Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Center of Nowhere, or the Rosy New Deal

Montsalvat. Painting by Alarie-Tano/DeviantArt.

You have to be totally lost before you can find it, so nobody can say where it is, but on a high plain somewhere, could be the kingdom of the Visigoths or Asian Byzantium, where the priests wear long beards and take wives, you'll be in some desolate treeless country and come on a castle of ancient stone, set in a marsh, apparently unguarded; you can cross the drawbridge and enter the yard, and penetrate into the great hall without hindrance, and on certain days you'll see a strange ceremony performed by a company of knights.

In silence, a chief or officiant goes to an aumbrey built into the wall next the fireplace, with the knights behind him, opens up the doors, and pulls out what looks like a wedding cake mounted on a silver charger. It is a wedding cake! But it seems to have been baked centuries ago, it's dull and gray, and it seems unnaturally heavy, as the chief struggles, grimacing, to bring it out the the middle of the hall. There, still in silence, with the knights forming a circle around him, he kneels, changes his grip on the charger so that his palms are underneath, stands again, and lifts it into the air as far as his arms will extend. Extraordinary emotions cross the faces, and some of the men begin to weep. After a few moments, he lowers it again, goes back to the wall as the circle of knights breaks to let him through, and shoves it back into the aumbrey.

At which point the silence finally breaks, the men begin chatting by twos and threes, and if you ask the right questions, you can learn the significance of what you've just witnessed. Or you can go to The New York Times, where David F. Brooks will lay out the catechism for you ("An Agenda for Moderates").

Basically it's a story of the Ages of Man: The Age of God, when America was settled by Pilgrims to the wilderness, called by the idea of God, or maybe it was God's idea to call them; the Age of Nation, when the ex-Pilgrims became Americans, who were called by the idea of Nation, to keep settling, all the way out to the Pacific, from around 1803 to 1960; and the Age of Self, when the citizens were called by the ideas of Abraham Maslow, to throw off constraints and actualize themselves, and they became too proud, apparently, and were punished for it with division and bewilderment, bringing the Age of Self  to an end, in which it wasn't clear what would come next, because there were apparently two ideas, a Right one, the idea of Tribe, and a Left one, the idea of Social Justice, in opposition to each other. This just happened a couple of years ago, and it's pretty unpleasant, with everybody fighting as to which idea we are going to be having the age of now, and determined to annihilate their opponents, because of their scarcity mind-set.

At least this is what the knights believe, in their castle in the Waste Land, which is the Fortress of the Center, as determined by their study of the ancient texts and liturgical practice. But what they hope and pray for is that one day a knight will arrive with another idea, and everybody will get a slice of that cake, and the Age of Aquarius will arrive, when peace will guide the planets and love will steer the stars, or not exactly, because that would be kind of self-actualizing, but it's going to be heavy into the love part:
What big idea counteracts division, fragmentation, alienation? It is found in Leviticus and Matthew: Love your neighbor. Today’s left and right are fueled by anger and seek conflict. The big idea for moderates should be solidarity, fraternity, conversation across difference. A moderate agenda should magnify our affections for one another.
Or the Age of the Four Affections, since there are four of them, and they aren't for one another but for our children, our work, our locality, and our shared humanity respectively. The list of the Four Affections generates a list of policy proposals:
  • for the children, to "make sure children are enmeshed in webs of warm relationships" through tax credits for pre-K and parental leave and "schools that emphasize social and emotional learning";
  • for the work, unfortunately people don't really have that much Affection for it, so we should train them to do something else in institutions that maybe give less emphasis to social and emotional learning, or subsidize their wages so their employers don't have to spend so much money on them, or give them grants to move away from their locality in spite of Affection no. 3, or give them workers' clubs, like Mussolini, instead of those awful adversarial unions;
  • for the locality, the federal government should bow out and allow people to be governed by "a different system of power, a system in which power is wielded by neighbors, who know their local context and trust one another" unless of course they're angry conflict-seeking rightists or leftists, and this should be done by recruiting the young into a gigantic federally-run national service program; and
  • for the shared humanity, we should have "immigration policy that balances welcome with cultural integration" and neighborhood and school integration that doesn't address cultural integration, I guess, because "[n]either left nor right talks much about racial integration anymore" (except, you know, for about 60 million SJWs) so it's up to David F. Brooks, famous champion of Social Justice, to bring it up.
I think I'm seeing here a strange reverberation of influence from the Green New Deal, and its derivation of a comprehensive political program from a couple of basic principles, including a lot of menu items I might not mind ordering, but I'm not seeing, um, a lot of coherence. Or comprehensiveness for that matter, given that issues of carbon-burning, foreign alliances, sexual abuse, religious and irreligious freedom, corruption, criminal justice, and fiscal management (how're you planning to pay for these babies, Brooksy?) are completely ignored. I guess we should regard this Rosy New Deal as more of a first draft of what the Hero turns up with when the time comes, asking the questions, or maybe taking that cake and hurling it into the moat to break the spell, so that the Knights of the Center can finally wander home to some place that actually exists.

And see Driftglass. And Drew, who may yet finish trashing Brooks's new book before the publication date.

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