Thursday, September 2, 2010

Digital Barbarism

After my latest on-line argument earlier this week, I decided to see what my favorite living writer, Mark Helprin.  His book Digital Barbarism: A Writer's Manifesto paints a beautiful picture of all that was marvelous without digital communications.  Helprin is a writer of tall tales.  His main characters are marvelous man and women who perform unbelievable feats--an old man who walk effortlessly on mountain trails, an out-of-shape young man who goes from fat boy to climbing alpine ice cliffs in a year.

Helprin says digital communication needs rules.  He is right, but it does make me wonder how that can happen.  I never make anonymous comments, but what does that mean in a world where many people do?  Facebook is somewhat better because you deal with people you know personally--unless you have "friended" strangers.  If you are interested in the topic, Helprin entertains, not just complains.

Reading this book reminded me that many of my favorite writers are political Conservatives--CS Lewis, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Helprin are soldiers and men who want to preserve high culture: literature, the arts and everything that makes life worth living.

Here is Helprin on the 2008 election:

What a kerfuffle! Half a dozen talk-radio hosts whose major talent is that, like hairdressers, they can talk all day long to one client after another as they snip, have decided that the presumptive Republican nominee does not hew sufficiently close to their gospel.
As anyone who has listened to them knows, the depth of their thought is truly Oprah-like. And if a great institution of the left can weigh-in as it does in the choice of a nominee, why not its fraternal twins on the right? It doesn't matter that Mitt Romney, suddenly their Reagan, became a conservative in a flash of light sometime last year, or that their other champion, a populist theocrat, is in many ways as conservative as Vladimir Lenin. The task is to stop the devil McCain.
As a mere print person whose words are not electrified and shot through walls, automobiles, pine trees, and brains, I realize that what I write in the bloody ink of a dying industry may be irrelevant. But from my antiquated perspective, something is very wrong.
Ostracism following tests of "right thinking" is a specialty of the left. Not that it doesn't exist on the right, blooming with great malice especially on the radio. But in light of their prospects, conservatives have no room for it. For by their neglectful forfeit they have lost the battles of culture and education, and to remain other than an occult force they must express their beliefs through politics, from which, after November, they may be for a time excluded.
Why? To begin with, American columns should have cut through Baghdad after three days and exited three weeks later, leaving Saddam dead and a pliant Iraqi strongman to keep the country harmless or suffer the same quick take-down. Rather than being broken on the wheel of irreconcilable Muslim factions, a supple and intact American power would have shattered Arab elation following Sept. 11, and then by threatening their rule been able to discipline the various police states of the region into eliminating their terrorists. Far more efficient that way, without six and more murderous and unavailing years in which neither a single democracy has appeared nor will one. The surge is merely coincident with a change in Sunni strategy. Instead of watching the U.S. and Iran arm the Shiites for a major sectarian war, the Sunni choose to avail themselves of American arms while simultaneously removing the lunatic jihadists nipping at their heels.
The Democrats' advantage in 2008 is that the costs of the war in Iraq have been highly disproportionate to its effects, not least in the decline of the American military, when it could have been otherwise. Conservatism has been dehorsed, because though conservatives rightly seek victory, it has not appeared except in the minds of those suffering from cognitive dissonance.
This and the economy threaten to throw the conservative enterprise back to where it was before Ronald Reagan or even William F. Buckley. Along comes John McCain, who has an 80% positive rating from the American Conservative Union but who as a truly independent soul does not fit, at the margins, some of the transient notions of what makes a conservative. Because of his independence and flexibility, he is the only Republican candidate who has a chance of winning, and thus preserving the core principles of conservatism, in relation to which he is unimpeachable. They are national security (in particular the strength of the military after Iraq and vis-à-vis China and a resurgent Russia), Constitutionalism (as in individual vs. collective rights), and the economy (free markets vs. government industrial policy).
One can agree or disagree with his peripheral positions, but political orthodoxy is political death. If those who are in a hissy fit about Sen. McCain would rather have Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, they will get Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton -- how delightful to go to jail for building your house on land once visited by an exotic moth -- and they will wake up to a great regret, as if in their drunkenness they had taken Shrek to bed.
But, guess what? Even if, as the country veers left, living conservatives gnash their teeth and dead ones spin in their graves, a small class of conservatives will benefit. And who might they be? They might be those whose influence and coffers swell on discontent, and who find attacking a president easier and more sensational than the dreary business of defending one. They rose during the Clinton years. Perhaps they are nostalgic. It isn't worth it, however, for the rest of us.
So, rather than playing recklessly with electoral politics by sabotaging their own party ostensibly for its impurity but equally for the sake of their self-indulgent pique, each of these compulsive talkers might be a tad less self-righteous, look to the long run, discipline himself, suck it up, and be a man. And that would apply equally as well to the gorgeous Laura Ingraham and the relentlessly crocodilian Ann Coulter.

Who Fights Our Wars: Marine Veteran on a Local Train

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