Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Books and mortality

I recently read Joe Queenan's mostly good--but not, alas, astonishing--One for the Books, which has had the unfortunate result of leaving me quite depressed.  I'd like to put together a review, but in the interim, I offer several thoughts.

First, books, like every other good and noble thing in our wretched civilization, are dying,  Infernal electronic readers, which Queenan admirably rails against, are taking over in what remains of our now mostly illiterate culture.  He's a self-confessed Luddite, but he's also only a few thousand books from his death bed, whereas I remain similarly entrenched in my opposition to technology with, fortunately, hopefully, a much larger number of books ahead of me.  I cannot be certain that I shall be able to get them, either, which provides the rationalization for the otherwise indefensible rate at which I acquire books.

Second, readers are probably not any better than everyone else.  I confess to looking down on those who read less than me, though, since this is most everyone, I immediately feel awful for giving into the sin of intellectual pride.  I know more than I would have were I not a voracious devourer of books, but I cannot say that I am a better person for it.  Moreover, in exchange, I find the world outside of books--which is to say, the real world--that much less interesting.  The unfortunate result is that I then read more books, and deal ever more precariously with the vastly overrated real world. 

Third, readers are impressed strongly with the sense of their own mortality.  Queenan measures his life by the number of books he has read.  I've not quite come to that, but I am aware that I will not be able to read everything I hope to read before I slip this mortal coil.  This results in a nature that tends toward the macabre, but I do not think that it can be helped.

So I suppose what we have learned is that while it is difficult to explain why spending all one's free time reading is a productive usage of that time, there's no way that we readers would alter our habits in the slightest.  It's entirely possible that we have been afflicted with some horrible disease, but as it is less harmful, surely, than drugs and alcohol, we shall be left alone for the time being.  Which is precisely what we desire.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The foreign policy of fools

Tonight is the third and final presidential debate, the topic of which is foreign policy.  Had the Republicans nominated Ron Paul--or the Democrats, Dennis Kucinich--we might well see an actual debate.  Actually, if Paul was running against Kucinich, we wouldn't see many fireworks, but at least the heads of Bill Kristol and Max Boot might explode.

As it stands, both Obama and Romney are interventionists, to put it mildly.  While the President has drawn down some of the armed forces from Iraq, he increased the number of soldiers in Afghanistan.  Twelve years later, we're still mired in that graveyard of empires.  One would think that this would be a position on which the president could be challenged.  Yet the Republicans, in their boundless stupidity, have nominated a hawk who thinks that Obama was wrong in deescalating the war in Iraq.  The President's Nobel Peace Prize remains an immense joke, but in this race, he is actually the peace candidate.

Consider: the President recognizes the power of the executive branch to assassinate American citizens.  Romney, no doubt looking forward to using this power for himself, has yet to raise an objection to such a grotesque violation of our basic human rights.  If the American people are fortunate, perhaps this will be discussed in tonight's debate, but even if the moderator mentions this policy, we will be wholly unable to do a thing to alter it. 

Instead of substantial debate over a very important topic, we'll be compelled to endure a tedious discussion over precisely how much leadership--and what kind--will best ensure that we may continue to meddle in the Middle East without experiencing too much blowback. 

The American people are tired of war.  We should never forget that warfare has a significant moral dimension; the bombs we drop extinguish lives, a large percentage of which belonged to civilians, innocent of the crimes perpetrated by our enemies.  Regrettably, too many Americans are inured to the death and destruction that resides thousands of miles away.  Surely our leaders would tell us if they were responsible for the death of innocents.

However, the costs of war hit home in other ways.  The government is not in the habit of increasing taxes in order to help fund its bloated military, now bogged down in wars that will cost, when all is said and done, several trillion dollars.  Instead, the dollar is debased.  As a result, food and gas prices continue to rise.  Americans must sacrifice for the good of our benevolent government.

We're not going to hear about this in tonight's debate, but what Eisenhower called the Military Industrial Complex is an immense drain on the nation's economy.  Precious resources go to produce weapons of destruction which we unleash on the world.  From the purvey of a defense contractor, war means more contracts.  But while these welfare queens make fistfuls of cash due to the fact that we spend more money on the military than every other country in the world combined, the Americans who do not work for the bloated warfare sector become poorer.

A country of responsible citizens wouldn't tolerate military pork in an age of austerity.  But history is replete with examples of bankrupt nations going to war, in part to distract its citizenry from trouble at home.  The depressing fact about tonight is that Obama is likelier to declare war on Iran than he is to offer real cuts to what is deceptively called defense.  Even more depressingly, the President is probably the lesser evil in this horrible race to the bottom.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Brooks and Henry on feminism

John Quincey Adams's grandson Henry is famous in his own right, most notably for two of his books, Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres as well as The Education of Henry Adams.  Adams was known for being melancholic about the future of the American experiment, and while this attitude is commoner now, it was quite irregular for a man who lived and wrote towards the close of the nineteenth century. 

At present, I'm reading The Degradation of the Democratic Dogma, which is ostensibly written by Henry Adams.  Actually, his brother Brooks wrote a piece about Henry which comprises more than a third of the book.  It is with this introductory piece that I plan on dealing, as it contains a number of perceptive observations concerning the problems inherent in feminism. 

The quote is from an essay of Henry's which is printed in full later in the book; the rest is Brooks:

"The mere act of reproduction, which seems to have been the most absorbing and passionate purpose of primitive instinct, concerns history not at all." ...Certainly it does not concern the modern feminist, who repudiates such an instinct as unworthy of a civilized and educated modern woman, and by so doing announces herself as incapable of performing the only function in modern society which has the least vital importance to mankind.

These astounding sentences were first published in 1919.  The brothers Adams were well ahead of their time, though perhaps not as much as we might think.  The Great Depression and the Second World War postponed the sexual revolution which had begun during the Roaring Twenties.  It was only after a return to peace and an increase in prosperity that the revolution could pick up where it had left off decades before. 

More importantly, Brooks Adams hones in on the essential flaw in the feminist dogma; its devotees abdicate responsibility when it comes to "performing the only function in modern society which has the least vital importance to mankind."  Civilization is completely capable of surviving, and even thriving, without female  doctors or lawyers.  It cannot do so, however, if its women refuse to become mothers.  It is no less true for being oft repeated: demographics is destiny.  It would be difficult to suggest a more idiotic policy than encouraging the best and brightest women to pursue careers at the expense of becoming mothers, leaving such horror to the unwed underclass.  I half suspect future historians may believe that the vastly underrated film Idiocracy is actually a documentary.

Later on, Brooks takes up his theme again:

Since the great industrial capitalistic movement began throughout the modern world toward 1830, the modern feminist has sought to put the woman upon a basis of legal at which she would be enabled, as it was thought, to become the economic competitor of man.  At length, after nearly a century as one of the effects of the recent war, she seems to have succeeded in her ambition.  So far as possible the great sexual instinct has been weakened or suppressed.  So far as possible it is now ignored systematically in our education. Woman is ashamed of her sex and imitates the man.  And the results are manifest enough to alarm the most optimistic and confiding.  The effect has been to turn enormous numbers of women into the ranks of the lower paid classes of labor, but far worse, in substance to destroy the influence of woman in modern civilization, save in so far as her enfranchisement tends to degrade the democratic level of intelligence.  The woman as the cement of society the head of the family and the centre of cohesion has for all intents and purposes ceased to exist.  She has become a wandering isolated unit rather a dispersive than a collective force.

There's a lot to unpack here, but we'll give it a shot.  First, as Brooks notes, granting women legal equality with men was not an insignificant and helpful gesture, but the base on which all else was built.  This is important, because while there are numerous critics of feminism, few seem to realize the drastic actions which would be necessary to undo the damage.  It is not enough to simply suggest that more women stay home with their children.  And, in actuality, seeing how these things tend to over-correct, women fifty years hence may well look bad fondly at the freedom afforded to their predecessors living in the times of Adams.

Women's movements tend to occur in times of economic growth, if not decadence.  I'd like to do more research to confirm this in, say, Imperial Rome or Renaissance Italy, so for now it remains a tentative hypothesis.  Yet Adams observes that what was brought forth in a time of prosperity resulted in women degrading themselves to work in "the ranks of the lower paid classes of labor."  We would need to update this rhetoric to more accurately reflect the way things are today, but as a piece of historical data, it's an arresting observation. 

The snide swipe at the degradation "of the democratic level of intelligence" is too amusing to pass over.  I earnestly await the movement which seeks to limit the suffrage.  But then again, I'm hoping we can deprecate democracy in favor of hereditary monarchy, rendering such limitations superfluous.

Lastly, contrary to feminist rhetoric, traditionalists or anti-feminists do not hate women: we contend that women's liberation has been bad for men as well as women, and certainly for society at large.  This point is made fairly clearly by Henry Adams in his book on the Middle Ages: but there is much dignity in women who pursue a vocation as a mother.  No doubt there are women who would fit awkwardly, if at all, into the institution of marriage.  But this was no excuse to treat the exception as a rule.

In summary, feminism was a bad idea one hundred years ago, and it is a bad idea now.  Adams doesn't even mention, because he could not know, that feminism would pile up a body count that would make Hitler envious.  That feminism will endure in the short run is as certain as that its infertile philosophy dooms it in the long.  It would be pleasant to think that we could restore something from just before Adams time, but I think it likelier that sexual relations in the future will proceed along pagan lines.  And no, feminists, that will not be pleasant, not in the slightest.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Of mole hills

The world's laziest blogger--copyright applied for--is back.  Like millions of other Americans, I watched the presidential debate on Wednesday night.  The near unanimous verdict, with which I concur, was that Romney won by looking and sounding presidential, while President Obama lost by appearing tired and flat.  I have nothing to add to this. 

However, I do want to take a look at Romney's insistence that he would cut funding to PBS.  For while the challenger was better prepared than the empty suit our President appeared to be, there remains a deep lack of seriousness that pervades and perverts our presidential politics.

PBS accounts for just .012% of the federal budget.  It's true that it makes little to no sense to fund something so inconsequential at a time when the nation is bankrupt.  At the same time, PBS's paltry nature makes it one of the best uses of our taxpayer money: I'd much rather subsidize Sesame Street than be compelled to pay for the bombs that rain down on Pakistanis. 

I remain convinced that our debt is, or rather, ought to be, the most important issue in this election.  Obama seems to have no idea how we are to balance our budget.  Yet, for all his talk about how it is immoral to pass debt along to our children, Romney's pollyannish plan is to simply grow our way out of debt.  Obama is in no position to ask, but I wish someone would find out what Romney plans to do if the economy remains stagnant well into his first term.  At that point, will he try to cut funding for other programs?  Will he reconsider his plans to increase military spending?

Or will we continue to bicker over Big Bird?