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Wednesday, December 04, 2002
Sneering at Courage:
One of the overdue lessons of 9/11 is that we can't afford to sneer at physical courage any more. The willingness of New York firemen, Special Forces troops in Afghanistan, and the passengers of Flight 93 to put their lives on the line has given us most of the bright spots we've had in the war against terror. We are learning, once again, that all that stands between us and the night of barbarism is the willingness of men to both risk their lives and take the awful responsibility of using lethal force in our defense.
(And, usually, it is men who do the risking. I mean no disrespect to our sisters; the kind of courage I am talking about is not an exclusive male monopoly. But it has been predominently the job of men in every human culture since Olduvai Gorge, and still is today. I'll return to this point later in the essay.)
The rediscovery of courage visibly upsets a large class of bien pensants in our culture. Many of the elite molders of opinion in the U.S and Europe do not like or trust physical courage in men. They have spent decades training us to consider it regressive, consigning it to fantasy, sneering at it — trying to persuade us all that it's at best an adolescent or brute virtue, perhaps even a vice.
If this seems too strong an indictment, consider carefully all the connotations of the phrase "testosterone poisoning". Ask yourself when you first heard it, and where, and from whom. Then ask yourself if you have slid into the habit of writing off as bluster any man's declaration that he is willing to risk his life, willing to fight for what he believes in. When some ordinary man says he is willing to take on the likes of the 9/11 hijackers or the D.C. sniper — or even ordinary criminals — them, do you praise his determination or consign him, too, to the category of blowhard or barbarian?
Like all virtues, courage thrives on social support. If we mock our would-be warriors, writing them off as brutes or rednecks or simpletons, we'll find courage in short supply when we need it. If we make the more subtle error of sponsoring courage only in uniformed men — cops, soldiers, firemen — we'll find that we have trouble growing the quantity or quality we need in a crisis. Worse: our brave men could come to see themselves apart from us, distrusted and despised by the very people for whom they risk their lives, and entitled to take their due when it is not freely given. More than one culture that made that mistake has fallen to its own guardians.
Before 9/11, we were in serious danger of forgetting that courage is a functional virtue in ordinary men. But Todd Beamer reminded us of that — and now, awkwardly, we are rediscovering some of the forms that humans have always used to nurture and reward male courage. Remember that rash of news stories from New York about Upper-East-Side socialites cruising firemen's bars? Biology tells; medals and tickertape parades and bounties have their place, but the hero's most natural and strongest reward is willing women.
Manifestations like this absolutely appall and disgust the sort of people who think that the destruction of the World Trade Center was a judgment on American sins; — the multiculturalists, the postmodernists, the transnational progressives, radical feminists, the academic political-correctness brigades, the Bush-is-a-moron elitists, and the plain old-fashioned loony left. By and large these people never liked or trusted physical courage, and it's worth taking a hard look at why that is.
Feminists distrust physical courage because it's a male virtue. Women can and do have it, but it is gender-linked to masculinity just as surely as nurturance is to femininity. This has always been understood even in cultures like the Scythians, Teutons, Japanese, and modern Israelis that successfully made places for women warriors. If one's world-view is organized around distrusting or despising men and maleness, male courage is threatening and social support for it is regressive.
For multi-culti and po-mo types, male physical courage is suspect because it's psychologically linked to moral certitude — and moral certitude is a bad thing, nigh-indistinguishable from intolerance and bigotry. Men who believe in anything enough to fight for it are automatically suspect of would-be imperialism &mdash, unless, of course, they're tribesmen or Third Worlders, in which fanaticism is a praiseworthy sign of authenticity.
Elite opinions about male physical courage have also had more than a touch of class warfare about them. Every upper crust that is not directly a military caste — including our own — tends to dismiss physical courage as a trait of peasants and proles and the lesser orders, acceptable only when they know their place is to be guided by their betters.
For transnational progressives and the left in general, male physical courage is a problem in the lesser orders because it's an individualizing virtue, one that leads to wrong-think about autonomy and the proper limits of social power. A man who develops in himself the grit that it takes to face death and stare it down is less likely to behave meekly towards bureacrats, meddlers, and taxmen who have not passed that same test. Brave men who have learned to fight for their own concept of virtue — independently of social approval or the party line — are especially threatening to any sort of collectivist.
The multiculturalist's and the collectivist's suspicions are backhanded tributes to an important fact. There is a continuity among self-respect, physical courage and ethical/moral courage. These virtues are the soil of individualism, and are found at their strongest only in individualists. They do not flourish in isolation from one another. They reinforce each other, and the social measures we take to reward any of them tend to increase all of them.
After 1945 we tried to separate these virtues. We tried to teach boys moral steadfastness while also telling them that civilized men are expected to avoid confrontation and leave coping with danger to specialists. We preached the virtue of `self-esteem' to adolescents while gradually abolishing almost all the challenges and ordeals that might have enabled them to acquire genuine self-respect. Meanwhile, our entertainments increasingly turned on anti-heros or celebrated physical bravery of a completely mindless and morally vacuous kind. We taught individualism without responsibility, denying the unpleasant truth that freedom has to be earned and kept with struggle and blood. And we denied the legitimacy of self-defense.
Rudyard Kipling would have known better, and Robert Heinlein did. But they were written off as reactionaries — and many of us were foolish enough to be surprised when the new thinking produced a bumper crop of brutes, narcissists, overgrown boys, and bewildered hollow men apt to fold under pressure. We became, in Jeffrey Snyder's famous diagnosis, a nation of cowards; the cost could be measured in the explosion in crime rates after 1960, a phenomenon primarily of males between 15 and 35.
But this was a cost which, during the long chill of the Cold War, we could afford. Such conflicts as there were stayed far away from the home country, warfare was a game between nations, and nuclear weapons seemed to make individual bravery irrelevant. So it remained until al-Qaeda and the men of Flight 93 reminded us otherwise.
Now we have need of courage. Al-Qaeda's war has come to us. There is a geopolitical aspect to it, and one of the fronts we must pursue is to smash state sponsors of terrorism. But this war is not primarily a chess-game between nations — it's a street-level brawl in which the attackers are individuals and small terrorist cells often having no connection to the leadership of groups like al-Qaeda other than by sympathy of ideas.
Defense against this kind of war will have to be decentralized and citizen-centered, because the military and police simply cannot be everywhere that terrorists might strike. John F. Kennedy said this during the Cold War, but it is far truer now:
"Today, we need a nation of Minutemen, citizens who are not only prepared to take arms, but citizens who regard the preservation of freedom as the basic purpose of their daily life and who are willing to consciously work and sacrifice for that freedom."
The linked virtues of physical courage, moral courage, and self-respect are even more essential to a Minuteman's readiness than his weapons. So the next time you see a man claim the role of defender, don't sneer — cheer. Don't write him off with some pseudo-profound crack about macho idiocy, support him. He's trying to tool up for the job two million years of evolution designed him for, fighting off predators so the women and children can sleep safe.
Whether he's in uniform or not, young or old, fit or flabby — we need that courage now.
posted by Eric at 9:20 PM
Social Security and the Demography Bomb:
A friend of mine, Russ Cage aka Engineer-Poet, comments on my essay Demographics and the Dustbin of History:
People used to have children to take care of them in their old age. Social Security took care of this by socializing the benefits, but all of the costs still fell to individuals; worse, taking time out of the workforce to raise kids reduces your Social Security benefits. Rational actors will stop having kids to have a good retirement.
He's right, and this applies to all public pension schemes. It's a very simple, very powerful mechanism. When you subsidize old age, you depress birthrates. The more you subsidize old age, the more you depress birthrates. Eventually...crash!
It's not just Euro-socialism that's going to get trashed by demographics, it's the U.S's own welfare state. It might take longer here because our population is still rising, but it will happen.
Now that the effects of income transfer on demography are no longer masked by the Long Boom, this is going to become one of the principal constraints on public policy.
posted by Eric at 3:42 AM
Monday, December 02, 2002
Demographics and the Dustbin of History:
Karl Zinsmeister's essay Old and In The Way presents a startling — but all too plausible — forecast of Europe's future. To the now-familiar evidence of European insularity, reflexive anti-Americanism, muddle, and geopolitical impotence, Zinsmeister adds a hard look at European demographic trends.
What Zinsmeister sees coming is not pretty. European populations are not having children at replacement levels. The population of Europe is headed for collapse, and for an age profile heavily skewed towards older people and retirees. Europe's Gross Domestic Product per capita (roughly, the amount of wealth the average person produces) is already only two-thirds of America's, and the ratio is going to fall, not rise.
Meanwhile, the U.S population continues to rise — and the U.S. economy is growing three times as fast as Europe's even though the U.S. is in the middle of a bust! Since 1970 the U.S. has been more than ten times as successful at creating new jobs. But most impportantly, the U.S.'s population is still growing even as Europe's is shrinking — which means the gap in population, productivity, and economic output is going to increase. By 2030, the U.S will have a larger population than all of Europe — and the median age in the U.S. will be 30, but the median age in Europe will be over 50.
Steven den Beste is probably correct to diagnose the steady weakening of Europe as the underlying cause of the increasing rift the U.S. and Europe's elites noted in Robert Kagan's essay Power and Weakness (also recommended reading). But Kagan (focusing on diplomacy and geopolitics), Zinsmeister (focusing on demographic and economic decline) and den Beste (focusing on the lassitude of Europe's technology sector and the resulting brain drain to the U.S.) all miss something more fundamental.
Zinsmeister comes near it when he writes "Europe's disinterest in childbearing is a crisis of confidence and optimism.". Europeans are demonstrating in their behavior that they don't believe the future will be good for children.
Back to that in a bit, but first a look on what the demographic collapse will mean for European domestic politics. Zinsmeister makes the following pertinent observations:
Zinsmeister doesn't state the obvious conclusion; Euro-socialism is unsustainable. It's headed for the dustbin of history.
Forget ideological collapse; the numbers don't work. The statistics above actually understate the magnitude of the problem, because as more and more of the population become wards of the state, a larger percentage of the able will be occupied simply with running the income-redistribution system. The rules they make will depress per-capita productivity further (for a recent example see France's mandated 35-hour workweek).
Unless several of the key trends undergo a rapid and extreme reversal, rather soon (as in 20 years at the outside) there won't be enough productive people left to keep the gears of the income-redistribution machine turning. Economic strains sufficient to destroy the political system will become apparent much sooner. We may be seeing the beginnings of the destruction now as Chancellor Schröder's legitimacy evaporates in Germany, burned away by the dismal economic news.
We know what this future will probably look like, because we now know how the same dismal combination of economic/demographic collapse played out in Russia in the 1980s and 1990s. Progressively more impotent governments losing their popular legitimacy, increasing corruption, redistributionism sliding into gangsterism. Slow-motion collapse.
But there are worse possibilities that are quite plausible. The EU hase two major advantages the Soviets did not — a better tech and infrastructure base, and a functioning civil society (e.g. one in which wealth and information flow through a lot of legal grassroots connections and voluntary organizations). But they have one major disadvantage — large, angry, totally unassimilated immigrant populations that are reproducing faster than the natives. This is an especially severe problem in France, where housing developments in the ring zones around all the major cities have become places the police dare not go without heavy weapons.
We've already gotten a foretaste of what that might mean for European domestic politics. At its most benign, we get Pim Fortuyn in Holland. But Jörg Haider in Austria is a more ominous indicator, and Jean-Marie Le Pen's startling success in the last French presidential elections was downright frightening. Far-right populism with a racialist/nativist/anti-Semitic tinge is on the rise, an inevitable consequence of the demographic collapse of native populations.
As if that isn't bad enough, al-Qaeda and other Islamist organizations are suspected on strong evidence to be recruiting heavily among the North African, Turkish, and Levantine populations that now predominate in European immigrant quarters. The legions of rootless, causeless, unemployed and angry young men among Muslim immigrants may in fact actually be on their way to reifying the worst nightmares of native-European racists.
One way or another, the cozy Euro-socialist welfare state is doomed by the demographic collapse. Best case: it will grind to a shambolic halt as the ratio of worker bees to drones goes below critical. Worst case: it will blow itself apart in a welter of sectarian, ethnic, and class violence. Watch the frequency trend curve of synagogue-trashings and anti-Jewish hate crimes; that's bound to be a leading indicator.
The only possible way for Europe to avoid one of these fates would be for it to reverse either the decline in per-capita productivity or its population decline. And reversing the per-capita productivity decline would only be a temporary fix unless it could be made to rise faster than the drone-to-worker ratio — forever.
Was this foredoomed? Can it be that all national populations lose their will to have children when they get sufficiently comfortable? Do economies inevitably grow old and sclerotic? Is Europe simply aging into the end stages of a natural civilizational senescence?
That theory would be appealing to a lot of big-picture historians, and to religious anti-materialists like al-Qaeda. And if we didn't have the U.S.'s counterexample to look at, we might be tempted to conclude that this trap is bound to claim any industrial society past a certain stage of development.
But that won't wash. The U.S. is wealthier, both in aggregate and per-capita, than Europe. A pro-market political party in Sweden recently pointed out that by American standards of purchasing power, most Swedes now live in what U.S. citizens would consider poverty. If wealth caused decline, the U.S. would be further down the tubes than the EU right now. But we're still growing.
A clue to the real problem lies in the differing degrees to which social stability depends on income transfer. In the U.S., redistributionism is on the decline; we abolished federal welfare nearly a decade ago, national health insurance was defeated, and new entitlements are an increasingly tough political sell to a population that has broadly bought into conservative arguments about them. In fact, one of the major disputes everyone knows won't be avoidable much longer is over privatizing Social Security — and opponents are on the defensive.
In Europe, on the other hand, merely failing to raise state pensions on schedule can cause nationwide riots. The dependent population there is much larger, much longer-term, and has much stronger claims on the other players in the political system. The 5%/10% difference in structural unemployment — and, even more, the 6%/40% difference in permanant unemployment — tells the story.
So what happened?
Essentially, Euro-socialism told the people that the State would buy as much poverty and dependency as they cared to produce. Then it made wealth creation difficult by keeping capital expensive, business formation difficult, and labor markets rigid and regulated. Finally, it taxed the bejesus out of the people who stayed off the dole and made it through the redistributionist rat-maze, and used the proceeds to buy more poverty and alienation.
Europeans responded to this set of incentives by not having children. This isn't surprising. The same thing happened in Soviet Russia, much sooner. There's a reason Stalin handed out medals to women who raised big families.
Human birth rates rise under two circumstances. One is when people think they need to have a lot of kids for any of them to survive. The other is when human beings think their children will have it better than they do. (The reasons for this pattern should be obvious; if they aren't, go read about evolutionary biology until you get it.)
Europe's experiment with redistributionism has been running for about a hundred and fifty years now (the beginnings of the modern welfare state date to Prussian state-pension schemes in the 1840s). Until recently, it was sustained by the long-term population and productivity boom that followed the Industrial Revolution. There were always more employed young people than old people and unemployed people and sick people and indigents, so subsidizing the latter was economically possible.
Until fairly recently, Euro-socialist governments couldn't suck wealth out of the productive economy and into the redistribution network fast enough to counter the effects of the long boom. Peoples' estimate of the prospects for their children kept improving and they kept breeding. In France they now call the late end of that period les trentes glorieuses, the thirty glorious years from 1945 to 1975. But as the productivity gains from industrialization tailed off, the demographic collapse began, not just in France but Europe-wide.
Meanwhile, the U.S. was not only rejecting socialism, but domestic politics actually moved away from redistributionism and economic intervention after Nixon's wage/price control experiment failed in 1971. The U.S, famously had its period of "malaise" in the 1970s after the oil-price shock ended our trentes glorieuses— but while in Europe the socialists consolidated their grip on public thinking during those years, our "democratic socialists" didn't — and never recovered from Ronald Reagan's two-term presidency after 1980.
The fall of the Soviet Union happened fifteen years after the critical branch point. Until then, Westerners had no way to know that the Soviets, too, had been in demographic decline for some time. Communist myth successfully portrayed the Soviet Union as an industrial and military powerhouse, but the reality was a hollow shell with a failing population — a third-world pesthole with a space program. Had that been clearer thirty years sooner, perhaps Europe might have avoided the trap.
Now the millennium has turned and it looks like the experiment will finally have to end. It won't be philosophy or rhetoric or the march of armies that kills it, but rather the accumulated poisons of redistributionism necrotizing not just the economy but the demographics of Europe. Euro-socialism, in a quite Marxian turn of events, will have been destroyed by its own internal contradictions.
posted by Eric at 2:34 AM