Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Editorial time.

Have you noticed that the TV news for the past few days has been obsessed with the fact that this is the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the Murragh Building in Oklahoma City? Now, why should anybody want to memorialize that? ...Well, the news commentators always note that McVeigh was "a member of the Militia Movement", which they then go on to solemnly warn us about.

...Well, 'tain't true. If you bother to go look up McVeigh's real history, you'll find that, yes, he did join the Michigan Militia at one point. They threw him out two weeks later and reported him to the FBI for "inciting to crime". One has to wonder why the FBI didn't take the Michigan Militia's warning seriously.

Yet when McVeigh was captured, the FBI -- and of course the mainstream media -- made a big deal about his membership in the Michigan Militia. Now does this look a bit odd to you?

And now they're playing up the old story again. Why, I wonder? Now could it be that the federal government is looking for an excuse to quash the whole grassroots political movement that wants to reduce the size, power and budget of the federal government? What better excuse than to tar them with the "militia" brush? Or call them all Rightwing-Redneck-Racist-Republicans, for that matter?

What bugs me is that the mainstream media are happily going along with this would-be Reichstag Fire campaign. Most of our news media these days are supposed to be socially progressive. Now wouldn't that include a bit of honesty, please?

Well, not if you think the population is too dumb to know what's good for it. *Sigh* I've worked as an under-editor for three magazines, two newspapers and a radio-station, and I've seen where this attitude comes from.

Have you ever heard of the Progressive Ideal? You should have. Progressivism is the ancestor of modern Liberalism, Globalism, Socialism, and its bastard grandchild Communism. Progressivism was invented in the 19th century, as an antidote to the blatant self-serving Imperialism of the age. It inspired the great reform movements of the past hundred years, and much fine literature and music.

Unfortunately, it also inspired much dangerous stupidity in politics and economics, which plagues us to this day.

The basic tenets of the Progressive Ideal start with simple truths, but then elaborate into unfounded fantasies that warp out of sync with reality. These include:

1) All Men (and Women) Are Created Equal. To Progressives, this means that all people are basically the same. They all think and feel alike, and all want the same things. There's no such thing as a bad person: only a dissatisfied or, at worst, a sick one. Give everybody a good education and income and healthcare, says the Progressive, and everybody will happily join the great worldwide community of civilized people, and there'll be no more war or crime; therefore it's the duty of all civilized people to guarantee a good education and income to “disadvantaged” people the world over.

2) All cultures have something to contribute to the human experience. Therefore, Progressives conclude, all societies are equally valid. There's no such thing as a bad culture: only an ignorant one. Give all societies good educations, and they'll all become equally enlightened – and they'll happily join the great worldwide community of civilized nations, and... etc. Therefore, Progressive theory claims, it's the duty of all civilized societies... etc.

3) People who live in privileged societies are often ignorant of the condition of other societies or blinded by their own prejudices. According to Progressive thought, this means that nobody from a wealthy, free, generally happy society has any right to judge other societies, or the people in them. However, people from “disadvantaged” societies are never ignorant of the condition of their privileged brethren, or blinded by prejudices, and can see the sins of the privileged clearly; so, the Progressive believes, they have a right to judge the privileged people and their criticisms must always be taken seriously.

4) Economics is a powerful motivation. Therefore, Progressive thought holds, all people are moved by the promise or lack of money above everything else; give people – or societies – enough money to satisfy their needs and wants, and they'll happily join in the great worldwide community of civilized nations, and so forth.

5) Nobody likes to get hurt. From this the Progressive philosophy concludes that nobody in his/her right mind wants to commit violence themselves; therefore, the only reason that anybody really wants to commit violence on somebody else is that this somebody else must have committed some terrible outrage against him/her. Thus, if somebody complains furiously against you, and is willing to shoot or throw bombs at you, the Progressive assumes that the guilty party is you; you must be guilty of some outrage or other against the bomb-thrower – and therefore must do your best to compensate/placate the poor outraged victim.

6) Everyone deserves justice. Therefore it's the duty of better off individuals and societies to help their less fortunate neighbors. Progressive theory holds that one should give to the poor until the better off is no better off, and both are “equal” – in wealth, freedom, or anything else worth having – or in the lack thereof.

The starting truths are valid, but the idealistic elaborations are just plain wrong, and that was clear even 100 years ago. That’s what inspired the famous comment, variously attributed to Shaw and Clemenceau: “He who is not a Socialist at 20 has no heart; he who is not a capitalist at 40 has no head.” It also inspired Gilbert and Sullivan to add to their “little list” of people who never would be missed “The idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone, /Every century but this one, every country but his own.”

Let's take these six tenets and their elaborations in order.

First, “equal” does not mean “same”. All men are not brothers; ‘cousins’ is more accurate – and not always first cousins, either. All people do not think and feel alike.

Likewise, all societies are not equally valid; there are some which cause misery and ruin to their own people, not to mention their neighbors.

Third, advantages make you smarter; people who have access to thorough educations, honest information and the ability to travel and check facts for themselves are a good bit less likely to be blindly prejudiced or ignorant than people who don't have those advantages.

Fourth, there are some motivations stronger than money, and you cannot bribe people into being Good.

Fifth, there really are some people and some cultures that run on arrogance, bloodlust, envy and spite; they'll use some minor or even fancied slight as excuse to kill their neighbors – and, incidentally, loot the dead for whatever they can get.

Sixth, a healthy, wealthy, honest and free person or society does not have a duty to become just as diseased, poor, corrupt and tyrannized as his/her/its neighbors. Sharing a cup of poison with your neighbor does not do you or your neighbor any good.

In brief, yes we do have the right to study, judge and criticize other societies. Yes, there are some objective standards by which we can judge the success and value of a society. And no, all societies are not equally “good” by any objective standards.

What makes the difference is culture. Now ‘culture’ doesn’t mean just the theater and the opera and the ballet, nor even clothing styles, popular music, crafts and cuisine and current TV shows. A ‘culture’ is the way an entire society thinks, and there are some societies which think very badly.

All men – and women – may be created equal, but all cultures are not. If you want a religious excuse for this, you could say it’s because human beings are created by God, who is perfect, but cultures are created by human beings, who are…not. In spite of the Progressive Ideal, there really are downright evil cultures – and downright evil societies, and governments, and even individual human beings – judged by the simple standards of long-term survival.

What would you say about a culture that’s produced marvelous food and music and art and architecture – but which condones or actively encourages dissociative psychosis, the rape of children, and the burning to death of women? What would you do with a culture that produces wonderful music, dance and poetry – but which treats women and children as livestock, and assumes it has a duty to conquer the world? How would you evaluate a culture which assumes that political and economic corruption is as common as air, and that you can never trust your neighbors, friends, or even families, but must always be prepared to backstab the other guy – with outright warfare, with subtle economic warfare, or by selling him poisoned goods – before he can do it to you? I name no names, but these are not healthy or successful societies.

The societies I've just described have managed to survive for centuries on the sheer inertia of their large populations, but they've been repeatedly conquered and tyrannized by other cultures with better standards. In fact, these societies have been pulled into the modern age, and into a few better habits, largely by the charity – or practical greed – of their conquerors.

Yes, it’s true that all cultures have something to contribute to human knowledge – arts and crafts at least – but it’s also true that a stopped clock is right twice a day; that doesn’t make it something worth keeping.

Yes, good people can live in bad cultures, but they don’t survive easily and they don’t have much influence. An evil culture can – and often does – sweep its population along with it, whether they will or no, at which point all a decent person can do is run. This accounts for a lot of immigrants who’ve come to America over the past two centuries.

You can tell who those immigrants are by the way they wanted to become Americans, and assimilated as fast as they could. In other words, no matter how much sentimental fondness they might have had for the Old Country, they recognized that not just the economy but the culture Here was better than it was back There.

Here's where the Progressive Ideal collides with itself. The people who judged that one culture can very well be superior to another, and that the culture Here is superior to the cultures There, are those same “disadvantaged” – the poor and the powerless – whom the Progressive Ideal claims to be the only fit judges. So, are all cultures equally valid, or are only the “disadvantaged” virtuous enough to judge them? You can't have it both ways.

When faced with this little logical contradiction, people who are passionately devoted to the Progressive Ideal will all too often choose to jettison Progressive Assumption #3; they assume that the poor and powerless may be virtuous and innocent, but they're also ignorant, and must be protected and guided by their intellectual superiors.

At this point the Progressive Ideal tilts over into elitism and tiptoes toward tyranny. It's only a short step from “protecting and guiding the innocent” to lying to them outright: teaching them only “what's good for them to know” and censoring the rest. The next step after that is locking people up “for their own good”. Thus the Progressive Ideal progressed into the great tyrannies of the 20th century.

It's far wiser to get out of the logical contradiction by admitting that all cultures are not created equal, that some societies really are worse than others, some governments are downright dangerous, and when they start encroaching on their neighbors there's no choice but to go to war.

Political philosophers throughout the 20th century have bent over backwards trying to find workable alternatives to war, but history has shown that the only real alternatives to war are to surrender or run away.

Running away requires the means to travel far and fast – and some safe place to run to. It's no accident that for the last two centuries the safest place to run to has been America. That's how various groups of ideological pacifists, like the Amish, wound up here. The Amish came to the US from Switzerland, fleeing religious persecution; here they thrived – but you'll note that there are no Amish in Switzerland now.

Surrender can mean danger worse than war. In World War Two the US lost over 400,000 men in just under four years of war. That's a sobering number, but it doesn't compare with the nearly 20,000,000 helpless people killed in the death-camps by the Nazis. It doesn't even compare with the 2,000,000 people killed in Cambodia when Pol Pot took over.

The grim truth is that there is something worse than war – and that is to be killed in vast numbers without even a chance to fight. This is why wars will, and must, continue so long as there are honestly bad cultures, societies and governments in the world.

Still, the Progressive Ideal insists that all people and all cultures are not only equal but basically the same, and they should all join together to create a happy one-world economy, society and government. People who believe this blithely overlook the fact that many cultures – and societies – in this world are not something we want to add to the global mix. You don’t make a healthy drink by mixing milk with poison.

No, we can’t have One Glorious World Order until a lot of just plain bad cultures have changed beyond recognition. This won't happen while the Progressive Ideal, with all its dangerously naive flaws, still rules our political thinking.


Ori Pomerantz said...

Is progressivism the opiate of the intellectuals? It makes them feel good, but has dangerous side effects.

Aya Katz said...

Leslie, what the media don't seem to remember is that April 19, 1993 was the day that the Federal government, using the ATF and FBI as storm troopers, burned down a compound full of men, women and children in Mt. Carmel, near Waco, Texas.

They keep harping on McVeigh, because they want us to forget what was done in the name of gun control.

Raven Onthill said...

[in passing] I think the historical analog of the Reichstag fire is in our past: it was 9/11. The Bush II administration began the authoritarian response, and the Obama administration is continuing it. I just don't see the tea partiers as notably important. There are not very many core believers. The consistent reporting from people who've been there is that the rallies are actually very small. The only reason it appears there are is because they get huge media coverage, where much larger progressive rallies are relegated to small print in the back pages of newspapers.

As far as I can tell, too, the tea party radicals have been more-or-less co-opted by the Republicans. The area where, unfortunately, tea party propaganda may have an effect is in making a case for deficit reduction, including Social Security and Medicare cuts.

A bit more on the metahistorical situation at:

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Ori. Good point. It's a feely-goody philosophy that's supposed to relieve the intellectually lazy of the burden of thinkingl


Francis W. Porretto said...

Your message is a good one -- but the very people who most need to grapple with it are those who will dismiss it without consideration.

Ori Pomerantz said...

Francis, I hope this is just one stage in the process. The next would be packaging, sugar coating, and musical accompaniment.

Leslie Fish said...

One good thing that TV has done is teach us at an early age that Authorities Can Lie. After learning how commercials lie, and then seeing political scandal after scandal, it isn't much of a jump to realize that the news media can lie, too. Now that the Internet can give us news and opinions coming from every quarter of the political compass, people are becoming a lot less gullible. It's no longer true that you can fool all of the people even some of the time.

--Leslie <;)))><

Aya Katz said...

Leslie, what gets to me is when the authorities don't lie, the TV doesn't lie, and yet everyone comes out on the wrong side of an issue.

Why do we remember Timothy McVeigh but not the government atrocity that caused him to do what he did? Why do we mourn the children in Oklahoma City but not the children slain near Waco at the Branch Davidian compound?

Isn't this like saying: if a militia man does it, it's bad. But if the ATF does it, it's okay?!

Ravan Asteris said...

IMO, cultural equivalency has nothing to do with progressive ideas, only soft headed intellectualism. Some people are just shit. IMO, progressive means real progress - in art, science, technology, and yes "social justice", without stepping on the rights of individuals to go to hell in their own way. The best way to do that is to remove the corporatist yoke from our necks. People who swallow that Ayn Rand BS have no clue as to the truth of human nature.

BTW, I agree that 9/11 was our Reichstag Fire. My first thought that morning was "I wonder when Krystallnacht will be". Maybe that was Katrina.

Oh, Leslie, Fox News won a lawsuit that set a precedent that said, essentially, it is not illegal for a news organization to lie about the news. So the corporatist media can, and will, lie and distort with impunity, and has been doing so for years.

Gary McGath said...

The great hero of Progressivism is Woodrow Wilson -- a racist who got us into World War I by way of his Mexican adventure, and who had people kept in jail for years for criticizing the war and the draft.

I see you've managed to get a content warning slapped on your blog by Blogspot (while the Revolution Muslim people, the ones who threatened South Park, are still open to full view). Congratulations! :)

Leslie Fish said...

Gary: Oh wow, I've got a "content warning"?! Gee, where can I see it? ...Hmmm, how do you go about getting a "content warning" slapped on somebody's blog? Can we do that with the Mulsim Revolution folks just by complaining?

Aya: Why, of *course* when the FBI/ATF/et al burn down a farmhouse and kill 97 people (including a couple dozen children) it's only a "sad necessity", but when (if?) one man blows up an office building it's a heinous crime. All govts. think that way. They're what's important, y'know. And of course the mainstream media go along with the idea.

Ravan: Fox News, which is pretty consistently Republican, gets sniped at by the other major news services, which are consistently Democrat. I hadn't seen anything about that lawsuit, but I do know that the other major news outlets have been blithely lying in public for years. Was the suit brought by Fox, or against them? It would be typical hypocrisy for the other news outlets to try to sic the law on Fox for doing just as they've done for years, or for Fox to demand the same right-to-lie that they have. In any case, this will only add to the general distrust the public has learned for the mainstream news sources.

Goddess bless the Internet! It's news may be spotty and its veracity unsteady, but it does allow for opinions and reportage from all over the spectrum.

--Leslie <;)))><

Gary McGath said...

Leslie: Blogspot is arbitrary and vindictive in its "content warning" handling. See the final post on my own blog for how they act, and why I quit blogging on Blogspot.

Anonymous said...

Yes. There's a content warning on your blog. I don't know if you can access your own blog as if you were an outsider so you can see it, but I can do so on Live Journal. I just click on my bookmark labeled "The Grey Badger's Journal" and there I am.

KateGladstone said...

How to obtain press credentials (make rue to scroll down to to the bottom of that page, where it says "Other Useful Links") —