The Long View 2003-12-03: The Lullaby of Big Brother

I am sorry to say that John Reilly got me reading Belmont Club in about 2003. What can I say? I was young and naive. Wretchard [Richard Fernandez] was a huge booster of the second Iraq War, and a tireless apologist for President George W. Bush. As commenter Pat Bryan said recently, John was under the influence of right-wingnut propaganda. This is true.

I responded: at the time, so were a lot of other people too. I have to count myself among them. Going back through John's posts in the way that I am really helps make it more clear how different the world seemed immediately after 9/11. Hell, for a little while, almost everyone in America thought we needed to blow the hell out of somebody. There were a few people who genuinely didn't care, or were positively ecstatic that the mighty United States had been humbled. To this day, I don't trust any of them. The War Nerd nailed why. Greg Cochran said something similar once upon a time, but I can't find the link at the moment.

The Lullaby of Big Brother

Anyone looking for a sophisticated analysis of the strategic situation in Iraq should be pleased by the Belmont Club's blog, particularly yesterday's entry, Smoke & Mirrors vs. Gunsmoke. Here's a reassuring snippet for you:

The Saddamite insurgency bears all the hallmarks of his previous erratic campaigns, with their reliance on showy military effects to achieve a political result. To Saddam the battlefield is a theatrical prop to support a political gesture.

The Belmont Club points out that the insurgency has very limited personnel and finances. It has been spending these things at an unsustainable rate. I gather that, in this analysis, the degree of popular hostility to the occupation is irrelevant. The attacks on Coalition forces are not being made by spontaneous volunteers. They are being made by a shrinking cadre of fedayeen, or they are paid for, and the money is running out.

This sounds plausible enough. Certainly I have gotten the impression that, though the insurgents have some degree of central coordination, they do not have any particular plan. If the Belmont Club is right, the insurgency will not peter out, but will reach some critical level of men and money below which it cannot function at all.

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Here is yet another example of the complicated ways in which the Terror War intertwines with the Culture War:

Jewish World

The ISNA, in this telling, has a history of hosting conferences at which defenders of terrorism speak, and of providing money for the defense of peopel who belong to terrorist organizations.

The occasion for all this fingerpointing is the membership of the Advisory Board of the Alliance for Marriage, which includes such worthies as Rabbi Barry Freundel (known as "Lieberman's Rabbi") of the Rabbinical Council of America, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus of First Things, and Mary Anne Glendon of Harvard Law School, as well as Dr. Sayyid M. Sayeed of the ISNA. The Alliance for Marriage supports a federal constitutional amendment that would make it impossible for any jurisdiction in the United States to extend the definition of marriage to include homosexual liaisons.

One of the peculiar features of the Culture War has been that the cultural Left have always been the aggressors, but the defense against them is always described as an aggression. This report will no doubt be used to suggest that the necons are plotting with Al Qaeda to plant remote-detonation bombs. This will be in aid of the campaign to constitutionalize marriage out of existence, which the cultural Left believes to be within its grasp.

I know little about the ISNA. I have so soured on the Ecumenical Jihad proposal that I question whether Muslim groups should be sought out for conservative reform movements at all. Nonetheless, I must point out again that one of the reasons the cultural Left must be defeated is precisely because of the global propaganda victory that the abolition of marriage would hand the Jihadists. What looks progressive and inevitable to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court looks incomprehensible and inhuman to the perennial opinion of mankind. Mankind is right.

As for the amendment the AFM supports, I think it is everything a constitutional amendment should not be. It's specific; it addresses an eccentric and transitory cultural development; it's locally intrusive. Even with all those flaws, however, I have to support it. The courts and the law schools cannot be trusted to formulate the law in this area. If the amendment passes, the interesting question will be whether the courts try to dismiss the text as inconsistent with the other provisions of the constitution.

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By the way, a renegade-Mormon polygamist is already trying to use Lawrence v. Texas to allow plural marriage. Everything is as predicted.

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But if the world is in such sorry shape, then why has the Rapture Index fallen to 148!?!:

Since late 1987, the index has been updated every week. The 45 categories are measured and rated on their level of activity from 1 to 5. The record low of 57 occurred in 1993 and the record high [182] took place during the 911 terrorist attack in September of 2001.

I have long been intrigued by this Index, which combines economic indicators and cultural factors. It's generally a good measure of how anxious people feel. Apparently, they feel the end is not yet. Quite.

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Here's another short review for you. I just finished reading Chuck Palahniuk's novel, Lullaby. Palahniuk is best known as the author of Fight Club, and this book, too, is characterized by skin injuries and a profound distrust of marketing. It does have some ingenious notions, though.

Chief of these is the lullaby of the title, which kills anyone to whom it is recited. The lullaby is called a "culling song," a kind of magic that Palahniuk says he made up. (Such devices are not unknown to fiction, however, even to bad fiction.) There is a sort of ivy that quickly overruns and destroys whole cities, vegetation worthy of J.G. Ballard: it's too bad we see it for just a few pages. Then there is the real estate business based on selling viciously haunted houses; the owners resell quickly, thus generating a steady stream of fees. That really wouldn't work, though, since the prospective buyers would learn about the prior sales from the title search.

The plot is a road story about four people who set out to destroy all copies of the book of nursery rhymes in which the culling song is anthologized. They also want to find the grimoire it was taken from, either to destroy the grimoire, or use it to rule the world, or use it to cull the planet (the book showcases Deep Ecology at its most repulsive). The minor miracles are all wrapped up, neat as a bow, in the last few pages; especially the talking cow.

However, this book is supposed to be About Something, and I gather that it's supposed to be about the way that media ecology has replaced nature. The effect, the author suggests, is like demonic possession. We cannot tell whether we want something, or whether our thoughts just echo the media noise around us. Big Brother does not just watch; he dances and sings.

In a way, this is the flipside of Rene Girard's Mimetic Theory. If I understand Girard correctly (and I know him only from tendentious secondary sources), most of the trouble in the world comes from the fact we are slow to admit how much of what we think is borrowed from other people. Palahniuk, in contrast, is aggreived by the fact so much is thrust upon us.

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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