Friday, April 28, 2006

Blight of the Living Dead

David Brooks' column last Wednesday, The Death of Multiculturalism (Times Select), offers a belated obituary for identity politics. Not so fast. Don’t cue the bagpipes just yet, or perhaps more appropriately the oud, didgeridoo, Native American square drums, and whatever more it takes to complete a cacophonous orchestra arrayed by means of painstaking cultural inclusion.

It matters not if multiculturalism per se is dead; it was never really a self sustaining, living thing anyway. It was merely a corpse falsely animated by age-old resentments, conjured up from the depths of history and vanity. Nothing more than an intellectual zombie, energized by theoretical voodoo, ravenously consuming liberal institutions as if they were human flesh. Perhaps like those hapless zombies in the movies, the body itself was more feeble than ferocious. A good bop to the head and it dropped like a pale sack of potatoes with bad hair and worse skin. Still, the dark forces that animated multiculturalism, transforming sentient beings into mindless, ravenous brain eaters, thrive. Forces like racial hostility, sexual resentment, class envy, and man’s natural tendency to forge distinct social identities in order to gain privilege. These are born of nature’s cruel inequality and fueled by vanity’s inexhaustible byproduct, envy. They will never die, necessitating eternal vigilance in defense of liberal democracy.

To be conservative is to seek the conservation of one’s civilization. It was once a given that this meant preserving morality, language, and customs while placing a high value on citizenship; the antithesis of multiculturalism. Conservatives, long ago grown weary of playing the heavy, have by now so completely absorbed the language of the opposition, trying to out-empathize the left, that they no longer recognize a challenge to civil society when they see it; indeed, in their zeal to prove their anti-racist bona fides they now join in its dismantling. The immigrants are more virtuous than the rest of us argument so gracelessly and naively offered by conservatives of Mr. Brooks' type is no less a refutation of American society than the codified cultural self-loathing of the shrillest leftist. Multiculturalism dead? I’d say it’s arrived.

Indeed, Brooks and a shocking number of his fellow “conservatives” are exhibiting many of the same zombie-like symptoms of the insensate left: imperviousness to reason, incommunicability, and inability to sense pain (inflicted on others that is; their own, well). They are gleefully joining the surging mass of walking dead as they besiege the isolated farmhouse of reason that you and I, my friend, are frantically boarding up. Duck for a moment would you? Got him. As I was saying.

Sure, they don’t have the ghostly pallor, white hair, and the glassy, bloodshot eyes of a zombie or a Ted Kennedy, and they lack the affected sartorial accoutrements and facial hair of the campus radical, but something is amiss. Maybe they’re not zombies after all. Have you seen The Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Someone get down to the Wall Street Journal and check for pods.

The open-borders Republicans long ago adopted the insinuations and invective of the Left. A popular conservative blog, one that specializes in quoting articles at length and appending a sentence or paragraph of affirmation or ridicule, so regularly mingles the epithets of the left, racist, islamophobe, etc., with the neo/theo-conservatives' own curious inventions, nativist, realist, hyper-rationalist, that if it wasn’t for their pathological to-the-death defense of the slowly unfolding catastrophe that is the Bush Presidency a visitor might think he had wandered into the blog of an earnest young campus radical.

In his column Brooks suggests that the Democrats have ditched identity politics for good old fashioned populist working class advocacy. If only it were so. Why then is there complete unanimity in the Democratic Party for perpetuating immigration policy that undercuts everything Democrats once stood for: wage equity, urban planning, environmentalism, health care, education? Because the scramble to outmaneuver the opposition commands the attention of the political class as a whole and in this environment racial politics trump all, apparently. The mantle remains on the ground, where the Democrats left it. Perhaps if they conjure up and reanimate William Jennings Bryan. Though I still harbor my suspicions about Hillary Clinton. Something in those disembodied, unfeeling eyes; not human, no sir.

If identity politics be dead, why then would hundreds of thousands of Latinos, the vast majority of whom are middle and working class and therefore most vulnerable to the depredations inflicted by continuing open-ended immigration, take to the streets in outrage at the relatively modest proposals put forth? After all, even the immigrants already present and working in the American economy are themselves undercut by the continual slackening of the labor market they inhabit; more so than anybody. This is the dirty little secret of the open borders camp; that the working class masses that the elites make such a show of caring about more than you will suffer most by way of the policies these elites defend.
Current immigration patterns can only serve to lower the incomes and quality of life of those who must compete with the never-ending flow of newcomers for jobs, housing, health care, etc. But for most (though certainly not all) American Latinos the enticing prospect of their own racial plurality in states like California overwhelms all other considerations, in spite of the many and varied pains unregulated immigration inflicts on them.

Oh, sure, they’ll have their own class of political elites who will make a great show of lobbying on their behalf while enriching themselves, their families, their cronies and political allies. But the last thing any of us need is to create another breed of racial shake-down artists; a whole new generation of Sharptons and Jesse Jacksons with Spanish surnames.

Are the democrats engaged in a far sighted and cynical strategy; ensuring a large and growing underclass so as to administer to it, with a newly ascendant welfare state? I don’t believe that, but at least it would be a plan. What exists now is willful dereliction of duty motivated by political gain and dishonestly portrayed as humaneness.
Our conservative class once would have been unabashed about pointing out the inherent danger of growing an ethnic underclass into a plurality. But we now have “compassionate conservatives.” That they don't blanch at such a silly phrase reveals more than its crass, focus group oiliness. A good conservative is there to remind you that even compassion, when offered in place of reason, can lead to ruin. Conservatism once was the refutation of kitsch as political thought. Barry Goldwater would have laughed you out of his office.

Multiculturalism has in fact achieved a great deal; now one need not even be a citizen to feel that he, by virtue of his sense of racial solidarity, is entitled to not only the same rights as a citizen but to special considerations above and beyond that. As Thomas Sowell has pointed out, under current affirmative action policy an illegal immigrant amnestied by something like the Kennedy/McCain Bill will instantly become eligible for preferential treatment as an assumed victim of white American discrimination and its “legacy.” How’s that for dead, Mr. Brooks?

Still, multiculturalism may very well be done. I don’t really know, I haven’t done time in an institution of higher learning. But then it always rode the momentum of forces that aren’t so easily mocked, so readily parodied, so obviously hollow and false. Unless this constant of history should magically dissipate in our time one can rest assured that the assault on reason and law will find new forms, and new victims. Fair, impartial laws can only yield unequal results; there will always be a tension between the ideal of blind justice and the inequality it produces.
Once our conservatives argued that some inequity of wealth as a result of just law was preferable to enforced equity as a result of unjust law; now they pretend that “globalism”, tax cuts, and church attendance will make it all irrelevant.
I don’t see any crisis, they say from the insulated remove of expensive homes in security buildings and gated communities. In another column, Immigrants to be Proud of, Brooks engages in the sort of sentimental portraiture that would have made Norman Rockwell blush:

Hispanics and Hispanic immigrants have less money than average Americans, but they spend what they have on their families, usually in wholesome ways. According to Simmons Research, Hispanics are 57 percent more likely than average Americans to have purchased children's furniture in the past year.

Wow. Perhaps we should assimilate into their morally superior way of life. I’m still unclear on how this admirable familial tradition hasn’t created wealth and liberty in Mexico proper. One thing’s for sure, Brooks et al. aren’t going to go anywhere near that question; rather, they will indulge in the same evasive reasoning of the multiculturalists Brooks has come not to praise but to bury. It’s the legacy of colonialism, perhaps, or just a matter of a little too much corruption in the system, as if this corruption is a geographical feature of Latin America. You see, whatever problems Mexico has have nothing to do with Mexicans; conversely, whatever success America has had has nothing to do with Americans. In fact there’s no significant difference, except of course, they’re a little better than us. I can hardly wait for the utopia all these virtuous newcomers are sure to produce. One thing is for sure, Mr. Brooks has never set foot in the barrio.

Brooks delivers his idea of a coup de grace with this heartwarming statistic:

Mexican-Americans spend 93 percent more on children's music.

How does one respond to such ironclad argumentation? More importantly, how does one, with a clear conscience and a straight face, dig through the voluminous evidence of the deleterious effects of unregulated immigration to produce these little gems? One imagines him leafing quickly through reams of data and shouting his approval when he arrives at, on page ten, this or that gem about children’s books.
Brooks offers us the trite, condescending image of the nobler, purer outsider, free of the messy encumbrances of our particular socialization; this is pure multiculturalism. I know he intends the familiar Mexicans will save us from gay marriage sub-textual wink and nod for the evangelicals, but he is falling for the key fallacy of multiculturalism; culture from outside of one’s own can only be superior, can only add positively to it, because to consider that it can’t is to be a chauvinist. He has found his way to the most anti-conservative belief of all: everyone is equally endowed at birth with the same capacity for virtue and creation. Multiculturalism, in other words. Oh the irony, Mr. Brooks.

Multiculturalism? Dead and loving it.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Iran, I Ran So Far Away

For or about ideas men fight no more.
Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West

Oil. Oil is behind, or perhaps I should say beneath, it all. Sure, it’s not quite that simple, but when you come right down to it; oil. Let’s prevaricate no further.
But first a mea culpa.
I was wrong. I’ve been railing away here about the “designs of the neocons” which I have alternately described as “fantastical” and “ill-advised.” I don’t recall if I ever deployed “wild-eyed”, but that would have been a good one.
I fell for it all right. I believed in the sincerity, if not the wisdom, of the lofty tones coming from the Bush Administration, every bit as much as their supporters, an alarming number of whom are still so intoxicated on this blindness inducing bathtub bombast that they continue to wax sentimental on the “accomplishments” of the war.
(Just for the record guys, removing a dictator is simple, replacing him another story altogether; and no, sectarian chaos is not better than the totalitarian brutality of Saddam. Or as Bush the Elder, and wiser, used to say, Sad-uhm)

The Iraq war, soon to be the Iran/Iraq campaign, is pre-emptive alright. What it seeks to pre-empt is scarcity.
Not as if we’re on the brink of ruin, far from it; just looking down the barrel of an impending energy crunch, as China and India consume more and more energy; as the former in particular asserts itself by forging relationships with oil producing nations such as Iran. One can see how this reality doesn’t quite have the appeal of toppling the Stalin-esque Saddam and responding proactively to the Islamic threat by bringing liberalism into the cavernous heart of Islam and directly to the yearning masses. That’s the sort of appeal needed to set Thomas Friedman’s moustache atwitter and distract Christopher Hitchens from his dogged pursuit of exigent global scourge Henry Kissinger. I can almost hear Dick Cheney’s sinister laugh in the background, heh heh heh, as he pores over geographic studies of oil reserves

Of course the canard has been staring us in the face the whole time; belied by neoconservative paterfamilias Leo Strauss’ exoteric-esoteric distinction, the assertion that philosophy holds a deeper esoteric meaning, accessible only to an intellectual elite; a sort of priesthood of the enlightened.
Well, enlightened was never one of the praises offered of the man who was sitting in the Oval Office on September 11; indeed, we had a president who not only never opened a copy of Natural Right and History, his appeal to the public was in his implied disdain for the class of person who would. An ideal foil.

Our political process was long ago taken over by marketing executives and advertising copy writers, and now the transformation of public debate into something more like the interaction between consumer and advertiser is nearly complete. They know what we want; schmaltzy sentimental patriotism for the low brow, specious fancy for the middle; both concealing the same venal motivation. It’s a hell of a lot more fun to talk theory than turkey, I suppose.

There were several levels of deception here, and a brilliant strategy; commandeering the war against Islamic aggression, willfully mystified as the “war on terror”, now reinterpreted as the reverse domino theory, combined with the same old globalization sales pitch rejiggered to exploit the new market created by 9/11. New and Improved. Not your Father’s Imperialism.
It helps to have more than one product line, and if the aphrodisiac of Saddam’s WMD proved to be snake oil, perhaps you’d be interested in the all natural herbal remedy of our amazing democracy powder. The new age holistic approach; replace the negative energies in key points of the global corpus and watch the healing spread like magic.

Even though we all know that idealists wreak as much havoc as anyone, we still can’t help but score them well below the just plain greedy in our estimation of blame. That’s been the game all along. Call it a crusade (just don’t call it a crusade exactly). Secure the oil fields and plant the flag of democracy. In that order. That they’ve managed to do neither yet while establishing permanent military bases in Iraq and that we are about to ensure favorable terms for the right to harvest Iraq’s oil reserves for the next generation tells us as much about the real casus belli as it does about the inept war planning of Donald Rumsfeld.

One thing you can’t accuse the Administration and its courtiers of is a lack of boldness; they have it to a fatal fault. One wonders if they don’t value it above all else. Some might call it nerve, running the exact same play again; now Iran is on the verge of becoming a nuclear power and time is of the essence, just as before, and a dangerous madman is at the helm of a threatening nation that is nonetheless populated by nascent republicans eager to rise up and join us as we destroy their cities. I almost expect someone to come out and say that the Iraq invasion was a mistake due to an error in spelling.

One reason the call to war with Iran sounds so panicked is because it is; yet the panic is aroused not by the specter of a suddenly nuclear Iran, but by the outgoing tide of patience with the neocons. Time is not on the neo-imperialists side, and they know it. But there may be just enough ill-informed investment capital left out there for one more venture before the whole enterprise falls apart. Here’s where the real suckers get fleeced. This bubble hasn’t burst just yet, but it is deflating rapidly. The salesmen are cold calling and knocking on doors like desperate Willy Lohmans because they know that in a month’s time not only will we refuse to sit still for their sales pitch but we’ll appear at the door with a shotgun in our hands.

You see, we must act militarily now to halt Iran’s weapons program, because if we wait much longer people might start pointing out that we really have no right in the first place. Curious, how the question of justification seems so muted amid all the hysteria.

Our pliant media seems incurious about the particulars of Iranian government, content to simplify it as under the control of yet another frothing at the mouth Muslim extremist taunting us from his dusty hovel of a country. The fact of the matter is that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad retains little control over foreign policy, despite his grandstanding. “Moderate” former president Rafsanjani, as leader of the powerful Expediency Council, remains a force in the government to rival the man who beat him in the election of 2005.
The real power rests with the Ayatollahs, and ultimately with the Supreme Leader, Ali Khameni, who have already in the past trimmed the sails of the overreaching populist Ahmadinejad, limiting him to a domestic presidency.
The decision to pursue nuclear weapons was made by the clerics (and promoted by Rafsanjani), and the authority has always rested with them. They aren’t moderates, but they are rational, and in a sense they’re political opponents of Ahmadinejad and his middle aged veterans of the Revolution. Ahmadinejad, offered to the impoverished masses by the Ayatollahs as a balm to soothe their need for demagoguery, is associated with powerful radical clerics who covet power for themselves, and hold eschatological beliefs about the coming of the Mahdi that make our worst religious fanatics look like Episcopalians.
Both of these factions eye with unease an increasingly liberal younger generation, who may not like America much but sure like our culture, and are increasingly outside the influence of their religionists. We need to exploit these divisions, not lumber in and unite them.

An unprovoked attack on Iran will rally the nation around Ahmadinejad and a ruling clerical class made more hostile than ever and with no political room to negotiate. It won't ensure that Iran won't acquire nuclear capability, but it will ensure a renewed Islamic revolution there and Iranian belligerence for generations to come. The time has never been more appropriate for rapprochement with Iran, and the commencement of the long process of laying the groundwork for a new relationship with its next generation; but this sort of measured, patient action is dismissed with the curious epithet realism by those who offer fabulism as a guiding philosophy.