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I’ll pick a bone with @jameslileks, whom I like. I’m just using him as an example since he is a widely-liked public sort of person around here. @roblong comes in for a bit too, and the involvement of both of these guys stems from their appearance on the 13 October 2023 Ricochet “Flagship” podcast:
In that episode, both Long and Lileks gave barn-burner openings about the apocalyptic signs around us in our own country, on campuses on the left generally, and pervading everything. The first ten minutes of the show after intro music and such is well worth the time, and I just haven’t gotten to the rest yet.
Rob Long: 02:40 – 05:10: He admits (with manly forthrightness) that previously, he had somewhat poo-pooed claims of anti-semitism from Jews and sundry, and is now shocked at the flat-out blood thirst on campuses where he thought there were merely bleeding hearts.
Lileks: 10:50 – 13:10: Describes the wicked efforts and intent of the Marxist left in the US and the popular cover story used to disguise it, and points out that “This is what they mean, actually — this is how it plays out. This rot has been working at the timbers of American civilization for decades, and now we’re seeing the manifestation of it all around. Perhaps we have been misguided for an awful long time” on the left’s efforts on immigration, culture, tolerance, etc.
Right and good, and I confess that I still have not gotten through the whole podcast. Been busy. Well, doesn’t this sound like two men who have been shocked out of their complacency? Eyes newly opened to the horror movie trope in real life that the call is coming from inside the house. I believe both of these men in their moment of shock.
And then, time goes by. Not much. Just enough. So Lileks, in a post today, responded to a @drbastiat post, some of which I reproduce here: Every High Civilization Decays by Forgetting Obvious Things.
The world is going crazy. North Korea, Afghanistan, Ukraine, China, Iran, Russia, Israel, and many other countries have noted the sudden instability created by America’s apparent inability to recall that without a strong military, it doesn’t matter how many drag queens get government-funded abortions in their home state.
The leadership of Victoria’s Secret and Budweiser recognized their mistakes, and are attempting to correct them. The recovery of those companies is far from certain.
Will the leadership of America recognize their mistakes in time to correct them? Will America be able to recover from the insanity of the past 5-10 years? That is far from certain.
Some mistakes, you don’t get to make twice.
Lileks’ response somehow misses the very points he himself made in the podcast, quoted far above. From his post:
Public faith in institutions is usually rote and casual, at least in a stable polis. We’re used to assuming that the managerial layer is reasonably competent, because everything around us generally works. Our everyday interactions with the state are not characterized by corruption or blatant incompetence. My local department of transportation puts up signs that says the road work will be finished on a certain date, and it is. But when a few key institutions fail all at once when stress is applied, we notice the failings in other institutions. [continued below]
So far, so good, despite the trains-run-on-time-ism. I am sure that if Hitler or Stalin personally took over the running of this country, the trash would be picked up without interruption. But then comes the business-as-usual urge to diagnose the malfunctioning citizens who actually want to get us off the “decades of rot” program, which has seen both political parties quite well off and American citizenship shrunken as if some mysterious inflation of anti-American concerns somehow makes our national identity worth less and less each year. So I read the following as yet another anti-Trump and anti-populist whine, despite Lileks having beautifully made the case for populism on the podcast!
[continuing] We begin to doubt the competency of the entire class that floats on top, and are more receptive to a personality or movement that promises a clean sweep.
Which, to be honest, will bring a new set of problems. They will be set aside for later, because the wonderful imperative of the NOW will carry everyone along in its buoyant currents until everything runs up against the iron laws of the universe. [emphasis added – bdb]
Were we supposed to support Kevin McCarthy and unaccountable Omnibus spending in order to dodge the iron laws of the universe?
No, I’m sorry, but it’s not the Gods of the Copybook Headings limping up to explain once more, but the very literal Marxists who are shutting down our speech, our commerce, our travel. This country is succumbing to a textbook Marxist onslaught and yet a great wide class of otherwise magnificent Americans are somehow unable to see it for more than a day or two at a time! Is it a weakness? A failure? A conceit? In the same post as the quotes immediately above, Lileks describes some of the recent turmoil as more of a “Ridiculous Elites” problem than actual civilizational problems. But the point Bastiat made is that we can only afford so much of this nonsense, and we may well be over that line. And it’s the same point that Lileks himself makes, describing the cultural rot flying under the radar in the guises of tolerance, multi-culture, accepting “refugees” and so forth. “This is how it plays out.”
I won’t throw stones too hard at those who despair one day and then rally to fight the next. I do it. We all do. At the same time, accountability means admitting and accepting it, and trying to minimize it. It’s easy to admit the attack while its victims are still bleeding. It takes more fortitude to maintain your heart as a stone after the rifles have cooled. Memory is life.
And so I expect, with no malice, that Rob Long will hop off the wagon in short order as well. My heart goes out to @roblong in his brutally frank self-assessment within the first five minutes of the show.
Not because I believed as he did (certainly not within relevant memory), but because so may of us have been saying for so long that yes, things are that far gone. His horror is on a spectrum, including that of Col. Nicholson (Alec Guiness) in Bridge on the River Kwai, when he discovers that his piecemeal, norms-and-expectations-based do-gooderism was actually in the service of a galloping evil. “We’ll be the most civil, most honorable, most tolerant, most non-judgmental, most there-there tut-tutting force for decency the world has seen, upholding our standards of decorum and allowing those who shout grievances some leeway.”
I am not throwing stones here. I respect Long for his gob-smacked self-assessment. Some things wake you right the Hell up and show you that it’s not the crack of morning on the day of the evacuation, but broad daylight and the enemy has already overrun your village.
But… within a month (three tops!) Long will be back to where he was, and this is not a knock on Long. This is just how people are. Intervening facts and events will conspire to assist the newly awakened into going right back to sleep. This is just how people are.
The exceptions are rare enough that I’ll stand by this general statement even if proven gleefully wrong in the current example.
“Elite” is a slippery term, and I forget where I came across my favorite treatment. Somebody described a cultural elite that is not limited to those of power and comfort, but includes also those such as schoolteachers who parrot the right views. They certainly see themselves as fellow members of an intellectual and moral elite, right beside you, pal with the AOCs and Garrison Keillors of the world, the uniformly Marxist-Democrat late-night funny show hosts and their ink-stained joke-writers, the David Berlinskis and Bill Kristols and even some people closer to our own hearts. I can wrap it up in a single word: Trump.
Damn, I hadn’t meant to mention Trump except in passing, but this is why he pops up everywhere: If you never saw your way to actually supporting Trump as the right tool at the time, then you will probably never sit comfortably among those who see these existential threats to the country, and indeed, to civilization. And you will forget these things which we remember, and when we describe the damage, the rate of descent and the altitude already lost, and the finite time remaining, you will tend not to believe us. This is fine. You will always be a tourist amid the base, speaking conservatism as a second language.
This doesn’t make such people my enemy, but it does mean that I have to keep an eye out for the inevitable betrayal. Nothing lasts forever.