The critique was written by a friend of mine in a private forum. I repost it here with his permission. He touches on a few themes that will be familiar to readers of the Stage: the banality of Washington opinion writers, forever stitching new headlines into tired narratives; the limits liberal education in the 21st century, far better at teaching platitudes than exploring the depths of the human condition; and the inability of secular elites to understand religions and the religious masses who earnestly believe in them. He starts his attack with Fischer’s statement, “people get out of [religions] what they bring into them.” The bolded emphasis is my own:
…If you are not particularly religious, and furthermore do not know much at all about religion — except the assumptions you bring to the topic from your inadequate formal and experiential educations — then you will write, without embarrassment, things like, “religions are big and diverse, and people get out of them what they bring into them.” Let me amend that, and not in favor of the writer: it is not even necessary to know about religion as such to know this is false — it is simply necessary to know about literature, and not to any real depth. This is the sort of thing that reasonably educated people ought not to say and still less believe, as it is so evidently wrong — but it is also the sort of thing that wide swaths of our media establishment, of course chief among them the powerholder-stenographers at Vox, credulously declare. [….]
Fast forward 20 years (about the age of the WWW). An aging, schlerotic EU has become the destination for over a hundred million refugees and migrants fleeing the densely populated killing fields of Africa and SW Asia.
The rapidity of influx has led the EU to take extreme measures. Tens of millions of these migrants/refugees are roughly housed in relocation camps all across Europe.
Violence within these camps has risen steadily, leading to an EU-wide Islamic insurgency.
The soldiers sent to counter this insurgency are outfitted with autonomous weapons. These weapons combine deep learning (making them very smart) and cloud robotics (allowing the military to rapidly share advances in training and technique) to provide these soldiers with capabilities far beyond what we’ve seen in previous wars.
Here’s an idealized example so you can get the idea. A human/robot team advances down a street in an urban environment. [….]
….How did this happen? How did we go from generalized agreement during the Bush administration that the enemy is only the terrorists themselves to calls for a Muslim database? Marc Lynch has a piece up at Monkey Cage in which he talks about the eternal recurrence of “clash of civilizations” narratives and the increasingly disturbing rise of anti-Islam rhetoric among US politicians and the media. Lynch supplies a lot of of valid reasons for why this is the case, who is responsible, and how such filth has been legitimized. However, one important reason is missing?—?the way in which analysts have structurally obsfucated many of the important issues at play regarding the connection between religion and ISIS (and others’ political violence). In attempting to prevent bigots from validating a “clash of civilizations” narrative, analysts have paradoxically helped bring it about.
As a prelude, let’s begin with the phrase “clash of civilizations.” It’s often axiomatic among researchers that Samuel Huntington, the man who coined the term, is guilty of “profound racism.” But very few have ever read the book or the original articles in detail. Huntington had argued publically that civilizations as categories ought to be respected, and that a lack of attention and respect to their civilizational perogatives and differences would lead to unnecessary strife. Huntington argued that the only way coexistence was would be if the West could understand the rest despite grave differences. Huntington’s cultural relativism is not exactly novel; it appears in social psychology and has been a constant in anthropology and sociology to some degree since the founding of those disciplines. It has also found some parallel in area studies and regional international relations.
Cormac McCarthy and Blood Meridian first came to my attention back in 2000 when noted literary critic, Yale professor Harold Bloomwas interviewed on C-Span’s Booknotes regarding his book, How to Read and Why. Bloom, an eccentric character who owns a personal collection of 95,000 books, gave Blood Meridian and McCarthy, of whom at that time I had never heard, a remarkable endorsement:
….One book in particular, a very great book and I’m very glad you bring it up, Brian, a book called “Blood Meridian,” which I write about at some length at one point in this book. Many of McCarthy’s novels are remarkable, including “All The Pretty Horses,” the first volume of the Border Trilogy. I–I don’t think the second and third volumes are quite as fine. And some of his earlier novels like “Suttree” are very Faulknerian, somewhat derivative, are still remarkable books. But he has written one masterpiece, which I would say is–I mean, of contemporary American fiction, of fiction written by human beings still alive and among us, I would list Philip Roth’s “Sabbath’s Theater” and “American Pastoral.” I would list Don DeLillo’s “Underworld.” I would certainly list Thomas Pynchon’s “The Crying of Lot 49” and “Gravity’s Rainbow” and his recent and magnificent “Mason and Dixon.”
But if I had to vote for one novel by a living American, it would be “Blood Meridian,” which is a fearsome story and terrible parable in which I think has a deep, implicit warning for current American society….
….But it’s fascinating to me that you ask that, Brian, because the first two times that I read it, I could not read it. And I admit this to my students and I admit that in this book. I broke down–I don’t know what–after 15 or 20 pages the first time and after 70 or 80 pages the second, because the sheer carnage of it, though it is intensely stylized, is nevertheless overwhelming. It’s–it’s–it’s shocking. It’s–it’s horrifying. And it takes a very strong stomach, but if you break through it, if you–if you read your way into the cosmos of the book, then you are rewarded. You get an extraordinary landscape. You get an extraordinary visionary intensity of personality and character. You get a great vision, a frightening vision of what is indeed something very deeply embedded in the American spirit, in the American psyche. And the more you read the book, I find, the more you will be able to read the book. It is–it’s as close, I think, to being the American prose epic as one can find, more perhaps even than Faulkner, though there are individual books by Faulkner like “As I Lay Dying,” which are perhaps of even higher aesthetic quality and originality than “Blood Meridian.” But I think you would have to go back to “Moby Dick” for an American epic that fully compares to “Blood Meridian.”
I made a mental note of this despite the fact that Western novels were not my thing. After a while, I read Bloom’s book, which had some interesting, additional insights and then thought no more about the matter until many years later when I watched the film No Country for Old Men, based upon the McCarthy novel. I thought Anton Chigurhwas a chilling antagonist, as demonstrated in the scene below:
The screen depiction of Chigurh caused me to recollect Bloom’s commentary regarding the ominous central character and the antagonist of Blood Meridian, Judge Holden, who may or may not have been a historical person:
….And the Glanton gang, an extraordinary group of free booters or filibusters, have with them as their spiritual leader a frightening manifestation, a Melvilleian–a kind of human Moby Dick, Judge Holden, who is a vast albino fellow as round as I am but seven foot tall and who has all languages, all knowledges and who preaches endlessly of the theology of violence and war, and who is still alive and dancing and fiddling and proclaiming that he will never die at the end of the book. And indeed, he has never died. He–he is responsible for those horrible posses we have out there in Idaho. He is responsible for those people who blew up the Federal Building. He is responsible for these mad people who break into schools and shoot children. There is–we–we are a country that has had a kind of perpetual ongoing religious revival since the year 1800, and simultaneously, we have been completely gun crazy for the last two centuries. And in some sense, that’s what McCarthy’s great book is about.
Blood Meridian was inspired by the exploits of the marauding, scalp-hunting, Glanton Gang in the mid-19th century Southwest and Northern Mexico in the years after the Mexican War. The nameless protagonist, known only as “the Kid” escapes massacre and is saved from abject poverty and starvation in the desert when he reluctantly joins up with Captain Glanton’s mercenary company of Indian fighters. Glanton’s gang is bound for Mexico with a rich contract from a Mexican governor to kill off and scalp the murderous, hated, dangerous Apaches. Glanton, the leader of the enterprise, is a laconic, impulsively violent, stone-cold, professional killer whose eyes were “burning centroids of murder”; most of his crew of cut-throat vagabonds, renegade Indians and Texan filibusteros the Kid interacts with are cut from the same, if duller, cloth as Glanton, but a few stand out; Benjamin Tobin the ex-priest, Louis Toadvine the outlaw, Davy Brown, who wears a necklace of human ears and repeatedly spars verbally with Glanton’s eerie second in command, Judge Holden.
Having been hired to kill marauding Apaches, Glanton’s company proves itself Golem-like, to be a cure worse than the disease. With some good fortune, Glanton’s men improbably prevail in their scalping raid despite being outnumbered 500 to 1 by the Apaches. Their fury, goaded by Glanton and Judge Holden, is anarchic and protean, instigating a kaleidoscopic bloodbath akin to a Biblical plague, consuming Mexicans, settlers, women, children, saloon-keepers, whores, herds of livestock and whole villages perish by their guns and bowie knives. Glanton’s men also perish, yet the company fights and murders and rapes and pillages along its way despite ever diminishing numbers until dirt and blood are caked indistinguishably on skin, clothing and horse. In this, McCarthy has captured something of the reality of war, especially irregular war in frontier spaces in a way that exceeds all contemporary fiction. Only reality will do for comparison and we must search for kindred horrors in places like Mexico, the Congo or Iraq. Glanton’s men would be at home with ISIS (or in fighting them), cutting off Zeta heads in Mexican plazas or tearing up Waziristan country, leaving smoking villages and violated mosques in their wake.
Judge Holden figures centrally here. Many critics and fans have commented upon the possibly supernatural nature of Judge Holden, a characteristic that increases and becomes more evident as the novel matures. An albino giant of tremendous size and strength, the Judge is nevertheless nimble and cunning, speaking at need all languages and mastering every art to which he cares to put his hand, the Judge can orate like Cicero, fight like a savage and outdance the Devil. Judge Holden reflects many different literary archetypes – the trickster, Old Scratch, the mysterious Stranger, Woland and so on, but what Holden is more than any of that is a prophet of war without limit, reason or restraint. The Judge is a Clausewitzian death-god, delighting in the unchaining of chaos and murder:
….The judge cracked with the back of an axe the shinbone on an antelope and the hot marrow dripped smoking on the stones. They watched him. The subject was war.
The good book says that he that lives by the sword shall perish by the sword, said the black.
The judge smiled, his face shining with grease. What right man would have it any other way? he said.
The good book does count war as an evil, said Irving. Yet there’s many a bloody tale of war inside it.
It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way
He turned to Brown, from whom he’d heard some whispered slur or demurrer. Ah, Davy, he said. Its your own trade we honor here. Why not take a small bow. Let each acknowledge each.
What is my trade?
War. War is your trade. Is it not?
And ain’t it yours?
Mine too. Very much so.
What about all them notebooks and bones and stuff?
All other trades are contained in that of war.
Is that why war endures?
No, it endures because young men love it and old men love it in them. Those that fought, those that did not.
That’s your notion.
The judge smiled. Men are born for games. Nothing else. Every child knows that play is nobler than work. He knows too that the worth or merit of a game is not inherent in the game itself but rather in the value of that which is put at hazard. Games of chance require a wager to have meaning at all. Games of sport involve the skill and strength of the opponents and the humiliation of defeat and the pride of victory are in themselves sufficient stake because they inhere in the worth of the principals and define them. But the trial of chance or trial of worth all games aspire to the condition of war for here that which is wagered swallows up the game, player, all.
….This is the nature of war, whose stake is at once the game and the authority and the justification. Seen so, war is the truest form of divination. It is the testing of one’s will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. War is god.”
The violence is the book. The Judge is the book, and the Judge is, short of Moby Dick, the most monstrous apparition in all of American literature. The Judge is violence incarnate. The Judge stands for incessant warfare for its own sake.
Indeed, as the story shifts for imperceptible reasons, Holden perhaps withdraws his apocalyptic benediction from the gang, Glanton is killed and his men dead or scattered by the vengeful Yuma Indians. The Kid senses the judge is no longer the ally he once was but a dangerous enemy and the ex-priest Tobin knows it and desperately fears what is to come. They take their leave but Holden tracks and hunts them in the desert, seemingly to no avail until, decades later, the Kid and the judge cross paths again, last survivors of the Glanton Gang.
The summer of 2015 for me is becoming memorable for the diversity of the books making it into my queue through unexpected circumstances. Larson’s Dead Wake was an surprise gift from a neighbor familiar with my professional pursuits. I read “Wake” in two sittings and it is superb. Larson puts faces on the victims, and highlights the politics from both sides of the Atlantic, to include the German U-boat commander responsible for the sinking. This tragedy reads like a novel and is wicked good.
Last year my son turned me on to the feed of @GSElevator on Twitter. I would have never read this book had I not become a fan of Mr. Lefevre’s decidedly politically incorrect sense of humor. With over 700k followers on Twitter he created an instant potential market and I bit. Straight to Hell is an entertaining irreverent look at the top of the banking profession, and is not for the faint of heart—and very funny.
Ghost Fleet is one of the most anticipated techno-thrillers in recent memory. Singer and Cole have spun a good yarn of how a future world war between the USA and China/Russia. While the book is a page turner, the authors thankfully sourced their technology assertions in 22 pages of notes! A great resource for a very good book. One could quibble over lack of character development, but this book is driven more by technological wizardry and is a fun and instructive read.
Fate of Man was recommended either at a blog or in blog comments—I don’t remember. This tiny but poignant book (it is more a bound short story) provides the reader with a glimpse of the hardships and sacrifices in Russia post WWII. Torture and suffering on a scale foreign to 99.9% of those living in the modern Western world.
BACH was a birthday gift, and I would like to report I have finished Gardiner’s masterpiece, but that may take some time (I’m at page 330). Gardiner shares insights on JS Bach’s life and music, and while I have over forty Bach recordings in my iTunes account, this lovely book is introducing a massive body of Bach’s cantata work—over 200 and I’m unfamiliar with most. My method has been to read Gardiner’s description of the piece, then find a recording on YouTube. Unfortunately, Gardiner does not discuss one of my all-time favorite Bach Cantatas Ascension Oratorio BWV-11 (the last five minutes are simply divine).
Finally, the Calvin Coolidge book came to me via CDR Salamander in a Facebook thread. As a fan of Coolidge and Derbyshire, I grabbed a copy and I’m glad I did. Derbyshire has written a sweet and insightful story of love, betrayal, and redemption, all the while providing the reader a frightening description of China’s cultural revolution.
….A number of you have requested posts on JCPOA verification and the “24-day” issue. A way to start is with Jeffrey Lewis’s request for how environmental remediation relates to JCPOA verification. It’s something that I will need to refer back to in discussing those issues. And it’s clearly something that numerous commentators have no idea about. Basically, the requirements for sampling should be pretty much the same for IAEA inspections as for environmental remediation. Both have to stand up to legal scrutiny.
I’ll use three sites as examples: a metal plating bath outflow that was one of my responsibilities at Los Alamos, the Parchin site in Iran, and Al Kibar. I’m not making any big points here about Parchin and Al Kibar. I am using them to show what sampling requires.
Sampling is easy, right? You dig up some soil and put it in a baggie, or you swipe a wall with a tissue, and then you send it to the analytical lab and they tell you. BZZZZT! WRONG!
Sampling starts at a desk. First, you have to figure out the question you are trying to answer. The environmental remediation questions are pretty standard – what is there, how much, and where it is spread to – but the IAEA’s questions tend to be more varied. At Al Kibar, the question is whether there was a reactor there before the Israeli raid and the Syrian cleanup of the site. The situation at Parchin is more complicated. Three types of experiments are alleged to have been done in a containment chamber inside a building, after which the Iranians made many modifications to the site, including modifications to the suspect building, soil removal, and asphalt overlay. The basic question is which, if any, of those experiments took place there.
Second, you have to figure out what kind of samples you need to answer the question. For the plating outflow, that meant going to the archives to find out what kinds of metals and other chemicals were involved in the plating operation, what was released in the outflow, when and for how long. You also need to know what kind of samples the analytical laboratory will need to get good analyses. If you spend days getting 10-gram samples and the lab needs 100 grams for the analysis you want, well, you’ll have to do it again. And the IAEA doesn’t always get to do it again. [….]
….Deep thinkers about human nature start with assumptions. Freud focused on sexual trauma and repression, Marx on the notion that humans combine rational self-interest with inter-class predation. Machiavelli offered scenarios about power relationships. Ayn Rand postulates that the sole legitimate human stance is solipsism. All are a priori suppositions based on limited and personally biased observations rather than any verified fundamental. Each writer “proved” his point with copious anecdotes. But, as Ronald Reagan showed, anecdotes prove nothing about generalities, only about possibilities.
In fact, while the models of Freud, Marx, and Machiavelli (also Madison, Keynes, Hayek, Gandhi etc.) attracted followers, I think a stronger case can be made for tribalism as a driver of history.
….When the ambient fear level is high, as in civil war-riven Lebanon, loyalties are kept close to home. Me against my brother. My brother and me against our cousins. We and our cousins against the world. Alliances merge and are broken quickly, along a sliding scale that appears to be remarkably consistent. The general trend seems to be this: the lower the ambient fear level declines, the more broadly a human being appears willing to define those tribal boundaries, and the more generous he or she is willing to be toward the stranger.
“Based upon the societal dependence on these systems, and the interdependence of the various services and capabilities, the Task Force believes that the integrated impact of a cyber attack has the potential of existential consequence. While the manifestation of a nuclear and cyber attack are very different, in the end, the existential impact to the United States is the same.”
Zenpundit is a blog dedicated to exploring the intersections of foreign policy, history, military theory, national security,strategic thinking, futurism, cognition and a number of other esoteric pursuits.