02 November 2016

"Find the good and praise it"

The title of this post is a quote from an article entitled "If it ain't broken, it must not be America"  by George Korda in the Knoxville News Sentinel of 1 November 2016.

That article suggests things may not be as bad as they seem. We humans do seem to have a proclivity towards pessimistic presentism whereby, when we feel that things are going badly for us (like now in the midst of this appalling US presidential election campaign), we tend to think that our lot is worse than it has been in the past. Clearly this is an over-reaction.

In the previous post on this blog I suggested that although things do feel pretty rum in the world right now, fear not; we are all probably not going to ruin, provided enough of us stick to our jobs and do our duty undistracted by the whirling noise of potential chaos.

Similarly, George Korda in his article quotes his own father as telling him:
 “Quit worrying. Times are always desperate.” 
And George counsels us to lead by finding the good and praising it, rather than calling on people to act simply because the system is broken.  I hear what he is saying.  I may have been partially guilty of doing that in my "...We'll all be rooned" post. That is saying: "Hey you out there, do the right thing because no-one else is". What I understand George to be counseling us with is we would be better served by saying act positively because it is positive. "Find the good and praise it" he says, quoting Alex Haley (who?).

I'm listening George. Here's an example of perceived good being praised, and I'm here to praise the sentiment too, even if the praise being praised here is over the top, American centric and politically slanted. I get what he's saying about standing tall to do the right thing, even when doing so risks your personal advancement:
"The FBI Agents Who Stood Up for the Rule of Law Make me proud to be an American". So says David P Goldman in an article dated 31 October 2016 in PJ Media. 
This article seems to make a similar point in the heat of a real political battle, to the more generic point I made at the end of the previous post about being prepared to make personal sacrifices for what you believe in. More interestingly, it also may just help explain to mystified non-Americans like myself, just what the appeal of Donald Trump is to so many Americans, even though they know he is a blow hard egotistical creep who shoots from the hip.

If the tendency to polarization in politics seems largely to do with the contest to claim higher moral ground than your enemy, the kind of perspective Goldman's article brings may help us observers outside the US understand just what moral ground Trump could possibly even be standing on in this contest. Until this article I perceived him as just standing for "I'm not one of those Washington types". A negative. What this article is suggesting, as George Korda would have us do, is that many see Trump as standing for something positive. Something along the lines of standing for those who "do their duty and what they believe is right, rather than following the latest whim of some perceived prevailing political and cultural fashion."  

Can this ghastly election spectacle therefore really be just the latest iteration of the ancient civilizational contest between those who believe in permanent values and those who see values as changing (conservatives v progressives), but now amplified to new dizzying and unprecedented heights by the spectacular speed and pervasiveness of contemporary communications?

The more things change the more they stay the same.

20 October 2016

"... We'll all be rooned", said Hanrahan, "Before the year is out."

Things sure do look like they're going to ruin on planet Earth at the moment:
  • Russia seems intent on provocatively escalating its saber rattling in the Baltic, Syria and Ukraine.
  • China is aggressively asserting its hegemonic claims in the South China Sea and seems to have incomprehensibly large domestic debt problems.
  • Iran is now actively developing a nuclear warhead capability, unrestrained by the international community. 
  • North Korea is testing nuclear capable ballistic missiles that can reach Japan and beyond.
  • The interminable war with Islamic extremism intensifies yet again. This time its Mosul, Iraq.
  • Aleppo, Syria is being bombed into oblivion in the proxy millennial war between Sunni and Shiite
  • Britain has voted to Brexit. 
  • France is on a path to electing Marine Le Pen.
  • Academia in the West is progressively and inexorably losing whatever slight grip it may have had on reality. Each day we seem to read yet another story of an educational institution abrogating its responsibility to maintain high standards for scholastic achievement. This adds to the mounting evidence that relativism, diversity and subjectivity are becoming the prevailing educational benchmarks.  A lack of regard for intellectual rigour is now coupled with widespread spineless institutional concessions to strident student demands for restrictions on the exercise of fundamental academic freedoms, to make mediocrity the new academic norm, even in formerly prestigious seats of higher learning. 
  • And the media screams dis-proportionally louder each day exaggerating beat ups of claims of Muslim victimization, refugee mistreatment, gender bias and impending climate catastrophe.
  • Meanwhile Donald and Hilary just call each other names and complain about each other's family's sexual misconduct and mendacity. And the US grinds relentlessly sideways with almost a decade of anemic growth and ugly racial and gender discord increasingly dogging its communities. 
It looks like we're all going to continue to be losers whoever wins on 8 November.

Moral indignation, fear and loathing seem to be everywhere and unusually loud, random and disorientating at present. What's a person to do in the face of all this ruin?

Is  this all just a symptom of pessimistic present-ism? Or should we all just curl up in a ball, play RPGs, watch sport, surf shopping sites, or read social media and blogs?

Hah. In the midst of these melancholy thoughts I was heartened to happen upon this blog post: "Screwtape and the Human Wave" at the blog Cat Rotator's Quarterly (Lid Dip to Instapundit and Sarah A Hoyt) . Here's my takeaway from the post (which refers to CS Lewis's famous Screwtape letters and also takes you to ancient Norse sagas):
... Are we doomed? Well, since life has a 100% probability of ending in death thus far*, yes. Is the US and it’s version of Western Civilization doomed? No. We survived the Thirty Years War, we survived the Black Death and the slow-motion disaster that was the Fall of Rome – Western Edition, we survived WWI and WWII, although with a gaping spiritual wound that some people only recognized about 10-15 years ago. We will survive Marxism and the return of collective thinking, of those who would pit man against woman and neighbor against neighbor for their own gain.
It will not be easy. Dragging civilization out of the shadows never is. Fighting a battle that may be lost so that others will take heart and carry on the fight is hard...
So the message is to keep up the struggle even if all appears doomed. Somebody might just be sufficiently heartened by some small sign of self belief and self sacrificial honour, to actually lift themselves out of the mire one more time, and assume personal responsibility for carrying the flame into tomorrow.