been embraced not just by the EU and the Democrats, but also by the Bush Administration.

The problem that the US is going to face over the next generation is the increase in the percentage of the population who are pure consumers: old people, who cannot work and should not be asked to. The younger people who are working are going to have to pay much more to support them. There are two points to note about this necessity.

It does not matter whether the support is structured as private savings or as a public benefit. If the economy is not producing enough to fund one, it will not be producing enough to fund the other.

Private savings are irrelevant. The question is whether the economy will be producing enough goods and services at the the time they are needed. If it isn't, then the money in the IRAs and the stock in the portfolios will be so much worthless paper. If it is, then the money will be available for a transfer program.

There are just two solutions:

Civil Liberties. We could create a constitutional right-to-die and make sure that enough seniors exercise it. This would not be hard. All it would require is an extension of the Roe-Casey personal-autonomy right and some augmentations of the pain-management component of insurance coverage. Several courts and many legal theorists have already endorsed this approach, though the US Supreme Court backed off.

This strategy sounds radical, but we must remember how radical a right to abortion and to contraception would have sounded fifty years ago. There are many reasons why people support those things, but we must remember that the original backers were chiefly interested in limiting population growth. They were as surprised as anyone when the courts agreed to constitutionalize the issue. The impending bumper-crop of elders is a demographic challenge of the same order, and it could be met in the same way.

Demographic Reform. The obvious remedy for a situation in which there are too few workers is to increase the number of workers. This can be done through immigration, but at a cost. Most social pathologies, from underperformance in the schools to a widening income gap, are products of immigration. It's not the immigrants' fault: the problem is that wage levels are going to be depressed in any situation when there is an unending supply of cheap labor. The other solution is to raise the birthrate. That sounds like a good idea, but no one knows how government policy could do it. We do know from European experience that generous family subsidies do not encourage people to have more kids. Go figure.

So, I no more have a solution than President Bush does, but at least I know I don't have a solution. The president's remedies are a diversion. If they have any effect at all, it will be to undermine the political support he needs to conduct the Terror War.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site