Most authors have a favorite Word, a by the wayside piece of arcana they drop into everything they publish.* Others repeat a trademark Word like a manMost authors have a favorite Word, a by the wayside piece of arcana they drop into everything they publish.* Others repeat a trademark Word like a mantra.** Matt Taibbi's Word is "masturbatory." Masturbatory is a descriptive word, so filled with connotation that it drives home the point that it's used critically; there can be no mistaking the author's intent. But it is only an "awakening" Word for a small group of highly suggestable readers - most of whom are seniors in high school or freshmen in college. And since Matt Taibbi seems to be girding his readers against the myriad fictions of our times - the Derangements found at the cardinal points of American social and political life - you'd think he'd deal more in "awakening" Words - and choose better, big boy ones at that.
My disappointment in The Great Derangement runs deep. I don't know what I expected*** from a contributor to Rolling Stone and AlterNet Daily... The only example I've seen where Rolling Stone got anything right the first time, in a timely manner, was the correct identification of "Hot Cheetos and Takis" as the breakout summer jam of 2012. Everything else has been a total waste of time.
The deal breaker came for me when the author had to incorporate some church members into his alter-ego as he masqueraded in deep cover to get a scoop on just how fucked up Christian Evangelicals are and what they're really up to.***** His impromptu friends/beards/props/patsies lacked an abundance of personally redeeming qualities, but still balanced in the "decently good, earnest types" category who shouldn't be made fun of by a cynical Northeastern elitist just for the sake of high-fiving journalistic sport. It's unsporting behavior to find someone who likes you, expends general concern both in and away from your presence, only to portray them as the world's own rube when the book goes to print. The betrayal the two women must have eventually felt, especially the one with whom Taibbi maintained a close platonic relationship (with likely one sided sexual tension for miles), must have been agonizing. How do you justify fucking with people like this for a cheap, salacious story?
And Matt Taibbi isn't just fed up with Republicans and in awed disbelief in social conservatives, he's got bones to pick with liberals too.
The fact that Matt Taibbi strikes such bitter blows at his own liberal constituency isn't that maddening, though, because the left is hardened to attacks by its own pseudo-hipsters or charasmatic man-children who can rock a full head of silver hair and use contemporary slang. I mean Jon Stewart. We let Jon Stewart turn on the president, we let him turn on the Congress. So we'll let Matt Taibbi be a class enemy all he wants too, because this the price we pay for having prominent spokespeople explaining our positions elegantly, intelligently, judiciously, without rhapsody, and with cohesion.
So the take from The Great Derangement is a convoluted mess. You'll like some of it; you'll hate some of it. Some of it will almost redeem the rest, like the following passage:
"...The (9-11 conspiracy) movement is really distinguished by a kind of defiant unfamiliarity with the actual character of America's ruling class. In 9/11 Truth lore, the people who staff the White House, the security agencies, the Pentagon, and groups like PNAC and the Council on Foreign Relations are imagined to be a monolithic, united class of dastardly, swashbuckling risk-takers with permanent hard-ons for Bourne Supremacy-style 'false flag' and 'black bag' operations, instead of the mundanely greedy, risk-averse, backstabbing, lawn-tending, half-clever suburban golfers they are in real life...
"The people who really run American don't send the likes of George Bush and Dick Cheney to the White House to cook up boat-rocking, maniacal world-domination plans and commit massive criminal conspiracies on live national television; they send them to repeal PUHCA and dole out funds for the F-22 and pass energy bills with $14 billion tax breaks and slash fuel-efficiency standards and do all the other shit that never makes the papers but keeps Wall Street and the country's corporate boardrooms happy... The financial class in this country didn't get to where it is by betting on the ability of a president whose lips move when he reads to blow up two Manhattan skyscrapers in broad daylight without getting caught."
But passages like this, great as they are, don't justify a 300 page book of condescension on every conceivable group outside the ivy league alumni associations. Sorry, but I couldn't relate.
*Jonathan Lethem: "Solipsism." Joseph Ellis: "Congeal." Doris Kearns Goodwin: "Cavil."
**Johnathan Lethem: "Solipsism." David Foster Wallace: "Fantods."
***Actually, I do. It seems like I've heard Mr. Taibbi as a frequent guest on "The Diane Rehm Show", Friday News Roundup, Domestic Hour on WAMU. Anything with a Diane Rehm endorsement carries a lot of weight in my suggestable solipsism.
****Waging a low level war, with outdated tactics, to protect the status quo from imaginary adversaries. Not much, in other words, unless you count the many arguably innocent people who get fucked up from the experience....more
David Kuo has two books here. One deals with the thesis. The other deals with his personal, Christian journey. Though the author would clearly feel otDavid Kuo has two books here. One deals with the thesis. The other deals with his personal, Christian journey. Though the author would clearly feel otherwise,* the average reader may not feel like the two necessarily complement each other.
Just like the wall of separation that should divide church and rock, I prefer a separation of church and history.
I suppose a member of the (G.W.) Bush White House, writing a book about spiritual realizations, is entitled to assume his readers will be political conservatives. I nevertheless found an unnecessary amount of time given to confidential asides, meant to gain the readers' acceptance. As someone going into Tempting Faith fairly objectively, I do not particularly care about (or stand to be much won over by) the author's testimony.** I'm also a little confused by why Madonna's unshaven armpits are objectionable, but Michael Jackson's eccentric personal behavior isn't.*** I don't see what either has to do with the topic at hand.
If I could give Tempting Faith the lobectomy it deserves, I'd give the political half a solid four star rating, on the strength of its good logic. I'd either score the parts that flirt with speculating on President Clinton as the antichrist a generous two or throw them out altogether. I think the Christian testimony/narrative is compelling to a lot of people (witness the independent Christian bookstore to independent secular bookstore ratio in my city), but this field is more saturated than Bush White House memoirs. Generally speaking, there is greater need of the latter than the former. Tempting Faith is a good study in its way, but could have been much leaner.
*Tempting Faith is part memoir. Since this is literally the author's life and the events informed his policy advice, Kuo probably doesn't find a mingling of the two topics dissonant.
**"Testimony" is the term given to the story of an evangelical Christian's personal acceptance of Christ.
***This was written around 2005, around the time Jackson was acquitted of child sexual abuse allegations. It was written before his death....more
Argument Without End* may as well be a tongue in cheek McNamara self-deprecation. The book is a slog. McNamara puts it to his readers this way: The suArgument Without End* may as well be a tongue in cheek McNamara self-deprecation. The book is a slog. McNamara puts it to his readers this way: The subject of the Vietnam War can be handled in book-length or "capsule" length (i.e. as a scholarly paper). Scholarly papers are good: They're direct and decisive. But they can easily be challenged (and I imagine a lot of people willing to challenge anything Robert McNamara has to say). So McNamara gives the reader both. The book reinforces few enough points to be covered by a paper, but defends them doggedly from every possible approach to be sure its thesis is definitively watertight. Redundancy be damned.
McNamara likes order. Argument is partitioned into tidy columns to enumerate the many points - most of which are impeccably salient. But McNamara leaves us with one that's especially choice: Americans always think of Vietnam as though it revolved entirely around us. Conventional wisdom tells us the "domino theory" was false - and it certainly was. But knowing the domino theory is false is not the equivalent of learning from the many mistakes that characterize Vietnam. The biggest mistake - the lament McNamara made the mantra of his old age - was that neither side understood the other. Understanding the Vietnam War, in fact, is an impossibility if approached from only one side.
Argument Without End is the culmination of a series of workshops held in the late 1990s among government officials, high ranking military personnel, and scholars from both sides. The lesson learned in these forums can be easily summarized: oblivious dysfunction. The US felt the Vietnamese's beef was with the US and prescribed completely fantastic motives to a player who was actually just playing for time and little more. The Vietnamese were - as unkind as it sounds to say - geopolitical flotsam (not dominoes!) - stuck between the toughest kids in the neighborhood and lacking the confidence to stick up for themselves. Hell, they didn't even know how to start a conversation.
As McNamara points out with agonizing thoroughness, a million things went chronically wrong in the years between Dien Bien Phu and the eventual American withdrawal. His phrase that stuck with me - so characteristically analytical - is that in those eight years of heavy fighting, both sides were consistently wrong about everything at a rate of 100%. A 100% percent foreign policy trend, doubled, over a prolonged interval is quite an anomaly. That example really casts the surreal light needed to capture the atmospherics of the Vietnam tragedy.
.................. *I can't figure out how to do HTML on the GoodReads app, using my iPhone to type this review. After this initial use of italics I give up. Please excuse the bad style. ...more
Disclaimer: This isn't so much a review as some thoughts inspired by the subject.
I took a class on art in the 1980s. During a talk about apparent cultDisclaimer: This isn't so much a review as some thoughts inspired by the subject.
I took a class on art in the 1980s. During a talk about apparent cultural stagnation in the United States, my professor showed a photograph of President and Mrs. Reagan from 1981. It really explained everything. There's no way to describe the vibe the photo gives off. The Reagans are the essence of old school WASP: square, puritanical, a little sinister in the plasticity of their smiles and coiffure. Beneath the practiced benevolent masks, there is an implicit threat: Don't get any ideas. This is our country now and we're going to have some new rules.
President Reagan co-opted evangelicals (the so-called "religious right") to be the shock troops for his coalition of Goldwater conservatives and cold war shills. Those evangelicals - mostly decent people with their own varying levels of prejudices and tolerance, and otherwise largely apolitical - weren't necessarily sophisticated in their consideration of the larger world beyond the church and community level. But they'd follow anyone who claimed to be carrying the Christian moral standard, regardless of what was happening under that standard.
Reagan didn't create them. He wasn't the first to co-opt them. However, he monetized them and turned them into the "Base" that made the Republican Party what it's been since 1981. No longer a coalition with economic and policy divisions, today's GOP is the monolithic apparatus for social conservatism. Candidates are grilled by sympathetic media to determine if they pass unspoken "purity standards," based on Ronald Reagan. The presumptive 2012 Republican nominee for president, Mitt Romney, has to fight his own party before he can focus on debating President Obama because many in his own party feel like Romney flunked the purity test.
Governor Romney is conservative. Senator McCain is conservative. They just aren't as conservative as President Reagan was (according to his contemporary devotees) - and that's a deal breaker for today's conservative citizens.
This could all be an amusing show for independents and liberals, if it wasn't such a volatile situation. Because when qualified candidates like McCain and Romney are thrown under the bus for apostasy, dangerous opportunists move in. On one hand we get Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain - individuals who aren't qualified for high public office and market themselves like celebrities rather than serious candidates. On the other hand, we get crusaders like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum - who have the qualifications and mental horsepower but are expected to treat election as a "winner take all" prospect, rewarding their supporters with policies that punish their opponents.
The Robespierre attitude isn't consistent with American politics. The president is elected by a percentage of the population, but he must represent all of it, even those who voted against him. American political parties get to challenge each other for a turn at the wheel. They do not compete for a chance to eliminate their opponent and install an eternal regime.
American history is not a sequence of slash and burn political revolutions. Neither is it wired, with a political movement's ancestors connected to their contemporary counterparts. The Tea (or TEA) Party candidates who claim to have inherited the spirit of '76 or '87 are part of no circuit connecting the present and the past. They actually expropriate imagery from the public domain for their own use.
Going back to the portrait of the Reagans... Ronald Reagan's revolution depended on a significant number of unsophisticated voters to buy into a new characterization of history and purpose. They were benign enough in appearance - like Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum - but hid brass knuckles in their pockets. The Reagan era stagnated cultural advancement. AIDS propagated, perhaps because of an unwillingness to educate people on the correct ways to avoid it. Iran-Contra was weighed, not by its implications, but by the perceived immorality of the Iranians and the assumption that any "right wing freedom fighters'" struggle against a "leftist" government must be morally correct.
The years between 2001-2009 are in the same category, for many of the same reasons. President G. W. Bush was pushed over the top by evangelicals. When in office, President Bush sold Americans a version of the government that was either dumbed-down or patriarchal. Asserting that Americans should forego their own policy analysis and trust the president to decide what's right and wrong assumes the evangelicals who bumped him into office are trusting enough to make the next step: belief that Bush was ordained by God to be the president. Anyone ordained by God should have the people's complete, unconditional trust - according to this (admittedly speculative) premise.
When Obama won the election in 2008, those social conservatives may have felt McCain must not have had God's ordination. If so, that must mean there was something wrong with McCain's platform. If so, that must mean true conservatives had to look around for righteousness. They found the Tea Party.
Folks were dressed like Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Adams and gave sophisticated oratory. Furthermore, the Tea Parties themselves were a pirate ship. There was no qualification; no prior political education was needed; anyone may participate, regardless of what he or she has to say. It's darn appealing to a sector of society who takes comfort in the familiar - especially the Disneyfication of American history. Glenn Beck was a success for the same reason that Disney World's Hall of Presidents and the collectible World Trade Center coins were so popular. Shlock sells.
Jill Lepore's thesis is that the Tea Party movement used schlock as its marketing model to enlist popular support for conservative politics. Those politics were marketed as something they weren't, but the marketing was so appealing most suckers never even knew they were had. What the author is disgusted by is the same thing anyone with a little knowledge feels toward the rape of a pet subject. Glenn Beck's, the Heritage Foundation, and Liberty University's mangling of American history is as offensive to history enthusiasts as a Las Vegas Revue of Beatles songs is to a Beatles fan.
I understand her revulsion. I admire her evenhandedness, particularly to those she interviewed. But I don't like the way she composed the book. It's as roundabout as these thoughts I've just jotted down - which is fine for me, because I'm just some guy, but is not okay for a Pulitzer finalist. I get everything The Whites of Their Eyes is trying to say - but it needed to find a better way to say it. Just ranting about how American history is mischaracterized (by the left and right, the author points out) isn't special. Sure, it's a point that needs to be made. But it's a point that's always being made, all the time, by everyday people like me. What is needed is a more articulate, pulverizing argument; an argument capable of setting the matter to rest. Alas, this isn't it.
I've had a question for a long time. When social conservatives oppose something, like - say - gay marriage, it is often on the premise that expandingI've had a question for a long time. When social conservatives oppose something, like - say - gay marriage, it is often on the premise that expanding liberty will somehow take something away from those currently entitled to those liberties. There isn't a clear explanation behind the complaint that the traditional institution of marriage will collapse if we allow people of the same sex to marry, but the "argument" persists.
The answer, of course, is that social issues - ranging from the culture wars to the bill of rights - are seldom zero sum affairs. Expanding marriage will not destroy marriage any more than expanding the voting franchise (to include women, poor people, teenagers, and non-whites) ended the republic. The resistance to such expansion is likewise identical. To characterize it as fear or xenophobia is to simplify it. It is better characterized as jealousy.
But jealousy, in many ways, comes across as more petty than fear, so the actual underlyers get convoluted in their perception. Since we're talking about something that's basically emptional, psychology - more than political science - comes into play. So where am I going with this? More specifically, how has W. Scott Poole helped me answer this question?
Two thirds of the way through Monsters In America, Poole talks about Vietnam prisoners of war returning to an America that has dramatically changed since their own dramatic departure. Comparing the experience to Rip Van Winkle's, the young men in question left an America that was still fundamentally fifties-ish in its holographic absorption of consumerism, conservatism, and the status quo and returned to find Brown v. Board of Education enforced, Roe v. Wade in the works, and a slate of equivalent social transformations roiling and burning and growling and reveling at every angle of American life. The white political patriarch - long held as the conservator of the republic - had not only lost market share (as women, minorities, and youth made gains in the political/economic franchise), but literally lost a physical war against a supposedly "backwards" enemy (a banana republic on one hand, the "inferior" communist system on the other). The challenge to the accepted wisdom of the preceeding 200 years must have been enormous.
The psychological fallout of the confrontation with such catastrophic hubris continues to wreak aftershocks today. The 70s saw race riots, the Southern exodus from the Democratic party, women's control of both their domestic environment and their own bodies, gay culture, youth culture, and the threat of mutually assured destruction - and there was nothing the demagogues could do about it. To those empowered by some of these changes, life was improving. The ones who were satisfied with the status quo (or jealous of its powers) faced confusion (even rage). Without a clear way to enunciate their apprehension, diverse manifestations emerged. The religious right sprang out of Goldwater conservatism.
This isn't ostensibly what W. Scott Poole was supposed to be telling us about in Monsters in America. But it is. He contextualizes this, and many other, points by collating it with the way the psycho sprang from the creature feature. The creature (created by an atomic accident or international communism) stood in for cold war apprehension. The psycho came to personify some people's dread over the changing social landscape - more specifically the loss of patriarchal control over the family. As women and children gained more autonomy within the family unit, the fear was that the ensuing dysfunction would literally produce psychos - or monsters.
If this sounds suspiciously like Howard Zinn or Noam Chomsky dipping their toes into film criticism, it is. But it's also pretty amazing. We've always known there was something bigger about the film and literary monster than the immediate, visceral thrill it delivers. W. Scott Poole does a masterful job of collating many of those layers of meaning with the American historical narrative. He skips around a lot and doesn't attempt a comprehensive, linear history. Had he done so, Monsters in America might have been tedious - counter-intuitive treatment of a subject designed to titillate. No, Poole strikes the perfect tone and holds up a frank mirror to America through the lens of our nightmare creatures. I would recommend this to just about everyone....more
Trying to penetrate Mañana Forever's heavy reliance on statists and psychobabble is a little daunting. One does not have to have aced his/her collegeTrying to penetrate Mañana Forever's heavy reliance on statists and psychobabble is a little daunting. One does not have to have aced his/her college economics classes to follow Jorge Castañeda's narrative, but having taken a couple of 100 level courses doesn't hurt. The book's strength lies in its value as an introductory course into contemporary Mexican politics. Unless one is from a community with a prominent Mexican immigrant population, many North Americans may not understand the differences between the Mexican and US societies and governments. Or - more probably - don't correctly identify those differences.
Though I was a little put off by the author's psychobabble concerning the Mexican character, it is necessary to correctly understand how Mexicans differ from their North American neighbors. Castañeda details the way Mexicans change psychologically following emigration to the US. This is an important point. Anyone who's worked with the diaspora community - particularly in "new" areas of immigrant expansion* - instinctively feels the differences among naturalized versus precarious/undocumented immigrants, the old versus young (particularly the American children of latino immigrants and their native-born parents), and mestizo versus indio (even if unaware of the terms) through the course of casual contact. Americans tend to be able to understand the way new immigrants change when that change makes them more like us; if we can do that, we can understand the way they were originally in the country of their birth.
Though the statistics are a bit dense, the fact that Mexico is currently the product of new constitutional amendments is not missed. Americans tend to make assumptions about the world through a certain lens. Other countries tend to fall into one of two categories: (A) Countries with established constitutions that were long ago decided and given form, and (B) brand new countries in the process of drafting constitutional governments expected to be durable for the future. We really lack a concept for dynamic countries in constant constitutional flux. If Americans learned anything about Mexico in school, it was probably the way Mexico was at that point in time - depending on a person's age, this could run the gamut from quasi-socialism to laissez-faire disarray. We are less aware that the country goes through transformations more or less in tandem with continental forces driven here in the north. Just as the US went through a decentralization in the first decade of the new millenium, Mexico changed dramatically under the presidents Fox and Calderon. If the vintage of one's education isn't the factor that decides the quality of Americans' understanding, misunderstanding can be attributed to the fact Mexican trends are not mirror images of US trends. For the most part, Mexican trends are indivisible and original - but they do tend to happen at more or less the same time as big changes in the US.
This change is prompted by multiple influences, but none more influential than the controlling trade partnership between the two countries. As America shifts psychologically into increasingly anti-immigrant attitudes, it is dangerous not to understand the origin of wholesale Mexican immigration. The individual migrant worker is a single atom in a larger chemical process. The migration is a direct result of economic policies in the sending country. Mexico trades almost exclusively with the US. Furthermore, remittances and illegal activity (the drug trade) are quasi-formal features of Mexico's official economic model. On both the formal (remittances from migrant workers) and informal (drug trafficking) ends the relationship is two sided, but the fact is that Mexicans emigrate as much because of Mexican economic policy as perceived opportunity in the US. It has never been particularly important to American voters to understand the reasons behind immigration (both legal and illegal), but those voters are generally clueless as to the actual origin of the phenomenon.
I found Mañana Forever more interesting in the aggregate than as the author's line of thought. I didn't find certain facts that interesting or relevant, partly because of the sociological complexity that is - frankly - a little suspect. How certain can the author actually be that Mexicans' low response to organized sport is directly related to the prominence of dangerous, protectionist property laws? Any reader willing to hack through that sort of jungle may find Mañana Forever a great read. To others less inclined to indulge the author's interpretations its informative value is tied to the diligence of the reader's forraging ability. The latter could certainly do worse. Even if Mañana Forever isn't the definitive text on contemporary Mexico, it is colorful and eclectic.
*Castañeda helps the reader understand that Mexican immigration used to be limited to American border states and tended to be impermanent. Get-tough immigration policy and changes to the US economy have forced new latino immigrants further afield into the American hinterland....more
Karl Marlantes hopes to speak to a broad audience. He did so effectively in Matterhorn, his novel set in Vietnam. Matterhorn was literary. It challeKarl Marlantes hopes to speak to a broad audience. He did so effectively in Matterhorn, his novel set in Vietnam. Matterhorn was literary. It challened the reader on ideas about war, morality, race, rank, and the schism that occurs between soldiers and civilians. Matterhorn can be analyzed as literature or enjoyed as entertainment, not unlike the movies Full Metal Jacket or Platoon. That gave it unusually wide appeal.
What It is Like to Go to War is very much an appendix of Matterhorn. The reader's suspicion that Second Lieutenant Mellas is an autobiographical avatar for Karl Marlantes is confirmed. Many of the former's most powerful scenes are revealed to be true. They are so well delivered because the author is the same protagonist who drove the source action. Not to pepper this with spoilers, but many of the squad deaths in Matterhorn actually happened - were real people (names sometimes not changed) - in the actual, horrifying space of 1968-9.
While Marlantes wrote to a literary audience in Matterhorn he is writing specifically to an educated reader interested in understanding What It is Like to Go to War. One of the first points he makes is that the modern world no longer has standardized iniation rites. Gone are the hunter-gatherer rites-of-passage that require all males and females to submit to the same initiation, depending on sex. Going to war is a prominent initiation rite with a direct link back to prehistory, but other, equally crucial initiations have since appeared. Whether one chose to go to school, become a missionary, or do dangerous work, that choice represents as much of an initiation as going to war, provided the initiation moves boys and girls into men and women. By establishing that the "club" of combat is not an exclusive club with proprietary philosophy, Marlantes invites a wide slate of potential readers.
I read What It is Like to Go to War for empathy. I want to understand my dad, whose unpredictable emotions and flight to anger has strained or broken every relationship he's ever had (with the exception of his own parents). Only within the past few years has the VA taken an interest in Dad's psychological issues. He is now diagnosed with PTSD and sumbits to medication and therapy. A transformation is starting to take place. He is - at this point in time - completely frank about PTSD and candid about his irrational reactions to minor stimuli - normally anger and fear of the other, politics, change. There are even signs that he is starting to see things in terms other than black or white. He may even be beginning to understand how his actions make others feel.
I think my dad is probably more messed up than the average Vietnam combat veteran, but he never got dangerously close to the red line that marks the most desperate cases. The sheer enormity of his problem - which runs the gamut from avoiding personal responsibility (by outsourcing opinions to political entertainers and placing unrealistic faith in financial bubbles and ponzi schemes) to misogyny to mild sadism (recreational hunting that borders on obsession, possessing many more weapons than necessary to hunt the local deer, turkeys, and game fowl - also a preference for low-tech weapons like bows and arrows and low velocity, muzzle loading rifles designed to make the act of hunting a greater challenge but also significantly increases the target's pain).
Someone in my position will come across the random article or paper (or even book) about the causes and treatment of PTSD. Often the tone is clinical, or sympathetic from above (a physician's sympathy can come across as condescending, depending on the attitude of the reader), confined to a small facet of the aggregated problem, or tricked into the dual belief in a magic cure for PTSD and that the way to "cure" PTSD is to revise forensic feelings about violence long since committed. Marlantes writes from a completely different place. He writes as a peer (albeit a highly educated and erudite one) to the combat veteran and as a husband/father responsible for confusing the spouses and children of combat vets.
The mixed messages, mercurial mood swings, and occasional physical scariness is due to a failure to understand the way in which combat's violent element can be a positve force. Institutionally and informally, aggression is driven under the surface during the process of reacclimating to society. It is perceived to have no use in the civilian world. In fact, physical aggression has a place. The warrior impulse even has a place and is healthy. It is dangerous when not controlled - that's important. But it isn't dangerous because it merely exists - that's a misconception.
Ostensibly, the author is speaking to everyone. But - and it's probably inescapable - he's speaking primarily to other vets. This means he's not speaking to me, but to my dad (if my dad will listen), and by reading it myself I'm allowed into the room to listen in and observe. People are greedy. I would have preferred someone to tell me what should be done to help Dad in his retirement years, but even if I was given the answer, I would never be able to act as an agent implementing change in him. In order for him to get better, he's the one who has to interface.
Marlantes is speaking directly to the veteran. I wonder if his ivy leage fluency in the classics will connect with the defiantly folksy identity Vietnam vets like my dad cultivate.* I'm hopeful the ideas are so relevant and profound that provenance will not get in the way. My next step after reading What It is Like to Go to War is to pass it on to my father-in-law (who served on a Coast Guard ice breaker in the Bering Sea during the cold war) before giving it to my own dad next week. Then I sit it out and see what takes and what doesn't. It's going to be a great experiment.
One of the reasons I have this confidence is the way I reacted to Marlantes's wisdom. I found myself in complete agreement more than 80% of the time, but no more. This means I was in only conditional agreement - or disagreement - for the remainder. We completely agree on the liability of groupthink. It was a small point for Marlantes, but something that means a lot to me. There are two ways to learn, but the two ways do not produce the same quality results. One way is to be formally taught, like the memorization of schoolchildren or algebra practice of high school students. The practial method is to observe impromptu disagreements, understand both sides of the argument, and evaluate the true path.
Disagreeing with something can be more valuable than total agreement. Disagreement is active. The process forces one to constantly think and evaluate. At the end, one's opinion is either unchanged but stronger for the exercise or it has been expanded to include new ideas. Though this is not one of Marlantes's points, I can't help but think the author would be totally okay with the reader not going along with his suggestions 100%.
*Marlantes is also decidedly liberal in his definition of "spirituality." He assumes the feeling shared by worshipers of stone age pagan gods were the same feelings felt in the temples on the Acropolis and in the cathedrals and mosques of Europe and the Middle East. In a time when Americas warriors are active participants in the holification of culture war against the world's non-Christian people, I wonder how his tone comes across....more
Joe Bageant's conversational screed is full of common sense - scads of it. But it is brutally patronizing. His inspired chapters (on theocracy, gun coJoe Bageant's conversational screed is full of common sense - scads of it. But it is brutally patronizing. His inspired chapters (on theocracy, gun control, and the mid-2000s real estate bubble) are mired in the pedagogue's certainty that he is better than his coarse and mean subjects in every respect.
The author rhapsodizes on the tragedy befallen "his people," meaning the working poor of the American South. Because Mr. Bageant is Southern spawn and can embed into the social fabric with little personal wardrobe alteration, he believes he is an accurate meter of reigning social currents.
The first problem is that the South isn't homogeneous. And even if it were, it would not function as a proxy for the entire American hinterland. The book's thesis is to explain why an increasing number of economically distressed Americans routinely vote against their own interests, almost as though there is a default setting in that frequency. If Mr. Bageant answered this question, he did so only for a small microcosm.
The second problem is that Mr. Bageant is from Northern Virginia and professes to speak for the South. To an Alabamian like myself, Virginia is so far north its lanes should be lined with candy canes and populated with toy making elves. I feel he has no right to equate "his people" to "my people," even though the author clearly considers them one and the same. Even though I, an Alabama Democrat, am as frustrated by "my people" as a Virginia Democrat is about his, I share something even more urgent: The clannish tendency of Southerners to stick up for their own.
Like a family whose black sheep is constantly bringing shame to the family with his carousing and debauchery, woe be to the outsider who throws the first stone of criticism. Cousin Bobby might have wrecked his truck and blown his bond and is now out running around on his old lady all over the county. But we'll be damned if some carpetbagger is gonna walk into town and start tut-tutting about it. Truth is, we don't take care of own very effectively - least of all where politics are concerned - but we will shut out the first yankee who thinks for a minute we're going to listen to his two cents.
I almost wonder if that isn't the heart of the problem. If so, all of Mr. Bageant's homespun paeans to the Redneck Gothic paradigm are in vain. For the whole technicolor redneck diaspora ranging across the hinterland (South included) to sort out its political problems, powerful eurekas are needed from the congregation. As noble as Mr. Bageant's goal is, a charitable liberal Moses is not going to lead the conservative peons from their Republican Egypt. It's going to take one of their own. Since Bageant isn't the One, his work as an embedded reporter should have been impartial observation and analysis. Instead, we got an (enjoyable) narrative of hayseed gonzo and white trash tales from Lake Wobegon. Enjoyable at times, full of common sense, but delivered with a perfectly wrong tone....more
I grew up in The Church. Rather than name a denomination (and possibly offend readers), let me just say it was an archetypal Southern institution thatI grew up in The Church. Rather than name a denomination (and possibly offend readers), let me just say it was an archetypal Southern institution that had no reservations about merging the dual gospels of Jesus Christ and Ronald Reagan.
As an older kid (past the age of accountability, soon to be a teenager), I was exposed to a protracted campaign warning against the deadly slippery slope of secularism. What I remember most was the belief that there were closet Satanists lurking everywhere, performing human sacrifices and comitting suicide, willy-nilly. I was told that I was only one needle drop on an Ozzy Osbourne record, one toke on a joint, or one roll of a 12 sided (Dungeons & Dragons) die away from falling into Satan's clutches. And The Church... Man, it was serious about this.
Fast forward five years, or better, 25 years, and it's pretty clear all those midnight masses and ritual sacrifices were a boogey man. The Satanists weren't in the PTA and Better Business Bureau after all.
With this in mind, I can't help but wonder if Jeff Sharlet hasn't jumped to some conclusions in The Family. Don't misunderstand me, there's definitely something going on. I'm just not convinced it's as big and smart as Mr. Sharlet says it is. The thing about a secret is that it becomes exponentially harder to keep with each level of complication. Presuming there is a secret, evil right wing conspiracy operating worldwide is nearly as preposterous as assuming those foreign chapters submit to the ordination of US rule. To think this organization has enemies and expelled factions and still maintains its secrecy is a further stretch still.
The author does a fine job of explaining the concept behind "dominionism" and "covenantism" (pursuit of a first century Christian theocracy and the belief that American evangelicals have inherited God's covenant from the Jews, respectively). He details the challenge to separation of church and state and its effects on civil liberties. The author explains how compassion is cleverly edited out of the Christian belief as the fundamentalist movement migrates from the tent revivals of America's democratic past and into the elite echelons and the suburbs and mega-churches that service them. But other authors have done this effectively without making fantastic links to Nazism and Watergate (I refer to Kevin Phillips's American Theocracy and Reza Aslan's How To Win A Cosmic War).
If one has observed the culture war against gay rights and abortion, opposition to defining hate crimes, religious uniformity (and reading rooms) in the Pentagon, US service men and women with rifles bearing Bible verses incrypted in the serial numbers, heard Pat Robertson say Haiti made a pact with the devil, or seen Jesus Camp, then he knows something's going on. But all things being equal, the simplest answer is usually correct. In this reader's opinion, all the things Mr. Sharlet describes are correct and brilliantly observed, minus one important one: The Family itself, as an evil and all-powerful puppeteer, is very difficult to believe. ...more