Discover more from Stoic Observations
Maybe It's The Russians
A slight rethinking.
Being Post Political
Somewhere around 2008 a lot of things changed for me, and it took me a while to figure it all out. For about 4 or 5 years, I became most notable as the black conservative blogger Cobb. I joined the California Bear Flag League of conservative bloggers and made a lot of new and interesting friends. Like most conservatives, I was quite persuaded by the logic of G.K. Chesterton’s admonitions of not fixing what’s not broke. Unlike many conservatives, I never got my jollies by playing the RINO game. In fact, it’s most appropriate as far as buckets are concerned, to call me a 9/11 conservative which is to say a geopolitical neoconservative. My broad bucket of domestic political concerns were fairly, predictably boring. What really got me hot was the fate of America as a world defender of Western Civilization. Although I found a lot of respectable voices out there at the Manhattan, Claremont and Hoover institutions, it’s fair to say I was most admiring of those at Hillsdale College. They were and remain philosophical defenders of the core priorities that Americans should embrace if Enlightenment liberalism has a chance. Once I got my feet sorted in what I’ve called the ‘broad American Right’ I was witness to a betrayal of sorts, and very quickly I lost the urge to be any sort of partisan.
It’s still a part of my desire to have fair play in American democracy to have worthy opponents, but quite frankly I am convinced that both the home team and the loyal opposition have lost the plot. For some time before that discovery, I needed to pick out the difference and distance between liberals, libertarians, progressives and leftists. So I never defriended anyone and I continued to engage the public through my blog whose subtitle was ‘curious, skeptical and analytical’. In other words, I was looking, rather as I interpret the life of Spinoza, to find a set of philosophically consistent and rational threads holding together the frayed and raggedy patchwork of American partisanship. I aimed to read behind the talking points and find something worth defending. It turned out that this was the wrong approach. Nevertheless I found it refreshing to know from experience ‘how the other side lives’, if not how it lives with itself.
Stoic Observations is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
One day I found the following paragraph that I now call The Abstention Principle:
A simple moral principle: when a future change is framed as a problem which we might hope our political system to solve, then the only acceptable reason to talk about the consequences of failing to solve that problem is to scare folks into trying harder to solve it. If you instead assume that politics will fail to solve the problem, and analyze the consequences of that in more detail, not to scare people but to work out how to live in that scenario, you are seen as expressing disloyalty to the system and hostility toward those who will suffer from that failure.
As a technical professional, I simply found it impossible to believe that America’s politics could reasonably solve future problems, except how to manipulate the public into getting their parties more control of American government. From the Left I learned to ‘fight the power’. From the Right I learned to ‘distrust big government’. This was the revelation primarily sparked by the growing influence of the populist identity politics of the time. The Culture War was infiltrating and dominating American politics but nothing cultural was being used to wage it. It was, and remains, all about power. The power to have your way and make your enemies pay. ‘We the People’ has been replaced by we the party partisan activists for my community. Us vs Them.
My political evolution and graduation is not interesting. Suffice it to say that I have no expectations but to lure society away from politics towards reason. There is plenty of reason in humor, discovery, and music. Ideology on the other hand, seeks to remove all but one thread of reason from its domain. I think I’m much too bowlegged to dance on any such thread, and if you can’t dance, what the hell are you doing on this Independence Day weekend?
When I gave up hope for this political circus to sustain a cosmopolitain open society, I turned to Dickensian tales to get me accustomed to squalor and pitiless penury. I found Bleak House and I was reconciled to keeping my own house in order. Just the other day on the spur of the moment, looking for a new book narrated by Simon Prebble to lull me to sleep I found a title something like 30 alternates to the classics. Among them was Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol. So I tried it. And it chuckled me to sleep. Some time past two in the morning I found myself dreaming the words of the narrator until suddenly they brought me awake. It was a metaphor for the nation of Russia found in the blinding speed of a troika.
And Russia art, not thou too flying onwards, like a spirited troika that nothing can overtake? The road is smoking under thee, the bridges rumble, everything falls back and is left behind. The spectator stands still, struck dumb by the divine miracle. Is it not a flash of lightning from heaven? What is the meaning of this terrifying onrush? What mysterious force is hidden in this troika never seen before?
Russia whither flyest thou? Answer! She gives no answer. The ringing of the bells melts into music, the air torn to shreds whirls and rushes like the wind, everything there on earth is flying by and the other states and nations with looks askance, make way for her and draw aside .
That’s poetic patriotism of a sort I don’t often hear these days. Not that I’m looking. I’m just hearing the same old gripes and sour grapes that everyone hears when I attend to the interwebz. That poetry is beautiful nonetheless, so much that it literally woke me out of slumber. And today I had to use a combination of technologies to get the right translation, by Constance Garnett, into a textual form I could cut and paste. I dare not, not being a spoiled college professor, take the entire audio clip and post it for educational purposes. That is what has happened to the American troika. It has 12 airbags and injunctions against going too fast, because it’s bad for the planet.
Ah, troika. Bird of a troika, who was it first thought of thee? Sure, thou could only have been born among the spirited people in that land that does not care to do things by halves, but has spread a vast plane over half the world. And when they count its milestones, till one's eyes are dizzy.
That’s my old America. America of Craig Breedlove and Art Arfons. Of Mickey Thompson and Buddy Baker. Yeah I know. Hot rodders are still alive, and maybe there’s still somebody out there who remembers laughing their ass off at Kinky Friedman’s cowboy poetry. Maybe not. But that’s the truth of recorded history. It always defies the contemporary conventional wisdom. I don’t know there are enough folks to fill a football stadium on any given Sunday who will remember these fast and furiously funny heroes of mine, but that’s OK. There are plenty more Americans to come. Maybe there will be more Russians.
Right now today there are German Jews in the family. Not just the American family but my own. It’s not official but I think I can make fairly reliable predictions about my daughters. My best friend has similar lineage, but it’s not the biology so much as it is the cultural heritage. It’s what makes people write poetry that makes them interesting to me. It’s the stories of triumph, not of degradation, that we tell. And this is where the America! Fuck Yeah! comes in, despite the fact that the typical reaction is to suck your teeth and roll your eyes and bring to mind vulgar puppet shows that tend to be more shocking than funny.
I am thinking today of a story passed on by that best friend that serves to remind us in our slumber that there have always been those with their eyes on the horizon.
Finally, nearly six months after he left his parents, he sat down to his first home cooked meal: black bread, herring and potatoes. Papa wolfed down his helping and asked for another piece of herring, to which his uncle shamefacedly replied, "We haven't any more. There's not enough to go around."
Papa was astonished, "Not enough herring? This is the Golden Land? Why in Russia even the lowliest peasants have enough herring!" Uncle said that Philadelphia was not really the Golden Land. He and his family were barely surviving. New York was the Golden Land. New York had everything. The next morning, Tanta and Uncle blessed him with fifty cents more and a loaf of black bread before saying goodbye. Papa was on the road again.
Papa drew the luck of fine weather for the long walk from Philadelphia to New York. Sunny days perfect for hiking, balmy nights bedded down in sweet smelling hay fields. Papa always joked that he gained weight by the time he got to New York, well, West New York, New Jersey; where, after ninety miles and a week on foot, Papa still had to cross the Hudson River. Because there were no bridges or tunnels in 1907, he had to break into the second and last of his fifty-cent pieces to book ferry passage at two cents a ticket, which got him a second look at the Statue of Liberty and a second chance to grab that magic ring called New York.
People today forget that Americans of all sorts have had to vote with their feet. So this man, armed with a loaf of bread, walked 90 miles in search of a place where he might get two pieces of fish for dinner. That is the true nature of struggle. And I think it’s important that Americans with some of their shit together remember other families who remember the long walks to freedom. We’re expecting a new baby Bowen this year whose mother hails from Aguascalientes. I’m very proud of that new addition to my family and my responsibilities to them.
Cold War Calculations
As a Cold War kid, I can recall with clarity the sort of rivalry we had against the Soviet Union every Olympic season and every time I could not identify the sort of jet aircraft flying over downtown LA. I merited that certificate from Kennedy’s Presidential Fitness Program and the red white and blue Keds shoes that helped us run faster and jump higher. Nobody I knew would dare wear a jean jacket that didn’t have an American flag patch on it.
You know and I know some version of the official story about what the Russkies did or did not do to influence Trump and American elections. In all of the convolutions of the national security state and the slings, arrows and nuclear threats tossed across the aisle of Congress, it’s going to take more than one committee of experts to get the record straight. Yet we certainly know in my industry that cyberthreats are real and growing and the ability to hack the mainstream is child’s play. They say you don’t know what you had until it’s gone, but we Cold War kids had daily reminders that the Reds were ready to cave in all the hallowed halls of American institutions. With bombs if necessary, with brainwashing if possible. Not only was the Manchurian Candidate a big movie but all of our cartoons and pop cultural memes had brainwashing tropes.
Even Ronald Reagan made it clear that our enemies were not the Russian people, or those locked within the Eastern Bloc. Despite all jokes about the East German women’s swim team, we were mostly known in the mainstream to blurt the blandishment that our gripe was the Soviet leadership. Khrushchev was the madman, Gagarin was a hero. So we mocked all Soviet agents of the KGB, and we felt sorry for all the Russians who stood in breadlines and couldn’t afford Levi’s jeans or Ford Mustangs. Even Bullwinkle could outwit Boris Badenov.
These days I get sick to death of questions like these..
Not merely because they all might be generated by Russian or Chinese bots, just in order to keep such disorienting bullshit alive in America, but because of the vacuous nature of the spoiled gits who bother to answer them without mocking the premise. I’m as guilty as any of the wankers who answer, then again if I were not exposed to simple-minded dialogs, I could not possibly justify my own elevated self-perception. I know I’m not Beto O’Rourke. Beto does not know. It’s a useless privilege to call out privilege in order to signify smug superiority which is used to translate into a convincing argument in favor of the ‘moral’ use of government power. The cycle continues. It’s the Paper Clip Problem restated as a Dead Cat Throwing Machine. I know this to be true. I’m on AOC’s mailing list.
To unilaterally declare myself to be a ‘sovereign citizen’ is absolutely foolish. So long as there is a such thing as a national government and armies march to such orders as given by national governments, there is no power on earth poised to defy the wealth and power of nations. And so long as I keep the Russians in mind, in the most positive way I can, as through the poetic writing of Gogol, I can keep in mind how an entire nation can be dumbed down and wrestled to the ground. I can recall how the spirit of a people can drained into mute acceptance of subservient mediocrity, especially when there are a lot of red cups and a lot of booze around. Our colleges, their middle class.
Maybe it’s the Russians who will remind us what can go wrong with a nation capable of building atomic weapons and putting men and missiles into orbit. There are still only a few of us around. Maybe it’s the fate of Russians who come to America humming from Rachmaninoff to remind us how politics should be subservient to art. Maybe its the Russians whose military-industrial capacity has been driven into the dirt by expectations of a short war. There’s no such thing as a short war. Even ghosts of the dead will rise and haunt the survivors, robbing them of their sanity and pushing them to dance on an ideological thread above the canyon of human depravity.
I’m doing no such dance tonight. This is not only Independence Day, it is independents’ day. I am happy to be independent of ideology. It’s still spoken about openly but not followed through. There’s plenty to celebrate with pride, but right now I’m thinking about those whose past fate may lie ahead for us. On the other hand, it ain’t East Germany.
Stoic Observations is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.