Monday, March 22, 2010

Calm Despair


America was murdered yesterday, and those who loved her best are swearing revenge. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, "The Tree of Libertarianism must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of anyone who says otherwise. ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ!"

As an illustration of what you get when you cross Yosemite Sam with The Turner Diaries, this stuff is funny for about five seconds. But I prefer the elegaic mode, and thus I turn to John Derbyshire, who understands that human societies inevitably follow the sad arc of his own dissipating life-force: As he flags and fails, so too does Civilization. It's as inevitable as sagging breasts, or humorless women at a dinner party. One can't prevent it; one can only look upon it with calm despair.

I see plainly that Western civilization, over my lifetime, has been a slow-sinking ship. The few who have known what is happening have worked desperately to seal the watertight doors, repair the fissures, pump out the flooded zones. It's been a losing fight, though. The tilt of the decks is harder and harder to ignore. Last night, a major bulkhead gave way. Soon a funnel will topple over with a great crash and a shower of sparks. Yet still the band is playing, the people are dancing, the food coming up from the galley.
Just so, just so. Mere anarchy is loosed, the centre cannot hold, and the blood-dimmed tide of the white man's burden slouches toward the widening gyre and gimbles in the wabe. It is not a wonder that the world is so bad, but that there should be any good left in it.
It'll be over soon. We'll be down in the cold, lightless depths of imperial despotism — in which, after all, the great majority of human beings, throughout history, have always lived. It's the natural way: liberty is an unstable temporary aberration.
Or as Robert Falcon Scott wrote, with the last of his strength, in a diary that was found eight months later, beside his frozen corpse,
We could have come through had we neglected the sick.

14 comments:

Rmj said...

Or as Robert Falcon Scott wrote, with the last of his strength, in a diary that was found eight months later, beside his frozen corpse,

We could have come through had we neglected the sick.


Funny thing, but I just read an essay about "lifeboat ethics," in which the argument was seriously and profoundly put forth that it was clear the earth could no longer sustain the populace crowding upon it, and for the good of humanity and posterity we'd best recognize it was all over but the crying, and the only model for human society was the "life boat," in which we must recognized that we privileged few (I'm paraphrasing now, I'm not going to go back and re-read it) had to let those in the "sea" (the "poor," mostly browner skinned people in "other" countries than America/Europe) "drown" in order to reduce the burden on the planet and, hence, on the future. Our obligation to our posterity (not to mention to our own continued comfortable existences) demanded no less (especially since the poor were breeding like rabbits, and if we encouraged them, they'd come up out of the sea and swamp our lifeboats, killing us all. I am not making this up.)

It is, by way of explanation, an essay in a textbook I'm teaching Freshman English from. Needless to say, I'm glad I didn't assign it.

But what Malthusian tract was this, you might ask? From what dim corner of 19th century Europe did it issue? From what Ehrlichian den came penned this dire forecast of gotterdammerung?

It was written in 1974, by an Emeritus Professor of Human Ecology at UC Santa Barbara. And the shock that stunned him from his complacency, was no less than the 1973 oil embargo which, as we know, changed everything.

I mean, you thought 9/11 was important, and that health care reform was a big deal!

Now I have to go soothe my jangled nerves by reading Rehnquist's dissent in Texas v. Johnson, in preparation for tonight's lecture.

Again, you can't make this stuff up....

chris said...

The Derb must be very old. From what very little I've read, he's very likely still upset about the Magna Carta.

OT-I've been watching this all day. Mother barn owl with howlet (take that, Derbyshire!) and several eggs on webcam.

Phila said...

Our obligation to our posterity (not to mention to our own continued comfortable existences) demanded no less

Clearly one must do whatever it takes to ensure the survival of people who are intelligent and cultured enough to come up with such a compelling analogy.

It was written in 1974, by an Emeritus Professor of Human Ecology at UC Santa Barbara.

That'd be Garrett Hardin. Don't get me started.

Rmj said...

That'd be Garrett Hardin. Don't get me started.

I'm impressed, Mr. Mental.

I'm not going back to read that essay again, but the sheer blinkered nonsense of it left me thinking I had found your reading list for blog posts.

There is, indeed, nothing new under the sun.

Phila said...

I'm impressed, Mr. Mental.

Don't be! Hardin's fairly unavoidable for anyone who's interested in environmental ethics, having written "The Tragedy of the Commons."

He's a problematic figure, to say the least, and tended to favor a noxious blend of sociobiology and "racial realism" (and, of course, to treat any outrage generated by his pronouncements as evidence of their truth and his courage).

Southern Beale said...

We could have come through had we neglected the sick.


Yes indeed. As Marsha Blackburn, Congress Critter from outter Wingnuttia, TN, observed yesterday, "Freedom has died a little bit today." And if only we'd neglected the sick, the child with a birth defect, the recent college grad in a car accident. If only.

We'd be so much better.

/sarcasm

Rmj said...

He's a problematic figure, to say the least, and tended to favor a noxious blend of sociobiology and "racial realism" (and, of course, to treat any outrage generated by his pronouncements as evidence of their truth and his courage).

Yeah, sounds like what I read.

Makes me want to move to France, where Sartre and Derrida and Foucault are revered public intellectuals.

Of course, they're all dead now....

Phila said...

Of course, they're all dead now....

Yep. You'd be stuck listening to Bernard-Henri Lévy.

WV: cansuck. Coincidence? I think not.

jaytingle said...

Re: Texas v. Johnson, you might also enjoy John Paul Stevens' dissent.
It is indeed a sad state of affairs that there is very kittle discussion of the "lifeboat" dilemma we face. A more apt analogy would be the petrie dish in which microbes multiply until the nutrients are used up or the medium is sufficiently fouled. In a completely unrelated matter:
India has over a billion souls, but the subcontinent has been nearly drained of groundwater. As it happens, Canada has 95% of the world's fresh water and a low population density. How might Tom Friedman resolve that disparity?
How much of my physical comfort would I willfully give up in order to sponsor an Indian family or two in my home? Will I instead be watching the mass die-off on my 55" flat panel display?
http://is.gd/aUBgN

Octopüß said...

Of course, Derrida moved to UC/Irvine ... an odd admix at the same watering hole.

Phila said...

A more apt analogy would be the petrie dish in which microbes multiply until the nutrients are used up or the medium is sufficiently fouled.

I was thinking of a luxury liner running over tiny fishing boats because it'd be prohibitively expensive to go around them.

Rmj said...

Of course, Derrida moved to UC/Irvine ... an odd admix at the same watering hole.

He split his time between there and Paris. Mostly teaching philosophy of religion, which is where religion is actually recovering in Europe: in Continental philosophy, which takes it seriously.

As opposed to Anglo-American philosophy, which considers the subject only with scorn. So it goes.

Montag said...

R.F.Scott...
what a stroke of genius to juxtapose this quote with the remains of this day!

Jazzbumpa said...

the best thing about Derbyshire's article is hat he quotes Heinlein,my absolute favoritest Libertarianist.

Cheers!
JzB