Friday, March 17, 2017

The lost sense of tragedy

Won't that be fun?
Seeing our new SecState threatening North Korea reminded me of these words penned by Robert Kaplan a couple decades ago:
Avoiding tragedy requires a sense of it, which in turn requires a sense of history. Peace, however, leads to the preoccupation with “presentness”, the loss of the past and consequent disregard for the future. That is because peace by nature is pleasurable, and pleasure is about momentary satisfaction. 
In an era of expanded domestic peace, those who deliver us pleasure are the power brokers. Because pleasure is inseparable from convenience, convenience becomes the vital element of society.
Folks are always at a loss to explain how the world stupids its way into tragedy every so often.  Try to get a well-read man to explain the logical steps from the assassination of an Archduke in Sarajevo to 1.2 million casualties in the Battle of the Somme 24 months later and he will throw his hands into the air.  Human actions are on occasion too stupid to understand in retrospect.

But that's because humans do not make decisions in retrospect.  At the risk of oversimplifying, the logical progression was that two sides saw opportunities to be gained by fighting and neither side really considered the costs of either losing or of not winning for a very long time.  Had you told the Germans that the ultimate result of declaring war on Russia would be 10% of their population dead or maimed, Turnip Winter and hyperinflation, and France occupying the Ruhr, they would never have gone along.

But neither the German rulers, nor the people who cheered the headlong rush to war, had a sense of tragedy. Instead they had the intoxicating confidence of being a newly-industrialized, newly-unified power that had kicked France's ass 40 years prior and been itching for another fight since.  The same could probably be said for the Allied nations - the end price was not considered at the outset*.

We are in exactly that same position today, and the position that Kaplan warned about in 1995. Convenience and living in the present have been the two vital elements of American culture for the past 20 years.  In all earnest, what can be said of the two-spirit, gender-non-conforming, or androgyne*** except that they have completely discarded the historical human experience?**** What can be said for the government that casually threatens other nuclear powers over social media?

We have absolutely no sense of the tragic, or even of the serious or real or true, because it's been so long since we were forced to be a serious people.  There is no penalty today for the individual acting in a foolish or discivic manner any more than there is for a congressman or president who does the same, only much more expensively. After all, at zero interest rates, new fighter jets are free. If you can be anything you want, why not be a non-binary pangender demiboy? When food, rent, health care, and education for all of them are underwritten by someone else, why not have a dozen kids with a dozen different partners? Why not drill, baby, drill on funds lent by retirement funds desperate to put off a demographic tidal wave?

Because there's no penalty for stupid, and because stupid is more fun than is serious, the stupid will accelerate until we are very painfully reminded what it is that makes certain actions stupid in the first place.

Trump seems to want to blunder us into a war in southeast Asia just as badly as Hillary wanted to scheme us into one in eastern Europe.  No one, most especially those whose job it is to consider these things, counts the costs of such lunacy. It's been so long since we've paid costs that we've forgotten that they exist.

They do.

* Except the US.  We jumped in so that we could centralize political, eceonomic, and cultural power in Washington. There is a reason today that most of what's called "the news" is about government**. Wilson would have killed a lot more than 100,000 doughboys for that.
** the rest, of course, is about people who sing, make-believe, or play games for money.
*** three of the 58 gender options available on Facebook.
**** Well, you could say that they are batshit insane, which is doubtless true of the few that are not simply pretending to be for attention.


  1. Wow, El B, if I could write 10% as well as you, I'd give up being handsome.
    This one is eloquent. Articulate. Polished. A Thing of Beauty. I can't write like this, and therefore the article cannot possibly exist.

    Charley Z

    1. Thank you, sir. And quite handsome you are.

  2. I agree with Charley, very well written.

    I would just go a step further and say that we haven't just forgotten the past; we've actively discarded it. In The Current Year, we know better than the type of repressed, superstious bigots who outlawed dismembering babies. So we descend into degeneracy and laud it as progress.

    1. Excellent summary of the "Everyone before me was a moron" fallacy. It seems to be our new national motto, I'm afraid. Really afraid.

  3. Your point was about WWI, but a lot of Americans don't realize how badly WWII turned out for non-Americans*.

    *Speaking inclusively of all countries in North and South America... a few SA nations contributed token forces.

  4. on the one hand, Tillerson never actually said that we would attack the Norks.

    he just said the option was on the table. which, you know, is true. it's pretty unlikely, but launching ICBMs against Russia and China are also options ...

    otoh, this is not unusual for Trump bargaining. Trump personally has been doing this ( tactically ) since he announced for the primary.

    he comes out, makes an announcement which many consider outrageous, then proceeds to bargain back to a solution which, prior to his bomb throwing, nobody would have even deemed remotely feasible.

    i'm fine with keeping an eye on Trump in regards to this. but i wouldn't cuck out the Trump admin just yet. you still don't actually know their bargaining goal.

    and, you know, refusing the Obama / Clinton / Carter strategy of the US President giving the Kim Jong's blowjobs is a nice change of pace.

    best solution would be to pawn the Norks off on the Chinese. i understand that the SKs would lose their minds if we pulled out ... but if Trump can reposition Nork as a Chinese issue ( which, in actuality, it is. we can't do anything substantive about the Norks unless we're prepared to engage the ChiCom army again ) we then gain massive leverage on the SouKs to pony up a little bit to pay the US for defending their border.

    huh, you know, it would be nice if Trump tried to get our "allies" to pay their fair share for defense.

    i sure hope he adopts that as a policy plank.