Sometimes societies just go crazy. Japan, 1931, Germany, 1933. China, 1966. Spain 1483, France, 1793, Russia, 1917, Cambodia, 1975, Iran, 1979, Rwanda, 1994, Congo, 1996, to name some. By “crazy” I mean a time when anything goes, especially mass killing. The wheels came off the USA in 1861, and though the organized slaughter developed an overlay of romantic historical mythos — especially after Ken Burns converted it into a TV show — the civilized world to that time had hardly ever seen such an epic orgy of death-dealing.
I doubt that I’m alone in worrying that America today is losing its collective mind. Our official relations with other countries seem perfectly designed to provoke chaos. The universities have melted into toxic sumps beyond even anti-intellectualism to a realm of hallucination. Demented gunmen mow down total strangers weekly in what looks like a growing competition to end their miserable lives with the highest victim score. The financial engineers have done everything possible to pervert and undermine the operations of markets. The political parties are committing suicide by cluelessness and corruption.
There is no narrative for our behavior toward Russia that makes sense anymore. Our campaign to destabilize Ukraine worked out nicely, didn’t it? And then we acted surprised when Russia reclaimed the traditionally Russian territory of Crimea, with its crucial warm-water naval ports. Who woulda thought? Then we attempted to antagonize them further with economic sanctions. The net effect is that Vladimir Putin ended up looking more rational and sane than any leader in the NATO coalition.
Lately, Russia has filled the vacuum of competence in Syria, cleaning up a mess that America left with its two-decade-long crusade to leave a train of broken governments everywhere in the region. A few weeks back, Mr. Putin made the point before the UN General Assembly that wrecking every national institution in sight among weak and unstable nations was probably not a recipe for world peace. President Obama never did formulate a coherent comeback to that. It’s a little terrifying to realize that the leader of our former arch-adversary is the only figure onstage who can come up with a credible story about what needs to happen there. And his restraint this week following what may have been a US-assisted shoot-down of a Russian bomber by idiots in Turkey is really estimable. It all looks like a feckless slide provoked by our side into World War III, and for what? To make the world safe for the Kardashians?
The uproars on campus before Thanksgiving are more a reflection on the astounding cowardice of college presidents than the foolishness of young minds — which, being not fully formed, are easily susceptible to idealist figments. The adults in charge ought to know better. Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber actually entertained the “demand” to erase Woodrow Wilson’s presence on campus for being an arch-segregationist by a black “social justice league” that at the very same time demanded separate (i.e. segregated) social space for blacks only. How did he reconcile these pleadings in his own mind, I wonder.
President Biddy Martin of Amherst pandered to students protesting against free speech, saying:
“Over the course of several days, a significant number of students have spoken eloquently and movingly about their experiences of racism and prejudice on and off campus. The depth and intensity of their pain and exhaustion are evident. That pain is real. Their expressions of loneliness and sense of invisibility are heartrending. No attempt to minimize or trivialize those feelings will be convincing to those of us who have listened. It is good that our students have seized this opportunity to speak, rather than further internalizing the isolation and lack of caring they have described.”
Bottom line: hurt feelings supposedly cancel free speech. No, that’s exactly the opposite of the meaning of the First Amendment. How can a college president fail to understand that and fail to defend the campus against that sort of Jacobin despotism? The answer is they are hostage to dogmas cooked up by race-and-identity careerists who don’t really care to make distinctions between what is true and what is not true — and that is now the official tone of higher education in America. It’s a short hop from there to not knowing the difference between what is real and what is unreal.
The phenomenon of demented lone gunmen killing strangers and innocents will morph into civil insurrection, especially as the major political parties break apart and the loosed factions set out to settle their old scores by whatever means they can. History knows that violence is infectious and that social inhibitions melt away when the conditions are ripe. Groups give themselves permission to act outside the bounds of normal behavior, and all of a sudden atrocity is the order of the day.
Both Trump and Hillary have the mojo to destroy their respective parties and I think the probability is that they will. Unfortunately, we don’t live under a parliamentary system that recognizes smaller factions as legitimate parties, so we are sure to live through an era of political disorder. What emerges from that could be a very severe polity, since it will be based on the wish to restore order at all costs.
It is likely to get the shove it needs from the implosion of the financial system, which is now running on the fumes of dwindling credit. A false capitalism reigns based on false capital — notional wealth where there is really no wealth; value where there is no value. Moments like this in history beat a path straight to currency collapse, and that will open the door to a greater collapse of all our familiar arrangements.
Surely there is some kind of massive unseen sensory organ in societies that receives the signal that systems are failing. And surely it spooks the individuals who make up those societies so badly that they will believe anything and do anything.