Learning From Experience, Not

 

A high-school friend had a father who worked in a factory. He had a story…it seems there was this guy who got his left arm caught in one of the machines and horribly mangled. He was out for months, and when he came back, the other workers crowded around him, asking “How did it happen?”

“Like this,” he said, demonstrating with the other arm.

Maybe just a made-up story … but I’m reminded of it a lot, these days.

We have a century of evidence of what happens to a society when it falls into the traps of centralized economic planning, suppression of free speech, and the categorization of people–especially ethnic categorization.  But an awful lot of people, including powerful and influential people, seem to want to go in these directions.

I can have some sympathy for people who became Communists and/or advocates of world government back in the 1920s.  The theory of centralized economic planning is very seductive (see this, for the actual practice), and the slaughter of the First World War led people to grasp at any possible way of avoiding such horrors in the future.

I have a lot less sympathy for people who have refused to learn from a century of experience.

In Walter Miller’s great novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, a global nuclear war has devastated everything.  Over a period of centuries, civilization has been gradually rebuilt…and, once again, nuclear war threatens.  The abbot of a monastery speaks plaintively:

Brothers, let us not assume that there is going to be war…We all know what could happen, if there’s war.  The genetic festering is still with us from the last time Man tried to eradicate himself.  Back then, in the Saint Leibowitz’ time, maybe they didn’t know what would happen.  Or perhaps they did know, but could not quite believe it until they tried it—like a child who knows what a loaded pistol is supposed to do but who never pulled a trigger before.  They had not yet seen a billion corpses.  They had not seen the still-born, the monstrous, the dehumanized, the blind.  They had not yet seen the madness and the murder and the blotting out of reason.  Then they did it, and then they saw it.

Now—now the princes, the presidents, the praesidiums, now they know—with dead certainty.  They can know it by the children they beget and send to asylums for the deformed.  They know it, and they’ve kept the peace.  Not Christ’s peace, certainly, but peace, until lately—with only two warlike incidents in as many centuries.  Now they have the bitter certainty.  My sons, they cannot do it again.  Only a race of madmen could do it again—

And we today, know, with what should be dead certainty, where Communist and Fascist approaches to the organization of society lead; more generally, where Statist political approaches lead. We have seen the victims of the Gulags and of the Nazi concentration camps.  We have seen the horrors of ethnic division and hatreds in the Balkans.  We have seen the impoverishment of generations brought about by ‘scientific’ economic planning in the Soviet Union, and the waste of human potential brought about by statist rigidity in countries throughout the world.

And in America today, we see the Democratic Party’s obsessive focus on categorizing people by race/ethnicity. We see the irresponsible rewriting of history in the service of this divisiveness. We see attacks on free speech, both via administrative processes–now common in universities and spreading rapidly to other types of organizations–and by physical intimidation, as with the Nazi-style threats against bookstores that might carry a critical book about Antifa. We have seen attempts to intimidate juries…and witnesses, as with the actions being taken against an out-of-state medical examiner who testified in the Chauvin case. We see people losing their jobs for fear of mob action–fear of the physical mob, as openly admitted by the Mayor of Atlanta in the case of a police officer, and fear of the online mob, as seen in many cases in business and other types of organizations. We see a Taliban-style wanton destruction of statues.  We see the emergence of the Nazi-style idea that there is such a thing as ‘white mathematics.’  We see a drive for government takeover of child-raising from a very early age, with obvious and predictable consequences for political and philosophical indoctrination.  We see overwhelming pressure for conformity and the politicization of all aspects of life.

And we see the party, the political movement, and the individual politicians behind all of these directly totalitarian policies–many with clearly Fascist and/or Marxist lineage…being winked at or even embraced by many of those who were so quick to accuse Trump–and his supporters–of being ‘Fascists.’

My brothers and sisters, they cannot do it again.  Only a race of madmen could do it again—

(An earlier version of this post was published last November at Chicago Boyz. The odds that they (we) will actually do it again have increased quite substantially in that short interval)

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  1. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Excellent piece, David.

    • #1
  2. Fritz Coolidge
    Fritz
    @Fritz

    The only lesson we can learn from history is that humans do not learn from history.

    [paraphrased by memory of what some smart person said]

    • #2
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    So very true, so very sad. Thanks, David, for the reminder of what we could really stand to lose.

    • #3
  4. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Who is this “we” that have seen?  Anyone under probably 40 or maybe even 50 hasn’t “seen” ANY of that.

    • #4
  5. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    Wonderful post.  But the answer to why is always “this time will be different!”

    • #5
  6. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    Tex929rr (View Comment):

    Wonderful post. But the answer to why is always “this time will be different!”

    Also “last time wasn’t really socialism!”

    • #6
  7. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    As a dog returneth to its vomit, so does humanity return to stupidity.

    • #7
  8. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Here is something especially horrifying: a direct attack on the whole concept of free speech by a minion of the Biden administration…a minion who has been assigned as basically the Political Commissar for the entire US military:

    https://www.revolver.news/2021/05/biden-race-mercenary-bishop-garrison-declares-war-first-amendment/

     

     

    • #8
  9. navyjag Lincoln
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    How about 45 years of experience from the 60’s?  Seems like enough to me to see what we are up against.

    • #9
  10. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    The introduction by the Biden Administration of a Pentagon Political Commissar, as described in my link a couple of comments above, shows just has serious the situation is and how rapidly it is getting worse.  The only hope for turning this descent around is if those who care about human liberty, and American liberty in general, **put it at the top of their agendas**.  There are too many Republicans/Conservatives whose distaste for Trump so dominates their emotional framework and political action that they have little energy or priority left to oppose what Biden & Co are doing to America.  There are too many Libertarians who sat out the national and state elections, or voted for hopeless candidates, because Trump and other Republicans didn’t match their theoretical model of what a society should be.  There are too many people of all kinds who think that a *total collapse* will soon result in something better, in total disregard of historical evidence and serious analysis.

    The hour is late.  Realism and action are essential.

     

    • #10
  11. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    David Foster (View Comment):

    The introduction by the Biden Administration of a Pentagon Political Commissar, as described in my link a couple of comments above, shows just has serious the situation is and how rapidly it is getting worse. The only hope for turning this descent around is if those who care about human liberty, and American liberty in general, **put it at the top of their agendas**. There are too many Republicans/Conservatives whose distaste for Trump so dominates their emotional framework and political action that they have little energy or priority left to oppose what Biden & Co are doing to America. There are too many Libertarians who sat out the national and state elections, or voted for hopeless candidates, because Trump and other Republicans didn’t match their theoretical model of what a society should be. There are too many people of all kinds who think that a *total collapse* will soon result in something better, in total disregard of historical evidence and serious analysis.

    The hour is late. Realism and action are essential.

     

    “But no, you misunderstand!  We need President Liz Cheney!”

    Hah.

    • #11
  12. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Here is something especially horrifying: a direct attack on the whole concept of free speech by a minion of the Biden administration…a minion who has been assigned as basically the Political Commissar for the entire US military:

    https://www.revolver.news/2021/05/biden-race-mercenary-bishop-garrison-declares-war-first-amendment/

     

    If this is true, it means Trump qualifies for a job in Biden’s administration:

     

    • #12
  13. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Oh, I forgot something:

    “And if I can’t have President Liz Cheney, then I prefer a second term of (supposedly) Biden, because Muh Principles.”

    • #13
  14. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    Fritz (View Comment):

    The only lesson we can learn from history is that humans do not learn from history.

    [paraphrased by memory of what some smart person said]

    Are people still learning enough history to enable them to learn anything from it ?

    • #14
  15. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Ansonia (View Comment):

    Are people still learning enough history to enable them to learn anything from it ?

    However much history they might be learning, after 4 years of Biden/Harris influence on the curriculum it is going to be a lot less.

    • #15
  16. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Here is something especially horrifying: a direct attack on the whole concept of free speech by a minion of the Biden administration…a minion who has been assigned as basically the Political Commissar for the entire US military:

    https://www.revolver.news/2021/05/biden-race-mercenary-bishop-garrison-declares-war-first-amendment/

     

    If this is true, it means Trump qualifies for a job in Biden’s administration:

     

    Sayin’ it does’t make it so.  And if you want to look for antidemocratic and insurrectionist behavior, you might consider the mobs at the Kavanugh hearing, with their clear intent of intimidating Senators.  And the riots in many cities, including arson and attacks on federal facilities…with response from Democrats ranging from silence to encouragement.

    The Jan 6 rally was not a good idea, but it would be silly to think that Trump intended it to be an insurrection, especially with a cast of characters including people like the horn-wearing man (as well as plenty of people who really were there to peacefully state their views)  The only person that was actually killed was one of the demonstrators/trespassers, under circumstances that the Biden administration doesn’t seem eager to reveal.

    What the Biden administration *is* eager to do, though, is to use the events of Jan 6 as a kind of Reichstag Fire moment, to justify their anti-free-speech (and anti-free-everything)  policies.

    • #16
  17. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    David Foster (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Here is something especially horrifying: a direct attack on the whole concept of free speech by a minion of the Biden administration…a minion who has been assigned as basically the Political Commissar for the entire US military:

    https://www.revolver.news/2021/05/biden-race-mercenary-bishop-garrison-declares-war-first-amendment/

     

    If this is true, it means Trump qualifies for a job in Biden’s administration:

     

     

    Sayin’ it does’t make it so. And if you want to look for antidemocratic and insurrectionist behavior, you might consider the mobs at the Kavanugh hearing, with their clear intent of intimidating Senators. And the riots in many cities, including arson and attacks on federal facilities…with response from Democrats ranging from silence to encouragement.

    The Jan 6 rally was not a good idea, but it would be silly to think that Trump intended it to be an insurrection, especially with a cast of characters including people like the horn-wearing man (as well as plenty of people who really were there to peacefully state their views) The only person that was actually killed was one of the demonstrators/trespassers, under circumstances that the Biden administration doesn’t seem eager to reveal.

    What the Biden administration *is* eager to do, though, is to use the events of Jan 6 as a kind of Reichstag Fire moment, to justify their anti-free-speech (and anti-free-everything) policies.

    I might even think that appointing an anti-free-speech person to a DoD job is insurrectionist behavior, which would be less silly than some uses of the term that we’ve heard lately.

    • #17
  18. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    David Foster (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Here is something especially horrifying: a direct attack on the whole concept of free speech by a minion of the Biden administration…a minion who has been assigned as basically the Political Commissar for the entire US military:

    https://www.revolver.news/2021/05/biden-race-mercenary-bishop-garrison-declares-war-first-amendment/

     

    If this is true, it means Trump qualifies for a job in Biden’s administration:

     

     

    Sayin’ it does’t make it so. And if you want to look for antidemocratic and insurrectionist behavior, you might consider the mobs at the Kavanugh hearing, with their clear intent of intimidating Senators. And the riots in many cities, including arson and attacks on federal facilities…with response from Democrats ranging from silence to encouragement.

    The Jan 6 rally was not a good idea, but it would be silly to think that Trump intended it to be an insurrection, especially with a cast of characters including people like the horn-wearing man (as well as plenty of people who really were there to peacefully state their views) The only person that was actually killed was one of the demonstrators/trespassers, under circumstances that the Biden administration doesn’t seem eager to reveal.

    What the Biden administration *is* eager to do, though, is to use the events of Jan 6 as a kind of Reichstag Fire moment, to justify their anti-free-speech (and anti-free-everything) policies.

    I might even think that appointing an anti-free-speech person to a DoD job is insurrectionist behavior, which would be less silly than some uses of the term that we’ve heard lately.

    Well put.

    • #18
  19. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Here is something especially horrifying: a direct attack on the whole concept of free speech by a minion of the Biden administration…a minion who has been assigned as basically the Political Commissar for the entire US military:

    https://www.revolver.news/2021/05/biden-race-mercenary-bishop-garrison-declares-war-first-amendment/

    If this is true, it means Trump qualifies for a job in Biden’s administration:

    Look at the date stamp on the tweet.  On Jan 7, 2021, Mr Biden was NOT a US government official.

    • #19
  20. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Who is this “we” that have seen? Anyone under probably 40 or maybe even 50 hasn’t “seen” ANY of that.

    If they would pay attention, they could see what socialism has done to Venezuela over the last 20 years.  Socialism turned a formerly very prosperous country into a catastrophe.

    • #20
  21. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Who is this “we” that have seen? Anyone under probably 40 or maybe even 50 hasn’t “seen” ANY of that.

    If they would pay attention, they could see what socialism has done to Venezuela over the last 20 years. Socialism turned a formerly very prosperous country into a catastrophe.

    Maybe if they visited in person, but otherwise I wouldn’t expect the youngsters to know much about it, let alone understand.  And being youngsters, they might figure that Venezuela has more or less always been like it is now.

    • #21
  22. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Who is this “we” that have seen? Anyone under probably 40 or maybe even 50 hasn’t “seen” ANY of that.

    If they would pay attention, they could see what socialism has done to Venezuela over the last 20 years. Socialism turned a formerly very prosperous country into a catastrophe.

    Maybe if they visited in person, but otherwise I wouldn’t expect the youngsters to know much about it, let alone understand. And being youngsters, they might figure that Venezuela has more or less always been like it is now.

    Venezuela is poor. Venezuela has always been poor. 

    • #22
  23. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Who is this “we” that have seen? Anyone under probably 40 or maybe even 50 hasn’t “seen” ANY of that.

    If they would pay attention, they could see what socialism has done to Venezuela over the last 20 years. Socialism turned a formerly very prosperous country into a catastrophe.

    Maybe if they visited in person, but otherwise I wouldn’t expect the youngsters to know much about it, let alone understand. And being youngsters, they might figure that Venezuela has more or less always been like it is now.

    Venezuela is poor.

    Indeed.

    Venezuela has always been poor.

    Uhm, no.  Twenty-odd years ago, they were the wealthiest denizens of South America.

     

    • #23
  24. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Who is this “we” that have seen? Anyone under probably 40 or maybe even 50 hasn’t “seen” ANY of that.

    If they would pay attention, they could see what socialism has done to Venezuela over the last 20 years. Socialism turned a formerly very prosperous country into a catastrophe.

    Maybe if they visited in person, but otherwise I wouldn’t expect the youngsters to know much about it, let alone understand. And being youngsters, they might figure that Venezuela has more or less always been like it is now.

    Venezuela is poor.

    Indeed.

    Venezuela has always been poor.

    Uhm, no. Twenty-odd years ago, they were the wealthiest denizens of South America.

     

    That was a 1984 reference. What I should have said was,

    Venezuala is poor. 

    Venezuela has always been poor. 

    Also, we have always been at war with Oceania. 

    Thanks for letting me know that my joke fell flat. I want to improve my humor as I value humor very highly. 

    • #24
  25. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    In the introduction to his book Reflections on a Ravaged Century, historian Robert Conquest wrote:

    In a story by the science fiction writer Hal Clement, when an interstellar fugitive’s miscalculation has led to his death, the comment is made, Live and learn, they say . . . but the difficulty seems to lie in living while you learn.” Over this century the human race has survived experiences that, to put it mildly, should have been instructive. Scores of millions have been slaughtered, and it cannot be said that the avoidance of the even worse catastrophe of nuclear war was foreordained. Have the lessons been learned? And if so, to what extent?

    Ideas that claimed to transcend all problems, but were defective or delusive, devastated minds, and movements, and whole countries, and looked like plausible contenders for world supremacy. In fact, humanity has been savaged and trampled by rogue ideologies.

    It seems clear that many have not learned, and many more have learned the wrong lessons (having been taught by malevolent teachers.)

    • #25
  26. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    Robert Conquest: author of such important works as The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties and Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivisation and the Terror-Famine, which were not well received by “progressive” historians. From an obituary:

    The intellectual history of the West in the 20th century was dominated by arguments over totalitarianism: its causes, effects—and possible justification. Even after flag-waving supporters of the Soviet Union had dwindled to irrelevance, the conviction that communism was a good idea poorly executed persisted in certain quarters. Others still thought the communist threat overstated, or drew equivalences between crimes committed in the name of socialism and those of Western anti-communism. The position that communism was a monstrously evil system responsible for unprecedented atrocities was held by only a minority of scholars. Robert Conquest, who died on August 3rd, was one of the most eloquent and implacable members of that camp. To the chagrin of his opponents, he turned out to be right.
    . . .
    But his greatest work was chronicling chapters of the Soviet nightmare, which had been cloaked first in secrecy and then in shame. First-hand accounts existed of the man-made famine in Ukraine, the great terror of the late 1930s, and the destruction of nations in the maw of Stalinism. What he did was to turn these fragments of available information into comprehensive histories.
    . . .
    When the Soviet archives opened, his meticulous work was utterly vindicated. His books were published in Russia, and he brought out updated editions in English. Mulling a new title for “The Great Terror”, his pal Kingsley Amis suggested “I told you so, you f*cking fools.” He preferred derision to self-righteousness, summarising Soviet Communism in a much-quoted limerick:

           There was a great Marxist called Lenin
           Who did two or three million men in.
           That’s a lot to have done in,
           But where he did one in
           That grand Marxist Stalin did ten in.

    The kind of people who overlooked such trifles, he reckoned, were also willing to scrub their minds on other issues.

    • #26