Saturday, May 21, 2005

Whittle's Sanctuary

Bill Whittle has a long (very long) essay here. Part 2 is here.

The whole thing is worth a read; it sums up so many important points about the current situation that one is almost tempted to believe there's nothing left of importance to blog about.

Almost. :-)

But here are some of the salient excerpts for those lacking time to read the whole thing:
That was the essay I thought I would write. But that’s not the half of it. That’s not even the beginning.

I mean, after all, such things seem transparently obvious to me. I expected no more than the savagery shown by these terrorists, and no less than the professionalism and restraint, not to mention unprecedented military prowess, from our men and women in uniform.

But what has shocked and dismayed me, way beyond the sadness and regret of our losses, has been the willingness, even the eagerness, among many on the left who want nothing more than to see our side lose.

Our soldiers are fighting and dying to install what any sane person can see is a widely-representative democracy, heroically elected at great personal risk. Opposing them are a shadow army of former secret policemen, state torturers, and foreign invaders of every stripe who kill Iraqi policemen, behead innocent Iraqi cabdrivers, and detonate car bombs at the opening of new schools and children’s centers. There may be an explanation for this support I am not seeing. I, for one, can not get past the idea that millions of Western Progressives would rather see a nation re-enslaved, or erupt in civil war, or have twenty thousand of their countrymen come home in boxes than admit that they were wrong.

And they have the audacity, the unmitigated gall, to claim the moral high ground?

I am trying my level best to understand how and why someone who professes to be for freedom for artists, homosexuals and women – not to mention unlimited personal expression of every stripe -- can take the side of 8th Century religious fanatics who brag about murdering writers, stoning women, beheading homosexuals and instituting moral policemen at every street corner with unquestioned authority to beat, jail or execute anyone suspected of being insufficiently pious.

I used to wonder why civilizations fell. No longer. I see it now before my eyes, every day. Civilizations do not fall because the Barbarians storm the walls. The forces of civilization are far too powerful, and those of barbarism far too weak, for that to happen.

Civilizations fall because the people inside the Sanctuary throw open the gates.

Look around. Tell me what you see. Look at how the entire idea of civilization is under attack. Abandoning the ideas of civilization and savagery is tantamount to throwing open the gates. Maintaining a civilization takes work – savagery, not so much. If both are equal then what’s the point?

Don’t think there’s any difference? Then here’s a little show-and-tell for you, Scooter:

When Newsweek runs an unsubstantiated rumor about flushing a Quran down the toilet, entire nations erupt into riots that leave many dead and more, likely, to follow. That is savagery.

Trained teams of Islamic murderers hijack four airliners, slit the throats of their crews, immolate their passengers as flying bombs and destroy the heart of a city and worse, and the most powerful people the world has ever known sit patiently trying to identify the perpetrators and then sacrifices its own children to reform a diseased and despotic region with overwhelming restraint and discretion – that is civilization.

Really, all I’m trying to do here is prevent the fall of Civilization. Now far be it from me to be so arrogant as to think I can prevent the fall of Civilization with a single essay! It may take several essays; in fact, if things are worse than I feared it might take an entire book.

Here’s my thesis: Civilizations fall because they become so successful that their citizens become, over many generations of increasing security and prosperity, further and further away from the reality of the human condition. The quest for “better” becomes so successful that after a few generations of hard work and ingenuity we have nothing left but the quest for “perfect.” More and more effort produces fewer and smaller results, because the quest for perfection is asymptotic. Perfection is unattainable.

But when things are this good – and relative to human history, life in 21st Century America is far, far better than it has ever been, anywhere or at anytime – then merely being very good is, well, kind of disappointing to some people. There was a time when the voices of dissent came from the poorest and most downtrodden. Not any more. America has gotten so rich and successful that our poor and downtrodden live like kings relative to most of the rest of the world. The standard of living for the poorest American states are de facto better than those in Sweden, to say nothing of Egypt or Somalia or Haiti. No, today the loudest criticisms of the West come not from the bottom, but from the top: millionaire filmmakers and Harvard University professors and columnists who live in luxury skyscrapers. These people have never met real savagery, but they’ve seen it on Hogan’s Heroes! Anyone who can compare the US Marine Corps with the German SS has obviously never had to deal with either. There are millions of photos of people protesting President Bush. There is not a single photo of people in the street protesting Hitler. This tells me something. This should tell the Bush=Hitler crowd something, too. But it doesn’t.

Reality has left their building.

The inability of external reality to become perfect is a profound disappointment for people who live in their own fantasy worlds where everything is perfect. Such people expect the external world, the world beyond the boundaries of our Sanctuary, to behave like a celebrity awards show dinner or a faculty lounge. Of course, only very, very small areas of the world behave like a celebrity award show dinner or a faculty lounge. But when enough people experience nothing else, and when those pampered, bored, hollow and guilty elites control the way information is reported, run the schools and universities in which reality-free theories are taught, and hold the keys to the manufacture of a society’s myths and stories and culture – well, then the disconnect between the Civilization and reality becomes so acute that the wing stalls and what was once a soaring airplane becomes a few tons of metal plummeting earthward.

This awful and necessary war has done a lot more than show us the nature of the barbarism we face when confronting this death cult…and make no mistake, the men we face now in Iraq – not the poor regular army conscripts, but these beheading, civilian-murdering bastards -- are cut from precisely the same cloth as the 9/11 hijackers, and hail from the same places, too. I, for one, would rather face these people in Fallujah and Mosul with the U.S. Army and Marine Corps than deal with them in Times Square and the Rose Bowl with Firemen and Paramedics.

But this war has done much more. It has shown us just how many people here inside the walls of our Sanctuary wish for – work for – its destruction.

And we just simply can’t let that happen.

This is an odd disease: the cure is simple, but the diagnosis is acutely complex and we will have to cover an awful lot of bases to get to the point. The rest of this journey may seem a little chaotic, but there’s a strange attractor underneath. Don’t look for it, for it will reveal itself in due time.

But as we continue this circuitous journey, we might take a moment to observe that those who call themselves “Progressives” have indeed progressed, all right: they have left irony far behind at the gate and are deep into full-blown hi-larity when they claim to be members of “the reality-based community.” These deep-thinking elites, whose political philosophy seems to be limited to what can be fit onto a bumper sticker, telegraphed with giant paper-mache’ puppets or expressed in nude street dancing, are a long, long way from reality. For these highly nuanced deep-thinkers like Ward Churchill and Kos and Howard Dean and all the others, the world is divided into Progressive People Who Naturally Agree With Me on one hand and Jesusland on the other.

Reality has not been kind to far leftists, historically, as we shall soon see. Like many in the deepest, most pleasant and safe confines of our Sanctuary, they have never had a chance to see – or have chosen not to see -- the reality of human nature up close and personal. Reality told them it was just going to the bathroom, when in point of fact Reality left these Leftists alone at the table without paying the check, and it hasn’t returned their phone calls, either.

So they just don’t even bother any more.

I wish these people no personal harm whatsoever. As Americans, they are free to have their own opinions. But I do think their ideology is overdue for a damn good thrashing.
Murder and aggression are indeed a natural, inborn quality that often manifests itself among the young males of social mammals. It lurks there in the R-complex of each of our big brains, just waiting to be cut off in traffic. You could make a case that humans deserve the same break that chimps and dolphins and all the others get: that killing is part of nature, and that underneath all the Old Navy lurks what is essentially an animal – an animal of a species at least one million years old, wearing around it the thinnest veneer of civilization for about one-half of one percent of its existence. I’m not going to make that case at all. THAT is where the road to Nazism lies.

Why have so many people become so ashamed of themselves? Murder and rape are universal in the animal kingdom: only one species tries to prevent such things and punish the perpetrators, and that species is us. We are not the only animals that kill. We are not the only ones that hunt terrified prey, we are not the only ones that murder our own kind (freaking dolphins, people!), and we are certainly not the only ones that destroy ecosystems – far from it.

We are, however, the only ones that try to do something about it. We should be taking the energy we use to beat ourselves up and spend it patting ourselves on the back, for human history is nothing but the upward, halting, tentative progression out of the world of death and misery and into a world of law and decency.

In 1651, Thomas Hobbes wrote of such a natural state in Leviathan:

…No place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.

All Hobbes could imagine to remedy such an existence was an absolute monarchy. I believe if he could have read Jefferson and Paine he would have amended his solution.

The world Hobbes describes may still be found in a few places in the world, places like the rain forests of the Amazon and New Guinea. Progressives speak of such places as Nirvana. As Nirvanas go, the rents are very reasonable, and the people who speak of such primitive cultures as such could pocket some serious change should they sell their houses in Connecticut or the Marina District or the Hollywood Hills, and do what any sensible person would do upon discovering Nirvana: move. They certainly have the means to go. And yet they do not. Why? If our society is so poisonous, and their primitive one so authentic, then why do they not go? Could it be that deep down they understand that the only thing truly authentic about hunting dinner and gathering firewood and carrying water and wearing leaves is that such authenticities are an authentic pain in the ass? But if such people are seen wearing cotton, or wishing for indoor plumbing, then somehow their lives are judged to be ruined by these same avatars who would no sooner live like that than do any other species of hard, relentless, grueling work.

We are related to nature – we carry those killer genes, and they have brought us a long way. But we are more than genes. Laws and Justice and Freedom and Sanctuary are inventions like fire and the wheel, and like fire and the wheel we have been improving them steadily with each generation. Science and art and literature – medicine! -- human inventions, unique to us.

Why then, do so many people – most of them on the far left – so fundamentally hate humanity?

I think it must be the constant frictions between what they hope people are and what they really are. The French Revolution produced the New Man, free of religion, and fully decimal. The streets ran red with blood for a decade – then came Napoleon, and then back to the Bourbon kings that they rebelled against in the first place. If I shared that history, I’d be a cynical, defeatist, Frenchman too. The New Soviet man was to be different: communal humanity Mark II with all the latest improvements. 50 million died, shot in the back of the head in basements and forests, or starved in frozen camps and coal mines, followed by collapse, ecological ruin and endless misery. And still these leftists push the same ideas. Poor bastards. No wonder they are so damn cynical and depressed.

Here they sit, surrounded by laws and medicine and art and culture: despising themselves. Remarkable, isn’t it? These people, who pride themselves on nuance, see no difference between a naked human pyramid of ten prisoners lasting two minutes and piles of corpses six million deep. Both shameful, therefore, both equal in their eyes. And we are the ones who only see things in black and white?

I believe that in general, humans are good and kind. But some of us are beyond the laws and civility we have created inside our Sanctuary, hidden from the brutality of nature and lawless men. If there are killers spawned anew each generation among the gentle dolphins, then there are killer humans, too – and this will not change no matter how deeply we may wish it. And that is why I continue to argue for what to so many of us is plain to see: no people are perfect, but some societies behave better than others. It is one thing to kill to oppress people and make them do your bidding, and something else again to kill those oppressors and expand the bubble of safety and security that are so pervasive in the West that many cannot possibly imagine what the natural state of man is like.

I wrote, “can’t imagine,” but can’t remember is much more on target. Our parents knew more about the reality of human nature than people my age: they saw what the Japanese did in Nanking and what the Germans did in Poland. My grandmother grew up in an America without electricity, running water, or an indoor bathroom. Depriving a convicted murderer of these things today would be considered a human rights violation. The whole idea of “Human Rights” is an invention that we basically gentle and kind apes have made to protect us from the horrors and savagery of our ancestors’ existence. Our parent’s grandparents knew death and pain up close and personal; they slaughtered animals with their own hands, lost half or more of their children before they became teenagers, and lived in a very hard world where stealing generally meant that someone would die as a result of what was stolen from them. These people had no problem discerning victim and perpetrator, and determining where the blame and the responsibility lay.

Such a world becomes ever more distant and fantastic. We will have hell to pay if we don’t remember such times, and many that were much worse, as a measure of how far we have come. The hell we will have to pay is that we will have to go back there, as a species – again. And again. And again. Until we remember what we have built for ourselves, and what it has cost, and what it continues to cost us to maintain.

So why -- someone? anyone? – why do otherwise intelligent and educated people so despise and detest American society, which has achieved more in the way of individual rights, science, arts, medicine, diversity, cooperation and prosperity than any other in history? Why would they oppose such a society when it is trying to bring these blessings to people who have spent thirty years cowering in dark places, fearful of letting the slightest word slip, or betraying their entire family with an askew glance or unguarded moment? Why would someone so viciously oppose freeing a People who have lived for a generation in total, abject fear?

It’s because they have never lived it. That is what I mean when I say reality has left their building. How many people would be opposing the war in Iraq if they had to watch, actually witness, three or four hundred thousand people being shot in the head in front of their families? At the rate of one life taken every single second, with one unique and irreplaceable person being extinguished every tick of the 60 Minutes stopwatch, going without sleep or rest, you would be at it for three and a half days. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Every face unique, every one someone’s son or mother or precious grandchild. Bang. Bang. Bang. All night and all day, every second for three and a half days. How long to wipe out your entire family? Four seconds? Eight? Thirteen? We have found that many in Iraq, more will follow, believe me.

How many children – four or five year old boys and girls – do you need to see raped in front of you before you change your mind about Iraq? Fifty? Fifty thousand? Will that make a dent in your stainless steel belief system? How many cries for mercy in the muffled corridors of prison basements? Ten thousand? Ten times ten thousand? They were there. They happened.

They just didn’t happen to you. Not in Berkeley. Not in Manhattan. Not in Santa Monica, or at Columbia University. Not in your Sanctuary. If they did we wouldn’t be having this discussion, would we? You’d be dead, and it would be your relatives begging for good and powerful people to come to their rescue to stop this horror.

There’s nothing “progressive” about what these people believe. It is refined selfishness and moral cowardice. I can understand not wanting to go overseas and lose blood and treasure to solve other people’s problems. I can at least understand that. But these “progressives” should be thanking whatever they take to be sacred – which is nothing – and hit their knees in gratitude that better, braver people have built them the kind of Sanctuary where torture and state-sponsored murder are so far from their closed eyes that even the act of imagining such horrors is beyond them.

How far from the reality of human nature do you have to be to see our culture as a curse on the Earth, rather than being the only ones willing to roll up our sleeves, shoot the wolves that are eating our kids, go out into the blizzard to collect some firewood and then paint the goddam house?
We live in an age of miracles, and we just don’t see it. All of the magicians who stand on generations of other magicians – engineers, technicians, architects – go unnamed and unsung, while common actors, tradesmen whose art form has barely advanced since the days of Babylon and Egypt, are deified and rewarded as no living gods in history.

We, in our Sanctuary, who sleep in warm, dry, safe places without a second thought of the men and women who shiver in the cold to keep us free and secure, are getting very far away from the forces that have threatened us for millennia and threaten us still, as potent as the black rage of an incensed mob of religious lunatics killing people in response to some real or imagined slight.

And yet our elites – bored, pampered and without a glimmer of perspective – search the inside of our walls by night, looking for cracks to enlarge.

I can’t pretend to understand this. It is simply beyond my ability to grasp. Nor can I understand why so many rich people who so hate and despise this land do not simply move somewhere else.

Unless, of course, this is a giant game for them: a chess match of rhetoric to gain a little temporary political advantage, and the sullen petulance of someone deciding that if my candidate can’t be the one doing the liberating then entire nations can remain in darkness. This little thing for the price of destruction of all we have worked for. How can such selfishness face itself in the morning?

I don’t know why so many people can miss so many wonders and miracles that are laid right before their eyes. But I do know that their poison has cut deep in to the foundations of a country I love because I owe it my happy and comfortable life and all the opportunities – not guarantees, but opportunities – it has provided me and my family.

So we will fight this amnesia and ingratitude, you and I will, right here on these pages in the days to come. And I will do my best to fight the battle in the one place, the only place it can be won: inside of my own heart.

Recently, I was very frustrated at my job. I felt I was not being treated well. Well, actually, I felt I was being screwed, and hard. I was angry and sullen. I had been wronged, you see? Me! Taken advantage of! By the system!

Among my many complaints, I was upset that I did not receive as much extra pay as I felt I deserved for all the extra work. Life was bad and everything sucked. It just sucked to be me.

And then, on the way to my stunning girlfriend’s apartment to bitch about how unfair life was treating me, I saw a fairly common sight in Los Angeles. I saw a group of young Mexican men gathered on a street corner, waiting for any kind of work.

And there, through some act of grace that occasionally opens my eyes and reveals to me a better person in my reflection, I suddenly realized that these men are waiting – fighting -- to work long, backbreaking hours for next to no pay. They sleep in small, cheap apartments, hot-bunking it, working sometimes two or even three jobs and keeping nothing for themselves. They never eat out, never go to movies, and planning for a future is not an easy thing when every penny you make above what you absolutely need goes back home to Mexico to feed your family.

And I stopped at that light, and looked at these men. And I realized right there that I, this wide-eyed idealist that writes about America, am in point of fact exactly what is wrong with America today.

I make a fortune. I make a fortune doing creative work with gentle and funny and artistic people. On a normal week, I work from ten until six, three or four days a week, and all I do is sit behind a computer in a dark, air conditioned room and make decisions: who says what and who is looking where. And that’s it. For this I get paid in two to three weeks what these men will have to work an entire year of backbreaking, hopeless labor to achieve.

And there I am: bitching and complaining and wondering why things are not better for me. Boo-freaking-hoo.

This is the poison that will eventually kill us all. I should spend an hour a day prostrate and thanking God I was born an American. How many struggle and die for this privilege?

But there is hope for us. We can change. I can change, and I am as stubborn a cuss as they come. And there is hope here, on these pages. Not my pages -- I’m but a speck of flotsam in an electronic ocean. But these pages, these ghostly pages pulled from the ether down highways of colored light. These pages may be able to save us.

Because now, for the first time in human history, a small person can talk to millions. The defeatism and cynicism of our betters is no longer the only voice we hear. Now, for the first time, we common people, we citizens, can speak directly to each other about life within the Sanctuary, and those unseen people, those builders and maintainers of decency and civilization have at their command a tool with which to make their voices heard. We can patrol and repair these crumbling walls from within and man the gates ourselves.

There are millions of us. Millions. And we do not have to go gently into that good night.
Sounds like a plan.


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