Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Gravity Deficit

Georges Méliès, La Voyage dans la Lune (1902). Image via wifflegifs.

David Brooks writes ("Enter the Age of the Outsiders", New York Times, October 19 2015):
As any fool knows, gravity plays a tremendously valuable role in our solar system in encouraging planets, comets, asteroids and so on to stay in their appointed paths. If the sun were to start slacking off on the gravity, other heavenly bodies might just take up eccentric orbits or wander off altogether, shirking their responsibilities and setting a terrible example for their own moons.
I mention this because it's such an original and compelling analogy for what's been happening in our own political and social systems lately, and a good way of walking back my unfortunate lapse last week where I lost my temper with the House Freedom Caucus and inadvertently suggested that both sides might not do it.
Of course both sides do do it, and if there is a House Freedom Caucus blundering its way into chaos there must be some kind of House Slavery Caucus dedicated to putting us all into socialist bondage, even if we haven't discovered it yet, because that's just science. Every reactionary has an equal and opposite actionary, right? So I thought I'd try to get the conversation back on a properly scientific footing here.
In every sphere of human existence there used to be a few suns and the various hunks of cosmic débris would pass their existence happily revolving around them, and basking in their radiance, which was like unto the radiance of Dr. Johnson and Dorothy Day but more, well, centrist. These suns were not only radiant but also full of conviction. I guess you could think of them as gigantic conviction ovens.
But nowadays the situation has begun to deteriorate, in the terms established by the well-known Yeats Equation, where a reduction in conviction in the gas giants correlates directly with an excess of passionate intensity in the trans-Neptunian object realm or sociopolitical Kuiper belt, Oort cloud, and so forth. This brings about the Things Falling Apart reaction: a paradoxical gravity shift from the multiple centers of the system to its outer range, with bizarre effects on ordinary humans, creating the illusion, to take just one exotic example, that Bernie Sanders is a more serious person than Jeb Bush.
Thus in the 1990s our central political institutions radiated confidence, as we understood that, with the end of the Cold War, history would now be cozy and warm forever, with the nations packed into their peaceful associations, individuals practicing individualism, and the United States overseeing a basic international order, nothing fancy or too expensive, just solid, efficient world domination.
But then something happened, when the 1990s ended, to disturb this cheerful equilibrium. Mistakes were apparently made. Democracy grew dysfunctional and mass stupidity and greed caused a financial collapse. Capitalism lost its virile swagger and began to tread a little more hesitantly.
I don't want to get too involved with the technical details here, except to note that it couldn't possibly have anything to do with me touting pseudo-evidence in November 2003 that "rebukes those gloomy liberals who for two decades have been predicting that the center-right governance of Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush would lead to disaster." Clearly the important factors were not these dreary issues of political economy but spiritual ones, like the fact that my life was meaningless in spite of remarkable wealth and frequent TV appearances.
And I was not the only one to suffer from a spiritual malaise. Some sought more intense forms of meaning in the fanaticisms of sect or nation or in some brutal ideology. Highly educated people highjacked airplanes and knocked down the World Trade Center, or flocked to Iraq and Syria to terrorize the population simply because they disapproved of the local religious practices. China became unexpectedly nationalistic, Iran became eschatological, Russia was ruled by a thuggish autocrat, developments that simply had no precedent in history. Really, it's no wonder I'm upset.
But the worst of all, beyond the disaster of the conviction-lacking Bush and the passionately intense Donald Trump and his exact mirror image Senator Sanders, who has now taken over the Democratic platform committee and is dictating the collectivization of agriculture as its central plank, is the way America is no longer willing to rule the world. What's up with that? It's not just Obama but the foreign affairs and military establishments who seem to think we can't make Putin or Assad or President Xi do what we want!
We seem to have lost our traditional American realism, which is what political scientists call the belief that America can always get its way. I haven't got a lot of space left to go into this in depth, gosh how the time flies, but I'd just like to add that this problem is fundamentally spiritual. Oops I said that already huh. Spiritual and mental is that better? 
Verbatim David Brooks, just in case you don't believe it's this bad:
I only have space to add here that the primary problem is mental and spiritual. Some leader has to be able to digest the lessons of the last 15 years and offer a revised charismatic and persuasive sense of America’s historic mission. This mission, both nationalist and universal, would be less individualistic than the gospel of the 1990s, and more realistic about depravity and the way barbarism can spread. It would offer a goal more profound than material comfort.
What goal would that be? How the hell should I know! That's a question for Operations, my department's Planning.

Don't miss Driftglass.

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