Friday, January 20, 2017

How We Got Here - A Cultural History of the 21st Century - First Half of Episode I

I leant upon a coppice gate 
      When Frost was spectre-grey, 
And Winter's dregs made desolate 
      The weakening eye of day. 
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky 
      Like strings of broken lyres, 
And all mankind that haunted nigh 
      Had sought their household fires. 

The land's sharp features seemed to be 
      The Century's corpse outleant, 
His crypt the cloudy canopy, 
      The wind his death-lament. 
The ancient pulse of germ and birth 
      Was shrunken hard and dry, 
And every spirit upon earth 
      Seemed fervourless as I. 

At once a voice arose among 
      The bleak twigs overhead 
In a full-hearted evensong 
      Of joy illimited; 
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small, 
      In blast-beruffled plume, 
Had chosen thus to fling his soul 
      Upon the growing gloom. 

So little cause for carolings 
      Of such ecstatic sound 
Was written on terrestrial things 
      Afar or nigh around, 
That I could think there trembled through 
      His happy good-night air 
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew 

      And I was unaware. 

Thomas Hardy was born a little too late. He was a generation younger than the great Victorian intellectuals who represented Merry Old England at the optimistic zenith of its Victorian Era; writers and thinkers like Dickens and Thackeray and Tennyson and John Stuart Mill and Matthew Arnold and George Eliot and Cardinal Newman and Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin and Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone - men, and at least one woman who took a man's name - so influential that they defined a country and a century. The world has moved on from their overly proper and priggish optimism and their peculiar and pecuniary liberalism, but it was, for better or worse, probably the best the world was going to do in the 19th century, and a hell of a lot better than what lay in store at the start of the 20th. 
The only way that a still greater and more equitable liberalism than the Victorian liberalism that allowed for the vicissitudes of imperialism and would ever be born was to emerge from a meat grinder of death - a blood sacrifice which demanded more than two hundred million victims and made no distinction between the conservatives who held a more equitable world back, the progressives who aimed to create a greater world, and the already oppressed of both the European lower classes and the oppressed of imperial rule in Asia, Africa, and occasionally Latin America - the very people who could have benefited most had they survived the great harvest. Was it worth it?  

Hardy was one of nature's great pessimists. English Literature was ruled at the mid-19th century by Charles Dickens, the ultimate optimist and a poet of hope, who passed his characters through terrible tribulations so that they might emerge more triumphant in the end. Late century English lit was ruled, if by anyone at all, by Hardy. 
Two thirds of the way through his career, at roughly the Century's turn, he abandoned novels for poetry, perhaps because he had too much gloom in his outlook to render any longer his sour thoughts on life with the ambiguities that narrative demands. When he wrote those immortal sixteen couplets of The Darkling Thrush, was his foreboding for his own soul's future, was it foreboding for people he loved, was it for Englands, the world's? 

We are now 116 years after The Darkling Thrush, and there are three people alive in 2016 that were alive in 1900 - none of whom was born before 1899. No one is alive today who can tell us whether or not living in 2016 feels like living in 1900, but I would imagine that a certain kind of liberal felt a foreboding that could not be quenched. 

The historian Niall Ferguson, no liberal he, wrote of 1901 that an "inhabitant of London could, as he sipped his breakfast tea, have ordered a sack of coal from Cardiff, a pair of kid gloves from Paris or a box of cigars from Havana. He might also, if anticipating a visit to the grouse moors of Scotland, have purchased a 'Bradalbane Waterproof and self-ventilating Shooting Costume (cape and kilt); or he might, if his interests lay in a different direction, have ordered a copy of Maurice C. Hime's book entitled Schoolboy's Special Immorality. He could have invested his money in any one of nearly fifty US companies quoted in London - most of them railroads like the Denver and Rio Grande (whose latest results were reported that day) - or, if he preferred, in one of the seven other stock markets also covered regularly by The Times. He might, if he felt the urge to travel, have booked himself passage on the P&O liner Peninsular, which was due to sail for Bombay and Karachi the next day, or on one of the twenty-three other P&O ships scheduled to sale for Eastern destinations over the next ten weeks - to say nothing of the thirty-six other shipping lines ofering services from England to all the corners of the globe. Did New York seem to beckon? The Manitou sailed tomorrow, or he could wait for the Hamburg-America Line's more luxurious Furst Bismarck, which sailed him from Southampton on the 13th. Did Buenos Aires appeal to him more? Did he perhaps wish to see for himself how the city's Grand National Tramway Company was using - or rather, losing - his money? Very well, the Danube, departing for Argentina on Friday, still had some cabins free. The world, in short, was his oyster."

Where stand we in 2016? An inhabitant of the Washington DC metropolitan area, as he, or still depressingly seldom she, sips on their Sunday brunch mimosas, can whip out an I-phone and go on Amazon and there they can order five pounds of replica fat for $70, an old Asian man peel and stick wall decal for $30, a Nicholas Cage pillow case for $8, two ounces of weed for $5, a Kaylen's hand butt plug for $30, a fifty-five gallon drum of lube for $1350, a Roswell New Mexico soil sample for $16, a badonkadonk land cruiser for $20,000 and $500 shipping, an infant circumcision trainer for $192,1,500 lady bugs for $6.25,  a sexy inflatable sheep made to look like Dolly the first cloned sheep for $7.50, a stegosaurus dog costume for $28, 32 ounces of wolf urine for $100, an underpants dispenser for $11, a complete body unitard for $70, and uranium ore for $40. If they wanted to book a trip anywhere in the world, they could find literally hundreds of websites devoted not only to saving money on the trip, but earning money by taking a trip. They could find online classifieds houseswapping and housesitting and dozens of websites to advise them on how to get the most value out of it, they could be subsidized for years by a non-profit to volunteer and fundraise on a development project, they could look at online forums for hitchhiking and carpooling and many websites devoted exclusively how to do either/or of them safely, message boards for staffing yachts and advice on how to crew it, applications to crew a cruise on any major cruiseline's website, they can inquire onto car rental websites for people who've just moved and need vehicles driven from the place they live to a far off place, they can offer to work at a hostel rather than pay it, they can organize a group tour for which they act as both agent and guide.

Some people would say that this is the way that the world's true masters anesthetize us to the world's truest concerns by dangling consumerism and commodities in front of us and forcing us creative types to hustle our way into the lower middle class while the less imaginative and risky of us reap the world's true benefits. Many others, including me, would say that this is evidence that the world is particularly our oyster. The reason we focus on how to procure our own trivial delights not because we are slaves to the world, but because we are its masters, and once again, the world may demand remittance on our trivial concerns with a payment not in in dollars or coin of the realm, but in pounds of blood.  

(cue music)

Greetings, salutations, welcome, and all due appropriate sentiments to this episode #0 of "How We Got Here: A Cultural History of the 21st Century." 

Let's start with the first thesis of this series, and then divert enormously from it. We have just emerged from the Television Era. I believe that in the past generation, it is not movies or music that has represented us most accurately, however well some in each field of the Arts do, and it's certainly not fiction or art. Far more than any other medium, TV gives its creators the freedom and diversity to show our lives accurately, and I aim to show that as best I can.

This podcaster was born at the cusp between Generation X and Millennials, we were not only born in the television era, but even our parents can't remember a time before television. But our parents grew up with three basic networks, we grew up with thirty, and by the time we became adults, we had 300. I would imagine that we are now in the Podcast Era - hence why I'm here. But in some ways there is as great a difference between TV and Television as there is between either of them and podcasts. TV is entertainment, Television is art. TV is escapist, Television is cathartic. TV exists to comfort us, Television exists to drive us mad. 

I would date the emergence of Television from TV to somewhere between the final episode of Seinfeld in May 1998 and the pilot episode of The Sopranos in January of 1999. Something in the American air changed sometime during the last seven months of 1998 much as they seemed to change again around the Fall of 2014. 

The thirties were the decade of fascism, the eighties were the decade when Communism fell. The nineties were the decade of the blowjob. The 'quote-unquote Great Event', the most famous of 1998, and indeed, of the whole decade, was the Lewinsky investigation and the Clinton impeachment, which everyone both Right and Left agreed, represented an absolute low in American discourse - during a period so seemingly prosperous and indolent that the country had nothing better to do for an entire year than talk about the President getting head underneath the desk of the Oval Office. Nevertheless, this roughly seven-month period between Seinfeld and The Sopranos set much of the stage for everything that would later come - no pun intended, honestly.

The great political development of that period was the emergence, and a word like 'emergence' hardly does justice to the effect it had on America, of the Drudge Report. Traditional news, even 24-hour TV news, even FOX News, could not possibly keep up with the proliferation of trivial but distracting political stories, or entirely made up stories, that cater to and inflame the prejudices of people who believe in the inherent bias of traditional respectable journalists who practice journalism through the same process since the founding of The Spectator in the 1720's - and if not that many millions of people believed that traditional news had no bias before the Drudge Report, then the Drudge Report alone convinced millions. No newspaper, not even the Wall Street Journal, no yellow journalism, not even the Daily Mail, no television network, not even FOX news, could ever shape hearts and minds with the ferocious prowess of an aggregating website that could send its audience down a rabbithole of information, often false but certainly not always, that was available to them at the click of a mouse.

But if you think Drudge Report isn't a substantial enough event to mark the passing of one era to another, then for this period that contributed to American life and history - one should remember was that this was the period when the bulk of debate was conducted over whether to repeal the Glass-Steagal act, a financial act passed barely more than three months into the Franklin Roosevelt administration. Glass-Steagal was the most important substance of the Banking Act of 1933 which established a wall between commercial banks and securities firms. What Glass-Steagall meant in laymen terms is that a commercial bank at which middle class people could store their money with expectations that the money would stay put, could not itself be invested in stocks and funds so that banks could potentially make more money for both the bank and for its customers. In theory, eliminating the separation can reap incredible financial benefits to both bankers and their customers, and in practice, that's exactly what happened until The Great Recession of 2008, just as it's exactly what happened until The Great Depression of 1929. Both times, it was shown pretty much definitively that commercial banks trying to increase their holdings through the stock market was spectacularly irresponsible.

I suppose I'm giving away my political bias right at the beginning of this series - are there really that many conservative podcasters anyway? You'll quickly see that compared to most progressive podcasters I'll seem downright conservative, but I am a liberal, through and through, clinging to it like a religion in insecure times precisely because liberalism is the most insecure of all philosophies, a coreless, constantly evolving and debated theology that ultimately seems to adapt itself from era to era for the specific needs of that particular historical moment. But regardless of whether one is liberal or conservative, moderate or progressive, alt-right or intersectional warrior for social justice, everyone seems to agree that something extremely dangerous happened in American life during this period - even if we all disagree about what the particular dangers were that we passed. Whatever the center of American life was, whatever America's basic expectations and routines were, it seemed to be hollowed out sometime around that infamous year of 1998.

Around the corner was the twenty-first century, and while America is still unquestionably the world's only superpower, we are all the more vulnerable because of our indispensability, and every American would seem to agree that the 21st century beset our country with an endless parade of hopelessness. Not hopelessness by the standards of history, but hopelessness by the standards of the most prosperous and wealthiest nation in the history of our planet. Nobody knows what 2017 will bring, but there is no question, even in 2016, even in December 2016 (!), that a person desiring to make a success of him or herself has the best possible chances right here, and right now, to rise and lift oneself from poverty.

Lifting oneself up from poverty does not mean alleviating one's hardships through social programs while still contenting oneself with little more than a minimum though living wage as progressives like to believe, and contrary to what conservatives believe, it can be done while still respecting the economic rights of communities and refraining from the exploitation of others to achieve one's goals. But to rise in financial security and status to a place of self-respect and pride, and to create an identity, a security, a future, a career, and a freedom for oneself, is still something that has happened in America tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions of times more often than any other place in the world.

Since I would imagine that it is mostly liberals, progressives, and socialists, who would listen to this, I would like to point out to them a certain quote. "The lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me, show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fibre. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit. It is inimical to the dictates of sound policy. It is in violation of the traditions of America."  This quote was from the 1935 State of the Union address, it was given by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The human spirit,... spiritual and moral disintegration,... how old-fashioned, how out of touch, how quasi-religious and conservative, how bourgeois those terms sound to the enlightened modern ear which can't help but hear the echoes of Bill O'Reilly or Newt Gingrich or Margaret Thatcher talking about the corrosive effects of dependence on a citizen's ability to lift himself up by the bootstraps. But what other option has there ever been? What other motivator moves a society to prosperity? Socialists and Marxists, and sometimes even Progressives, would have us believe that a dream of self-respect is just something which we would all have innately if companies and their advertisers did not constantly deny them to us. According to such people, these are all part of the lies told from inside the whirlwind of the great neoliberal machine, which gives us feelings of security and freedom and achievement precisely by taking these feelings away from us, and always depriving us of any real version of all three.

The various substrata of leftist religions can never seem to agree upon a solution to this matter, the reason being as clear as day to its Doubting Thomases that there can be no solution to a problem that doesn't exist. Neither corporations or governments can deprive us of self-actualization when they are both extraordinary products of the human mind and its miraculous powers of organization. Both private and public organizations can be and are used for good and ill, and both are used for good and ill billions of times every day. The problem is neither corporations nor governments, the problem is the messy minds that thought of them both, organized them both, keep both running, use them both, exploit them both, and heal them both. Just as President Obama says that we are the one's we've been waiting for, we are also the ones keeping ourselves waiting. It is neither possible nor desirable to eradicate either or even shrink them significantly. But even if it were, it would be in the interests of every living being on the planet to keep both of these literally superhuman entities which simultaneously control us and are controlled by us to operate in good health and be as representative of our interests as any organization can possibly be by being so inflexible in how both are regulated that we endow both with the flexibility to check the most oppressive impulses of the other.

No matter what Jacobin intersectionalists say to discredit it, no matter what FOX News conservatives say to discredit it, no matter how many times Bill Clinton-like moderates acceded to conservative demands to dismantle it, no matter how effectively the alt-right will assault it in the future, there is only one way to live your best self,  and that is self-creation, and at least at this moment in time, America, wounded as she clearly is, is still the best place to do it.

At this point in our chat, I have to take a moment to point out that I very much realize that all this especially rife with hypocrisy when coming from a chronic manic and melancholic and learning disabled person who is therefore perhaps the last person deserving of a show on intellectual matters. I'd like to think my reading is impressively wide but if the breath of it is impressive, then the lack of discipline is truly astonishing. I will be talking at length about books I have in no way come close to finishing, cherrypicking chapters all over the place ripped from their contexts and necessarily simplified. I am, in every sense, one of those 19th century cultivated amateurs, dilettantes, who soaks in a little bit of a subject at a time and calls it knowledge. I don't think much of a lot of most academia, where specialties are, as the saying goes, a mile deep and an inch wide, but they wouldn't think much of me either, because I'm their mirror image, a relic of the kind of unspecialized pseudo-erudition that created modern academia's condition in the first place.

I am also someone whom thus far in his adult life has, to his humiliation, relied upon all manner of social welfare doles from family, friends, and in mercifully few instances, the state itself. All I can say in my defense of badmouthing the impulses to mercy and pity that let a ne'er-do-well white male born to upper-middle-class privilege like me live, and perhaps even live well, is that I'm all too intimately, all too infinitely, all too regrettably familiar with the humiliating corrosion of welfare and how it can erode a human being's self-respect. So much for partial disclosure,... There are, thankfully for me at least, structural balances that favor people like me and prevent me from falling into the worst situations which the world has to offer. Nevertheless, I think I've earned, at least to a small extent, the right to be critical of the institution. A person who requires any manner of social welfare should be able to get access at the first possible opportunity. But if it can at all, ever be avoided, the price of a person's knowledge that they have been forced to declare themselves unable to cope with life's vicissitudes without assistance on the most existential levels is a burden greater than many of us can bear.

But if we all let our personal hypocrisies hold us back from saying what statistics tell us is true, then the world would be a less knowledgeable place. To anyone willing to read the history and statistics, it should be obvious that American Liberalism has achieved more in less time than any nation in the history of the world. Let's just take one obvious example: since fifty years ago, poverty has fallen by one-sixth it's level, since sixty-five years ago, poverty has fallen by nearly 40%. Imagine what might have happened had conservatives not cut and demonized Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs. We did not end poverty, we didn't even come close, but we lifted fifty million people out of it whose ancestors never knew anything but poverty, and we lifted their children, and their grandchildren, and soon, let us pray, their great-granchildren. How many hundreds of millions are now more secure for what the United States government accomplished with the Great Society programs?

This is just one of a hundred areas where America's achievements defy description - most of which we hope I'll have something resembling the intelligence to enumerate here in detail.

So here's the problem, why are we all so hopeless? Two years ago, there was a Wall Street Journal poll that should break everybody's heart, because it showed that everybody's heart was already broken.

Why is it that the America of 1967, segregated and rioting, perpetually terrified of nuclear armageddon, wading into the mud and shit of the first war America would ever unquestionably lose, was so much more hopeful than we are today? Time and time again, postwar America achieved great and unprecedented things; but rather than fortify us and give us confidence for the next challenges, they exhausted us and depleted us of the ability to keep meeting them. Every hope that America would become a better place to live in these fifty years was born out, every one of them, and yet every hope seemed to die. We have achieved the better new world for which many of our grandparents and parents fought in all sorts of ways both militarily and, more importantly, civically, but not only did this new world turn out not that great, it also turned out that that this better world often seems terminally ill. In January 1967, we were secure that the future would be better. In January 2017, America is better, and the world probably is too, but we are anything but secure.

(cue music)

It is impossible to look at Art and not perceive in it in some way in which it tells the story of the area and era in which it was conceived, and it's furthermore impossible, much as aesthetes like Vladimir Nabokov would disagree, to look at Art without reading parallels into it from the real world - or from our own lives, or from the lives of people we know and love or hate or to whom we're ambivalent, or parallels from the metaphysical cosmos at large and those basic, microcosmic but still deep truths of life and existence.

One of Art's great secrets is its societal tremors. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Art is a societal seismograph. With obvious exceptions of course, a secure era always seems to be dominated by secure Art in which the rules are as clearly defined as are the rules of the society at large. The vast majority of the 18th century, with its intricate and unbreakable monarchical hierarchies, was the archetype of a society in which art was created with extremely distinct rules so as to not upset the precarious balance of an incredibly intricate societal structure. Just about all official European and American buildings seemed to be designed with the kind of columns one finds in Ancient Greece or Rome or even Egypt, and the fact that they imitated a pagan era rather than a Christian one was not an accident. The heights and lengths of the buildings were determined by mathematical ratios found in nature so as to provide the most harmonious possible surroundings. Christian styles, like the Gothic and the Baroque were designed in defiance of nature  - to show that there are higher spirits more important than the harmony of the natural world - or at least the supposed harmony. During the Rococo and Enlightenment eras, so much pictorial art was designed by schematic before the schematic was painted over. Just about all music ended in the same key in which it began, and the phrase-lengths are almost inevitably kept in multiples of four measures; while the poetry was by and large kept in strictest possible couplet form.

The expectations of what art was supposed to be was ironclad because the expectations of society itself was ironclad - it was the age after Newton but before Darwin. For a learned aristocrat of the period, nature was, as Eric Hoffer might put it, as orderly and harmonious as a perfectly set and wound Swiss grandfather clock. To put it somewhat differently, the earth may have been displaced from the center of the universe, but along with the Earth's displacement was moved the Church, not the State. For century after century, the State had to orbit around the Church, but since generations of Astronomers proved that the Earth was not the center of the universe, the Church was no longer the center either - and it would be a mistake to think that the two concepts are at all independent of each other. For more than a thousand years, the geocentric view of the universe was as central to the Western World's conception of itself as Christianity. Geocentrism had been kicking around since Anaximander in the Sixth Century BC, who thought that the Earth was a cylinder held at the center of the Universe, and Pythagoras, who posited that the Earth was a sphere. You can find a better explanation than I can give in Stephen Hawking's Brief History of Time, but I'll try my best to do the two-minute version.

These two concepts of the Earth being spherical and being at the Universe's center, were synthesized a quarter of a millennium later by, who else, Aristotle - who added that the other celestial bodies were spheres orbiting around us and whose theory anticipated universal gravitation by holding that the Earth was at the center of the Universe because it was the heaviest of the celestial spheres, and all the other celestial spheres like Mars and Venus would orbit around us at a speed directly proportional to their weight. But widespread acceptance of geocentrism as fact only comes from Ptolemy in the Second Century AD, who added extensive data measurements to Aristotle's observations and in some cases anticipated Kepler's idea that the planetary spheres travel not in perfect concentric circles, but in elipse form. Ptolemy was not quite that prescient, but he did note that planets did not travel in concentric circular paths, and therefore travels in orbits within its orbit, forming paths that look like celestial doodles, the center point around this second orbit Ptolemy called an equant.  As in so many cases in the history of human knowledge, the truth is radical enough that the human brain is only willing to concede next-most radical option. Authorities, rather than concede Ptolemy's equant, conceded Aristotle's idea that the Earth was at the center of the universe and that the planets move in circles around it.

That was the Hellenistic contribution to this form of knowledge, now comes the Judeo-Christian. Together, I'm sure I don't need to tell you all that often, they form the bedrock of all the Western Concepts that came after them. In a moment, hopefully, you'll see how the two are related so intimately.

The Jewish conception comes at the latest from the 8th Century BC, when the writers of the Judean court clearly began to refer to Yahweh - or Adonai - and Elohim, and Shaddai, and Elyon, as the same deity in their texts, texts which now comprise the greater share of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Tanakh. Of these, the two most prominent names for God and the two most often used are, as every Jew knows, Adonai and Elohim. At the beginning of the Torah, or, OK, the Old Testament, there are two separate and directly contradictory Creation Stories - one talking of a deity named Yahweh, whose name is spoken as Adonai in modern Jewish parlance, which in Hebrew is an honorific for nobles literally meaning 'Sir' or 'Lord.' This creation story is the common one we know, about seven days and the world of Eden, and ends with the Garden of Eden, a fruitful and bounteous paradise. But curiously, there is a second creation story, one that's both more mundane and more sophisticated, and you can tell why religions emphasize the first over the second. There is clearly a redactor who tried to make the two into a coherent narrative, but he didn't quite make it work. In the Torah, Man is created twice, plants are created twice, rain is created twice, animals are created twice. Elohim is suddenly referred to as Adonai-Elohim, and the world is not without form and void, but a dry land with nothing but dust. You can suddenly imagine the billions of years in which the Earth was a geologic formation without life. Adonai Elohim breathes the breath of life into man and animals and plants, which could even be taken as the process by which inorganic matter found each other to cohere into organic matter.

All this took place at roughly the same point in history. Between the eighth and sixth centuries BC. The central event in the widespread adoption of geocentrism took place around 150 AD, and the central event in the widespread adoption of monotheism obviously took place in the thirty-three years following 0 AD. Together, they were adopted by the Byzantine Emperor, Constantine the Great, and even more particularly due to the influence of his mother Helena in issuing the Edict of Milan in 313, when the Byzantine Empire decriminalized the Christian religion spreading throughout their lands like wildfire, and if not adapting it personally or even as the state religion as is generally supposed, then at least becoming an extremely productive patron of the Christian faith who built many temples to Christianity.

This patronage of Christianity basically lasted for 1400 years, during which the State realized that a higher allegiance was owed than they could possibly grant themselves. Popes and Emperors and Kings might be anointed by God as representatives to rule the temporal world in God's place, the Church might even make them saints, but there can only be one God, and one ruler in the Kingdom of Heaven.

But if there is a Kingdom of Heaven, then the Earth has to be a place worth ruling too that relates the glory of God and the wonder of his works. Why would this be? Many early Church figures considered it so self-evident that it would be presumptuous, perhaps even heretical, to come up with an explanation. At the beginning of this long era of eternal truths, St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote:

"And how does earth below form the foundation of the whole, and what is it that keeps it firmly in its place? What is it that controls its downward tendency? If any one should interrogate us on these and such-like points, will any of us be found so presumptuous as to promise an explanation of them? No! The only reply that can be given by men of sense is this:--that He Who made all things in wisdom can alone furnish an account of His creation. For ourselves, "through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God," as saith the Apostle."

 But for a supposedly God-centric view from which we should be so humble as not to question it, it was curiously man-centric. Perhaps closer to the reality of what this meant for mankind was Gregory's contemporary, St. Ambrose of Milan, who declared of Christ:

"Worthy surely was he to stand forth as a man who might stay the course of the river, and who might say: "Sun, stand still," and delay the night and lengthen the day, as though to witness his victory. Why? a blessing denied to Moses--he alone was chosen to lead the people into the promised land. A man he was, great in the wonders he wrought by faith, great in his triumphs. The works of Moses were of a higher type, his brought greater success. Either of these then aided by divine grace rose above all human standing. The one ruled the sea, the other heaven." 

Take away the poesy and what this means is that there are representatives on earth, aided by divine grace to rise above all human standing, therefore chosen by God to rule all temporal creation in his stead. Therefore, because these rulers are appointed, or anointed, by God, the Church, the conduit through which we can all worship Him, has primacy over the state, which is present to administer exclusively to worldly matters. But near as this not intellectually humble enough practicing Jew can tell, the most important of these early church figures to establishing this de-facto primacy of man is probably Hippolytus of Rome, who wrote:

"For what richer beauty can there be than that of the circle of heaven? And what form of more blooming fairness than that of earth's surface? And what is there swifter in the course than the chariot of the sun? And what more graceful car than the lunar orb? And what work more wonderful than the compact mosaic of the stars? And what more productive of supplies than the seasonable winds? And what more spotless mirror than the light of day? And what creature more excellent than man?

There it is. The humility before the face of creation that to the modern ear sounds like the exact opposite of humility. God is so perfect that he must create beings who are the image of his perfection, as beautiful in our ways as the celestial circles of heaven are in theirs, and therefore because everything is so perfect in this best of all possible geocentric universees, man, the divine image of God, must be the center of the universe. Man is the purpose of creation so that he can both appreciate God's creation and also appreciate his likeness to the divine image.

And to show how stationary, how incredibly undeveloped, this both extraordinarily humble and breathtakingly arrogant mode of life was, let's fast forward roughly a millennium into the future to St. Thomas Aquinas, certainly thought of as the most consequential Medieval Christian philosopher and whom I shall not claim to have ever read a single page that wasn't from a book or website full of quotes, but thanks to that greatest of all modern incarnations of the divine, Google, we find that Aquinas writes in his Summa Theologicae that:

"Theology as God has taught it differs in kind from the theology of philosophers - notice that Aquinas takes it as a given that all philosophers are theologians. And let's also note that the bar to becoming a philosopher was quite different at the time, since it simply meant a person who loves wisdom, and therefore studies wisdom, and the study of wisdom can take in any of the sciences, or the arts, or the humanities, all of which are present in the world to relate the Glory of God alone.  Sciences are differentiated by different ways of knowing things: astronomers prove the earth round with abstract geometrical argument - from the shape of its shadow - physicists prove it from earth's concrete physical properties... So something that is the subject of a naturally learned discipline when known by the light of reason becomes the subject of another science when known by the light of God's revelation."

He also writes:

"However, we cannot argue from a definition of God in this science, because we do not know how to define him. Instead, we argue from his effects, be they nature or grace. In certain natural sciences we do the same, proving about causes not from their definitions but from their effects."

In this stationary, unprogressive universe of the Middle Ages when all truths are eternal, science is not to be studied for its own effects, science is the study by which we discover how God's glory is manifested on Earth.

Therefore! With the displacement of the Earth from the center of the Universe, the Church must also be displaced. It becomes a secondary worldly body, gravitationally drawn to into the forceful web of State - which could weave a society with far greater intricacy than the Church ever could on its most organized day. When controlled by the Church, what does it matter if peasants are kept in squalor? Blessed are the poor, and the greater the degradation, the greater their reward will be in the world to come. But as horrible as it might seem to our 21st century ears, a nobleman has to look after his property, which is a reflection of his character. If peasants and livestock and land and infrastructure was kept in disarray, it would reflect horribly on the people who ran it. That is not to say that abuses that would horrify us would not be perpetrated every day in every region, it's not to say that abuses that would even horrify people at the time were not committed all the time by noblemen who didn't much care how they were viewed by others - just think of Mozart's Don Giovanni or certain unusually self-reflective musings from King Lear. But there was a marked improvement, and because there was a marked improvement, there was also a corresponding demand for still greater improvement. More on that in a moment.

The point is that while there was evidence which displaced the Earth as the central stationary body around which the universal spheres revolved, there was no hard evidence yet that the Sun was not at the center - as Copernicus would have it. And like the Sun, the central body of the universe which gives light and warmth and protection and vision, the monarchy was the light of the world around which all society revolved as a reflection of the Sun/King's glory - the allusion to the Baroque French King Louis XIV is not entirely accidental. In such an age, life should be a harmoniously regimented hierarchy in which every person knew his place in the social structure, and should be eternally satisfied with it.

But as anyone who grew up in the suburbs can tell you, hierarchy and predictability can at times feel, however well-managed, like a prison, and when the prison walls come down, the chaos is that much more explosive because nobody remembers what chaos feels like.

The Middle Ages were an orgy of chaos. There is no true way of measuring its demography, and because there isn't, there's a distinct tendency in certain circles of the extreme left and the extreme right to idealize it - one of the idealizers of the Middle Ages is a political scientist, if one can even call it that, named Aleksandr Dugan, who is said to be Vladimir Putin's favorite intellectual. Here is one choice quote of his which can be a standin for how many people feel about the European Middle Ages:

"We need to return to the Sein, to the Logos, to the fundamental ontology (of Heidegger), to the Sacred, to the New Middle Ages - and thus to the Empire, religion, and the institutions of traditional society (hierarchy, cult, domination of spirit over matter and so on). All content of Modernity - is Satanism and degeneration. Nothing is worth, everything is to be cleansed off. The Modernity is absolutely wrong -- science, values, philosophy, art, society, modes, patterns, "truths", understanding of Being, time and space. All is dead with Modernity. So it should end. We are going to end it."

It sounds like something Dostoevsky's Grand Inqusitor would say if he were presiding over Kafka's Trial. Now let's be clear, Dugin's not saying that we need to kill art and science and values and philosophy, he just wants a complete reorientation in how we think of them. And his admiring mention of Heidegger is the clear indicator of how he thinks of them, and it's also worth remembering that Heidegger was a Western philosopher in whom a lot of archaically minded thinkers esteem highly. Ayatollah Khomeini went so far as to believe that nothing in Western Philosophy is worth much except Heidegger. But Heidegger, with his inward and contemplative ideas of pure being and anxieties that gradually creep into our concerns - to say nothing of the Nazi sympathies he held which keep getting more and more pronounced the more specialists delve into his private papers - is in some ways the ultimate neo-medievalist. Think of this quote from Being and Time:

"All being is in Being (the second Being is capitalized). To hear such a thing is trivial to our ear, if not, indeed offensive, for no one needs to bother about the fact that being belongs to Being (once again, the second Being is capitalized). All the world knows that being is that which is. What else remains for being but to be? And yet, just this fact that being is gathered together in Being (again upper case), that in the appearance of Being being appears, astonished the Greeks and first astonished them and them alone." 

Heidegger believed that if you went back to the source, you can recapture that initial awe at the discovery of consciousness, before consciousness was supposedly perverted into doubt, and perhaps resurrect and prolong it indefinitely. Thinking and poetry were, for him, one and the same. The truths of great artistic achievement were as literally true in the same manner as great thought. From my obviously limited vantage point, that is a sentiment that is probably true, but no philosopher, even Heidegger, has the intellectual depth to find the levels upon which that is true. I'm not at all qualified to say whether or not Heidegger realized them, but to a dilettante like me it seems fairly reasonable to say that he didn't. And therefore, his search for an entirely different way of understanding thought meant that we had to go back to the very origins of writings about thought. Heidegger did not rely on classical thinking like Aristotle in the way that Aquinas and the Church founders before him did, he went back to the earliest, pre-Socratic thought. He wanted to go all the way back, past the foundations of civilizations to civilization's very dawn when philosophy and poetics meant the same thing and before their arbitrary separation. In other words, medievalism can be considered to not have gone far enough in its rejection of reason - even Socrates and Aristotle are suspect. Aristotle takes it prima facie that we are rational beings. Heidegger does not believes that, he believes that we are beings consistently hurled forth into the future. He did not think, as Kant did, that space was much of a mystery. But if you think of time as space, then we are constantly stretching new parts of ourselves to grow into the new time. We are not rational beings for Heidegger, we are simply three-dimensional beings trying to apprehend a four-dimensional world in which time is always advancing and we have to remind ourselves from moment to moment that time has advanced. Therefore, our projection of time is just a projection, and we are always projecting expectations upon the future of what the future is, and therefore our projections and expectations can never reach proper fruition. He goes back to Sophocles - whom anybody who's read Oedipus can tell us is the great poet of how knowledge can destroy even heroes. He goes back the poet, Parmenides, who's known today because of a single fragmentary poem, the slightly Ecclesiastes-like gist of which is that change is a myth, even time is a myth, and the world as we perceive it is a false reality. and even Anaximander (remember him?) the proto-scientist who is apparently the first thinker to truly ponder the idea of beginnings. The period Heidegger clearly had most sympathy with was the dawn of civilization as we know it, that period roughly around the Eighth to the Sixth Century BC, when thoughts about our place in the cosmos were first centralized; though, good Nazi as he often was, he didn't care much to investigate the Hebrew side of that equation. To this thinking, be it medieval, or be it distantly related to modern totalitarianism, decadent thought sets in almost by the mere existence of thought itself, because thought requires skepticism and critical distance and individuality, which alienates us from appreciating our existence properly and results in all those spiritual diseases that modern language would call despair, which leads to the possibility of wide-scale destruction. Against so much evidence to the contrary, Heidegger believed that the world did not have to be this way. The only way to make a world without such suffering is to knock the whole thing down and start from scratch with no guarantee that at the end of all that revolution, all that murder, all that suffering, you've created a world any better than the one you destroyed to make it possible. Had Heidegger been more open to the Hebrew side of knowledge's beginnings, he might have taken Ecclesiastes more to heart, with its idea that  'For in much wisdom is much grief, and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.'

There are leaders who reassure us that the economic problems we have are not indicative of problems within the human spirit, which is doing just fine, and that all we have to do is take care of some material concerns that with the human faculty for empiricism and reason and invention and dogged persistence, can be overcome, albeit with titanic difficulty. Any follower of the Enlightenment would have to agree that that's at least our best option. In America we have Obama and Roosevelt and Lincoln, and in this nascent post-American world, perhaps we have Angela Merkel. But there are also leaders, leaders like (yes) Adolf Hitler, or in completely different ways, Ayatollah Khomeini, or in a completely different way again that perverts the Enlightenment, Mao Zedong, who assure us that the economic troubles that beset us are due to a spiritual crisis, that our material crises are like a gangrenous limb that has to be completely amputated, and once we do, our problems shall cease - perhaps that limb is Jews, perhaps it's imperialism, or perhaps it's capitalists, or perhaps it's Sunni Muslims, or perhaps Mexicans... and eventually, it's even the salt-of-the-earth people whom such spiritual leaders claim to represent who suffer for the failure of the better world to materialize. The consciousnesses of their followers becomes so pure, so ecstatic, that no amount of critical faculty can compete with onrush of good feelings they experience, and in the process, if they no longer can doubt, their individuality ceases to matter, and they can be mowed down at the leisure of the leader they follow. Humanity will always be a messy substance of labyrinthine complexity - a whole whose parts never fit together. But if you believe that the problems of humanity are due to a spiritual disease, then a guru figure who promises a revolution and a radical break with the diseased parts will always be precisely the intellectual narcotic for which you search. This is, of course, a matter further complicated by materialism itself being elevated by both the American Right and much of the worldwide Left into its own forms of religion, and we'll get to all that in later podcasts.

So consider one of Heidegger most famous aphorisms: "The human being is not the lord of beings, but the shepherd of Being." (the second Being is capitalized), Now that could just as easily have been said by Anselm or Augustine. It's not just the Christian imagery of the Lord and his shepherd, but it has that same medieval patina of humility that says, in the words of the short medieval hymn, the Non Nobis: "Not unto us, oh Lord, but to thy name give the glory."  God, in this case, is replaced by the more elusive concept of Being. So on the, perhaps, off-chance that God might not be there, that there's no Being either in the sense of a superior being or in the sense of consciousness as Heidegger generally understands it (and nobody agrees on how he did), what is it then that we are shepherding? It would seem to me at least that all we shepherd toward some kind of transcendent possibility is a bunch of hydro-chemical machines who can feel great suffering with no guarantee that transcendence can be attained, or even be worthwhile.

Or think of the line from his critique of Nietzsche, which he ends by saying "Thinking begins only after we have experienced that reason, though glorified for centuries, is the most stiff-necked adversary of thinking." What in Nietzsche was merely strongly hinted at becomes in Heidegger an imperative - the enlightenment, the glorification of the human mind, is not just a mixed bag, it's a total flop. Reason itself is a self-betrayal.

Obviously, this is one of the most grotesque oversimplifications imaginable of one of the most disputed and endlessly discussed philosophers in the history of the field. But it would be very difficult to wade into the minefield that is Heidegger unless you were willing to stay there for episodes at a time, and if I did, you wouldn't. So let's suffice to say that even if a certain sympathy with National Socialism might have been an inevitable byproduct of his thinking, even if he spent one year as a very public Nazi party member and then eleven years privately and retained high hopes of reforming Nazism into something more cultured, Heidegger was also clearly a naif. He was a contemplative man had very little conception of politics as it was actually practiced, and after his first year Rector of Marburg University during which he was an extremely eminent spokesperson for Nazism who gave enormous intellectual prestige to its thuggery, he mostly retreated back into the life of the mind for the duration of Nazi Germany's existence. Aleksandr Dugin, on the other hand, is a political scientist, and some have thought him such an effective political activist that they refer to him as "Putin's Rasputin."

Dugin's main idea is of a Fourth Political Theory. The first being conservatism of traditional hierarchies, the second being socialism that overthrows class structure in the name of equality, the third being various sorts of centrism that fuse together economic progressivism with social liberalism - in America, we would generally call this liberalism, with the addendum that the way European third-way politicians define it sounds closer to moderate, Clintonesque Democrats of the DLC variety, or perhaps even that now endangered and unrepresented species - the Moderate Republican. What European thinkers forget is that if mainstream liberal American politicians like Obama and Nancy Pelosi lived in a Northwestern European country where they could advocate for something at least moderately closer to the Second political theory, they certainly would, but they can't.

But just as Europeans see a third political theory in the American style marriage of social liberalism to economic progressivism, there is also a more theocratic marriage of social illiberalism to economic conservatism. Now let's be clear about this, conservatism as it's generally defined in America has become synonymous with illiberalism, but conservatism, properly applied, need not be illiberal, it's just cautious in it's liberality. In the 19th Century, a conservative like Otto von Bismarck or Benjamin Disraeli was in many senses more concerned with the plight of the poor than their liberal opponents. In spite of their bellicosity to other nationalities, it was the anti-democratic Bismarck who implemented the first modern social safety net, and it was the arch-imperialist Disraeli who made the British government monitor sanitation and construct working class housing. In America, a proper traditional conservative would be political figures like George HW Bush who raised taxes and increased welfare spending rather than worsen an economic downturn, or Dwight Eisenhower, who raised income tax to its all-time high and constructed the inter-state highway system. In some senses, their obvious great heir is the Clintons. But if you add a 'very' to the conservative moniker, then you could include John McCain, who has a record of championing campaign finance reform, environmental protection, and treatment of detainees. Or Mitt Romney, who of course instituted a near-universal health care plan in Massachusetts that became the basis for Obamacare and did much else besides as a Governor that could be considered conservative rather than illiberal. Squint, and you might even call John Kasich an ultra-conservative, though Kasich's record on women's rights is certainly abysmally illiberal.

But starting with Newt Gingrich, there was very little either liberal or conservative about conservatives. They were simply illiberal, or more to the point, anti-liberal. Conservatism is not anti-liberalism, it is simply anti immediate liberalism. When a conservative sees a person of different circumstances, he or (more rarely) she, does not see an equal, but they do see a person worthy of protection. A gentry of means and land always looks after his property, and since conservatives generally view America as their own property rather than yours, it would reflect badly on them if the property were poorly kept.

But illiberals, which in this case is basically synonymous with anti-liberals, have an extraordinarily different view of the world. And at this point, it's best to let Putin's Rasputin once again speak for himself:

It is necessary to focus on the Fourth Poltiical Theory

It is based on the existential understanding of the people (as a whole - people as Dasein - which, if I may interject, is Heidegger's term for 'Being There' more on that in a moment), but it ascend to the Logos (meaning 'word of God'), to the intellectual elite of a Fourth Way. And this elite of the Fourth Way can not be a nationalist - it should be imperial, great-continental, traditionalist, metaphysical and sacred. And it needs to understand Daseins of all peoples, and to take into account its fine core, to understand their Logos, to listen to the quiet voice hidden in the depths of people's Being. 

This elite of Fourth Way will collide with demagogues and hysterical "leaders", that a wave of new nationalism inevitably will bring to the front as the foam on the surface of the fermenting sea. And the battle begins now. It would be better that neo-nationalist monster would be strangled in the cradle. But it is about to appear.

Therefore, now - after Trump's great success - is relevant as never before the general plan for fundamental conservatives and traditionalists all over the world - at least of America, Europe, Russia, Iran, Turkey and the rest of Eurasia (and the others who will join us). We need a common front aimed not only at the rest of the Liberals (finish to drain the liberal Swamp is a technical task now) but as well to prevent and neutralize new nationalism.

End quote.

I'm wondering very much if Dugin is his own translator into English because whoever translated this has so many spelling and grammar errors that I have to fill in the gaps myself of what I would imagine is his meaning, though not speaking Russian, I hardly dare say that my filling is adequate. Philosophy is in the eye of the beholder. I doubt many people would consider this great philosophy. Most academics would certainly tell you that this is not philosophy any more than this podcast is any kind of philosophy. What this clearly is, to my liberal Western ears, and I would assume yours, is a battle cry that uses philosophy as the varnish to polish the sword. Very few people who are not Sunni Muslims considered Sayyid Qutb to be a great thinker. Yet his thinking animated the Muslim Brotherhood, incited the assassination of General Nasser, and directly inspired Osama bin Laden.

Thinkers do not need to be good to be remembered, they just need to be effective. We don't need to talk about how Ayn Rand inspired so many Americans, though, to be sure, that will come up in later podcasts. One could even make the argument, one that I think has genuine weight, that it was never the vague theoretical writings of Karl Marx that inspired people, but his journalism which had so many aphorisms that followers could take to heart as war cries.

Just in these two quotes from Dugin, which are consecutive in a text that was clearly written after Trump's election but with no date, we have both a number of striking aphorisms, and an incredibly clever subversion of a thinker generally acknowledged to be extraordinarily profound. Just in this little quote, there is a subtle but unbelievably fiendish subversion of Heidegger. Dugin construes Heidegger's Dasein as meaning the people. Now, a thinker as ambiguous as Heidegger would never take something as revelatory as human consciousness and apply it to something as banal as people, or even 'the people', even if, because he was so ambiguous and removed from reality, he clearly believed in his political life that mass movements could facilitate greater consciousness. In a sense, Dugin's belief is closer to Jung (another Nazi sympathizer though he never joined the party) with his ideas of the collective unconscious, or to Martin Buber because of Heidegger's formulation that thought is organized in such a way that we treat every object as something separate from us as a subject. If you view Heidegger's critique of thought through Martin Buber's lenses, then Heidegger would say that language forces us into an I-It relationship with everything of which we speak. Buber believes that we should have an I-Thou relationship with the world in which we view all beings as equals. Heidegger believes that it is language itself, and perhaps more basic than language, the human reason that constructs language, which prevents us from having an I-Thou relationship with nearly anything at all. But in Dugin, the goal is no longer I-Thou; the goal  is Thou-I, or perhaps even It-I because the goal itself is for everybody to have the same consciousness, and we treat all other beings not as equal to us, but as indistinguishable from us. For Heidegger, that would be absolutely unacceptable - the whole reason to embrace mass movements and mass consciousness is to facilitate greater dignity in people. It would at best be a cheapening of Heidegger's abstraction, at worst, an heretical inversion that results in precisely the opposite of the end goal of living lives more authentic to an individual person's potential that was Heidegger's most cherished goal. But Dugin is not interested in authenticity, he's interested in Logos, the Word of God. He is a thinker in the tradition of novelists like Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn, who see themselves just as much the heirs of Eastern Christian theologians like John of Damascus or or Three Holy Heirarchs as they do Shakespeare and Homer. Both Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn believed that the Orthodox Church was the true Christian Church stretching back to Constantine and Helena - who adapted Christianity during an era that Roman pagans still wanted to persecute Christians. These Slavophiles particularly think that the Russian Orthodox Church, easily the most powerful of the Eastern Churches, was endowed with a special destiny to bring the world back to God. It is, in its way, a modern and under-thought of Christian equivalent to Radical Islam that has not yet reached its full destructive potential. If this man is truly Putin's Rasputin, then if this is what he believes, then it's at least possible that Putin does too. And as absurd as it might seem, this brutally cynical world leader who plays grand strategy like Rachmaninov played the piano, plays it with the ultimate goal of waging Holy War. 

Whatever is Putin's ultimate priority, the ultimate priority of Dugin is Logos - the Divine Word. The most famous instance of the word Logos is in the Gospel According to St. John.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." 

Dugin's ultimate ambition is not intellectual like Heidegger's. He does not want to go back to the beginning of thought and restructure thought itself. He wants to go back to the very strict hierarchy of the Middle Ages when the Divine Word was Divine Law. What in Heidegger is a world of abstractions is a world of all too concrete realities to Dugin. Without very careful parsing, you could miss that Dugin makes 'people' synonymous Heidegger's Dasein, which means 'being' or 'existence' or 'consciousness'. What does this mean? It means that in the Fourth Political Theory, people are meant to return to a state of being where they no longer conscious of themselves as individuals but exist as a singular mass consciousness.

Attraction to mass consciousness was perhaps an inevitable byproduct of Heidegger's thought, but it was not the purpose or the Dasein of it. But mass consciousness is most definitely the Dasein of Dugin's thought.  Even if this is not good thought, it's clever thought, it's useful thought to politicians, and what more need be done to make people take a thinker seriously?

And just like in Marx, the theory itself, whatever it is, is nowhere near as important as the aphorisms, or epigrams disguised as aphorisms, which spur the reader to action. You might remember this chilling passage from twenty minutes ago or so:

All content of Modernity - is Satanism and degeneration. Nothing is worth, everything is to be cleansed off. The Modernity is absolutely wrong -- science, values, philosophy, art, society, modes, patterns, "truths", understanding of Being, time and space. All is dead with Modernity. So it should end. We are going to end it.

I count at least five potential aphorisms in this half-paragraph that can be remembered for hundreds of years. But in a different quote which I've read, you may have earlier noticed his most striking aphorism of all, one that in this case just appears in a parenthesis, but I can assure you is scrawled around Dugin's thought everywhere. "Drain the liberal swamp." "Drain the liberal swamp." ... "DRAIN THE LIBERAL SWAMP!"

I don't need to tell you where you've heard this, I don't need to tell you where you're going to hear this. All you have to remember is that when Trump uses this phrase, all he does is extract the word 'liberal' from it, and it becomes just as useful to him as "Abolish all private property" was to Lenin.

So if Trump got this from Dugin, the question then becomes, what does Dugin mean by liberal? So let's look at another recent essay of his, charmingly called: Donald Trump, The Swamp and Fire.

"The Swamp" is to become the new name for the globalist sect, the open society adepts, LGBT maniacs, Soros's army, the post-humanists, and so on. Draining the Swamp is not only categorically imperative for America. It is a global challenge for all of us... We need to purge our societies of the Swamp's influence... Swamp-drainers of the whole world unite!

From now on, the Swamp is an extraterritorial phenomenon, exactly like an international terrorist network. The Swamp is everywhere and nowhere. Yesterday, the center of the Swamp, its core, was situated in the US, but not anymore. This is a chance for all of us to start hunting them. The Swamp no longer manifests itself in a regionally-fixed form. Nevertheless, it exists and is still very, very powerful.... This all seems like the globalists' rapture. They are now absorbed in a non-space, a utopia, in the land of the liberal utopia -- a no-man's land. We are now witnesses to the deterritorialization of the Swamp, the globalist elite, and the World Government.

What is the structure of the swamp? (and this is where it gets important)

First of all, the Swamp is an ideology -- Liberalism. We need a Nuremberg Trial for Liberalism, the last totalitarian political ideology of Modernity. Let us close this page of history.

Secondly, the Swamp is a special post-modernist culture. It is based on the decomposition of any entity through digitalization, obligatory schizomorphism, and so on. To drain it signifies restoring the Apollonian unity of art. Art should return to holism.

Thirdly, it is transnational global capitalism. This is the material motor of the Swamp. It is loans and the Federal Reserve System printing poisonous green bills. We need to end all of this and return to the real productive sector and mercantilist approach. 

He then goes on to propound the ideas of some Russian sociologist named Pitirim Sorokin, who sounds vaguely like a Russian Oswald Spengler with his ideas of irreversible life cycles in societies. The metaphor is very simple and we can pick it up again where he leaves off.

It is impossible for the Swamp to evolve back into a semi-Swamp. After the Swamp comes the Sun, i.e., the fire, the Spirit - the Spirit in its radical, ideational form. To drain the Swamp, we need solar Fire, a Great Fire which should be in abundance. 

The Swamp and Fire are two opposite elements distributed across the earth. Geopolitics now becomes vertical. Both of them can be found at any point. The meaning of place now is the momentum of the process of draining the Swamp. Where? Here and now. 

The USA is the Far West of the world. It is the space of Midnight. And there the final point of the Fall is reached. The moment at hand is one of a change of poles. The West turns into the East. Putin and Trump are in two opposite corners of the planet. In the 20th century, these two extremes were embodied by the most radical forms of Modernity -- capitalism and communism. Two apocalyptical monsters -- Leviathan and Behemoth. Now they have turned into eschatological promises: Putin's Greater Russia and America liberating itself under Trump. The 21st century has finally begun." 

And he concludes: "So all we need now is the fire." 

We can't deny it, it's true and staring us all in the face. We liberals, we alleged global elite, are now so transnational that there is no country that will hold us. Liberalism is not tied to country, it is tied to ethics, and in the absolute sense, will never declare "My country, right or wrong" the way an absolute conservative, or an absolute anti-liberal would, and therefore, it was only a matter of time before we liberals were cut off from nationalism at its very root.

So who then, are these liberals? As Dugin would define it, they are post-modernists - schizomorphics he calls us, which I suppose means that we are so untethered to ideology that we can be convinced to believe anything at any point. It's also transnational capitalism with its paper money and credit, the swamp of which he proposes to drain by returning to mercantilism - in this case meaning the production and trade of raw materials. So socialists and anarchists and Marxists may yet find a place in this proposed world order just as there is clearly a place for Republican anti-liberal elites, whom so often profess to be the ultimate individualists to whom mass movements should be anathema. And yet clearly, in a Trump Presidency, they've reconciled themselves for the moment to thriving. 

Here is part of an article Dugin wrote the day of the election in which he explains both what liberalism means to him, and why he can tolerate the particulars of Republican antiliberalism:

Hillary Clinton is the path of globalism, the unipolar world, and the continuation of US hegemony. Under the present circumstances in which American might is collapsing in all regions of the world, a Clinton victory  means war – war against everyone who opposes US hegemony and chooses the multipolar world instead of the unipolar one. Clinton is the old world order, the one which was formed in the early 1990’s. This order is coming to an end, but it does not want to be ended. And this means agony. The agony of a small state or nation is one thing. It is scary and dangerous, even toxic. But the agony of a global hyper-power is a monstrous challenge for the whole world, for all of mankind. It is like a titan falling into the abyss. It can easily drag all the others down with it. In fact, Clinton is a genuinely possessed candidate. But not only by virtue of her personal qualities. Rather, her individual obsession reflects the madness of the globalist elites. They still rule the world, but their time is running out. They no longer attract or seduce anyone. People obey them only out of fear and weakness. Hillary Clinton is an image of the insane Great Mother Cybele (Sybel) who castrated her loved ones. She bears the matriarchal element of horror that demands submission without guaranteeing anything in return. Clinton means war.


Donald Trump is the America that we almost lost. This is a huge country inhabited by rustic, naive, and strong-willed people who are each busy with their own personal issues, establishing businesses and companies, work and amusement, but they are all Trump’s Americans for one reason: they want to feel free. That’s it. Trump’s supporters are the characters from Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the psychiatric clinic patients ruled by the Big Mother, the chief nurse Mildred Ratched – Big Nurse as Big Mother. They see that the globalist elite of Wall Street, the maniacs of the Federal Reserve System, and the ultra-liberals are depriving ordinary Americans of what is most important to them: their identity. As Patrick Buchanan said, America subjugated the world, but it lost itself. The only way out for the real America, the America of freedom, is direct democracy and dignity. This is Donald Trump. In him there is hope for peace with other peoples, Americans’ return home to their “city on a hill” which has long since been out of sight, forgotten, and abandoned by the transnational elite, the neocons, and the global schemers of the CFR (Council on Foreign Relations) who don’t care about America. Trump’s America is an America returning to its roots, an America focused on its domestic situation and renouncing hegemony and global strategies. Such an America could become not only a partner, but a sincere friend to all other nations and peoples. Trump is Randle Patrick McMurphy from Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He rebelled against Big Nurse to free all the others. He encouraged them to have faith in themselves and rid them of their fear of the Big Mother’s black magic. Trump’s battle against Hillary is also a psychoanalytical drama. It is the independent, patriarchal male leaving behind the castrated spell of aggressive and harsh femininity. 


So let's leave aside the hypocrisy of yet another intellectual who hates the decadence of American popular culture but never stops using examples of it when it suits him. Russia tolerates the radical individualism of the hard American right for two reasons. One reason is less interesting because it's the usual one: Russian nationalism - a resentment of America's ability to impose its culture to the world. America can be a friend to all, so long as it is just one nation among many, and not a nation that exports its culture everywhere, but this leads us exactly to the second reason, and the extremity of Dugin's sexist rhetoric indicates this reason so charmingly. The second reason is ideological. Russia resents America exporting its ideas across the globe because the ideas are liberal, because the ideas America represents are not just in contradiction to traditional American patriarchal values, but in contradiction to the world. America, as haphazardly as it's fulfilled its ideals, held out hope to the world that a better, freer, more equal world, which has greater dignity between sexes and races and less income disparity, is possible. As so many governments have, Putin's government doesn't just resent America for exporting its ideas, Putin resents America for exporting good ideas. what those ideas are even more than it resents us for exporting them.

What Russia hates is American liberalism: pure, boring, unreformed, mid-20th century, rock-ribbed, Rooseveltian, American liberalism. An ideology viewed as totalitarian because it's no ideology at all, and therefore invalidates other ideologies. The same liberalism accused of being a perversion of classic liberalism to which Republican antiliberals want to revert, the same liberalism which Socialists and Marxists call neoliberal and think outmoded, the same liberalism which anti-imperialists accuse of being conservatism with the added hypocrisy of a human face, the same liberalism which imperialists accuse of advocating policies no different anti-imperial terrorists. The liberal whose best motto is to live and let live, and in the course of human events, this liberalism corrects itself to better let us live and let live. It corrected itself after World War I to mean internationalism, corrected itself after the Great Depression to mean economic progressivism, it corrected itself during World War II to mean anti-pacifism, it corrected itself during the Kennedy era to make human rights for all, then corrected itself during the Johnson era to mean that human rights should be a particular priority at home where unintended consequences can be minimized - and had to correct itself on this matter yet again during the Bush era. A liberalism that went from Wilson to Roosevelt to Truman to Kennedy and Johnson to King, before its progress was halted, and then made manifest again by Obama. A liberalism that adjusted itself by untold numbers of thinkers, statistics, and debates, and constantly evolving itself to give humanity a greater and greater chance at something better for all and not merely the elite. But the greater liberalism's triumphs become, the greater its defeats are when defeated. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Review Dump 4


The Crown Season 1: 
I am absolutely ashamed by how much I loved this show. I'm no fan of monarchy, I'm no fan of any ideology it propounds, and my natural interest in the extremely dull and rather stupid people who occupy the throne would be next to none if their incompetence and venality were not significant to history. But it is the very weight of the office and the significance with which we have, against our better angels, to treat it, that makes this show so compelling. Whether or not we like Monarchy, the English Monarchy is as important as it is absurd, and the decisions of its occupants carry real weight in the world.



Like The Godfather or Mad Men or The Great Gatsby, we have entered a repressive world with its own restrictive rules and customs followed by people we should find repulsive, but the tale is told so thoroughly from their point of view that we can't help but become sympathetic to them, perhaps even complicit in their sins.

The writer is Peter Morgan, writer of Frost/Nixon and The Queen, and a better writer about politics than any current American. I can understand why people might find his writing to be monarchist propaganda, but he documents its absurdity so thoroughly that I find that charge almost completely specious. And even if it weren't, an assertion that the contemporary monarchy ain't so bad is nowhere near as sinister an implication as another rousingly fascist Aaron Sorkin speech that immediately unites a patriotic fictional public.



What makes Morgan's writing so incredible is its plausibility. His ability to impersonate historical figures - get inside their heads and make them say things which completely resonate with both our historical images of them, and the historical record, is unparalleled. And never moreso has he passed this test than in the most acid test of his career, to plausibly render Winston Churchill. John Lithgow's Winston Churchill is wonderful, even if there's a mild whiff of Lithgow simply being John Lithgow imitating Churchill, if Lithgow's Churchill seems more successful than it is, then it's because of Morgan's extraordinary writing.

We now see, as no play or screenplay ever could, how well Morgan manages the evolution of characters. Thus far, he seems as virtuosic a manager of changing character as he is of character itself. In the span of a season, Queen Elizabeth went from overwhelmed, to underconfident, to steely confident, to oppressively arrogant. It is a virtuoso feat of writing, and hardly less of Clare Foy's acting. Princess Margaret is hardly less difficult to manage - who has to go in the span of a season from the girl everybody falls in love with (the princess next door) to a sad drunk. But no royal makes the impact of their uncle, the abdicated and viperous King Edward VIII, played with the seductive venom of a snake-in-the-grass by Alex Jennings. Edward is simultaneously a man of dignity caught in a situation of terrible pathos, a connivingly hateful and petty man, and a complete upper class twit. Jennings aces all three facets.



I have no idea if The Crown's achievement will stay at this lofty peak, but this is as strong a first season as any TV show I've ever seen. It is a show in which the full weight of history is felt upon our backs, as we watch The Crown, we truly feel as though this is how it was made.

Stranger Things Season 1 and Westworld Season 1: Stranger Things seemed to be the biggest show since Sliced Bread until the Westworld juggernaut completely subsumed it. I find that to be a shame, because Stranger Things is a better show - both much funnier, much more moving; and however surreal they both are, much more true to life.

It seems odd to think that we're now so far away from the 80's that the the spirit of the 80's requires a revival. Spielberg and Stephen King are still alive and working, so are Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford. Tom Cruise and Eddie Murphy are only 55 now and could still have another forty years. John Hughes is dead but his teens barely look any older: Molly Ringwald and Mia Sara are still beautiful and not even fifty yet, Matthew Broderick is pushing 55 but he looks as though Ferris Bueller could still pass for a high school senior skipping class, Fred Savage barely looks any older than 12. Michael J. Fox is thankfully still around and Danny DeVito's still a major TV star.  Whitney and Michael and Prince and George Michael are all dead, but Madonna still performs, so does Bruce and Bon Jovi and U2. Even Journey still hobbles around, however much a shell of its former self. I needn't even remind you who's to become our President, nor do I need to remind you which President made him possible.

In spite of Reagan's presence, the eighties were a decade about youth. The Baby Boomers now had children, and true to their generation's good intentions and terrible follow-through, Baby Boomers wanted to give their children a childhood as idyllic as their own. They completely succeeded, and only forgot to give us an adulthood as well-provided. The nostalgia of Stranger Things is not only Generation X's nostalgia for their lost innocence, it's a nostalgia for a completely lost America. When millennials watch Stranger Things, they have no memory of a secure middle class and small town America where the sense of community was unassailable. When childhood was an innocence corrupted neither by the internet or too many safety rules, and the only part of the world that was dangerous to explore was the human imagination, which created Stephen King-like horrors because the real world was so banal. To Generation X, the 80's is nostalgia for a time when America promised the world to them. To Millennials, the 80's are nostalgia to a time when America thought it could promise the world to them.



Stranger Things is the fantasy of a smart 11-year-old boy. Disappearing and reappearing friends, alternate dimensions, beastly monsters, hurting bullies, fighting evil adults, mysterious slightly older girls who are dependent on him. It's the TV show Spielberg would have made. The horrors are surreal enough that they could never happen in real life, but just as in Spielberg, and occasionally even in Stephen King, what makes it moving is the vivid depictions and yearnings of the American idyll. The scares of Spielberg and King are the scares that pop up from the rumbling unconscious of an untroubled youthful mind. What makes people return to ET and Carrie and Close Encounters and Indiana Jones is not their surreal thrills, but the so plausible grounding in reality that guarantees the thrill. The suburban renderings of the first three are a small community America that very much existed until recently where love for your neighbors was something completely implicit, while Indiana Jones and Star Wars were precisely the kind of escapist sci-fi entertainment that young people of Small Town America consumed - not just in the 1970's, but in low-budget sci-fi fare of the 50's and 30's, and even in dime-store science fiction novels of the late nineteenth century. When we continually watch products like Stranger Things, we're not just buying them to be thrilled, we're buying into an entire disappearing way of life, and even though we know it never will, we're desperate for it to return.



Westworld is without any sentimental illusions that any sort of innocent modus vivendi will ever return, it plunges us headlong into stewed corruption and projects something like the trajectory of exactly where the world seems to be headed by the end of the 21st century: with a superclass of privilege able to rule a new race of automated people created entirely for their own pleasure. It's a tornado of sex and death intermingled with one another, and astonishingly gloomy viewing. I'm not sure it makes for entertainment that's nearly as enjoyable as Stranger Things. But even if Westworld is not particularly enjoyable, it is completely essential to see. It is a piece of devilish entertainment that springs from the dark well of our worst fears.

Where can this possibly end but that these superior beings overthrow their corrupt and inferior masters who've ruined their planet and establish a new, more considerate form of life on planet earth? Any other ending to Westworld would feel false. What is so disturbing about Westworld is how thoroughly it seems to give up on humanity. The fact that we may deserve to be given up on makes the show all the more troubling. It's impossible to do any more than guess what Westworld holds for the future, but to pull any punches after raising issues so troubling in the first year would be to give a false sense of security for humanity's future.

Tampopo at the Charles Theater (December 29th): I had no idea, none at all, about this movie which is now one of my favorites. Now that I've seen it, I have no idea if this is one of the greatest movies I've ever seen or simply one of the weirdest. What I do know is that it is now a personal favorite of mine. It is funny, it is moving, it is bizarre, it is sexy, it is appetizing, it is disgusting, it is utterly avant-garde, it is grounded in realistic characters and uses its humanity to branch out into the strangest possible directions. It is everything a great work of art should be.

It is, to put as simply as possible, about the search for the perfect Ramen dish. Anyone with a mania for a particular subject can completely understand this. So much of my life has been devoted to finding the perfect recorded performance of various pieces of classical music, for others, it might be the perfect double play, or the perfect slice of pizza. Whatever the subject, the passion which it can provide in those it absorbs can be all-consuming.

From this subject, the movie takes us in a hundred different directions, breaking off from the main narrative for ten minutes at a time for a long series of vignettes about what it means to be passionate about food. There is no demarcation for why film chooses to go off-topic, it simply does it and expects you to go along with it. From there, I still have no idea how to describe it except to say that it's a film that I find difficult to speak of because the cinematic dialect with which this movie speaks is so far removed from every other movie that I have no idea how to speak of it.
  
The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam at the Kennedy Center (November 30th) Mahler 5 and some piece by Detlev Glanert...: Both Anne Midgette and Charles Downey fell into raptures for this appearance of the alleged world's greatest orchestra. My response was quite a bit more lukewarm. What is the point of technical excellence without personality? The Concertgebouw is an orchestra that Willem Mengelberg literally tailor made for Mahler and Strauss, and yet in the last 30-or-so years, most of the individual sound that made them so perfect in Mahler has vanished - with only an oboe and trumpet remaining of that once glorious Concertgebouw timbre. What remains is another generically excellent orchestra whose soul seems to long since be absent. An artist's 'mistakes' are how they reveal their priorities, and when every detail is so incredibly refined and polished, there is no artistic profile except for a vapid perfection we're supposed to admire. What lies between them is the difference between a perfectly realistic painting and a great work of art. Even Marin Alsop conducting our modest Baltimore Symphony in Mahler 5 was more enjoyable than this.


(from the Amsterdam days when Mahler was Mahler, the Concertgebouw was a group of musicians rather than an Orchestra with a capital O, and Bernard Haitink was interesting)

The lionizing of Semyon Bychkov becomes ever more mystifying to me. The point of those rambling first three movements of Mahler (and Mahler is never more Mahler than when he rambles) seemed to pass him by completely. Bychkov wanted to create something coherent out of musical forms for which coherence is antithetical to Mahler's spirit. Matters finally improved in the Adagietto, Bychkov is clearly at his best in moments of great musical beauty, and there is no finer outlet for such instinct than Mahler's F-Major bliss. Perhaps it's the astringently tight musical argument of the final, fifteen minute fugue, but the performance finally snapped into focus, with humor and pathos and sincerity which the first fifty minutes lacked completely.

In the first half, we heard a performance of Detlev Glanert's Theatrum Bestiarium. Not knowing too much of Glanert's music, I'm in no position to judge, but even if I'm stupefied in admiration at his orchestration, I doubt Glanert is a truly great composer. Glanert was, supposedly, trying to capture the spirit of Shostakovich - but the spirit was much closer to the Five Orchestral Pieces of Schoenberg and the Three Orchestral Pieces of Berg. One needn't imitate Shostakovich's tonal harmony to stay true to Shostakovich's spirit, but if a composer wants to imitate Shostakovich's spirit, he should probably go back to Shostakovich's sources - Russian folk music and literature and Orthodox church choirs and Soviet military marches - and base it, at least in part, on a new rendering of them. To me, the spirit of Shostakovich was only captured in the contrasts of its decibel level.


(Markus Stenz conducts the world premiere - needless to say to those in the know, he's faster than Bychkov)

See Book Review of Reinhold Niebuhr's Children of Light, Children of Darkness in next week's Jewish Times column.