Monday, June 24, 2013

A long one.

"Immediately following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, intellectuals, politicians, and pundits - not on the radical left, but mainstream conservatives and liberals - breathed an audible sigh of relief, almost as if they welcomed the strikes as a deliverance from the miasma Buckley and Kristol had been criticizing. The World Trade Center was still on fire and the bodies entombed there scarcely recovered when Frank Rich announced that 'this week's nightmare, it's now clear, has awakened us from a frivolous if not decadent decade-long dream.' What was that dream? The dream of prosperity, of surmounting life's obstacles with money. During the 1990s, Maureen Down wrote, we hoped 'to overcome flab with diet and exercise, wrinkles with collagen and Botox, sagging skin with surgery, impotence with Viagra, mood swings with anti-depressants, myopia with laser surgery, decay with human growth hormone, disease with stem cell research and bioengineering.' We 'renovated our kitchens,' observed David Brooks, 'refurbished our home entertainment systems, invested in patio furniture, Jacuzzis and gas grills' - as if affluence might free us of tragedy and difficulty. This ethos had terrible domestic consequences. For Francis Fukuyama, it encouraged 'self-indulgent behavior' and a 'preoccupation with one's own petty affairs.' It also had international repercussions. According to Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, the cult of peace and prosperity found its purest expression in Bill Clinton's weak and distracted foreign policy, which made 'it easier for someone like Osama bin Laden to rise up and say credibly "The Americans don't have the stomach to defend their interests. They are morally weak."' According to Brooks, even the most casual observer of the pre-9/11 domestic scene, including Al Qaeda, 'could have concluded that America was not an entirely serious country.'

"But after that day in September, more than a few commentators claimed, the domestic scene was transformed. America was now 'more mobilized, more conscious and therefore more alive' wrote Andrew Sullivan. George Packer remarked upon 'the alertness, grief, resolve, even love' awakened by 9/11. 'What I dread now,' Packer confessed, 'is a return to the normality we're all supposed to seek.' For Brooks, 'the fear that is so prevalent in the country' after 9/11 was 'a cleanser, washing away a lot of the self-indulgence of the past decade.' Revivifying fear eliminated the anxiety of prosperity, replacing a disabling emotion with a bracing passion. 'We have traded the anxieties of affluence for the real fears of war.'" - Corey Robin, The Reactionary Mind

"In 1940, when Petain became the French leader, he explained the French defeat as the result of a long process of degeneration of the French state caused by the liberal-Jewish influence; so, according to Petain, the French defeat was a blessing in disguise, a shattering and painful reminder of one's weaknesses and thus a chance to reconstitute French strength on a healthy base. Do we not find the same motif in many a conservative critic of today's permissive-consumerist Western societies? The ultimate threat does not come from out there, from the fundamentalist Other, but from within, from our own lassitude and moral weakness, loss of clear values and firm commitments, of the spirit of dedication and sacrifice.... No wonder that, in their first reaction, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson claimed that, on September 11, the USA got what it deserved. What, then, if exactly the same logic sustains the 'war on terror'? What if they true aim of this 'war' is ourselves, our own ideological mobilization against the threat of the Act? What if the 'terrorist attack', no matter how 'real' and terrifying, is ultimately a metaphoric substitute for this Act, for the shattering of our liberal-democratic consensus?" - Slavoj Žižek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real

"Over the past year, there have been a number of headline-grabbing legal changes in the U.S., such as the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, as well as the legalization of same-sex marriage in a growing number of U.S. states.

"As a majority of people in these states apparently favor these changes, advocates for the U.S. democratic process cite these legal victories as examples of how the system can provide real freedoms to those who engage with it through lawful means. And it’s true, the bills did pass.

"What’s often overlooked, however, is that these legal victories would probably not have been possible without the ability to break the law.

"The state of Minnesota, for instance, legalized same-sex marriage this year, but sodomy laws had effectively made homosexuality itself completely illegal in that state until 2001. Likewise, before the recent changes making marijuana legal for personal use in Washington and Colorado, it was obviously not legal for personal use.

"Imagine if there were an alternate dystopian reality where law enforcement was 100% effective, such that any potential law offenders knew they would be immediately identified, apprehended, and jailed. If perfect law enforcement had been a reality in Minnesota, Colorado, and Washington since their founding in the 1850s, it seems quite unlikely that these recent changes would have ever come to pass. How could people have decided that marijuana should be legal, if nobody had ever used it? How could states decide that same sex marriage should be permitted, if nobody had ever seen or participated in a same sex relationship? [...]

"We can only desire based on what we know. It is our present experience of what we are and are not able to do that largely determines our sense for what is possible. This is why same sex relationships, in violation of sodomy laws, were a necessary precondition for the legalization of same sex marriage. This is also why those maintaining positions of power will always encourage the freedom to talk about ideas, but never to act." - Moxie Marlinspike, "Why 'I Have Nothing to Hide' Is the Wrong Way to Think About Surveillance"

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