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June 26, 2007

Cosmic Stupidity

IOZ says:

Rod Dreher [of National Review], the Crunchy Con Man, reads All Quiet on the Western Front and discovers that skepticism toward warmaking and a doubtful mind toward those who agitate for combat doesn't spring universally from absolutist pacifism. That a grown man with a family and career has just chanced upon this realization is indicative of something, but I'm not sure how to say it with derision appropriate to its cosmic stupidity.

And yet it's not so uncommon to hear adults, educated beyond most of their peers, relatively aware of Western history, reasonably well-read, and not prone in their daily lives to bouts of simplemindedness, express the utmost shock at the mendacity underlying the war in Iraq. Somehow, though almost every great work by current or former soldiers exposes the horror, cruelty, absurdity, and barbarism of war--the way it cripples the body and maims the soul if you survive--they have to be reminded again and again that warfare isn't a method of national therapy.

Here's some of what Rod Dreher wrote:

Many was the time I had to put the novel down while reading it, and silently repent of the way I had so thoughtlessly anticipated the pleasures of stomping the Iraqi military during the march-up to the war there. War we will always have with us, and there will be times when war is the only choice we have. But it must always be the last resort, and must never, ever be undertaken with anything but utmost gravity. It is a detestable thing.

Dreher is forty years old.

Elites in every country are generally very stupid—not because there's something wrong with them genetically, but because power makes people stupid. And the more power people have, the stupider they become. America's elites have been very powerful for a very long time.

Posted at June 26, 2007 12:08 PM | TrackBack

I have no idea how elite Rod Dreher is, but can anyone do a check on his family background? He sounds more like a member of the indoctrinated upper middle class. (ie. Those who got college degrees writing skewed history theses that just happened to agree ideologically with their professors because they regurgitated what they were taught.) There is a difference between the elite and the indoctrinated upper middle class. That he belongs to the latter I believe accounts for his relative "convertibility". Most elites are rarely this easy to convert, even at forty.

Posted by: En Ming Hee at June 26, 2007 12:46 PM

I think it's too easy too call elites "stupid", especially given the generally anti-elitist stance of our little ATR community. Personally, I think it's more accurate to call them careless and full of pride. I also think having power impedes one's ability to learn.

Elites become careless when they start to think (perhaps rightly, perhaps not) that they will be insulated from the negative outcomes of their decisions. Why be careful? Why shouldn't they indulge that whim? Starting a war is like wrapping your Lamborghini around a lamppost--and if you can pay for another Lambo, or a thousand of them, where's the impetus to learn from that mistake? We all learn much more from negative outcomes than from positive ones; what happens if you can defang every negative outcome? I'd say you can't learn as well.

But the real bitch of it is that this perception of untouchability, and this handicap regards learning, is joined by an immense pridefulness. So even when the consequences of a poor decision ARE hurting the elite, AND they've been hurt long enough to get their attention, they STILL refuse to admit they were careless and did the wrong thing.

I think we simplify the situation--and flatter ourselves--by calling elites stupid. It's actually more pernicious, and difficult to solve.

Posted by: Mike of Angle at June 26, 2007 01:06 PM

The elite and the useful idiots are two different categories.

Posted by: abb1 at June 26, 2007 01:56 PM

Don't you have any standards? Dreher elite? The dude's a 50K max editorial writer who had to move to frickin' Dallas to get a job cuz he wasn't making it in NY, who thinks being a conservative while shopping at Whole Foods makes him some kind of rebel. Do you realize what it takes to make it as a Dallas News editorial writer? Spell your name and you're in. Also, he looks like a sex offender. I'd like to see Dreher bring his "Crunchy Con" act to DC or Boston, where people can read and think critically.

Posted by: vince_foster at June 26, 2007 02:12 PM

It isn't just the conservatives or the elites. I just had a couple of exchanges with someone who claimed that being against the Vietnam War was a leftist position while simultaneously believing themselves to be a "leftist". I tried to explain to him that simply because leftists in the '60s were against the Vietnam War, it didn't follow that that position was inherently leftist; that opposition could arise from thinking that it was a stupid strategic move. He didn't seem to grasp the concept.

Posted by: darrelplant at June 26, 2007 02:55 PM


The elite and the useful idiots are two different categories.

I'm not so sure about this. Elites often believe the extraordinarily stupid things they say.


Don't you have any standards? Dreher elite?

I think there's an argument to be made that if you can read and write and haven't been crippled by intestinal parasites you're part of an elite.

But seriously, he is part of the US elite, in the sense a minor Catholic priest in the 11th century was part of the elite running society.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at June 26, 2007 03:23 PM

After reading this post and having had several glasses of wine, the very least I could do was to log onto Dreher's site (which I would never otherwise visit) and call him an idiot.

It felt good.

Posted by: Mike at June 26, 2007 03:45 PM

One of my earlier posts today didn't go up for some reason. Anyway, the point of it was that Dreher's latest post is breathtaking in its brilliance at self-refutation. He's a bigot. I'm glad he's come to the realization that war hurts people, and that gloating over the deaths of others really isn't all that admirable. Maybe in another forty years he'll come to the realization that bigotry is contemptible.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at June 26, 2007 04:46 PM

By stupid - we disgree - Maybe he is willfully stupid - Richar Cohen is a good example of a willfully stupid member of the media elite.

In Dreher's mind = he is different that Cohen - but he is actually quite similar. Just younger.

Posted by: Comment at June 26, 2007 04:49 PM

In the old days of neighborhood bars, there was usually a guy sitting at one end of the counter, holding forth. If you stayed a couple of hours, you could see patrons moving away from him in two and threes, leaving a couple of empty stools between him and the rest. Today, he'd be a "commentator" or columnist with a national audience. Bullshit sells. Dumb bullshit sells best.

Posted by: donescobar at June 26, 2007 05:36 PM

I don't have the time right now to link through so I may have misunderstood. There's a forty-year old man - one who's presumably been through high school, one who actually strings phrases into sentences as a quasi-career - who hasn't read AQWF? This is a joke, right?

Posted by: cavjam at June 26, 2007 08:48 PM

It's was made into a movie.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 26, 2007 08:57 PM

Somebody get Dreher a copy of The Jungle so he can learn that having ground-up rats in your sausage isn't good either.

Posted by: SteveB at June 26, 2007 09:20 PM

I agree with Jonathan. Power makes people stupid because when they achieve power they begin to believe that they have achieved this power through some kind of innate superiority. They actually believe they deserve to have power and that the reason of their superiority is that they have a better grasp on reality than others of less lofty stature. And all the while they leave reality further and further behind. And the more remote they become from reality the more they are convinced of their divine superiority. It’s a vicious circle like what you see when you flush your toilet.

Posted by: rob payne at June 26, 2007 09:39 PM
But seriously, he is part of the US elite, in the sense a minor Catholic priest in the 11th century was part of the elite running society.

We need some sort of 1337-o-meter or at least a brief taxonomy of the changing US social strata. I suspect that unflatteringly I fall into the category of elite since I don't have requisite worms in my gut.

That's a tradition soldiers thrust on each other, even, while they are going through it.

How else would you sort out the macho from the girlie-men? Through some complicated process with complex subtleties? Good lord, but that'd be a lot of work!

Posted by: Ted at June 26, 2007 10:45 PM

I've been visiting beliefnet for a bit. Unfortunately from my pov (since I'm a Christian and would like a reasonable sort of ecumenical religious website to read) it appears to be a hotbed of anti-Arab, anti-Muslim bigotry. You've got Dreher bashing Islam, and the Muslim part of the blog has a list of American Muslims all denouncing terrorism and explaining that Islam opposes such things. The people running the site probably think this shows their broadmindedness. Meanwhile, supporters of the Israeli university boycott (which I oppose) are all lumped together as anti-semites, and another blogger earnestly informs us that while "Jewish writers" denounced Spielberg's "Munich" as anti-semitic, Abe Foxman and others say it wasn't guilty of a "moral equivalency" between Israelis and Palestinians. Glad we got that cleared up. I'd hate to think anyone thought there was a moral equivalency between Israelis and Palestinians. It sounds like something really bad and I wouldn't want to wish that on anybody.

I'm waiting in vain for members of other religious groups to explain that no, religion X is not inherently vicious, while non-Christian Dreher clones snicker and continue to point to all the Christians and Jews and Hindus and others who support violence in the name of their religion.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at June 27, 2007 07:00 AM

Violence IS self supporting, doesn't need any help. It is intergral to the nature of Man and therefore comes quite naturally to the surface when humans interact. The theory of "civilization" with its attendant laws is to suppress that nature and after thousands of years, has yet to be proven. ALL this "doing it for GOD" is simply a way to perport that "It's not my fault" and point to the HEAVENS.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 27, 2007 11:53 AM

If I were a conservative who'd decided that Iraq was a total debacle and it was time to distance myself publicly, I'd grab some unimpeachable classic in the war-is-hell genre and have a Sober Realization (TM). It just so happened that "All's Quiet on the Western Front" was closer to Dreher's hand than "The Red Badge of Courage".

I mean really, it sounds like an excuse to change one's mind -- something more intellectual and soulful than, "Hey it's a mess and now all the Kewl Kids hate it, so it's time to bail."

Posted by: Jim Gardner at June 27, 2007 02:32 PM

Your theory would neatly explain why elites seem to fear an estate tax, feminism or non-privatized Social Security more than they fear war. It's the question of which issue they perceive as an actual and direct threat to one's lifestyle. People will educate themselves and oppose those threats more than one they think can't happen to them.

Posted by: Whistler Blue at June 27, 2007 03:06 PM

I'm not sure this is precisely a question of stupidity. It's likely more a matter of forgetfulness. Whether we feel threatened or complacent (or a bizarre mix perhaps unique to the modern US), we always are more willing to accept chaos and disaster at a distance. And we need to be reminded periodically of the actual taste of war, as opposed to the spectacle.

Imperial adventures serve one good purpose: they remind the citizens of how it feels to fuck up an imperial adventure, even if it's on the other side of the globe. A democracy is capable of shrinking from the taste of war as long as it gets burned every 20 years or so.

So let the bodies pile up. The world might be safe from us until 2038.

Posted by: Baldie McEagle at June 28, 2007 11:41 AM

Baldie McEagle: That only works if they pile up in your own living room and NOT just the neighbors. If it doesn't happen in your own yard but just in the neighbors the it all remains ENTERTAINMENT. Speaking of entertainment, FOR A REAL GOOD TIME CALL NANCY AT 1-202-225-0100 and discuss IMPEACHMENT OF THE VICE PRESIDENT AND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA TOGETHER. Opperators are standing by waiting for YOUR call.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 28, 2007 12:25 PM
If it doesn't happen in your own yard but just in the neighbors the it all remains ENTERTAINMENT.

This is ridiculous. At this rate, my new HDTV won't get the proper graphics workout and media blitz until Dick Cheney gives you the finger and bombs Iran. Summer interns are prepping the next graphics onslaught as we speak.

Why do you hate my HDTV so much? You know you want to see the media get on the jingoistic wagon again. You know you do. Fess up.

Posted by: Ted at June 28, 2007 10:44 PM

I'd suggest that we take up a collection to buy Mr. Dreher a copy of Catch 22, but I think he'd have a hard time grasping the message.

Posted by: joel hanes at June 29, 2007 12:19 AM

All Quiet on the Western Front was required reading at my High School. Is that why I've been so vehemently anti-war for most of my adult life (even when I voted Republican)? Or is it because I was paying attention when we were bombing various places around the world and saw the damage that it did without any commensurate benefit to anyone? I always figured it was the latter, but maybe it was really just because my High School English teachers made me read a book.

I always thought I was anti-totalitarian because of the examples of bad totalitarian regimes available throughout history, but maybe it was just because my English teacher made me read "Animal Farm" back in High School too. Those crafty English teachers, always catapulting the propaganda...

Posted by: NonyNony at July 1, 2007 10:45 AM