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October 2, 2014 / 8 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘american culture’

Needed: A Conservative Counter-Culture

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

The last election has brought on essays bemoaning the conservative disconnect from popular culture and the need to somehow reconnect with it. The means of this reconnection are hardly ever stated, though there is the implication that conservatives would need to “evolve” on certain social issues in the hopes that its economic viewpoint will be taken seriously by a population whose social way of life doom it to be dependent on government support.

As plans go, this one is nearly as clever as trying to promote weight loss by opening a cake shop. And it ignores the obvious reality that the only way that conservatives will be allowed to participate in popular culture is as the butt of a joke. Whether it’s Sarah Palin’s appearance on Saturday Night Live or Rush Limbaugh’s Family Guy appearance, trying to be a good sport about liberal culture is the strategy of a good loser playing into the prepared stereotype, rather than destroying it.

The culture is polarized. That means there is no place for conservatives in it except by playing the villain’s part, and the villain’s part, whether played with good humor or reluctantly, is not the winning part. But it’s also a mistake to call it the culture, when what we really mean is the culture created and perpetuated by a small number of corporations, their affiliated creatives and their affiliated press.

Take Girls, an HBO series that is one part nepotism and nine parts artificially generated corporate trend, that was recently the subject of several essays insisting that we take it seriously because it is “the culture”. How big of a slice of the culture is Girls? It’s on HBO, which means it has limited viewership and unlimited publicity. HBO exists to promote the illusion, not so much of quality, but of relevance. And Girls is a triumph of fake relevance. It is the show that you must consider relevant, because well… it’s relevant. Isn’t it?

The Girls Season 2 premiere scored 866,000 viewers. After multiple airings it made it up to 1.6 million. It wasn’t exactly a case of the entire country tuning in. Nor its entire female population or even its entire population of women in their twenties. And since HBO only exists as a desperate effort by the dying cable industry to hang on to its subscribers, its episodes are not available on iTunes, Hulu Plus or any of the other concessions to the age of internet broadcast entertainment.

Girls is doubtlessly relevant to the daughters of wealthy urban liberal families who find themselves with too much money and too little common sense. And it’s probably not even relevant to them since its larger audience share is with men over 50 and its median viewer age is 43. Is it relevant to the culture as a whole? Not really. And its perceived importance highlights the disconnect between the Low Culture of the free TV sitcom and the High Culture of the cable indie drama. Both may have a leftie agenda, but one exists to be consumed by overeducated professionals, many of whom also work in media, in the major cities, while the other is mass culture entertainment.

Trying to tackle, adapt to or duplicate leftie High Culture is a senseless and useless task in every sense of the word. Their only relevance comes from their trickle down effect into mass culture. It’s mass culture that is relevant, but though that Low Culture is mass consumed, it’s still created by the same sort of people who create the High Culture and packed with many of the same agendas.

The difference between them is in tone and the perception of importance. Elites imagine that what interests them is important, because they are important. What interests the masses is less important, because they are less important. Important people and their important programs influence the culture or even are the culture. Unimportant people are not. In fact it’s the other way around.

Girls is not America. No television show is. But the closest to America may be American Idol or Sunday Night Football, which dominate the ratings and reflect the culture far more than it ever will. That’s not something to celebrate either. Not when you consider that most entertainment emerges out of the bowels of a cultural and corporate establishment well to the left of the country at large. And unlike Girls, much of what it spews forth does slowly push the country to the left. But that also shows why trying to run alongside it in the hopes of staying relevant is a dead end. Not unless the goal is to go on being the villains, comic relief or otherwise.

Hollow Men in a Hollow Earth

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

We still think of idealists as men in worn coats sleeping on cots in cold basements. Those sorts of men can still be found, but the basements are the old digs of an evicted Latino 7th Day Adventist Church with the paint scraped off to expose the fashionably bare brickwork and go for $2,500 a month on the wrong side of the Williamsburg Bridge strewn with cots from IKEA and kept cold as a statement about Global Warming. Their shivering denizens work profitably at an environmental non-profit as social media managers in the great national and international network of the Left.

Five years later they’re living in a posh bedroom community in Jersey as the heads of some shell organization aimed at young people that’s funded by mysterious family foundations and angling for a job in D.C. advising a Senator or a Cabinet member on the environment. If not they’ll have to settle for a gig at some Green consultancy telling old timey corporations on how they can get sustainable to win over the kids and score some sweet tax breaks.

If they’re truly lucky, the dedicated idealist may even earn a chance to ghostwrite Al Gore’s next book about the environment. At parties, they’ll take out a pristine copy of the New York Times bestseller, a status it achieved through the efforts of social media managers who coordinated mass buying efforts followed by mass returns for zero net profit but maximum status, whose cover features Gore gazing contemplatively at the Earth, and whisper to the person they’re trying to impress. “I wrote that.”

Idealism is a brand now, and few men have profited from it as thoroughly as Albert Arnold Gore Jr. Where former presidents Carter and Clinton dashed to different philanthropies around the world, Gore, true to his stodgy unimaginative image invested in one brand of idealism. Environmentalism. Carter could have his houses and Clinton could sit in luxurious hotel rooms in Haiti counting all that aid money, but Gore, like the intrepid tobacco farmer he was, bet everything on the whole planet.

In the 90s, environmentalism was just one of many stocks in the rainbow market of liberalism, alongside AIDS, racism, sexism and world hunger. A good MTV VJ could manage to incorporate all five into a hope for world peace, followed by a grunge band, a rap video and a series of seizures. And environmentalism was still limited to saving cute animals and being angry at oil companies for being all about the oil.

Al Gore’s environmentalism seemed as boring as everything else about him. It was fitting that a man with the bearing and personality of a tree would spend all his time yammering on about trees. But then a series of Mayan tablets predicting the destruction of the North Pole by 2007 or 2012 or 2092 came into the possession of a humble former Vice President and everything changed.

Racism was bad, but it wouldn’t kill everyone. Neither would AIDS. World Hunger was something for the Africans to worry about. But Global Warming brought back Armageddon in a big way. Like the Cold War, cold basements or bungee jumping, it reminded the numbed children of privilege that they could die at any moment. And it stroked their egos by telling them that, just like in all their favorite Saturday Morning Cartoons, only they could save the world.

Al Gore, like many a bearded prophet, had gone to his mansion in the wilderness of Belle Meade (median income $194,016) and returned with pie charts and cockamamie theories made up by other people that would make him extremely rich. Idealism was a brand, and unlike Clinton, Gore seemed sincere, if only because he came off as too unimaginative not to be.

With luxury goods, the brand is also the product, and environmentalism is the ultimate luxury good. Luxury products are at their most profitable when marketing intangibles. Flying over calf leather from Italy is expensive. Giving American leather a fancy name is cheap. Environmentalism is much the same. The real commodity being sold is particular a state of mind and membership in an exclusive club.

Capitalism made luxury hard work by making everything cheap. Suddenly it wasn’t enough to just lie in bed and order the butler to bring you exotic pomegranates from the Orient and champagne from the vineyards of France. Those things could be found in any supermarket courtesy of the jet plane. Status stopped being a lazy man or woman’s game and became a frenzied rat race. Fat was out and hyperactive workouts were in. Anyone could afford good art, so those with discerning taste chose bad art. Anyone could vacation abroad, so they bought old farm houses, restored them and painted bad art while trying to grow their own food.

Status itself became a sign of a lack of status. Anyone could buy a suit, so the occupations of the rich became those where you did not have to wear a suit, where you could become very wealthy while wearing jeans, a hoodie and sneakers. The grandsons and granddaughters of the nouveau riche relearned the old lessons of the upper crust that displays of wealth were vulgar and status lay in a self-conscious lack of it. When everyone has cars, you ride a bike. When everyone can afford steak, you buy a thimble cup of 200 dollar organic magic beans. When everyone wants things, you show how little you need things by convincing everyone to go Gandhi and give up things.

Environmentalism was the ur-brand of philanthropy. A philanthropy as big as the planet for a cause so generous that it was completely anti-materialistic. And like all luxury, it was also hugely and obscenely profitable.

While his rival was getting tangled in Iraq, Al Gore was becoming the Giorgio Armani of environmentalism. And environmentalism was much bigger than men’s coats or women’s shoes. It was a lifestyle, a cause and a movie deal. It was everything.

Causes are like copyrights. A company that believes in a cause, donates money from its profits to the cause. Sometimes that’s explicit, as with the Red label, mostly it happens behind the scenes. But the green label is everywhere, on the product and behind the scenes. It’s the lifestyle that says you like to buy things, but you also care about the planet. It says that you’re a modern sensitive person who loves the peasants of Guatemala and the ice of the South Pole. And just like buying a silver vest covered in diamonds, it says that you shouldn’t be allowed out of the house with money.

But environmentalism is bigger than all this. It’s not just green toilet paper and recycled rubber shoes, washing machines that don’t work and recycling carts with usage meters on them. It’s numbers. And the numbers are really big.

Money used to be gold, now it’s numbers. The digitization of all things, art, poetry and music are just drops in the great numbersphere. The flood is in the financials where everything is imaginary and has value until the economy is one great numbers game. Environmentalism is one more layer of numbers in a numbers game where social justice sells homes that people can’t afford and then sells the debt and then the debt of the debt.

In the post-modern economy everything is stripped down to its definitions, monetized, hollowed out and resold as an investment to funds and persons scrambling to outrun inflation by investing in consensually real unreal investments. Environmentalism, like all idealism for hire, sells out the one thing that it stands for…  the right to pollute.

The right to pollute is not a small thing in a world where exhalation is pollution. The right to pollute means the right to drive a car, build a factory, buy non-local produce, eat a burger, fly to Miami and exhale. It is nothing less than the right to live.

Communism criminalized commerce and then legalized it on its terms. Environmentalism criminalizes life and legalizes it on its terms. The terms are paying a tribute to one of the many green companies owned wholly or partially by Al Gore and his merry band of green investors who steal from the rich and give to the even richer, and steal from the poor and give to the Gore..

Idealism is a commodity and when the investment comes due, you sell out in exchange for power and profit. One minute you’re standing in front of a spreadsheet of a quarter ton of cow farts a minute being emitted by the livestock of New Zealand which, you claim, spells imminent doom for all the ice on the planet, and the next minute you’re opening a business to sell pollution indulgences to the environmentally minded who want to fly to Fiji on a first class moral ticket.

One minute you’re warning about fossil fuels and the next minute you’re selling your news channel  to a Middle Eastern oil tyranny for 500 million bucks. And you’re doing it because idealism is a commodity to be cashed in for a tidy profit right before tax season. The longer you allow your idealism to appreciate, in the eyes of others, the more money you can make cashing it out.

Al Gore sold access to China and made campaign calls from the White House because there was no legal controlling authority that said he couldn’t. He claimed that he invented the internet because there was no one, except a million comedians, to say that he didn’t. He claimed that his relationship with his wife inspired Love Story, because when you lie all the time,what’s one more lie?

The Gore lost the election, went into the wilderness of Belle Meade and came out with the revelation that it’s time to drop all the little lies and stick to one big one. Forget claiming that you invented the comma and the cocoa bean while on a conference call with Isaac Newton and just focus on warning everyone that the planet is about to explode. A lie as big as a planet. A lie that was too big to fail.

Gore monetized that lie, he took it to every bank on the planet and then he took it to every cable company and convinced them to give him access to 40 million American homes so that he could tell them that the planet was about to blow up. And just as he had at the White House, Al Gore cashed out that access and sold it to an enemy nation.

There are idealists who sell out and become hollow men, and there are hollow men who pretend to be idealists. Gore is a hollow man selling someone else’s alarmist hollow earth theory so he can make it to the next stage of a career that has no meaning or purpose. Like most professional idealists, Al Gore cares for nothing except money. Having sold out so many times, his only idea is to keep doing it again and again.

The professional idealist is a hollow man. A soulless man who is tasked with convincing everyone of the existence of the thing that he does not have. The Left has created an endless number of professional openings for such soulless men, for paid liars and faithless tricksters, who live only to convince the world that they believe just long enough for them to sell out one more time.

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

The Future of Conservatism After the 2012 Election

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

Note: the following is Daniel Pipes’ response to a question posed by Commentary Magazine to over 50 writers and academics for its January issue.

Like so many other conservatives, I had come to assume that the Tea Party, the 2010 election results, Solyndra, 8 percent unemployment, Benghazi, and an aroused opposition (One Romney adviser said that, on election day, “you just don’t want to get in the way of a Republican heading into the polls.”) assured defeat for Barack Obama’s bid for a second term. His victory was therefore particularly bitter. Was I alone in sleeping badly and avoiding the news for days?

So many analyses have been proffered for what went wrong: Romney was too conservative or not conservative enough, he ran on his biography, he shied away from winning issues, he could not connect with the masses. So many conclusions have also been drawn: conservatives need to modernize (hello, gay partnerships), they must reach out to non-whites (welcome, illegal immigrants), they should nominate true conservatives.

Myself, I subscribe to the “politics is downstream from culture” argument. While conservatives sometimes prevail in policy debates, they consistently lose in the classroom, on the best-seller list, on television, at the movies, and in the world of arts. These liberal bastions, which provide the feeders for Democratic party politics, did not develop spontaneously but result from decades of hard work traceable back to the ideas of Antonio Gramsci.

Conservatives should emulate this achievement. With Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, I look forward to the day when it will be as cool “to believe in the principles of free enterprise, the need for strong national security, the merits of traditional families, and the value of religious faith as it is to sneer at capitalism, demean the military, denigrate parents, and deride religion.”

Happily, American conservatives have a counter-establishment already in place: the Wall Street Journal and Fox News Channel may be best known, but the Bradley Foundation, Pepperdine University, the Liberty Film Festival, and Commentary matter no less. Yes, conservative institutions rarely enjoy the history, resources, and prestige of their liberal counterparts – but they do exist, they are growing, and they possess a convincing and optimistic message.

It will be a long, hard road to traverse, but there is no short cut and it can succeed.

Originally published by Commentary Magazine, January 2013, as part of What is the Future of Conservatism in the Wake of the 2012 Election? –A Symposium and at DanielPipes.org.

Someone Else Will Pay

Friday, December 28th, 2012

From 1977 to 1980, BBC One ran “Citizen Smith,” a TV comedy about an aspiring young revolutionary who wore a beret and a Che T-Shirt and did his best to create a Communist Britain while heading up the Tooting Popular Front, consisting of six members, by virtue of shouting “Power to the People” and making up lists of the people he would put up against the wall on the day of the glorious revolution.

This is finally Citizen Smith’s time where the lazy and cowardly aspiring revolutionary can create his own Tooting Popular Front, camp out in a public park for a few months, and earn generous media coverage. And for those too lazy to camp out in the spring and summer, there’s always hacktivism, the truly lazy man’s revolution, download a denial of service program, aim it at a site and watch it go down for a minute, an hour, or perhaps even a day or two.

Social media is full of Citizen Smiths, dressing up in Che avatars and shouting their “Power to the People” slogans in 140 characters or less. And these Citizen Smiths are taken seriously by their older peers in the media who have had their own days of pretending to be Che and now just pretend to be journalists. While the Citizen Smiths create their fake revolution, the grown-up Citizen Smiths show up to cover it, in the great battle for a Communist Britain, America, Australia and also all the rest.

There is a great deal of hard work ahead, such as deciding who to put up against the wall first. Everyone has agreed on the rich, the dreaded 1 percent, except presumably for those 1 percenters funding the revolution and paying the Citizen Smiths who work for NGOs and come up with new social media engagement strategies to tackle economic disparities and that sort of thing.

The Citizen Smiths who speak on behalf of the 99 percent of Tooting have won their great victory in the last election through the wallets of such champions of the working class as Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, George Soros and several thousand other billionaires and millionaires, quite a few of whom also fancy being Wolfie Smith more than they want to play the top hat guy from Monopoly. They have struck a blow against the influence of money on politics from some billionaires on behalf of the influence of money on politics from other billionaires.

And with the 1 percent safely disposed of, at least aside from the 1 percent that is running the show and turning the Citizen Smiths from clowns smoking on their girlfriend’s couch while drawing up plans for revolution, into men and women sitting in posh offices in corporate towers delegating the drawing up of those plans to subordinates who can actually draw, the revolution marches on.

In Austria, an Australian Professor teaching Musicology, put up his own list of who to bop bop bop when the day of the glorious revolution comes.

“Right now, in the year 2012, these ideas will seem quite crazy to most people. People will be saying that Parncutt has finally lost it,” Professor Parncutt wrote, “If someone found this document in the year 2050 and published it, it would find general support and admiration. People would say I was courageous to write the truth, for a change. Who knows, perhaps the Pope would even turn me into a saint.”

Parncutt’s sainthood may prove somewhat difficult to achieve considering that the people he proposed to put up against the wall on the glorious day include the Pope and his closest advisors, along with prominent critics of Global Warming, who will be put on trial before an international tribunal of qualified scientists, and then be given an opportunity to recant and have their sentence reduced to life in prison. Some modern heretics however would, in Parncutt’s words, “would never admit their mistake and as a result they would be executed.”

It’s easy to laugh at Citizen Parncutt’s proposal to bring back heresy trials staffed with modern scientists, but who knows by 2050, when scavengers digging through the rubble around what used to be London, come across a copy of Parncutt’s brilliant manifesto, they will hop on their donkeys and deliver it immediately to the Eco-Pope who will proclaim Parncutt a saint right before the Saracens storm through the barricades.

Even now the difference between Parncutt and a lunatic is that much of the infrastructure to make Citizen Parncutt’s dreams a reality already exists. There are international tribunals and an entire political and media frenzy declaring that global warming is the greatest threat of our age. We snicker at fools who took the Mayan apocalypse seriously, but people who would never hide out in a basement because of some ancient prophecy listen to media buffoons drawing up lists of what parts of the world will be underwater in ten years or twenty and take the whole ridiculous thing seriously.

Parncutt wants you to know that he is not by any means a monster. He opposes the death penalty for murderers, even those like Breivik. It does no good to kill the people who have already killed, our Citizen Parncutt explains, what he would like to do is kill the people who have yet to kill but whose ideas the moral musicologist has decided are deadly.

Such is the humanitarianism of the true progressive who will not kill a serial killer, but will kill those who are truly dangerous. “The death penalty is barbaric, racist, expensive,” Parncutt explains, and he will have no truck with barbarically expensive racist death penalties, the only people who truly deserve to be killed according to him are those who, like the Pope and Global Warming skeptics, whose views differ from his own so dramatically that they must be killed to save lives.

“The death penalty is an appropriate punishment for Global Warming deniers who are so influential that one million future deaths can with high probability be traced to their personal actions,” Parncutt writes. “Please note also that I am only talking about prevention of future deaths – not punishment or revenge after the event.” Naturally. Citizen Parncutt is not motivated by such petty emotions. His revolutionary will-to-kill is as pure as the driven snow.

The good thing about a number as high as one million is that you can kill any number of people if you set the number of people you want to save high enough. If Parncutt were to kill 999,999 people to save 1,000,000, he would still have saved net one person and be ahead of the saint game. And then in 2050 when historians wondered why the Parncutt Popular Front was allowed to pile up all those corpses, the response will be that it was a matter of numbers. They started small and then kept going because they had so much room to spare with all those zeroes and before they knew it  they were only a few corpses shot of the big one million. But luckily they stopped with one man to spare and are considered heroes.

“The fact is that Socialism, in the form in which it is now presented, appeals chiefly to unsatisfactory or even inhuman types,” George Orwell wrote in The Road to Wigan Pier, essays meant to be a defense of Socialism, but showing the strains that would eventually lead him to transform Ingsoc, or English Socialism, into the greatest fictional tyranny in modern literature, “all that dreary tribe of high-minded women and sandal-wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers who come flocking towards the smell of ‘progress’ like bluebottles to a dead cat.”

There are more cats and bluebottles than ever. Orwell’s description of the Socialist crank now describes the mainstream leadership and a sizable portion of the base of every ruling lefty party you can think of, including the one ensconced in the White House, while shouting about class warfare and power to the people, while pocketing the allowance money from billionaires that allows them to win elections.

Economic crises and crises of all sorts bring their sort out to play more than ever. The children of the 1 percent wear buttons boasting that they are the 99 percent. Every global problem from terrorism to ethnic cleansing is explained purely in economic or environmental terms. And the people playing Citizen Smith and drawing up their lists of who to plant up against the wall are, as Orwell wrote, are not out to join “a movement of the masses”, but to enact “a set of reforms which ‘we’, the clever ones, are going to impose upon ‘them’.”

The “hypertrophied sense of order” from Orwell’s Socialist “with his pullover, his fuzzy hair, and his Marxian quotation” can be found just as easily in Citizen Parncutt as in Citizen Smith or Citizen Obama. It should not be confused with competence or practical skill, the only area the Smiths ever achieve any skill in is yelling from stepladders about a revolution until they find enough sheep to drive ahead of them to the polls or the battlefields, but with the sort of half-grown men who draw up lists of all the people they’ll kill to make the world a better place.

Their sense of order does not extend to actually making the world a better place, but of matching up their inflated sense of self-importance with the power to impose their own whims on the world for their own emotional satisfaction.

“I would just like my grandchildren and great grandchildren, and the human race in general, to enjoy the world that I have enjoyed, as much as I have enjoyed it,” Professor Parncutt writes. “And to achieve that goal I think it is justified for a few heads to roll. Does that make me crazy?” And just to make certain that you give the right answer, he adds, “I don’t think so.”

Crazy is a judgement call. In 1956 drawing up plans to have some international body execute scientists for questioning the interpretation of global temperature readings would have been crazy, but in the age of Citizen Smith it may no longer be. Hitler and Goebbels were both completely insane, and yet they were perfectly adapted to their time and place. They were lunatics, but it was a time when sane men wanted lunatics to tell them what to do and who to kill.

At the tail end of the ’70s, Citizen Smith was a joke, but at the dawn of the 2010s, he is an institution, the head of an NGO, a member of the board of a dozen foundations for social and environmental justice, and perhaps even a cabinet minister. Joschka Fischer went from Citizen Smith in the 70s, clubbing police officers and consorting with terrorists, to the Vice-Chancellor of Germany in the oughts. Obama went from Community Organizer Smith in the 90s to the White House in even less time.

This is the age of Citizen Smith. The age of the lazy, egotistical, cowardly, spiteful and petty man of the people, who prefers to avoid the people. This is the age of the 1 percent revolutionary playing the 99 percenter. This is the age of the enemies list, when their work within the system has paid off and it’s time to make someone else pay.

“On these streets of no solution/Where the gutters run with tears/I will lead my revolution/I’ve been revolting here for years/‘Cos I’m a people’s man,” went the words to the closing song of Citizen Smith, “On the glorious day/Someone else will pay/On the glorious day.”

The glorious day of the inglorious man is here. And someone else is paying. Any someone else who isn’t him.

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

Madmen and Crowds

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

There was a temporary interval in American life when a shooting spree by a madman would have been viewed as the crime of one man. The dead would have been mourned. The killer, if he had been taken alive, would have been punished, and while the memorial might have been accompanied by some leading sermons, the country would have been spared the media exploitation and blame-a-thon that invariably follows such events.

The trouble is that there are no more individuals. Or rather the individual is no longer recognized as having any standing. “All private plans, all private lives, have been in a sense repealed by an overriding public danger,” Roosevelt declared in 1940 to the Democratic National Convention.  And the repeal never seems to have been repealed. Instead all private plans and private lives are being constantly repealed by a turmoil of overriding public dangers, most of them sociological in nature.

A shooting takes place and the media urges that millions of firearms be confiscated. Every crisis requires that more freedoms be sacrificed for that overriding public danger that the talking heads are screaming about this week over news feeds from every corner of the globe. There are no more private lives. Only public ones. Everyone will sooner or later pass before the camera and be judged by millions of strangers in a narrative that will transform him or her into a hero or villain in the great social struggle against the public danger of the day.

Calling Adam Lanza a madman has little meaning now. The madman retreats to a private world of his own making. But the collective culture does not recognize madness as a detachment from the crowd. Instead it views it as yet another social malady to be solved. Re-open the asylums. Provide more mental health funding. Open hotlines for anyone with suicidal thoughts. Social solutions for a social society coping with the anti-social.

But even our madmen are public figures now. Cut off from the collective culture by their minds, they still strive to connect to its most fundamental value. Fame.

America’s spree killers don’t drive pickup trucks with gun racks. They aren’t NRA members and have never opened a bible. They are young, mentally ill and famous. They are exactly like the real and fake celebrities who crowd magazine covers, television screens and paparazzi-choked premieres. But they can’t sing or dance, and have no unique way to embarrass themselves into staged fame. Instead they kill their way to being famous.

As schizophrenic as our shooters were, as unable to connect to the groupthink of the larger culture, they understood the one thing that we valued. And they got it in a brute force way. They became what every girl with dyed blonde hair waiting on line to impress the judges of television’s dueling singing competitions, every waiter with sunglasses waiting to become a movie star on Rodeo Drive, every “internet personality” leaning precariously over a webcam on YouTube, every kid trying out rhymes on his friends and building a fake biography of all the people he shot in drug deals gone bad, want to be. Famous.

In mass culture, fame is the only oxygen of the individual. It is the only thing that distinguishes the vanishing individual from the herd. The celebrity is to 21st Century America as the general, the writer, the poet, the politician and the genius were to former eras. All these things and many more have been distilled down to the simple status of celebrity. You are either famous or you aren’t. You either have a private life that everyone knows about or your private life has already been repealed by the overriding public dangers of cow farts, racism and large sodas. You are either a slave to the public or just a public slave.

A culture of crowds makes crazy people even crazier. There’s nothing for paranoia like a major city and these days we all live in the major city of a culture that is crowded in even its most rural areas. Crowd culture expects everyone to follow the leader, to join the meme, to move with the flow, but that is something that crazy people cannot do. The madman is always out of step and out of sync, the paranoid schizophrenic occasionally makes a compelling leader, but he is unable to be a follower.

Madness can at its simplest be viewed as the gap between his thinking and our own. Like cultural differences, it often explodes into violence, but unlike cultural differences it cannot be bridged because there is no common language. The madman is a member of a unique culture of one. He is a citizen of himself. He has his own laws, his own values and even his own mental language. And it is one that no sane person will ever understand.

The madman is the ultimate individual dying in his own private rebellions that mean nothing to anyone else. A sane society may lock him up, it may crudely tinker with his brain chemistry or even carve up his gray matter, but it will never truly make him one with the group. And our society, addled by nearly as many drugs as your average madman, is a long way from sane. It flirts with madness in its aimless attempts at reestablishing the place of the individual in a collectivist culture, and it veers recklessly from sympathizing with violence to pretending not to understand where violence comes from. It’s the feigned innocence of those who are just jaded enough not to want to know how jaded they have truly become.

If the madman has lost the ability to speak to the crowd, the crowd has equally lost the ability to speak to the individual. The madman suffers from a defective mental vocabulary and the mad society has lost the ability to formulate concepts relating to individual behavior.

In our society the individual is always seen as putting on a public performance of accepting or rejecting group values. All private lives become a public competition to see who recycles the most, is the least racist, the most giving and the best example of what a cog in the great social machine should be. Every individual act is a commentary, not ultimately on the individual, but on the social machine. Crime is no longer a private act, but a public one, that emerges out of social factors such as the poverty rate, race relations, the availability of firearms, cold medication in pharmacies and the amount of funding for midnight basketball, outpatient mental health therapy and a thousand others.

All private plans are a public danger. All individual acts are really collective acts. There is no “I” in individual. There is only the crowd, its avatars who live out their fantasies and entertain them, and the masses shuffling off toward their daily labors until they are released from the grind and allowed a few hours to entertain themselves watching their avatars live a public show of private life.

How does one speak of individual responsibility to such people and how can they be expected to distinguish individualism from madness? The ant hive cannot be expected to think of the ant. It cannot understand anthood apart from the hive.

The Blame-a-Thon continues. Blaming Adam Lanza for his own actions is insufficient. Even blaming his dead mother is insufficient. Individuals do not matter. Only groups do. Corporations. The NRA. The Tea Party. Private tragedy becomes a political event complete with campaign speeches and fundraising letters. Organizations converge. New offices are opened and phone lines are installed. Press conferences are given. “This is a wake up call. A call for action. It’s time we did something.”

Within an hour, the responsibility is transferred from a killer to the society at large and then to the groups that do not share the values of the new collectivist society. War is declared. Press releases are faxed. Letters are sent out. “We need your help, Michael.” “Stand with us, Susan.” The dead are buried and their bodies are used to make the mulch of a new wave of political repression and profiteering. The dead, like singing competition contestants, are ultimately disposable, as are their killers. It is the producers and the judges who endure.

Each call to action is signed with the promise, “So that this will never have happen again.” That is the sociological siren song of the crowd. The promise of a powerful government safety net that will keep every terrible thing from ever happening a second time. But there is no net that madmen cannot slip through when they choose to. It is possible to repeal the private lives and private plans of all gun owners, but not the private lives and plans of madmen who are not peninsulas, but islands in the stream, who do not care about laws, regulations and expectations. Broken men looking to break.

There is more danger than safety in the crowd. Not only can the crowd not deter a madman, for the same reason that Kitty Genovese bled to death lay dying for an hour, but the crowd is also mad. It is a madness that is harder to detect because it is the madness of a crowd. The individual irrationality of a madman is detectable by outsiders, because of its conflict with the group reality, and even to the person of the madman by that same conflict, which fuels his paranoia toward the outside world, but the group cannot detect its own irrationality and is too large and pervasive for its irrationality to be recognized on the outside.

Our crowd is not yet as collectively insane as Adam Lanza, but it’s getting there. And it will not be pretty when it does. The madness of crowds is not a pretty thing. It can be seen in the hysterical crowds that greeted Hitler or the equally hysterical crowds swooning at the sight of a celebrity. Individual madness is flawed chemistry, but crowd madness is a will to madness, a raving desire to be one with the collective view, to be famous or almost famous, to exchange reason for sensation and individuality for the group immortality of the group.

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

Saying America was Punished with Sandy Hook is Blasphemous

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

On CNN last week, I was asked by Ashleigh Banfield to respond to the comments of Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association who suggested that Americans were to blame for the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, because they had abandoned God.

“The fact is that is the ultimate statement of heresy,” I said. “This is not a religious man… Not only is he [Bryan Fischer] wrong that we kicked God out of our lives, the United States and the American people are the most righteous people in the world. We have spent endless blood and treasure to defend complete strangers, women from being beaten up by the Taliban. Our soldiers died for those people. God is on our money. We give more charity than any nation on earth. We deserve better. I am tired of people maligning the American people and saying we deserve to suffer. This is the most religious country in the Western world.”

The Raw Story reported that this sentiment is becoming widespread. “Numerous figures on the Christian right, including James Dobson and Mike Huckabee, have linked the horrific mass killing of 20 young children to issues such as prayer in school, abortion and same sex marriage. They claim these issues prove the United States no longer respects God.”

A day later, Fischer struck back on his radio show, claiming I had ‘demonized’ God:

“Shmuley Boteach, a Jewish Rabbi and  [CNN] gives him ample air time to demonize both God and me! So he demonizes God, this whole thing is God’s fault. We need to defy God. We need to challenge God. We need to demand of God. We need to blame this on God. He’s all powerful, could have stopped it, and he didn’t do it, and its His fault.”

“It’s interesting,” Fischer continued in his attack, “that… the theology I’m drawing from is from the Old Testament… I wonder whether he has read his own bible.”

Well, Mr. Fischer, I have read. We don’t call it the Old Testament, as there is nothing old or outdated about it. We call it the Hebrew Bible and this is what it says: “The hidden things are for God to understand, but the revealed things are for us and our children.” Why God allows good people to suffer is a secret known to him. But we human beings ought to have no interest in knowing the secret. What we want, what we demand, is that the suffering stop completely so that God and humanity can finally be reconciled, after a long history of human travail and agony, in a bright and blessed future, bereft of suffering, absent of tragedy, and filled with blessing.

In the face of catastrophes there are always those who are trying to divine the mind of God when really their role as humans is to argue with God. That’s exactly what the name Israel means, He who wrestles with God. Isn’t that what Abraham does with the news of the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, where he raises his fist to the heavens and proclaims, “Will the judge of the entire earth not Himself practice justice?” Would God really allow the righteous to die along with the wicked?

Is this not also what Moses says to God after he is told that the Jews will be annihilated for the sin of the Golden Calf? If you do so, says the great prophet, “then I beseech you, erase my name from the Torah You have written.”

And when God had earlier sent Moses to free the Jews from Egypt but Pharaoh had instead intensified their suffering and servitude, Moses, defiant, says to God, “Why have you behaved wickedly to this people, and why have you sent me… You have thus far not saved Your people.”

And, in the New Testament, as I argue in Kosher Jesus, Jesus does the same thing. Dying on the cross, he cries out in agony, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” He is defiant against the death sentence imposed on him by the brutal and wicked Romans. He asks why God has not intervened to rescue him.

The role of human beings in the face of seeming divine miscarriages of justice is to hold God accountable and demand clemency for humanity. God is all powerful. He does not need a defense attorney. But humans are fragile and vulnerable and they need all the protection they can get.

It’s Time We Had a Serious Discussion About Assault Vehicles

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

Americans are in love with anything on wheels. This is the country of the Corvette and the Hog where driving fast is considered a national birthright despite the toll in lives and pollutants. And most of the rest of us have come to accept that.

We may shake our heads at the billions wasted on gasoline, on air fresheners and dashboard ornaments that could have been used to feed the starving children of the world. But when tragedy strikes it is important for us to set aside the political rhetoric and have a serious discussion about assault vehicles.

Let’s talk about motorcycles.

Unlike cars, motorcycles have no practical purpose. No one commutes to work on a motorcycle. No one drives to pick up their children from soccer practice on a motorcycle. But for some people a motorcycle is a symbol of their masculinity and that symbol has become death on wheels.

Americans are in love with motorcycles. 9 percent of Americans own 11 million motorcycles as part of the 18 billion dollar motorcycle industry. Some Americans even own more than one motorcycle, even though one motorcycle is the most that any normal person could possibly need.

Motorcycle deaths have risen sharply in the last ten years and the motorcycle industry is to blame for preventing us from addressing this horrifying epidemic of highway death.

In 1994, there were 2,320 motorcycle deaths. In 2012 that number increased to 4,500 as the assault vehicles greased their wheels with the blood of innocent men, women and children.

1 in 7 US traffic deaths is now caused by the motorcycle. Or what we should properly rename the Assault Cycle. Unfortunately movies like Easy Rider glamorize motorcycle culture and the motorcycle industry preys on the vulnerable male psyche as riders chase after some escapist fantasy of personal autonomy.

Motorcycle culture has always been associated with violence and the escalating death toll now threatens our moral standing as a country. America was once known as a nation that the rest of the world looked up to, but now whenever I visit Lichtenstein or Luxembourg for an environmental conference, one of the first questions that I am asked is when Americans will join the rest of the civilized world in restricting the manufacture and sale of assault cycles. And I can only sadly shake my head while downing another Shirley Temple.

But perhaps tragedy will serve as a wake-up call. In Fairfield, California, an off-duty California Highway Patrolman is killed in a collision with a pickup truck. In Duarte, California, former MLB pitcher Frank Pastore died of injuries resulting from a motorcycle accident.  In Florence, Kentucky, a motorcycle driver lost control of his assault vehicle and collided with a utility pole. In Tarpon Springs, Florida, a woman riding as a passenger on the back of a motorcycle fell off and was run over by a passing vehicle. These are just a few of the deaths caused by assault cycles that have taken place in the last week.

We cannot meet these awful tragedies with apathy. Only immediate unthinking action will suffice. A serious dialogue must begin in which all options are on the table. The politicians who have been in thrall to the motorcycle industry must look at these dead people that I have just mentioned and completely ignore the law and all other considerations to do whatever I want.

No one is talking about completely banning the motorcycle, except for those who are, but we must work together to reach a sensible solution. Motorcycle owners will still be able to keep and even drive their toys, but we must take action against the deadliest overpowered assault cycles with too much horsepower that have no legitimate purpose.

There is no reason for any law-abiding motorcycle owner to own one of the “superbikes” whose accident rate is 30 times higher than that of cars. These insanely overpowered assault vehicles, such as the Suzuki GSXR1000 and the Kawasaki Ninja, are literal killing machines. Although assault cycles only account for 10 percent of the motorcycles on the road, they account for 25 percent of all fatal motorcycle accidents.

200 horsepower is far too much for any legitimate street bike and it’s time that our elected officials stood up to the motorcycle industry and said no to the assault cycle.

And it cannot end there.

As pernicious as motorcycle culture is, car culture is even deadlier. Millions of children will grow up coughing and wheezing from asthma attacks because they live near a highway. And many more will die in the daily car accidents that mar our nation’s roads, bridges and tunnels.

Americans are in love with their Assault Sedans and their Murder Hatchbacks.  The U.S. had 246 million registered vehicles for just 209 million drivers in a country of 311 million. There is no better evidence of the power of car culture than the fact that some people actually own more than one car, so that they can perhaps crash their first car into a crowd, and then get into their second car and crash that it into a crowd too to maximize the death toll.

40,000 people die in car crashes a year. That’s 400,000 a decade or 4 million over a century. That is the grim ugly face of America’s macabre love affair with cars. America leads the world in car ownership, aside from Monaco, and if we are going to take a horrible place like Monaco as our role model, then I no longer want to be an American.

The children, the most innocent among us, are the real victims of America’s insane car culture.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children from 2 to 14 years old. An average of 6 children die every day in car crashes… and 700 more are injured. Some of those injuries will cripple them for life.

Any decent person, even a car owner, can’t help but look at these statistics and demand immediate unthinking action of some kind. It is up to decent people like us, and even them, to join together and call for that action. It is up to us to capitalize on the deaths of these sweet innocent children for the greater good of all.

No one is talking about banning all cars. Some cars, like those that drive environmental activists to environmental conferences, are strictly necessary. But there is a big difference between legitimate and illegitimate cars.

There’s no reason for a law-abiding driver to own a car that goes faster than 35 miles per hour. Above that speed is when most fatal accidents occur and closing that speed loophole will save millions of lives. Cars that travel faster than 35 miles per hour, let’s call them assault vehicles, have no purpose except to cater to a sick car culture that values speed over the lives of innocent children. We owe it to our children to give them a better world. A world where 35 miles per hour isn’t just the speed limit in  my gated community, but throughout the entire land.

An assault vehicle ban will also be good for the environment. Many drivers will discover that they can get to work faster by riding a bike than by driving their fume-spewing murder machines.

Speaking of bicycles, there has unfortunately been a sharp rise in cyclist deaths as well. I remember many hours of joy riding my bike up and down the street as a child, and I still put in a few miles on my exercise bike when my schedule allows for it, but these innocent vehicles are being upstaged on the road by killing machines that have very little in common with my 12 inch Huffy and exist only to race and kill.

I have never understood why there must be any bikes with more than 6 speeds. The bike industry, the bike lobby and the bike culture is irresponsibly pushing multi-speed bikes that are completely unnecessary. These Assault Bicycles which have 18 speeds are murder vehicles of death.

It might be best if we put an end to vehicle culture altogether. It might be best if everyone just walked. So long as they walk responsibly.

The number of pedestrian deaths has risen sharply in 2012 and the problem may lie with what I like to call, Assault Walking, or walking too fast, not to mention Assault Running.

To all the paranoid alarmists out there, no one is talking about banning you from going on a light jog or even a brisk walk; so long as you keep it under the speed indicated on your government issued Citizen Pedometer with built-in breathalyzer. If you wish to walk faster than that, you will have to apply for a license, undergo a psychological evaluation, give up your health insurance and then wait six weeks.

America is a great country, but we can be an even greater country if we just banned everything… for the children.

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/daniel-greenfield/its-time-we-had-a-serious-discussion-about-assault-vehicles/2012/12/23/

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