Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Politics Of Fear: A Rumination

“Being right too soon is socially unacceptable.” – Robert A. Heinlein
“Then I said, I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in His name. But His word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.” -- Jeremiah 20:9

Voices crying in the wilderness rarely accumulate a big following. Neither are they usually granted credit for having called the turn.

I don’t like being a voice crying in the wilderness. But I suffer a compulsion to keep at it. Whether you think that’s a good thing is your own affair.

There are a number of voices crying in the wilderness today. Unfortunately, we’re not all crying in the same key. That makes it easy to dismiss us individually. The usual term of derision is “crank.”

We constitute quite a riotous variety of cranks. See how many of each of the following sub-varieties you can name:

  • Taxation cranks
  • Firearms cranks
  • Vote fraud cranks
  • Regulation cranks
  • Police-state cranks
  • Border control cranks
  • Surveillance-state cranks
  • Child indoctrination cranks
  • Money and currency cranks
  • Freedom of expression cranks

Those are just the ten types that come to mind at this moment. I could probably double the length of that list if I were to think about it for a minute or two more. I’ve occupied each of those categories, one essay at a time, at some point during these past eighteen years: here at Liberty’s Torch and at its predecessors, Eternity Road and The Palace of Reason. I’ve never restrained my feelings or my diction on any subject I decided to address, which makes me a member of a sub-sub-variety: the “hairy-eyed crank.”

Do you, Gentle Reader, ever worry about what kind of company you’re keeping?

Compulsions can be exhausting. This one certainly is. But then, fear is exhausting ipso facto. That’s one of the reasons fear so often evokes hatred:

Cowardice, alone of all the vices, is purely painful—horrible to anticipate, horrible to feel, horrible to remember; Hatred has its pleasures. It is therefore often the compensation by which a frightened man reimburses himself for the miseries of Fear. The more he fears, the more he will hate. And Hatred is also a great anodyne for shame. To make a deep wound in his charity, you should therefore first defeat his courage. [C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters]

Unfortunately, the hatred-response is usually directed at the “bearer of bad tidings,” rather than at the causative agent of what one fears. So all too often we cranks are resented for daring to tell bad news, while those who’ve caused the badness get away with inadequate scrutiny, if any.

Clearly, “crank” is not a career path to be recommended to one’s adolescent children.

I write these pieces because I fear. I’ve made no secret of it. And I’d wager that, if you’re a regular, you stop by Liberty’s Torch to see if my post of the day addresses something you fear. Under current circumstances, that’s normal behavior for those of us on the pro-freedom Right. Huddling is a common response to the sense of threat.

The threats are more numerous and more threatening than at any previous time in the history of this Republic. Virtually any individual American feels threatened by at least one of them, when he allows himself to become conscious of it.

That makes it supremely ironic that we cranks, who are the most likely to be resented and mistreated for “making” others fear, should labor so diligently at it. Yet we continue. Many of us have openly proclaimed ourselves unable to stop, just like Jeremiah.

There’s that compulsion business again.

”I’m gonna be a happy idiot and struggle for the legal tender.” -- Jackson Browne
‘Suddenly I saw Hagbard's eyes burning into me and heard his voice: “Your heart will remain calm. Your adrenalin gland will remain calm. Calm, all-over calm. You will not panic. you will look at the fnord and see it. You will not evade it or black it out. You will stay calm and face it.” And further back, way back: my first-grade teacher writing FNORD on the blackboard, while a wheel with a spiral design turned and turned on his desk, turned and turned, and his voice droned on, IF YOU DON'T SEE THE FNORD IT CAN'T EAT YOU, DON'T SEE THE FNORD, DON'T SEE THE FNORD...’ [Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, Illuminatus!]

The “If I refuse to acknowledge it, maybe it won’t hurt me” attitude toward the threats around us is the most common one. It’s made easier, and more palatable, by the range of available distractions: the opportunities and pleasures of agreeable work; the glittering array of consumer goods; the immersive worlds of video games; the vast and prolific entertainment industry; the many sports spectacles presented to us; mind-numbing drink and drugs; food; sex. We might not admit to ourselves, much less to others, that we’ve fixed our attention on one or more of those things to keep our minds off our fears, but I’d wager that that, too, is common.

The political class is aware of this. Inasmuch as that class is the source of nearly all the threats we face, it should come as no surprise that it has encouraged us, in ways both overt and covert, to wallow in the distractions and leave it to work unmonitored.

Mask slippages are uncommon...and when they occur, the prevailing tendency is to shrug the revelations aside as “just what they do.”

“What prompted all this?” I hear you ask. Well, for starters there was this article, cited yesterday by the invaluable Mike Hendrix. Also, it’s Sunday. My Sundays aren’t cut from the same pattern as the other six days of the week. Call it a Sabbath habit of thought.

My days begin and end with prayer. There’s plenty of prayer in between, too. (It becomes especially impassioned when I’m hot on the heels of an annoying FibreChannel bug.) But prayer, though it’s good for him who prays in nearly every other way, can also deflect him from necessary action. Indeed, it can deflect him even from thinking about what action would be appropriate.

Just yesterday, the C.S.O. and I watched Valkyrie, which depicted the 1944 plot, designed and executed by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, to kill Hitler and rescue Germany from moral and physical obliteration. Though the movie underemphasized it, Stauffenberg’s Catholic convictions were central to his resolution that Hitler must die and the Nazi regime be toppled. Nevertheless, it’s an excellent movie that should serve to remind us both of the depths of human evil and of the hard choices a man unwilling to suppress his moral convictions will sometimes face. Tom Cruise is exceptional as Stauffenberg; the supporting cast is equally impressive, including those who accepted roles they probably would have preferred not to play.

Moral standards are inherently religious: Not in the theistic sense, but because, like all other religious propositions, they can neither be proved nor disproved. If we accept them, we accept them as articles of faith. A brilliant friend once put it thus:

“What if you were somehow to resurrect Hitler, and were to ask him ‘Herr Hitler, why did you kill all those Jews?’ What if he were to reply ‘Because it was intrinsically right’ -- ? How would you argue against him?”

My friend was pointing directly at the fundamental nature of sound moral standards. As C. S. Lewis has told us, they are embedded in the Tao, the metaphysical understratum of all reality:

This is what Confucius meant when he said 'With those who follow a different Way it is useless to take counsel'. This is why Aristotle said that only those who have been well brought up can usefully study ethics: to the corrupted man, the man who stands outside the Tao, the very starting point of this science is invisible. He may be hostile, but he cannot be critical: he does not know what is being discussed. This is why it was also said 'This people that knoweth not the Law is accursed' and 'He that believeth not shall be damned'. An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or of Practical Reason is idiocy. If a man's mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut. He can say nothing to the purpose. Outside the Tao there is no ground for criticizing either the Tao or anything else. In particular instances it may, no doubt, be a matter of some delicacy to decide where the legitimate internal criticism ends and the fatal external kind begins. But wherever any precept of traditional morality is simply challenged to produce its credentials, as though the burden of proof lay on it, we have taken the wrong position. The legitimate reformer endeavours to show that the precept in question conflicts with some precept which its defenders allow to be more fundamental, or that it does not really embody the judgement of value it professes to embody. The direct frontal attack 'Why?'—'What good does it do?'—'Who said so?' is never permissible; not because it is harsh or offensive but because no values at all can justify themselves on that level. If you persist in that kind of trial you will destroy all values, and so destroy the bases of your own criticism as well as the thing criticized. You must not hold a pistol to the head of the Tao. Nor must we postpone obedience to a precept until its credentials have been examined. Only those who are practising the Tao will understand it. It is the well-nurtured man, the cuor gentil, and he alone, who can recognize Reason when it comes. It is Paul, the Pharisee, the man 'perfect as touching the Law' who learns where and how that Law was deficient.

The above might be the most important philosophical statement of the Christian Era. It explains perfectly why even those who don’t know why will immediately recognize that “morally different” is merely a circumlocution for evil.

‘As Aragorn has begun, so we must go on. We must push Sauron to his last throw. We must call out his hidden strength, so that he shall empty his land. We must march out to meet him at once. We must make ourselves the bait, though his jaws should close on us. He will take that bait, in hope and in greed, for he will think that in such rashness he sees the pride of the new Ringlord: and he will say: “So! he pushes out his neck too soon and too far. Let him come on, and behold I will have him in a trap from which he cannot escape. There I will crush him, and what he has taken in his insolence shall be mine again for ever.”

‘We must walk open-eyed into that trap, with courage, but small hope for ourselves. For, my lords, it may well prove that we ourselves shall perish utterly in a black battle far from the living lands; so that even if Barad-dur be thrown down, we shall not live to see a new age. But this, I deem, is our duty. And better so than to perish nonetheless – as we surely shall, if we sit here – and know as we die that no new age shall be.’

[John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, The Lord Of The Rings Book III: The Return Of The King]

We fear, in large measure, because we perceive the massing of evil forces. We are aware that evil’s only imaginable target is good: good persons, good institutions, and good standards. When we see evil on the march, making incursions against what we know to be right and just, we sense the possibilities that flow forward from there...and we shudder.

Evil is truly on the march.
Its forces have never been more numerous.
It seeks the destruction of all that is good: the Tao itself.
To fear evil and its goals is only rational.
To sit idle as it marches is not.

Politics, divorced from the pursuit of power over others, is about collective action. The politics of fear are simple: either we allow our fears to paralyze us, hoping only that evil will somehow overlook us, or we take up arms and march against it, aware of our duty, confident in our standards and their ultimate victory.

Why stand we here idle?

May God bless and keep you all.


Roy Lofquist said...

"We hold these truths to be self evident...".

Groman said...

After 9/11 many on the Left blamed America and cautioned against any retaliation. I started thinking then that we might be headed for another civil war. Events over the past decade have only increased my foreboding. Like rust, the Left never sleeps. They can see the finish line now and over the next two years of the malevolent one's administration, the pedal will be pressed to the floor even harder. Anyone who thought he might take a different tack after the sound trouncing his party took at he last election, is living in fantasy land. He end the rest of the Democrats will now push harder, forcing a confrontation. It's time to gear up and be ready.

KG said...

There are two choices and two only. There were always only these two.
War, or slavery.

Wombat said...

This individual crank issue is one I often broach with people and get mixed results.

Ask the gun guy "should drugs be decriminalized?"
"No way", he says, "drugs are bad for society."

Ask the drug guy, "should we ease up on gun control?"
"No way", he says , "guns are bad for society."

Ask either, "so why do you deserve the freedom to choose but the other guy doesn't?"

Blank stares all 'round.

"So you want the same government you're asking to oppress others to cease oppressing you at the behest of the very people you're asking them to oppress?"

It's like watching two wives argue over which of them should cop a beating from their drunken polygamist husband.

Backwoods Engineer said...

"”I’m gonna be a happy idiot and struggle for the legal tender.” -- Jackson Browne"

Funny, I was just listening to that song on Saturday. I was thinking that I wish I could be innocent again, not knowing or worrying about all that is out there, the threats to me, my family, my state, my country. But alas, it's not possible. We are beyond such a personal Eden.

Malatrope said...

I do not stop by here every day in order to assuage or share any fears. I stop by to see if anyone has come up with any viable solutions yet. Francis, you and your cohorts think thoughts that might at any moment pop up with a strategy to "save the planet".

A wave of illiterate hatred seems destined to break upon the world very soon now. One may feel protected by moving to the countryside and stockpiling food and ammunition, but depravity of this magnitude has a knack for flushing out people to kill in the most hidden of places. Both the Soviets and the Germans deployed large battalions of men and armament to destroy the tiniest of remote villages. We are in for no less attention, because the forces of darkness can brook no dissent.

To Backwoods Engineer: it is our task to reconstruct as much of Eden (America) as possible, after defending and nourishing what remnants of the old one still linger on.