Articles

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Outside the Territory of Reason

As the edge of the fiscal cliff approaches and then recedes, like an imagined desert isle appearing and disappearing admit the waves, the process that has brought America into the tyranny of debt goes on. The national debt, like our annual deficits, is a symptom of the true problem.

Irresponsible behavior is a symptom of irresponsible thinking. Bad choices come from the failure to understand consequences. Power is not just an aphrodisiac, it numbs one to the understanding that there even are consequences.

The centers of people in a nation are the last to feel the cold and their decisions are insulated from their consequences by power and comfort. Even as they warn about the danger, they are too far away from it to truly feel it. It is a shadow to them. An idea. Not a reality.

To the powerful, power is the only reality. And the limits of their own power are unknown to them. The possession of power is a constraint that prevents the possessor from seeing its limits.


We live in a world that has lost touch with the very idea of hard choices. That even in the richest and most prosperous country in the world, you still have to choose one or the other. That you can't have you cake and eat it too. But as the hard edges of reason have blurred into the haze of wishful thinking, the idea of mutually incompatible choices also fades away. Soon there are no choices, only options.

Our government has vanished into that haze. A haze in which our leaders actually believe that we can be tough and kind, strong and beloved and spending as much as we want without worrying about where it's coming from. The haze extends to our policies which assume that we can win wars without offending anyone, and spend as much money as we want without recouping it in some way. In a system built on two party stalemates usually broken by compromises, it's all too easy to believe that you can give and take, without ever having to choose. One or the other.

A country whose leadership does not understand the concept of mutually incompatible choices is doomed to have its political structure decay into tyranny and its economy stagnate and finally collapse. Without the understanding that some choices are hard and fast things, success becomes impossible. When you think that you can do everything, you end up being unable to do anything. When every option is on the table, then no option is on the table. And if the political leadership cannot make those choices, then it will be replaced by another form of leadership that will solve the problem with tyranny. This has happened before. And it will happen again.

The Middle East presents us with the troubling sight of an entire region run by people who are unable to make such absolute distinctions. Princes, sheiks and prime ministers pursue mutually incompatible policies at the same time, make contradictory assertions and often remain unaware that their actions are contradictory. In a region that is outside the territory of reason, everything is always on the table. There is no truth, only layers of lies. Push far enough down and you come away with nothing but hot air. The popularity of Islam as a political solution is due in part to the perception that it represents an absolute certainty. An anchor in a turbulent sandy sea. Not an intellectual anchor of reason, but of fanatical force. The comfort of the thoughtless tyranny of power.

But the West has been headed out of the territory of reason for some time now. Its truths have become ideological beliefs. Its goals have become the self-worship of its own symbols, size for the sake of size, and centralization for the sake of centralization. There is a mingled horror and longing for the savage and the barbaric, as civilization appears to have lost its meaning. The leadership cries "Onward to a united world" on the one hand, and "Back to the caves" on the other. That confused melange boils down to a cultural intelligence which has lost the awareness of its own contradictions. High tech environmentalism, soft wars and valueless money are all symptoms of that same intellectual degeneracy.

The rise of China is directly tied to our own irrationality. The People's Republic of China has become rich and powerful by serving as the reservoir of our contradictions. We wanted cheap products, no pollution, high wages and generous benefits. All these things are not compatible, so we outsourced our manufacturing to China and pretended that we could have it all. But all we got were cheap products, and the country we outsourced them to got the jobs and the national prosperity. We wanted to spend money without worrying about where it came from. Again we turned to China. And like the grasshopper and the ant, we sang and played all summer, while the ants worked and prepared for the winter.

We used China to escape the limits of reality, but there is no escape. Only temporary vacations from consequences. The PRC has made its own choices. It has chosen to compromise the lives of its people in order to amass wealth and industry by selling our own knickknack designs back to us. Now a generation of Chinese is preparing to reap the harvest of that industry. While we are in debt to that same industry. In debt to the banks who loan us the money with which we buy Chinese products and the government which collects taxes in order to repay China for the entitlement programs. And the banks are in debt to the government which bailed them out with China's money. And the government is in debt to China.

The People's Republic of China is no model of reason, but it understands choices better than we do. It left Communism behind in all but name, in order to gain wealth and power. And we left our wealth and power behind in all but name, in order to gain Communism. Without ever admitting it to ourselves, we traded a system that worked for one that didn't. And our leaders used a Communist country to lessen the immediate pain of the transition. But what our leaders treated as waste products, manufacturing jobs and heavy industry, helped turn China into a superpower. We thought that we could have everything, the best of both worlds, cheap products and only high paying jobs or subsidized unemployment. And by believing that, we lost both the jobs and the products will follow once the PRC no longer needs to needs to keep its currency artificially low.

There is no such thing as too big to fail. Size only serves as a delaying factor. The bigger they are, the slower they fall. But they also fall harder. And size also dulls the speed of the response. The more space there is between the outer regions and the inner controlling sector, the slower the system is to respond to a crisis. We're not too big to fail. We're failing so slowly that it's hard to see from the inside.

It comes down to choice again. If we're going to escape from this trap that we have set for ourselves, then we're going to make sacrifices. And our political system is poorly adapted to making sacrifices. The system we have is based on everyone getting what they want. On short term satisfaction over long term solutions. Plenty of Americans are out of work or living hand to mouth, but that deprivation doesn't translate to the centers of power.

But we can't afford to keep going the way we are. We are deep in debt and spending money that we don't have. And we're doing it because our system is built on spending money, not on saving money.

In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed that, "One of the greatest favors that can be bestowed upon the American people is economy in government". He warned about "the stupendous sum of about 7 billion, 500 million dollars" that is taken from Americans. Today 7 billion dollars wouldn't cover a day in the operation of the Federal government. If things keep going as they are, we might come to look upon the "stupendous" sum of 6 trillion dollars discussed now as equally minute. But it is not likely that day will ever come, because the camel's back is too close to breaking under the strain.

To save ourselves we must return to the territory of reason and make the difficult choices that must be made. It is too easy to fall into the haze of thinking that we don't really need to make such choices. That we can go on the way we have. And the world is full of cautionary examples of fallen civilizations that lost touch with those decisions and accordingly faded out of history.

The ability to perceive and make difficult choices is fundamental to the survival of a country. We used to be able to make those choices. Otherwise we will be another Republic of Ozymandias, a civilization lost through its own ineptitude, a monument to the knowledge that there is no free lunch, only the wages of difficult choices.

19 comments:

lemon lime moon said...

China is a totalitarian regime that grinds its people into the dust so the few can live in luxury.

Barman said...

Great piece apart from the bit about Cameron who has created an illusion of slashing spending while doing the opposite.

Anonymous said...

Some states have made the hard choices you describe. Which is probably why those regions are much stronger economically then the rest of the country.

Even bastions of Democratic power made the hard choices when things got bad enough.

Wisconsin, under Gov. Scott Walker and Michigan becoming right to work. Maybe the rest of the country can still turn things around.

fsy said...

I saw the whole China business coming in the late '80s when everything started to say "Made in China". Obviously, it couldn't go on forever.

Anonymous said...

My high school history teacher told us, the Russians were not who we needed to worry about. He said the Chinese would eventually defeat the US, not militarily, but economically. That was in 1963.. We need more teachers like him today.

mindRider said...

Please see both sides of outsourcing of jobs: It caused the Chinese and the Indian peoples to get a chance of crawling out of their abject poverty and thereby gave their governments a chance, due to some all around increase of wealth to soften their radical political stance. The countries that outsourced indeed lost jobs and some of their wealth and financial independence and do indeed somewhat "socialize" their political system but not nearly to an extent that they flipped with the outsourced too countries and in their turn have to become a tyranny of power.

ASG said...

The problem is rationale, sacrifice and hard times don't play well at the ballot box. This is why an inexperienced enigma can be elected by repeating the phrase 'hope and change' over and over again.

The problem I think is that our Forefathers never expected our country to become as big as it has. The Federalist principals were a safe guard against this, but when population growth was accelerated by illegal immigration, it has lead to the over abundance of Micro-Management.

There is a reason why there is not a lot of historical evidence for a Country this size succeeding. The logistics involved in managing a population of this size requires a substantial managing system, and as we can see as the population grew, so did the government. And as the government grew freedoms were sacrificed leaving us where we are today. How can someone today aspire to owning their own land when regardless of weather or not they pay back their debts for the land, they will still owe thousands of dollars in property taxes for the rest of their lives or the State will repossess their property. And if you fight for the property, if you survive, they will take it after they wrongfully imprison you.

When a corporation is faced with similar dilemmas, they downsize. Often they may even shed business entities from their portfolio. As backwards as our government is today, we see them do the opposite, as talks resume about making Puerto Rico a state.

We are at an impasse. If we want the ideals of Liberty to go on it might be time to talk about dissolving the Union, and making smaller easier to manage countries. The Right can't agree with the Left and the Left can't agree with the Right and in many cases the Right can't even agree with each other.

Edgar Davidson said...

Batman is correct. Cameron has in no way reduced uk debt with his so-called spending cuts. And he is increasing overseas aid (which mostly goes to terrorists and warlords) to 12 billion pounds per year.

Rafe Damiano said...

Mind Rider the Chinese and Indians are not the responsibility of the western nations.
You don't help others at the expense of your own nation.

mindRider said...

@ Rafe Damiano It's an unavoidable side-effect from wanting to make more profit by paying lower wages producing your product at the expense of transferring knowledge. And yes we are responsible for one another, you are your brothers keeper.

Keli Ata said...

Lemon: That's the way of the Communist world. China in particular is a land of all things disposable whether human beings or cheaply made products that have to be replaced.

Keli Ata said...

I recognize the need for tough choices and sacrifices this country must make, painful as they are.

That said, I wish politicans hadn't come up with the phrase fiscal cliff. Geez, that makes me think not of the word cliff precipise. Tha same pretty much except precipice reminds of Castle Dracula and the words of Jonathan Harker who is a prisoner there,but manages to escape:


"I descended, minding carefully where I went for the stairs were dark, being only lit by loopholes in the heavy masonry."

Castle Dracula is described as sitting on top of a great precipice.

How many people tune out when the media and/or politicians introduce buzz phrases that take your mind elsewhere?

The land of Elsewhere

Keli Ata said...

*precipice

Margaret Whiting, Xenia, Ohio said...

Austerity for the people is wrong. It is not the people who created our current situation,it is wall street and bankers who created our problems. Tax Them. Leave the people alone.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

Those who voted for the Democrats did a good deal to create it. Those who made a career out of being on welfare certainly did.

Keli Ata said...

Margaret:

I agree with you on austerity being wrong for people, and Wall Street has made things worse. But in my mind, the problem is with people expecting something for nothing and not living within their means.

Democrats certainly did facilitate this, but everyone is on a fixed income whether they work or on welfare. People with low incomes should know better than to apply for mortgages when they know their incomes are too low to pay taxes on their property and maintain it.

Democrats and banks are a big problem.

Keli Ata said...

and contrary to what Democrats believe the government is not every welfare recipient's baby daddy lol.

Passer by said...

Western Intelligentsia never accepted the fact that the Soviet Union died. The ultimate targets are now the US and Europe/EU. When i hear the talk of "progressive" westerners, they sound strangely decadent and old fashioned to me, as people ideologically stuck in the beginning of the 20th century.

Leo said...

The importance of some articles extends well beyond "issue of the day". With high likelihood of dark days ahead (what else can possibly be outside the Territory of Reason), it is critically important to listen to those who "been there, done that" (USSR) and escaped to tell the story.

Drawing blood is always an option, but there's also a "cleaner" way to control the crowds by manipulating their minds with the cattle prods of collectivist morals and a fictional narrative that supplants the reality. ... Let's call it the Mind Game of Manipulative Illusions. ... The Game existed since Cain and Abel, but it developed into an art form in the 20th century, with the rise of totalitarian regimes armed with state-controlled education, entertainment, and the media. ... For a dictatorship to run efficiently, a sufficient number of people must give the regime a moral license to rule over them. The Mind Game of Manipulative Illusions secures and extends such a license. Oleg Atbashian | The Socialist Mind Game: A Brief Manual | Jan 1, 2013

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